Respectful Insolence

Deepak Chopra’s woo-ful whine

Pity poor Deepak Chopra.

I’ve abused him on this blog many times, even coining a word (“Choprawoo”) for the silliness that emanates from his keyboard every time he posts his inanity to the Huffington Post or his own IntentBlog. I even wrote the only response ever needed to Choprawoo. Of course, he richly deserves the abuse heaped upon him, given his idiotic meanderings in which he misrepresents evolution and neuroscience willy-nilly in his attempt to argue that we are infused by the “consciousness of the universe.” It also doesn’t help that he’s a credulous woo-meister who sells non-evidence-based supplements and defends astrology.

Now, for once, he seems to have addressed the issue of woo head on–sort of:

Bad manners are the norm in the blogosphere, and no one who dips into that world should bring along a thin skin. Salt air stings but it’s refreshing at the same time. There’s a raffish lack of respectability to blogs, however, that drive away good people and good minds. Insulting boors abound here, and it’s easy enough to go elsewhere and enjoy a civilized debate.

The invective rises higher and higher the more you prick the rigid mind-set that most skeptics cling to. As a small experiment I vary my posts. Sometimes they are about fairly radical ideas, like the mind outside the brain. Sometimes they are about conventional ideas with a new twist, like the recent post on mirror neurons. In both cases the howls of protest reach the same level of raucousness. When commenters who claim to be scientific address you as brain dead, idiotic, unversed in science, and worse, their spleen is evidence of the exact opposite of the cause they espouse, which is objectivity.

Give me a break. Commenters address Chopra as brain-dead, idiotic, and unversed in science because he keeps saying things that are idiotic and reveal him to be unversed in science over and over and over again. After a while, as with creationists or die-hard alt-med aficionados who are immune to evidence, the scientifically-inclined sometimes lose their patients responding to Chopra. Deepak Chopra may think he understands science and the scientific method, but he demonstrates every time that he discusses biology and neuroscience that he does not. He knows how to speculate based on pseudoscientific crap like the late, unlamented Princeton group that claimed that human thoughts could alter random number generators or exceedingly dubious “evidence” for past lives from Ian Stevenson. Worse, in the process of lamenting just how terribly, terribly mean and nasty bloggers like me have been to him, he can’t resist throwing in the old “science is a religion” canard.

If you want to see why Chopra inspires such richly deserved attacks, look no further than this sentence in his lament:

Matter is inert and lifeless, apparently devoid of intelligence, and prone to random action that somehow turns into exquisite orderliness. If you take a single molecule of sugar and follow it from its source in a glass of orange juice, for example, to the moment the juice is drunk one morning at the breakfast table, the final destination of that molecule could be the cerebral cortex. Therefore, the sugar in your brain is what enables you to read this sentence. Yet it is absurd to say that the sugar itself is reading or understanding or in the case of skeptics, trying to shut down the whole investigation of what’s actually happening.

Leave aside the fact that skeptics are self-appointed vigilantes for the suppression of curiosity (a delightful coinage from the English writer Lyall Watson).

And Deepak is a self-appointed vigilante for the suppression of good critical thinking skills in favor of woo.

No scientists say that the sugar is reading or understanding. It’s the combination of the cells for which the sugar provides the fuel or the basis for the biosynthesis of other macromolecules linked together with each other that is reading or understanding. Skeptics aren’t trying to “shut down” anything. They’re just criticizing the very obvious holes in Chopra’s discussions of evolution, neuroscience, and consciousness. You know when you’re dealing with a crank when he starts claiming that legitimate criticism of stupid things he says is an attempt to “shut him up.”

Not surprisingly, he finishes with a comparison of how “human” the woo-meisters are compared to those soul-less scientists, who, as he points out, brought us “diabolical means of destruction and mechanized death”:

What I like most about the ‘woo woo” camp, on the other hand, is its desire to remain human. I would much rather talk to ten people who believe that they have heard from their dead Aunt Minnie than a hundred who shout in my ear that only idiots believe in the afterlife. Skeptics include many well-mannered, intelligent, open-minded people and not just the yahoos one must plug one’s ears against. But even among the well-mannered there is an enormous tendency to conform. However, what is intellectually respectable changes from age to age.

Boo hoo.

Of course, the reason that what is intellectually respectable in science changes from age to age is usually due to new evidence and new experimentation. Sometimes science goes down blind alleys and wrong paths, but its self-correcting nature usually eventually asserts itself to weed out useless or incorrect ideas. All this whining about “civility” and appeal to the “human-ness” of woo is nothing more than a transparent attempt to distract attention from the simple fact that Deepak Chopra is totally unable to support his woo with anything resembling science.

Comments

  1. #1 Bob O'H
    June 28, 2007

    Not surprisingly, he finishes with a comparison of how “human” the woo-meisters are compared to those soul-less scientists, ….

    Well, I’m not sure a perspex box with flashing lights has much right to complain about this.

    Bob

  2. #2 NeverTheTwain
    June 28, 2007

    Bravo. ‘Nuff said.

  3. #3 Rich Reynolds
    June 28, 2007

    But isn’t there room for woo?

    Just as there’s room for Paris Hilton, there should be room for people such as Chopra.

    After all, the great unwashed need their soporifics, just as intellectual types need mental stimulation.

    Some people like caviar; some like pork and beans.

    Why are so many inordinately concerned with Chopra’s ramblings? They are innocuous….really.

    RR

  4. #4 Eamon Knight
    June 28, 2007

    …the scientifically-inclined sometimes lose their patients responding to Chopra.
    Oh dear. I hope having to deal with Chopra isn’t affecting your practice to that extent.
    (Yeah, I know: your fingers or your software probably have that word installed as a macro)

  5. #5 Gork
    June 28, 2007

    I prefer to think of his woo as Deep-Packed Chopped Woo.

  6. #6 Blake Stacey, OM
    June 28, 2007

    Rich Reynolds:

    Why are so many inordinately concerned with Chopra’s ramblings? They are innocuous….really.

    Alan Sokal:

    Thus, I am indeed mildly disconcerted by a society in which 50% of the adult populace believes in extrasensory perception, 42% in haunted houses, 41% in possession by the devil, 36% in telepathy, 32% in clairvoyance, 28% in astrology, 15% in channeling, and 45% in the literal truth of the creation story of Genesis. But I am far more profoundly worried by a society in which 21-32% believe that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, 43-52% think that U.S. troops in Iraq have found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda, and 15-34% think that U.S. troops have found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And If I am concerned about public belief in clairvoyance and the like, it is largely because of my suspicion that credulity in minor matters prepares the mind for credulity in matters of greater import — and, conversely, that the kind of critical thinking useful for distinguishing science from pseudoscience might also be of some use in distinguishing truths in affairs of state from lies. (Not a panacea, mind you, but just of some use.)

    Chopra’s fame is a symptom. Credulity is the disease.

    We are all surgeons.

  7. #7 Martín Pereyra
    June 28, 2007

    Why are so many inordinately concerned with Chopra’s ramblings? They are innocuous….really.

    Alt-med is innocuous until some poor little altie sticks to her/his pet woo and throws away any treatment that actually could help her/him. While s/he is playing with woo, s/he can be losing precious time, and by the time s/he realizes woo is doing nothing (if s/he ever realizes it), it can be too late.

    Woo not only takes away your critical thinking. Alt-med woo can take away your life.

  8. #8 ron
    June 28, 2007

    ive been having an internal debate – so i hate liars and charlatans like chopra who take advantage of the naive, gullible, and desperate and I sometimes wish they could be tossed in jail for fraud. but then i think, why should i care about these idiots who are wasting their time, money, and health on obvious BS? In this day and age don’t they deserve what they get?

  9. #9 Justin Moretti
    June 28, 2007

    profoundly worried by a society in which 21-32% believe that the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001, 43-52% think that U.S. troops in Iraq have found clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al-Qaeda, and 15-34% think that U.S. troops have found Iraqi weapons of mass destruction

    1) No, of course he wasn’t – but he was subsidizing Palestinian men to blow themselves up with as many Jews as they could, to the tune of $50,000 to each volunteer’s family. That’s sponsoring terrorism (anti-Semitic terrorism, what’s more), and the enemy of Al Qaeda’s enemy is its friend.

    2) The issue for me is that they will never have to look there again (and see how quickly Libya held open its stock of secrets thereafter – not a coincidence, surely). I’m sure a lot of thinking people who back the war will do so on this count. Anything less than invasion of Iraq and removal of Hussein would have been like searching a criminal’s house for guns while being jeered by onlookers, only for him to openly get them back off his friends (or buy more) after the police have left and for nobody to care that that happens.

    Of course Chopra’s an idiot, and his woo is manifestly harmful in that it may cause people to ignore more valid approaches to life and health. But I think it’s inappropriate to believe that everyone who supported or supports the invasion of Iraq is a mindless sheep or worse. Some people have reasons for supporting things that go beyond what the politicians tell them.

  10. #10 Sastra
    June 28, 2007

    Why are so many inordinately concerned with Chopra’s ramblings? They are innocuous….really.

    To quote the title of Ophelia Benson’s book — does truth matter? Here’s a highly popular public figure distorting science and scientific understanding, and presumably he’s supposed to be left alone as long as nobody gets physically hurt. No. Too bad. Truth matters too.

    I love the sly way Chopra refers to “ten people who have heard from their dead Aunt Minnie” vs. “a hundred” skeptics who don’t believe in the afterlife. In real life, the numbers are reversed, and skewed even more heavily against the skeptics. So he’d rather hear people gush over how wonderful he is. No kidding.

  11. #11 Jeb, FCD
    June 28, 2007

    the scientifically-inclined sometimes lose their patients responding to Chopra

    You really are a physician, aren’t you?
    :-)

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    June 28, 2007

    “That’s sponsoring terrorism (anti-Semitic terrorism, what’s more), and the enemy of Al Qaeda’s enemy is its friend.”

    That wasn’t the administration’s claim. Sure, Saddam funded militia groups that target his regional enemies (like every other regime in the middle-east, including so called “allies in the war on terror”). In fact, we’ve done the same thing and are currently quite overtly supporting PKK attacks against Iran (our regional enemy). We invaded Iraq under the pretext that they were supporting a very specific terrorist organization that was responsible for 9/11 and specifically targeted the U.S. for other terrorist attacks. Palestinian groups that target Israel (which, contrary to popular wisdom, is not the 51st. state) are neither.

    As for your second point, it’s beyond inane to think that Iraq will never be capable of developing WMD’s once we withdraw (and we’ll eventually have to). By all accounts the future Iraq will be divided among Sunni (perhaps even Baathist), Iran-loyal Shi’ite and Kurdish separatist factions that could very well be every bit as brutal as Saddam (and as Khomeini demonstrated after the fall of the Shah, they could become even worse). To say “we’ll never have to look again” is grossly over-optimistic. And even so, a conflict that has gotten us in the crossfires of a sectarian civil war, destoryed out international reputation, overextended our military to dangerous levels and severely weakened our credibility is worth it merely because “we’ll never have to look again”.

  13. #13 wrg
    June 29, 2007

    [...] the enemy of Al Qaeda’s enemy is its friend.

    Although this is dragging the thread further off its initial course, I don’t think so. America was a useful enemy of an enemy during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda certainly does not consider it a friend. I don’t know exactly what al-Qaeda’s stance is on other Muslim extremist groups, but generally such groups are rather splintered by sect and ideology. Sunni and Shi’a fundamentalists alike may hate Jews, but even so they may well come to blows.

    The recent conflict in Palestine shows that groups opposed to Israeli occupation don’t necessarily get along at all. I don’t think that being anti-America and anti-Israel put Hussein in al-Qaeda’s good graces.

  14. #14 Dangerous Bacon
    June 29, 2007

    Chopra (from above): “The invective rises higher and higher the more you prick the rigid mind-set that most skeptics cling to. As a small experiment I vary my posts…”

    Wow, he actually admits being a troll.

  15. #15 IanR
    June 29, 2007

    …the enemy of Al Qaeda’s enemy is its friend.

    Al Qaeda’s enemies included the US, Iraq, Iran. All were each other’s enemies. So does that mean that all of them were al Qaeda’s friends? :)

  16. #16 Ex-drone
    June 30, 2007

    Is someone who consumes Choprawoo considered to be Chopraphagous?

  17. #17 Dr Aust
    July 1, 2007

    “ChopraWoo” is a useful coinage, Orac, but simply not rude enough, especially in Blogospace.

    In the UK his kind of meaningless pseudo-scientific pseudo-mystic “spiritual” balderdash would receive a more bluntly Anglo Saxon suffix – meet:

    “ChopraBalls”

    Or maybe in US English it could be

    “ChopraBull”

    PS Talking of Ur-balderdash and deep Deepak, this is worth a re-read:

    http://www.aaskolnick.com/naswmav.htm

  18. #18 Orac
    July 1, 2007

    You have a point, but I think “Choprawoo” is more widely useful because there isn’t any chance of it being considered offensive.

  19. #19 Dr Aust
    July 2, 2007

    Point taken. How about “Choprababble”?

    Attempts to give the sense of blathering on (and on and on and on) without actually saying anything remotely meaningful.

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