Respectful Insolence

The return of the living Choprawoo

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I was originally planning to do a real science post today. Indeed, there are at least two or three interesting studies that have been released in the last month or two that I’ve been meaning to write up, you know, to lose the snark and make this a real Science Blog. True, having a little fun deconstructing the silliness of homeopaths or antivaccinationists is educational (not to mention entertaining and so fun). However, very so often I feel the need to get serious, and over the last couple of weeks I think I let the snark run a bit more wild than usual, not counterbalanced as much with more scientific fare. I thought it was time to rectify that. Too bad it’ll have to wait at least one more day, as I was just too drained last night after a day in clinic to do the requisite work of critically reading one of the papers.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view), Woomeister Supreme Deepak Chopra’s been busy again. Thats right, he’s baaack, this time with what is thus far a two part post on that repository of everything New Age, antivaccination, and woo, The Huffington Post, entitled The Future of the Body. Here’s Part 1 (mirrored here), and here’s Part 2 (mirrored here). I was tempted to use my usual response to Choprawoo and leave it at that, but then I got annoyed at Chopra’s downright silliness:

A tide of media articles over the past few years has made it clear that medicine is putting almost all its future hopes on genetics. But a small study from UCLA offers an intriguing alternative, one that could be just the tip of the iceberg. Researchers found that children and teenagers who described themselves as positive thinkers had higher thresholds of tolerance for pain. On the other hand, young subjects who had learned less positive coping skills (such as worrying about problems or turning to someone else for help) were less able to tolerate the application of pressure or heat to the skin, which was how pain was measured in the laboratory.

The significance of these findings is that psychological attitudes changed basic physical sensations. It had already been shown that we don’t all respond to pain alike. When asked to rate pain on a scale of 1 to 10, people who are subjected to the same stimulus come up with far different reactions. What feels like a 1 on the pain scale to one person can feel like a 6, 7, or higher to another. Instead of being simply a physical variation, the new research suggests that personal interpretation is involved. Yet to the person feeling the pain, this isn’t a subjective event. The degree of discomfort is completely real.

Yawn. What an amazing insight. Chopra has discovered that people don’t all respond to pain in the same way and that psychological factors can alter how severe people perceive their pain to be. This is only something that we’ve known for centuries and that psychologists have been studying for decades at least. There are even observations on how cultural background influences how people react to pain, from stoic to what seems to be a low pain threshold. Every surgeon who’s ever operated knows this. Yet, Chopra seems to view this observation as some sort of amazing insight that somehow challenges that evil reductionist genetics. This is as bad as Chopra’s last foray into genetics he had the chutzpah to label The Trouble With Genes, which still stands supreme as perhaps the dumbest thing ever said about genetics. Unfortunately, he appears to be trying to surpass it. He’s also confused about the subjectivity of pain. Pain does have a significant subjective compenet, yet Chopra seems to be arguing against a strawman argument that modern medicine assumes that pain’s subjectivity must mean that the pain people feel isn’t real. While there may be a few physicians left who think that way, most in my experience do not. Of course, if that were the only thing that Chopra got wrong it might not be so bad, but he has to keep plunging into the woo to find only the silliest bits.

Chopra then takes this insight and runs with it, comparing the subjective influence of our emotions and psychology on how we perceive pain to the Tummo monks:

Why is this the tip of an iceberg? I was reminded of Tummo, an ancient form of Tibetan meditation that originated in India as a yogic practice. Buddhist monks who practice Tummo are able to withstand extreme cold without discomfort or bodily harm. Clad only in a thin layer of silk, they can sit all night in ice caves in the Himalayas or on the surface of a frozen lake. Long considered a legendary skill, Tummo has been verified by Western researchers, who discovered in the 80s that the monks are raising their body temperature by up to 8 degrees Centigrade, or 14 degrees Fahrenheit. In essence, they are controlling a feedback loop in the body that is normally automatic. A region of the brain known as the hypothalamus is responsible for regulating body temperature, but in this case the monks are inserting their own intention, and what was once automatic becomes voluntary.

The Tummo monks are a rather interesting case, but the sorts of things Chopra ascribes to them are a bit hard to believe. For one thing, increasing body temperature that much would pretty much denature many of the proteins in the brain. In fact, even Herbert Benson, the man at Harvard who has been studying these monks doesn’t claim that they raise their body temperature by that much. What he claims is that the raise the body temperature of their fingers and toes that much, which would be an indication of increased blood flow to the extremities, which is a very different thing indeed. As a physician, Chopra should know that. At best this is an indication that it may be possible to control the autonomic nervous system more than we thought. Indeed, this study was published in Nature in 1982; however, I’ve yet to see any followup published by Benson about the monks, except for in an article in the Harvard Gazette. Given the poor quality of evidence presented, suffice it to say that I’m skeptical about whether this ability is truly such a high degree of control of the autonomic nervous system or whether it represents conditioning to cold temperatures, such the “polar bears,” swimmers who like to take a dip in the middle of winter.

Even if all the claims were 100% true, it would not mean that genetics or reductionist science would be invalidated. After all, if people can control their autonomic nervous system, the mechanism would have to be mediated by proteins, which are coded by–yes, indeed–genes. Chopra exaggerates when he claims that all therapy is becoming gene therapy, but he’s too obtuse to realize that, even if every one of his woo-iest mind-body claims were true, it would not in any way invalidate genetics, genomics, proteomics, or any other -omics. Chopra then takes it to ridiculous extremes:

Yet we have twenty years of mind-body research to suggest otherwise. Beginning twenty years ago, it was found that psychotherapy helps women cope with breast cancer, not just in terms of feeling better but actually increasing survival rates. When terminal cancer patients were divided into two groups, those that had no psychotherapy and those who met for group sessions once a week to discuss their feelings, the longest term survivors were all the in therapy group. Before that, the noted editor Norman Cousins had written about the reduction of tumors in cancer patients who used visualization techniques, often as simple as seeing their tumors being buried under a blanket of falling snow until they disappeared.

Dr. Chopra’s a bit behind on the medical literature. The latest evidence, as I discussed about a month ago, does not support the idea that psychotherapy, group therapy, or a positive attitude prolongs survival in cancer patients. Chopra’s just plain wrong here, and the studies that he cites were not well done. More recent research, with better designed trials, refute them. None of this mean that a positive attitude isn’t a good thing, nor does it mean that a positive attitude won’t make your battle with cancer, if you are unfortunate enough to get it, easier to deal with Just don’t expect it to prolong your life at all. Contrary to Chopra’s grandiose claims, while it is true that for subjective measures (like pain), the placebo effect can result in as much as a 30% response, for objective measures (cancer survival, for example), there is no detectable effect that is attributable to placebos. Chopra might have a point that mind-body techniques may be cheaper, but I wouldn’t trust my life or health with them when it comes to curing diseases.

In part 2, Chopra takes his observation that people react differently to pain and generalizes it:

In the East it is more easily accepted that each patient is unique, and therefore one cannot expect that the same therapy will lead to the same results in everybody. One sees this in the placebo effect, also. You can give inert sugar pills to cure pain, and the pain will go away in some patients but not others. To a Western-trained physician this lack of reliability undermines the treatment’s credibility. Medical schools teach their students to expect a shot of penicillin or an appendectomy to lead to a cure as reliably for patient A as for patient B.

In practice there is no such thing as complete reliability, however, and one must consider how many patients die on the operating table or suffer extreme side effects from drugs. There is also the problem that drugs become less effective over time — the phenomenon known as tachyphylaxis — and that “super germs” develop in hospitals, causing a serious rise in illness and death caused by the treatment — a phenomenon known as iatrogenic disease.

This is such a blatant straw man of how scientific medicine works that no crows are to be found anywhere near that part of the Huffington Post. No physician expects “complete reliability. Chopra would know, if he paid any attention at all during medical school, that what we’re talking about is probabilities. “Reliability” means a high probability that a treatment will work and as narrow range of variability in responses between patients as is achievable. Besides, at least one major reason that there are variabilities in responses to treatments is genetics. Indeed, we are reaching the point in cancer therapy where we can predict the probability of a response to chemotherapy by doing genomic tests, just as we are now estimating the probability of developing various diseases by similar tests. Even if Chopra’s “mind-body” medicine worked, it would be pretty useless without some reliable (there’s that word again) way to figure out which intervention will work for which patient. Moreover, Chopra can’t help but bring up that favorite alternative medicine trope about iatrogenic illnesses and injuries, but, as with most woos, he doesnt’ weigh benefits in terms of diseases cured versus risks of injury. Of course, with placebos, the risk of injury from the placebo can be, depending upon the placebo, close to zero. However, the chance of cure is also zero, and using modalities known not to produce an objective effect (placebos) raises grave ethical concerns.

What it all boils down to thus far for Chopra is using biological variability among people as an excuse for justifying either combining unscientific treatments with scientifically demonstrated treatments or choosing them instead, finishing with a huge straw man yet again:

I’ve come to feel that the argument will never be settled until we accept a fact of nature: everyone has a unique response to disease. No single treatment can be expected to cure or prevent illness with complete reliability, and even if Western medicine is right to claim that a drug like penicillin works more often than any alternative, Eastern medicine can point to drug intolerance, side effects, and expense as considerable drawbacks…Therefore, each of us needs to consider our own bodies, our own life history, and our own susceptibility. Mainstream medicine constantly tries to sell its one-size-fits-all position, and it shouldn’t. For decades all patients with high blood pressure were put on reduced salt diets that they found hard to tolerate, despite the fact that over 80% of people are not salt sensitive and can eat as much salt as they want. Over that same period low-cholesterol diets were pushed for all patients at risk for premature heart attacks, even though the connection between the cholesterol you eat and the cholesterol in your blood varies widely. To claim that there was a simple correlation was bad science. Meanwhile, the strong correlation between heart attacks and psychological stress was pursued with much less enthusiasm, if at all. Today, of course, newer and better drugs are meant to solve all problems.

Once again we hear the claim of “individualized” treatment unlike the allegedly “one size fits all” nature of scientific medicine. As I’ve said before, I find this particular claim by woomeisters like Chopra to be risible. For one thing, certain “alternative” modalities rely on ascribing a single cause to a wide variety of diseases of unrelated pathogenesis. (Hulda Clark claiming to be able to cure cancer, AIDS, and even “all diseases” by killing liver flukes with her “Zapper,” anyone? Imbalances in qi?) But, more importantly, this fetishizing of “individualization” by advocates of “alternative” medicine such as Deepak Chopra, is more an excuse not to have to come up with concrete, testable diagnostic criteria for diseases or conditions or to have to show actual objective efficacy of their treatments through the scientific method. Fuzzy thinkers like Deepak Chopra often invoke biological variability between individuals more when it is convenient to do so than as a real substantive argument, particularly when a therapy is most likely due to the placebo effect, as Chopra all but admits that his “mind-body” medicine is. In reality, the emphasis of woomeisters like Chopra on “individualization” consists of little more than buzzwords. There’s no evidence that alt-med does any better at treating the “whole patient” than conventional medicine and considerable evidence that, by lumping many diseases of unrelated pathophysiology together and using the same treatments for them, alternative medicine’s claims of “individualization” means the freedom to keep trying stuff until the patient’s symptoms get better on their own. In many cases, the “individualization” of treatments claimed by advocates of alt-med is just fancy way of saying, “We make it up as we go along.”

Worse, his claims smack of blaming the victim of disease. An ugly implication lurking just beneath his emphasis on claiming that the mind can heal the body in such spectacular ways is that the person who remains ill and cannot “heal” himself must lack the will to do so.

ADDENDUM: Heh. Mark over at denialism blog apparently had the same idea about this Choprawoo that I did. Great minds think alike, I guess.

Comments

  1. #1 wolfwalker
    November 27, 2007

    This is such a blatant straw man of how scientific medicine works that no crows are to be found anywhere near that part of the Huffington Post.

    Now that’s a nice turn of phrase! I may stea-, er, borrow it next time I encounter a blatant strawman argument.

  2. #2 Ezekiel Buchheit
    November 27, 2007

    ” As a physician, Chopra should know that. ”

    He’s a freaking physician? Like, he went through medical school and everything? In a westernized country? He didn’t graduate from the Burkina Faso School of Medicine and Ox Cart Yoke Repair?

    I used to work graveyard at a parking lot out by the airport in Austin, Texas. The planes stop landing at around 10:00 PM and the business folk don’t show up until around 5:00AM. So I would spend my long, boring night in my seven foot by four foot booth listening to Coast to Coast AM, which we called schizophrenic radio (people call talking about shadow creatures and they’re serious!) That was my first “encounter” with Chopra and has colored my opinion of him ever since. I had written him off as a New Atlantian Sedona Vortex Crystal Weaver to the Stars and nothing more… but a physician? That’s a different level of deception. This is somebody who should know better. I mean, I haven’t studied the man, but it seems that if you went through real school and gathered a real education, then barring some supreme psychosis, this isn’t just woo-woo nonesense from the uniformed and fantasy prone, but outright chicanery.

    Am I late to the party on this? I am. Damn.

  3. #3 HCN
    November 27, 2007

    Chopra needs to catch up to the fact that real science is finding out how genes affect different drug responses in people, and using it to fine tune dosages:
    http://www.gs.washington.edu/wednesdays/speakers/nickerson.html

  4. #4 Niobe
    November 27, 2007

    What is the logical disconnect that goes from “everybody is different” to “DNA based medicine won’t work”. Wouldn’t it only be given by people of a certain genetic makeup therefore appealing to the individualized treatment?

    Your strawman phrase makes me think of Chopra as the character in Wizard of Oz, wishing for a brain.

  5. #5 Thony C.
    November 27, 2007

    and even if Western medicine is right to claim …Eastern medicine can point to

    Is medicine in San Francisco different from medicine in New York?

  6. #6 The Crack Emcee
    November 27, 2007

    Chopra first became known during “The Great Maharishi Caper” (I’d give you a link but I’m not at my own computer) where he, and a bunch of other TM cultists, got a bogus paper slipped into JAMA.

    I find it interesting that Ezekiel mentions, “severe psychosis”, and Orac previously made mention of his surprise at how functional people will cling to these beliefs as well – while almost all the science/medical blogs will speak of religion, etc. – but none of you will ever deal with this as (or even say the word) “cults”. It’s bizarre to me, considering how smart you are otherwise. It’s almost like you share their outlook.

    The woos display all the signs of cultist behavior – they’ve got leaders; whacked out beliefs they want to make money from; they’re organized; you can’t reason with them; they kill people without remorse, etc. – but most doctors/scientists refuse to deal with it as such, but spend all your time wondering what’s happening. Don’t you see that by doing so, you’re giving them the best cover they could get?

    Guys/Gals, I know it’s goofy, but since when has dealing with cults not been? For crying out loud, David Koresh was once a respected preacher. Jim Jones was put in charge of San Francisco’s Housing Authority. Yusef Bey (of Your Black Muslim Bakery, which recently killed a reporter in Oakland, Ca.) got by with letters of commendation from the mayor, Ron Dellems, and their local representative, the famously anti-war Barbara Lee. Attaching themselves to legitimate operations, personalities, and causes, is what cults do now.

    You’ve got to wake up, people: You’re dealing with cults.

  7. #7 DLC
    November 27, 2007

    Holy Cow Pies Batman! This Chopra guy is off the wall, across the ceiling and halfway out the door!

  8. #8 Warren
    November 27, 2007

    The significance of these findings is that psychological attitudes changed basic physical sensations.

    No, no, no, Deepak. Psychological attitudes changed the perception of basic physical sensations. The difference is irreducibly significant.

    As a physician he’s a much better mystic; as a logician he’s simply abominable.

  9. #9 Koray
    November 27, 2007

    Is there such a thing as ancient Spanish, Amazon or Eskimo woo? Why is there so much confidence in ancient peoples as long as they’re from east Asia? Fascinating.

  10. #10 Sastra
    November 27, 2007

    The altie mantra that “each patient is unique” simply echoes the self-absorbed gratification involved in viewing the universe through spiritual lenses: you are important, and at the center of the story. What happens to other people isn’t the point — this is about your own relationship to the divine.

    The same sort of thought processes which interpret beautiful sunsets and the motions of the stars as secret messages and insights directed towards them by a Powerful Consciousness will be at work in alternative medicine. The BIG picture will focus on you and your all-important subjective relationship with a Loving and Caring Cosmos — not on objective criteria involving characters tangential to the plot..

  11. #11 sailor
    November 27, 2007

    If Chopwoo is against “one size fits all” medicine, should he not start off attacking homeopathy? Every medicine for every complaint is exactly the same – water.

  12. #12 MarkH
    November 28, 2007

    Now this is just getting creepy.

  13. #13 The Crack Emcee
    November 28, 2007

    Why East Asia?

    The British colonised India. Indians settled in Britain. The Beatles are British. The Maharishi giggles a lot.

    Next question.

    CMC – Your friendly neighborhood cult man.

  14. #14 Marcus Ranum
    November 28, 2007

    Sitting on the surface of a frozen lake “all night” wearing just a thin piece of silk?? I call B.S. on that, if it’s a lake of frozen water.

    This sounds like one of those woo legends like the breatharians or the ki fighters that wouldn’t hold up to even rudimentary skeptical examination.

  15. #15 Calli Arcale
    November 28, 2007

    The altie mantra that “each patient is unique” simply echoes the self-absorbed gratification involved in viewing the universe through spiritual lenses: you are important, and at the center of the story. What happens to other people isn’t the point — this is about your own relationship to the divine.

    I never realized it before, but you’re right. That hits it right on the head.

    I am reminded of a wonderful book called “Science Made Stupid” (sadly, long since out of print following a startlingly short print run). It described three basic models of the universe:

    Heliocentric (everything revolves around the Sun)

    Ethnocentric (everything revolves around your country; the illustration depicted planets orbiting China)

    Egocentric (everything revolves around you, complete with a cartoon figure with planets revolving around his head)

    The whole book was a parody of basic science concepts, with a bit of sociopolitical satire thrown in. Some of the satire is slightly dated now (the book was written in the 80s) but if you ever manage to score a copy, it’s fantastic. Excerpts have been posted on the Web by a fan (with the author’s blessing) at:
    http://www.besse.at/sms/smsintro.html

    Alas, the “egocentric universe” segment is not reproduced online.

  16. #16 Heather
    November 28, 2007

    Deepak Chopra-style woo doesn’t rile me up. There isn’t any harm in a person exploring his “mind-body” connection. While some people use this as an excuse to become even more self-absorbed, that needn’t be the result. Many people may actually realize the opposite–that they are not in fact “at the center of the story” and can experience physical sensations and their self-centered thoughts about them–and still be more than that as a person. Whether or not this type of experience is a remedy on par with conventional medicine isn’t really the point. In this case the two are can co-exist. Mr. Chopra, in my opinion, is not at all like most members of the antivax, homeopathic “medicine”, or mercury militia communities, and railing against his form of woo isn’t very satisfying.

  17. #17 Heather
    November 28, 2007

    Actually, as I was sitting here thinking about it, exploring that “mind-body connection” is a pretty scientific thing to do, from an individual’s standpoint. Sort of an individual science experiment on onesself (an inquiry into consciousness), if done objectively. I realize to discuss it in the same vein as conventional medicine is what ignited your skeptical fury, but I do put it in the category of “can’t hurt, might help.”

  18. #18 The Crack Emcee
    November 28, 2007

    Heather,

    I don’t want to go into it but there is plenty wrong with Chopra’s form of woo, starting with the mere spread of misinformation allowing a space for nastier beliefs, behaviors, and outcomes, to take root. For instance, I always marvel at how mainstream descriptions of Chopra don’t mention his origins in The Maharishi Caper or – when the Maharishi and The Beatles are mentioned – how TM-inspired belief played a major role in John Lennon’s marriage break-up (to Cynthia Lennon) or the dissolution of the band. All unforeseen occurrences of following nonsense – with barely any retort.

    Maybe, eventually, someone discovered they weren’t the center of the universe but that was only long after the damage was done. As far as I know, Cynthia Lennon never really got over it – her son was, pretty much, abandoned by John – and what have we all lost with theBeatles break-up? What could have been different?

    I know, that example is weak, but it’s only because I don’t want the rest of my day to be consumed with thinking about the more maddening (and personal) possible outcomes that that one will have to do. Sorry.

    This madness is fire. Don’t play with it.

  19. #19 Prometheus
    November 28, 2007

    Deepak has once again shown what he is famous for: taking trivial observations and making them sound like masterful insights.

    Here’s what I got from the woo-master:

    [1] Perception (e.g. pain) is not reality (e.g. tissue injury).

    As a physician, Deepak should have known this, since every physician I have met seems to know it. Perhaps Deepak is just now coming to grips with some of the concepts he was exposed to in medical school.

    Actually, Deepak should have run a bit further with this concept, as it would have warned him that his whole line of “reasoning” about the “mind-body connection” was in peril.

    [2] What you think has an impact on what you do and how you feel.

    This is a far cry from Deepak’s usual pseudo-quantum “you create your own reality”, but it has the benefit of actually being true.

    Your thoughts, attitudes and perceptions can affect how you feel and what you do. Your thoughts etc. may not have any direct impact on any other part of the Universe, but they can have a tremendous impact on you.

    Caveat: Your thoughts, attitudes, etc. will generally not have any significant effect on anything apart from your mind. Relaxation may help with blood pressure, but it won’t budge your cholesterol or renal function.

    [3] “Western” medicine is not 100% effective.

    True enough. And how effective is “Eastern” medicine? We don’t know, since most of it hasn’t been tested. The parts that have been tested appear to be no better than placebo.

    As usually happens in “alternative” medicine rants like Deepak’s, he fails to place his criticisms in context. He admits that penicillin can help (certain) infections, but complains that it also has side effects.

    The omitted context is this: what are the “side effects” of “alternative” treatments for, say, strep throat? And included in “side effects” should be “failure to be effective”. Real treatments – at least in this universe – have real effects and real side effects.

    On the other hand, fake treatments (like homeopathy – which is actually “Western medicine”) often have no side effects but also have no effects, either.

    [4] Individualized treatment is good.

    This is an ironic point that Deepak is making, since “alternative” medicine typically applies the same “treatments” (or suite of “treatments”) to everybody, regardless of what they are complaining of.

    Homeopathy – as mentioned above – gives either water or lactose to everybody.

    Accupunture simply sticks needles into the patient’s flesh to redirect an imaginary energy.

    Even Deepak’s “mind-body” medicine simply tells eveybody to imagine themselves feeling better.

    Real medicine, on the other hand, is individualized not only to the individual patient, but also to the individual medical problem. Thus, a person complaining of weakness and fatigue due to influenza is given a different treatment from a person who is weak and fatigued due to anemia or lymphoma or hyovolemia or hyposia or…. You get the picture.

    “Alternative” medicine, on the other hand, views all patients with similar (or even dissimilar, in some cases) complaints as being functionally equivalent.

    The only individualization that I have seen in “alternative” medicine has to do with the individual practitioner. Thus, an accupuncturist sees all problems as being in need of needle, an herbalist treats all with the same complaint with the the same herbs and so on.

    It reminds me of the old adage:

    “To a man whose only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.”

    As has been said before, the only reason that Deepak and others of his ilk can be as financially successful as they are is that real medicine is doing the “heavy lifting” for them. Real medicine treats strep throat, hypertension, diabetes, coronary artery disease, cancer….etc.

    This leaves woo-based medicine free to treat the “worried well” and those for whom real medicine does not yet have an effective treatment. When they try to treat people who have real diseases that also have real medical treatments, their results are invariably worse than real medicine.

    Prometheus

  20. #20 sailor
    November 28, 2007

    Heather, Choprawoo is harmful. He makes out that you can fix anything with the right attitude. In the case of cancer this has been shown fairly conclusively to be bullshit. In fact the study he quoted was old, and the man who did it redid it some years later with negative results. Why did he bother? Becase Chprawoo and similar ridiculous fantasies make people who suffer from cancer GUILTY why? because they are being told that if they have concer there is something wrong with their attitude – it is their fault. Being very close to someone who has had cancer twice (and is doing great thanks to conventional meidicine) I saw this in action where everyone comes running round telling the patient they can get better if only they will eat blue green algae/ raw wheat/ drink cider vinager and hone and other such nonsence.

  21. #21 Heather
    November 29, 2007

    I don’t think he says that you can fix *anything* with the right attitude. He’s not really saying much of anything, actually…just a lot of vague, feel-good musings. Also, I’m sure that he would say that just as truisms don’t exist in conventional medicine they don’t exist in “mind-body” connection woo either–some people probably do contribute to their body’s failings (directly or indirectly) with their thinking; most of the time positive thinking has zero to do with disease. But precisely because he says *nothing* is why his woo doesn’t compel me to oppose it. Like it was pointed out, he packages the trivial for sale as masterful insight. And this is different from 95% of the nonfiction bestsellers how? People are desperately looking to fill the holes they perceive in their lives, and with so much ignorance in the world most people are bound to get it all wrong even with a step-by-step recipe. That’s not to say that a few people couldn’t get it right and make a difference. My personal experience has been that meditation that has the aim of maintaining attention to the here-and-now physical sensations, while noticing the thoughts, is a worthwhile pursuit. Reading about it, talking about it (a la Deepak Chopra), is pretty much useless, but I don’t think very harmful.

  22. #22 The Crack Emcee
    November 29, 2007

    Heather,

    “I’m sure that he would say that just as truisms don’t exist in conventional medicine they don’t exist in “mind-body” connection woo either”

    Which would be him changing the subject – a conventional cult trick:. We’re discussing him, not conventional medicine.

    “precisely because he says *nothing* is why his woo doesn’t compel me to oppose it.”

    And if, say, your mother became obsessed with him (obviously beyond all reason) and there was nothing you could do to stop her from believing he’s profound, starting to hang with other believers, giving money to their causes, campaigning to change conventional medicine, letting quacks take advantage of her, becoming romantically involved, getting in fights with you and the rest of your family, etc., how would you feel then? That’s what others are dealing with, totally alone, while you and others – including doctors – take a blase’ attitude because he’s saying “nothing” to YOU. You’re not the only one in this, Heather.

    “My personal experience has been that meditation that has the aim of maintaining attention to the here-and-now physical sensations, while noticing the thoughts, is a worthwhile pursuit.”

    That’s while people who pursue it have a higher divorce rate, become incapable of noticing nuances – and a myriad of other problems – that are rarely mentioned because it’s working out so well for the meditator,…just not for anyone around them. Like I said, you’re not alone in this, Heather. As New Agers (woos) like to say, “It’s all connected” and the pain they bring to others (especially those close to them) is a big part of it. If you go to http://tmfree.blogspot.com/ you can find out more about the wicked wonders of meditation.

    It’s evil nonsense that was popularized in the West by a charlatan who, like most meditators, was always more concerned with himself than anyone else.

  23. #23 Heather
    November 29, 2007

    Perhaps you misunderstood–I am not a follower of Deepak Chopra. As far as I’m concerned he’s just worshiping the almighty dollar. I wouldn’t send any of my money his way, and I would certainly be concerned if I had a relative or friend “worshiping” him.

    I haven’t ever heard about meditators having higher divorce rates. I do, however, understand the “personal” nature of meditation, and the potential it has to separate the meditator from his/her family. Again, I think that doesn’t have to be the case, as the aim is to relieve suffering–for the benefit others.

    Not to belabor the point, but my original thought was simply that I didn’t understand why Deepak Chopra was eliciting such a strong response from Orac. He says a lot of ooey-gooey stuff, but isn’t out there trying to pass off something as science/fact when it’s not. His selling point is that it’s *not* science.

    Anyway, I really love this blog, thanks for keeping it going.

  24. #24 sailor
    November 30, 2007

    As someone who has meditated most days for about 40 years as a form of relaxation, and who does does not believe in woo, I would take the Crack Emcees comments with about a tone of salt.

  25. #25 The Crack Emcee
    December 1, 2007

    What I know to be the best study on meditation ever done (it’s German) is available on Trancenet (I think – I’ll soon be back on my own computer and able to provide links – you can find it, somewhere, on my site) and the results are devastating and, considering how many people engage in meditation, scary. (Starting with the question: Why would anyone do anything that giggling mess, known as the Maharishi, suggests? His example, alone, should be enough reason for a sane person to turn away from such nonsense.) And one other thing:

    Just like people who ignore what Yoga was created for while claiming to do it for exercise (something TIME Magazine recently reported was useless) the willingness to ignore the many charlatans that popularised meditation, as well as what it was actually created for – “spiritual enlightenment” – in favor of “relaxation” claims is just as bogus:

    You could just as well take a nap to relax.

    No, just like with Yoga, people meditate for something else. And getting them to stop (40 years? Are you bragging?) is like pulling teeth. But getting people out of cultish behavior always has been. Anyway, as the old saying goes, “Somebody’s lying and it’s not me,…”

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