Remember Deepak Chopra?
He’s the physician (yes, physician) whose grasp on real science is so tenuous and whose ability to abuse multiple scientific disciplines, ranging from quantum physics to astronomy to genetics to medicine, simultaneously in the service of woo is so amazing that a few years ago I once coined a term representing the only word you ever need to use to refer to Chopra’s blather: Choprawoo. Yes, I realize that the term “Choprawoo” is completely redundant if you’re a skeptic and realize just how full of pseudoscientific nonsense Chopra’s blather is. On the other hand, for the folks out there who have yet to encounter Chopra or who aren’t familiar enough with him to realize that what Chopra says and what real science says are related only by coincidence or when the science happens to be science that Chopra can’t twist to support his view of “quantum consciousness” or a “conscious universe.” Be that as it may, it’s been a while since I’ve bothered with Chopra’s particularly annoying brand of quantum woo, which seems to have the ability to metastasize and invade not just physics, but all of neuroscience, genetics, biology, and evolutionary science.
When last I recall leaving Deepak Chopra, he was whining about just how mean we skeptics were to him, calling him all sorts of (well-deserved) names for his mangling of even the most basic of sciences or attacking Michael Shermer for calling his BS, well, BS, albeit in a far more polite manner than readers of this blog are accustomed to hearing from me. Apparently he’s still been up to his usual tricks–and in his usual places, too: his own blog, Intent.com, and that wretched hive of scum and quackery that he’s infested almost since its beginning The Huffington Post. In fact, he often crossposts the same articles to both blogs, and this is exactly what he did with his latest
target topic Is Evolution Ready to Evolve? (crossposted to HuffPo, natch).
Per his usual MO, Chopra starts off trying to paint himself and those who think like him as martyrs persecuted by the cruel, jagged barbs of dogmatic insults against those who have the temerity to criticize “Darwinism.” Of course, whenever you hear someone like Chopra using the term “Darwinism” as a substitute for “evolution,” there’s at least a 99% chance you’re about to be treated to an anti-science rant of the highest caliber, and Chopra doesn’t disappoint:
Although science prides itself on objectivity, it has some cherished articles of belief, and if you question them, however reasonably, you can expect ire and raised hackles. Bruce Lipton has discovered this after posting “Has Modern Science Bankrupted Our Souls?” In it he challenges basic assumptions of modern science, such as the pre-eminence of a Newtonian physical universe and the conception of evolution through random mutations for being flawed. Natural selection and random mutation no doubt played a part in getting us where we are now, but they won’t carry us into the future. The controversy being stirred up is old and, so far as Darwinists are concerned, completely settled. On one side is the light of reason, on the other darkness and superstition. The fact that Bruce Lipton is a cell biologist doesn’t mean that his credentials protect him. People don’t take kindly to having their faith questioned.
Ah, yes. The old “your science is a religion” canard. How tiresome. How many times does it need to be said that the difference between religion and science is that science actually incorporates new evidence and observations and changes in response to them? As you might imagine, I’m not nearly as impressed with Bruce Lipton’s article as Chopra apparently is. For one thing, I know that Bruce Lipton was featured prominently in the woo-tastic movie The Living Matrix and is author of the book The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter & Miracles. Apparently he’s a cell biologist who abandoned “conventional” biology after having some sort of mystical revelation about cells that led him to conclude that God must exist and that “holistic” therapies work. So you know right then and there where he’s coming from and the reason why the entire heart of Lipton’s article boils down to this passage:
New science revises four fundamental beliefs that shape civilization. These flawed assumptions include:
- The Newtonian vision of the primacy of a physical, mechanical Universe;
- Genes control biology;
- Evolution resulted from random genetic mutations; and
- Evolution is driven by a struggle for the survival-of-the-fittest. These failed beliefs represent the “Four Assumptions of the Apocalypse,” for they are driving human civilization to the brink of extinction.
Lipton appears to be about 100 years behind the times. Newtonian physics gave way to relativity nearly that long ago. Around the same time, quantum theory began its rise, to be abused by woo-meisters everywhere like Deepak Chopra. As those of us who have studied a bit of physics know, quantum physics can produce some truly weird results. However, the whole bit about Newton, as 19th century as it is, is just the warm-up. What really cheeses Lipton (and Chopra) is that new findings in biology do not support their desire to believe in some higher power, be it a great “universal quantum consciousness” in the case of Deepak Chopra or some sort of vague spirituality in the case of Bruce Lipton. Naturally, Lipton channels Chopra who happily channels him back in invoking quantum theory to argue for the existence of spirit.
What really irritates Lipton, though, and apparently Chopra as well, is the determinism of modern biology in which genetics have allowed scientists to understand so much about how cells and the organisms made up of those cells function. I’ve never really been able to figure out why woo-meisters like Chopra love epigenetics so much, but I think I’m starting to get it based on this brief passage:
Biomedical research has recently toppled the widespread belief that organisms are genetically controlled robots and that evolution is driven by a random, survival-of-the-fittest mechanism. As genetically controlled “robots,” we are led to perceive of ourselves as “victims” of heredity. Genes control our lives yet we did not pick our genes, nor can we change them if we don’t like our traits. The perception of genetic victimization inevitably leads to irresponsibility, for we believe we have no power over our lives.
The exciting new science of epigenetics emphasizes that genes are controlled by the environment, and more importantly, by our perception of the environment. Epigenetics acknowledges that we are not victims, but masters, for we can change our environment or perceptions, and create up to 30,000 variations for each of our genes.
I’ve always viewed the whine by quackery supporters like Chopra and Lipton that genetics represents sheer determinism to be a bit of a straw man. No one claims that genes determine our destiny completely or that people should not adhere to healthy diets and lifestyles because genes render such considerations moot. Moreover, as I pointed out before when Mike Adams attacked Stephen Hawking a month ago for referring to humans as robots based on deterministic biology. The problem was that Hawking’s argument was far more complex and nuanced than it was represented. Basically, Hawking pointed out that we would have to know the the “initial state of each of the thousand trillion trillion molecules in the human body and to solve something like that number of equations” in order to be able to predict human behavior, something that is impossible with current knowledge and technology. That means, for all intents and purposes to me at least, the question of whether free will exists or not might be an interesting philosophical question but in practice is meaningless.
Whether my take is a good one or not, cranks like Chopra and Lipton are very much enamored of epigenetics because they view it somehow as a mechanism by which human beings can control their gene expression. The problem is, all that epigenetics means are mechanisms by which gene expression can be regulated by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA structure. These include methylating DNA, remodeling the chromatin in which the DNA is coiled, and a variety of other mechanisms. Yet frequently woo-meisters like Chopra use and abuse the concept of epigenetics to conclude that we can somehow change our gene expression by “intent”; i.e., by thinking really, really, really hard. They then wrap that concept up in some science-y sounding verbiage linking quantum physics to epigenetics and biology and–voila!–instant quantum consciousness, which, I guess, is not unlike instant karma, given that in this case it all seems to derive from ancient Ayurvedic concepts tarted up with quantum theory and evolution, as though they put them all in a blender and hit the “puree” button. In the process, they inevitably misrepresent evolution by natural selection as a purely random process, because, you know, they abhor randomness. Never mind that natural selection is not random. The mutations that natural selection acts upon are random, but natural selection itself is not. Moreover, epigenetics, while a fascinating field of study, fits quite well into modern evolutionary theory.
Moving away from Lipton’s article and back to Chopra’s post, I note that Chopra is not at all shy about laying out exactly why he abuses science so:
The basic premises that are able to cross the line between science and spirituality are these:
- We live in a conscious universe.
- Such a universe is constantly evolving.
- Humans are woven into the currents of cosmic evolution.
- The future of our own evolution will be based on conscious choice
Which leads Chopra to exult:
One could also appeal to personal interest, however, and the best way might be with the last premise on the list: *The future of our own evolution will be based on conscious choice*. A person can be left at peace with randomness, natural selection, a universe where the only conscious beings are us, and so on. But most people also gravitate to the idea of choosing their own future. It’s more optimistic than resigning yourself to the mechanical operation of fate, or stand ins like all-controlling genes.
In other words, Chopra doesn’t like the thought of a cold, uncaring universe that doesn’t give a rodent’s posterior about him or what he thinks; so he substitutes “conscious” universe in which human beings control their own evolution and that of the universe. It’s a lovely thought, so fuzzy, so happy, so reassuring. There’s only one problem: There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that it’s true. There’s another problem, too. Humans have tried to “consciously control” our evolution before. It was called eugenics, and it didn’t work out so well.
None of this stops Chopra from declaring confidently:
So is evolution ready to evolve? It would seem so, if we are to judge by the cutting edge. Younger researchers are open to these topics; they won’t just shut up and calculate. There are tussles, of course, and angry skirmishes. A war of two worldviews has broken out, in fact. One conception of the universe and our place in it is being forced to yield its supremacy to the new paradigm on the block. What Lipton’s post has done is to bring the clash of worldviews down from the ivory tower.
No, what Lipton’s post has done is to lay throw a whole bunch of quantum nonsense against the wall and see if anything stuck. Nothing did other than the remnants of the load of fetid dingo’s kidneys that Lipton’s and Chopra’s arguments inevitably are as Lipton declares that “biology and evolution are on our side.”
Unfortunately, biology and reason are not.