Pharyngula

Deepak Chopra does it again

Deepak Chopra really is an embarrassment. I’ve tussled with his weird arguments before, and now he’s flounced onto the Huffington Post with another article (prompted by an article on human genetics in Time, but bearing almost no relationship to it) in which he reveals his profound ignorance of biology, in something titled The Trouble With Genes. Chopra is a doctor, supposedly, but every time I read something by him that touches on biology, he sounds as ignorant as your average creationist. He also writes incredibly poorly, bumbling his way forward with a succession of unlikely and indefensible claims. This latest article is one in which I think he’s trying to criticize the very idea of genes, but it’s more like he’s criticizing his own lack of knowledge.

It’s amazing to realize that nobody really knows what a gene is or how it works, even though the word ‘gene’ has become the miracle of the hour.

Nobody? Or Deepak Chopra?

There are complexities in defining the details of what a gene is, and there are all kinds of fascinating exceptions and quirks; we find differences of opinion between the operational definitions of a classical geneticist and the molecular and computational approaches of a bioinformaticist, for instance. There are real papers in the literature that wrestle with what we mean by the concept of the gene, and if this were such a work, it might have been the start of an interesting discussion. As we’ll quickly see, it is not such a work.

Almost every bit of important research in biology and medicine over the past decade has centered on genetics. After the successful mapping of the human genome, we were told that an enormous range of disease will prove curable through gene therapy.

OK, this is another worthwhile point—there has been a lot of hype, and the ease of translating basic research into applied therapies has been oversold. Again, this is material that could make for an interesting paper.

Instead, though, what we get is the maunderings of a third-rate mind with no understanding of even decades-old ideas. Instead of revealing any working knowledge of biological thought, Chopra gives us a list of questions about the gene that he is wondering about, and also claiming that no one else understands, and babbling foolishly. Some of these would be good questions coming from a student who seriously wanted to learn, but coming from an M.D. who routinely pontificates on how your body works, and stated with such a stunning certainty that because he doesn’t know, no one else does either, this is an infuriating list. Can we get Chopra’s license to practice medicine revoked, if he has one?

  • No one knows how genes make inanimate chemicals like hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen come to life.

This is a very peculiar complaint. Hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen don’t “come to life”. The fundamental activities going on in the cell are chemistry. There isn’t anything magical going on.

  • The ability of DNA to replicate has never been explained.

How strange. You can find a short summary of the biochemistry of replication on Wikipedia. Arthur Kornberg, father of the recent winner of the Nobel in chemistry, won the Nobel himself in 1959 for the discovery of DNA polymerase (that’s right, 1959. Where’s Chopra been?) This has been the stuff of undergraduate cell biology courses for at least 30 years.

  • We don’t know how genes time their actions years or decades in advance.

This doesn’t make sense. We know lots of factors that regulate gene expression on various time scales, from seconds to months. We understand much of the process of maturation that leads to, for instance, new patterns of gene expression in humans at puberty. I’d suggest that Chopra look up the term epigenesis sometime, if I weren’t certain he wouldn’t understand it.

  • Having mapped the sequence of genes, we don’t know what the sequence means, only that it exists.

Ah, well. This is finally a statement where he’s close to saying something valid. He’s wrong that we only know that the sequence exists; we do know quite a bit about some parts of the genome, and what those parts do. There is a lot more to learn, though.

  • Having found out that mice share 90% of human genes and gorillas over 99%, we can’t explain how the tremendous differences between species should come down to such a tiny fraction of the genetic code.

Yes, we can. A great many genes carry out functions that are the same in people and mice and chimpanzees: we all carry out the same processes of basic metabolism, for instance, we all have an enzyme called pyruvate carboxylase, which adds a carbon to a 3-carbon molecule to form the 4-carbon oxaloacetate. Why should we expect this to be different between a human and a mouse, or between a human and a carrot? Our biochemistry is mostly the same, and we’ll all have this similar set of genes for the essential enzymes. Then look at our overall form: we’ve all got lungs and livers and kidneys and teeth. The genetic substrates that will build these organs will use the same genes in all of us. Finally, what makes people distinct from mice isn’t entirely the nucleotide sequence of our genes, but how those genes are switched off and on—a process modified by very small changes to the genome.

Similarity to a high degree is what we should expect.

  • We can’t explain why people with the same genes (identical twins) turn out to be different in so many ways as they grow up and age.

Let’s remember that word “epigenesis” again. Development is a process in which genes interact with each other and the environment; everyone, even identical twins, experience slightly different environments. As a trivial example, whisper a secret into one twin’s ear, and not the other’s. Voila, the two people have two different circumstances despite having nearly identical genes!

  • We don’t know why over 90% of genes are inactive at any given time.

Where did this 90% number come from, I wonder? It doesn’t sound right.

No matter, we do know. This is what molecular genetics/developmental genetics is all about: differential gene expression. Different interactions during development set up different patterns of gene expression in different tissues. We wouldn’t expect a pancreatic cell to have all of the same genes active as a skin cell, but we know that in their nuclei pancreatic and skin cells do have the same set of genes present.

  • We don’t know why evolution developed genes that cause cancer, and why such genes weren’t weeded out after they appeared.

Is this a rather muddled interpretation of oncogenes? There are genes that are known to be involved in cancer, called oncogenes. They are mutated or otherwise modified forms of genes called proto-oncogenes. For example, some of these genes are important in causing cell death; if some kind of somatic mutation causes a cell to proliferate uncontrollably, these genes respond to the abnormal activity by triggering destruction of the cell. These genes evolved to suppress cancers (they obviously have a selective advantage, because people with them live longer—they don’t keel over at an early age, riddled with tumors).

Proto-oncogenes are genes that prevent cancer. They are called cancer genes because patients with damage to these genes in certain cells get cancers.

Isn’t it a little embarrassing for an M.D. like Chopra to not know this?

  • We don’t know if genes cause or prevent aging. In the same vein, we don’t know if they cause or prevent cellular death, since there is evidence that they do both.

We know that some genes are involved in aging. We know that the environment is also important in aging. Of course there are genes involved in both causing and preventing cell death—this is a process in a kind of dynamic tension, with cells balanced between healthy growth and death.

Chopra is just babbling to himself here, trying to sound profound, I think.

  • We haven’t unraveled the significance of the space on the DNA strand, even though the blank spots in our genetic code may be just as important, if not more, than the genetic material itself.

Uh, the spaces between genes are part of the genetic material. In general, this looks like incomprehension of basic ideas in genetic structure. There are various classes of repetitive DNA, there are pseudogenes, there are random stretches of nucleotides, there are specific regulatory regions, there are coding regions of DNA (there are, however, no blank spots). While there are still mysteries in there, it’s not as if we don’t know anything…and in particular, there is no evidence that junk DNA (which is what I presume he means by “blank spots”) is more important than the rest. That claim sounds rather goofy, actually.

  • Genes respond to the outside world as well as to behavior and thoughts, but we don’t know how or why except in the most general terms.

Thoughts? We don’t think genes on or off, unless he’s talking about such processes as learning and memory, where mental activity leads to patterns in gene expression, and a couple of guys, including Eric Kandel, won Nobels for figuring out mechanisms of signal transduction in the nervous system. We also know in great detail how many developmental genes regulate their activity.

I would like to give Deepak Chopra a prescription. Read Molecular Biology of the Cell(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). The answers he’s looking for are all in there.

Comments

  1. #1 A,Y.
    October 6, 2006

    I understand that doctors generally do not have the extensive theoretical framework that biologists will delve into, but this is inexcusable.

  2. #2 Daephex
    October 7, 2006

    What’s the point of Chopra even writing something like this? If he wants to fool around with some sort of “mind-body” whatever, I say “go for it”. I didn’t realize anyone had to abandon their scientific endeavors for his to continue! Talk about ego…

  3. #3 John
    October 7, 2006

    Deepak Chopra is the main reason I don’t read the Huffington Post.

  4. #4 wheatdogg
    October 7, 2006

    Deepocket’s shtick is his quasi-mystical sense of the wonders of the human body and the world around us. So I wonder if his apparent ignorance of genetics is just a play to his audience of mystico-scientific New Age readers. His books sell remarkably well (sadly) because he knows how to couch his language to sell to his target audience. Most of what he writes is drivel, but his readers must love drivel.

  5. #5 Hank Fox
    October 7, 2006

    Chopra is not a scientist, no matter what his credentials. He writes pop-fad crap to suck money out of yokels, and it’s little wonder he’d hurry to cash in on this new “evolushun bad” thing. It might help to think of the difference between a climatologist and a TV weatherman (or review the lyrics to Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”).

    Far as his audience is concerned, might as well criticize P.T. Barnum for flawed anatomy on the pickled mermaids, for all the good it does.

    Talking science is always worthwhile. But Chopra’s audience will never hear you over the sound of the calliope and the distant chant of pop-carnival barkers: HURRAY, HURRAY! STEP RIGHT UP! SEE DEEPAK CHOPRA TAKE A CHEAP SHOT AT DARWIN! HURRAY, HURRAY!

  6. #6 Rey Fox
    October 7, 2006

    It’s so easy to go around shouting that We Don’t Know stuff! And scare people with the Nuclear Bogeyman of Science!

    The folks in the comments section there are really taking Deepak behind the woodshed though.

  7. #7 Stanton
    October 7, 2006

    This guy’s ignorance is both astonishing and horrifying.
    Was he snorting curry powder when he was taking biology classes in college?

  8. #8 Robster
    October 7, 2006

    I’m stunned whenever anybody mentions Chopra, except of course, Deepak himself. The guy might as well put on a wizard hat on. Anything this hard to understand must be magic.

  9. #9 RCP
    October 7, 2006

    The folks in the comments section there are really taking Deepak behind the woodshed though.

    They also seem to be beating up on Time. I looked over that article, and I couldn’t find any huge glaring mistakes. Did I miss something, or are the commenters assuming that Time got it wrong because Chopra got it wrong?

  10. #10 Reed A. Cartwright
    October 7, 2006

    That is an amazingly bad article. Chopra is really ignorant.

  11. #11 George
    October 7, 2006

    People aren’t embarrassed by their own stupidity anymore. They flaunt it. It’s frightening.

    He’s just making stuff up to sell books. He’s been doing it for years and years. He’s like a one man stupidity-spreading operation.

    He says things like this:

    “The physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world.”

    “The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.”

    “You and I are essentially infinite choice-makers. In every moment of our existence, we are in that field of all possibilities where we have access to an infinity of choices.”

    And people eat it up. Why? They want to believe a lot of new age b.s. to feel better about themselves.

  12. #12 jaimito
    October 7, 2006

    How genes make hydrogen, oxygen, etc. become alive? Chemistry does not explain it.

    Choprak is more than ignorant. He is purposefully creating a sense of mystery where there is none. He must be making a lot of money with this nonsense.

  13. #13 Millimeter Wave
    October 7, 2006

    I pretty much gave up after the very first words of the article:

    It’s amazing to realize that nobody really knows what a gene is or how it works…

    Yikes. What a total fucking tool. Is any further comment really warranted here?

  14. #14 Tyler DiPietro
    October 7, 2006

    We haven’t unraveled the significance of the space on the DNA strand, even though the blank spots in our genetic code may be just as important, if not more, than the genetic material itself.

    I think even PZ may be interpreting Chopra to be less ignorant than he is. To me this is him claiming that the space between the actual nucleotides in the double-helical structure of DNA (i.e., the hydrogen bonds) is what “may just as important, if not more” than the genes themselves.

    It sounds like a blatant ploy to invoke a new version of elan vital.

  15. #15 Natasha Yar-Routh
    October 7, 2006

    This has been the stuff of undergraduate cell biology courses for at least 30 years.

    Nope wrong, this has been the stuff of undergraduate biology courses for at least 36 years because that was when I was taking those courses. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny ‘What a maroon’

  16. #16 Gun Of Sod
    October 7, 2006

    Is this guy trying to sell another new age book?

  17. #17 Azkyroth
    October 7, 2006

    “The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.”

    Actually, this is true in some cases. For instance, thinking that eating a sizable quantity of rubidium is a good idea, then acting on it, will have a profound effect on the length of your life.

  18. #18 stefan
    October 7, 2006

    I became thoroughly disillusioned with Chopra after his earlier idiotic essay on Huffington Post during the Kitzmiller trial. It was a equally nonsensical piece supposedly presenting the ‘alternative’ to ID – by ignoring real science even more than the ID wackos do. This is just more of the same drivel and I wish he’d stop embarrassing himself.

  19. #19 dr. dave
    October 7, 2006

    Chopra is a bona fide crackpot, and a charlatan. He came to speak at a school where I worked once and gave a talk where he went on an on about the connection between your physical body and your “quantum body”. It was clear that there was nothing deeper in his idea of the word “quantum” than a sort of confused sense of weirdness that came from skimming a copy of “The Tao of Physics”.

  20. #20 oldhippie
    October 7, 2006

    Apparently Chopra gets his information on genetics from Time Magazine (then no doubt misinterprets it). Strange source of information for one who is supposed to be a medical doctor. I wonder where his degree came from?

    I went over to Huffinton post to look at the comments. Every one is against Chopra (their label: abusive). My favorite:
    “You have proven yourself as guilty as all those lazy, ignorant and bumblings MSM journalists who are so prevalent these days in so-called respected newspapers, newsmagazines, television and radio.
    Shame on you.”

  21. #21 John Pieret
    October 7, 2006

    You know how I was complaining about people like Alton Verm were giving me headaches by making me slap my forehead in disbelief?

    Turns out Chopra is a walking migraine.

  22. #22 mark
    October 7, 2006

    This is one of the clowns educational [sic] tv likes to trot out during fundraising month (which seems to come every three weeks). Hmmm…maybe that’s why it’s now referred to as public tv.

  23. #23 Orac
    October 7, 2006

    Proto-oncogenes are genes that prevent cancer.

    Not exactly, PZ. You seem to be discussing tumor suppressor genes, not proto-oncogenes. Proto-oncogenes are not usually genes that prevent cancer.

    Proto-oncogenes tend to be genes that are involved in critical growth processes. Most often, they are involved in the mitogenic signal transduction pathways that lead to proliferation (Think Her-2/neu or c-myc, for example.) Generally, they are classes of genes for which certain mutations can result in transformation because overexpression or inability to shut off their function is pro-proliferative and anti-differentiation. Some common classes of oncogenes include receptor tyrosine kinases, growth factors, serine/threonine kinases, pro-proliferative transcription factors (c-myc, again). Mutations that either increase the expression of these gene products or eliminate the regulation that shuts them off result in them becoming oncogenic.

    It is tumor suppressor genes, on the other hand, whose function is generally pro-apoptotic, anti-proliferative, and pro-differentiation and whose loss of function results in transformation. Think Rb, APC, PTEN (involved in cell arrest due to DNA damage; when inactivated it lets cells with damaged DNA continue to replicate rather than undergoing apoptosis). Some homeobox genes appear to be tumor suppressors: for instance, HOXA5 in breast cancer.

    The granddaddy of all tumor suppressor genes, p53, is a rather interesting example that illustrates the difference between proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressors. When first identified, it was thought initially to be an oncogene, because its levels were increased in many tumors. It was later realized that overexpressing the wild type p53 protein did not result in transformation. In fact, p53 is a tumor suppressor. It has been sometimes called the “guardian of the genome,” because of its function in shutting down cell replication when DNA damage is detected until the DNA can either be repaired or apoptosis pathways are activated, thus preventing the propagation of mutations. It has a major role in regulating cell cycle arrest, apoptosis, and cell senescence. It turns out that the p53 protein that was found at such high levels in many tumors is, in fact, a mutated and inactive form of the gene, and many p53 mutations have now been characterized.

  24. #24 Keith Douglas
    October 7, 2006

    As I mentioned on The Panda’s Thumb, Chopra was recently at one of my alma maters for an invited talk. I think it was in the faculty of religious studies, but I am not sure. Regardless, I suspect that he had another auditorium full of fawning followers and not a critic in sight … academics are too polite, sometimes.

  25. #25 Caledonian
    October 7, 2006

    academics are too polite, sometimes.

    As a group, it seems academics are too polite all of the time, excepting only when they are unspeakably rude.

  26. #26 Junk Jungle
    October 7, 2006

    We don’t know why over 90% of genes are inactive at any given time.
    Where did this 90% number come from, I wonder? It doesn’t sound right.

    Didn’t you know, PZ? 84% of statistics are made up on the spot!

  27. #27 Orac
    October 7, 2006

    I became thoroughly disillusioned with Chopra after his earlier idiotic essay on Huffington Post during the Kitzmiller trial.

    You became disillusioned then? Chopra’s been spouting idiocy for many years now. He’s a total flake, and his ignorance of basic molecular biology is appallling.

  28. #28 Deepak
    October 7, 2006

    Everytime someone says “Deepak like Deepak Chopra”, I cringe … not that fraud. There is a good reason that he isn’t taken seriously back in India.

  29. #29 junk science
    October 7, 2006

    So he’s figured out that skittish IDiots are more likely to buy his worthless books than people who are comfortable with the idea of a godless universe? How shocking.

  30. #30 Skeptico
    October 7, 2006

    The whole point of Chopra’s post is revealed in the last two paragraphs – it’s to push his “mind-body” healing drivel. Genetics are still a “mystery” so stick to “mind-body” healing.

  31. #31 DK
    October 7, 2006

    A couple of years ago (I’m a journalist) I was sent to report on Chopra’s “Creating Health” seminar, a five-day retreat for people who are (or feel) sick…cost – about $5,000 to receive nutritional counseling, yoga classes, and a “personal mantra,” all of which is supposed to cure any ailment.

    I had little sympathy for the self-absorbed yuppies who spent the $$$ to cure their perceived sniffles, migranes, and spiritual malaise…what was appalling was that there was a woman there with her ten-year old son, who was suffering from inoperable brain cancer. She was a social worker – clearly not wealthy – and had spent the money for her and her son to attend Chopra’s seminar as a last ditch attempt. During our single, 30 minute “audience” with Chopra, he told the boy that “he had the power within himself to heal the cancer, and if he failed at it, it was because he’d been unable to harness the power.”

    Nice thing to say to a dying kid and his mother – especially after you’ve taken their money.

    Chopra is more than just a glib, ignorant pop-culture ninny – he’s a classic huckster, a fraud, and a criminal. I don’t understand why – when he consistently offers information that is wrong at best, and dangerous at worst – he doesn’t have his medical license revoked.

  32. #32 RavenT
    October 7, 2006

    Nice thing to say to a dying kid and his mother – especially after you’ve taken their money.

    That’s unspeakably cruel, DK. But I’ve noticed a selective morality in altie circles, where outrages like that committed by circuit personalities never gain traction the way everyday jerkdom committed by MDs or pharma do.

    Once in massage school we were taught Louise Hay’s preaching that birth defects are a result of bad karma in a previous life, and everyone else in the class was nodding and absorbing. No way I should have been the only one protesting that that assertion was not only cruel and unprovable, it was nothing more than “blame the victim” dressed up in pseudo-Buddhist language–and yet, somehow I was.

  33. #33 QrazyQat
    October 7, 2006

    I understand that doctors generally do not have the extensive theoretical framework that biologists will delve into, but this is inexcusable.

    Doctors. In my “critic of the aquatic ape theory” persona, I’ve dealt many times with a doctor, Marc Verhaegen, who denies basic facts of physiology. For instance, when I pointed out that “it [human body temperature] does fluctuate even in resting humans (exercise of course makes it fluctuate even more). Temperature typically varies in a resting human through the day in a range of 2-3 degrees C.” Verhaegen’s reply was “That’s nonsense, as every doctor knows.” It’s not the only facts he doesn’t know, but it’s so basic that even a medical doctor 🙂 really ought to know it.

  34. #34 PaulC
    October 7, 2006

    It sounds as if Chopra is a vitalist. He’s probably only unusual in coming out an admitting it. IDers aren’t stupid enough to do so. I think that if you drill deeper on the ignorance of most Americans about biology, you’d find that they don’t merely reject evolution, but don’t really believe that life follows from the same natural laws governing non-living material.

    I’ve harped on this point before, but the process by which a single cell with an genetic encoding becomes a complex multicellular organism contains plenty of “gaps” in the sense that there is no need to close the journals any time soon, and grad students are in no danger of running out of dissertation topics. I would argue that the existence of self-replicating, self-repairing multicellular organisms with a robust genetic encoding is itself far more remarkable than the fact that evolution occurs given the former. But the process of development, unlike evolution, is something we can readily study in human time scales and repeat in the lab. That’s the only reason that IDers are not stupid enough to challenge the entire basic of the life sciences and push some form of vitalism. It’s certainly not because it is a less mysterious process than evolution. Admittedly, Chopra is also probably not stupid. He just has a different audience of suckers to get rich on.

  35. #35 Pierce R. Butler
    October 7, 2006

    Will everybody please stop calling for Chopra’s medical license to be revoked? He doesn’t have one. (He did, apparently, have a successful medical career, which he gave up for ayurvedic medicine & Transcendental Meditation (TM) in 1985.)

    According to http://www.answers.com/topic/deepak-chopra-m-d

    In 1995 Chopra founded the California-based Chopra Center for Well Being, essentially abandoning all pretense of clinical practice by declining to even apply for a state medical license.

  36. #36 dAVE
    October 7, 2006

    Oh, jeez…
    Just to pile on, the 90% inactive genes thing sounds a lot like the old “we only use 10% of our brains” myth.

    Oh, and cancer and aging: after an organism reproduces and does what it can to ensure it’s offspring’s survival, there is no selective pressure to continue to be perfectly healthy. In fact, there is the argument that members of a species that are no longer reproducing (or taking care of their offspring, depending on lifestyle) may actually be hurting their offspring’s chances of success by competing with them for resources.

    In the case of salmon, which are perfectly healthy, and then, as soon as they spawn, rapidly degenerate and die, in a process that looks a lot like rapid aging, it seems that aging and death is genetically programmed to get them out of the way to make room for the next generation.

  37. #37 Kristine
    October 7, 2006

    Ah, the old romanticist “it’s spiritual not to know” crap. I don’t call him Deep Choke for no reason.

  38. #38 RavenT
    October 7, 2006

    dAVE, I’ve always found that line of thought compellingly interesting, not only biologically, but in terms of how people have addressed philosophical issues of meaning, among other topics, in the context of mortality. Here’s a blog post I had fun writing along those lines last year.

  39. #39 DK
    October 7, 2006

    Pierce, thanks for the info on Chopra’s license. Perhaps the reason people continue to call for revocation is that Chopra – if not claiming that he is a doctor – does everything he can to encourage that perception.

  40. #40 TomK
    October 7, 2006

    Ken Wilber is another spiritually oriented thinker that has some basic problems with science. However, unlike Chopra, WIlber has made valuable contributions to several fields, noticably psychology. I believe I understand the world much clearer after reading him, even though I don’t agree with all his ideas.

    In his book Grace and Grit, Wilber speaks from multiple viewpoints about his wifes experience dying of cancer. In this book he offers insightful criticisms of both conventional and new age approaches to medicine. His criticism of new age bullshit centers on the idea of levels. His idea is that people have different levels, for example, a biological level, and a psychological level, and an abstract level, and a spiritual level, etc. He postulates that different formulations of the self across cultures share this same basic shape, some (like psychoanalysis) clumping two levels together and others (some hindu beliefs) doing further subdivisions.

    Anyway, his point was that illness can occur on different levels. You can have a biological sickness (like cancer), or a spiritual sickness (like some manifestations of alcoholism), and each is best treated by therapies on that same level. His point is that both types of healers try and apply the techniques of their level to illnesses at other levels. This is disasterous. Trying to treat a spiritual crisis with antidepressants is ineffective, and harms the patient. Likewise, trying to treat a biological problem, like cancer, from a spiritual perspective is ineffective and harmful to the patient. In this case, the patient is made to feel guilty for being unable to change the course of a biological illness via spiritual means. These spiritual teachers are ignorant that biological illness has biological causes. Thus, they fradulently hoist non-biological cures that won’t work.

    It is important to make this distinction though, because spiritual teachers (who might be very ignorant of science) do help people with spiritual crisis all the time. They are as valuable at this role as the doctor is at treating biological illness. I work with people who are dying day in and day out, and based on this work, I believe how a human responds to dying is related to the spiritual aspect people like Deepak Chopra speak to. Because of this, I find some of the work people like him do valuable, because it does offer comfort to people who are dying or going through other spiritual crisis. That said, I would prefer if he kept working on spirituality instead of trying to co-opt biology.

  41. #41 DK
    October 7, 2006

    BTW, I just remember another thing Chopra told us during that week – his ASTONISHING proof for the existence of the immortal human soul…

    “In science,” he said, “you learn that a radio signal that is broadcast on earth travels into space, continuing outward forever. So, if you had a radio or televsion on Alpha Centauri, you could watch a show that was originally broadcast 40 years ago [or however long it took for the signal to reach the specific star or planet in question.]…

    “Your soul,” he continued, “is just like that signal. It has been ‘tuned’ by your body here on earth, but in fact it is on an endless journey, received throughout time by different beings and objects, just like a broadcast.”

    This is incredible theology – the human soul, subject of millennia of inquiry, introspection, and debate, by the greatest minds in history – reduced: it – and we – are basically episodes of “Gilligan’s Island.”

    BTW, he described this theory as “Quantum Physics.” !!!!!!

  42. #42 Phil Corn
    October 7, 2006

    “Hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen don’t “come to life”. The fundamental activities going on in the cell are chemistry. There isn’t anything magical going on”

    This is rather dismissive. There is obviously a considerable breach between chemical reactions and “come to life”.

    “the discovery of DNA polymerase” is one of the novelties that question the plausibility of evolution. The check and repair role of this enzyme during DNA replication presents a serious internal conflict in the theory. Since polymerase serves to inhibit replication errors to the tune of one per billion, evolution then, has supposedly produced processes which serve to prevent mutation and thus prevent evolution.

    “Of course there are genes involved in both causing and preventing cell death…”

    This too, is a snap disposal. There is no simple explanation for the selection of genes which deliberately age and destroy an organism, whether it be a single cell or a mammal.

    “this is a process in a kind of dynamic tension, with cells balanced between healthy growth and death” recognizes that there is a paradox, but does not a rationally account for it.

  43. #43 DK
    October 7, 2006

    Tom, you’re right that people are entitled to – and often need – spiritual support during difficult times. What bothers me isn’t just that Chopra represents what he does as science – it’s that he charges megabucks for it.

  44. #44 PaulC
    October 7, 2006

    Phil Corn:

    Since polymerase serves to inhibit replication errors to the tune of one per billion, evolution then, has supposedly produced processes which serve to prevent mutation and thus prevent evolution.

    Nonsense. A key driver of evolution is the process of reproduction: organisms produce multiple viable offspring that resemble themselves very closely. You cannot begin to talk about evolution until you have the possibility of exponential population growth, and this requires very faithful copying of DNA. Obviously, mutation plays an important role in evolution as well, but only in the context of mostly accurate replication.

  45. #45 Orac
    October 7, 2006

    A key driver of evolution is the process of reproduction: organisms produce multiple viable offspring that resemble themselves very closely. You cannot begin to talk about evolution until you have the possibility of exponential population growth, and this requires very faithful copying of DNA. Obviously, mutation plays an important role in evolution as well, but only in the context of mostly accurate replication.

    Indeed, and that’s probably one reason why genes predisposing to diseases more common in the elderly are probably not as strongly selected against. By the time people enter the period of their lives when they are most susceptible to cancer, the vast majority of them have already reproduced as much as they are going to. You can make the same argument for other diseases of aging, like cardiovascular disease. Childhood cancer, fortunately, is a fairly rare disease, at least compared to cancer in adults and especially the elderly.

  46. #46 George
    October 7, 2006

    “Your soul,” he continued, “is just like that signal. It has been ‘tuned’ by your body here on earth, but in fact it is on an endless journey, received throughout time by different beings and objects, just like a broadcast.”

    Wait… I’m receiving a broadcast, I’m getting something… wait… “fuck”… wait… wait… “de-men-ted”… Message received: “I, Deepak Chopra am a demented fuckwit!”

  47. #47 SS
    October 7, 2006

    Imagine how muh of an embarrassment he is to Indians. Here we (Indians) are, thumping our chests about IITs and out comes this…sorry excuse for a doctor…

  48. #48 Phil Corn
    October 7, 2006

    PaulC:

    “Nonsense. A key driver of evolution is the process of reproduction: organisms produce multiple viable offspring that resemble themselves very closely. You cannot begin to talk about evolution until you have the possibility of exponential population growth, and this requires very faithful copying of DNA. Obviously, mutation plays an important role in evolution as well, but only in the context of mostly accurate replication.”

    So then, faithful replication is a driving force in getting from a single-celled organism to millions of species.

    This is not exactly one of the strong points of evolutionary thought.

  49. #49 Mong H Tan, PhD
    October 7, 2006

    Hello, Pharyngula Readers, Everybody, Mind, and Spirit! 🙂

    This is a metaphysics of the New Agers, or gurus like Deepak Chopra–a physician turned metaphysician–and the likes!

    This is exactly what I’ve had commented elsewhere, Quantum mechanics: Who is the observer? (PhysOrgEU; September 14).

    Upon deeper analysis–of “Genes respond to the outside world as well as to behavior and thoughts, but we don’t know how or why except in the most general terms.“–Chopra must have had gotten his misinterpretation of Genetics from Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, thereby “selfish gene” can be enacted by Chopra’s interpretation of “behavior and thoughts!”

    What a Dawkinsian fashionable nonsense, begetting another Chopra-metaphysician nonsense–please see also the ID neocreationism nonsense as a result of The Selfish Gene here, Wells: “Darwinism is doomed” because we keep making progress (ScienceBlogsUSA; September 27)!

    Thank you all for your kind attention and cooperation in this matter–just a food for thought, from a self-introspective Darwinist evolutionist perspective. Happy reading, thinking, scrutinizing, and enlightening! 🙂

    Best wishes, Mong 10/7/6usct4:01p; author Gods, Genes, Conscience and Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now; a cyberspace hermit-philosopher of Modern Mind, whose works are based on the current advances in interdisciplinary science and integrative psychology of Science and Religion worldwide; ethically, morally; metacognitively, and objectively.

  50. #50 Chris Beck
    October 7, 2006

    While there are still mysteries in there, it’s not as if we don’t know anything…and in particular, there is no evidence that junk DNA (which is what I presume he means by “blank spots”) is more important than the rest. That claim sounds rather goofy, actually.

    While I agree on the whole with your dissection of his lament, I feel your treatment of junk DNA to be somewhat cavalier. Until very recently, junk DNA was called that for a reason, we didn’t have any real idea why it was there in such huge quantities and so highly conserved. This was (and remains) a huge gap in our knowledge. He didn’t actually claim that it was more important than the rest, he said they “may be just as important, if not more” – you took the extreme element of his tentative hypothesis and ignored the rest – something of a strawman argument which is unnecessary given his high degree of foolishness. Since our current understanding is that junk DNA exerts a very important regulatory effect you could say that without it we would be nothing but a bunch of cancerous undifferentiated blobs.

  51. #51 Chris Beck
    October 7, 2006

    So then, faithful replication is a driving force in getting from a single-celled organism to millions of species.

    Ah, now, that isn’t what Paul said. Evolution doesn’t just occur within the single-celled to multi-cellular gap. And why is extreme inter-generational fidelity not a strong point of evolutionary thought? Without a high degree of conservation selection couldn’t reliably occur. Every generation would be randomly different from the previous. As this does not happen, we see that faithful replication _is_ key. It actually doesn’t have anything to do with evolution per se – it is an a priori condition for evolution.

  52. #52 Crosius
    October 7, 2006

    As far as I can tell, whenever Deepak Chopra comes to town to give a seminar, he avoids having critics pop up in his audience by charging stupendous ticket prices. The critics won’t pay that much to heckle, but the credulous fools that already buy his babble call it a bargain.

    There are people who fly in to town to attend his seminars. They are proud of themselves.

    Yuck.

  53. #53 Phil Corn
    October 7, 2006

    Chris Beck,

    “And why is extreme inter-generational fidelity not a strong point of evolutionary thought?”

    Because evolution is about change, and “extreme inter-generational fidelity” has to mean the extreme lack of chamge.

    “Every generation would be randomly different from the previous. As this does not happen, we see that faithful replication _is_ key.”

    A key to what? Faithful replication means stasis. That’s more of a lock than a key.

    “It actually doesn’t have anything to do with evolution per se – it is an a priori condition for evolution.”

    So then, enzyme activity which inhibits change is a baseline condition for evolutionary change to occur.

    This is the internal conflict I mentioned in my first post above.

  54. #54 Don Price
    October 7, 2006

    Phil Corn said: “So then, faithful replication is a driving force in getting from a single-celled organism to millions of species.”

    Phil, I think you’re really missing the point here. In order for an organism to produce offspring that will function, there has to be pretty much exquisite fidelity in the replication process. Low-fidelity DNA replication is obviously not a wise genetic strategy for most organisms: they would simply produce completely inviable progeny as a result. For selection to work there has to be near perfect fidelity with only very low-level errors.

    The lo-fidelity strategy may work for some organisms that are capable of reproducing very quickly in extremely large numbers, and therefore evolving very rapidly (like HIV, for instance). Interestingly, it seems that some organisms (E. coli, for instance) can down-regulate the fidelity of their DNA replication under extreme selective pressure, apparently in hopes of speeding up the production of extra-fit variants.

  55. #55 thwaite
    October 7, 2006

    dAVE and RavenT,

    It’s true that there’s no selective advantage to individuals for prolonging post-reproductive lifespans. In fact, there’s often a discernable bias in populations favoring shorter post-repro. lifespans, i.e. there’s a nonlinear probability of death in some species which increases with post-repro. age, unlike the linear probablity of a teacup – or teapot – being broken as it “ages”. Senescence studies describe and offer explanations for the nonlinearities. The fundamental logic is evolutionary, and the variety of proximal mechanisms involved is idiosyncratic between species.

    But I’d be cautious about analyzing senescence as a way to ‘make room’ for others … that way lies group selection.

    Humans are among the species which face senescence. But we do have relatively long post-reproductive lifespans (potentially) from the positive adaptive value of grand-parenting – so it’s been argued for a while. As to RavenT’s speculations of the psychosocial repercussions of human age – well, human cultural intuitions about biology are whimsically variable.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    October 7, 2006

    “Group selection” is neither a dirty word nor an invalid concept. Don’t disparage it.

  57. #57 RavenT
    October 7, 2006

    Good point, thwaite–in case I was not clear, I’m interested in the range of possibilities for how people interpret the biological reality, which–as you point out–can be whimsically variable, without affecting the underlying reality itself.

  58. #58 windy
    October 7, 2006

    dAVE wrote:

    In fact, there is the argument that members of a species that are no longer reproducing (or taking care of their offspring, depending on lifestyle) may actually be hurting their offspring’s chances of success by competing with them for resources.
    In the case of salmon, which are perfectly healthy, and then, as soon as they spawn, rapidly degenerate and die, in a process that looks a lot like rapid aging, it seems that aging and death is genetically programmed to get them out of the way to make room for the next generation.

    What resources would the salmon and its offspring be competing for? The juveniles will stay in the river for at least a year, several years in some species. And there’s plenty of room in the sea, the salmon are not likely to encounter (or eat) their offspring when they do get there…

    Another theoretical possibility is that nutrients released from the dead adults could boost production in the river and therefore help feed the juveniles. But in this case the adults would have to die upstream from their spawning site!

  59. #59 mcmillan
    October 7, 2006

    I think Phil Corn is underestimating how unstable the genome actually is. The human genome is about 3 billion base pairs. With the error rate being 10^-10 according to my molecular bio textbook (not 10^-9 that Phil initially stated) this means there will be an error introduced every three replications of the genome. This is just the error rate of reading the template and isn’t counting the errors that are caused by damage to DNA that can change the template strand. I would think this second method of introducing errors would have a greater effect on evolution, since it’s more likely to be the source of things like duplications that can lead to new proteins being made.

    So while I agree with the others that it is necessary to have a relatively stable genome for life to be able to funcion, I think there’s still plenty of source for change to allow evolution to occur.

  60. #60 Zetetic
    October 7, 2006

    This page has a nice critique of Chopra’s mind-body “quantum” healing and other nonsense:

    http://skepdic.com/chopra.html

  61. #61 John Owens
    October 7, 2006

    Genes respond to the outside world as well as to behavior and thoughts, but we don’t know how or why except in the most general terms.

    That’s sounding damned near Lamarckian right there.

  62. #62 Phil Corn
    October 7, 2006

    Don,

    “Phil, I think you’re really missing the point here.”

    That is entirely possible Don, but so far I’m not seeing a strong presentation for the mechanisms that supposedly generated countless species. Selection of enzymes as effective as polymerase to monitor the replication process looks like a severe complication for evolutionary theory to me. Do you think my inquiry is unreasonable?

    “In order for an organism to produce offspring that will function, there has to be pretty much exquisite fidelity in the replication process.”

    Check.

    “Low-fidelity DNA replication is obviously not a wise genetic strategy for most organisms: they would simply produce completely inviable progeny as a result.”

    No check on this point. Random mutations and “wise genetic strategy” are incompatible concepts in my mind. Strategy is not a good word to use as it implies reason and purpose.

    ” For selection to work there has to be near perfect fidelity with only very low-level errors.”

    So then, selection only works when DNA copy errors are inconsequential. Again, this is not a good accounting for the evolution of millions of plant and animal species.

    Also, there is the problem I mentioned above about mutations and selection respectively assembling and retaining genes which cause their owners to self destruct. That has to be the ultimate unwise “genetic strategy”.

    “The lo-fidelity strategy may work for some organisms that are capable of reproducing very quickly in extremely large numbers, and therefore evolving very rapidly (like HIV, for instance). Interestingly, it seems that some organisms (E. coli, for instance) can down-regulate the fidelity of their DNA replication under extreme selective pressure, apparently in hopes of speeding up the production of extra-fit variants.”

    But bacteria don’t react collectively “in hopes of” anything. Anthropopathisms complicate discussions about evolution as they tend to temporarily lose track of the reality that all mutation and selection processes are accidental and without purpose.

  63. #63 Owen
    October 7, 2006

    Phil – I think perhaps the issue you are having is with the magnitude of the numbers. As you’ve already understood, a high transcription error rate means non-viable offspring – not to mention a cancer-riddled parent individual. However, when you multiply the very low probability of error by millions of reproductive events over thousands of generations, you eventually end up with enough changes for natural selection to act on them.

  64. #64 Don Price
    October 7, 2006

    Phil,

    I don’t see how polymerase fidelity represents a complication for evolutionary theory at all. In order for life to be possible, its replicative mechanisms have to function at such a level that the ensuing copies are similar enough to the template so as to retain some function. A complete loss of fidelity equals utter chaos which equals no function, which equals no heritance. Meanwhile, enough errors do creep through even the most stringent proofreading mechanisms that they serve as the material for genetic selection.

    “No check on this point. Random mutations and “wise genetic strategy” are incompatible concepts in my mind. Strategy is not a good word to use as it implies reason and purpose.”

    OK… If you’re going to stickle over my convenient use of anthropomorphism, you force me to re-phrase:

    Low-fidelity DNA replication is obviously not successful for most organisms: they would simply produce completely inviable progeny as a result. Happy now?

    “So then, selection only works when DNA copy errors are inconsequential. Again, this is not a good accounting for the evolution of millions of plant and animal species.”

    Who said anything about inconsequential? See my point above… Enough errors do slip through over time and vast numbers of gametes and progeny that there is clearly plenty of variation for selection to act upon.

    “Also, there is the problem I mentioned above about mutations and selection respectively assembling and retaining genes which cause their owners to self destruct. That has to be the ultimate unwise “genetic strategy”.”

    Genetic fitness is measured in terms of propagating one’s genes… Not in some sort of longevity contest.

    “But bacteria don’t react collectively “in hopes of” anything. Anthropopathisms complicate discussions about evolution as they tend to temporarily lose track of the reality that all mutation and selection processes are accidental and without purpose.”

    Yes… Very cute of you to (again) point out the anthropomorphization… But you haven’t addressed the point of what I said above at all… Individuals that mutate adaptively under severe selection will generate more viable progeny than those that don’t. I was merely trying to point out that modulation of polymerase fidelity does happen on an observable scale in response to genetic selection. This can “speed up” the natural selection process under extreme selection

  65. #65 Carlie
    October 7, 2006

    Just to pile on, the 90% inactive genes thing sounds a lot like the old “we only use 10% of our brains” myth.

    To throw him a little (very little) credit, perhaps he’s trying to get at the idea of heterochromatin. However, it’s not “inactive genes”, since it’s mostly not genes. And his 90% is a few percent bit off. And he admits that he doesn’t know what a gene is, anyway.

    Why does anyone waste any of their time listening to him again?

  66. #66 Azkyroth
    October 8, 2006

    Phil:

    To put it more concisely, in the phrase “faithful replication (of the genome)”,

    “Faithful.”

    Does.

    Not.

    Mean.

    PERFECT.

    *slaughters the False Dichotomy and nails its innards to a pole as a warning to others* ;/

  67. #67 Carlie
    October 8, 2006

    I see a deeper problem with Phil’s line of reasoning than understanding small v. large numbers and probability. Not everything is selected for. There are mutations that are selectively neutral, and there are mutations that are negative but are present in such low numbers or are only slightly negative such that they are not heavily enough selected against as to purge them from a population, among other issues. He’s fallen into the Panglossian “evolution must mean everything’s selected to be perfect” fallacy, and needs an injection of some spandrels, gene linkage, and Futuymian neutrality stat.

    This too, is a snap disposal. There is no simple explanation for the selection of genes which deliberately age and destroy an organism, whether it be a single cell or a mammal.

    That doesn’t really make sense. Cell death genes don’t necessarily kill the entire animal; in fact, I’m profoundly glad that I have some cell death genes, because without them I wouldn’t be typing comments on this blog. How do you think your fingers became separate during development, if not for specific cell death? Your hands did start off as little round blobs, after all. And again, those genes you mention were not necessarily selected for, just were not selected against. In fact, there are studies that show that genes that cause aging and death can be selected for, if the alternative is to maintain more expensive longevity genes that steal energy from reproductive success. (Particularly one on opossums. It’s in Freeman and Herron’s Evolution text. I don’t have the citation at my fingertips.)

    You know, as I’m typing this, large numbers of hypotheses and studies are flying through my mind, all on different possible mechanisms to explain aging, death, and other negative genetic actions, and I’m a fucking paleobotanist, for christ’s sake. I don’t even work with things that have currently active genes, and yet I have a basic knowledge of what research is out there. Phil is also exemplifying the typical “I don’t know it, therefore it doesn’t exist” argument. Just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean that no one is working on it.

  68. #68 Caledonian
    October 8, 2006

    But bacteria don’t react collectively “in hopes of” anything.

    How do you know that? Surely someone as concerned about the distinction between what we know and what we infer ought to know better than to presume they know anything about bacterial mental states.

  69. #69 GTHolkan
    October 8, 2006

    I wrote a letter to the Huffpost editors telling them I wouldn’t visit their website so long as they kept publishing Chopra’s articles. Why not just boycott the website till they stop giving voice to his drivel? It’s not like there aren’t other places to get the same information.

    Boycott Huffpost!

  70. #70 Robster
    October 8, 2006

    I might have missed it, but fidelity and proofreading errors aren’t the only means by which mutations can enter the genome. Radiation, chemical mutagens(some from plant sources, some from environment), etc, can all introduce mutations, for which there are detection and repair processes. All or these mechanisms have their own probability of allowing a mutation to be fixed into the genome of that particular cell. If the mutation isn’t lethal, then the mutation can be passed on to daughter cells. If these daughter cells are germ line (gamete producing), then the mutation has a chance of being passed on to progeny.

  71. #71 garth
    October 8, 2006

    imagine a couple of babies learning to walk. the first baby takes a step, and the other baby says “no! stop! what are you going to do after that first step!” and so on. the second baby walks on, the protestations of the first becoming fainter as he learns to walk, then run, then skip and climb and hop and dance.

    deepak chopra is like the second baby, except he’s a conjoined twin dragging along after the non-idiotic twin.

  72. #72 Frank Schmidt
    October 8, 2006

    There is a fundamental misconception here. Physicians do not become physicians because they want to be scientists. Indeed, a large number of medical school admissions committees actively select against scientific understanding when they admit students, favoring such nebulous concepts as “empathy” and “good interpersonal skills.” After this, they are subjected to training that is mostly mind-numbing memorization, not really “doing” science.

    Medical practice these days mostly consists of shuffling patients in and out the door in order to get enough billable visits to maintain the lifestyle. Nor is a physician required to learn any more science during his or her professional lifetime, except for the few who pursue a career in academic medicine, and not always in that case.

    Unfortunately the public and media assume that the average physican’s undergraduate level understanding allows him/her to pontificate on all kinds of science. Chopra is one example; the M.D.’s who pronounce themselve “unpersuaded about Darwinian evolution” are another, and equally dangerous.

  73. #73 DK
    October 8, 2006

    BTW, somebody note earlier that Chopra no longer holds a medical license. That may be true, but he certainly implies that he does on his website. The very first line of his bio refers to him as “Deepak Chopra, M.D,” and that term – or “Dr. Chopra” – is repeated continuously throughout the text (and the entire site.) The second-to-last paragraph of the bio reads as follows: “Dr. Chopra is a fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.”

    (http://www.chopra.com/124025.html)

    If he has no license, isn’t that illegal or fradulent? (On the other hand, if he does have a medical license, what he does may be an even bigger fraud.) Either way, the suckers, the suffering, and the impressionable get fleeced – and maybe hurt.

  74. #74 RavenT
    October 8, 2006

    Well, there is the difference between a degree and a license, and many people who aren’t licensed to practice in a particular area (foreign-trained physicians engaged in academic research here, for example) still write MD after their name to reflect their earned degree. While I don’t doubt that Chopra exploits that ambiguity for the sake of appealing to credentials, I don’t believe that it’s illegal per se to use a degree that you earned, even if you haven’t kept up in that field.

  75. #75 Stan Chan
    October 8, 2006

    Those who think Deepak Chopra is ignorant are ignorant. Deepak Chopra knows all the basic concepts of biology that you would expect an MD to know. I think there are two ways to understand why he does what is does. First, if you give him the benefit of doubt, then he is saying this because he, just like many others, think that science reduces a person to a giant “chemical reaction” and many people have a very bad reaction to that concept – they really want to believe that they are something special. I completely understand this point of view and you can ignore this point at your own peril. The second way to understand what Mr. Chopra is doing is the more cynical approach. Note that he’s made millions doing this. That’s the motivation – who cares whether what he is saying is supported by facts or not. I think there is truth to both of these ways of thinking. The larger issue is that there are a lot of people who willing pay $20-$30 to buy Mr. Chopra’s books. What are these people getting in return that the great minds who are posting on this message board are not providing? Are we doing a really really bad job at teaching science to our kids? How come most kids graduate from high school and college without the basic tools which would allow them to distinguish between valid sceince and garbage? Beyond the crappy science teaching issue, I think there is a bigger issue: science does not satisfy a very basic human need which is usually what religon (and people like Chopra) target. I believe a recent book by Dawkins wrestles with this subject (it’s on my to-read list) but I’ll be surprised if he has really figured out a way to satisfy this human need without sacrificing scientific integrity. Bottom line: get used to living with the likes of Chopra. No use getting all worked up everytime they open their mouths.

  76. #76 Stanton
    October 8, 2006

    Stan, if Deepak Chopra is indeed aware of basic biological knowledge, then, how come he spouts off so many gross inaccuracies, such as his inability to comprehend the function of genes, or the fact that scientists have started working on how genes function, so as to present himself as being grotesquely ignorant?
    I mean, I would think there is an obvious difference between a person who asks “Why does it rain?” and a person who asks “Why does it rain?” while plugging his ears to the answer given to him.

  77. #77 Stan Chan
    October 8, 2006

    The short answer is: Deepak Chopra doesn’t care what you think, i.e., he will happily continue to spout garbage even though he knows that you will immediately spot the “gross inaccuracies.” You may find this incredulous, but not everyone thinks that Mr. Chopra is “spouting so many gross inaccuracies.” That’s the real problem. Many people (who also happen to be willing to part with hundreds of dollars) can’t tell the difference between what you call “gross inaccuracies” and a solid sceintific theory. He will continue to spout as long as his audience continues to lap it up.

    It is naive to think that, somehow, just because someone really “gets” science, it necessarily follows that they will be scientifically honest. But you are not alone, there are many who seem to think like this. In his later years, wasn’t Linus Pauling perilously treading the line between sense and nonsense?

  78. #78 rockafeeler
    October 8, 2006

    For perspective, more people have died from the hazards of electricity since its invention than from nuclear arms. Should we have stayed with the candle Mr. Chopra?

  79. #79 Azkyroth
    October 8, 2006

    Rockafeeler: Of course not; more people still have died from hazards of fire. 😛

  80. #80 Nix
    October 8, 2006

    Carrots have teeth?

    (sorry, I’ll go away now. 😉 )

  81. #81 Darby
    October 8, 2006

    I read an interview with Ariana Huffington today in which she claimed that accuracy is absolutely essential for the Huffington Post: “We have a huge responsibility to be 1000 percent (sic) accurate….If bloggers write something that is inaccurate, they have 24 hours to withdraw it, apologize and correct it. If they don’t, they have their blogging privileges revoked.”

    So do you think that if someone alerts the folks at the Post of the discussion here, they will claim that genetics is purely a matter of opinion?

  82. #82 Phil Corn
    October 8, 2006

    mcmillan,

    “So while I agree with the others that it is necessary to have a relatively stable genome for life to be able to funcion, I think there’s still plenty of source for change to allow evolution to occur.”

    Your statement sortof summarizes the internal conflict point I was trying to make. Relative stability in the genome has to mean resistance to change. How plentiful the “source for change” is depends on the nature of that stability, but regarless, stability and change are obvioulsy antagonistic to each other.

    ————-

    Owen,

    “when you multiply the very low probability of error by millions of reproductive events over thousands of generations, you eventually end up with enough changes for natural selection to act on them.”

    Yes, that is a point that has to be made. Quantifying mutation has to be looked at from two perspectives. It is as extremely rare occurrence, but in an enormous population there will obviously be an increase in frequency.

    However, in an overview of the TOE, I still think that mutation looks awfully tepid when it has to be considered as the primary source for genetic variation.

    ————-

    Don,

    “Enough errors do slip through over time and vast numbers of gametes and progeny that there is clearly plenty of variation for selection to act upon…..”

    I don’t think the numbers work in this assumption. In my mind, relying on random copy errors to produce millions of species is just not a well-balanced argument in terms of plausibility.

    ————–

    Azkyroth

    ” “Faithful.” Does. Not. Mean. PERFECT.”

    Agreed, however imperfect is not a strong basis for an increase in complexity.

    ————

    Carlie

    “I see a deeper problem with Phil’s line of reasoning than understanding small v. large numbers and probability. Not everything is selected for. There are mutations that are selectively neutral, and there are mutations that are negative but are present in such low numbers or are only slightly negative such that they are not heavily enough selected against as to purge them from a population….He’s fallen into the Panglossian “evolution must mean everything’s selected to be perfect” fallacy….”

    Well no. “perfect” is obviously not the norm. What I am questioning is the viability of mutation as a source for the exponential numbers of beneficial changes necessary to produce lots of species.

    “…. there are studies that show that genes that cause aging and death can be selected for… “

    Those genes are obviously there and functioning in that role. My question about that would be about how destructive genes would be produced by mutation and why they would be retained.

    ————

    Robster,

    “If the mutation isn’t lethal, then the mutation can be passed on to daughter cells. If these daughter cells are germ line (gamete producing), then the mutation has a chance of being passed on to progeny”

    This doesn’t really address variation and increasing complexity.

    Thanks to all for your comments.

  83. #83 Phil Corn
    October 8, 2006

    mcmillan,

    “So while I agree with the others that it is necessary to have a relatively stable genome for life to be able to funcion, I think there’s still plenty of source for change to allow evolution to occur.”

    Your statement sortof summarizes the internal conflict point I was trying to make. Relative stability in the genome has to mean resistance to change. How plentiful the “source for change” is depends on the nature of that stability, but regarless, stability and change are obvioulsy antagonistic to each other.

    ————-

    Owen,

    “when you multiply the very low probability of error by millions of reproductive events over thousands of generations, you eventually end up with enough changes for natural selection to act on them.”

    Yes, that is a point that has to be made. Quantifying mutation has to be looked at from two perspectives. It is as extremely rare occurrence, but in an enormous population there will obviously be an increase in frequency.

    However, in an overview of the TOE, I still think that mutation looks awfully tepid when it has to be considered as the primary source for genetic variation.

    ————-

    Don,

    “Enough errors do slip through over time and vast numbers of gametes and progeny that there is clearly plenty of variation for selection to act upon…..”

    I don’t think the numbers work in this assumption. In my mind, relying on random copy errors to produce millions of species is just not a well-balanced argument in terms of plausibility.

    ————–

    Azkyroth

    ” “Faithful.” Does. Not. Mean. PERFECT.”

    Agreed, however imperfect is not a strong basis for an increase in complexity.

    ————

    Carlie

    “I see a deeper problem with Phil’s line of reasoning than understanding small v. large numbers and probability. Not everything is selected for. There are mutations that are selectively neutral, and there are mutations that are negative but are present in such low numbers or are only slightly negative such that they are not heavily enough selected against as to purge them from a population….He’s fallen into the Panglossian “evolution must mean everything’s selected to be perfect” fallacy….”

    Well no. “perfect” is obviously not the norm. What I am questioning is the viability of mutation as a source for the exponential numbers of beneficial changes necessary to produce lots of species.

    “…. there are studies that show that genes that cause aging and death can be selected for… “

    Those genes are obviously there and functioning in that role. My question about that would be about how destructive genes would be produced by mutation and why they would be retained.

    ————

    Robster,

    “If the mutation isn’t lethal, then the mutation can be passed on to daughter cells. If these daughter cells are germ line (gamete producing), then the mutation has a chance of being passed on to progeny”

    Yes, but this doesn’t really address variation and increasing complexity.

    Thanks to all for your comments.

  84. #84 Orac
    October 8, 2006

    It is naive to think that, somehow, just because someone really “gets” science, it necessarily follows that they will be scientifically honest. But you are not alone, there are many who seem to think like this. In his later years, wasn’t Linus Pauling perilously treading the line between sense and nonsense?

    There’s a difference between what Linus Pauling did and this. Linus Pauling wandered fairly far out of his field of expertise to fall into vitamin C quackery. Chopra should know enough biology to know at least some of what we know about what a gene is and how genes are regulated.

  85. #85 Stanton
    October 9, 2006

    I agree, Orac. Mr Chopra’s grotesque ignorance of how genes work is akin to a modern physicist trying to revive Aristotle’s theory of how things had an “inner fire” in their centers.

  86. #86 Stan Chan
    October 9, 2006

    Orac & Stanton:

    IMHO, the difference that you pointed out between Linus & Deepak is not material to the issue at hand. I’m sure you are smart enough to find some difference – however immaterial – between any example I put forward and the case of Mr. Chopra. If you want to believe that the only reason Mr. Chopra says what is says is because he doesn’t “get” biology, then you can continue believing that, but I’m simply trying to point out that unfortunately things are not that simple (if they were, we would have a much easier task finding a cure). Many people say crazy things regardless of their level of understanding. Unless you realize that, you will not understand the root cause, IMHO.

  87. #87 Keith Douglas
    October 9, 2006

    PaulC: Actually, it is worse. Taken at face value, Chopra is an extreme subjective idealist, even more so than Berkeley was. This is found in a strain of Indian philosophy, but I think he claims to buy into it as part of his “gimmick”; it is, after all, a very common new age (rhymes with “sewage”) belief.

    TomK: But on a scientific (hence materialist) world view, your “spiritual side” (i.e., interactions with others, your sense of self worth, etc.) are all specific functions of your nervous (and perhaps, endocrine) systems. So an attempt to divide is not going to work either; this is why psychoanalysis is at best ineffective for most conditions. This does not mandate psychopharmaceuticals in all cases, contrary to many strawman versions. It does, however, mandate paying attention to how the brain actually can shape itself. (See, for example, the beginings of that in CBT.)

    SS: India has a history of skepticism, materialism and so on. I believe that there are groups of Indian skeptics that have been working to revive these schools of philosophy to avoid the charge that the James Randis of the world are “western”; perhaps you are familiar with this movement.

    Stan Chan: I have always wondered why people accept that chemical systems have emergent properties over merely physical systems but deny the move to biology and then to psychology and sociology etc. They want to be of some fundamentally different stuff, is the answer … but sorry, they aren’t. Should we lie to them?

    (Inner fire??)

  88. #88 Stan Chan
    October 9, 2006

    Keith:

    “Should we lie to them” – no, but shouldn’t we try to soften the blow?

    We need more people who can give people the peace of mind by telling them that they may be more than just a “chemical reaction” without saying ridiculous things like Deepak.

    Some claim that 40 years ago the perception towards science was much more favorable and things have deteriorated significantly since then. I’m not sure that’s true, but if true, we need to act fast before things get ugly, e.g., schools start teaching ID.

    I personally don’t think we should rub it into people that they are nothing more than a chemical reaction. May be we should tell them that science may never be able to tell them whether they are something more than just matter. Science can’t help with statements that are not falsifiable, e.g., “a human is fundamentally something else than matter.” Once people realize that science can’t tell them that, may be they won’t feel threatened by science and they won’t give deference to quacks like Deepak who uses his scientific background to indicate to people that whatever he is saying is “scientific.”

  89. #89 Gerald Wilgus
    October 10, 2006

    Wow!

    Phil Corn really enjoys the false dichotomy game along with misrepresentating molecular genetics and the direction of evolution (“complexity”). While replication error rates are a recognized clock, such error is not characterized as directly relating to darwinian histories and is but one of many postulated mechanisms for phenotypic variation. There are many other natural mechanisms that alter the genotype at the molecular level: Examples are as common as chromosomal rearrangement or as rare as gene duplication due to retrovirus insertion. Anyway, he seems to be using the concocted arguments of the religious creationist, Chris Ashcroft to deny the influence of mutation on phenotypic variation.

    Me; I just consider phenotypes rather than getting into the complex molecular genetics of evolution. And guess what? – there are gradiations in phenotype that allow for the aggregation of “complexity” that PCorn wants you to prove at the molecular level. (Something I remember quite well as it was a devilishly clever question on a Mycology final exam, some 35 years ago).

    A lack of exact knowledge does not imply problems with a theory or branch of science. It is a ploy that the deliberately ignorant use to evoke “the god of the gaps”. Don’t fall for it: let him bloviate. He brings up issues that may be speculative, but are not in themselves facts within the framework of biological science relevant to evolutionary theory. In other words, he uses logical fallacies to allude to nonexistent controversy. It could be humorous except that there is a deliberate misuse of science jargon with the intent to deceive.

    Humpf – what an ass PCorn is. Sorta’ like Chopra.

  90. #90 Phil Corn
    October 11, 2006

    Gerald Wilgus,

    “Phil Corn really enjoys the false dichotomy game along with misrepresentating molecular genetics and the direction of evolution (“complexity”).”

    There really isn’t a false dichotomy to it since I haven’t proposed the necessary false alternative. Nor did I misrepresent molecular genetics. I described the known function of an enzyme and juxtaposed that function with the assumed effectiveness of mutations.

    “While replication error rates are a recognized clock, such error is not characterized as directly relating to darwinian histories”

    Would you care to explain this non-relationship? Or perhaps note just exactly what does relate to darwinian histories?

    “and is but one of many postulated mechanisms for phenotypic variation. There are many other natural mechanisms that alter the genotype at the molecular level: Examples are as common as chromosomal rearrangement or as rare as gene duplication due to retrovirus insertion.”

    First, postulated is a good word to use, but many is not.

    But I don’t think you have proposed any process that can realistically be credited with producing tens of millions of plant and animal species. And regardless, mutation still has to be considered as the most effective contender for producing significant change.

    “Anyway, he seems to be using the concocted arguments of the religious creationist, Chris Ashcroft to deny the influence of mutation on phenotypic variation.

    I’ve never heard of him. But I wouldn’t think that I was the only one who ever considered the mutation problem. It really is an interesting (or perhaps unsettling) paradox. Polymerase is an astonishing and proven performer with a deliberateness that is difficult to think about without things like purpose and intent coming to mind. But mutations are just random, usually inconsequential mistakes. If they have any important impact, it is almost sure to be undesirable. There is an obvious problem involved. A reasonable and scientific treatment of it is warranted in my view.

    “Me; I just consider phenotypes rather than getting into the complex molecular genetics of evolution.”

    I suppose I prefer a somewhat more sequential and gradual approach. I think groundwork is very important as foundational errors can show up magnified if not detected early on.

    “And guess what? – there are gradiations in phenotype that allow for the aggregation of “complexity” that PCorn wants you to prove at the molecular level.”

    Can you elaborate on those gradiations? I’m not really interested in the “allow” idea, but I would like to understand the aggregation from a production standpoint.

    “A lack of exact knowledge does not imply problems with a theory or branch of science.”

    Oh but of course it does. Ants build mounds. But a theory that ants built the Himalayas would be unreasonable and should not be widely accepted without profound proof. Mutation is the mechanism credited with the production of E-coli, blue whales and everything in-between. If there is not substantial evidence for this (or for some other process) it is bad science to accept such an idea.

    “It is a ploy that the deliberately ignorant use to evoke “the god of the gaps”. Don’t fall for it: let him bloviate.”

    Excuse me, but you sound somewhat alarmed here. Threatened actually.

    “He brings up issues that may be speculative, but are not in themselves facts within the framework of biological science relevant to evolutionary theory.”

    You could have listed the non-facts and countered with what you would consider factual information.

    ” In other words, he uses logical fallacies to allude to nonexistent controversy. It could be humorous except that there is a deliberate misuse of science jargon with the intent to deceive.”

    I think the controversy is more unaddressed than nonexistent.

    “Humpf – what an ass PCorn is. Sorta’ like Chopra.”

    Gerald, the best insult is a strong argument.

  91. #91 VJay
    October 15, 2006

    And how did DNA come about in the first place? It came about when the universe wanted to watch itself at play. DNA has served that function for around 2 billion years and shows no sign of stopping.

    ~Deepak Chopra

    ***

    A guru who calls himself enlightened
    In Physics, Medicine and Genetics
    Is an unenlightened man of science.
    But a man of Vedas, indeed!

    With no evidence he believes
    In everything he teaches:
    Souls, spirits, ghouls, gods,
    Consciousness apart from mind,
    Existing as some ethereal thing,
    Coming from God in mysterious ways,
    Ending in Him in mysterious ways,
    Moving us in mysterious ways,
    And letting the world go in preset ways.

    About the origin of DNA he says:
    “It came about when the universe wanted
    To watch itself at play.” How poetic, indeed!
    Almost the same what Rig Veda says:

    “Desire came upon God in the beginning,
    Desire, the first seed of mind.
    Poets seeking wisdom in their hearts
    Found the bond between life and non-life.”

    So from God’s desire the DNA came.
    From God’s desire the life came.
    From God’s desire man’s intelligence came
    For God’s universe wanted to see itself at play.

    Damn Physics
    Damn Medicine
    Damn Genetics
    It’s all desires, stupid!

    PS: The text in paretheses is the paraphrase of Hymn of Creation in RigVeda. See http://www.boloji.com/hinduism/006.htm

    ~White wings

    http://www.sulekha.com/blogs/blogarchives.aspx?contributor=white%20wings&archdt=2006-10-01&archfreq=monthly

  92. #92 VJay
    October 15, 2006

    SOMEONE SO STUPID

    How can one explain anything
    To someone so pudden-head
    Who thinks he is
    The only man with brains
    In the universe?

    With mere high school education,
    Failing in all subjects of science,
    Now stuffing himself with junk food,
    Drinking beer gulping moonshine,
    Smoking joints day and night,
    Sitting before telly watching ball games,
    Shouting and farting when his team wins
    Smashing bottles of beer when it loses;
    And now desiring to get wind of DNA,
    Medicine, genetics and quantum fields.

    Confusing, everything comes confusing to him.
    Except holy father, holy Mary and holy son.
    Except his mad guru’s spiritual morsels
    Declaiming DNA, genetics and science,
    Declaring mind exists outside of body,
    Forming consciousness in a mysterious space
    Inhabited by God himself who desired
    And created the universe in the first place.

    ~white wings

    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blogs/blogdisplay.aspx?cid=101447

  93. #93 VJay
    October 15, 2006

    YOU FEEL LONESOME

    You feel lonesome
    Young or old
    When you don’t know
    What your body wants
    Or your mind thinks
    Is the right thing.

    It drives many
    To take their lives
    Not knowing
    There’s never anything
    That could be a right
    Or a wrong thing.

    There is no
    Absolute truth.
    There is no
    Absolute lie.
    Everything is
    A relative thing.

    Everyone to himself
    Influenced by family
    Friends and things
    Surrounding him
    Makes him think
    The way he thinks.

    ~ White Wings

    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blogs/blogdisplay.aspx?cid=101448

  94. #94 VJay
    October 15, 2006

    LIFE AFTER DEATH

    Please see the latest book, Life After Death, (and buy my book) for extended discussion about how intelligence can be explained outside the brain–if there isn’t mind separate from brain, the afterlife cannot exist.

    ~Deepak Chopra

    ***

    False prepositions
    False assumptions
    Baseless discussions
    A priori conclusions

    Of existence of
    Life after death.
    No irrefutable evidence
    All mingle-mangleof
    Make-believe intelligence.

    A potpourri, a salmagundi
    Curried soup to dupe
    Mystics with rantings of
    Reincarnations of souls.

    When the illiterate propagate
    Lies for the illiterate,
    It is understandable.
    But when the literati does
    Not label them doofuses
    It is inexcusable.

    ~ White wings

    http://whitewings.sulekha.com/blogs/blogdisplay.aspx?cid=101453

  95. #95 Pattanjali Bdial
    January 25, 2008

    Many of the responders above failed to understand the purpose of Chopra’s writing. His focus is on self enquiry – thus asking questions. His answers rise above folklore as scientists are really centuries backward in explaining something today that they change tomorrow.

    What would be some answers to these questions?
    Is every human being metabolically alike? *(what’s your body type?
    How many readers are vegetarians? (how many are drug pushers?)

  96. #96 Arnosium Upinarum
    November 24, 2008

    Pattanjali Bdial #96 said, “Many of the responders above failed to understand the purpose of Chopra’s writing. His focus is on self enquiry – thus asking questions.”

    Well, Chopra’s focus on ANY inquiry (especially of the “self”) must be hopelessly blurry, because the questions he asks are among the lousiest I’ve ever seen.

    Not only that, he is so ignorant he is completely unaware that his questions are grossly erroneous.

    By contrast, here’s an example of a good question that might actually reveal something about the character of his particular “self”: Isn’t it possible that Chopra just likes to play “let’s pretend to be an intellectual touched by genius”, perhaps, because it is more lucrative to cultivate a charismatic aura of gifted intellect than it is not to?

    If so, at least he is that smart, I’ll give him that much. Ethical and honest? No way. More like “crafty”. As are accomplished charlatans and fakes everywhere.

  97. #97 Tom Boinski
    December 20, 2008

    Singularities? Dark Matter? Dark Energy? Worm Holes? String Theory? Multiple Universes? The Higgs (God) Particle? All “stuff” in the present universe begat from a source smaller than a golf ball?

    The most begrudging “scientific mind” has to conclude some of these “mysteries” may necessitate a different approach and direction to understanding. Even one scientific mind has stated: “If you think you understand ‘Quantum Mechanics’ you don’t understand Quantum Mechanics.”

    My point being, there are some “mysterious” things happening out there (wherever there is!) I cannot, will not, censure what Deepak Chopra has postulated. Perhaps he is not totally knowledgable and/or accurate, but conceptially and respectfully give him some room.

  98. #98 Nerd of Redhead
    December 20, 2008

    Chopra can say anything he wants as long he makes sure it is his personal opinion or fiction. If he tries to present anything as scientific, scientists will have something to say about his inane ramblings. After all, science must defend its good name against frauds, quacks, and wooshysters. If Chopra doesn’t like being in that company, he can shut up.

  99. #99 Nick Gotts
    December 20, 2008

    The most begrudging “scientific mind” has to conclude some of these “mysteries” may necessitate a different approach and direction to understanding. Tom Boinski

    Crap. Abandoning rational enquiry for woo as Chopra does is irresponsible self-indulgence at best, downright fraud at worst.

  100. #100 Ralph Colucci
    March 7, 2009

    I knew you guys in school, in Chemistry class, Physics class, at university and in the nuclear industry. I was one of you guys so I know exactly how you most probably feel: absolutely terrified of death, desperately trying to cling to that elusive elation attached to that ego driven desperate attempt to “prove” that you are right that begins fading rapidly immediately upon recognition of it and quickly turns into more suffering, the pervasive fear that “everyone” (whoever they are) will one day find out that you do not know far more than you do know and perhaps worst of all listening to and taking seriously the non-stop babbling of your ego/mind all day long every day to the point where you wonder if you are going mad or are already there.

    Using words such as tends, assists, can, eventually and so on hardly describe a definitive process for DNA replication. I am fairly certain that I could be just as argumentative as yourself with regards to each of your points if it was important. My point is that nothing Chopra says is wrong because he doesn’t really say anything except that all of the answers are within, beyond the grasp of the ego/mind, and here are some time-tested ways to quiet that mind. And by the way, since everything is pretty much the same, energy that is either on or off, the same laws apply hence we have physics & meta-physics.

    Chopra likely does not have all of the answers nor would he be able to express them if he did (The way that can be spoken is not the way?) I have no idea what he does with all that money. I could not know if he is a good or bad person (what is good? what is bad?) I have come to know after a long and torturous journey that my ego/mind, the thing that won all those arguments, aced all those tests, destroyed all those mere mortals and spent all that money doesn’t actually know anything. My question to you is, why are you so afraid of God?

  101. #101 Nerd of Redhead, OM
    March 7, 2009

    Ralph, we aren’t afraid of imaginary deities. They don’t exist. Just like pixies, elves, boogie men, tooth fairies, santa claus, etc. Show us physical evidence for god that will pass muster with scientists, magicians, and professional debunkers that it is of divine, not natural, origin, and that will change. Until then, no evidence equals no gods.

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