Pharyngula

This could be a lively free-for-all: we’ve got one commenter who was visited by Steve Irwin’s ghost, another who believes in astral projection, and now Deepak Chopra claims to have ‘proof’ of an afterlife. I think that, by the mystic Rule of Threes, that requires that I respond, so let’s take a look at Chopra’s seven pieces of evidence for an afterlife.

1. Near-death experiences. Thousands of patients have died, almost always from heart attacks, and then been resuscitated who experience some aspect of the afterlife. One Dutch study put the percentage at around 20% of all such cases. Amazingly, these patients were brain dead, showing no electrical activity in the cortex while they were dead. Yet they experienced sights and sounds, met deceased relatives, felt deep emotions, etc.

NDEs are utterly meaningless. Humans are good at interpolating and constructing mental experiences to fill in gaps; when someone dies and is resuscitated, all we have are accounts generated after the fact of what happened. Also, Chopra’s second point actually invalidates his first claim.

2. Near-death experiences in traditional cultures. The most famous of these are the delogs of Tibet, people who die and come back to life with detailed descriptions of the Bardo, the intricate Buddhist realm of heavens and hells.

Whereas Americans who die confabulate memories of meeting family and Jesus. Isn’t it obvious that this is a culture-dependent ‘memory’ generated by dreams of wish-fulfillment?

3. Children who remember their past lives have now been studied in detail at the Univ. of Virginia. In some of the most striking cases, the child was born with a birthmark that matched the way he had died in the previous life (for example, entry and exit wounds from a bullet). The number of cases is now over 2,500.

This is the Stevenson bunk. It’s simply not credible, and the investigator has the same supernaturalist biases Chopra has. And can someone please explain how an immaterial spirit transports the damage from its previous physical body to a birthmark in its new body?

4. Evidence of mind outside the brain. If consciousness is created by brain chemistry, there is little likelihood of a conscious afterlife. However, many intriguing experiments now exist to show that a person’s thoughts can move beyond the brain. Besides the various experiments in telepathy and ‘remote viewing,’ which are much more credible than skeptics will admit, there is a replicated study from the engineering department at Princeton in which ordinary people could will a computer to generate a certain pattern of numbers. They did this through thought alone, having no contact with the machine itself.

His evidence for duality is telepathy and remote viewing, a couple of phenomena which have not held up under any kind of scientific scrutiny?

The random number stuff is an exaggerated version of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research experiments. They showed that ordinary people couldn’t do what he claims, but one person who was not only a participant but also a researcher in the work could somehow be responsible for the bulk of the positive hits. I don’t think it shows any mysterious mental powers; I suspect something more mundane.

5. In the area of information theory, a rising body of evidence suggests that Nature preserves data in the form of information fields. The most basic units of creation, such as quarks and gravity, may be interrelated through information that cannot be created or destroyed, only recombined into new patterns. If this is true, then it may be that what we call the soul is a complex package of information that survives death as well as precedes birth.

New Age quantum crap. This is not evidence, this is Chopra waving his hands and babbling.

6. Then there are mysteries that no scientific theory can explain without consciousness. Foremost among these is consciousness itself. Inside the brain a hundred billion neurons register chemical and electrical signals. The brain contains no sights, sounds, smells, or tastes. It is a dark, semi-solid mass about the consistency of cold oatmeal. And yet this conglomeration of inert atoms somehow produces the entire visible, tangible world. If this metamorphosis can be explained, then we may find out how the brain might create subtler worlds, the kind traditionally known as heaven. If the secret lies not in brain chemistry but in awareness itself, the afterlife may turn out to be an extension of our present life, not a faraway mystical world.

Maybe Chopra’s brain is like cold oatmeal and is made up of inert atoms, but mine isn’t. I do believe we can now diagnose his problem.

Again, this isn’t evidence for anything. Chopra has merely made up an improbable rationale, and is now asking us all to assume it is correct.

Note the weird game he plays, too. The brain isn’t an organ that responds to stimuli from the external world, oh no…it creates the world. That’s more New Age nonsense.

7. Finally, there are traditions of spirituality–going far beyond organized religion–that tell us about consciousness from the viewpoint of wisdom. Science isn’t the only valid way to extract knowledge from nature. The ancient Vedic rishis of India provided a clear, coherent worldview that fits perfectly into advanced concepts from quantum theory. The merging of wisdom and science has much to offer.

A New Age triple whammy: ancient, revealed wisdom + quantum abuse + a claim that his view is a synthesis of science and mysticism. Nope, sorry, Deepak old boy…there isn’t a speck of science in what you say.

Comments

  1. #1 jerry
    April 4, 2009

    Chopra’s an idiot. How do these idiots get soo rich?