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 Russell
    November 14, 2006

    I blame biologists. Surely one of them had the opportunity to flunk Chopra early in his academic endeavors?

    πŸ˜‰

  2. #2 Daephex
    November 14, 2006

    I’ve been enjoying the religious nonsense displayed at the WFMU “Beware of the Blog” entry “Holy Laughter: Getting Drunk on Jesus”. If there was ever a more potent display of how religion can make stupid people believe ANYTHING, I’d be amazed. Check it out at: http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2006/11/holy_laughter_g.html

  3. #3 Stanton
    November 14, 2006

    Dr Chopra is a medical doctor?

  4. #4 Steviepinhead
    November 14, 2006

    If my brain was just a lump of cold oatmeal, how could it hurt so much after reading this chopped chard compelled me to slam it against my keyboard?

  5. #5 Stanton
    November 14, 2006

    That’s because, while the brain, itself, has no sensory nerves with which to feel pain with, the flesh surrounding the skull in which our oatmeal is contained within, along with the skull itself, do have sensory nerves that can and do feel pain.

  6. #6 Peter Scott
    November 14, 2006

    What is it with New Agers and quantum mechanics? It’s obvious they don’t know the first thing about it — they probably couldn’t even explain how the particle/wave duality of light manifests in a two-slit interference experiment, and they’d faint dead away if they had to do anything with probability density functions — but for some reason they pretend to understand what all of those fancy quantum mechanical terms and concepts mean.

    Are they consciously lying, or do they honestly think that reading a few pages of Popular Quantum Mechanics For Dummies gives them a better understanding of quantum mechanics than real physicists?

  7. #7 Joshua
    November 14, 2006

    Sure, Deep, just go and insult all of our intelligences by loudly trumpeting the same crap we could get from such authoritative research and journalistic organs as Sightings.

  8. #8 Millimeter Wave
    November 14, 2006

    What is it with New Agers and quantum mechanics? It’s obvious they don’t know the first thing about it — they probably couldn’t even explain how the particle/wave duality of light manifests in a two-slit interference experiment…

    This is a pretty basic part of the charlatan repertoire. They need to find something that very few people really understand in order to claim that it says whatever they want it to say.

    See also: 2nd law of thermodynamics.

  9. #9 jeffw
    November 14, 2006

    Duality of mind seems to be a pre-requisite for most (if not all) religions. It’s an easy sell.

  10. #10 Steviepinhead
    November 14, 2006

    Thanks, Stanton.

    Next time I read one of Deep Choss’s “hypotheses,” I’ll have to remember to first expose the oatmeal, before slamming it…

  11. #11 Orac
    November 14, 2006

    Dr Chopra is a medical doctor?

    Yes, unfortunately.

    I’m so embarrassed.

  12. #12 King Aardvark
    November 14, 2006

    Unfortunately, it’s not just far-out whacko nutsjobs like Deepak here who disseminate Near Death Experience mumbo jumbo; it’s also closer to home nutjobs. I remember reading Lee Strobel’s horrible The Case for a Creator. The last chapter was an interview with JP Moreland of the Disco Institute about consciousness separate from the brain, using NDEs and other such crap.

  13. #13 j.t.delaney
    November 14, 2006

    Um, has anybody ever recovered from brain death… ever? I’m no expert, but the complete and irreversible cessation of brain activity seems like a rather big hurdle to overcome on the ‘road to recovery’…

  14. #14 Skeptico
    November 14, 2006

    Btw, “Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research” (PEAR) is not “the engineering department at Princeton”, although I suspect they chose their name so that people would think so.

  15. #15 quork
    November 14, 2006

    Snakes on an astral plane!

  16. #16 DrSteve
    November 14, 2006

    I like how he states that those 20% of cardiac arrest victims had “no electrical brain activity” – how did he get that?

    It is VERY unusual to have a patient getting EEG monitoring unless they have a seizure disorder or, more commonly, pseudoseizures. I have never seen an arrest victim with EEG leads on.

  17. #17 Steviepinhead
    November 14, 2006

    I thought “we” (that is, one of you, not me) figured out last time around that “Doc” ChochFullOfIt had graduated from medical school someplace sometime, but was not currently licensed to practice medicine in whatever astral state he inhabits, and had not been licensed to practice medicine in quite some time?

    So “doctor” he may be by courtesy, but practicing M.D., huh-uh.

  18. #18 Koray
    November 14, 2006

    I read a book on the psychology of deceit. I learned that people (of all intellectual capacities) lie for a lot of different reasons, and sometimes for no reason at all. If they get debunked and exposed somewhere, they go elsewhere. You just can’t make Deepak admit that he’s lying. You can only make him go away.

  19. #19 Steviepinhead
    November 14, 2006

    According to this source, Chopra has been a New Age entreprenuer in California for roughly the last 15 years:

    http://www.watchman.org/profile/choprapro.htm.

    This bio-fisking of Chopra notes “that Chopra declined to apply for a California medical license, and he no longer engages in clinical practice,” citing a Time Magazine article (June 24, 1996, p. 68).

  20. #20 Aylmer
    November 14, 2006

    The brain contains no sights, sounds, smells, or tastes. It is a dark, semi-solid mass about the consistency of cold oatmeal.

    Deepak’s brain tastes like dog shit.

  21. #21 Glen Davidson
    November 14, 2006

    Just on a point of language, many reasonable (non-theist, non-magic believing) folk would say that the brain (not “mind”, at least when being exact) does create the world that each individual knows. Of course they don’t deny that the brain responds to stimuli from the external world, however “responding” to the world is not necessarily synonymous with “producing colored representations”, for instance, of that world.

    I’m saying that I do agree with PZ’s response to Chopra, I only desire that all who might say that the brain “creates the world” mean what Chopra means by it. They (we) might only mean that the brain constructs models of the world according to its own possibilities, rather than according to the possibilities which lie beyond the brain (even if the two are interrelated), which in part underlies our ability to create within the world.

    Carry on.

    Glen D
    http;//tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  22. #22 Orac
    November 14, 2006

    Deepak’s brain tastes like dog shit.

    How would you know? πŸ˜‰

  23. #23 PZ Myers
    November 14, 2006

    How would you know?

    Remote gustation.

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    November 14, 2006

    Chopra sez:

    Inside the brain a hundred billion neurons register chemical and electrical signals. The brain contains no sights, sounds, smells, or tastes.

    Apparently, our boy Deepra is still amazed that grandma doesn’t actually live in the telephone.

  25. #25 Leon
    November 14, 2006

    Amazing people believe this stuff…some NDEs suggest something like what we might think is (our idea of) the afterlife, but most are unrecognizable. The most reasonable interpretation of what we know about NDEs is that they’re caused by the brain dealing with unusual circumstances, including lack of oxygen.

    #3, the one about children “remembering” things about past lives that seem to explain a birthmark or something, reminds me of how the Elephant Man got his nickname. He explained his condition by saying that an elephant had escaped from a traveling zoo and frightened his mother while she was pregnant with him. There’s no evidence that a traveling zoo visited the area they lived in while he was in the womb; it was merely an explanation cooked up after the fact. The same, it seems, applies to #3.

  26. #26 Orac
    November 14, 2006

    You know, skeptical bloggers could make a blogging career out of nothing but fisking Choprawoo, but it’s almost too easy.

    Heck, it is too easy, particularly when he starts invoking PEAR.

  27. #27 khan
    November 14, 2006

    “quantum abuse”

    I like that.

  28. #28 Glen Davidson
    November 14, 2006

    corrected from post my post above:

    “I’m saying that I do agree with PZ’s response to Chopra, I only desire that it be understood that all who might say that the brain “creates the world” don’t necessarily mean what Chopra means by it.”

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

  29. #29 colluvial
    November 14, 2006

    If the brain creates the world, as Chopra seems to imply, that only leaves one option: from his perspective, his brain is creating all of us. Either that or my brain is creating him. In that case, I apologize.

  30. #30 RedMolly
    November 14, 2006

    Connie Willis’ novel Passage, despite the unfortunately woo-ish title, is a rather nice non-dualist, non-theological examination of the NDE phenomenon. And there’s a nice sad bit too.

  31. #31 Blake Stacey
    November 14, 2006

    Chopra also sez:

    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.

    Aha, Vediwoo!

    It is unfortunate that the undoubted scientific and technological achievements of ancient India — advanced mathematics, the construction of sophisticated cities all the way back in Dravidian times, and so forth — are tossed aside in favor of this mystic claptrap. How, pray tell, did the ancient Vedic sages figure out this amazing worldview of theirs which fits so well with quantum theory? They certainly didn’t have the laboratory equipment to measure the charge of the electron, conduct neutron-scattering experiments, test the photoelectric effect or do any of the other things which led to modern quantum physics. They just knew, Chopra tells us.

    I’m sorry, but that is not a supportable assertion.

    This notion of “Vedic science” is nothing more than the Indian answer to creationism. Try to force ancient mysticism together with modern science, and one of them will break. To quote the sociologist Meera Nanda,

    The White House’s active induction of Christian
    evangelicals and corporate scientists (who often work together) to shape science policy, ranging from the open support of the Biblical Flood geology in the Grand Canyons to the research policies and funding for AIDS, contraception and stem cell research, is
    not very different from the state sponsorship of Vedic astrology and Vedas-inspired research grants to unproven indigenous “sciences” (in medicine, architecture, and even in defense) during the Hindu nationalist years […]

    I have argued that the rage for Vedic sciences that flared up under the BJP was merely an example of how Hindu elite have always asserted the authority of the Vedas over post-Vedic, non-Vedic and even anti-Vedic ideas. Hinduism has always turned every new idea under the sun into a derivative of the Vedas by refusing to acknowledge that the new idea is actually saying something new, and that it might actually contradict and falsify the old. The “other” is not recognized in its otherness, but simply interpreted as “saying the same thing” within its own limited context, what the Vedas have always known. The Hindu orthodoxy works not by suppressing the heterodox ideas that contradict its “eternal truths”, but by relativizing them to their context and then presenting them as deformed, aberrant versions of the higher Gnostic truths always already contained in the Vedas.

    There are two components of Hindu orthodoxy regarding modern science — namely hierarchical relativism and inclusivism or parallelism — and both of them are entirely congruent with the prescriptions of social constructivist and postcolonial theory. The first simply declares the naturalistic-empiricist worldview of modern science (which includes nearly all of conventionally accepted mainstream science) as “lower” or “partial” knowledge, valid only within the supposedly outdated materialist, dualist metaphysics of the Judeo-Christian, Western cultures. The validity of this science is not denied, but “only” relativized to the Western metaphysics, so that it ceases to have any critical implications for the “higher” or “holistic” non-mechanistic knowledge of the Vedic “sciences” (like astrology, or Vedic creationism). Once this relativist logic is admitted, the stage is set for inclusion of data from fringe sciences like parapsychology and defunct ideas of vitalism as legitimate evidence “proving” the validity of Vedic theory of evolution or the Vedic astrology.

    Nanda’s book Prophets Facing Backward comes highly recommended by Alan Sokal and Daniel Dennett, by the way.

  32. #32 Jim Lippard
    November 14, 2006

    On the subject of near-death experiences, I highly recommend Keith Augustine’s “Hallucinatory Near-Death Experiences” at the Secular Web. Keith has recently revised and updated this paper.

  33. #33 Zuckerfrosch
    November 14, 2006

    My pet bunny has a brain like cold oatmeal too. She sure seems to create a huge world of smells and sounds in it, too. I wish I knew where she kept her soul in that tiny skull of hers.

  34. #34 JD
    November 14, 2006

    “And yet this conglomeration of inert atoms somehow produces the entire visible, tangible world.”

    Mmhmm, mmhmm. And blind people just have fucked up brains. Yessir.

  35. #35 Steve Watson
    November 14, 2006

    While we’re on the subject of the after-life: am I the only one to notice that in The End of Faith, Sam Harris claims there is evidence for psychic phenomena and reincarnation? And that he cites as source Rupert Sheldrake?

    I opened the book expecting to disagree with him about some of his assertions — but I certainly wasn’t expecting that!

  36. #36 Nix
    November 14, 2006

    Hey, Chopra’s right in one area. A person’s thoughts *can* move beyond the brain, by means of super^Wnatural things called `muscles’.

    (Unfortunately that doesn’t help you manipulate a computer into generating random numbers, unless of course you use the `muscles’ to `reprogram’ said computer.)

    (This has now reminded me of Egan’s _Quarantine_…)

  37. #37 Blake Stacey
    November 14, 2006

    I think PZ’s phrase “quantum abuse” might be even better rendered as “quantum self-abuse”.

  38. #38 Anton Mates
    November 14, 2006

    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?

    Yeah, this one has always seemed like a real no-brainer. When American evangelicals start waking up from the operating table with vivid, intricate memories of the Tibetan Bardo, then I’ll take notice.

    Unless we’ve got some kind of Discworldish “Everyone gets what they expect” afterlife in place.

  39. #39 Anton Mates
    November 14, 2006

    While we’re on the subject of the after-life: am I the only one to notice that in The End of Faith, Sam Harris claims there is evidence for psychic phenomena and reincarnation? And that he cites as source Rupert Sheldrake?

    Feel free to call shenanigans on this since I’ve only read Harris’ interviews, but it seems to me that he’s basically a liberal Buddhist; he only positions himself as anti-religious because Buddhism isn’t “religion”, it’s True.

    (Not True in the Christian/Islamic “You’ll go to hell if you don’t believe this” sense, mind. But Harris certainly seems to believe Buddhism happens to have an exceptionally accurate understanding of the world. And he’s much more open to Buddhist-associated supernaturalism than to that associated with any other religion.)

  40. #40 stand
    November 14, 2006

    Quoth Chopra:

    However, many intriguing experiments now exist to show that a person’s thoughts can move beyond the brain.

    This is totally true! I was at one of these experiment facilities just today. They had the thoughts of literally thousands of people — some of them dead for thousands of years — on display. They used this bizarre technology called “language” to transfer thoughts into these receptacles called “books.” I was blown away!

  41. #41 Greg Peterson
    November 14, 2006

    It’s become a cliche, I guess, but I’ve never heard a better or more succinct statement on the issue: Saying the personality survives death is like saying that 60 MPH survives the car crash.

  42. #42 anomalous4
    November 14, 2006

    I wonder how many of Deepak Chopra’s “followers” are aware that he drinks his own urine……..

  43. #43 Warren
    November 14, 2006

    This is not evidence, this is Chopra waving his hands and babbling.

    When did he start doing that?

  44. #44 DominEditrix
    November 14, 2006

    Do you ever get the urge to start a new “religion” with off-the-wall “mysteries”, use classic brain-washing techniques in order to suck in the rich & gullible, work hard at amassing adherents, then abruptly appear in a clown suit on nationwide TV and yell “April Fool!”? Or is it just me?

  45. #45 DominEditrix
    November 14, 2006

    And I hate to nit-pick, but, given that Irwin died at sea, shouldn’t he be on an astral boat, not an astral plane?

  46. #46 Scott Hatfield
    November 14, 2006

    Information fields? Chopra’s a gasbag, of course, but there is a sense in which there are information fields out there: tree rings, for example, contain climatological information. Remember, ID types are always attempting to use information theory against evolution, and I like to counter that argument by pointing out that the increase in information comes from the environment.

    Unlike Chopra, however, this model of an information theory doesn’t violate the 2nd Law, but is in fact to some degree dependent upon it….SH

  47. #47 Alex
    November 14, 2006

    The brain’s electrical signals do propagate into space. They do not travel forever though, as their energy is absorbed and utilized when intersecting with other mass/energy. It’s basically the radiation principle.

    Clearly this proves heaven is real. Clearly.

  48. #48 commissarjs
    November 14, 2006

    On monday I argued with someone that the soul doesn’t weigh 21 grams and that the creation myths of various cultures are mutually exclusive. Now today I get to read a bunch of new age gobbledygook that is amazingly similar to explanations given in comic books. Let’s just hope Dr. Chopra doesn’t find some way to draw power from the ley lines of the earth to manipulate the unified field. He’d be unstoppable!

    I shudder to think what stupidity I will trip over tomorrow.

    Does he actually belive in the astral plane?

  49. #49 Bryn
    November 14, 2006

    Funny, but (anectdotal evidence, sorry) when my Dad “died” twice a few years back, he didn’t get any of that nifty NDE stuff. The first one, he just remembers a fade to black. He didn’t even realize the second one happened (it occurred while he was still unconscious from the first). No heaven, no hell, no dead relatives, no “light at the end of the tunnel,” no Jesus-in-a-bathrobe, definitely no Bardo. Nada. Anything to do with his being one of the most a-religious people I know? He doesn’t call himself an atheist as I do, but he’s awfully darned close to it. Besides, ol’ Deepak should be concerned,; if he’s accepting that the Tibetan Buddhists are “dying” and experiencing Bardo, doesn’t that mean his whole Veda/Hindu shtick is wrong?

  50. #50 Nix
    November 14, 2006

    Of course, part of the trick of charlatanism is to use a single grain of truth. And there is one in there: the current best guess *is* that quantum information can neither be created nor destroyed (and it’s pretty much a dead cert that holographic principle or no holographic principle it’s not destroyed outside black holes).

    The trick is that quantum information not being destroyed doesn’t say anything about its not being fuzzed into near-unintelligibility by entropy.

    e.g. if I drop a nuclear weapon on my workplace (vapourizing St. Paul’s Cathedral in the process, but also wiping out a vast pile of nasty software that I’ve helped perpetrate: I’m sure the world would applaud in the end), the quantum information that once comprised St. Paul’s Cathedral, my workplace, the nasty software I work on during the day and so forth is not destroyed. But all that means is that given complete information (a snapshot of the explosion and everything within its light cone) it is *theoretically* possible to recover the state of every particle before the explosion.

    It doesn’t mean that people will be admiring St. Paul’s anymore, nor that any of the poor people who just got vapourised in my drive to rid the world of my software will be doing any thinking. They’re plasma in the heart of a nuclear fireball, and that’s notably bad at thinking.

    The leap from `quantum information is neither created nor destroyed’ to `ooh, maybe there is a soul’ is quite the longest and most stretchy leap I’ve seen in some time. The creationists could learn from this long-jumper.

  51. #51 George
    November 14, 2006

    Chicken-Vindaloo-for-Brains is a complete moron and a con artist of the worst kind.

    Dead is dead.

    Anyone wanting to be entertained by clever thoughts about consciousness in relation to the world should read Bishop Berkeley. The good Bishop’s ideas are much more thought-provoking than those spewed forth by DumbFuck Deepak.

  52. #52 DominEditrix
    November 14, 2006

    George, I beg you not to connect “Chicken Vindaloo” and DC’s brain, as it is an insult to fine cuisine. “Haggis for brains”, on the other hand…

  53. #53 Kansas Anarchist
    November 14, 2006

    I like how he states that those 20% of cardiac arrest victims had “no electrical brain activity” – how did he get that?

    It is VERY unusual to have a patient getting EEG monitoring unless they have a seizure disorder or, more commonly, pseudoseizures. I have never seen an arrest victim with EEG leads on.

    The same place he gets all the rest of his ‘information’: he pulls it out of his ass…tral plane.

  54. #54 Kansas Anarchist
    November 14, 2006

    My apologies to DrSteve for my bad use of tags. The second paragraph above is his, as well.

  55. #55 plunge
    November 14, 2006

    The consciousness thing is the one that gets me:

    “I don’t know what the fuck consciousness is. Therefore, it must be made of faeries!”

    I mean, seriously. If you can’t even describe the what the _problem_ is, how can you claim that science can’t explain it? Imagine that magical fruity souland does exist. Can you demonstrate that IT can explain what consciousness is or how it works? Nope. At least with ID you can sort of see how an ID could do the things necessary to create design. Things like free will, consciousness, etc. : you can’t explain how those things work any better than science even if I allow you all the magical spiritual whatsits you want.

  56. #56 melior
    November 14, 2006

    The Holy Laughter reminds of a paperback I read in college that recommended laughing as a meditation technique. It was by the not-yet-infamous Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, whose cult later melted down spectacularly when some of his followers poisoned a salad bar. (Religion and terrorism? Say it isn’t so!)

    Anyway, Rajneesh’s steps to achieve relaxation and stress relief actually sounded reasonably unlikely to be harmful, if a bit undignified. I never tried to experimentally validate them (it was disappointingly tame for the title Meditation and the Art of Ecstasy that made me pick it up), but it wouldn’t surprise me if, stripped of all the woo, they could actaully be used for that purpose.

    The most famous remains his first: Dynamic Meditation. This is divided into five stages. In the first, a person engages in ten minutes of rapid breathing through the nose. The second ten minutes are dedicated to catharsis: “[L]et whatever is happening happen. … Laugh, shout, scream, jump, shake — whatever you feel to do, do it!” (Meditation: The Art of Ecstasy, 233). In the third stage, the person jumps up and down shouting hoo-hoo-hoo. In the fourth stage, everything stops. As one disciple said of this stage: “I was too tired to think, too drained from the catharsis … [M]y body was too tired to fidget, to move; it was utterly relaxed” (Bharti, Death Comes Dancing, 18-19). Finally, the exercise is completed with between ten and fifteen minutes of dancing and celebration.

    Could be fun at parties, especially with a margarita or two first. Feel the tension melt!

    And I ask you, wouldn’t it be a little hard for the fundies to take themselves quite so damn seriously if they were jumping up and down shouting hoo hoo?

  57. #57 bibi
    November 14, 2006

    You ‘scientists’ tell us that we humans use only…what….7% of our brains? 4%? That includes scientists. So, again, I ask, how can anyone know, for sure, what happens after this life?
    You scientists are supposed to have open minds, are you not?
    Many of the comments disparriage differing viewpoints…and that smells of fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of different cultures. Fear of different races.
    Also, I don’t need to point out, that scientists are constantly revising ‘theories’ based on new discoveries.
    How many of you have been to India? Is all the knowledge you have accrued from books?
    Academia is a very insular.
    What’s that line, open your minds and your hearts will follow.
    (Is this what you had in mind, PZ…a little bit of controversy?)

  58. #58 Great White Wonder
    November 14, 2006

    Nothing Deepak can do or so is remotely as interesting as Hiroyuki Nishigaki’s brilliant, “How to Good-Bye Depression: If You Constrict Anus 100 Times Everyday. Malarkey? or Effective Way?”

    http://www.amazon.com/How-Good-Bye-Depression-Constrict-Effective/dp/0595094724

    I think constricting anus 100 times and denting navel 100 times in succession everyday is effective to good-bye depression and take back youth. You can do so at a boring meeting or in a subway. I have known 70-year-old man who has practiced it for 20 years. As a result, he has good complexion and has grown 20 years younger. His eyes sparkle. He is full of vigor, happiness and joy. He has neither complained nor born a grudge under any circumstance. Furthermore, he can make love three times in succession without drawing out.

    In addition, he also can have burned a strong beautiful fire within his abdomen. It can burn out the dirty stickiness of his body, release his immaterial fiber or third attention which has been confined to his stickiness. Then, he can shoot out his immaterial fiber or third attention to an object, concentrate on it and attain happy lucky feeling through the success of concentration.

    If you don’t know concentration which gives you peculiar pleasure, your life looks like a hell.

    Eat your fucking heart out, Deepak.

  59. #59 Gerard Harbison
    November 14, 2006

    [blockquote]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.[/blockquote]

    I do NMR spectroscopy. Our data is often a signal averaged set of many individual transients, in which the signal is mixed with a high level of random noise. For the first really significant result I got as a grad. student, we averagted nearly a million transients to get a spectrum. I was sitting there watching it average pretty much the whole time. Had it been possible for the human brain to affect random noise, I would certainly have gotten a signal in the spectrum at the point I expected it; a mere 0.1% biasing of the noise at one point in the spectrum would have created a beautiful line. In fact, the real signal was split into a doublet, and shifted about 20 ppm downfield from where I expected. (And it’s been reproduced by others, so I didn’t do it :-)).

    If there were anything to what Chopra says, then signal averaging would be impossible without some way of ‘blinding’ the investigator.

  60. #60 Orac
    November 14, 2006

    While we’re on the subject of the after-life: am I the only one to notice that in The End of Faith, Sam Harris claims there is evidence for psychic phenomena and reincarnation?

    Yes, he does. It’s mostly in the last chapter. It was very jarring after the rest of his book and left me scratching my head.

  61. #61 George
    November 14, 2006

    “Yet I wrote the book for a second reason connected to faith: to offer consolation to the multitude of people who fear death.”

    I think I hate fools like Deepak almost more than the Pope and his buddies in the Vaticon. Deepak is not pointing to a Jesus or a God as the source of solace, he’s pointing to himself. Look at me, Deepak, I have the answers. Buy my books! Me, me, me.

    Enough! The world doesn’t need any more fantasy freaks and screwballs who go all soft about what happens after death.

    If more people would realize that dead is dead is dead, there would be a lot less tolerance (or so I like to hope) for the fucked up things people do in this world.

    Our immature, egomaniacal species is destroying the planet because it doesn’t want to face facts, and all Deepak can do is spew mindless claptrap designed to make people feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

  62. #62 melior
    November 14, 2006

    Bravo! Nothing quite has the impact of scare quotes around the word scientists if you’re looking for credibility.

  63. #63 Millimeter Wave
    November 14, 2006

    Do you ever get the urge to start a new “religion” with off-the-wall “mysteries”, use classic brain-washing techniques in order to suck in the rich & gullible, work hard at amassing adherents, then abruptly appear in a clown suit on nationwide TV and yell “April Fool!”? Or is it just me?

    It’s been done already. Sadly, L. Ron died before he could spring the gag…

  64. #64 Sastra
    November 14, 2006

    Deepak Chopra’s form of “science” appeals strongly to the many people who think science means “verify through experience.” The fact that the scientists themselves are not impressed with the level of evidence means nothing — this is all about personal validation, and being able to overlay it with just enough scientific veneer to think that spirituality is now consistent with and supported by reason.

    Like Blake Stacey, Meera Nanda is one of my personal heroes. I actually got her “Prophets Facing Backwards” book in my Christmas stocking one year (how cool is that?) She writes on postmodernism and the so-called convergence of Hindu mysticism and modern science. Debunking Eastern forms of “holistic” science not only addresses New Agers like Chopra, it also seems to explain some of the higher, vaguer forms of traditional theism as well.

  65. #65 Steviepinhead
    November 14, 2006

    Well, I guess if I die and experience Bardo(t) (younger, not quite so fanatic, Bridget version) I could handle it.

    For a little while.

    But really, having to handle ANYTHING, bardo or no bardot, eternally, ineffable bliss or no ineffable bliss, sounds not just boring, but hellaciously infinitely suicidally boring.

    Why do these people thing they want that? Have they really thought about it, for more than, um, a little while?

  66. #66 melatonin
    November 14, 2006

    You ‘scientists’ tell us that we humans use only…what….7% of our brains? 4%? That includes scientists. So, again, I ask, how can anyone know, for sure, what happens after this life?

    Total urban myth, probably good you had that in quotations. Just typing this message required cortical activity across the brain.

  67. #67 Bronze Dog
    November 14, 2006

    Aylmer: Deepak’s brain tastes like dog shit.

    Orac: How would you know? πŸ˜‰

    PZ: Remote gustation.

    As strange as it sounds, there’s a small voice coming from my toilet, claiming to be deeply offended.

  68. #68 coz
    November 14, 2006

    Kerry Packer, Australia’s richest man till he died for good last year. He had a heart attack in 1990 and was dead for 6 minutes. In a interview afterwards he said

    EMMA ALBERICI: They say there are only two certainties in life – death and taxes. But Kerry Packer believed he could beat both. He returned from the dead in 1990 following a heart attack on the polo field, which left him without a pulse for six minutes.

    KERRY PACKER: You want the good news or the bad news?

    RAY MARTIN: Give us the good news.

    KERRY PACKER: The good news is there is no devil. The bad news is there no heaven.

    RAY MARTIN: Is that right?

    KERRY PACKER: Yeah, there’s nothing.

    Good response I thought.
    Then he went halves with the NSW Gov for difibrillators ‘Packer Whackers’ to be put into ambulances.

    Haven’t they shown many times that pilots in those fast, spiny thingys have NDE’s? Time to move on Depak.

  69. #69 Blake Stacey
    November 14, 2006

    You ‘scientists’ tell us that we humans use only…what….7% of our brains? 4%? That includes scientists.

    Actually, we all use all of our brains all of the time. We don’t always use them well, but that’s part and parcel of being human. The story that we only use 10% (or whatever figure you pick) probably started with Dale Carnegie, the guy who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People. It’s a motivational ploy, sort of like “be all you can be” or “there’s no I in team”. It’s true that we seldom live up to our full potential, but to dress this commonly known fact up with figures and percentage points is just wrong. It’s not science; it’s not even really meaningful.

    Ironically, the main result of stock phrases like “we only use 10% of our brains” is to let people speak and write without thinking.

    Sastra wrote:

    Like Blake Stacey, Meera Nanda is one of my personal heroes. I actually got her “Prophets Facing Backwards” book in my Christmas stocking one year (how cool is that?) She writes on postmodernism and the so-called convergence of Hindu mysticism and modern science.

    Hooray, I’m somebody’s hero! Oh, wait, I’m just the victim of a misplaced modifier. Sigh. πŸ˜‰

    To answer your question, though, it’s very cool. I found my way to Meera Nanda via Alan “the joke’s on you, lit crit” Sokal, and in particular his essay “Pseudoscience and Postmodernism: Antagonists or Fellow-Travelers?” (PDF link). It’s a good piece of writing.

  70. #70 MarkP
    November 14, 2006

    I recall reading in a critique of NDEs from the CSICOP crew that they had never been verified to have happened to a person who actually had no brain activity, i.e., was brain dead, contrary to what Deepak claims. Even if they were, pinning down that the NDE happened during that interval, and not say immediately after it ended and recovery began, would be tricky business indeed.

    Deepak merely sees what he wishes to see, on which ironically enough, I think he would agree with me.

  71. #71 Azkyroth
    November 14, 2006

    bibi: (Assuming that this wasn’t facetious…)

    You ‘scientists’ tell us that we humans use only…what….7% of our brains? 4%? That includes scientists. So, again, I ask, how can anyone know, for sure, what happens after this life?

    Actually, the only people who have ever made that claim are pseudoscientists. The closest you’ll find in the scientific literature is that not every area of our brains is heavily active all at the same time while working on a given task. Now, I certainly believe Deepak Chopra is using only 4-7% of HIS brain, but that’s not typical of humanity as a whole.

    ou scientists are supposed to have open minds, are you not?

    Being open-minded is not the same as being blindly credulous. When a person is making claims that spectacularly contradict well-established scientific knowledge and utterly fails to marshal even a fraction of the evidential support needed to legitimize such a claim, it is entirely reasonable to reject their conclusions out of hand. The burden of proof is on the affirmative.

    Many of the comments disparriage differing viewpoints…and that smells of fear. Fear of being wrong. Fear of different cultures. Fear of different races.

    There is no fear, merely exasperation and incredulity. This is completely unambiguous. We are not “disparaging differing viewpoints,” we are disparaging people who misuse scientific terminology while babbling in a fashion that contradicts the entirety of known science and offering no tangible proof of their claims–while also claiming that known science supports it. This is completely unambiguous. There is no fear of differing cultures or races here, merely observations that the loonies of different cultures tend towards slightly different patterns of lunacy than our own; the accusations of ethnocentrism and racism are completely specious and you know it. This is completely unambiguous.

    Also, I don’t need to point out, that scientists are constantly revising ‘theories’ based on new discoveries.

    What Chopra is describing is not “new discoveries” but subjective mysticism cloaked in superficially scientific idom, with a lack of tangible supporting evidence and a broad array of disingenuous and innaccurate statements offered in its place. No scientific theory has ever been revised on such laughably flimsy grounds.

    How many of you have been to India? Is all the knowledge you have accrued from books?
    Academia is a very insular.

    A very insular what? And just how much firsthand knowledge of academia do you have, then?

    What’s that line, open your minds and your hearts will follow.

    Then it follows that if we uncritically fill our minds with garbage the same will happen to our hearts. That sounds unpleasant, if it’s all the same to you.

  72. #72 thwaite
    November 14, 2006

    Bibi: Also, I don’t need to point out, that scientists are constantly revising ‘theories’ based on new discoveries.

    –As Keynes (the economist) observed when challenged to offer more reliable and enduring policy recommendations: “When the data change I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?”

    Scientists actively seek discoveries; Bibi seems satiated. Who do you think will get closer to such truth as there is?

  73. #73 Nat
    November 14, 2006

    Paraphrasing “Academia is very insular and we are full of fear of other races and cultures”….?

    I guess that’s why my academy has English, Germans, Australians, New Zealanders, Swedes, Indians, Chinese, Malaysians, Canadians, Ecuadorians, South Africans, Jews, Lebanese and even shock horror Americans.

    The fear, loathing and resistance to new ideas is outside of the academy in my experience. If you make an outrageous assertion in public like Chopra be prepared to defend your ideas with reliable data.

  74. #74 Ian H Spedding FCD
    November 14, 2006

    NDEs are Near Death Experiences. Since death, by definition, is something from which you don’t recover the victims were never actually dead.

    There is another problem. Proponents claim that these experiences occur when there is no measurable electrical activity in the brain. But they don’t know that. They could happen when the brain is just unconscious or semi-conscious before or after ‘flatlining’.

  75. #75 Pete K
    November 14, 2006

    These discussions are like dogs endlesslly chasing their own tails – not only do they raise infinitely more metaphysical questions than they answer (e.g. “Is consciousness an all-or-nothing thing?” “Do other species have it in lesser amounts?” “Did consciousness evolve relatively suddenly, or gradually?” “Are souls located in space?” “If so, where?” “If not, how can they influence matter that IS located in space (i.e. neurons)?” “Maybe souls are like numbers, they have an abstract existence?” “What can a soul do that a mind, created by physical brains, can’t do?” “Can one fracture one’s soul? What happens to the soul of a person who dies of Alzheimer’s or CJD? Is their soul forever “impaired” in the afterlife? And if not, then how can a soul have much to do with a person’s “essence” and memory in the first place, if behavior depends so much on the physical brain? How can THEY be said to have survived their brain’s physical death?” etc etc) but also, no-one ever “proves” anything much, either way.. And in fact, logically, they CAN’T: souls/spirits/essences/ghosts/shades/boogeymen – or whatever you call them – if they exist, would be SUPERnatural, and therefore “beyond” evaluation, analysis, quantification, measurement, no matter how “objective”…even beyond discussion (since when humans discuss ANYTHING they necessarily do it “inside the box” of nature, of their own species’ evoltuionary history, their own cutural imprinitng, their own biases). Anyway, isn’t the whole point of the distinction between natural and supernatural, that both realms are NOT supposed to “overlap”? It’s the same as wanting ID kept in places of worship, and evolution kept in science classes. OF COURSE Mr Chopra is not doing science: but not just by virtue of his naiveness etc, which PZ emphasizes, but in a deeper way: no-one could scientifically “prove” souls meaningfully anyway. If science COULD demonstrate supernatural entities such as gods or ghosts, they wouldn’t be supernatural anymore, since by definition science’s aegis only deals with natural phenomena, physical principles, laws etc, not METAphysical ones (whatever they may be abitrarily defined as).

    “Does human consciousness require supernatual explantion?” Well, no-one even fully understands what consciousness IS yet, anyway (e.g. “what is the disicntion between intelligence and consciousness?”), although we do understand more than we hitherto did. The mind-body problem is still a problem. We’re part of the very mystery we’re trying to explain,

  76. #76 bibi
    November 14, 2006

    Dear Scientists,
    First, I was reacting to the comments about Deepak. I am not a follower of his. Just a mixer, a salmon, if you will. Just here to stir the pot.
    My acuity is in question? Ok, that’s fair. Genius IQ, some college and an autodidact. I worked at a college for a brief period. A thread artist and actress. But, please, don’t hold that against me. The actress bit.

    [Scientists actively seek discoveries; Bibi seems satiated.]

    I wish.

    I guess I just don’t understand the bashing of anything outside of the scientific world.

    Perhaps I don’t belong on this blog. I have not meant to offend. I, too, am searching, in my own inimitable way…quirky though it may be.

  77. #77 jp
    November 14, 2006

    >>How many of you have been to India?

    Bibi, I for one *live* in India. What does that have to do with anything? Living in India, or visiting it, doesn’t make mumbo-jumbo true all of a sudden. You might want to check this out: http://www.positiveatheism.org/tocindia.htm

  78. #78 bibi
    November 14, 2006

    And, while I was writing my last post, Pete K. summed up my feelings….exactly.

    Thanks, Pete K. Eloquently stated and I wholeheartedly concur.

  79. #79 Millimeter Wave
    November 15, 2006

    bibi:

    I guess I just don’t understand the bashing of anything outside of the scientific world.

    This seems to be something of a cop-out; Chopra is making claims based on reasoning which appears to be ludicrous. Are we supposed to consider it exempt from criticism? Just because most people here consider him to be making ludicrous assertions, and have said so, doesn’t stretch to “bashing anything outside of science”.

    By the way, not all of us are in academia…

  80. #80 Anton Mates
    November 15, 2006

    How many of you have been to India? Is all the knowledge you have accrued from books?

    Why in Rama’s name would you choose India as an example of a non-book-focused culture?

    I guess I just don’t understand the bashing of anything outside of the scientific world.

    That’s not what’s happening here. Deepak Chopra claims that his supernatural ideas are part of the scientific world.

  81. #81 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    November 15, 2006

    This is totally true! I was at one of these experiment facilities just today. They had the thoughts of literally thousands of people — some of them dead for thousands of years — on display. They used this bizarre technology called “language” to transfer thoughts into these receptacles called “books.” I was blown away!

    Dear God in Heaven – I’m a necromancer! Is that cool or what?

    Come to think of it, today I was debating near-meaningless gibberish from obscure manuals of esoteric lore, but that was on AACR2 interpretations.

  82. #82 thwaite
    November 15, 2006

    AACR2 interpretations – Greek to me and I presume to most…

    Bibi – so you’re not satiated with data – good. And welcome to this blog.

    Data pertaining to death and after-death experiences that seem more credible than Chopra’s speculations are pretty well summarized by Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and more recent Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife .

    (And why is so little attention given to pre-life experience, and more particularly to pre-conscious experiences (infancy before about age five) where data are reliably obtainable? The mystery of consciousness is as great for its emergence as for its disappearance – and the emergence is a multi-year process much more convenient to study.)

  83. #83 llewelly
    November 15, 2006

    Deepak Chopra claims that his supernatural ideas are part of the scientific world.

    And surely, someday, science will be able to explain his ideas, much as it has explained alien abduction.

  84. #84 truth machine
    November 15, 2006

    Inside the brain a hundred billion neurons register chemical and electrical signals. The brain contains no sights, sounds, smells, or tastes.

    Yeah, like how my digital camera doesn’t contain pictures, just flash memory.

    Sadly, it isn’t just Deepak Chopra, but a large fraction of professional philosophers of mind, teaching in universities and writing in journals, who commit this sort of naive ontological error.

  85. #85 Claire
    November 15, 2006

    Just a question: How does self-awareness evolve? There’s been a bit of noise about it lately due to the experiments with elephants. It’s been mentioned that the only animals that are self-aware (that are currently known) are some species of dolphin (bottle nose? I’m not sure – I could look it up but…. bleh) and humans.

    Anyone got any ideas, or any ideas where to look? And at what stage during development does it occur? Are there specific stages in brain development that are similar and limited to these animals? I’m currently clueless but interested.

  86. #86 truth machine
    November 15, 2006

    I guess I just don’t understand the bashing of anything outside of the scientific world.

    Let us know when you understand why you bash “scientists” and make foolish and uninformed statements about them. “You ‘scientists’ tell us that we humans use only…what….7% of our brains? 4%?” — really? You got this information where, scratched in the dirt in India somewhere?

    My acuity is in question? Ok, that’s fair. Genius IQ, some college and an autodidact.

    Your ability to score well on IQ tests, assuming you are being truthful, is not a demonstration of acuity … as indicated by the fact that you even mention “some college and an autodidact” as if that demonstrated acuity.

  87. #87 truth machine
    November 15, 2006

    Pete K. summed up my feelings….exactly.

    a) No he didn’t.
    b) He’s a little bit confused himself — although not nearly as much as you are.

  88. #88 Azkyroth
    November 15, 2006

    (And why is so little attention given to pre-life experience, and more particularly to pre-conscious experiences (infancy before about age five) where data are reliably obtainable? The mystery of consciousness is as great for its emergence as for its disappearance – and the emergence is a multi-year process much more convenient to study.)

    What the hell definition of consciousness are you using? While my memory’s unsurprisingly deteriorated over the years I do remember what one would have to call “conscious” experiences well before age five (as of my earliest memory I was roughly twenty-five and a half months).

    And, Pete K:

    I disagree that claims about the soul aren’t accessible to science, since there are a number of testable predictions that any definition of a “soul” I have ever heard implies, most notably that a person’s consciousness should be relatively independent of the configuration of their physical brain–which is manifestly not the case.

    However, even if you were right, that would be irrelevant, because the main impetus behind our complaints about Chopra is that he habitually claims that his assertions *are* scientific in principle, compatible with present scientific knowledge, and often that science has actually vindicated them to varying degrees. Whether he is a fool or a liar is interesting in other contexts but irrelevant at the moment. The fact is, he’s not just talking out his ass but pausing periodically to wipe it with pages torn from the lexicons of modern physics and neurology, and foisting the result off on the ignorant and credulous (for a price, as I understand it). His metaphysical position is (as far as we are concerned) merely incorrect. His misrepresentation of science is flat-out offensive. His use of this misrepresentation to bilk people of their money, unless I misread something, is beyond the pale.

    Bibi:

    Give me a number, don’t just say “genius-level IQ”. I’ve heard that claim before, notably from a classmate who admittedly solved math problems well and solved them fast, but was a “dumbass” in the truest sense of the word. But frankly, I don’t see the relevance of your intellectual capacity on paper to the fact that you’ve misrepresented our arguments in a rather flagrant and offensive manner (or do you not consider spurious accusations of racism to be offensive?).

  89. #89 Alex
    November 15, 2006

    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.

    There’s an insight for you. My Mac is full of congealed crude oil, strips of dead copper and lumps of melted sand – and yet this conglomeration of inert atoms somehow produces the whole of the interwebs!

    Thinking about this more carefully, I think I’ve never, ever encountered anyone who referred to quantum physics who wasn’t bullshitting. This is partly because I don’t know many physicists, but at least some of it is explained by the vast quantities of woo that involve it.

    By the way, the “7 (or 4 or 10) per cent of your brain” meme looks really stupid in an engineering context. On an IP network, the ratio of peak traffic volume to the mean is of the order of 50:1, and you “provision for the peak”. There’s a word for a network that’s full all the time: “congested”. Why anyone would think that the brain should be using its capability to outwit a sabre-toothed tiger whilst navigating back to your cave and plotting how to get laid that night, or cope with an engine fire during a crosswind instrument approach in a 747, all the time is beyond me.

    It sounds exhausting, and what happens when an emergency occurs? Shit, I’m already maxed out – gaah! And, I suppose, you either have an epileptic fit, or just roll up in a foetal position like your computer does when CPU utilisation hits 100%.

  90. #90 truth machine
    November 15, 2006

    How does self-awareness evolve? … Anyone got any ideas, or any ideas where to look?

    Try Marvin Minsky’s “Society of Mind”.

  91. #91 Chopra's Follower Ponders
    November 15, 2006

    A response by someone to Dr. Myers Points at Chopra’s blog:

    comment#67 by Heather

    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/what_happens_af_1.html

    “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?”

    Point two: As we live, our minds become imprinted with our experiences, which include religious dogma and stories. Just as our perceptions in life are a combination of our original innate individuality and our experiences, so our near-death perceptions would be, too. When we put on sunglasses to partially block then sun, the outside world does not change its color, but if we describe what we seem to see through the glasses, it will seem as if it has. With death at hand, there may be a single reality that we see through the filter of our individuality and accumulated experiences, so when we talk about what we see, we each talk of it differently.

    “And can someone please explain how an immaterial spirit transports the damage from its previous physical body to a birthmark in its new body? ”

    Point three: The worry about how gunshots in life A can come back as birthmarks in life B can be conjectured to work like this: If each of us is a unique whorl in the patten of the universe, then as we are born, live and die a life, aspects of that life are expressions of our pattern, too. If we are then reborn, some of the previous life’s pattern variations would express in the new life. If a final pattern variation was a strong one, it might be expressed in a visually noticeable way.

  92. #92 Alex
    November 15, 2006

    Point two isn’t a refutation. Saying that “as we live, our minds become imprinted with our experiences, which include religious dogma and stories” is functionally identical to saying that people’s dreams are conditioned by experience.

  93. #93 C.W.
    November 15, 2006

    I’m saying that I do agree with PZ’s response to Chopra, I only desire that all who might say that the brain “creates the world” mean what Chopra means by it.

    If Chopra has thought about this at all, I assume he was intentionally ambiguous, and that his “real meaning” depends entirely on context and audience. The difficult audience that asks for clarification will be told it’s a metaphor. The true believers don’t care about clarifications since that would limit thier ability to double-think.

  94. #94 Anton Mates
    November 15, 2006

    Just a question: How does self-awareness evolve? There’s been a bit of noise about it lately due to the experiments with elephants. It’s been mentioned that the only animals that are self-aware (that are currently known) are some species of dolphin (bottle nose? I’m not sure – I could look it up but…. bleh) and humans.

    You may be thinking of the “mirror test” (see Wikipedia), which has been passed by a number of species, including dolphins, elephants, and some apes. Keep in mind that actual proof of the mirror test’s relevance to self-awareness is very scanty; AFAIK all we know is that human kids start to pass it around 1 or 2.

    Anyone got any ideas, or any ideas where to look? And at what stage during development does it occur? Are there specific stages in brain development that are similar and limited to these animals?

    Probably not, since dolphin, elephant and human brains are anatomically quite different (relative to the range of variation among all mammals, anyway). I don’t think anyone’s ever come up with a telling similarity between them, other than absolute or relative size and degree of folding. If you Google “elephant brain” and “dolphin brain,” the first few links contain a lot of info on both.

  95. #95 dale
    November 15, 2006

    Near death experiences can be likened to the condition of tinnitus.
    Basically, a sound wave breaks off a tiny hair in the ear. The ringing of the ear is the sound that you can no longer hear.
    Since so many NDE’s are so similar, the tunnel, the light, that is would be safe to postulate that as the brain ceases to function, the experience is what the brain is not experiencing.

  96. #96 AustinAtheist
    November 15, 2006

    4. Evidence of mind outside the brain.

    If a man were siting in a room thinking, would we say his thoughts are taking place somewhere outside of the room? No? Oh, so his thoughts are located within time and space? Well, I’m glad that’s settled.

  97. #97 commissarjs
    November 15, 2006

    Dear Chopra’s Follower Ponders,

    I was born with a prominent birthmark (about 2 inches in diameter) on my left side about half way between my hip and my rib cage. I also have a very prominent line in the middle of both of my palms. Additonally I have always had a rathar large freckle on the bottom of my left and a strange callous on the top of my right foot. Am I the reincarnation of Jesus? Or possibly Spartacus?

    Barring that I am curious as how often these manifestations occur? For example is it just the last past life, several past lives, a random collection of them, or something else? Unless there is some sort of fading process as souls are recycled wouldn’t we also see a resulting increase in birthmarks?

  98. #98 Steve Watson
    November 15, 2006

    Orac writes:

    While we’re on the subject of the after-life: am I the only one to notice that in The End of Faith, Sam Harris claims there is evidence for psychic phenomena and reincarnation?

    Yes, he does. It’s mostly in the last chapter. It was very jarring after the rest of his book and left me scratching my head.

    Oh gods, you mean there’s worse to come? I’m only in chapter 2, thus so far all I’ve seen is one passing reference around page 40, plus the associated end-note. This is what all the vague references to “spirituality” are leading up to?

    Anton Mates writes:

    ….Harris certainly seems to believe Buddhism happens to have an exceptionally accurate understanding of the world. And he’s much more open to Buddhist-associated supernaturalism than to that associated with any other religion.)

    So, his message boils down to: Western theist woo is silly and threatens to destroy civilization, but I’ve got The Woo That Is True? Rather than being a skeptic, he’s just another myth-pedlar?

    I’m reading this book because of Harris’ claim that religious moderates are part of the problem — that they in some way aid and abet the extremists. A serious charge, and I want to see him make his case (or not). This is not the controversy I was expecting ;-). I’ll try to finish the book with an open mind, but I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy fisking Harris at book club next month. Well, it would be really boring if we all just sat around nodding our heads in agreement with Dawkins, Shermer, Harris et al….

  99. #99 dale
    November 15, 2006

    commisarjs,
    Gee, I don’t know about you but I didn’t believe in reincarnation in my last life either.

  100. #100 ajay
    November 15, 2006

    “I wonder how many of Deepak Chopra’s “followers” are aware that he drinks his own urine……..”

    He doesn’t really. He says he does, but he’s just taking the piss.

    Thank you!

  101. #101 Chris
    November 15, 2006

    As we live, our minds become imprinted with our experiences, which include religious dogma and stories. Just as our perceptions in life are a combination of our original innate individuality and our experiences, so our near-death perceptions would be, too. When we put on sunglasses to partially block then sun, the outside world does not change its color, but if we describe what we seem to see through the glasses, it will seem as if it has. With death at hand, there may be a single reality that we see through the filter of our individuality and accumulated experiences, so when we talk about what we see, we each talk of it differently.

    Well of course there’s a single reality underlying near-death experiences: the reality of almost but not quite dying. That was exactly *our* point: because the details of each person’s experience are generated out of that person’s cultural background and expectations, they don’t give us any information on what *actually* happened other than the observable parts. Therefore there is no reason to believe that anything other than the observable parts *did* happen.

    In short: people who are near death dream. What they dream is dependent on culture. There is no good reason to believe that those dreams reflect anything that is actually happening anywhere outside their own heads (by which I mean their literal, physical skulls and the brains contained therein).

    Now do you understand why uncorroborated hallucinations aren’t good evidence for dualism?

  102. #102 thwaite
    November 15, 2006

    Akzyroth, you’re right that emergence of ‘consciousness’ (whatever its definition) in infants is generally quantified by confirmable adult memories. I said these emerge “at about age five”; the literature suggests “rarely earlier than year four”, and of course individual variation is (if heritable) the raw material of evolution. Sample literature:
    Eacott 1999 (.pdf file) — highlights some paradoxes in data;
    Lewis 2003 (free abstract only) — part of an Annals of NY Acad. Sciences special issue on “THE SELF: FROM SOUL TO BRAIN”

    Another commonly used test for the emergence of consciousness is awareness of others’ consciousness called “theory of mind” – that is, theory of other minds and what they know about a situation. This ability is tested in infants by use of dolls for the “Sally-Anne” (.pdf file) scenarios which kids reliably interpret differently as they age.

    As far as phylogenetic origins of consciousness, theory of mind studies are more difficult but attempted for non-humans; mirror self recognition is also relevant. Marc Hauser’s books and lab web site are convenient entry points to this area. I’m still bemused by the rich cognitive world of parrots demonstrated (excruciatingly rigorously) by Irene Pepperberg.

    Usual disclaimer: citations to wikipedia are for convenience, not credibility.

  103. #103 Azkyroth
    November 15, 2006

    Gotcha. Question on the mirror test, incidentally; my toddler seemed to recognize herself in the mirror before about 1.5 years (as I recall, I’ll ask Trish), but she definitely recognized her mother’s image in the mirror as a reflection (her grandmother was holding her, she saw her mother in the mirror and insistently turned towards where she actually was) somewhere between six and twelve months. Is that relevant?

  104. #104 Jeff
    November 15, 2006

    Chopra takes on Dawkins.

    The God Delusion? Part 1

    Deepak Chopra says:

    Since this is such an important issue,I want to argue against him( Dr. dawkins) point by point in some detail.

    1. Science is the only valid way to gain knowledge. Nothing about God is needed to explain the world. Eventually science will uncover all mysteries. Those that it can’t explain don’t exist.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-god-delusion-part-1_b_34200.html

    http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2006/11/the_god_delusio.html

  105. #105 thwaite
    November 15, 2006

    Dunno for sure but it sounds like she’s got a good theory of mirrors, regardless of whatever theory of minds she’s got. Now if she passed a Sally-Ann test which involved one doll having knowledge only via looking with a mirror at what the other was doing …

    Self-recognition in a mirror emerges normally by 1.5 yrs in humans. Here’s a convenient summary of infant developmental stages, uncontroversial tho this site ‘howstuffworks’ still has a somewhat squirrelly article on ‘evolution’ as discussed on pharyngula a while back.

  106. #106 Rey Fox
    November 16, 2006

    “Apparently, our boy Deepra is still amazed that grandma doesn’t actually live in the telephone.”

    SNAP of the Year. πŸ™‚

  107. #107 Phoenician in a time of Romans
    November 16, 2006

    AACR2 interpretations – Greek to me and I presume to most…

    Ask and it shall be referenced.

    Unlike Chopra’s gibberish, it’s possible to make an honourable living from knowing this stuff.

  108. #108 truthmachine
    November 16, 2006

    “Point three: The worry about how gunshots in life A can come back as birthmarks in life B can be conjectured to work like this: If woo woo, then woo woo woo”.

  109. #109 Keith Douglas
    November 16, 2006

    “inert atoms” – note once again, a (metaphysical) idealist who has no understanding of matter. Surprise, surprise.

    Peter Scott: The (bad) reasoning goes something like this, no doubt – quantum mechanics is weird, my own craziness is weird, so my own weirdness must have something to do with quantum mechanics. The other influence is, sad to say, likely to be physicists themselves. The “Copenhagen (mis)interpretation” of quantum mechanics is completely subjectivist. That this view is provably wrong (and has been realized since Einstein (*) is, of course, ignored studiously by quantum quacks, and indeed, popularizing physicists who repeat such wrong headed statements as “the Born rule gives the probability of finding such and such a state” when it should be “… being in such and such a state” and so on. [(*) Einstein’s debate with Bohr was inconclusive because it conflated two issues: realism and the question of objective chance. Einstein was right about realism, wrong about objective chance, as far as I can tell.]

    Blake Stacey: I haven’t read PFB, but I can endorse Nanda’s work generally. Her paper “The Epistemic Charity of the Social Constructivist Critics of Science and why the Third World Should Refuse the Offer” should be read by all people who think somehow science is “colonialist”, or “racist”, or other such things.

    Zuckerfrosch: Although he is rather inconsistent, Chopra seems to sometimes suggest that he’s actually a complete subjective idealist – namely that there really isn’t any such thing as matter at all, only mindstuff, whatever that is. So, no problem about your rabbit.

    stand: Bunge makes the same joke somewhere, saying that by reading his books you are reading some of his thoughts … I

    DominEditrix: No, especially after seeing what a trainwreck of human misery Scientology is.

    Bryn: Dunno, but a reasonably nonreligious (certainly atheistic) friend of mine also had an NDE, but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. She just thought “cool, I’m having an NDE!” (I guess sort of like how one can dream, “cool, I’m dreaming!”)

    George: Berkeley at least was honest with his subjectivism. Chopra is … well …

    bibi: I have the greatest respect for India’s intellectual accomplishments, but Chopra’s musings (such as they are) are not amongst them. Did you know, for example, that there were materialists amongst the ancient Indian philosophers, and they seem to have been vilified as much as their European counterparts. As for the 10% (4%? 7%???) of our brain thing, it simply isn’t true. Consult any neuroanatomy textbook and look at the drawings (or photographs) of blood circulation, for example.

    Sastra: You’re quite right. I have long said that it is a great danger to ignore the “rationalist” aspect of science and stress only the “empiricist” aspect. Someone else mentioned Berkeley – he’s what happens if you take empiricism to its logical conclusion. Science needs the generation of hypotheses in order to function, and these hypotheses have to be carefully fitted into existing knowledge – but not completely.

    Claire: Daniel Dennett and the Churchlands have written some synthetic work on the evolution of consciousness. There is a lot of other work in this area, by both psychologists and philosophers, but it still is waiting for some “good ideas” – which isn’t surprising given the over-empirical attitude (see above) taken by many psychologists.

  110. #110 jerry
    April 4, 2009

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

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