Pharyngula

Oh, no…not more Chopra!

Deepak Chopra continues his weird riff on Dawkins The God Delusion with an eruption of New Age babble. This time he says he’s going to do a “thought experiment” to disprove materialism. It doesn’t.

Think of a yellow flower. Can you see it? Are you sure of the color and the fact that it’s a flower and not a fish that you can see? If so, then the experiment has been successful. You have made a major strike at the root of materialism. When you see a flower in your mind, there is no flower inside your brain. That seems simple enough. But where is the flower? There’s no picture of it in your cerebrum, because your brain contains no light. How about the color yellow? Is there a patch of yellow inside your brain’s gray matter? Obviously not.

Yet you assume–as do all who fall for the superstition of materialism–that flowers and the color yellow exist ‘out there’ in the world and are photographically reproduced by the brain, acting as a camera made of organic tissue. In fact, existence of flowers shifts mysteriously once it is closely examined. The experience of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell is created in consciousness. Molecules don’t assemble in your head to make the sound of a trumpet blaring in a brass band, for example. The brain is silent. So where does the world of sights and sounds come from?

Uh, we don’t assume the brain is a camera that files away a set of snapshots. What a stimulus, such as the sight of a flower, does is to trigger a response in the pattern of electrical and chemical activity in the brain: associations are made between stored memories, sensations are remembered. What is generated when you visualize a flower is not the flower itself inside your head, or even an image of a flower: the pattern of electrochemical activity is recreated. It’s rather bizarre that Chopra thinks a memory of a trumpet requires brass and acoustic vibrations inside your cranium, but he’s clearly very naive.

The brain is not inert, although it is silent. I’ve sunk electrodes into brains and recorded cellular responses to visual stimuli; I’ve washed them in calcium sensitive dyes and watched the flow of ions; I’ve measured fluctuations in changes in blood flow through the tissue as it handles processing tasks. I’ve recorded from the frog tectum as we show it a cricket (a much more interesting sight to a frog than a flower) and watched impulses flicker across it. We can see the external world transduced into complex signal processing phenomena in the brain.

What is Chopra’s explanation for the phenomenon? You knew he’d eventually have to start chattering about quantum physics and vibrations, didn’t you?

When you get to the primal state of the universe, what is it? A universal field that encloses all matter and energy. This field is everywhere, but it also localizes itself. A molecule in the brain is one expression of the field, so is a thought. If a molecule isn’t an object but a collapsed quantum wave, then that holds true for the whole brain. The field turns out to be the common ground of both the inner and outer world. When Einstein said that he wanted to know the mind of God, he was pointing us toward the field, which quantum physics continues to explore. Crude skeptics like Dawkins lag far behind.

Fortunately, as the two worlds of inner and outer begin to merge, we won’t be plagued by either the superstition of religion or the superstition of materialism. New concepts will explain how the color yellow exists in our brain as the same phenomenon as a yellow flower in the meadow. Both are experiences in consciousness.

That’s little more than babbling New Age buzzwords. Nothing in his explanation has any meaning: “collapsed quantum wave” sounds so scientificological, but it doesn’t explain anything.

That covers the basic and I think most convincing refutation of the anti-God argument.

What?

I’m still trying to figure this one out. Because I can imagine a flower, I have disproven atheism?

I’m utterly unconvinced of anything other than that Deepak Chopra is an ignorant fraud.

Comments

  1. #1 Orac
    November 27, 2006

    You know, that idiot “ChopraFan” who keeps posting links to the latest installments of Chopra’s drivel in unrelated posts on my blog must be doing the same thing to you.

    I’m beginning to suspect he’s a closet anti-Choprawoo type, because every time he draws your or my attention to the latest installment of Chopra’s woo, all he’s doing is asking that we administer a serious logical beatdown to Chopra’s New Age nonsense.

    Or, he’s just hoping for a link.

  2. #2 Sastra
    November 27, 2006

    Chopra wrote:

    Einstein came up with the theory of relativity through a thought experiment, so it’s completely valid as science to do experiments in your head.

    So what is this experiment? “Think of a yellow flower?” If you can, then materialism is disproven, because the flower is not really in your head. And what sort of result would confirm materialism? “I can’t think of a flower?” Opening up someone’s head and finding an actual yellow flower? This is completely valid as *science*?

    I would think even Deepok Chopra would realise that the Theory of Relativity was not tested and confirmed by Einstein’s being able to think of it and imagine it in his head. Though, given his view of reality as somehow constructed by consciousness, I guess he wouldn’t assume anything of the sort.

    I wish Einstein was still alive, so he could email people like Chopra. Here’s a thought experiment — what would he say, and how would he say it?

  3. #3 Sastra
    November 27, 2006

    Ron Chusid wrote:

    What would motivate people to both read thru and adopt the type of nonsense Chopra comes up with?

    I think one huge motivation is the same one I pointed out in the post on Sweder — the sense that truth is likely to be in the middle, and that moderation is the goal of all intelligent, enlightened people. Avoid extremes.

    Note how Chopra cleverly couches his view as neither “the superstition of religion or the superstition of materialism.” He’s not like those rabid religionists who thump on a book, reject science, and believe God is some petty tyrant up in the sky. Religion is bad. But so is the opposite extreme — materialism and scientism. Why, you have to deny that we can imagine flowers in our heads if you go that route.

    So find the Golden Mean in the middle — keep science, and keep God, and go for “spirituality.” There’s a powerful motive to adopt a viewpoint which seems more sophisticated than the primitive religion of the local yokels, but still allows you a special place in the universe — and even lets you sneer at mainstream scientists for not being as modern, informed, and “forward-looking” as you are.

  4. #4 Ron Chusid
    November 27, 2006

    Sastra,

    “Note how Chopra cleverly couches his view as neither “the superstition of religion or the superstition of materialism.””

    Yes, he is being rhetorically clever in this. However such cleverness should not be confused for making a valid point. He manages to attack science, often using the exact same arguments used by the religious right, and then concludes this series claiming he does not “degrade science.”

    Still, despite the irrationality of Chopra’s posts, you do make a point that there is a mind set that would find Chopra’s views of interest as a perceived compromise.

  5. #5 quork
    November 27, 2006

    Religion is bad. But so is the opposite extreme — materialism and scientism.

    I’ve got to go with Dawkins on this one – one side can be wrong.

    I understand that you were attempting to explain a view you do not hold. (Or at least that’s what I hope.)

  6. #6 Sastra
    November 27, 2006

    quork

    I understand that you were attempting to explain a view you do not hold. (Or at least that’s what I hope.)

    Right. I was restating Chopra’s argument (and this method of finding a way to position oneself smugly in the middle between “extremes” seems to be a frustratingly popular way to frame the science-religion debate.)

  7. #7 Great White Wonder
    November 27, 2006

    DEEPPACK CRAPRA : This field is everywhere, but it also localizes itself. A molecule in the brain is one expression of the field, so is a thought. [[takes huge bong hit]] If a molecule isn’t an object but a collapsed quantum wave, then that holds true for the whole brain. The field turns out to be the common ground of both the inner and outer world.[[takes another huge bong hit]] When Einstein said that he wanted to know the mind of God, he was pointing us toward the field, which quantum physics continues to explore. Crude skeptics like Dawkins lag far behind.[[snorts two lines of coke and takes a third huge bong hit]]

    It makes more sense this way.

  8. #8 gg
    November 27, 2006

    Sastra wrote:

    “I wish Einstein was still alive, so he could email people like Chopra. Here’s a thought experiment — what would he say, and how would he say it?”

    We don’t need a Deepak-esque thought experiment to know what Einstein would have thought – we just need to quote him:

    “The theory finds the justification for its existence in the fact that it correlates a large number of single observations, and it is just here that the ‘truth’ of the theory lies.” – from Einstein’s “Relativity”.

    He has a nice larger discussion of what makes a theory, but the conclusion is written as above. I feel confident in saying that Einstein would have rhetorically b!#@h slapped Deepak.

  9. #9 E-gal
    November 27, 2006

    Chopra is the world’s most emminent sophist since Rushdooney.
    How do you have the time to humour him so?

  10. #10 Sastra
    November 27, 2006

    JS wrote:

    I don’t get it. What’s the ‘new’ part of this ‘newage’ BS?

    Although it borrows from older traditions such as Hinduism, Theosophy, and Mind Cure, my understanding is that the term “New Age” was coined to refer to a belief popular in the 60′s that human beings are on the cusp of evolving to a higher spiritual level. New Agers see life and consciousness as progressing through various stages or levels, a rising heirarchy of insight and ability which is the Cosmic Mind expressing itself. Due to the sensitivity of those who are open to what lies beyond ordinary experience, we are all soon to be making a Great Leap Forward to a New Age of enlightenment and awareness.

    Or some crap like that….

  11. #11 Torbjörn Larsson
    November 28, 2006

    So chopra-woo is not just the usual preaching of a controversy but to con people on ‘third way’ books. I guess the third way is straight to his bank.

    Of course Chopra can’t abstain from a final carnival of quantum woo, with some field woo thrown in for good measure.

    “A universal field that encloses all matter and energy.”
    Woo-hoo! The best proposal for a fundamental theory today, string theory, fails to be defined as a full-dimensional field theory.

    “If a molecule isn’t an object but a collapsed quantum wave”
    So objects disappear when they display their fundamental quantum properties? It seems Chopra has a unique idea of the relation between objects being in the quantum or classical regime. That may explain why he doesn’t realize that we can ‘uncollapse’ molecules and place them in quantum superposition.

    But most ludicrous is that an author pounding out texts, so filled with false analogies, on a laptop no less, tries to pretend he doesn’t know what symbols mean. The sound a concert makes is different from what a mike picks up, which again is different from what my ear picks up. Do I not hear a concert either way? Doesn’t internal representations of what I hear appear in my brain?

    Symbol-like behavior of the brain is not a long stretch. Relatively simple biologically modeled neural networks can display it:
    “After this training, the prefrontal layer had developed peculiar sensitivities to the output. In particular, it had developed abstract representations of feature dimensions, such that each unit in the PFC seemed to code for an entire set of stimulus dimensions, such as “shape,” or “color.” This is the first time (to my knowledge) that such abstract, symbol-like representations have been observed to self-organize within a neural network.” ( http://develintel.blogspot.com/2006/10/generalization-and-symbolic-processing.html )

    Since a simple network can learn and understand what colors are, and Chopra can’t, I can merely guess at the level of thinking his brain has to work with.

    (Sorry, I couldn’t resist my very own false analogy. It must be a side-effect from reading all that chopra-woo.)

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