White Coat Underground

Chopra, soul, and a big, insoluble mess

The recent arrests of the Hutaree cult here in Michigan are part of a tradition of militant separatism in this part of the country, beginning with the militia movements in the late 20th century and climaxing (hopefully) in the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. This latest incident is interesting in that it appears to share some qualities of the militia movement, the Christian Identity movement, and the Tea Party movement (although what sorts of ideologic connections there really are will take some time to figure out.)

Cults in general scare me. They scare me not just because of their acts and their ideas, but their attractiveness. They have the ability not just to attract those of similar ideas, but they also seduce those who may simply be vulnerable to their philosophies. The flames of hatred are being fanned by those on the right, including teabaggers and so-called mainstream right wing commentators. The economic times, an “ethnic” president who represents the future of the US population, and an utter failure of others on the right to speak out against the hate feed these right-wing violence cults.

But cults don’t just feed on hatred. Cults, like street gangs, also seduce with love, with pleasant-sounding ideas that are congruent with and confirm one’s own beliefs. The antivaccine movement (as opposed to individuals with their individual beliefs) are a cult. They have charismatic leaders (such as Barbara Loe Fisher, JB Handley, and Jenny McCarthy), they have their own beliefs that are impervious to the assault of actual facts, and they accrue followers, spreading their lies. Their lies have helped to lower vaccination rates and increase the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases. And their success depends upon a general cheapening of the meaning of “experts”, and a vilification of earned scientific authority when it disagrees with their beliefs.

So let’s talk about Deepak Chopra. He is probably not an evil guy. In fact, he seems rather compassionate and well-meaning. But the credulous bullshit he continually spews helps fortify the foundation of anti-scientific beliefs such as those of the antivaccine movement.  One of his “big ideas” is that consciousness is/can be independent of brain.  This idea is of course completely unoriginal, being the default belief of most of humankind until the scientific era. It is probably still the default belief, but the majority of the reality-based community have come to the obvious conclusion that belief in an immaterial soul would require the invalidation of most of modern science.  

But Chopra feels that soul.  He just knows it’s there, but he’s smart enough to know that most ideas of “soul” are incompatible with science.  So he is trying to bend the ideas of soul and of physics around each other to try to preserve his desire to retain his beliefs. His current favorite strategy is the abuse of the language of physics. This strategy has twisted the ideas of soul and of physics so acutely that he has broken them both.  At a recent conference he was confronted by an actual physicist.  I’ll let them speak for themselves:

It’s instructive that Chopra is so attached to his beliefs that he cannot speak the same language as the physicist (“I know what each of those words means, but…”).  It’s also spectacularly arrogant of him to think that this video somehow supports his beliefs.  

For a number of reasons, I would very much like to believe in an immaterial, immortal soul right about now.  But if I am that casual with reality, what might I believe next?

Comments

  1. #1 dubaijazz
    March 31, 2010

    “…. beginning with the militia movements in the late 20th century and climaxing (hopefully) in the terrorist acts of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.”

    And Baruch Goldstein….

  2. #2 PalMD
    March 31, 2010

    I wasn’t aware that Baruch Goldstein was a product of the American Militia Movement.

  3. #3 History Punk
    March 31, 2010

    He wasn’t. However, he was Jewish. You seem to be Jewish from previous posts. The poster’s name is DUBAIjazz. I am completely helpless with math, so I’ll let someone else do for me.

    Baruch Goldstein was, however, part of the JDL founded by Meir Kahane who went on to found KACH, a Jewish terrorist organization proscribed by the EU and US.

  4. #4 PalMD
    March 31, 2010

    Ah, the JDL. I remember when I was but a bocher one day at shul some of those JDL assholes showed up. The rabbi kicked them out of the building but not before giving them a stern lecture.

  5. #5 Rob Monkey
    March 31, 2010

    This whole series of debates is pretty interesting, but I don’t know if there’s a bigger win than actual physicist v. Choprawoo. If something does come close though, it’s the porn debate between Ron Jeremy and a female porn star against the Jebus-tastic anti-porn crusaders. Whenever I see Deepak I always get the idea that the end result of every one of his ideas is “so, because of this, we’ll never know anything.”

  6. #6 LostMarbles
    March 31, 2010

    “…in the absence of brain you can still have consciousness which has no thought…a consciousness which is awareness in itself”

    He’s stringing words together in a grammatical manner, but when you look at the sentence it makes no sense.

  7. #7 mxh
    March 31, 2010

    He’s stringing words together in a grammatical manner, but when you look at the sentence it makes no sense.

    Heh… yeah, I guess it’d be nice if a professor of English offered him some lessons on the language also.

  8. #8 24fps
    April 1, 2010

    I sincerely think that Chopra uses the fact that English is not his first language as a dodge. It’s actually a masterful obfuscation, and the first woman to ask a question is his intended audience. She knew what she wanted to believe, laid it out in some detail and you just know that no matter what answer she got from either Harris or Shermer, she wasn’t going to let go of that cherished belief.

    So watching the video in the post got me hooked and I wound up watching/listening to the whole damn thing. Luckily I had some mundane work to do at the same time that didn’t need a lot of brain power. Fascinating, though. The co-opting of scientific language in sloppy ways to promote a religious concept… It makes me wonder what Saul of Tarsus would be using today if he were starting his religion now instead of not quite 2000 years ago.

  9. #9 Lycanthrope
    April 1, 2010

    If something does come close though, it’s the porn debate between Ron Jeremy and a female porn star against the Jebus-tastic anti-porn crusaders.

    Please, please tell me you have a link. Sounds like there’s potential for much hilarity here.

  10. #10 JM
    April 1, 2010

    “…in the absence of brain you can still have consciousness which has no thought…a consciousness which is awareness in itself”

    Perhaps more importantly than grammatical issues, my objections to these types of statements are twofold: first, the use of non formally defined terms such as “consciousness” and (or as distinguished from) “thought”. And then, and perhaps more egregiously in this case, the actual statement of fact “…you can still have…”, asserting something as fact but without any empirical backing whatsoever. In other words, made up stuff using fuzzy terminology.

  11. #11 LostMarbles
    April 1, 2010

    JM,

    That’s exactly what I was complaining about. It sounds like an meaningful sentence, but it actually is really, really stupid and meaningless.

  12. #12 Pareidolius
    April 1, 2010

    I think ol’ Deepak is getting tired. Chopra really does a poor job of hiding his disdain for . . . well, just about everyone around him.

    I get that it must be hard to be a public persona. Any celebrity has to deal with the fact that about half the population probably doesn’t like them when they open their mouths and let the opinions fly. But really, if you can’t stand the heat . . .

    Chopra does this thing I used to see (and do) quite a bit back in my New Age days, he covers all his seething human emotions with a thick layer of sickly-sweet, faux serenity. I see it in a lot of my “spiritual” friends. They’re terrified of “negativity” and try to subjugate any anger because it’s not enlightened. Problem is, it usually comes out, uncontrolled, somewhere else.

    That’s what I kept seeing in this debate. Chopra would say some bitchy remark and then blame it on Shermer’s mere presence on the panel. Then he’d get caught in some logical fallacy, and try to act humble and then another nasty swipe and the whole cycle would start all over again. He also seems humor impaired and irony-deficient. Like he knows the words that make up a joke, but has no idea how to tell it.

    Extraordinary claims Deepak, extraordinary claims . . .

  13. #13 JM
    April 1, 2010

    After watching the entire series of videos (a fascinating and enlightening discussion BTW), and putting the hijacking of scientific terminology aside, it occurs to me that Deepak attempts to substitute a set of mystical claims initially conceived during the bronze age (aka most ‘modern’ major religions – “The God Of The Past”) with a new set of mystical claims, in this case just outside or at the edges of the set of current scientific knowledge (“The God Of The Future”). The “it is not known, therefore must be unknowable, therefore [insert gap filler set of mystical beliefs here]” fallacy all over again…

    Of course great mysteries of today may become yesterday’s explained phenomena, thus bringing down the entire construct. Except… the mystical system won’t be brought down right away and you’ll have folks clinging on to a set of beliefs and refusing to let go, regardless of where the evidence leads… Seem familiar?

  14. #14 Rob Monkey
    April 2, 2010

    Ooh sorry! I knew I should’ve linked that talk!
    Go here and scroll about 3/4 the way down

    Enjoy!

  15. #15 christophe-thill.myopenid.com
    April 8, 2010

    “…in the absence of brain you can still have consciousness which has no thought…a consciousness which is awareness in itself”

    He’s stringing words together in a grammatical manner, but when you look at the sentence it makes no sense.

    Not at all! This makes perfect sense, especially if he’s referring to himself.

  16. #16 Beth Royer
    April 26, 2010

    “I think ol’ Deepak is getting tired. Chopra really does a poor job of hiding his disdain for . . . well, just about everyone around him.”

    Perhaps true, but I find it interesting that the other side of this coin (i.e., most of the readers of this and similar blogs) go out of their way to broadcast their disdain for the ‘woo-sayers’. I read so many posts and comments on blogs like these where everyone pats each other on the back for how snarky they can be to the other side. All the while being baffled why there are so many people that still don’t want to join them in their club of the most rational and wisest people on the planet.

    I’m a researcher in geophysics. I love science and could (and do) speak volumes about the values of rational, objective thinking. But the unceasing, childish, arrogant discussions on blogs like these is NEVER going to make someone on the other side change their minds. So what is the point of all these rants? Please ask yourselves if your your approach is actually doing any good to improve the situation you are bitching about. To me, it just seems a poorly cloaked exercise in ego-stroking.

  17. #17 PalMD
    April 26, 2010

    You may wan’t to brush up on some definitions.