With all the anti-vaccine nonsense going on and my feeling the obligation to fire a broadside at "America's doctor," there was a tasty bit of woo that totally escaped my attention from an old "friend" of the blog. Actually, he's an old "friend" of many skeptical blogs, both here on ScienceBlogs and around the blogosphere. In fact, it's a man so steeped in only the finest quantum woo that I once coined a name for it: Choprawoo.
Yes, we're talkin' Deepak "Quantum Consciousness" Chopra! He's back and woo-ier than ever in--where else?--that repository of woo, quackery, and anti-vaccine lunacy, The Huffington Post in an article entitled A Little Boost for Immortality, which, as he usually does, he posted to his own blog. It's definitely primo grade A Chopra, which means that it's a full frontal assault on science, reason, and his readers neurons. It's yet another apologia for immortality. Now, it would be fine if he had simply argued that on the basis of faith he believes that there is life after death. However, deluding himself that he's a "man of science," Chopra keeps trying to produce "scientific proof" that there is life after death. The results have always been embarrassing. Predictably the results this time are equally embarrassing, perhaps even more so. He begins, annoyingly enough, by once again abusing information theory:
It's a given in physics that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. In recent years theorists have extended this notion to information. We began to hear about information fields that are as basic to the cosmos as energy fields. Why? Because as simple molecules grew into more complex ones, they kept moving into even greater complexity. You'd think that once it reached thousands of individual atoms, an organic chemical would break apart instead of building itself into an even more complex molecule. Yet life has evolved inexorably. Blue-green algae, a very primitive life form, is still with it, but it no longer rules the scene. Without wiping out the lower forms of life, evolution kept adding on.
I was a chemistry major, and I could feel my brain start to ooze into my ear canals reading this. There is nothing in chemistry that makes the formation of complex molecules impossible or unusual. Given the right conditions, in fact, the formation of complex molecules can even be favored. However, the paragraph above is only a warm-up for the woo that is to come, and here it comes:
The bald fact is that DNA exists, whether or not a theory can explain it. Another bald fact is that every person is already a field of information containing trillions of data, each one related to an experience. As billions of pieces of raw data bombard our senses every day, the information field shifts, changes, and grows. No mechanical notion of randomness makes sense here. What we observe in ourselves is that information has a life of its own.
I love how Chopra can juxtapose something as simple as the fact that DNA "exists" with his woo-ful interpretation of some other bit of science. Of ocurse DNA "exists." That much is not in doubt, and scientists understand much about how it works, although clearly there is a lot more that remains to be discovered. Chopra then moves on from something as inarguable as the existence of DNA and launches into his specific interpretation of what "information theory" tells him about human beings. Because there is so much information in human cells and memories, Chopra concludes that randomness doesn't make sense and information has a life of its own. In other words, Chopra goes back to implying that random mutations are not the raw material upon which evolution acts, as he has done so many times before. In essence, what he is saying here is little removed from the hilariously off-base discussion of genes that he wrote for HuffPo over three years ago. Because we are intelligent, Chopra "reasoned" (if you can call it that) that our genes are also intelligence, laying down an incredible straw man argument that scientists consider attempts to find the mechanism of intelligence outside of genes to be "preposterous." He then launched into a discussion of a discussion of dubious experiments that claimed to show that "intent" could affect random occurrences.
Of course, no bit of Choprawoo would be complete without an attack on skeptics buried in his abuse of "science by analogy" to "prove" that immortality exists. Chopra's done it before when it comes to neuroscience, in particular his dualistic belief that the mind exists outside of the brain and that the brain is not sufficient to describe human consciousness, the corollary being that human consciousness is allegedly too complex for science ever to understand. Of course, one of his favorite conceits is to postulate without any evidence the existence of a "universal consciousness," of which we are all supposedly a part. It's a nice concept, but it's far more religious in nature than scientific. Certainly Chopra can provide no evidence for it.
But he sure can carry an analogy one woo too far, as he does here with information theory:
Some scientists believe that information can only be transformed; it cannot be created or destroyed. That sounds convincing for molecules, but the implications for human immortality are also striking. It's too easy to palm off the afterlife as something incidental to human comfort, a way of not being frightened by death or a primitive reaction to the unknown. Atheists and skeptics, who are astonishingly glib as a group, constantly fall back on the primitiveness of sacred beliefs, disregarding that they are talking to people who are not primitive, afraid, or myth mongers. (Some believers, in fact, are quite a bit less primitive than the usual run of atheists and skeptics.)
Damn those nasty skeptics! They're such a buzz kill when it comes to Chopra's woo. How they task him. They task him, and Chopra will have them. Or so he thinks. Unfortunately, he has nothing but woo to support him. In this case, he concludes that, because "some scientists" believe that information can not be created or destroyed, then it must mean that by analogy the concept of a soul fits in very well with information theory:
Then we find that reincarnation, for example, fits rather well with the idea of constantly transforming information. The soul fits rather well into the notion that information can organize itself into a coherent, contained structure, the way DNA organizes billions of chemical bits into a coherent, contained structure. I'm not saying that information is enough to explain the soul. We must account for consciousness, too. It's very nice if my memories survive my demise the way a computer's hard drive survives when the machine is turned off. But what we really want is that "I," the self, survives.
I think that wish, basic as it is, blocks our vision. This limited self that is encased in a physical body stands for much more -- it stands for consciousness as a whole. No one contains all the possibilities of the mind, which are infinite. Yet the field of consciousness, like the field of information, does contain the whole. That's how a field works. The electromagnetic field contains all the electromagnetic energy in the universe, even though a compass or an electric toaster manifests only the tiniest fraction of the field.
Wow! This is some seriously awesome Choprawoo! Note how he's woven abuse of information theory with abuse of neuroscience and abuse of biochemistry, and then tied it all together with what is in essence Buddihst religious beliefs about reincarnation and the attainment of Nirvana through loss of self. As is typical for his lazy thinking, Chopra thinks that simply making analogies between information and "field of consciousness" (which he doesn't even really show as actually existing) is the same thing as demonstrating that there is science behind his mystical religious beliefs. Mr. Chopra is entitled to his religious beliefs, but he is not entitled to his own facts, nor is he entitled to abuse those facts. Not that that stops him, as Chopra once again abuses physics:
Immortality got a boost when science realized that fields are the source of everything that exists, and since a field isn't solid, visible, perceived by the senses, or contained by a single brain, the whole solid, visible world was called into question. In short, the immortal came first in Nature, the mortal came second. All change must be explained against the background of non-change. Immortality is just a synonym for wholeness. I know that sounds very abstract, and we haven't even touched on the details of relating advanced physics to consciousness.
"Sounds very abstract"? More like it sounds like nothing more than word salad science. "Fields"? Mr. Chopra, you keep using that word. It do not believe it means what you think it means. Ditto the words "consciousness," "information," and evolution. Chopra thinks that by liberally sprinkling his posts with science-y-sounding words like these will make it sound as though he really knows what he's talking about and that there is actual science behind his mystical speculations. We nasty scientists and skeptics know that there isn't, but people not trained in science and skeptical thinking don't necessarily have the background to be able to recognize Choprawoo for the woo that it is.
The amusing thing about Chopra is that he really, really wants to be taken seriously. He can't stand it when scientists and skeptics laugh at him or scoff at him. Unfortunately for him, he seems incapable of refraining from giving us copious material to continue to scoff at. This wouldn't be a problem if all Chopra did was to provide entertainment for skeptics, but unfortunately a lot of people believe him.
"word salad science."
Hah I'm remembering that one.
As for Chopra, do you believe he's self-deluded or a conscious fraud doing it only for the greens?
I really don't know as I can hardly read more than a paragraph of his drivel before shouting out "THESE WORDS DO NOT MEAN NOTHING!" Word salad science indeed.
Obviously I meant "these words Do not mean anything"
Little brain-quirk there.
It's very nice if my memories survive my demise the way a computer's hard drive survives when the machine is turned off. But what we really want is that "I," the self, survives.
To extend this analogy, what Chopra is arguing is essentially that, if I were to smash my computer into tiny pieces, my copy of Windows would live on in some all-pervading 'software field.' Information theory says so!
Amazing. Whitman told us that we were confused, and what we experience as soul is just the body talking, but for some maybe it is mostly just the ego, and that needs to be thought deathless, by any nonsense at hand.
It's a given in physics that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. In recent years theorists have extended this notion to information.
Does the "Law of Conservation of Information" exist outside ID?
@ZombiePresident: after trying to read that lot, I think you should be excused the use of a double negative for emphasis.
Why would he want the individual "self" to survive anyway? Why not just merge with the "universal consciouness." It seems Woopra wants it both ways. It's all about me, no it's not, yes it is, no it's not.
We began to hear about information fields that are as basic to the cosmos as energy fields.
Who exactly is making this contention??? (besides Deepak, of course) It's my understanding that, while information can be formally analyzed, it's still an abstraction, not a physical phenomenon. I don't know of any (legitimate) scientist making an argument that it's the latter.
Funny how a blog post I wrote yesterday happens to be extremely relevant here...
the secret to a successful Choprian article
"Something something consciousness, something something quantum."
I think Randall Munroe already refuted Chopra's whole argument. Maybe he really does have a time machine.
I didn't think it possible, but he's getting worse. I wanted to rebut that almost sentence by sentence. Word salad is right.
Not only isn't that stuff science, it's not even consistent. If information is conserved in the way he talks about, how can new people or ideas come into being?
There's a John Brunner story from (I think) the 1970s called "The Vitanuls" that plays with this: babies start being born who are physically sound but don't seem to have any kind of consciousness/personality. One of the viewpoint characters come to the conclusion that the problem is that reincarnation is true, and people are being born faster than souls become available.
But of course Chopra is saying that our selves only "stand for" whatever it is he's hand-waving about. That's a loophole he can drive a truck through.
Something else occurs to me: the only scientific definition I've seen that attempts to define information says that it's the inverse of entropy.
If information cannot be created or destroyed, then the amount of entropy in the universe cannot change. In other words, Chopra's assertions contradiction the laws of thermodynamics.
Not that this should surprise anyone.
Der Supreme GruppenwÃ¸Ã¶meister says "Some scientists believe that information can only be transformed; it cannot be created or destroyed."
Does "some scientists" mean "DrDr Bill Dembski and his 'Law [sic] of Conservation of Salvation Information"?
Are we seeing a Grand Unification of Tard?
If information is conserved in the way he talks about, how can new people or ideas come into being?
I think in the Chopraverse, the people/ideas already existed in some aether, in the "intelligence of the universe" or some such claptrap.
But maybe I shouldn't even try to make sense of it.
There is nothing in chemistry that makes the formation of complex molecules impossible or unusual.
In fact, the binding energies between atoms in molecules containing thousands of atoms are essentially the same as those in molecules containing 10 atoms. Moreover, the entropy costs in forming bonds to make great big floppy molecules are far less than those in small, rigid systems, such that binding free energies between atoms are probably even better in bigger molecules.
Probably the biggest challenges that chemists face when trying to make big molecules is not in making the bonds (although selectivity can get tricky with lots of functionality), but solubility, which nature has worked out (make it all soluble in water). Then again, when it's not soluble, you get handy stuff, like polymers.
We have a friend,well meaning but mis-informed,who often explains others'(*and* his own) behavior,beliefs, and interests through reincarnation,rather than through psychological, sociological, and historical factors.It's as if folklore oozes into the gaps of his education.Chopra is better educated.I constantly ask myself,when I read of a *doctor*,like Chopra,Mercola,etc.,gone woo: does he really believe ths stuff? Or,is it purely advertising copy for the susceptible audience, potential clients for a service,a product,for book sales,for a TV show,an expensive retreat or seminar?Simplify the complex,offer up impossibilities: even dressed up in Hindu exotica,snake oil is still snake oil.
On the other hand, his theory has some merit in regards to the immortality of information - have you ever tried to make an embarrassing picture (lets say frat party, 2 am, and it was a really good idea at the time) disappear from the internet?
Information most certainly is not conserved. The total information content of the universe declines - that is the essence of the arrow of time. It is called entropy. The reason we have an information rich biosphere is because it is not a closed system -- the sun pumps in energy. Ultimately, however, when the sun expands and consumes the earth,
"And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
.I constantly ask myself,when I read of a *doctor*,like Chopra,Mercola,etc.,gone woo: does he really believe ths stuff?
I think in some cases, they really WANT to believe it, eventually convincing themselves that the woo is for real. This gets reinforced by fame, acclaim, money, and the special feeling of Sticking It To The Man.
It would be hard to let that go and go back to being Dr. Average Joe.
Gotta give him points for using the word "data" correctly, as in "field of information containing trillions of data".
He may not have his science quite down pat, but he does know his English grammar, which makes his brand of woo a tiny bit less painful to read.
Orac's right on top of Deeper's woo trap. Take sciency sounding words and use them in vague, convoluted analogies. The critical thinker will see right through it and dismiss it as dreck. The uneducated, however, will read the fluff and not understand that it's just word salad. They think they don't understand it because they're not scientists (or whatever field the writer claims to be a part of), but they'd be wrong. They don't understand it because it's impenetrable nonsense.
L. Ron Hubbard knew this trick from his sci-fi writing days. You fill your flight of fancy with sciency jargon and then the more discombobulating and circuitous the trajectory of your narrative, the more your readers will try to follow your "wisdom". Believing that you certainly must know what you're talking about, they assume they just don't "get it". Now they start to struggle to make reality fit with your writing instead of the other way 'round.
This is how you build a religion . . . or a cult.
I like mentally transporting quacks like this back a couple hundred years and imagine Deepak in some medieval village ranting about how the pollution of their bodily humours would let the demons in through their assholes, so they should buy his ChopraPlug(tm) to prevent demon infestation. It makes the same amount of sense, in fact I wonder if he could borrow my sales pitch and use it at one of the TeaBagger Parties, they just MIGHT be gullible enough ;)
Old Rockin' Dave, is that correct English? While I'm not a horrible writer, I'm not well-versed on the real deep-down intricacies of English. Later he says "billions of pieces of data," which sounds okay, but "trillions of data" sounds really off (especially since I'm hearing it in that condescending voice of his). I would feel bad not knowing English grammar as well as His Wooiness, but I'm consoled by the fact that I can run scientific circles around his ass.
@Old Rockin' Dave
I would be more impressed if he used it correctly in the singular. "Data" is more commonly known and used. "Datum" is not quite as well known, and people often use "data" where "datum" should be used.
Maybe I'll burn some of Chopra's books to demonstrate that there is not, in fact, such a thing as "conservation of information"!
Robyn, by that you're implying that there is information in Deepak's books. A quick pre-immolation perusal of his writings would remove all doubt to the contrary.
Old Rockin' Dave, is that correct English? While I'm not a horrible writer, I'm not well-versed on the real deep-down intricacies of English. Later he says "billions of pieces of data," which sounds okay, but "trillions of data" sounds really off (especially since I'm hearing it in that condescending voice of his).
Technically, "data" is the plural of "datum", so "trillions of data" is technically correct. But since almost nobody uses the singular form, and since it doesn't end with an S, we often treat "data" a singular noun.
You get similar difficulties with media/medium.
Has Chopra started guaranteeing his adherents full command over MESTâ¢ (matter, energy, space, and time) yet?
Woo! Woo! It's the Chopra train.
If there's something to give him credit for, it's the ability to write the same way he speaks. Which makes any "debate" he's in a neuron frying-pan.
BAFFLEGAB! That is the only word I can think of to describe Chopra's text.
It would be the work of a (rather pointless) lifetime to rebut every single one of the multitude of incoherent, often contradictory, and often irrelevant claims made in his work. But I'd like to respond to one:
Blue-green algae, a very primitive life form, is still with it, but it no longer rules the scene.
This claim displays an astounding degree of anthropocentrism. We like to think that humans, and things similar to animals, are rulers of the Earth. But this is not true. "Rules the scene" is a fairly subjective statement, and although mankind has managed to wipe a number of species off the planet, curiously, some seem to keep sticking around, despite quite concerted efforts to eliminate them from specific areas. They have been around far longer than we have, and indeed, far longer than things we would recognize as plants and animals. Blue-green algae are among those. They were here before us; I have no doubt whatsoever that they will be here long after we are gone. Heck, we learn to live with algae; do algae learn to live with us? Who's really the boss of this world, Chopra, if we have to decide our lives based on the actions of microscopic organisms who are not even aware of our existence?
Calli, as usual, makes an excellent point. The earth would be in far more trouble if all the cyanobacteria were to disappear than if all the humans did so.
Of course there's life after death - except in a personal sense. I'd hate to take you all with me when I go.
Wait, don't black holes destroy all information except for mass, charge and angular momentum?
"...and then tied it all together with what is in essence Buddihst religious beliefs about reincarnation and the attainment of Nirvana through loss of self."
Don't make me get out the tetralemma, young man.
You are looking at this only under negative connotations. Sure, D to the Pak is up to his ears in woo, but who else do you know that can simultaneosly disfigure so many fields of knowledge at once in a mere paragraph? Exactly. Instead of your condescending approach maybe you should cut the Jack of All Woo(tm) some slack.
Matthew Cline said:
Wait, don't black holes destroy all information except for mass, charge and angular momentum?
Actually, Professor Hawking has theorized that some information makes it out, called it "Hawking Radiation".
To Mr. Chopra, quoting Dara O'Brian....Get in the fookin' sack.
I did some important sciency research on the effects of Choprawoo on intelligence. At the start of my study I hired a psychologist to administer the Stanford-Binett intelligence test and received a score of 135. Repeat testing after reading Chopra's latest essay produced a score of 89. Finally after obtaining 25 kg of his books and burning them in the fireplace (I attempted to roast marshmallows with the blaze but the flavor was "off") my final score was 152! Now, with my increased intelligence and admission to grad school I will study the local decrease of entropy caused by burning his books.
@ Rene Najera
Actually, you're thinking of Leonard Susskind and Gerardus t'Hooft, who famously quarreled with Stephen Hawking about whether information was truly lost in black holes forever.
Forget the chemistry, every time I saw information theory I wanted to stab my eyes with incense sticks...
Quoth the Mighty Chopra:
"It's a given in physics that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. In recent years theorists have extended this notion to information."
For starters, you'd think that someone who claims to be so knowledgable about quantum mechanics would have a passing familiarity with the fact that matter and energy are interconvertible - i.e. you CAN destroy matter by converting it into energy and you CAN destroy energy by converting it into matter. [E = mc^2; it's even on T-shirts]
Secondly, I don't know which "theorists" Chopra is referring to (maybe his chiropractor), but "information" most certainly can be both created and destroyed.
For example, I just recently published some original research, which contained information about certain geobiological processes that had not previously been known. While the processes have been going on for over three billion years, the information contained in my paper had not existed until I wrote it.
Likewise, information can also be destroyed. If a DNA molecule containing the only copy of a genome, plasmid or gene is broken into separate nucleotides, the information contained on that DNA has been destroyed. If the magnetic domains on my hard drive are randomised by exposure to a strong magnetic field, all of the information on that hard drive will be irrevocably destroyed (and I fervently pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster that never happens - at least not before I back up my hard drive).
Given Chopra's poor comprehension of fairly simple physical processes, is it any wonder that no thinking person takes him seriously?
A good indicator that someone is full of it is their tendency to use scientific words to confound people instead of explain.
In a well written scientific article intended for the average citizen, the author may use a the scientifically correct language as a means of introducing the public to the phenomenon, but they will then follow up with a plain speak explanation of what that means and how it is understood.
On the other hand, folks like Chopra who are trying to justify untestable and unscientific claims, have to rely on people not understanding the details of scientific fields. Most people have only a grade school, at best, familiarity with genetics and biology and so when a so-called "expert" claims that science says evolution (versus mutation) is random, and when he then throws out a bunch of other vaguely scientific terms with certainty like "field of information" what tools does the individual have to assess whether that is a meaningful statement or not? We count on news organization to filter out the garbage for us and some news organizations are better than others. HuffPo is abysmal when it comes to the sciences.
I've had conversations with otherwise very intelligent, even well educated individuals who buy into this chopra-style-woo and when pressed they always say things like "well I'm not an expert so I can't say if his theory is wrong." and "all ideas have to be considered because it's people who think outside the box who make great advances." They actually admit that the concepts fly over their heads and they see science as being one big game of chance.
These woo ideas are just too appealing in that they give people that purpose and place and meaning in the universe without all the organized religion. It's no easier to rationalize with someone who wants to believe their soul is confirmed by quantum mechanics than it is to rationalize with someone who fears their soul will go to hell if they don't do things just so.
Deepak Chopra : Proving the adage "if you can't dazzle 'em with facts, baffle 'em with bullshit" since 1990.
DLC, I'm going to use that to make a LOL-wooster.
But the Hawking radiation is just energy/mass; it doesn't (as far as I know) contain any of the information that was lost behind the event horizon.
"Repolarize the phase emitters to generate an anti-polaron burst that will destabilize their warp field"
At least when Trek does it, it sounds better, it sort of mkes sense, and you know they are acting.
Thanks a lot, Orac - my brain has crawled out of my ear and is sulking in a corner after reading that stuff!
I currently write long, impressive-sounding research stuff for a living, and I wouldn't touch half his word construction with a ten foot pole.
He then launched into a discussion of a discussion of dubious experiments that claimed to show that "intent" could affect random occurrences.
Ah, so he has learned something from Oprah - The Secret[tm]! If you think it will happen, it will - or, in his case, if he squinches his eyes shut and wishes hard enough, his blatherings will resemble actual science. Too bad The Secret[tm] is bogus.
Some scientists believe that information can only be transformed; it cannot be created or destroyed.
Strange. the only such "scientists" I know are people from the Intelligent Design movement. Which Chopra claims he strongly disagrees with.
By the way, the "law of the conservation of information" is so easy to refute that a child could do it. Write your phone number on a piece of sugar, which you dissolve in a glass of water. Even if you give it to the best chemist or physicist in the world, with the best equipment, you can rest assured they won't phone you to boast success.
The human selfmindbody contains quantum energy, and that quantum-life selfness has got to transcend into some other quantum form of quantumish quantumity.
I've rarely heard Chopra say anything that wasn't just a dressed-up scientifickization of "The human body contains energy, and the energy's gotta go somewhere, man."
This is OT, but whenever I hear of Deepak Chopra, I always remember the story my dad's girlfriend told me. She works for an airline doing reservations, and she told me that one time, one of her co-workers was holding a phone away from her ear while the guy on the line was very loudly snarling and making threats. The co-worker, trying not to laugh, said "Guess who? It's Deepak!"
@8 "It's my understanding that, while information can be formally analyzed, it's still an abstraction"
@19 "Information most certainly is not conserved. The total information content of the universe declines"
My understanding is that information can be created but not destroyed. Ultimately, all the information on everything that happens gets zipped into the densest possible encoding - thermal noise.
As for it being an abstraction, AFAIK information is physical: if a system has N states, then the information that it is in one particular state is ln(N)*Boltzmanns constant. So, if your brain is at body temperature and you are holding some particular poker hand, there is an absolute hard minimum amount of energy tied up in knowing that.
He also abuses evolution even in one throwaway sentence. Add that to his list of crimes against science.
And what Calli (30) said.
This ramble about information continuity is interesting, but why in the hell can't I remember those previous incarnations? oh choppy logic duder.