These are “evolutionary leaders”?

I was sent a petition to call for conscious evolution. I have no idea what this means. I don't think the creators of this petition have the slightest idea, either. I don't even understand the point of pledging to "elevate consciousness". I do know that these loons seem to like the word "evolution" an awful lot, abusing the term to the point where I want to just slap it out of their hands and tell them "NO! Not until you learn what it actually means."

And, of course, it is somehow being appropriated by these kooks to imply something about spirituality. Here's the fluff they write.

We now realize that we are affecting our own evolution by everything we do. This knowledge awakens in us the aspiration to become more conscious through subjective practices including meditation, reflection, prayer, intuition, creativity, and conscious choice making that accelerate our evolution in the direction of unity consciousness and inspire us to deeply align our collective vision.

Gaah! What vacuous nonsense! This is written by a group of people who call themselves "the evolutionary leaders" — what they actually are is an assortment of pop New Age con artists who primarily make a living peddling books that sell ridiculous woo to a mass market.

I signed the pledge, mainly because they ask for your recommendations for what they can do to promote 'consciousness evolution'. Here's what I told them.

Teach critical thinking. Laugh at woo-meisters who push vapid idiocy like meditation and prayer and spirituality. Turn away from the lies of religion. Point out the bullshit in the empty noises of people like Deepak Chopra. Learn something about evolution, which has nothing to do with the fuzzy, sloppy, lazy goo these so-called "evolutionary leaders" are babbling about.

I'm #39,109 — I won't be surprised if my signature is expunged.

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#1 is right, you really think the new-age priests are any less deceptive and manipulating then the old-age priests? Your comment will never be seen but prepare to be presented as an official supporter of their BS.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I intend to spend today becoming less conscious. Cheers.

By littlejohn (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Come off it, PZ, - nothing like the self-appointed evolutionary leaders, those who will take evolution from being non-targeted to being fully controlled, - as god wanted, but somehow messed up.

I signed up! My consciousness is already evolving just from reading the petition!

By felixthecat (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Why do these newagers always think that a "unity consciousnes" is going to be all smiles and rainbows? Haven't they seen End of Evangelion? So much tang...

By HumanisticJones (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

What do you have against meditation?

Climate change, economic disparity, educational inequities, geopolitical tensions -- these mounting concerns are symptoms of a world that is out of balance.

A Sagan quote is in order:

I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges near, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I signed up as a tree hugger.

Sure it’s woo and magical thinking and pseudoscience and cloying mind-goo, but they’re earnest, PZ. Earrrrrrrrrrrnest!

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

it seems they deleted the PZ signature

therefore i made another one with copy paste of his text for them.

39,109 again!!!

go for it

There's a lot of woo surrounding meditation, but in itself it's basically just an advanced relaxation technique. Not that there's anything wrong with relaxation. Just the woo.

By Sclerophanax (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Uh, I don't exactly agree with PZ's criticism on meditation. Unless he means by that that meditation isn't some magical way to get in touch with God or nirvana or wtf-ever. Meditation can make sense: you sit in a comfortable place and relax - there's nothing magical about it, and it can work.

- "conscious evolution. I have no idea what this means. ... I don't even understand the point of pledging to "elevate consciousness"."

AFAIK, this is the result of the intersection of Hindu ideas with Western scientific ones (I think Lamarck-flavored ones - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism )

I think that the Theosophists may have gotten the "conscious evolution" ball rolling - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophy

As I understand it, the idea is that if you're a "good person", you'll be reincarnated as a better person (or eventually as some type of "superior being") and of course vice-versa.

Thus if large numbers of people are "good", our species is continuously evolving for the better.

I think that there's also a strong admixture of "Hundredth Monkey" in this, thus the idea of "leaders" in the process - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hundredth-monkey_effect .

There is nothing wrong with meditation except when it is oversold (and I do mean sold) as a cure all.

The major problem with this essentially commercial effort is that it assumes the mantle of science (e.g., by using the word "evolution"). Most people have a vague enough notion of that science is. We really don't need people confusing the issue more to promote their alternative lifestyle careers.

Unfortunately, there are no easy or short term cures for ignorance of the scientific way of knowing.

By robotczar (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

it seems they deleted the PZ signature

No, it's still up there, as of this time.

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I'm glad to see people are as startled as I am at your disparaging of meditation. There is a big difference between thinking meditation puts on you on some astaral realm and just using it as a tool for relaxation and well being. In fact, there is copious empirical, scientific data that shows that meditating regularly can relieve stress, make you happier, and even physically increase the size of parts of your brain, all without appealing to the supernatural the way that prayer does. Here's a recent Science Daily article to that effect.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090512134655.htm

By justfinethanks (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I'm tempted to signup and use (with proper credits, of course) Carl Sagan's quote on the tendency to descend in woo-magic-demons (see Anonymous @8 if you don't know the quote), but am not too sure I want to increment the count of “supporters” (even if only, perhaps, temporarily).

Self-directed evolution toward a unity consciousness? I think I saw an anime about that once, with giant organic mechas and everyone turning into Tang. I totally support them if that's what they're going for.

So... how long until PZ's signature is quotemined to say that Darwinists support eugenics?

I signed and suggested:

Let’s do the right thing. Let’s close this website and stop trying to turn good people into non-thinking zombies by filling their heads with Chopra coprolites. “Evolutionary leaders,” indeed!

So far, my suggestion has not appeared.

It's when they mention 'yogic flying' that you know they've made a boo-boo.

The only way we can consciously affect evolution is to not screw ugly people.

Well, there goes my sex life...

By Cliff Hendroval (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

evolution is evil.
no, i'm no creationist, but if you compare the way it works with human ethics, then you must admit, it's not a very nice system.
If you want to actively become "better", transhumanism is the way to go! :D

Does Yogic Flying involve quantum wings?

By Happy Tentacles (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

No, no, no, Yogic Flying involves quantum carpets. Please don’t belittle the elephants.

By C. M. Baxter (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Meditation has proven, objective benefits as well as subjective benefits. The trick is not to ascribe the processes involved as woofully cosmic and "quantum" (or quasmic.)

I had to send my quantum carpet to the cleaners to get rid of some nasty metaphysical stains, and it hasn't flown properly since. Should I sue them?

By Happy Tentacles (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

How do you sue a stain?

Meditation isn't as loony as prayer! In the previous post we were reminded how the brain can be affected by experience (neuroplasticity, isn't it?). Why shouldn't meditation affect brains? Sounds a lot more plausable than prayer!

By Paul Phoenix (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

yeah, what Paul said. Why would you think meditation is "vapid idiocy"? Sounds to me like the judgment of someone who hasn't explored or even looked at the data. That's not scientific cynicism, it's simple closed-mindedness. I expect better of scientists!

By notameditator (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

"Ten thousand copies of PZ's text on that petition sounds like it could make an impact"

Or it could look like a hoarde of robots. No, I say write your own material.

I'm glad to see people are as startled as I am at your disparaging of meditation. There is a big difference between thinking meditation puts on you on some astaral realm and just using it as a tool for relaxation and well being.

I agree with you (and others here): a big difference. There is nothing wrong with relaxing and focusing your attention on “what is,” observing your thoughts and feelings, or even focusing on some specific image or idea and seeing what happens. But the very term “meditation” is so loaded with pseudoscientific, supernatural, New Age crap—monks and martial-arts masters floating and flying, visions of ascended masters, homeopathy and chakra cleansing—that many are loathe to use it.

It sounds like your version is more sensible and down-to-earth, and that’s good to see, but you have a long way to go in changing the woo-connotations associated with the practice before many hard-headed rationalists will feel comfortable using the word—and the website linked to above is not aiding you.

By RamblinDude (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I mean the cleaners. I think they were using non-organic cleaning fluid. I TOLD them to use special sacred woo-juice, hand-mixed from natural flower extracts by anorexic Tibetan nuns. But I think they went to Tesco and got the economy brand instead.

By Happy Tentacles (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I too am concerned with your criticism of meditation, PZ. Of course, there are people who take things to the extreme and claim that you can get super-powers from meditation, and the practice itself is commonly associated with Eastern religions, (which ARE a step above monotheism IMO.)

However, I do try to be skeptical and in my personal google searching I've never found any solid critique about the basic idea of sitting down, breathing deeply, and focusing your thoughts on your breath. Sam Harris, as well as my psych. and sociology professors, have all praised meditation...if you want to refer to it as idiocy you should really prove that there aren't practical benefits involved.

Uh, I don't exactly agree with PZ's criticism on meditation. Unless he means by that that meditation isn't some magical way to get in touch with God or nirvana or wtf-ever.

Which is exactly how the Evolutionary Leaders mean it. Isn't that obvious?

(And... can't you people relax just so?)

Ten thousand copies of PZ's text on that petition sounds like it could make an impact...

Yes – us being considered a spambot, that is.

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

My (limited) understanding of the process of evolution is that what evolution produces is random, unpredictable and is affected by many different inputs.

So, if that is the case, how can there be "Evolutionary Leaders" since evolution is a complex process that can't be "lead?"

Another "wait a minute" on meditation. In my admittedly vacuous youth, I paid for coaching in the "secret" technique of Transcendental Meditation® ("a trademark of Maharishi Foundation, LTD"). I soon learned that mantra meditation was well-known to millions of Asians, and I didn't need to give Maharishi any more money. I do think I gained modest benefit, mostly anxiety reduction, by using it during stressful periods of my life. Like the commenters above, I took the benefits and left the woo.

BTW, I feel the same way about Hatha Yoga: the stretching and balancing confers modest physical benefits, chiefly enhanced muscle tone and proprioception. I ignore all the stuff about chakras, etc. The prescribed postures have been optimized over centuries, but newer techniques, e.g. Pilates, may be just as effective.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

PZ, how could you be so cynical? The whole thing sounds really quantum.

By Brain Hertz (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Mine is now up (39129), and... who posted PZ's text under the name "William Dembski" (39131)?

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I have to back them on most of their goals, however, they absolutely need to dump the supernatural crap by changing

Promoting health and healing by acknowledging the profound mind-body-spirit connection.
to "...acknowledging a conscious-autonomic connection."

and add a seventh point
"Promote bullshit detection."

By natural cynic (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I mean the cleaners. I think they were using non-organic cleaning fluid. I TOLD them to use special sacred woo-juice, hand-mixed from natural flower extracts by anorexic Tibetan nuns. But I think they went to Tesco and got the economy brand instead.

Well, Ok, you can sue the cleaners too. And if they did go to Tesco, they should be shot. Anyone who goes to Tesco should be shot. (Obviously, I have a thing about Tesco…)

But the original complaint was about the spots. Had there not been any spots, you wouldn't have taken the magic flying carpet to Tesco-using cleaners, and had it come back broken. So clearly you should sue the spots.

And come of think of it, sue yourself as well. You took the spotted magic flying carpet etc, &tc… (Spotted magic flying carpet? Sounds like the basis for a new religion! Yea! All €£$ are welcome! Give as much as you can afford. The tithe is extra.)

And who was responsible for the spots? Sue them as well(? again?)…

Add me to the chorus taking offense at the meditation swipe. I've found the exercise of it to improve memory and concentration and reduce stress. There's nothing reflexively magical or superstitious about a practice that can aid health and well-being, even modestly. Woo aside, we ought to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I'll even speculate that certain types of prayer, stripped of delusions of spell-casting efficacy, might have psychological benefits for the individual.

Part of the problem with "meditation" is that the word has been taken over by woo-meisters of every stripe. I learned the basics of meditation as simple relaxation exercises in acting classes in college. (No woo-just calming down to prepare to perform.)

We need to separate the useful techniques from the woo--a difficult task, considering how much money there is in it for the woo crew. I'm having troubel coming up with a term the woo crew can't easily steal--anyone?

By Stardrake (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

P.Z.
Sorry you are so wrong .They are absolutely correct.
I was sitting in the backyard last weekend when I meditated upon the fact that my beer was getting low. Then upon reflection I realized that there were flies biting me so I prayed. A simple prayer "Sweet Gentle Jesus where's the fuckin' (fly) dope.
Intuition told me that since my shorts and the wife's were a bit snug we didn't do enought exercising over the winter months.
Creativity came like a jolt of Jack Daniels when I told the chef (wife) to get some Montreal steak spice and put it on the steaks. The conscious choice came when I told her to get me another beer when she was getting the spice.

There's not enough cachet in psychic geek to give them any reproductive advantage, let alone the fact that their offspring are likely to be bludgeoned by the followers of Hello Kitty on the playground before reaching sexual maturity (and by Cyndi Lauper acolytes if they do make it to sexual maturity.)

By MoonBat52 (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Religions and spirituality often like to use ambiguity and bait 'n switch to link reasonable ideas together with faith-based commitments which sound similar, in hopes that they'll be seen as the same thing -- and their critics therefore unreasonable. How can you be against promoting peace, helping the environment, and "optimizing human capacities?"

Easy; learn their code.

"Raising consciousness" means getting people to believe in pseudoscientific nonsense. When they use the word "evolution," they mean "spiritual progress." Which means, more people agreeing with them, because that's how you become open-minded, and accepting of everyone, and all views.

I think anon at #14 is right about the "Hundreth Monkey" concept behind these kinds of movements. Add in the background assumptions in "The Secret." The more people who follow this stuff, the more likely the world will suddenly undergo a 'paradigm shift,' and everyone will advance to the next level of spiritual maturity. No more wars, no more pollution, no more people laughing at New Agers.

They especially look forward to that last one, and savor it in the imaginations. These folks are just as sensitive and easily offended as Christians. More, I think. It's all about attitude, and style, and not being full of critical, negative "energy." Nice people believe nice things, and create a nice reality.

Who appointed people like Chopra and Williamson as "evolutionary leaders" anyway? And go figure -- evidently New Agers are into eugenics. Why am I not surprised?

Hey PZ, I am a physicist, atheist, materialist, yet I find meditation useful.
It is just a series of exercises to learn to use better your brain.
Unfortunately is usually wrapped in annoying layers and layers of new age / spiritualist crap, I go rampage when they start blathering about energy, atom vibrations etc...
Nonetheless, it is useful.

By Francesco Orsenigo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

What's all this dissent? Has everyone forgotten that this is great big cult of personality and we agree sheeplike with everything PZ says? It's not like godbots and glibertarians don't remind us often enough.

/unserious

Yes, meditation is a nice way to relax.

I also think that emptying your bowels is a good, healthy practice that will make you feel better. If I were to say that taking a dump is a way to awaken your aspiration to higher consciousness and accelerate your evolution, though, you would also tell me that that is vacuous nonsense.

That would not necessarily mean that you must be constipated, though.

I have to agree about meditation. I've been doing a non-woo version of it for years and it's great for lowering the blood pressure - especially when I read stuff like the shite these New Agers pedal.
Oh please save me from New Age crap from the Rainbow Tribe or the Evolutionary Leaders or whatever the newest fad happens to be!

accelerate our evolution in the direction of unity consciousness and inspire us to deeply align our collective vision..

WHAT? AARGH!
Got to go meditate! But first a fine single malt - with a wink in Kel's direction.

(And... can't you people relax just so?)

Well, no. My point in #42, along with the other dissenters I think, is that a well-developed bullshit detection kit should be able to winnow grains of empirical truth from obscurantist chaff. Aside from the practical implications, do we want the uncommitted public to think skepticism means rejection of even legitimate ideas because they have a taint of woo?

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Maybe this is like 'reinventing' yourself? Haven't figured that one out yet either, but I pick bazillionaire!

By eigenvector (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

"...what they actually are is an assortment of pop New Age con artists who primarily make a living peddling books that sell ridiculous woo to a mass market. "

You mean like Dawkins and Hitchens and yourself?
Sweet, sweet irony.

Remove the spots from your magic carpet with the stain-away spell. This spell($19.95) is to be used while meditating sitting on the carpet. It is guaranteed to rid the carpet of all stains from whatever source or your money back.

Caution:
Misuse of this product could result in:

Unexpected personal disappearance.

A white rug.

The problem with modern science is that the scientists have become too smug. They think they can explain everything with their theories. They can't. It's no wonder people with wider world views turn away from real science and invent their own pseudoscience for us to belittle. This is unfortunate, because as a result, science in a broader context suffers. Scientists need to get off their material reductionist high horses and break down the neuronal boundaries in their brains built up over a lifetime of militant rationalism. People, the knowledge and information is out there, it's the 21st century. Open up your minds and see how you are merely a product of 1500 years of Christian and scientific memes.

By Null Hypothesis (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

@blf:

I'm offering a course called "How to Sue Stain and Enhance Magic Carpet Quantum Cleanliness."

Yep Null it's time to Turn on, Tune in, and drop out.

1) I inadvertently posted #58 anonymously.

You mean like Dawkins and Hitchens and yourself?
Sweet, sweet irony.

2) By "the uncommitted public", I didn't mean this guy. Sounds like he's already committed.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

@xebo #60: Show your work. I'd like to examples of woo in their writings. If you can provide some then you might indeed have your irony.

Open up your minds and see how you are merely a product of 1500 years of Christian and scientific memes.

Nothing but illiterate ignorant bullshit there, since god doesn't exist and the bible is a work of fiction. Nothing to be gained with just fiction and fairies. I'll stick with science where evidence rules.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I think that after the majority of people accept evolution, the word is destined to go the way of 'quantum' for the population at large.

And it is interesting that in the vernacular it is used as a term for self improvement, or conscious change on the part of an individual. Not conscious change of body parts, but rather some kind of spiritual or mental transformation.

You'll probably see it on progressive political slogans, and New Agers who want to sound uber-scientific might fuse it with the other verboten word to come up with things like 'quantum evolution' or something similar. Which would actually make sense if you interpreted it as meaning that evolution occurred in discrete steps. But what am I thinking? Who would want to do something mundane like 'make sense'?

And when a self help guru can offer Consciously Directed Spiritual Lamarckism, or CDSL, who could refuse?

@David

"Can't you people just relax?"

Um, no. Not really. Not all the time, anyway. Is that answer really so amazing?

PZ made it clear that he was referring to "meditation that leads to magic" when he called it vapid nonsense. I don't think there was any actual criticism on meditation in general.

Yep Null it's time to Turn on, Tune in, and drop out.

I have to go into town in an hour because I need to go to the medical shop because I need a wheelchair because for the last 4 months I haven't been able to walk due to an entrapped femoral nerve in my pelvis (I think). It's been very frustrating working through the medical system but next week I'm going to go pay for a private MRI and then tell the doctors what is wrong with me.

Also today, I'm going to go to the health store and get a juicer and start getting all the benefits of lots of raw vegetables and fruits, since for a while I thought I had cancer impinging a nerve (maybe I do) and it scared me into pursuing a semi-vegetarian diet, science based of course.

By Null Hypothesis (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

... and New Agers who want to sound uber-scientific might fuse it with the other verboten word to come up with things like 'quantum evolution' or something similar.

I think Robert Anton Wilson had already put that monster phrase together twenty years ago. At least I'd be surprised if he hadn't, since he seems to have used every other permutation of "quantum" and the rest of the English lexicon.

I'd like to go on the record here and posit that I'm way more fucking "quantum" than Deepak Chopra.

You'll probably see it on progressive political slogans, and New Agers who want to sound uber-scientific might fuse it with the other verboten word to come up with things like 'quantum evolution' or something similar.

Some people have already come up with "quantum evolution" as a way to explain how beneficial mutations can arise. As far as I know, they haven't been successful, but I hope thy keep trying because the likes of Dawkins and PZ Myers aren't able to explain it and they apparently have no interest in trying because they're crusty old militant atheist material reductionists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_evolution_(alternative)

By Null Hypothesis (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I was too careful with my language in my #72. I'll say it flat out: I'm way more fucking "quantum" than Deepak Chopra.

PZ: I am an atheist of long standing and a meditator and I do yoga. I am as cynical of these ripoff artists as you are. Meditation is a process of deep relaxation but at the same time can make one much more succeptible to influence and to the suggestions of others. It can make people pliable and gullible. That is why these con artists use it. That is why you are suspicious of it, and with good reason. Take out the crazy suggestions, in fact take out all suggestions, do it in private, and you are left with just relaxation. Nobody should be teaching you anything while in a relaxed and vulnerable state. The locus of control should always remain with you.
There is a growing body of empirical evidence that supports secular meditation as taught by psychologists like Jon Kabat-Zinn. The founder of cognitive therapy, Aaron Beck, is a meditator, as is the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. Meditation is a completely natural, physiological process that is completely independent of woo. My meditation process is simply to breathe, close my eyes and free associate. That's it. No magic, no God, nothing supernatural. My only advice to people is learn meditation from a reputable licensed mental health expert practitioner(like me) who is acountable to a licensing board for any misuse. I make no crazy claims for meditation other than it will help you relax, lower your blood pressure, help you concentrate a little better. Meditation is not going to go away. It has been around forever and always will be. It should be the subject of serious scientific inquiry. Otherwise it will remain in the province of con artists who attribute the natural relaxation reponse to special powers and cosmic forces. Then all the woo can be disproven, stripped away and all that's left is a valid way to relax.
I do yoga simply as stretching before my weight lifting routine, and I have been doing it for 20 years. It keeps my back limber and my muscles loose. That' it. No woo. Again though, PZ, you are right to be suspicious. People should be wary of anyone making supernatural claims for yoga. It is completely natural and will work whether you believe in anything or not. Same with meditation.

I do not like word meditation much either it is been over used and misused. I also hate these pretentious new age "evolution leaders"
seems to me the the real leaders are those who have the most babies? As practiced and advocated by most woowoo advocates of meditation it is just a form of self-hypnosis which in itself is not bad if you know it. Very misunderstood by westerners as is much of eastern thought, though even in the east people are attracted magical thinking, wish projection and immortality.
get rid of the BS and find out what is happening before we decide what it is.
Data before any daffynition.

By uncle frogy (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

From the wiki article Null Hypothesis linked in #73 (emphasis mine):

The mechanism proposed by quantum evolution is to imagine that the configuration of DNA in a cell is held in a quantum superposition of states, and that "mutations" occur as a result of a collapse of the superposition into the "best" configuration for the cell. The proponents of this approach liken the operation of DNA to the operation of a quantum computer, which selects one from a multitude of possible outcomes.

So their proposed mechanism is a construct of the imagination? And here I was wondering why "quantum evolution" never gained any traction in the realm of science...

Null still lies about evolution, without showing any hard evidence to the contrary. Why do cranks always avoid hard evidence and publishing their work?

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

#75

Then all the woo can be disproven, stripped away and all that's left is a valid way to relax.

Yes, then we can all breath a giant sigh of relief when everyone finally agrees that THERE IS NO GOD, versus the alternative and equivalent belief that THERE IS A GOD. There are only THINGS that bounce around each other in the universe and behave according to the NATURAL LAWS that we discover using the scientific method.

It's all OK. Everything is rational. Just calm down everyone, ie, the 90% of the rest of the world who is not atheist, and learn to see the world for how it REALLY IS, how it is REALLY composed of bits of stuff, and nothing more and nothing less!

If only everyone could just see and accept this!!! What is wrong with people!!?!?!?

By Null HYpothesis (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Null still lies about evolution

How so?

By Null Hypothesis (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Some people have already come up with "quantum evolution" as a way to explain how beneficial mutations can arise.

I read the article and it sounds like utter shit. Sorry. They kept tossing the term 'best state' around, as if somehow DNA has a preference for certain quantum states. A change in DNA can be adaptive or maladaptive based on its interaction with the rest of the organism, and the rest of the genes. There is no way to evaluate this just by looking at a sequence. In other words, changing an A to a G might be adaptive, or it might not, depending on whether it is in a protein coding region, and depending on what part of the protein it codes for. Or it might affect a binding domain, and this can be either good or bad for the organism. But this will depend entirely on what organism it appears in, when it's expressed, etc. We can't evaluate this based on quantum states. And the DNA can't either.

alternative and equivalent belief that THERE IS A GOD.

The believe that there is a god has no basis in reality. God doesn't exist until you can show some physical evidence for one. Claims and opinions are worthless without evidence to back them up. Show us the physical evidence for your imaginary deity. But I bet you will ignore evidence like you always do.

By Nerd of Redhead, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

aren't able to explain it and they apparently have no interest in trying because they're crusty old militant atheist material reductionists.

Also, I can't help feeling that all of your posts are done with tongue in cheek. Are you for real, or do you just enjoy tugging the people at this forum around onto various vapid topics?

#79 reminds me of this quote from YouTube user VivoVitamBonam:

Contrary to what you may have heard, caps lock is not cruise control for awesome.

It is also not, one might add, cruise control for true or rhetorically convincing.

I don't what PZ is talking about.....

I personally feel much closer to God after taking a gigantic dump...
and more relaxed too.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

@pcarini

It is also not, one might add, cruise control for true or rhetorically convincing.

He wasn't going for either, IMO. Strange as it may seem, I think that was his attempt at a parody of materialism. But his style doesn't really lend itself to humor. Mainly because it's hard to tell if he's really serious about anything he says.

In response to PZ's bowel-movement-analogy...

You ever seen the famous sculpture, The Thinker? Or read about Luther's...moments of divine revelation? Many historical figures have indeed received their 'great' inspirations during a bowel movement :P

But for seriously, I too meditate in a non-spiritual totally mechanistic way. I see it as being similar to getting/giving a massage, masturbating, or a good work out. It's just another physical method we can use to help us unwind, or focus on something. Nothing more and nothing less than an effective relaxation technique.

Posted by: Sven DiMilo | May 16, 2009 3:46 PM
Conscious evolution

Herd of 'em.?

By Fl buefish (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Done. BTW, today I am Duane Gish.

By littlejohn (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

pcarini

I looked up Robert Anton Wilson. Wow. Just..wow. I should have guessed, though. He was, along with Leary, one of those people who can't use drugs and just enjoy them for what they are.

I guess he and Leary made some shitty chart called the Octave of Energy. I found a site on it, and it is 100% pure, distilled woo. If you take a peek, you can find out amazing things about our nervous system, like how the Neuroatomic Circuit of the Cell Body uses cosmic engineering. Don't make the amateur mistake of assuming that all of the cell does, however. The dendritic Neuroatomic Circuit uses Cosmic Consciousness.

It reads like a shitty psychologist got a hold of an undergraduate neuroscience textbook, took some drugs, and then used free association to make up spiritual functions for all basic anatomy-oh, wait...

It reads like a shitty psychologist got a hold of an undergraduate neuroscience textbook, took some drugs, and then used free association to make up spiritual functions for all basic anatomy-oh, wait...

Exactly.

There's also a Magic Carpet Cleaning company. But they don't say anything about actually cleaning magic carpets (quantum or otherwise).

Sorry, but it had to be said: "That magic carpet really tied the room together, man"

Part of my misspent youth involved reading lots of R.A. Wilson, and one thing I concluded was that there is simply no way ever to know when he is sincere, when he is just playing, when he is lying, and whether he knows which is which. He was the original and master Poe.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Robert Anton Wilson was also famous for saying that he DID NOT believe any of their wild ideas were Truth.

He went to great lengths to explain that when you start believing that some idea is Truth, your brian stops functioning intelligently.

He was a sceptic right up to the day he died.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

I personally feel much closer to God after taking a gigantic dump

The expulsion generates a powerful thrust and you lift-off?

At what altitude do you encounter magic man?

Or is that just the result of a the concussion caused by hitting the ceiling with what, I assume, is considerable force?

That magic carpet really tied the room together, man

He pissed on your magic carpet, dude. He pissed on your fucking magic carpet.

(my favorite movie)

I agree with PZ about the horrific amounts of woo surrounding meditation, but I have found it to be more useful than just a "relaxation technique." Indeed, there have been many times I've found it anything BUT relaxing.

You see, I'm a Zen Buddhist priest. My main critique of most 'rationalist' criticisms of meditation is that they are usually based on what happens to your mind and body based on a single short episode of mediation. In that regard it is not much different than sitting in a chair relaxing for 5 minutes.

However, relaxation is often the last thing one experiences as part of a mediation 'practice', as we call it, where one consistently mediates for significant periods over a lengthy span of time. What these critiques miss, but what some scientific studies are attempting to explore, is what happens to you when you meditate in this way.

For me, at least, it seems to bring a sense of greater mental clarity and seems to reduce the amount of mental 'noise' I experience. I've said "seems" on purpose - this is, after all, all in my head. It's my perception of what happens. One day I'd really love to get my brain examined to see what's going on physically as well.

Sadly, though, in the West Zen Buddhism attracts people who are saturated in New Age woo. I myself am a "rational materialist" and I've got a degree in a science from a school along the Charles River to back that claim up. For me Zen and Rationalism do not cause any cognitive dissonance, mostly because Zen, at its heart, is totally agnostic. I know Zen Masters who share my point of view and others who think that rational materialism is 'too limited a point of view'. Some of us, for example, view the chanting we do was simply a form of meditation, others view it like prayer, that is as a way to 'help' someone else by doing nothing.

Do I find this frustrating? You bet. To me it's just another front in the war on woo. Fortunately, though, Buddhism provides me with a very useful wedge to crack open the woo-filled mind: "Suffering is caused by our delusions." I just add that not looking at the world rationally is a good way to get deluded. It sometimes works.

Every little victory counts.

By Dead Guy Kai (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Does that make the Evolutionary Leaders the Nihilists, or are we the Nihilists? If it's us, I call dibs on Karl Hungus for my new handle.

Two questions:

1) If you take a deep-time look at the 14-billion year process of evolution, does a pattern emerge?

2) Is it significant that the process (as expressed through human beings) is able to reflect upon itself?

PZ, I'd be interested, sincerely, to learn your opinion on Dr. Benson and the Relaxation Response.

Thanks

1) Diversification. And an overall increase in average and maximum complexity.
2) "Significant"? It's weird to say "the process reflects upon itself." The ability of products of the process to reflect on the process, though, is semi-inevitable from the patterns mentioned in 1) above.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

wow after months and months of reading this blog (its was my homepage) this is the only blog post which i have read something that upsets me. as a Buddhist i was very offended to hear you say meditation is bullshit; this is 100% not true. there is no logical basis for clumping meditation into the same group as religion or astrology or w/e you said. also what do you have against deepak chopra , he teaches people practical methods of helping themselves, are you angry cause he has made money doing so?. i really hope you update/change this part of the post because its offensive and makes you look unintelligent.

Yeah.. I am sure shutting off filters and other aspects of the brain that are working normally, as some research on meditation indicates happens, leaves you more "focused". The problem is, for most people, those filters are precisely the ones that tell them the difference between, "A breeze made the candle flicker.", and, "I made the candle flicker." The reason its easy to fall for woo under its effects is that it both opens you to suggestion, and it strips away certain controls needed to avoid deluding yourself. But, this is "deep" meditation we are talking about, which causes a major shift in how the brain is operating at that time, and which at least "some" researchers are not so certain doesn't rewire it in ways that are less than optimal for dealing with a scientific viewpoint.

I would say, unfortunately, the number examining that aspect may be too small at this point to say one way or the other how much, or what type, is actually dangerous, instead of useful. So, the jury is out on whether anything more than 5 minutes of "relaxation" meditation is good for you or not, in the long run.

Whole systems healing, respecting both traditional knowledge and modern sciences, must be supported in physical, social, and spiritual domains.
as WOOish as it can get

@ #105

As one Buddhist to another - Deepak Chpora is full of shit. He fills people's minds with delusions and, therefore, suffering.

By Dead Guy Kai (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Ugh. Seeing all these "leaders" reminds me of my deeply regrettable years in their service. I used my creative abilities to promote these egotistical wingnuts in various ways. I was always fairly skeptical of most of their ideas, but I let my existential angst ride roughshod over my critical thinking skills (such as they were) and looked the other way for a long time.
Finaly, I woke up and actually saw these "enlightened" folks for what most of them were: divas. Grown men and women pitching fits over their hotel rooms, throwing tantrums due to lack of limousines, refusing to participate due to unmet dietary requirements, threatening to quit over the size of their name on various printed collateral (a certain BFF of god's humiliating his own wife in a hotel lobby) and, to a person, making snide and often bizarre comments and accusations about each other behind each other's backs. I need to take a shower just thinking about those years.

@105

i really hope you update/change this part of the post because its offensive and makes you look unintelligent.

Seriously? You've been reading this blog for "months and months" and you are asking PZ to change one of his entries because you think it is offensive? Seriously?

By Siphoneuphoria (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

"Sampaku, this life cycle ain't big enough
for both of us."

By X.Squizzit Carp (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Yay more pseudo-nonsense! So much better than creationism.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Hey, Dead Guy Kai I like your name. Did someone meet you on the path to enlightenment and kill you thinking you were the Buddha? Or does it refer to eliminating all delusion that you have about yourself?

Steve Haase @ #102:

1) If you take a deep-time look at the 14-billion year process of evolution, does a pattern emerge?

Which "evolution" are you asking about here? It's a misapplication of that term, IMO, to use it in any context aside from the biological or in direct reference to biological evolution (as is the case with evolutionary algorithms in computer science.) I'm pretty sure that this is in part what PZ is railing about, that they called themselves "evolutionary leaders" instead of "spiritual leaders" or "super-woo leaders".

Due to local conditions in times past, we can't credibly claim that the process of evolution has been ongoing for more than perhaps 4 Billion years.

2) Is it significant that the process (as expressed through human beings) is able to reflect upon itself?

Significant to whom or what?

markmm @ #105

... as a Buddhist i was very offended to hear you say meditation is bullshit; this is 100% not true.

I vote we drop this particular construct ("as a _x_ I'm offended by _y_") from our discourse completely. It carries with it the false implication that everybody belonging to group x will be offended by action y, along with the vague threat that you'd better not make all x's angry. It sounds no better when a Buddhist presumes to speak for all Buddhists as when Bill Donohue speaks for all Catholics.

So be a man or woman and speak for yourself; this also frees your fellows of the burden of having you as their spokesperson.

Oh, and also read the comments in the thread, where PZ clarifies his position on meditation.

Many people's ideas of evolution seem to fit into a common human desire for hierarchy. They look at humanity and take the fact we're the most intelligent beings on the planet and the only species to develop a technological civilisation, and then make the leap that the "goal" of evolution is to produce ever more intelligent and sophisticated beings. And of course the "evolutionary leaders" are the currently most advanced beings around, and hence their ideas and dictates must be taken without question or second thought. Said leaders are just as vulnerable as anyone else to taking such flattery as proof of their own wonderfulness and hence proof of the rightness of their actions.

I'm one more in support of the utility of various meditation techniques. I refer you to UW-Madison neuroscientist Richard Davidson and two of his studies on long term meditation practitioners. A significant amount of empirical data is in and strongly suggests significant positive effects (on brain anatomy and activity as well as on mood). These papers were good enough for the Public Library of Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, respectively, but perhaps you know better PZ:

Lutz, A., Brefczynski-Lewis, J. A., Johnstone, T., & Davidson, R. J. (2008). Voluntary regulation of the neural circuitry of emotion by compassion meditation: Effects of expertise. PLoS One 3(3), e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897. PMCID: PMC2267490

Lutz, A., Greischar, L. L., Rawlings, N. B., Ricard, M., & Davidson, R. J. (2004). Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 16369-16373. PMCID: PMC52620

By Anonymous (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Who needs meditation, dudes? It's time to go bowling!

By dead santa (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

All €£$ are welcome!

¥€$!!!

The problem with modern science is that the scientists have become too smug. They think they can explain everything with their theories. They can't.

"No, but we're working on it."
– Richard Dawkins

"Can't you people just relax?"

You're misquoting me. I wrote (comment 39): "can't you people relax just so?"

Assuming you understood that correctly and therefore meant to answer it by the following:

Um, no. Not really. Not all the time, anyway. Is that answer really so amazing?

Well, when I want to relax, I just, like, do it. The problem is more that I often want to relax when I don't have time for it. :-) But then I have low blood pressure. Maybe people with high blood pressure really need special techniques for relaxing. I can't tell, I don't know any.

Some people have already come up with "quantum evolution" as a way to explain how beneficial mutations can arise. As far as I know, they haven't been successful, but I hope thy keep trying because the likes of Dawkins and PZ Myers aren't able to explain it and they apparently have no interest in trying because they're crusty old militant atheist material reductionists.

Is there even something to explain?

Because all I think of when reading the first screen of the Wikipedia article is "Sire, je n'ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse". Lots and lots of mutations happen all the time, and by chance some happen to be beneficial in a certain environment. Big deal. What have I missed?

My meditation process is simply to breathe, close my eyes and free associate.

Just to make sure I understand you correctly: do you imply that you can ever switch free association off? I have it running 24/7 except when I have somebody to talk to, something to read, something to run after (like the tram), or something else to concentrate on, or of course when I'm sleeping without dreaming. Inner monologue. It doesn't need to be switched on. Surely that's normal?

The mechanism proposed by quantum evolution is to imagine that the configuration of DNA in a cell is held in a quantum superposition of states, and that "mutations" occur as a result of a collapse of the superposition into the "best" configuration for the cell.

:-o

Wow. That's woo. That's strong woo.

DNA in a superposition of states? When it's surrounded by water, proteins, and so on? At fucking body temperature? Let it magnetically hover in a vacuum*, and maybe you'll get it into a superposition, though I really doubt that that's feasible with such an extremely long molecule.

Someone hasn't paid attention to what "observation" means in quantum physics: interaction with another particle. Good luck at avoiding that.

And how on the fucking planet is a bias for the most useful outcome supposed to occur?

It gets even better. If there first was an A, then there was a superposition, and then there was a C, we run into a little problem with the first law of thermodynamics. Which chemical reaction is it that is supposed to be in a superposition? Or do they assume the superposition is just while the DNA polymerase zooms through during replication or repair?

Morons.

* Ought to be possible because it's an anion under physiological conditions. Take sodium DNate, put it into a field of 5 tesla, and... well, maybe. Whatever.

Fortunately, though, Buddhism provides me with a very useful wedge to crack open the woo-filled mind: "Suffering is caused by our delusions." I just add that not looking at the world rationally is a good way to get deluded. It sometimes works.

:-) :-) :-)

1) If you take a deep-time look at the 14-billion year process of evolution, does a pattern emerge?

Wait a little. Evolution = descent with heritable modification. That means it's been a 4-billion-year process (give or take a few hundred million), not a 13.7-billion-year one.

What do you mean by "pattern"? BTW, I disagree with "increased average complexity"; the average has obviously increased because the maximum has increased, but the mean and the median have not.

Concerning your point 2, see comment 104.

also what do you have against deepak chopra , he teaches people practical methods of helping themselves, are you angry cause he has made money doing so?.

Oh boy. Evidently you haven't spent enough months here. Near the top left corner of this page, there's a search engine. Use it to search for posts on Chopra, and prepare to be aghast at the arguments from ignorance he makes. One word: chutzpa.

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Argh! Anonymous @#120, that sounds like a cool fossil, but that's the most egregiously ignorant piece of science reporting I've ever seen. It's a fossil from near the prosimian/anthropoid split, and yet:

Scientists say a 47-million-year-old fossil found in Germany may be a key link to explain the evolution of modern human beings.

and

it has characteristics that suggest a relationship both to primates and humans.

and:

It is hard to say what the find may do to the modern debate over evolution. The fossil, for one thing, is far older than any of the human ancestors other scientists have reported finding in what is now eastern Africa.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

The problem with modern science is that the scientists have become too smug. They think they can explain everything with their theories. They can't.

Eventually, maybe but I'd love to hear what you think explains something that science doesn't yet explain... or even something that science does, but better.

the average has obviously increased because the maximum has increased, but the mean and the median have not.

"Average means "mean or median" to me. You?

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

PZ, what have you done? Now they'll just quote the first sentence and claim that they are teaching critical thinking according to PZ Myers. It's "Darwin was wrong" all over again.

I'm one more in support of the utility of various meditation techniques.

Doing virtually anything pleasurable - jerking off, taking a nap, sitting on the couch drinking beer and playing a video-game; they're all about as useful as meditation. Perhaps there's some additional placebo effect to be had, but that's simply because nobody's been clever enough to re-brand obviously relaxing activities as special anti-stress activities.

//Doing virtually anything pleasurable - jerking off, taking a nap, sitting on the couch drinking beer and playing a video-game; they're all about as useful as meditation. //

Spoken like someone who has yet to do any research on the subject but still is confident enough to go around stating their opinion on the subject.

By Uhhh... Sure? (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Hey, Dead Guy Kai I like your name. Did someone meet you on the path to enlightenment and kill you thinking you were the Buddha? Or does it refer to eliminating all delusion that you have about yourself?

ROTFL!!!

Day saved. :-D :-D :-D

Off topic.

fossil info evolution.

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=7603618&page=1

At the end of the second paragraph, it says "both to primates and humans". That's a sure sign that I don't need to bother continuing, because the poor journalist has no idea whatsoever what he's talking about. I'd appreciate another article about that fossil.

===========================

PZ's signature and comment are still up. So are those of lots more Pharyngulites; we make up most of the signers since PZ!

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

The problem with modern science is that the scientists have become too smug

WTF about going from woo-woo as the central modus for understanding our world, to modern medicine, technology, computers, the internet, our constantly growing understanding of the universe around us, travelling around in our solar system, sequencing the genome, using quantum superposition to transmit messages at a distance, making the hubble space telescope, and developing the wonder bra isn't grounds for being smug?

Scientists fucking rock.

Non-scientists ought to doff their hats when they walk by and knuckle their brows, "ooo thankee mister science man for helping increase my lifespan!" or perhaps "bless you mister science guy for helping drop the infant mortality rate so my 9 kids are all doing really well on facebook."

Nobody. No fucking body - should use a computer to type the words "scientists are getting too smug" You're sitting in front of a certifiable miracle, if ever there was one. Brought to you by science.

"Scientists need to get off their material reductionist high horses and break down the neuronal boundaries in their brains built up over a lifetime of militant rationalism."

Yeah, I agree. They need to start making shit up. They need to invent self-serving narrative structures to fit the universe into.

"People, the knowledge and information is out there, it's the 21st century. Open up your minds and see how you are merely a product of 1500 years of Christian and scientific memes."

Wait, your brave new vision of the future is a bloody ancient myth with talking snakes and a warlike deity? No thanks man, keep that in your own open mind.

"As far as I know, they haven't been successful, but I hope thy keep trying because the likes of Dawkins and PZ Myers aren't able to explain it and they apparently have no interest in trying because they're crusty old militant atheist material reductionists."

Even assuming this "quantum evolution" isn't a confused mishmash of scientific words as laid out by David Marjanovic, what exactly would make it less material and rational than any other science? Quantum physics weren't discovered through prayer, you know.

"Average means "mean or median" to me. You?

Oopsie. I got the English terms confused. Substitute "average" by "arithmetic mean", and "mean" by "mode". (Actually, concerning "mode", I even got the German terms confused. Rather embarrassing.)

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Even assuming this "quantum evolution" isn't a confused mishmash of scientific words as laid out by David Marjanovic, what exactly would make it less material and rational than any other science?

The miracle that selects the best mutation and causes the superposition to collapse towards it, of course. :-|

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

@David Marjanović, OM

I'm sorry I omitted the full quote, I read the original comment and was simply too lazy to type in all of it, just wanted to type in the few first words I remembered so you'd know what I was talking about.
I'm really glad for you that you can just relax when you need to (providing you have the time). That doesn't come off so easy for me.

Honest, dude. I have serious issues with relaxation - meditation doesn't cure them, but it can help, excepting in all those cases in which it doesn't. Meditation appears to be helpful, but I'm not even saying it's more helpful than just doing something fun.

People have been suggesting peer-reviewed evidence (if I understand correctly) - but frankly, that's overkill for me - no one here is really denying the fact that sitting down and relaxing for a few minutes is not something that is beyond the scope of natural phenomena. So long as that fact stands, I simply have nothing to argue about.

Uhh, Sure writes:
Spoken like someone who has yet to do any research on the subject but still is confident enough to go around stating their opinion on the subject.

I spent years meditating back in the 70's, sport. I spent a hell of a lot of time doing TM as well as sitting in Seiza. Masturbating, too. In the last 20 years I've taken up beer drinking and videogames. I find them all about equally relaxing. That's just anecdote, of course.

I can't see how you could even construct a study regarding the effectiveness of something like meditation without relying on self-reporting; how do you compare it to a control? What is simulated meditation that you could use to control for a placebo effect? How do you measure that a half hour of meditating is more or less relaxing than a nice orgasm or a beer?

If you can point to any studies that control correctly for placebo effects and indicate that meditation does anything above and beyond taking a nap, feel free to post some links here.

The miracle that selects the best mutation and causes the superposition to collapse towards it, of course. :-|

Best out of what set? Or if they mean "best" overall, shouldn't a single detrimental mutation falsify this? I'm not a biologist nor am I keeping up with the literature, but I'm pretty sure we have already observed plenty of detrimental mutations ;) I'm also not a palaeontologist, but I'm guessing the fossil record may have a couple of examples also.

Marcus @ 134:

I spent years meditating back in the 70's, sport. I spent a hell of a lot of time doing TM as well as sitting in Seiza. Masturbating, too. In the last 20 years I've taken up beer drinking and videogames. I find them all about equally relaxing. That's just anecdote, of course.

So...let me ask this: were you 1 of those stoner types, who spent equal (or more) amounts of time toking up? & why would anyone sit in Seiza unless they were training in a Japanese MA? Which art were you doing, specifically?

I can't see how you could even construct a study regarding the effectiveness of something like meditation without relying on self-reporting; how do you compare it to a control? What is simulated meditation that you could use to control for a placebo effect? How do you measure that a half hour of meditating is more or less relaxing than a nice orgasm or a beer?<?blockquote>
Oh, there are ways, there are ways.
For instance, if you're not properly relaxed, you can't do this well at all. In fact, Tai Chi is an MA that illustrates/measures the individual's ability to relax simply by watching it.

AGH! My last comment got chopped.
Try again -
Marcus @ 138:

I can't see how you could even construct a study regarding the effectiveness of something like meditation without relying on self-reporting; how do you compare it to a control? What is simulated meditation that you could use to control for a placebo effect? How do you measure that a half hour of meditating is more or less relaxing than a nice orgasm or a beer?

Well, if you're not relaxed properly, you can't do this this very well @ all. Tai Chi is a martial art that emphasizes relaxation, & the tenser the practitioner/player, the worse it looks.
My other query, is how long did you do TM or that martial art that required you to do Seiza?

A more direct control of evolution comes to mind. Perhaps the proponents of "conscious evolution" should strive for the Darwin Awards?

By MadScientist (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

There's a lot o' woo over there! A nearly random snippage:

The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) focus includes emerging paradigms, extended human capacities, and integral health and healing....The mission of the Institute of Noetic Sciences is to advance the science of consciousness and human experience to serve individual and collective transformation.
By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Null @71:

Who is going to read your MRI scan for you?

...not a doctor by any chance?

By Tassie Devil (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

Richard:

You ever seen the famous sculpture, The Thinker? Or read about Luther's...moments of divine revelation? Many historical figures have indeed received their 'great' inspirations during a bowel movement :P

Elvis!

"Average means "mean or median" to me. You?

Depends on the distribution.

Is it normal (e.g., "bell shaped")?

then yeah.

If not, then the mean and median can be quite different.

/pedantry

Tassie Devil: "Who is going to read your MRI scan for you?"
Isn't there's an app for that on the i-Phone? Who needs those smug doctors and scientists now?!

By John Scanlon, FCD (not verified) on 16 May 2009 #permalink

this sham needs to be spammed all the way to 100,000 signatures...

come on pharyngulites!!! go go go

By Porco Dio (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

You are a moron, little different than a virgin calling sex ludicrous.

By Amos Anon (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

I was invited to sign this pledge a while ago and then got in a hilarious debate with the facebook friend who invited me to join. In the debate she told me that she'd been called a "genius" by her science teachers in college and had taught a logic class - something that I brought up at every opportunity. She further told me that her belief in this rubbish despite her scientific training was because of personal experiences that she couldn't explain. My favourite part in the conversation though was when somebody else came in and said;

"I don't know the other guy [me], but I sure feel like I know you better now! You responded with such wisdom & openness & grace," to which the person I'd been arguing with said;

"Beautifully stated. Thank you for your 2 cents! :-)"

By Jeremy O'Wheel (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

Whether meditation is useful in itself as a way of regulating brain activity has nothing at all to do with marketing meditation in the context of quite a bit of fluff. I mean, it's not like this petition says "meditation has been proven to assist in relaxation and affect brain wave activity in a beneficial way." I can't possibly speak for PZ but I suspect that wouldn't rile him up much.

I'm in for 7 signatures.

By Evolving Squid (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

I signed up with:

In this great time of uncertainty, beware purveyors of dubious pseudo-science. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Accept nothing less.

Marcus Ranum writes: If you can point to any studies that control correctly for placebo effects and indicate that meditation does anything above and beyond taking a nap, feel free to post some links here.

That's funny, given that your original post came in response to mine, which specifically cites two studies done in major scientific journals. The effects found are not subjective reports about relaxation, but objective measures of brain anatomy and activity (certain regions grow in size and become more active). There is no placebo effect that alters brain anatomy on this scale, indeed even meditation over the short term won't do it: these studies compared lifetime meditators with over 10,000 hours of practice. In case the citations were just too hard to put in to pubmed yourself Marcus, here are some honest to god (ha!) links. I'd also still love to hear what you think of these PLoS and PNAS papers demonstrating the effects of meditation, PZ -- it goes far beyond mere 'relaxation':

http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/2008/LutzRegulationPLoSONE.pdf

http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/web/pubs/2004/Long-term_meditators.pdf

the mean and median can be quite different

Of course. Hence the "or."
The word "average" almost always means 'arithmetic mean," but I have seen it used (rarely) for the median instead. Was my point.

By Sven DiMilo (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

One of the New Age "leaders" on that list is Marianne Williamson, popularizer of a woo-book called "A Course in Miracles," that a psych prof "heard" from a voice inside her head. My ex-wife bought that book, and asked that I read it. I couldn't get past the first chapter. It was New Age drivel.

Barbara Marx Hubbard (no relation to Elron H.) wrote a book about conscious evolution. 'Nuff said.

I have been consciously trying to evolve the ability to fly like Superman since I was 7. Hasn't happened yet. Needless to say, I doubt conscious evolution really works.

vapid idiocy like meditation

There is nothing whatsoever vapid, idiotic, irrational, unscientific, or supernatural about meditation.

Sure, plenty of people who are into it also spout all sorts of woo and bullshit. But separating a phenomenon from people and things only contingently associated to it is part of critical thinking, and being well-informed, which I thought scientists and rationalists were in favour of.

After all, lots of murderers have beards just like PZ Meyers.

I can't see how you could even construct a study regarding the effectiveness of something like meditation without relying on self-reporting; how do you compare it to a control? What is simulated meditation that you could use to control for a placebo effect? How do you measure that a half hour of meditating is more or less relaxing than a nice orgasm or a beer?

I can't answer that last question, but when I was a psych student a few years ago, I participated in a meditation study that offered several weeks of meditation instruction for the experimental group, and none for the wait-list control (I was in the control group). Before and after the meditation instruction, participants were hooked up to a pulse meter and shown a series of pictures, some of which were selected to be gruesome or frightening, some pleasant, and some neutral. The experimental group participants were asked to meditate for a brief time before the second picture session, and the theory was that the techniques would help them to stay calmer, or emotionally disengage, when they saw the disturbing photos.

There was a self-report component to the study as well, and obviously the photos were a simulation (although some of them were definitely starting and upsetting). Not a perfect study. But it is possible to at least look at whether meditation actually does have an impact on mental state without relying only on self-reports.

I'm a practicing Buddhist, but to make that statement is somewhat misleading. A "practicing" Buddhist is someone who is practicing nothing but nonjudgementality. I don't know for sure but I don't see how any Buddhist would be upset about any statement made about Buddhism. Much less a statement made by a non-practitioner. For me, meditation is about opening our eyes to the happiness derived from seeing how fine the present moment really is. In order to do this we have to be totally present in the moment. Setting up this mindset requires one to be mindful. To be mindful requires one to be self-aware. Zen Buddhism introduces us to mindfulness meditation. This is nothing like what the folks here are attacking. Mindfulness short-circuits suffering. Stopping suffering is the whole point of Zen. Meditation brings self-awareness which brings self-understanding which promotes experiences that one coudln't really describe as being totally rational. Eventually one realizes that these odd experiences are only caused by the mind ridding itself of the repetitive takes on our perception of reality, formed over the years we've been alive. We see things as if we were a child again. When we looked around in wonder at the miracle of life. The perception of this miracle has been dulled over the years by constant viewing. When our mind finally shifts into this "virgin" view it reboots into a larger and more empathic perception of life. It seems strange as hell but it's only a different state of consciousness. A sign on the map indicating we are moving along a right path. There is nothing irrational about mindfulness meditation. Thanks.

Mike it's very hard to know if you're talking literally or not. When you say "mindfulness short circuits suffering" what do you mean? I'm guessing that's some kind of analogy, but for what? Could you repeat that expression in a completely literal manner? What is it about "mindfulness" that actually reduces "suffering?" What do you mean by "suffering?"

What evidence do you have that mediation leads to seeing the world like a "child?" Again do you mean this literally or do you mean you see it in the manner you imagine children see it (there's obviously could be a massive difference)?

I found that your description adequately demonstrated the irrationally often associated with mediation.

By Jeremy O'Wheel (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

This is somewhat OT, but I came across a site that is supposedly about "human evolution theory utilizing concepts of neoteny & female sexual selection." My BS meter is in the red zone, and it strikes me as being another abuse/manipulation of actual Darwinian ideas, but I don't know enough about it to be sure. It also seems to be implying that Lamarkian ideas are one of Darwin's 3 theories. Umm... what? Anyway, this is it:
http://www.serpentfd.org/
I was curious to see if others here who are more educated about this had anything to say about it.

By Mnemoscene (not verified) on 17 May 2009 #permalink

We suffer because we want things to be different from reality. Instead of accepting how things really are, we keep wanting and craving change. This craving is the cause of all the suffering in the universe. Buddhism provides a method to eventually stop this craving. It's called mindfulness meditation.

Technically the kooks are right. Every hour spent in "meditation, reflection, prayer" rather than taking care of your children or having sex (to have more children) does affect one's evolutionary fitness - it reduces it.

I'm not a biologist nor am I keeping up with the literature, but I'm pretty sure we have already observed plenty of detrimental mutations ;) I'm also not a palaeontologist, but I'm guessing the fossil record may have a couple of examples also.

Nope. That's because so few living beings ever fossilize. Detrimental mutations are by definition not inherited much; their carriers die out.

http://www.serpentfd.org/

It's true that Darwin, however ironic that is in hindsight, believed in Lamarckian inheritance. The matter just hadn't been investigated enough yet (…and not enough people had considered the fact that Jews are still born with a foreskin they haven't used for, like, 3000 years or something).

However, the idea has been so thoroughly trounced in the meantime (mostly the early 20th century) that the whole page ends up being an argument from embarrassing ignorance. To keep clinging to a disproved idea is pseudoscience.

By David Marjanović, OM (not verified) on 18 May 2009 #permalink

i feel a horrible sense of unease hearing plainly intelligent people speak of meditation/mindfulness practices as hoohaa. i can understand some apprehension as meditation may conjure up thoughts of voodoo and astrology and religious bullshit.

but true meditation is not those things. meditation training brings about a completely different temperament and mind state. if you are all so purely scientific then you must concede because neuroscientific studies are proving that the brains of Buddhist monks are truly different from ours. the center of the brain which controls happiness and compassion lights up like crazy during intense meditation.

i myself used to suffer from depression. and mindfulness training taught be how to be more aware of myself and eventually a permanent sense of calm crept over me and i have not since been affected at all by depressive thoughts or anxiety...........so don't say meditation is worthless or worse silly because its not.

as we as a species continue to advance technologically we begin to have the power of greatly destroying ourselves. it is now more than ever, in this time of great scientific discovery, that we cant forget about being mindful. a mindful person is more useful than a mindless person, in any situation. and that is all meditation is. practicing to become more mindful or you and your surroundings.

there is nothing mystical, magical, holy, or superstitious about the practice of meditation, it is a practical, down to earth technique which fits extremely well into our modern day. thanks

okay im back. back because this is still a great fucking homepage. back with some hash and some beer inside of me and perhaps a clearer mind. i post these messages because i really think it is the type of person who would read a blog like this, a blog about science and the denial of irrationality, that is the type of person who could really put good meditation practice to use fir the benefit of themselves and society as a whole

Here is a quote from the founder of the Buddhist philosophy, a philosophy based on living life with humility, compassion, and mindfulness, with meditation as the indispensable tool used to do so.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

i mean fuck! common people. you all know you agree (unless you are truly a devout jew,muslim,christian etc..)

Buddhism isn't like the religion you all know of in anyway. even Richard Dawkins respects it. (read "the god delusion" he speaks of it somewhere in there)
for me Buddhism was introduced as a practical mindul tool which i could use at any time within myself to become better. i needed to become better. some people don't need to.
many live compassionate, loving, and full-fulling lives with out one single thought of meditation.

but we all know that alot of people dont live compassionate, loving, and full-filling lives at all.

probably a majority do not.

so obviously if meditation can help the majority of people and thus society/Earth then it should do so and we should all support it.

science hasn't been able to cure unhappiness, anxiety, societal restlessness, strife, WAR, nor famine. why? human nature. mediation/mindfulness is needed to override/mediate the natural human instinct (violence,fight, survival, stress.)

Buddhism and Science go together like peas in pod (is that the saying?) im saying they go hand in hand; they are compatible. there is data. there is prediction. (limited amounts of course.......... but only because the west is only starting to analyze Buddhism.

please smart people ( and i say it with love cause we are the people who have to take charge of the world. the true Mindful Secular Darwinist. we must/will win, but in doing so we must see meditation as the rational and precious ally that it is.

love

and oh yea use the herb!