Still Crazy After All These Years

There are time when you want to say, “What are these guys still doing here. Isn’t this the 21st century.”

Deepak Chopra, from Wikipedia

What brought this up is an item in Forbes about Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra Gets Upset, Tries The Harvard Gambit

Deepak Chopra is upset.

Why? Well, it all goes back to statements like this one, from Chopra himself:

“Consciousness may exist in photons, which seem to be the carrier of all information in the universe.”

Chopra is upset that evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne pointed out how absurd this statement is. More specifically, Coyne wrote that:

“[Chopra’s] lucrative brand of woo is finally exposed as a lot of scientifically-sounding psychobabble.”

Coyne was wasting his breath. Rather his ink. Rather Internet bandwidth. Psychobabble is what Deepak Chopra is all about. For example:

Deepak Chopra Claims He Caused Baja Quake by Meditating

Deepak Chopra, woo guru extraordinaire, accepted blame for the 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Baja California via Twitter. Seriously.

Tweeted this twit to his 179,000 followers:

Had a powerful meditation just now – caused an earthquake in Southern California.
3:56 PM Apr 4th via TweetDeck

Was meditating on Shiva mantra & earth began to shake. Sorry about that
3:59 PM Apr 4th via TweetDeck

Om Shanti
4:11 PM Apr 4th via TweetDeck

@Whitemoon7 Wont do it again–promise
4:22 PM Apr 4th via TweetDeck in reply to Whitemoon7

Speaking of twits!

Deepak Chopra; born October 22, 1947, is an Indian-American author, physician, holistic health/New Age guru, and alternative medicine practitioner. Chopra began a mainstream medical career in hospitals and universities in the Northeastern United States, becoming Chief of Staff at the New England Memorial Hospital (NEMH). In 1985, Chopra met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who invited him to study Ayurveda. Chopra left his position at the NEMH and became the founding president of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, and was later named medical director of the Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center.

For the uninitiated:

Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine is a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and a form of alternative medicine. The oldest known ayurvedic texts are the Suśrutha Saṃhitā and the Charaka Saṃhitā. These Classical Sanskrit texts are among the foundational and formally compiled works of ayurveda.

By the medieval period, ayurvedic practitioners developed a number of medicinal preparations and surgical procedures for the treatment of various ailments. Current practices derived (or reportedly derived) from ayurvedic medicine are regarded as part of complementary and alternative medicine, and, along with siddha and Traditional Chinese medicine, form the basis for systems medicine.

Safety concerns have been raised about Ayurveda; for instance, two US studies found that about 20 percent of Ayurvedic US and Indian-manufactured patent medicines sold via internet contained toxic levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Other concerns include the use of herbs containing toxic compounds and the lack of quality control in Ayurvedic facilities. Mostly Ayurvedic products are not approved by US Food and Drug Administration. There is an import alert on some Ayurvedic medicines issued by US FDA since 2007 which prevents these products entering the US.

Chopra’s credentials in modern woo are well-earned. A follow-up from Wikipedia details this:

Chopra coined the term quantum healing to invoke the idea of a process whereby a person’s health “imbalance” is corrected by quantum mechanical means. Chopra claimed that quantum phenomena are responsible for health and wellbeing. He has attempted to integrate Ayurveda, a traditional Indian system of medicine, with quantum mechanics, in order to justify his teachings. According to Robert Carroll, he “charges $25,000 per lecture performance, where he spouts a few platitudes and gives spiritual advice while warning against the ill effects of materialism.”

Chopra has equated spontaneous remission in cancer to a change in quantum state, corresponding to a jump to “a new level of consciousness that prohibits the existence of cancer”. Physics professor Robert L. Park has written that physicists “wince” at the “New Age quackery” in Chopra’s cancer theories, and characterizes them as a cruel fiction, since adopting this view in place of effective treatment risks compounding the ill-effects of the disease with guilt, and might rule out the prospect of getting a genuine cure.

Chopra’s claims of quantum healing have attracted controversy due to what has been described as a “systematic misinterpretation” of modern physics. Chopra’s connections between quantum mechanics and alternative medicine are widely regarded in the scientific community as being invalid, but nevertheless have a number of followers. The main criticism revolves around the fact that macroscopic objects are too large to exhibit inherently quantum properties like interference and wave function collapse. Most literature on quantum healing is almost entirely philosophical, omitting the rigorous mathematics that makes quantum electrodynamics possible.

Jerry Coyne’s principal remarks were about another curiosity from the world of make believe:

Pseudoscientist Rupert Sheldrake Is Not Being Persecuted, And Is Not Like Galileo

Rupert Sheldrake is a pseudoscientist who has made his name promoting various kinds of woo, including telepathy (including in dogs!), immaterial minds, and his crazy idea of “morphic resonance,” a Jung-ian theory in which all of nature participates in some giant collective memory. (He was once a real scientist, trained in biochemistry and cell biology at Cambridge, but somewhere went off the rails.)

Many of you might know of Sheldrake. He enjoys a certain popularity in the US and UK among those who think that there must be “something more out there”—with “more” meaning psychic phenomena. I don’t really understand a penchant for things that aren’t supported by evidence, but that’s probably a failure of empathy on my part—as well as a product of my scientific training to doubt. I am sure, though, that some of the same psychological tendencies that promote sympathy for woo also promote sympathy for religion.

I first touched bases with Rupert Sheldrake in 1998 after he appeared on PBS TV on a program called “A Glorious Accident.” I followed up and wrote an item for The North Texas Skeptic and eventually acquired a number of Sheldrake’s books. A remarkable idea that Sheldrake promotes is morphic resonance and morphogenetic fields. Here’s a diagram that attempts to explain how morphogenetic fields relate to biological heredity:

In the lower row the genes, in the DNA, carry the code for constructing the physical child from generation to generation. The genes pass information to the morphogenetic field (third row), but nothing passes from the morphogenetic field back to the genes. The morphogenetic field receives information from the organism (top row) and from environmental influences (second row). The morphogenetic field also passes information to the organism. Morphogenetic fields of an organism pass information from generation to generation, just as the genes do. The information passed along by the morphogenetic fields encodes the memories of the past that Sheldrake alludes to.

Coyne continues:

Sheldrake and his supporters always defend themselves as beleaguered scientists whose correct theories are unfairly attacked or neglected because they buck the current “materialistic paradigm.” That is, he thinks himself an unrecognized genius, persecuted like Galileo. The proper answer to this is given on the NeuroLogica website:

The definitive assessment of this comparison comes from the original version of the movie, “Bedazzled.” Dudley Moore’s character calls Satan a nutcase (for claiming to be Satan), and Satan replies, “They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud and Galileo.” Moore then replies, “They said it of a lot of nutcases too.”

Some of Sheldrake’s big ideas are outlined in his book Seven Experiments That Could Change the World: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Revolutionary Science. A couple of these ideas would make for interesting tests of the paranormal. One claim is that people can tell when they are being stared at. It would be straight-forward to test this—just have somebody sit quietly in a chair and either stare at them from behind or not. If they can reliably tell when somebody is looking, then Sheldrake’s case is proved. If not, then I am sure that Sheldrake can come up with an excuse why not.

Another idea of Sheldrake’s is  that dogs can tell when their master is coming home. This doesn’t mean when their master is about to put the key in the lock, but when he’s at his desk in the office and decides it’s time to grab his jacket.

Sheldrake asserts he has reliable evidence for all of these claims,  but my own examination of his writing leads me to believe he sets a low standard for experimental proof.

Finally, I just checked, and it really is the 21st century already, and these two are still around. Remarkably, I am not saddened by this. Were it not for Chopra and Sheldrake, we would have to invent them if for no other reason than to brighten our days with their delightful antics. Too bad, though, about all the millions who hang on the pontifications of these marvelous twits. There may be no hope for them.

2 thoughts on “Still Crazy After All These Years

  1. Pingback: Whole Cloth | Skeptical Analysis

  2. Pingback: Abusing Science | Skeptical Analysis

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