Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fire Deepak Chopra!

Today on the Huffingpost, noted crazy person and charlatan Deepak Chopra has an essay pronouncing the Good News that he, finally, has found the soul. In eight pages of questionable science, bad logic, and pseudo-philosophy, Chopra and his co-author Stuart Hameroff re-package the rather worn belief that questions of metaphysics and spirituality can be solved through a rather gross misapplication of quantum physics. The whole article is really a waste of time - five of my hours, to be precise - but is interesting in its masquerading of religious beliefs as scientific theories. It actually wouldn't be worth anyone's time if it were not for the fact that ascription to this kind of tripe is widespread, and, in my opinion, a symptom of our country's greater dissatisfaction with our medical industry. As more and more Americans are let down by "conventional" medicine, more and more of them will turn to this form of New Age-ism as providing easy answers to difficult questions.

Here are a few of the most egregious claims Chopra makes, with commentary. The complete essay is here.

All Apologies.

Can Science Explain the Soul?

(Joel: Stop right there. No. The answer is no, right? Because science, by definition, must have nothing to do with matters of the soul, right?)

Redefined by the new field of quantum biology, the soul could be the link that connects individuals to the universe, a dynamic connection that could explain how consciousness came about, and why the cosmos itself seems to mirror our own intelligence and creativity.

(Wait, I need to hypothesize the existence of the soul in order to explain my connection to the universe? Damn! That's why I haven't been able to move or touch things or communicate with other people! And maybe the cosmos mirrors your intelligence and creativity. If it mirrored mine, there would be way more Dino-Riders.)

Unable to fathom a rational explanation for out-of-body and/or after-death consciousness, modern science ignores such reports. (Boo! Modern Science! Boo!) Short-sighted skeptics reinforce the assumption that they are either subjective folly, hallucinations, or outside the scope of scientific proof.

(They are hallucinations. If by "hallucination" you mean "the perception of objects with no physical reality usually caused by a disorder of the nervous system." Also: Boo! Skeptical scientists and their need for "proof"! Boo!)

The central weakness here is that modern science can't explain normal, in-the-brain consciousness. (Really? It can't? Despite detailed understanding of neuronal firings and synaptic transmissions mediating non-conscious, 'auto-pilot' perception and behaviors, there is no accounting for conscious awareness, free will or 'qualia' (QUALIA!) -- the essence of experienced perceptions, like the redness, texture and fragrance of a rose. Philosopher David Chalmers refers to this as the 'hard problem' -- explaining qualia and the subjective nature of feelings, awareness, and phenomenal experience, -- our 'inner life'.

(Yes, this is the Cartesian challenge, the foundation of Modern Western Philosophy. And here is a list of great thinkers who have provided non-magic based solutions to this problem: Kant, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, William James, J.L. Austin, G.E. Moore, Richard Rorty, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)

It seems there's an edge, or boundary between two phases of reality -- the quantum and classical worlds, and that consciousness may have something to do with that edge, also known as 'quantum state reduction', or 'collapse of the quantum wave function.'

(A red flag immediately goes up at "two phases of reality... quantum and classical." This is playing with language, not putting forward scientific statements. Everyone knows that physics operates differently when dealing with very small objects (atoms) or very large objects (stars). But this does not lead to the claim of there existing "two phases of reality." It is an entirely unnecessary jump that violates scientific method and, if we make it, it makes us believe that there must be a soul, or something to solve this problem of the duality of mind and body. It's probably in the pineal gland.)

What is the universe composed of? (Facts, not things.) If we were to shrink in size, smaller and smaller, we would see that atoms are mostly empty, as is the space between them. If we shrink smaller and smaller, (Heelllllpppp meeeeeee.....) 25 orders of magnitude smaller than atoms, we would eventually come to Planck scale geometry, laden with information and patterns around the Planck length of 10 to the minus 33rd power centimeters. Descriptions of Planck scale geometry include quantum gravity, spin networks, twistor theory and string theory. Which of these is correct remains unknown.

(Oh, really? Because they're all impossible to test? And therefore not scientifically valid?)

But we do know that Planck scale information is down there. And despite the vast difference in scale, it can influence our world, as spacetime is organized like a hologram, or fractal, with information repeating nonlocally and at different scales. (We can't describe it, we don't know anything about it, but we know it must exist, and it can influence our "world." Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: the monad.)

Penrose and Hameroff (This essay's co-author.) published several papers on Orch OR in the mid 1990s, prompting near-immediate skeptical rebuke from many directions, having offended computer/artificial intelligence proponents, neuroscientists, philosophers and physicists alike.

(From which we must "conclude" that there is a massive conspiracy to keep the truth hidden from the masses, right Mulder?)

Clinical studies of patients who survive cardiac arrest have revealed consistent reports of so-called near death experiences (NDEs), white light, being in a tunnel, serene calm, life review and in some cases out-of-body experiences (BOOBs). Many people report similar phenomena unrelated to cardiac arrest, e.g. associated with meditation, psychological trauma, drugs, or straightforward life events.

(All of these are interesting events that can be explained through non-"quantum" science. In fact, if you want to explain psychological trauma, it is much, much more useful to the patient to deal with this on a real, social, human level. Telling him that his trauma is due to his personal connection to quantum reality through infinitely small particles in his brain not only violates Occam's Razor, but is also unethical and dangerous.)

Conventional science rejects the possibility of an afterlife.

Could consciousness exist outside the body after death?
(I don't know. Do green ideas sleep furiously?)

When the blood stops flowing and metabolic energy can no longer drive microtubule quantum coherence, (It's like I'm in an episode of Star-Trek...) quantum information relating to the subject's conscious experience and memory isn't necessarily lost or destroyed, but may dissipate to the universe at large, remaining entangled as a unified soul-like entity grounded in Planck scale geometry. (Woah slow down there, chief... is it "The Soul" or merely "a soul-like entity"? Get your pseudo-terminology straight, man.) If the body is resuscitated, the quantum information can return, and the subject may report an NDE or BOOB experience. If the body is not resuscitated and the patient dies, the entangled quantum information constituting the subject's consciousness and memory may persist in spacetime geometry, perhaps entering an embryo in the context of reincarnation. (Perhaps. Or maybe it just goes to that never-ending party in the sky.)

Science attempts to explore the ocean of consciousness from the outside. That is, the universe is taken to be 'out there', divorced from subjective experience and therefore measurable without personal bias. But if the brain is connected to the universe at the quantum level, the distinction between subjective and objective experience, between 'in here' and 'out there' no longer holds. The spacetime geometry configuration of the observed world is reproduced in the brain. Again, the Beatles said it well: 'Your inside is out, and your outside is in. Your outside is in, and your inside is out.'

(Yup, that's right. The only cited source in this entire spiel is The White Album. He even fails to mention that that Beatles quote is from "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey." Oh, the irony. )

We two authors (SH and DC) differ slightly with regard to the ocean of consciousness, and the subject/object split.

(LOL. "No, you can balance an infinite number of angels on the head of a pin!" "You fool! Everyone knows that the divine mathematics dictates that the number must be equal to infinity plus one!" )

These proposals are testable, and falsifiable. (No they're not.) We welcome critical analysis. (Here ya go.)


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