Thursday, December 21, 2006

Deepak Chopra: One of those 'crystal wearing freaks in need of a smack'

I don't know that Chopra is into crystals, but I couldn't resist using that great line from MC Hawking's "What We Need More of is Science." I'd heard of Deepak Chopra, but never gave him much thought till I came across a blog at one of my favorite Science blogs, Pharyngula. I followed the link to see more and was appalled by the lack of understanding, misinformation and just downright inanity I read. Let's get started with the punting, shall we?

"There's a sense of crisis in the air over the notion that reason itself is in jeopardy. The attack on reason is coming primarily from religious extremists, but the whole ethos of fundamentalism is seen as irrational. So the alarm goes out to defend science and push back unreason. This urgent call is supposed to salvage future progress for humanity and defeat the wave of barbarity that travels under the name of terrorism. But how can anyone seriously defend science as a panacea when it gave us the atomic bomb?" Interesting. Just who is it that espouses Science as such a thing? Science is a way of viewing the world to find out how it works. A toolbox, if you will. Nothing more. If you are looking for moral and ethical guidance, Science offers none. Look elsewhere. (May I suggest "secular humanism"?)

"Rationality is creating new methods of mechanized death every year. The future being planned by so-called rationalists includes robot armies and neutron bombs that can kill every enemy combatant--or civilian population--while leaving their buildings standing." I reiterate: Science is amoral. Rationality has never caused anyone to strap on a bomb with the intent to kill and maim. It is ideology, whether religious or political, which does this. And someone should take Deepak's collection of fifties sci-fi movies away from him.

" Reason isn't the savior of the future. That role belongs to wisdom." Huh? Someone wanna tell me how you can separate wisdom and reason? Or how wisdom can be applied without reason? Sounds to me if his personal philosophy is a little underdone and should go back into the oven.

" For at least two thousand years, our evolution has shifted to the following:
--We assimilate new information and evolve mentally.
--We don't evolve physically (except to grow healthier and live longer) but instead use technology to extend our physical limitations and gain more power over Nature.
--We gain a higher vision of ourselves and evolve spiritually." Arrgh! Another Science education-deficient idiot savant! Spiritual growth is not evolution! And yes, we are continuing to evolve physically! The difference now is that we are creating some of the natural selection pressures ourselves. He clearly has NO IDEA of what he's talking about here.

"Arch materialists like Richard Dawkins, despite an expertise in evolutionary biology, miss the whole point of human evolution, which is that it long ago broke out of the prison of physicality. True, modern athletes are stronger, bigger, faster, and more accomplished than those of the past, but this doesn't affect anyone's survival the way becoming a bigger, stronger, faster gazelle would." Again, Chopra shows his embarrassing lack of understanding of what evolution is. This was written by someone who thinks he knows what Evolution is, but has failed to grasp the concept entirely. And no, Richard Dawkins does not miss the point about human evolution. You do, Chopra. In fact, you miss the whole point of what evolution is: there is no point.
There is no end purpose, no guiding mentality. Modern athletes are bigger, stronger and faster mainly because they train. True, their genes give them an edge over the likes of (presumably) you and me, but it doesn't happen through an individual's lifetime, as he seems to think. Stupid and ridiculous. Someone give Deepak a copy of 'Evolution for Dummies' for Xmas please.

"Taking all factors together, humans evolve through the metabolism of experience. That is, we absorb everything going on in our environment, and in some rather mysterious ways, the next generation knows more and can do more than we can. I am not being mystical here. When Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, Bertrand Russell famously said that he was one of three people in the world who understood it. Now a bright high school student can grasp Einstein's principles, if not his mathematics." "Metabolism of experience"? Just what the hell is that? Why do spiritualists like to use fancy terminology in their attempts to express ideas, yet fail miserably because the terms are so nebulous as to completely obscure all meaning? Could you spiritualist folk please talk plainly without the mumbo-jumbo? We in Science use jargon, it's true, but each term has a very well-defined meaning, not something that sounds like it was pulled from the posterior. If we didn't, journal articles would be books and even more boring to read than they are now.

As I continue to read this I am getting more and more irate. He's not being mystical? He is suggesting that the Gaia hypothesis is responsible for a high schooler's understanding of Relativity in all but name! I think a simpler explanation might be that after a small number of people study and understand the implications of new and revolutionary ideas like Relativity, the concepts can distilled into simpler, more intuitive forms that others can grasp. This is dissemination of information, NOT evolution.

"The same holds true for today's five-year-olds who can navigate through a computer better and faster than many adults of an older generation. We assimilate difficulties, solve them, and move on to a new future as more evolved humans. The evolution of the wisest holds that this cannot be a random process." Yes, it is not random, but it isn't due to some mystical bullshit either. Children are exposed to technologies at a young age, so of course they will be able to handle technologies at a younger age. These are their formative years. But the same type of problems that you have with computers, Deepak, will happen to them with some other new gadgetry. What time is it at Deepak's house? "12 o'clock! 12 o'clock! 12 o'clock!...."

"When asked if he found the cathedrals of Europe inspiring, Mark Twain answered to the effect that the architects forgot to build inspiring people to go in them. We risk leaving the same legacy to the future. What will save us is self-awareness, the key to evolution of the wisest."
Wait a minute... Evolution of the wisest? What the....? Is Chokra thinking that evolution can be hijacked in any manner that he sees fit? Get a grip, Deepak. Evolution doesn't work that way. Evolution doesn't care about you, your beliefs or (and especially) your views on what path it should take. Cold and indifferent, but that's just the way the universe is. And, by the way, most members of H. sapiens are already self-aware. So what the hell does that mean? He promises to talk about that in a future post. I await with bated breath...

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