Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Deepak Chopra 'debunks' The God Delusion - Part V

I've already shown my contempt for Chopra's ability to think, and he continues his irrational diatribe in Part V of his debunking of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I'm sure he thinks he's being clever, but the strawmen keep coming. In this installment, he attempts to attack what he believes is part of Dawkins' position:

Consciousness is a byproduct of matter.

No, consciousness is an evolutionary development. Yes, matter is required, but so is organization. Evolution gives a perfectly good explanation of the development of consciousness.

In his attempt to refute this, he comes up with a thought experiment: "Think of a yellow flower. Can you see it? If so, then the experiment has been successfully completed. When you see a flower in your mind, there is no flower inside your brain. That seems simple enough. But where is that flower? There's no picture of it in your brain, because your brain contains no light. How about the color yellow? Is there a patch of yellow inside your brain? Obviously not."

Now, even Einstein's thought experiment required a great deal of empirical confirmation before acceptance, even for himself. This is something that Chopra is mistaken about: ideas require verification. So, let's look at his thought experiment. You think of a yellow flower. The thought of yellow causes us to access memory associated with the visual cortex, as does the thought of a flower. We can see such things using something called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Experiments using fMRI study how the brain does exactly these things. When you think of yellow, certain parts of the brain start working and increase blood flow in these regions, clearing deoxyhemoglobin. This causes an increase in image intensity in those reasons from a resting state. How does Chopra's position explain this? It doesn't. Nor does it explain personality changes due to damage of the frontal cortex, the effects of single gene disorders such as schizophrenia, or a host of other brain disorders. The evidence that to Chopra doesn't even exist just does not bear out his position. Chopra's ideas are intellectually bankrupt.

Another strawman approacheth: "Yet you assume--as do all who fall for the superstition of materialism--that flowers and the color yellow exist 'out there' in the world. In fact, they do not. The entire experience of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell is created in consciousness. Molecules don't assemble in your head to make the sound of a trumpet blaring in a brass band. The brain is silent. So where does the world of sights and sounds come from?" It seems to me that Chopra's view of materialism is rather glib. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't it materialism that tells us from empirical observation exactly how seeing yellow works? Oh, wait. Deepak has the answer: it's some woo-woo mystical unsubstantiated hypothetical crap that doesn't tell us anything at all about HOW we see or hear or think. Good theory, Deepak. Utterly devoid of any substance. Talk about anti-materialistic.

According to Chopra, "Materialists cannot offer any reasonable explanation. The fact is that an enormous gap exists between any physical, measurable event and our perception. If I talk to you, all I am doing is vibrating air with my vocal cords. Every aspect of that event can be seen and measured. But turning those vibrating air molecules into meaningful words has never been seen or measured. It can't be." As before, he posits a God of the Gaps. Again, we can see the effects of the brain converting these vibrations into something meaningful, as much as one can understand Chopra's inanity. fMRI and PET can do exactly what he says "can't be". At least we can model consciousness, then experiment to verify and update our model. What Chopra offers is vacuous. And this is just a beginning in our understanding the mind. As PZ Meyers has observed, the next attack on theism will come from neuroscience.

What he says here is inexplicable: "When you get to the primal state of the universe, what is it? A universal field that encloses all matter and energy. This field is everywhere, but it also localizes itself. A molecule in the brain is one expression of the field, so is a thought. The field turns out to be the common ground of both the inner and outer world. When Einstein said that he wanted to know the mind of God, he was pointing us toward the field, which science continues to explore." This is just spiritual gobbledygook. And people wonder why I equate spirituality with flakiness? I'd like to know where in Physics this universal field is defined. Without any basis other than his own flaky prejudice he defines a thought as something that exists in the same way that a molecule does. He has just contradicted himself. In the same way that a molecule can be detected, it follows from his beliefs that an idea should similarly be observed. He is completely inconsistent. Inner and outer worlds? What are they? Einstein was not pointing toward some nonexistent field, he was trying to understand how the universe works! His was a wholly a materialistic position.

"Fortunately, as the two rivers begin to merge, we won't be plagued by either the superstition of religion or the superstition of materialism. We will begin to link brain and mind through new concepts that will explain how the color yellow exists in our brain as the same phenomenon as a yellow flower in the meadow. Both are experiences in consciousness." Oh, goodness. Talk about superstitious. The way in which we see a yellow flower in a meadow has nothing to do with how we envision a yellow flower in our mind. The first has to do with the interaction between matter and light. The pigment in the flower petal absorbs certain wavelengths and reflects those which form what we know as yellow. These are detected on the retina, converted to nerve impulses and transmitted to the brain. These impulses are stored until accessed. Thinking about a yellow flower accesses the memories that are stored; the color yellow in one place and the flower form in another. Interestingly, the regions that light up in fMRI images are the same for accessing a yellow flower memory as they are for viewing one. To invoke voodoo as Chopra does is unjustified. Indeed, his position is utterly destroyed by materialism and show to be one born purely from prejudice.

"That covers the basic and I think most convincing refutation of the anti-God argument. It doesn't prove God by any means, much less does it degrade science. The damage that anti-God rhetoric does is to cloud reality. In reality there is ample room for both God and science. Many forward-looking thinkers realize this; sadly, Richard Dawkins isn't among them." His arguments so far have not convinced me of anything. If anything, they have caused me to disrespect his position even more. He cherry picks what he wants from Science and twists it till it hardly resembles the idea it originated as. For instance, his use of quantum entanglement to support his position that there are things unexplained by materialism, even though it has been thoroughly explained. He is either a bald-faced liar or a deluded charlatan (or a little from column A and a little from column B). Either way his ideas shouldn't be given the time of day. I am in Dawkins' camp when it comes to Science and God. You can not be intellectually honest as a scientist and still believe in a deity. God, even in Chopra's nebulously defined version, is a result of unquestioned and unfalsifiable dogma. This is anathema to Science. Those that straddle the fence wind up intellectually emasculated.

Tomorrow's final installment is where he attempts to denounce Evolution. What a laugh.

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