Monday, December 28, 2009


Blazing Irony


Deepak Chopra accusing Michael Shermer of "bad science"!

That could cause third degree irony burns.

[W]e have reached the state where Shermer's tired, out-of-date, utterly mediocre science is far in arrears of the best, most open scientific thinkers -- actually, we reached that point sixty years ago when eminent physicists like Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger applied quantum theory to deep spiritual questions. The arrogance of skeptics is both high-handed and rusty. It is high-handed because they lump brilliant speculative thinkers into one black box known as woo woo. It is rusty because Shermer doesn't even bother to keep up with the latest findings in neuroscience, medicine, genetics, physics, and evolutionary biology. All of these fields have opened fascinating new ground for speculation and imagination. But the king of pooh-pooh is too busy chasing down imaginary woo woo.

Skeptics feel that they have won the high ground in matters concerning consciousness, mind, the origins of life, evolutionary theory, and brain science. This is far from the case. What they cling to is nineteenth- century materialism, packaged with a screeching hysteria about God and religion that is so passé it has become quaint. To suggest that Darwinian theory is incomplete and full of unproven hypotheses, causes Shermer, who takes Darwin as purely as a fundamentalist takes scripture, to see God everywhere in the enemy camp.

Umm ... science does not include the philosophical musings of people, no matter how famous a scientist they may be. And quote mining scientists doesn't make woo any less woo than it started out.

Chopra has a deep and, no doubt, abiding, misunderstanding of what science is. No matter how much Chopra likes to use the latest findings of science as springboards for his "speculation and imagination," the fact that he is using science as the starting point (to the extent he understands the science at all) does not change the character of his babbling into something other than rank speculation and fuzzy imagination.

That point is well made in the quote Chopra closes with, supposedly from Sir John Maddox, former editor-in-chief of Nature, writing in 1999:

Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free. What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally puzzling. Despite the marvelous success of neuroscience in the past century, we seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century ago.

Assuming the quote is in context and accurate, it says nothing more than "we haven't figured it out yet." It took humans a long time to figure out how stars shine and living organisms adapt; what atoms are and how old the Earth is. The "speculation and imagination" used to answer those questions before science could determine them were all wrong and there is no reason to think Chopra is any more right when he taps into his woo state.

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