Like I said before, I'm enjoying the series of mini-debates between Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow in "War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality." Now that I'm more than halfway through the book, it's more obvious than ever that Mlodinow is kicking Chopra's intellectual/philosophical butt.
Here's a non-verbal depiction of my reaction to Deepak Chopra's New Age'y, mostly fact-free arguments on some Big Questions of Life. This photo is of the second page in Chopra's eight page answer to "Does the Brain Dictate Behavior?"
Those are nine -- count them, nine -- marginal question marks that I highlighted in on a single page of Chopra's attempt to convince readers that the human mind is the non-physical hidden controller of the physical brain.
On the previous page, I penned in three words that summarize both my overall take on the mind/brain connection, and that of modern neuroscience: We are us. I wrote that in a mental-pressure relieving attempt to keep my head from exploding after reading this bit of Chopra inanity:
Spirituality is about widening your choices. Science can aid in this project or hold it back. It aids by giving us control over mechanical switches, whether they are in the brain or in our genes. It holds back the project when it insists that our brains or genes control us. No issue is more critical because ultimately there is only one master, either you or the mechanisms built into your body.
About three hundred and fifty years have passed since Descartes posited a strict mind-body dualism, and Chopra is still spouting the "spirit is separate from matter" party line. Of course, the Indian philosophy that forms the foundation of Chopra's worldview is much older than that -- and equally discredited by science.
Understand: not long ago I also was a true believer in mind (or soul)/ body (or brain) dualism.
So when I question Deepak Chopra's perspective on the cosmos I'm also questioning the "me" who I used to be. I guess this gives me an edge in critiquing Chopra's arguments, because I know them from the inside out, so to speak.
Again, the core issue is what I said above: We are us.
There simply is no evidence that I am something different from the body/brain which others see when they look at me. Sure, I (like you) can feel that my consciousness springs from some supernatural realm, that my true nature is ethereal soul or spirit, that no matter what happens to my brain my eternal essence will live on unchanged.
The problem is, feelings are a lousy guide to reality.
Feelings are fine when it comes to love, art, walks on the beach, laughing at a TV show -- really, the entire subjective side of human life. Science, though, is our most effective means of understanding the objective aspect of reality, truths which are true not just for me or you, but for everybody.
And one of these truths is that the mind is what the brain does. Interestingly, oneness is the philosophical core of neuroscience, whereas Deepak Chopra's spirituality is thoroughly dualistic. Neuroscience doesn't make a distinction between mind and body, as Chopra does.
Here's how physicist Leonard Mlodinow convincingly demolishes Chopra in his own take on the question, "Does the Brain Dictate Behavior?"
Deepak compares the neurons in our brain to a piano, and our conscious mind to the music it plays. In this view, consciousness is expressed by our physical brain just as musical notes are brought to life by a physical piano. Deepak says, "You can't play 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' on a piano without a piano... But if someone told you that the piano composed 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,' the statement would make no sense."
That is true. But if somebody told you that "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was composed in an immaterial realm of universal consciousness, that would also sound illogical -- and that, if you follow Deepak's analogy, is the alternative he offers.
Let's not be misled by analogies. While both viewpoints -- that consciousness comes from an outside realm, and that it arises within the brain itself -- are admittedly challenging, the way to make progress in elucidating the connection between mind and brain is to examine the brain, and see how much of what we do and feel can be accounted for by its actions.
...But when one looks at the brain, one does find that there is plenty of evidence to indicate that the brain is the source of consciousness... We cannot transcend the workings of the physical brain.
I wish we could. I wish my consciousness could sail out of my body when I die and live on in some spiritual plane of existence. I wish superpowers could be mine, unfettered by bodily limitations.
Yet I also wish... for reality. For truth. For facing life honestly. So I have to part company with Deepak Chopra, who says, in a wishing sort of way:
The human brain, like the universe itself, delivers whatever you expect it to, in accordance with your deepest beliefs. So why not believe that your brain can deliver mastery?
Because beliefs aren't reality. Imagination isn't the same as the way things are. What we want isn't identical with what we get. New Age platitudes crumble beneath the weight of observation, experience, and experiment.