Just like I thought after reading only four of the nineteen debates between spiritually-minded new age sage Deepak Chopra and scientifically-minded physicist Leonard Mlodinow in their book, "War of the Worldviews," I finished the final chapter feeling that science emerged the decisive victor.
Understand: I've got a lot of sympathy for mysticism, meditation, and unconventional ways of viewing the cosmos. I don't believe that science has all the answers, because I don't believe that anybody does.
But I've always liked my "spirituality" (a term that doesn't mean to me what it used to, yet which I continue to use out of habit) to be based on something more than blind faith. And that's what Chopra mostly offers on his side of the debate.
Reading this highly interesting book lowered my respect for Deepak Chopra quite a bit. I don't know whether Chopra has gotten more preachy and irrational over the years, or whether I've become less accepting of those qualities.
Regardless, there was nothing in the final Epilogue to make me change my earlier conclusion about Chopra's inanity. Worse, he isn't just innocently inane; to me he seemed maliciously inane. Chopra appeared set on misrepresenting Mlodinow's pro-science position, not just on refuting it.
For example, Chopra wrote:
Science shouldn't be the enemy of the inner journey, and I feel disheartened if Leonard believes that his view of a "higher authority" forbids inner exploration, as if table rapping in a Victorian seance should be our model for spirituality.
...Ordinary people aren't going to give up emotions and inspiration just because science sniffs at subjectivity.
...One must be decisive here: a world ruled completely by science would be hell on earth. Being wedded to rational thought is acceptable inside the lab, but once science ventures to dismantle faith, striving, love, free will, imagination, emotion, and the higher self as so many illusions cooked up in our fallible brain, a rescue effort must be mounted, and quickly.
Well, Deepak, I'll be equally decisive. You're spouting bullshit. Deeply irritating bullshit. Bullshit that has no basis in reality, like so much else of your supernatural worldview.
Here's some of what Leonard Moldinow actually said in his own Epilogue contribution, which is far removed from Chopra's nonsensical claim that science rejects human subjectivity, emotions, and such:
Even the materialism that Deepak tells us science holds sacred has been altered as our knowledge of the universe has increased. At first science considered only visible, palpable objects as real; then science grew to accept intangible force fields, unseen atoms, and even unseeable quarks. Science is open to accepting new truths. What it resists is accepting untruths.
...Science is open-minded because it has no agenda. ...As a scientist I cannot let the way I want the world to be drive my apprehension of the way the world is.
...I'm not saying that science has all the answers. Consciousness lies at the heart of Deepak's worldview. It is also science's last frontier. ...Still, there is no reason to believe that consciousness won't be explained. We need not jump the gun and accept that its explanation lies in some unphysical realm.
...When I talk to other scientists about the possibility of identifying a phenomenon that pokes a hole in our current theories, the most common response I hear is a desire for such an anomaly to occur. For while metaphysics is fixed and guided by personal belief and wish fulfillment, science progresses and is is inspired by the excitement of discovery. The scientist's dream is to make new discoveries, especially when they mean that established theories must be revised.
...I've argued for a worldview grounded in observation and evidence, and I've argued that such a viewpoint need not deny the richness of the human spirit, or the wonder of the universe.
...Science may never have all the answers, but it will never stop looking for them, and it will never take the easy way as it continues on its search for understanding.
Count me in, Leonard. I'm with you.
Deepak Chopra continually quotes religious figures of the past. His worldview, as Mlodinow notes, is fixed. Chopra is convinced that thousands of years ago whoever wrote the Upanishads and other classic Indian writings was privy to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
So if modern scientific findings differ from what those ancient sages proclaimed, then, gosh, science must be wrong. Chopra offered up exceedingly slim scientific evidence to bolster his faith-based proclamations about the primacy of consciousness and purpose in the universe.
Mostly he resorted to bad-mouthing the scientific method, even though Chopra doesn't seem to understand it very well. Chopra also habitually leaned on arguments that superficially sounded appealing, yet didn't have any depth or strength to them.
Events can be deceiving, and discovering their true explanations often isn't easy. The emergence of galaxies, stars, and people from chaos can appear, like tables apparently moving by themselves, to demand some supernatural explanation.
When philosophizing one can talk freely about unseen realms, invisible realities, and organizing forces that guide evolution. One can illustrate the ideas with stories and anecdotes, and argue by analogy. One can use everyday language, with its pitfalls of vagueness, and terms with multiple meanings.
One can pepper one's prose with satisfying terms like "love" and "purpose." One can even appeal to ancient sages and texts. These arguments may seem attractive. But science answers to a higher authority -- the way Nature actually works.
Me, I'll take actual over imaginary any time. That said, there's nothing wrong with imagination, so long as we recognize the difference between imaginings that are only inside our head, and those which supposedly reflect how the world works.
We're free to have all sorts of crazy subjective notions, but these shouldn't be mistaken for the reality beyond the confines of our cranium. Such is the basic difference between spirituality and science.
I have a number of physicist friends. All of them (and I) hope that the LHC does NOT discover the Higgs-Boson which would require physicists to re-invent Quantum Mechanics. And they're all ecstatic over the idea that neutrinos have been caught speeding in a 300,000,000 mps zone, which would violate Einstein's primary premise.
I don't know one Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Jew who is excited about the possibility that their fundamental beliefs are shown to be false. I have, on the other hand, watched quite a few Buddhists get squirmy when I suggest even the possibility that a permanent and instantaneous shift in awareness to one where there is no longer any experience of suffering is (usually called "enlightenment"), most likely, a myth... or a sign of a particular type of stroke.
Posted by: Steven Sashen | October 26, 2011 at 10:25 PM
We could define "suffering" as having nothing but theories upon which to act, and not suffering as relying as much on sensitivity and intuition as rational thought. Jus' sayin'.
Posted by: cc | October 27, 2011 at 09:32 AM