All posts by Deepak Chopra

About Deepak Chopra

Time Magazine heralded Deepak Chopra as one of the 100 heroes and icons of the century, and credited him as "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Entertainment Weekly described Deepak Chopra as "Hollywood's man of the moment, one of publishing's best-selling and most prolific self-help authors." He is the author of more than 50 books and more than 100 audio, video and CD-Rom titles. He has been published on every continent and in dozens of languages. Fifteen of his books have landed on the New York Times Best-seller list. Toastmaster International recognized him as one of the top five outstanding speakers in the world. Through his over two decades of work since leaving his medical practice, Deepak continues to revolutionize common wisdom about the crucial connection between body, mind, spirit, and healing. His mission of "bridging the technological miracles of the west with the wisdom of the east" remains his thrust and provides the basis for his recognition as one of India's historically greatest ambassadors to the west. Chopra has been a keynote speaker at several academic institutions including Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Divinity School, Kellogg School of Management, Stanford Business School and Wharton.His latest book is "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul."

Our Intent: Better Ways to Approach Pain, and America’s Pain-Pill Epidemic

And I swear you're just like a pill Instead of makin me better, you keep makin me ill You keep makin me ill

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, and P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

You may have noticed headlines about the rise of prescription drugs as a major cause of addiction and death by overdose. Pain pills are overshadowed by illegal drugs like heroin and their dangers masked by a certain air of respectability. Yet America is in the midst of an epidemic of painkiller overuse as well as addiction. As a nation we constitute only about 5% of the world’s population, but we consume some 80% of the prescription drugs called opioids, the strongest and most addictive pain pills, that go by names like Vicodin, OxyContin, Dilaudid, codeine, and Percocet. We consume 99% of the global supply of a particular opioid called hydrocodone, which is used in combination with other drugs for pain relief but also cough suppression. In 2014 the FDA approved a new version of a pure hydrocodone despite the objections of its own medical advisory panel (which voted 12 to 2 against approval) and 30 states. Today opioid overdose deaths (one every 30 minutes) exceed deaths from motor vehicle accidents as well as the combined total of deaths by heroin or cocaine overdose.

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The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism (Part 4)

resilience-1Click here for part 3

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Jordan Flesher, BA Psychology

Most of us take perception for granted as a photograph – in five sensory dimensions – of the real world. If you walk past the house where you were born, however, you won’t see it the way a camera would. You can’t help  but see it as a personal  part of your life. A termite inspector would see it a different way, as would a zoning official, an architect, a landscaper, and so on. The fact is that we can take any perspective we want on any object in the universe. No one disputes this fact, but it can’t be taken for granted, because there’s a deep mystery about how we apply mental models to the reality that spreads out before us.  The application of this mystery to the rise and fall of skepticism will become evident in a minute.

Increasing attention is being paid to the late Polish-American mathematician Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), who has lent a popular phrase to this whole problem of what we see and what is real: “The map is not the territory.” In a nutshell it captures the problem of believing in maps – or models – created by the human mind. It’s obvious when you walk past the house where you were born that your mind creates the memory of growing up there. But some models are so convincing that we forget how we made them. Or we think the map is the territory, and then many missteps can arise. If you own a lovely house but all you can think of is that it might have termites or that burglars are waiting to rob you in the night, mounting anxiety can take over to the extent that you are ruled by your fixation. To someone with claustrophobia, an elevator is never neutral – it’s the source of fear.

Skeptics are perfectly entitled to create and enjoy their own model of the world, but when it becomes a fixation, a valid aspect of the scientific method – demanding verification of facts – becomes a source of bullying, disdain, ad hominem attacks, and in the worst cases, blindness to reality.  But since militant skepticism is essentially a nuisance born on the blogosphere, it wouldn’t be a serious impediment to scientific thinking any more than booing fans cause a football team to march off the field. The importance of dismantling militant skepticism is minimal except when it comes to the kind of deeper investigation that Korzybski was interested in.

He devised mathematical theorems and non-Aristotelian logic to demonstrate that the neurological system of a scientist is engaging in a highly selective process – it consists of selecting out some information and omitting the remaining. This is the very essence of making a map, or a model. When you look at the house where you were born, there are literally thousands of facts about it that you ignore anytime you think about the house. How many nails have gone into the wooden framing? How many microbes and mold spores live behind the sheet rock? Who lives there now, and what are their lives like? Somewhere in the world somebody makes it their business to collect data on such questions and countless more, because our ability to select and discard is infinite. The skeptics’ movement makes the mistake of giving certain models – basically their own, which is based on mistrust – a privileged position, when the truth is that all models have some advantages and some disadvantages.

The scientific model is abstract and reductionist. It isolates certain data (which are abstract) and organizes them to arrive at the essential qualities of an object (reducing it to pertinent facts).  This is a fluid, dynamic, and subjective activity. But it’s not the same as perceiving reality. Going to the most basic level of logic, one must concede that the human brain processes only the tiniest fraction of the billions of bits of sensory data that bombard us every day. We each have established our own filters for what we select and what we discard. If you are having chest pains and jump into your car to get to the emergency room, it won’t matter to you what the scenery is like along the way. Expanded to the activity of science, what this says is that every one of us is participating in the universe in a personal, creative way. There is no fixed reality “out there.”

So, how much weight should we give to how models differ from reality? Korzybski realized that there is an indefinite number of characteristics making up the physical environment that a scientist is unavoidably embedded within. He calculated the physical-energetic data impinging upon the sensory receptors of the scientist’s neurological system before the system engages in further levels of abstraction.  In other words, the threshold of data the your brain can process, is already an abstraction (a map) before you, or a scientist, starts to come up with newly created maps and models. For example, the simple fact that you can’t hear frequencies as high as what a dog hears, means that your threshold for perception isn’t perfect, complete, or even true. “This room is nice and quiet” isn’t true for a dog being tormented by a persistent shrill noise in its ear that doesn’t exist for you.

Science prides itself on investigating all kinds of things that the five senses don’t pick up. But this extension of perception, astonishing as it is when the Hubble telescope images distant galaxies, still doesn’t mean that science is viewing reality. Instead, it is expanding a map, putting in more detail.  As Korzybski might point out, there is no way to NOT be embedded in the universe we observe.  Here’s the pathway that maps take before anyone engages with the universe: Physical-energetic data is conveyed by our sense organs and transduced (transformed) into electro-chemical nerve impulses, which are themselves even further decoded (translated) by other higher order levels of the brain into conceptual-linguistic (thought) interpretations of what is then experienced as “real.”

If you suppose, as skeptics do, that science somehow transcends this intricate pathway, delivering “just the facts and only the facts,” you are being naive. Take just one mystery, that of dark matter and energy. By current calculations, which are very imprecise, 96% of the universe may be composed of dark matter and energy, which no one can see or measure. The visible universe, which we rely upon as the very foundation of reality, amounts to 4% of what’s out there. At the very least this means that the threshold of what the brain processes is a minuscule portion of the totality. If it turns out, as some theorists suspect, that dark matter isn’t even based on atoms and molecules, how can the brain, itself composed of atoms and molecules, conceive of reality to begin with?

These are the kinds of mysteries that militant skepticism rails against when someone tries to deviate from the dogma of “the facts and nothing but the facts.” It’s not easy to come to terms with the interface between brain, mind, and reality. But to ridicule the investigation, as militant skeptics do, to denigrate someone else’s model because you are the privileged keeper of truth, to shrug of advanced theories as pseudoscience – in other words, to own allegiance to the skeptical model – is pure ignorance.

Korzybski confronts us with a sobering but undeniable fact: As each level of abstraction occurs in the brain, more and more information is omitted. A scientist, like all of us, is both objectively and subjectively placed further and further away from what could be termed “really real reality.”  So what is that reality? As Korzybski pointed out, whatever reality might be, it transcends the confined, limited, and anthropomorphic point of view that we are tied to, because of the neurological system and its constructed map. Reality must be accounted for in its totality before any wide-scale truth claim, reality-claim, or thesis regarding morality and consciousness can be considered mildly sufficient — no matter what field of study the claim is constructed within, whether that field is science, psychology, or philosophy. Until then, the Dawkins-Harris-Dennett movement, despite its noisiness, should take a lesson from Korzybski and realize that the map is not the territory.

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The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism (Part 3)

god-and-scienceClick here for Part 2

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Jordan Flesher, BA Psychology

The bond between militant atheism and militant skepticism has been unusually strong, to the point where attacks on religion are delivered as if no rational, science-mined person could object. In two posts the argument was laid out about how shaky militant skepticism really is in the light of current physics and cosmology. So that the discussion won’t seem too arcane and removed from everyday life, this post will examine the fallacies that undermine the skeptical position of two popular skeptics, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Since both have scientific credentials, readers of their books should have confidence that Harris and Dawkins are getting their science right. But it takes only a slightly deeper examination to raise doubts. In his book for young adults, The Magic of Reality, Dawkins provides a subtitle: How we know what is really true. It turns out, on reading what he has to say about truth and reality, that Dawkins believes firmly in the truth presented by the five senses, along with the scientific instruments, like telescopes and microscopes, that extend our senses. But reliance on the five senses is the exact opposite of what modern science has been doing for centuries, as far back as Copernicus’s discovery that our eyes lie to us when they see the sun rise in the East and set in the West.

The evident reason for Dawkins to make such an elementary mistake lies in his agenda (another thing science isn’t supposed to have), which is to discredit all subjective states as unreliable, leading to superstition, credulity, myths, charlatanism (which he intimates is the basis of Jesus’s miracles, although a loophole is left open in case Jesus was merely self-deluded), and the ultimate form of deception, belief in God. To date, Dawkins has offered no ontology (theory of reality) that corrects his mistake. Despite a fifteen-minute TED talk on quantum physics, he seems totally ignorant of current theories of perception, consciousness, the mind-body problem, or the observer effect, all of which grew out of the quantum revolution a century ago. In a word, he has made himself irrelevant by his crude linkage of his personal atheism and a fumbling defense of “real” science that was outmoded long ago.

Sam Harris presents a more sophisticated example because, to begin with, he claims a background in philosophy and a long-standing interest in Buddhism. Both areas are deeply concerned with what is real, how we know things, what constitutes the truth, and so on.  In his atheist mode Harris is nastier and more strident even than Dawkins (for example, he sees all of Islam as a threat and a present danger, since even “good” Muslims are infected with the inherent violence of their religion). But in various footnotes and passing asides, Harris concedes that subjectivity isn’t always the enemy of science.  There are medical states, for instance, where the patients self-report of pain, depression, anxiety, etc. are the basis of reality. If a patient says “I’m in pain” or “I’m depressed,” no brain scan is sufficient to say authoritatively, “No, you’re not.”

Harris came a cropper, however, in his last book, The Moral Landscape, when he made basic mistakes that a beginner in philosophy would be warned again.  His errors earned the book scathing and dismissive reviews. Stung, he added a long appendix to the second edition defending himself, and when that made no dent, he offered a standing prize to anyone who could convince him that he was in fact wrong.

The thesis of The Moral Landscape is that “conscious minds… are… fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever those laws eventually turn out to be).” As it stands, the statement is recklessly absolutist, since it assumes that the operations of the cosmos, extending to an infinite horizon, are understandable by the human mind. Leaving that aside, Harris felt on safe ground because current scientific assumptions identify mind as brain, and there is no doubt that the brain is, indeed, constrained by the laws of nature. But reviewers balked when Harris attempted to firmly prove that morality has its basis in scientific principles operating over the course of evolution.  He had made a shaky truce with subjectivity in the past. Now he wanted to bury subjectivity in an area, morality, where scientism is weak at best. Natural laws don’t explain why humans are altruistic or love one another, much less do they explain our divided nature, where good and evil contend in an intractable, wholly inexplicable way.

Harris’s boldness exposes his allegiance to bad thinking about what is real and how we know the truth. Specifically, this is the misunderstanding that follows from fusing ontology (what may be ‘real’) with epistemology (what may be ‘true’) without first making sure that one’s apparent epistemological ‘truths’ are, in actuality, even real.   To arrive at a ‘truth-claim’ in regards to consciousness and morality via the scientific method, without first understanding the fundamental subjective nature of either consciousness or morality, Harris cannot be certain that his claims are based in reality. For all truth-claims, are made by the human neurological system, and the human brain is not a reliable or valid guide to the actual ‘reality of things’.

In a word, while Dawkins makes a crude claim that the five senses are reliable indicators of what is real, Harris makes a sophisticated claim in the same area, by assuming that the human brain, a physical object that evolved over millennia, is reliable as the model for everything that happens inside our minds. But if the five senses can’t be trusted, neither can the brain, which processes the input of our sense organs and fashions them into a three-dimensional model of the world. The model isn’t the same as reality. At best it is only provisional; at worst it may be very far from the truth, as witness hundreds of models from the past that have been thoroughly exploded (e.g., the Earth is the center of creation,  blood washes back and forth in the body like the tide, etc.)

Harris may argue that the scientific method can “stand on its own” apart from the nervous system of the experimenter via the use of technological systems that run on the logic and language of mathematics, etc. However, the data which computers churn out still has to come in contact with the nervous system of the scientist in order for a theory of morality and human consciousness to be constructed. (The deep question of whether mathematics is universal or somehow mediated by the human nervous system has yet to be answered with any certainty.)

If Harris hadn’t stretched his assumptions to the breaking point, he wouldn’t have revealed that he was making the same mistakes when arguing against God. For God, of all things, exists on the cusp between what we know, what we think we know, and what is indisputably real. An arthritis patient’s pain is indisputably real, even though subjective – in fact, it is real because it is subjective.  There is no scientific proof that a report by a mystic that she feels the presence of God isn’t real, and the subjectivity of the experience is the measure of its realness, not the measure of its illusory quality.

In a word, Harris and Dawkins, by turning their backs and scorning subjectivity, have fallen into traps of their own devising. Militant skepticism builds upon their mistakes, amplifies them, and employs scurrilous personal attacks to cover over their own intellectual flaws. In the end, the militant movement will collapse, not because the people who like God outnumber the people who dislike fear, and are suspicious of God. Skepticism’s agenda is doomed because its thinking is basically unsound.

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The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism (Part 2)

The birth of consciousnessBy Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Jordan Flesher, BA Psychology

As an attitude, skepticism is a natural part of the scientific method. It calls for solid proof and verification. As an agenda, however, the story of skepticism is quite different. The way that strident atheism has clothed itself in science seems convincing to people who are skeptical about God in the first place. But there’s no scientific basis for atheism, since God isn’t subject to experimentation. As the dust has settled, the agenda of militant skepticism has come to light – it’s basically another symptom of the blogosphere’s culture of personal attack, unfounded allegation, and a reckless disregard for the truth.

None of this is news. The fate of militant skepticism, whatever it may be, will drift apart from the serious business of doing science. After all, no scientific discovery was ever made by negative thinking. There has to be an open-minded curiosity and a willingness to break new ground, while the militant skeptics represent the exact opposite: they are dedicated to the suppression of curiosity and protecting rigid boundaries of “real” science.

But by a strange and unexpected chain of events, real science finds itself at a turning point where skepticism itself is proving to be a dubious attitude. The standby of the scientific method – gathering objective data to prove objective facts – has been undermined. The reason for this cannot be stated in a single sentence, because too many shadowy findings, suppositions, and theoretical conundrums are woven together. The leading issues can be stated briefly as follows:

Objectivity has been undermined by the measurement problem in quantum physics, which must account for how the observer actually changes or influences the thing he observes.

  • Also from quantum physics, the Uncertainty Principle undercut the notion of solid, tangible atoms and molecules existing in fixed locations. No one is sure about the implications for the human brain, since it is composed of atoms and molecules whose status is tied into the mystery of consciousness. 
  • The emergence of time and space, either through the Big Bang or at this very moment, remains mysterious. The pre-created state of the universe is a deep mystery.
  • The whole issue of consciousness, long ignored because of science’s aversion to subjectivity, has become a major concern, principally for two reasons. The assumption that the brain is the producer of the mind has never been proved; therefore, it presents the possibility of being wrong. Second, if consciousness is more like a field effect than a unique human trait, the universe itself could be conscious, or at least possess the qualities of proto-consciousness, just as DNA possesses the possibility for Homo sapiens even at the stage when life forms were only single-celled organisms.

These four mysteries or problems, whatever you label them, undercut skepticism – and more or less demolish militant skepticism – because they make science question its belief in such things as materialism, reductionism, and objectivity. That’s too many “isms” for a non-scientist to really care about, and there’s no doubt that the everyday work of science proceeds as usual without regard for issues that many would dismiss as metaphysics. But such an attitude is the same as accepting a dead end. For without asking the deepest questions about what is real and how do we know the truth, the current state of physics and biology will be mired in speculation and doubt.

Let’s drop the bugaboo about metaphysics and look with open eyes at two critical aspects of philosophy that can come to the aid of science at this moment. One is ontology, which asks what is reality? or how can we discover the difference between reality and illusion? The other is epistemology, which asks what is knowledge? and how do we come to know about the world?  Neither looks like a burning issue in everyday life, but they are, because each has a positive and negative pole.

The positive pole is located at the horizon of particle physics and cosmology, where figuring out what is real has become urgent business, now that the solid, tangible world of the five senses has been thoroughly undermined. It has become an object of fascinated study to look beyond our perception of space and time, and since the human brain operates in space and time, this new horizon requires sophisticated thinking about thinking itself.

The negative pole is found with militant skeptics, who are wedded to an outmoded belief that the five senses are basically reliable, that only physical things are real, and that “pure” objectivity is possible, with the corollary that subjectivity will always be the enemy of real science. This last belief totally ignores the indisputable fact that every experience, including the experience of doing science, is subjective. Militant skepticism blocks the way to an expanded science that is trying to grapple with the issue of how the observer is woven into the object he observes.

In the next post we’ll consider how irrelevant and misguided the skeptical agenda is proving to be by offering specific examples from the work of two popular skeptics, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, whose intention to keep science pure and objective has led them into blind alleys and rigid thinking – the very things science should avoid at all cost.

 (To be cont.)

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The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism

woman-with-question-mark-gesture-via-Shutterstock-615x345Skepticism has gotten itself into a pickle – perhaps something a lot more serious than a pickle – that is undermining its good name. The credibility of Wikipedia may be at stake (see below). We live in a skeptical age, because the cornerstone of science, “Everything must be verified,” is a skeptical position. When a researcher claims to have accomplished something remarkable, such as cold fusion, his experiment must be replicated before it will be believed. The need to verify, to lay out credible facts, has become second nature, and not just for scientists.

Facts, data, information, research findings, statistics – these are woven into every aspect of our lives.  Which means that skepticism is woven in, too. Hence its good name. Without accurate polls, politicians would be lost (consult Mitt Romney, who believed in skewed polls all the way to election night).  But there is no reason for skepticism to become a militant crusade. Facts are facts, as the saying goes, and when a political ideology like Fascism identified Einstein as someone who conducted “Jewish science” (a term coined by the Nazis), such a label is not simply abhorrent – it misconstrues what science actually is, a universal enterprise that has no place for personal, religious, or political prejudice.

The rise of militant skepticism clouded the picture, however, beginning with its popular attack on religion. The aim of Richard Dawkins, as stated in his best seller, The God Delusion, was to subject “the God hypothesis” to scientific scrutiny, the way one would subject anti-matter or black holes to scrutiny. In fact he did no such thing with God, for the scientific method requires experiments that can be replicated and facts that can be verified. Dawkins offered no experiments to prove or disprove the existence of God. What he actually did was to subject religion to a barrage of scorn and ridicule, attacking it on the rational improbability – as he sees it – that a deity could possibly exist.

The commercial success of his book wasn’t hard to explain.  Long ago Darwin’s theory of evolution had toppled the creation story found in the Book of Genesis, and through a domino effect the toppling continued. By the time The God Delusion appeared in 2006, organized religion was still in decline, and millions of readers were happy to seize on a “scientific” book that relieved them of any guilt over not going to church or temple. Atheism was held out by Dawkins as the only enlightened position one could take on the God question. He anticipated that readers would flock to become atheists with himself in the lead, a social movement that never, in fact, materialized.  Polls continue to show that well over 80% of people believe in God, and something like 1 in 8 atheists go to church, while no massive surge in unbelief has occurred.

The God Delusion, aided by a handful of other best sellers attacking religion in the same vein, did have one decisive effect, however.  Science became yoked to the tools of rhetoric and demagoguery, going so far as to lose any trace of objectivity. These tools, once shunned by science, were useful to Dawkins, given that he had no actual scientific proof that God doesn’t exist. Hostile reviewers cried foul, but the complaints came from a mixed lot of religious fundamentalists, philosophers, and theologians who hardly presented a united front.  Among the most educated and the least educated groups, Dawkins had no credibility. But the job had been done. It was now “scientific” for militant skepticism to practice forms of intellectual dishonesty that have only proliferated.

Thanks to the Internet, skepticism can spread with the speed of light, carrying in its wake all forms of unfairness and bad faith. A distressing example has been occurring at Wikipedia, where a band of committed skeptics have focused their efforts to discredit anyone whom they judge an enemy.  The problem has been slow to gain traction in the public arena, because Wikipedia has constructed an elaborate set of rules to minimize editorial bias. Ironically, the skeptics have turned these rules, which run to hundreds of pages, to their advantage. They have become so skilled at thwarting anyone who disagrees with their point of view that a small swarm of skeptical editors is capable of outnumbering, bullying, and even banning all those who oppose them.

You can see the results at the Wikipedia entry for Rupert Sheldrake, the British biologist who has served as a lightning rod for militant skeptics for several decades.  Intelligent, highly trained, an impeccable thinker, and a true advocate for experimentation and validation, Sheldrake had the temerity to be skeptical about the everyday way that science is conducted. He made his first splash by questioning the accepted assumptions of Darwinian evolution, and most recently he published a cogent, well-received book about the hidden weaknesses in the scientific method, titled Science Set Free.  His avowed aim is to expand science beyond its conventional boundaries in the hope that a new path to discovery can be opened up.

But you’d never know it from Sheldrake’s Wikipedia entry, which is largely derogatory and even defamatory, thanks to a concerted attack by a stubborn band of militant skeptics. Since I am close to Sheldrake personally and have Wikipedia woes of my own, it’s not fair for me to offer accusations over the extent to which Wikipedia is under attack. But the skeptics have been caught in the act, which is the pickle they find themselves in, as I mentioned at the outset of this post.

You can read a detailed account in a series of online posts written by Craig Weiler at his blog The Weiler Psi. Confronting the militant pests at Wikipedia resembles taking hold of a tar baby, as Weiler relates in his most recent post, pointedly entitled “Wikipedia: The Only Way to Win Is Not to Play.”   The unsavory fact is that skeptics have figured out how to game Wikipedia’s attempts to provide fairness, and we are all the loser for it.

Dawkins and the militant skeptics are symptoms of a deeper problem that turns out to have fascinating implications. Noisy as they are, these hostile crusaders have had no impact on the everyday activity of doing science or keeping faith. But that is about to change. The deep question of what is real is one that contemporary science can no longer avoid. How this is leading to the decline of skepticism makes for an intriguing mystery story, which will be discussed in the next post.

(To be cont.)

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What Would God Think of the God Particle? (Part 2)

Particle-collision-via-ShutterstockClick Here For Part 1

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University

The “God particle” seems to be well and truly with us. The award on October 3 of the Nobel Prize in physics that focused on the Higgs boson – the technical term for the God particle – capped a decades-long search that has cost billions of dollars. In the first post we discussed why the discovery of the elusive, fleeting Higgs boson is two-edged. It represents a triumph in human curiosity and our drive to understand the universe. At the same time, however, a huge stumbling block hasn’t been overcome. In fact, the Higgs boson may indicate that creation (whether God exists or not) is becoming ever more mysterious.

The mammoth collider at CERN Switzerland blasted the Higgs boson out of the invisible quantum field so that it could be observed, at the faintest level of measurement and then only for precious milliseconds. But this was enough to disclose the finest level of the subatomic realm so far known to be real. The problem with getting this close to the source of creation is that space, time, gravity, matter, and energy have become more and more ambiguous, as if the quantum revolution hadn’t already done enough in that department. With the probability that so-called “dark” matter and energy may account for 96% of the universe – along with another probability, that “dark” stuff doesn’t obey the same laws as visible mater and energy – the picture of creation is undergoing radical revision.

Stephen Hawking added to the ambiguity, in his last book, The Grand Design, by siding with those who have basically given up on a Theory of Everything and are settling for a piecemeal patchwork or mosaic of theories, each pertaining to distinct regions of creation while never being synthesized into one grand design. If God exists, the deity must be smiling. For behind the high fives and hoopla over the Higgs boson, there’s a growing doubt that we are anywhere near to understanding the nature of reality. These doubts arise from two major sources.

First, there’s broad agreement that science doesn’t comprehensively describe reality to begin with. Over a century ago the pioneers of quantum theory dismantled the common-sense notion that the world “out there” consists of hard, solid, tangible things. As one of the greatest of these pioneers, Werner Heisenberg, noted, “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.” No one has ever refuted this claim, and when you add into the mixture the Uncertainty Principle, which says that quantum objects can be located only by the probability that they will appear at a certain place (only after it is observed does a particle actually settle into a measurable position), the solid, tangible world is radically undermined.

The result is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in science: How does the shadowy, invisible quantum domain transition into the familiar, reassuring world we perceive through the five senses?  Something almost inconceivable is taking place, and to parallel this mystery, there is a second one. How did atoms and molecules give rise (if they did) to the thinking brain? The glucose that feeds your brain isn’t very different from the sucrose in a sugar cube, but a sugar cube can’t read this sentence, while your brain can. The starting point for solving these two mysteries was neatly summarized by the illustrious British neurologist Sir John Eccles: “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.”

Until very recently the two mysteries we’ve described (leaving out others that are more technical, such as the debate over Einstein’s cosmological constant) were essentially shrugged off by working physicists, who are content to accept the ordinary, common-sense world when they drive their cars, and who delve into the quantum domain as if it were a separate reality, which it isn’t.

The second reason that physics might be very far from understanding creation can be traced to the failure, now decades old, to mesh the two greatest achievements of twentieth-century physics – Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.  It’s highly embarrassing that two such spectacular intellectual discoveries don’t agree with each other. We won’t go into the technical reasons for the disagreement. It’s enough to say that trying to make them mesh has led theorists to the very brink of creation, to the boundary in spacetime where space and time emerge from a pre-created state. (One reason for celebrating the Higgs boson is that it represents a minuscule but vital step toward the pre-created state).

So the popular sentiment that we are near the big answers to big questions is hardly shared by many theoretical physicists who know more about their own theories. There is certainly a camp that believes the only way forward is to build more powerful particle accelerators to probe finer and finer fabrics of Nature, while another camp sees a way forward beyond the Standard Model and supersymmetry, through string theory, which offers a possible mathematical mode for the pre-created state (mathematics becomes the only guide left, since imagining the quantum vacuum, which precedes time and space, is mentally impossible).

Speaking for ourselves, we side with a small but farseeing group who turn for answers to consciousness, working from an unassailable fact: Reality, as far as humans are concerned, consists of the things we experience. Even the most arcane activity of physicists – and the Higgs boson is extremely arcane – are experiences; so is mathematics – if the laws of mathematics exist outside our experience, we will never know that or be able to prove it. For decades consciousness has been dismissed by “real” scientists as simply a given.  But Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics, was as real a scientist as you can get, and he said this: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. We cannot get behind consciousness. ”

This belief that mind is inescapable, that so-called “objective” science must one day come to grips with subjectivity, was shared by any number of quantum pioneers but got put on the shelf while the thrust of physics remained physical. The vast majority of physicists continue to work and think as if mind shouldn’t be part of their equations. As long as such a belief persists, despite its self-contradiction (can the mind really ignore the mind?) there will be more elementary particles for expensive machines to blast out of the vacuum state. At the same time, God will rest comfortably that creation’s greatest mysteries haven’t been revealed. At some point, perhaps in the near future, science will finally accept, and awards will soon follow, that the mind cannot be left out of the picture that the mind studies.

What Would God Think of the God Particle? Part 1

particle or wave?By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP and Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Chapman University

The award of the Nobel Prize in physics generally creates a mental blur for most people, since no one can comprehend the current state of physics without training in advanced mathematics.  This year was somewhat different, thanks to a nickname.

As the world learned on October 3, the British physicist Peter Higgs and the Belgian physicist Francois Englert shared the Nobel, as was widely expected in the profession. The award was given for a theory involving a missing particle in the so-called Standard Model of particle physics. The particle had come to be known as the Higgs boson when it was postulated or more popularly as “the God particle” from a 1993 book by Leon Lederman, another Nobel laureate who also served as the director of the prestigious Fermilab.

The discovery last year at CERN in Switzerland of the Higgs boson was a triumph for the Standard Model theory.  Higgs and Englert, along with Robert Brout, Gerald Guralnik, C. R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble, had hypothesized the existence of a field filling the entire vacuum of space.  If it hadn’t been dubbed the God particle, physicists wouldn’t be saddled with an embarrassing, catchy name.  Meant initially as a joke, the enduring moniker suggests that in some way science has reached an ultimate destination. Creation has surrendered its final secret, even if there is no God. But in reality particle physics keeps moving forward, and after the celebration at finding a Higgs boson dies down, new frontiers will open up. Meanwhile, every physicist who is asked about the God particle takes pains to distance himself from the label, including Higgs himself.

Now that God has been invoked in the discussion, however, it’s worth asking if we are getting closer to understanding Him/Her/It in a way that matters beyond the arcane of quantum physics.

Certainly a step was taken in our understanding of the finest fabric of the cosmos. In technical language, the ubiquitous Higgs field allows all particles in the universe to acquire mass through interactions with it, as the particles move through space, via a kind of dragging effect analogous to chunks of matter moving through molasses (elementary particles being the equivalent of the chunks and the Higgs field the molasses). High energy proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN revealed the elusive Higgs boson. The Higgs, unlike the photon, which is also a boson, has a mass, expected to be in the approximate range of 125 (or more) times the mass of the proton. Bosons are particles in quantum theory that carry forces – for example, the photon is the carrier of the electromagnetic force. They can be packed together in unlimited amounts. The Higgs boson is very unstable, instantly decaying after its creation into other particles prescribed by quantum field theory.

What’s also clear is that particle physicists were willing to go to almost any lengths to provide evidence for this missing link. It took many billions of colliding protons in the huge LHC CERN accelerator, backed up by multitudes of computers around the world to painstakingly analyze the data, before the discovery of the God particle seemed real. Most physicists by now, although guarded, believe that some form of Higgs boson was in fact observed last summer. And the rapid award of the Nobel is a testament of that commonly-held belief. The difficulty of this achievement was underlined by the fact that the Higgs boson is so mysterious and fleeting that it took from 1964, when its existence was first proposed, until last March to verify that such a particle actually exists.

Being irritated by a nickname doesn’t dispel the widespread belief that science is somehow getting very, very close to understanding the fundamental nature of reality. Some take an optimistic view of the road ahead. There is hope that the Higgs field may help bring together general relativity and quantum theory. Currently cosmologists believe that dark energy permeates the universe, evolving according to general relativity, and is responsible for an accelerating expansion of the universe. Although a standard Higgs particle would say little about dark energy, more exotic versions could provide theoretical understanding of it. Scientists will have to look at the LHC results on how the Higgs decays into other particles after it is produced in high energy collisions. The “dark” side of the universe poses both a new frontier and a stumbling block.  Cosmologists seem to agree that all the luminous matter in the universe makes up only 4% of whatever exists. All the hundreds of billions of galaxies, composed of many billions of stars, make up just 4% of everything. The rest may be in the form of dark matter and even the more exotic (but unknown) dark energy. So if the “Higgs-like” particle discovered at CERN turns out to be the more exotic form, it could help us understand dark energy.

As Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director of the LHC project, stated in a 2011 talk, “The Higgs is neither matter nor force. The Higgs is just different.”  We won’t go into the differences here, except to say that there is reason to assume that the Higgs isn’t one of a kind but the opening wedge to an entire class of so-called scalar particles. One optimistic view of the results observed so far holds that the discovery will lead to new developments in particle physics. These would open up a finer level of the quantum domain and thus bring physics closer to its holy grail, a Theory of Everything, a grandiose-sounding, particle-based view of the cosmos.

The more pessimistic overview, (but as its proponents claim more realistic,) states that the LHC results have not given any evidence of the existence of other particles that would be needed to continue our understanding of the physics beyond the Higgs, to what is expected to be the next theoretical development, dubbed supersymmetry. As such, there’s a major snag in attempts to ultimately develop a Theory of Everything. Even leaving arguments related to theories of physics aside, such a theory, as envisaged, doesn’t say anything and in fact cannot say anything about life, evolution and the phenomena of mind and awareness. It is not even clear how gravity, the last of the four forces of nature described by general relativity, will fit into the Standard Model – at this point, a great deal of current theory, including the widely touted superstring theory, is interesting speculation.

It is inescapable that two world views, one scientific and technical, the other human and experiential, must either collide or converge. That is, the universe must make room for how human beings evolved in order to investigate the creation that gave rise to us. Any Theory of Everything that leaves the human dimension out – as particle physics tries overwhelmingly to do – cannot reach its goal. The Higgs boson, as viewed from the world we all experience every day, isn’t simply arcane. It leads toward a collision of world views rather than a convergence.

We will discuss what this means in the next post.

Continued in Part 2

photo by: hlkljgk

Who Is Right About Happiness? (Part 2)

happywomanClick here to read Part 1

Although the pursuit of happiness is so natural that it was written into the Declaration of Independence, modern psychology has turned doubtful about it. In the previous post I listed a few reasons why even the field known as positive psychology holds that being happy all the time is basically unrealistic. We tend to have accidental bouts of happiness that come and go beyond our control. Therefore, some researchers have concluded that the best a person can do is to achieve a general state of contentment, not a state of continual happiness (I’m not sure the two are very different, however).

Is it right to be doubtful of your prospects for a happy life? The counter argument would claim that humans are designed to be happy, until something goes wrong. The things that can go wrong are many – stress, personal disasters, thwarted desires, and bad luck come to mind. Then there are the various spiritual strains that promise us grace, God’s love, and divine protection. These have had a powerful effect on humankind even at the worst of times, when the lot of the average person included disease, want, poverty, and oppression. Is God’s love a fantasy to compensate for all these causes of suffering?

Our doubts about happiness can’t be answered abstractly. The best theory can’t make you happy; you have to test it. This testing requires choices, and choices are limited. If you stand back, most people live their lives according to a set of beliefs, and over the years they manifest what they expect out of life. (That’s why so many highly successful people were raised by loving, supportive mothers who told them how wonderful they were. If you go through life with such positive expectations, your choices are likely to be self-affirming rather than self-defeating.)  The importance of choice tells us something important right off the bat. There is no such thing as a passive road to happiness. Even if humans are designed to be happy, they must activate the possibility rather than wait for the design to unfold on its own.

Despite the fad for viewing happiness as accidental, it’s more productive to test for yourself the kind of decisions that promote happiness. What should you do to make yourself happy right this minute? The array of possibilities is quite wide.

Avoid stressors that are avoidable.

Fix problems immediately – don’t procrastinate.

Bond with people you care about.

Do things that are meaningful to you.

Give your brain positive input. Avoid needless negativity.

Address the signs of depression and anxiety.

Assert control over your life. Don’t be dependent on others or dominated by them.

Be of service.

Walk away from situations you can’t improve.

Find a source of genuine fulfillment.

Don’t do things you know to be wrong.

Speak your own truth.

Express appreciation and affection toward others.

Find something that inspires you. Don’t waste time on distractions.

Allow time for play.

Leave room for down time.

Set aside a fixed time for reflection and meditation.

Focus on long-term pleasures, like planning a vacation, rather than short-term gratification.

Notice that nothing on this list is a matter of faith, religion, or spiritual aspiration. No one is appealing to perfect love, understanding, or compassion.  Happiness doesn’t await a tremendous kind of personal transformation. Instead, these are practical choices that are well documented to improve a person’s happiness. One finding from positive psychology that’s actually positive is this: To make a happy life, make your day happy. Immediate decisions matter the most.

You might cast a skeptical eye at the things I’ve listed, believing that this is nothing but a laundry list that is too long to be useful. But let me suggest otherwise. Most people are unhappy because they ignored the items on the list. They allowed too much stress to enter their lives, or they refused to walk away from impossible situations, or they allowed themselves to become dependent on somebody else, just to give a few leading examples. The other lesson from this list is that living unconsciously doesn’t bring happiness – each item asks for focus and awareness. What you aren’t conscious of, you can’t change.

So before you lament that life is unfair or that only a select few are born to be happy, consider every item on the list as it applies to you today, right this minute.  Set aside your beliefs about ultimate happiness and focus instead of today’s happiness. It’s also useful to itemize the things that are almost guaranteed to create unhappiness.

Putting up with unnecessary stress.

Denying that a problem exists and putting off its solution.

Isolating yourself, not interacting with people you care about.

Engaging in routine or meaningless work.

Exposing yourself to needless negativity and negative people in general.

Feeling depressed or anxious and simply putting up with it.

Allowing someone else to dominate you, make decisions for you, or exerting too much control.

Acting selfish, offering little or nothing to others.

Stubbornly enduring an impossible situation.

Putting your own fulfillment on hold.

Doing things you know to be wrong.

Going along to get along, not upholding your own values.

Forgetting to express how much you appreciate and value others.

Wasting time on distractions.

Treating everything as work, duty, or obligation.

Leaving no room for down time.

Allowing yourself no time to reflect and meditate.

Focusing on short-term gratification.

Many will be tempted to protest that two laundry lists are worse than one. Both are unrealistic. In fact, you have enough time in the day to do everything on the positive list and avoid everything on the negative list. What you need isn’t enough hours in the day. You need to value self-awareness. Once you want to be more aware, the intention to create happiness becomes realistic – you are motivated to be the author of our own fulfillment. It’s amazing how many people don’t value their happiness enough to pay attention to it. Once you do, you will discover for yourself if lifelong happiness is feasible or not. It won’t be a matter of theory or delayed gratification.

In the next post we will get at the deeper issue of whether human beings are designed to be happy, a question central to every strain of religion, spirituality, and depth psychology.

(To be cont.)

 ***

www.deepakchopra.com

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Who Is Right About Happiness?

Tandem skydiveWe know very little about what it takes to be happy, and a lot of what we know is wrong. This seems to be the conclusion of some voices in the movement known as positive psychology. It’s a relatively new field set against the traditional focus of psychology, which has delved into neurosis, psychosis, and mental illness generally. Positive psychology studies normality and tries to improve it. Is happiness normal? That depends on who you ask.

Pollsters, for example, usually find that happiness is quite common; around 8 out of 10 people in the U.S. report that they are happy. This number fluctuates with the rise and fall of events. A recent Gallup finding is that Syrians and Iraqis have the highest rate of negative thoughts – not a surprise – while people in South America have the most positive thoughts, which is a surprise. Gallup also studies well-being, using various leading factors, and hardly any country exists where 30% or more of the population is “thriving,” Gallup’s highest measure of well-being. A sharp drop in well-being occurred in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya just prior to the turmoil of the Arab Spring.

Among psychotherapists, happiness is generally viewed pessimistically. Some estimates from therapists indicate that up to 50% of the population exhibit signs of mental illness, including anxiety and depression. Suicide rates among white males rose by 40% recently, which is generally attributed to the economic downturn, and it’s no secret that antidepressants and tranquilizers are a multi-billion dollar market, even though neither class of medications actually cures anxiety and depression.

Against these conflicting reports, some commentators assert that we stumble into happiness” here and there, while our dream of being constantly happy is self-delusion. People are bad at knowing what will make them happy, we are told. Things like getting married, having a baby, winning the lottery, or even having a high salary don’t bring the happiness that we assume, as a society, they will. Mothers of young children report, for example, that taking care of infants and toddlers is one of the biggest stressors in their lives, while lottery winners typically say, a few years after their windfall, that they were happier before they won.

Why are we so bad at being happy? Were we born to struggle? These are questions that have fueled centuries of philosophy and spirituality, with no reliable conclusion. Since the Sixties, the rise of the New Age amounts to a search for a higher reality that promises more happiness than organized religion does. Has the promise come true for dedicated seekers? We’ll see. In a way it’s depressing that the most famous soliloquy in Shakespeare is about suicide (“to be or not to be, that is the question”). Now that I’ve laid out the contradictions that are involved, the next few posts will explore in depth how happiness works and where the pursuit of happiness should be leading us.

(To be cont.)

***

www.deepakchopra.com

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Thinking Outside the (Skull) Box (Part 13)

NASA's Hubble Sees A Majestic Disk of StarsClick here to read part 12!

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD

Getting contemporary physics to begin with the observer meets a great deal of resistance, but an observer-based science has one great advantage: There is no other way to get where we want to go.  Once physicality ends at the Planck scale, something must hold the universe together, and this something can’t be in time or space, nor can it be made of physical “stuff.”  We won’t leap to the obvious conclusion: this something sounds an awful lot like God. The word “God” can conjure many different reactions based on different traditions and history. To use a value-neutral word, what this something actually sounds like is reality itself. The skeptics have their chance for rebuttal. If anyone can define reality in non-physical, non-linear terms, freed from all boundaries and yet capable of erecting the incredibly organized cosmos, it’s difficult to imagine how mind isn’t the answer.

Otherwise, a timeless agency that can create time, a causeless entity that gave rise to causation, and a source that has no place but created space itself – such an origins story would be inconceivable to us without it being conscious. And so we finally come to our conclusion.  Where time, space, matter, energy, gravity, and mathematics reach their limits, there is the source of creation, and the most plausible candidate is consciousness.  Reality is more than existence waiting to be filled with random events. It is existence guided and governed by the qualities of consciousness – intelligence, self-organization, self-awareness, orderliness, evolution, and infinite creativity.  What will it take for anything like consensus on this conclusion? The dominant metaphors of our modern culture are those of science and engineering.  These metaphors prejudice the contemplation of the question, what is the mind?

Materialist ways of thinking posit that the universe is an immense machine that created things like mind and the human brain by randomly tossing the building blocks of atoms and molecules until they happened to land in a pattern instead of scattered across the floor. In this series of posts we’ve taken you from an automatic acceptance of these dominant, mechanistic metaphors, not to prove that they are wrong but to raise sufficient doubt about their certainty that you can entertain another possibility: Consciousness, or mind, is what the universe arises from and is made of.  Mind isn’t just gurgling out of brain cells like water from a spring. It isn’t merely a side effect of the brain’s electrical and chemical activity, like heat from a bonfire. There isn’t logical substantiation that brain = mind, even though  the majority  of scientists, philosophers, and the public may assume that this is so, since thoughts come out of the brain. Music comes out of a radio, but that doesn’t mean that radio = music. Radios don’t contain little tiny rock bands or news commentators or symphony orchestras, yet they give rise to rock and roll, commentary, and symphonies. Radios transduce radio waves, which embedded in the infinite electromagnetic field, into specific, understandable auditory signals.

Similarly, the brain can be just as readily conceived of as the transducer of infinite Mind into our specific thoughts. And the brain could just as easily be thought of as transducing the quantum field into everything we perceive: matter, energy, time, space, and all perceived sensations. Could Mind have used evolution to arrive at the brain so that we can live as adaptable, interactive beings in a world that perfectly mirrors our conception of it? In this view, our brains are mind the way every subatomic wave/particle is also mind. This unity solves the problem of deriving brain from mind or vice versa – they are two aspects of the activity of consciousness. The seemingly intractable issues that science faces today, particularly the challenge of consciousness, may actually have a simple answer, as we propose here. There’s no surprise, then, that an fMRI scan can pick up very specific brain activity that corresponds with a person’s emotions, mood, desires, and other aspects of mind. The match is seamless and perfect, as it has to be.  Radios don’t get to eliminate the violins from a Mozart symphony; there has to be electrical activity for every aspect of the music. This is where the radio metaphor gets difficult: Can you imagine a functional radio that is itself constructed of radio waves?  In a very real sense, a radio, along with the entire universe, is derived from invisible wave functions. So ascribing mind to neurons merely begs the question. No “thing” can give rise to mind. Hard as it may be to accept, “things” were metaphors all along.

As easy as it is to think that the brain in its skull casing is all that is necessary to produce mind, it’s just as easy, if you permit yourself, to think of Mind as the fundamental nature of everything that exists. By definition, reality lies beyond metaphors.  We’ve tried to convince you that the conventional set of metaphors must be discarded if you want to know reality, which means knowing yourself. Rather than discarding science, we are expanding it. We ask you to contemplate: What is the most scientific approach?  One that excludes some topics as “inappropriate for study”?  Or one that encourages even-handed investigation of all the evidence and phenomena at hand?   This is where “thinking outside the box” pays its greatest dividends, by expanding the capacity to be human and along the way to solve the unending mystery that is “you.”

* * *

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books translated into over 35 languages with over twenty New York Times bestsellers.  Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation. Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics, Director of the Center of Excellence at Chapman University, co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony) P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine. Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), co-author with Deepak Chopra of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being. (Harmony) Neil Theise, MD, Professor, Pathology and Medicine, (Division of Digestive Diseases) and Director of the Liver and Stem Cell Research Laboratory, Beth Israel Medical Center — Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.  www.neiltheise.com  neiltheise.wordpress.com

 

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