by Deepak Chopra, MD
There are many ways in modern life to feel powerless, as the world seems increasingly dangerous. None of us can change the evening news, but we can regain the personal power that is undermined by stress, a sense of threat, and loss of control. In fact, without being in control, a person is more susceptible to depression and anxiety, two disorders that exist in epidemic numbers in this society. Unfortunately, the social trends that drain away personal power only grow stronger. Therefore, it’s crucial to find a way to limit that feeling in your day-to-day life.
As a start, let’s clarify what power isn’t. It isn’t a force that you use like a weapon to get your own way. It isn’t suppressing what you don’t like about yourself and achieving a perfect ideal that doesn’t exist in the first place. It isn’t money, status, possessions, or any other material surrogate. There are countless people sitting in the lap of luxury who feel even more powerless than the average person. This is so because the issues of power are all “in here,” where you relate to yourself.
Now we can address the five things that do limit—or even undo—that feeling of powerlessness. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
For some inexplicable reason the most common element in every possible experience–consciousness–has kept itself a secret. How the human brain produces consciousness–if it does–is an age-old question, currently traveling under the name of “the hard problem.” Philosopher David Chalmers, who coined the term, says, “There is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain.” This is especially frustrating because we all depend upon consciousness for everything. If we were unconscious, the world would literally disappear in a puff of smoke. This obvious fact implies something that isn’t so obvious: Maybe consciousness and the world appeared at the same time.
A cosmos devoid of consciousness isn’t conceivable, and yet the reason for this exists completely out of sight. Think of sunlight. Obviously the sun can’t shine unless stars exist. There are few secrets left to discover about how stars form, what they are made of, and how light is produced in the incredibly hot cauldron at the core of a star. The secret lies elsewhere. As sunlight travels 93 million miles to Earth, it penetrates the atmosphere and lands somewhere on the planet. In this case, the only somewhere we’re interested in is our eye. Photons, the packets of energy that carry light, stimulate the retina at the back of the eye, starting a chain of events that leads to the part of the brain known as the visual cortex.
The difference between being blind and being able to see lies in the mechanics of how the brain processes sunlight—that much is clear. Yet the step in the process that matters the most, converting sunlight into vision, is totally mysterious. No matter what you see in the world—an apple, cloud, mountain, or tree—sunlight bouncing off the object makes it visible, but how? No one knows. The secret of sight is totally immersed in consciousness itself. Without being conscious of light, photons are invisible. Yet it is mistaken to say that light becomes bright in the brain through some physical process, because the brain has no brightness, either. It is as dark as outer space. Because there is no light in the brain, there are no pictures or images, either. When you imagine the face of a loved one, nowhere in the brain does that face exist like a photograph. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
No one doubts that it’s hard to figure out where consciousness comes from, and when a problem persists for thousands of years—which is literally true in this case—it’s worthwhile sorting out the clues that might lead to an answer. Some are better than others, and a few may be completely false. At the very least, if we can agree on the hottest leads, a final answer may come nearer.
Clue #1: The brain lights up when we think.
Neuroscience depends exclusively upon this clue, which offers material traces (so-called neural correlates) to mental activity.
Advantage: Watching the brain in action provides the most reliable map to date of how the activity of consciousness is physically processed.
Disadvantage: There is no proof that neural correlates are anything except correlates. They could be symptoms or signs of consciousness rather than the cause. Any attempt to make consciousness physical, in fact, is suspect.
By Deepak Chopra, MD
On many fronts people feel the urge to change their lives–so why don’t they succeed? We live in therapeutic times. Advice surrounds us about achieving success. Yet when we set our minds to do something seemingly simple–losing weight, giving up a bad habit, acting nicer to people, and so on–something intervenes between the intention and the goal. This “something” exists in the relationship between the mind, which issues a desire or intention, and the brain, which is the physical apparatus for carrying out desires and intentions.
If you assume that the brain is the mind, which is the working assumption in 99% of neuroscience research, there is little room for solving the problem. It’s as if you hear a piece of music you don’t like on the radio, so you try to rearrange the radio’s parts. Obviously a mistake is being made there, but the relationship between mind and brain is subtler. It’s like a conversation between two people, where one person is dominant one moment and the other person is dominant the next. In the dialogue between mind and brain, most of the time the mind is automatically dominant. If you want to raise your arm, the brain sends the appropriate signals without obstacle of interference.
But sometimes the brain interjects its own feedback, and then the signals become confused. In the last post we discussed how brain-trained responses can make us virtual robots obeying old conditioning, habits, memories, and so on. The mind trains the brain to do X, and then without benefit of new training, the brain does X all the time. If you look at your own life, you can find endless examples of how brain-training limits your freedom of choice. For example, Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Most people are too busy, or otherwise distracted, to think about how the mind works, much less about the vexed problem of connecting mind and brain. This includes neuroscientists. They run their experiments and publish new data without addressing the most fundamental questions. Their field runs nicely by simply assuming that the brain is the mind. After all, without a brain there cannot be any mental activity, QED. Why bother to go any deeper?
One reason is that human beings are clearly not brain-defined. We need the brain the way a musician needs a piano or TV news needs a television set–to carry the mind into the physical world. The belief held by 99% of neuroscientists is that with sophisticated enough brain scans and various other measurements, the mystery of thinking, feeling, sensing, and imagining will one day be solved. It’s a futile dream, however, because even the most basic issues, such as why the color red is red, how we hear sounds in a brain that is totally silent, and where a thought comes from are nowhere near being understood.
Leaving theory aside, there is a huge practical problem involved. What do we do when the brain makes us its victim? If we are brain-driven, this implies that the brain is in charge of daily habits, decisions, reflexes, and responses. In many cases this is clearly true. When you reach for ice cream at midnight telling yourself that it’s the wrong thing to do, who is making you act automatically, against your best interests, and without your ability to break the habit? Continue reading
Deepak Chopra, MD and Jennifer Nielsen, PhD candidate
Robber barons in the 19th century were so rich that they didn’t have to do things the way ordinary people do. If they wanted to live in a French chateau or an Italian palazzo, for example, they didn’t have to build one from scratch. Instead a chateau or palazzo could be dismantled in Europe, its parts carefully numbered and packed into crates, and then shipped to America to be reassembled on the spot.
If you wanted to ship the universe somewhere else, you could try to do something similar. You’d need four crates labeled time, space, matter, and energy—the basics for taking apart the universe. To save shipping costs, you could try to cut these down to their bare constituents at the quantum level. But when the Fed Ex man shows up, he would scratch his head. “I can’t ship this,” he’d says. “You squeezed everything down, too far. There’s no stuff in these crates.” This is a fanciful summary of the basic quandary created by the quantum revolution of a century ago. When space, time, matter and energy are studied at the very smallest level, they cease to behave as the familiar parts of reality that we think we know. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD and Jennifer Nielsen, PhD Candidate
Whenever there’s a new breakthrough in science, a closer step is taken to seeing reality as a whole. Essentially science works on the jigsaw-puzzle principle: Having taken apart a picture of the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon, reassembling the pieces gives you the whole picture again. Applied to science, cancer research pursues a hundred clues in the hope of discovering what makes a cell suddenly turn cancerous. The whole picture (a tumor) is being broken down in the hope that a view can be gained of cancer itself. In physics, most people have heard of the Theory of Everything (TOE), which would combine the four fundamental forces in nature into a single picture of the universe.
But after almost a century of investigation, it is dawning on some prominent physicists, such as Stephen Hawking, that a TOE may be impossible. Instead of reassembling the whole universe out of its basic parts, something isn’t working, and that something goes right to the heart of what the quantum revolution did to science over a century ago. The common-sense world we live in, a world of solid objects that stay in place and only move if a force, or cause, makes them move, no longer suffices. Quantum objects, such as subatomic particles, aren’t solid. They don’t stay in one place, and their activity doesn’t obey simple cause-and-effect. In essence, pieces of the puzzle that refuse to fit together are why Hawking and others believe that perhaps physics will wind up like a country with dozens of regional rulers and no king to unite them. Instead of a TOE, the best we may do is a patchwork of specialized theories such as general relativity and quantum electrodynamics that explain parts of reality but never the whole. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, PhD
The quantum pioneer Erwin Schrödinger was one of the best thinkers about philosophy in a generation of physicists, around a century ago, that was rich in philosophers (a rare breed today). One of Schrödinger’s most intriguing statements has explosive implications for the future of science: “Science is a game—but a game with reality, a game with sharpened knives.” It’s not immediately clear what he means, but the knives being referred to sit at the center of the scientific method, which Schrödinger compares to cutting a picture apart into a thousand pieces and then reassembling it again.
No one could argue that this is true. Big problems in science are solved by reducing them to smaller components that are more manageable, easier to quantify, and more available for experimentation. But why does Schrödinger call science a game? Being a mystic or an idealist (pick the term you prefer), he saw God as the player on the opposite side of the table, and he felt this was a necessary component because unlike a picture ready for cutting up into pieces, reality cannot be seen in advance as a whole. There is no look or shape to reality, no defined borders, no unnecessary elements that can be conveniently set aside or ignored.
What is God’s role in the game? “He has not only set the problem but also has devised the rules of the game. But they are not completely known; half of them are left for you to discover or to deduce.” Rationalists would balk at using God here, but if you substitute “nature” or “reality” instead, the game of science becomes clear. It’s a game of deduction and inference where the so-called laws of nature and the latest theories generally work well but still we have no closure on a unified whole. In some sense, the ground rules are only half known, at best. Recent developments in physics have uncovered dark matter and energy that make the game even harder, since these obscure entities barely interact, if at all, with ordinary matter in the visible universe and yet account for the vast majority of created matter and energy. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD
In college, a time-honored theme for assigning term papers is to discuss appearance versus reality, which can be applied to questions as diverse as “Is the ghost of Hamlet’s father real?” and “What was actually at stake in the Cold War?” But this intriguing topic doesn’t usually stick, and when students graduate into a world of hard realities, they accept appearances without questioning them. In this way the mystery of appearance versus reality doesn’t get past the classroom.
It’s intriguing that hard, solid objects (the appearance) are constructed from packets of energy and invisible wave-like potentials (the reality), or that the clock on the mantel ticking away seconds, minutes, and hours (the appearance) is founded on a cosmic source where the flow of time is non-existent (the reality). But neither fact is relevant to how we lead our lives, is it?
To believe that is to lose the mystery of personal reality, because the ultimate illusion is to accept physical reality “out there” as a given, a kind of stage machinery that we walk through like actors. Personal reality has very few givens, in fact. It is constructed from dynamic, malleable materials. We exist to create, alter, and combine these materials, because above all, personal reality is participatory. On the other hand, if you renounce your role as creator and participant, you will be a lifelong victim of appearances versus reality.
For clarity’s sake, let’s arrange the elements of personal reality from the most superficial to the deepest and most fundamental. In its simplest form, your personal reality is like a ten-layer club sandwich. Continue reading
By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, PhD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.
When big science gets a major boost, the news goes around the world with an air of celebration. The latest such event was the confirmation of gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. As enthusiastically explained by MIT physicist Allan Adams in a recent TED talk , gravitational waves were considered impossible to detect because of their weakness even 25 years ago. But a project named Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) aimed to build a 5 kilometer measuring device calibrated to within 1/1000 of the radius of the nucleus of an atom in order to capture the signals of gravitational waves from cosmic sources using laser technology.
A few days after LIGO went into operation, in September 2015, by amazing luck the gravitational waves given off by the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago passed through the Earth and were picked up. Such an event sends ripples through spacetime itself traveling at the speed of light. The general public received the triumphant news this month and despite the caution exhibited by a small handful of scientists, LIGO marks the beginning of a new way to measure the universe, through gravitational wave astronomy. Gravitational waves can pass through stars, revealing their core, which is hidden from sight. They may lead cosmologists back to an earlier stage of the Big Bang, and do other amazing things.
Big science has every right to boast of its achievements, but in many ways gravitational waves are irrelevant to the larger situation that present science finds itself in. They serve as a distraction from the unsolved mysteries that could actually shift the paradigm regarding how we see reality. Continue reading