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."

Recovering a Lost World, Just in Time 

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A common trait in every civilization known to us is now fast disappearing. This trait is the thirst for knowing the self. Most people have read that the ancient Greeks pursued the goal of “Know thyself,” but they do not realize that self-inquiry also stood at the very center of the great spiritual traditions in India, China, and the Judeo-Christian world. Today, a need to know thyself–in other words, to answer the question, “Who am I?”–by no means stands at the heart of civilization either East or West.

We have learned to accept, passively or with eager enthusiasm, some guiding principles that erode the entire value of self-inquiry. Among these principles are the following:

  • The only true knowledge is factual and data driven.
  • Science trumps all previous forms of knowledge.
  • The greatest knowers of reality are scientists.
  • So-called spiritual knowledge doesn’t exist–such claims were part of a world riddled with superstitions and myths.
  • To look inward is a waste of time, since real knowledge of the mind will be revealed completely by studying the brain.

In one way or another these principles are the foundation of modern secular society. In many quarters a broad brush is applied to all spirituality as merely pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the past is looked upon as one thing only: the benighted precursor to the advent of science. So be it.  In the face of secularism, no one can claim that the institutions which exist as repositories of spirit, mainly organized religion, are tending upward. Their decline is inevitable and speeding up–so most educated observers believe.

But a funny thing happened on the way to absolute secularism. Science ran into two questions that to date have proved seriously unsolvable. The first is “What is the universe made of?” The second is “What is the biological basis of consciousness?” Both are objective questions about external facts, so it would be surprising–even revolutionary–if they eventually led us back to the inner world and the all but lost thirst for self-inquiry.

Most people do not realize that these two questions are the greatest mysteries in science, because it is assumed that a) the universe is made of atoms and subatomic particles, and b) the brain produces the mind, or consciousness. Yet if we look without rose-tinted glasses at these assumptions, they have no scientific foundation. Of course atoms and subatomic particles exist, but they are not the ultimate things that make up the universe. Solid, substantial matter vanished with the quantum revolution over a century ago, and contemporary physics stands baffled at the threshold of a world that precedes and underlies the quantum world. From this unknown domain emerged the big bang, and at this very instant every subatomic particle winks in and out of the same region. Continue reading

If Trumpism Is Here to Stay, What Does That Tell Us?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

As Donald Trump’s campaigning becomes more unruly–some might say unhinged–the likelihood of him reaching the White House diminishes by the day. But Trumpism is a different story. The ingredients that go into Trumpism fall into the category Freud dubbed the psychopathology of everyday life. To use a broad brush, Freud saw human nature as a war of suppression that is never won, while the possibility of becoming a free, rational, productive person was never achieved. In other words, the psychopathology of everyday life must be considered a constant despite our aspirations and ideals.

It’s a gloomy view of human nature but one that Trump’s ascension underscored. He has no impulse control. He follows the dictates of appetite and ego without regard for others. In the face of problems that require patience and reason, he gets restless and impatient at best and reckless at worst. If we look in the mirror, we can see ourselves in this pattern of behavior, but it belonged, in normal people, to childhood. As adults we take sides in the war of suppression, choosing either to become mature, which means being in control of our Trump side, or letting our demons run, which is pure Trumpism.

The real problem is that even the best societies will never extirpate Trumpism, because our divided selves contain anger, resentment, selfishness, anxiety, and aggression. To the extent that we let these feelings get the better of us, we participate in the psychopathology of everyday life. Trumpism considers this a desirable way to live, but that’s a rich man’s folly. He can bankrupt a casino after running it into the ground and walk away whistling. The workers he laid off can’t do the same. Continue reading

Reality Gets an Unlikely Savior: Infinity

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas Kafatos, PhD

Infinity has been getting a bad reputation recently. It has become the sticking point in the story we tell ourselves about reality. The trouble begins with a split between what is real and what is unreal. If you send someone to the store to buy three apples, and they return with only one, it matches reality to say, “you only brought me a third of what I wanted.”  This statement matches the way numbers are meant to behave. Numbers are pure in the sense that they are abstractions, ever-existing and perfect as the ancient Greek philosophers thought. They cannot be disturbed by real-world events. Yet they are reliable because they allow us to engineer the real world, from building bridges and cathedrals to manufacturing microchips. They are rational because they strictly obey mathematical order and perfect logic.

These three virtues are wobbly when it comes to infinity, however. Getting one apple instead of three represents a one-third return, and when written in decimals, one-third is .33333 out to infinity. In other words, it is an endless number, and “endless” isn’t something we can actually conceive. There is a mismatch between the real world and mathematics, and when it comes to advanced mathematics, the kind applied by physicists and cosmologists, the misbehavior of infinity becomes serious. (Actually, this is one kind of well-behaved infinity, because rational numbers like 1/3 can be known to any order and predicted in advance—the repetition of three continues ad infinitum. An irrational number like pi (π) is a different kind of infinity, since its digits are unpredictable and do not repeat.)

The noted physicist Max Tegmark wrote an article for Discover magazine in Feb. 2015 titled, “Infinity Is a Beautiful Concept – And It’s Ruining Physics.” The ruination exists on two disturbing fronts. The first front is theoretical. Physicists need valid, provable theories to explain the biggest and smallest things in nature. As it turns out, the smallest things, subatomic particles, wink out of sight and vanish into the quantum vacuum. The biggest things, including galactic and intergalactic matter and the universes itself, emerge from the same vacuum, and our universe was set on a course of seemingly almost infinite inflation a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. The rub is that when calculating the behavior of cosmic inflation, infinity keeps intruding and destroying any reasonable prediction. To quote Tegmark, “. . .inflation always gives the same useless answer: infinity divided by infinity.”

The reasons for arriving at this useless calculation are technical, but the upshot isn’t: reality comes down to an inconceivable concept. Infinity also intrudes in the fashionable theory of the multiverse, which derives our universe by supposing that it is only one in an infinite, or nearly infinite, number of alternative universes. But for this to be true, there have to be reasonable calculations of the odds for producing our particular universe with all its vast number of stars and galaxies, and these don’t exist. There are infinite reasons for why the Big Bang produced the universe that led to life on Earth and infinite reasons why it might not have happened. This is surely a very unsatisfying situation. Continue reading

If Trumpism Is the Disease, What’s the Cure?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

The machinery of politics is geared up to defeat Donald Trump on the Democratic side, and there’s hope, after Trump revealed his propensity for self-destruction, that the Republicans will either abandon him or keep a safe distance. Enough condemnation has been directed at him to sink a dozen candidates, and his extended Teflon period may quickly draw to a close.

But the larger issue isn’t Trump’s viability as a candidate, troubling as that is, but the rise of the movement he represents. Every term of condemnation applied to him–bigoted, racist, sexist, xenophobic, authoritarian, mentally unbalanced–fuels the approval of his supporters. A hopelessly divided, hostile electorate has become a diseased electorate. That’s the thing that should disturb us the most, because disease conditions need a cure or else they continue to fester.

To clarify the point, I think back to my early days in Boston as an underpaid medical resident with a young family to support. Like many in my situation, I moonlighted to make ends meet, working at a famous private clinic in the Boston area. My status was on the bottom rung, so I found myself doing workups on the entering patients. One day I did the physical for the leader of a huge labor union, a nationally known figure. To my alarm, he was overweight, a heavy drinker and smoker, and suffering from various symptoms, the most serious being his high blood pressure and bad heart.

I finished the exam and immediately rushed to my supervisor with the bad news. He blanched, saying, “You didn’t tell him any of these things, did you?” I said no, and the supervising physician looked relieved. “We don’t want to let him know that anything is wrong,” he said. “He’s doing okay the way he is, and if he really knew what was wrong, it would probably kill him.” Those were the days, in the early Seventies, when medical ethics still considered it discretionary to tell a patient any grim news, but the net effect was that denial by the doctor led to ignorance by the patient.

The same, and worse, applies to a diseased electorate. On both sides the racism, bigotry, greedy elitism, reactionary attitudes, and sheer malice that has been a feature of the far right for decades somehow became normalized. A very sick patient was being coddled as if he was healthy. In the case of the union leader, keeping him in the dark was done supposedly in his best interest. The far right has been treated with denial out of fear and repugnance. After “nice” Presidents like Reagan and George H. W. Bush deliberately fueled the festering malignancy of the far right, Southern racists, and religious fundamentalists, moral lines became hopelessly blurred for the vast majority of politicians running for office. Continue reading

How to Get Reality Back on Track

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas Kafatos, PhD

Reality, that most important concept about everything that exists, has gotten out of kilter, and yet very few people have noticed or are paying attention. The problem goes deep into the heart of things, however, so deep that future generations may look back and wonder why this generation didn’t wake up. The reason isn’t mysterious, actually. It has to do with how much we have come to rely upon contemporary science and to trust it: science has been appointed to inform us about what is real and what isn’t. Myths, superstitions, personal prejudices, and obsessions are unreal, while facts, data, and measurements are real.

Nothing seems more secure than science in most people’s minds. As long as technology keeps progressing on all fronts, it’s commonly believed that the most intractable problems, such as curing cancer and reversing global climate change, are open to scientific solutions. But what if reality has something else in mind? Quite apparently it does, if you bother to look deep enough. Reality has decided to bring physics, for example, to a profound crisis, not on one front, which might be easily circumvented, but on almost all fronts. This sounds like a drastic statement, but it’s actually a foreshadowing.

Judging by the current state of affairs, certain difficulties are now at least forty years old without solution and sometimes a century or more.  To name the top seven dead ends that science faces,

  1. No one knows where the Big Bang came from.
  2. No one knows how life began.
  3. The origin of time, space, matter, and energy remain obscure.
  4. The relation of mind and brain is as up in the air as it was at the time of Plato and Aristotle.
  5. The nature of consciousness and how it evolved–if it evolved–cannot be agreed upon.
  6.  The process by which the brain creates a three-dimensional world of sight and sound using only chemical and electrical signals is totally mysterious.
  7. The two leading theories in physics, General Relativity (which explains how large objects work) and quantum mechanics (which explains how tiny things work) turn out to be completely incompatible.

In previous posts over the past five years we’ve gone into detail about each of these difficulties, and as much as mainstream science resists any crack in its armor, a host of leading thinkers acknowledges exactly what these problems are. But let’s back away from details to look at the big picture. If there are seven dead ends in our understanding of reality, isn’t something drastically off kilter? If the answer to that question is obviously yes, then why doesn’t science self-correct and change course? We emphasize “science as it is being currently practiced,” because quantum reality is drastically different from the outmoded assumptions of classical physics that still dominate in the everyday work of physicists. Why this gap exists is a complex issue, but let’s ignore the details once again and give a simple, workable answer: inertia. Science advances through the momentum built up over the decades, and like a car rolling downhill, inertia will keep things moving even if the engine is dead. Continue reading

Can Trumpism Lead to a Better American Story?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

We are living at a time when the story of America is changing, with nothing but more change on the horizon. Therefore, we face a critical decision. Should the new American story be born out of fear or hope? The stark contrasts in the 2016 election make this choice inevitable. One indelible human trait is the craving to turn our experiences into stories. These stories gather tags (now often called memes) that keep the story straight and allow people to agree about them. “The greatest generation” is such a tag, supporting the story of the Allied victory in World War II, which is referred to as a “good war,” another tag. Politics is many things, but one of the most important is a war between competing stories, and if your side comes up with the winning story, your victory can last far beyond one election cycle.

Donald Trump has been wildly erratic when it comes to actual ideas, policies, and positions, but he rode the crest of an immensely successful Republican story. So-called conservative “principles” are largely a collection of mythical storylines, and the tags that define them go back to the Nixon era. We are all familiar with law and order, the silent majority, morning in America, “Government isn’t the solution–it’s the problem,” “Tear down this wall, Mr. Gorbachev,” clash of civilizations, “Guns don’t kill people–people do,” and many other conservative memes.

So fervent is the craving for stories that the right wing clings to storylines that are totally false if your standard of truth is historical fact, accurate data, and pluralism. But rigidly clinging to our story is something we all do. By the same token, we become nervous and disturbed when our story starts to fray. The right plays upon fear very successfully at times of national anxiety, from Nixon’s “pitiful helpless giant” to Bush’s “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” to Trump’s “make America great again,” which plays upon the anxiety of national decline. Fear is a powerful motivator in the short term, even when it proves to be disastrously bad as a guide to action, as witness the Vietnam war and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It seems likely that Donald Trump has finally reached the end of his string and will self-destruct thanks to his total inability to control himself. But the crisis surrounding the American story won’t go away. The benign revolt led by Bernie Sanders isn’t comparable to the toxic revolt led by Trump. Yet they share a refusal to go along with the American story we’ve been living with, and the fact that such a huge proportion of Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction indicates how deep our confusion, frustration, and discontent have progressed. Continue reading

America’s Shadow: The Real Secret of Donald J. Trump

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

There’s a powerful way to explain the rise of Donald Trump that most commentators have missed entirely or undervalued. The standard line describes Trump as a bizarre anomaly. Beginning as an improbable celebrity candidate, he has defied all the conventional rules of politics, which should have been fatal. Instead Trump has swept all before him on the Republican side. Possessing a “genius” for grabbing the limelight, he continues to dominate the scene in ways no previous politician ever has in modern times–so the conventional view goes.

But in reality Trump isn’t bizarre or anomalous. He stands for something universal, something right before our eyes. It’s an aspect of the human psyche that we feel embarrassed and ashamed of, which makes it our collective secret.  Going back a century in the field of depth psychology, the secret side of human nature acquired a special name: the shadow. Continue reading

How To Be Smarter Than Your Brain

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Among all the sciences, neuroscience is a special case. Because it studies the brain, which is our interface with the mind, neuroscience covers the widest possible range of mysteries, from biology to metaphysics. No one doubts that we live in a golden age for studying the brain’s biology, but this fact doesn’t get around a central problem that baffles everyone. The problem can be stated very simply: The human brain knows almost nothing about itself. And there are no neurons within the brain that provide sensory information about the brain. That’s why you can put a knife through the brain of a person without that person feeling any pain.

Left to its own devices, your brain knows zero about neurons, for example. It doesn’t even know that it is made of neurons or how they work, much less how a cell that has much the same biology as other cells in the body (having developed from the same DNA and grown in the womb from one fertilized ovum) learned how to think. Your brain has no idea where a thought comes from. It cannot reveal to itself–or to you–how mushy gray matter trapped inside the skull, a silent, dark place, produces a world of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell.

Because the brain knows nothing about itself, neuroscience had to begin somewhere, so it began by assuming that a brain is a privileged object, the only object in the known universe that is conscious. This assumption is almost never questioned by any neuroscientist, because the everyday work in that field consists of tinkering with the brain’s biology. All higher questions about mind, psychology, religion, morals, aesthetics, and metaphysics are reduced to biology. All fixes, insofar as the brain is concerned, are performed at the biological level if the fixer is trained in either neuroscience or its medical branch, neurology. Continue reading

How to Defeat Aging on Three Levels

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

The creeping tide of age has steadily risen over the past two decades, and it has been met with advances in anti-aging. Almost 25 years ago, when I researched aging for a book, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, the most encouraging sign of progress was “the new old age,” which signaled a major shift in attitude. No longer was it acceptable to spend one’s old age in a rocking chair, existing essentially as a social discard, worn out after years of productivity. In the new old age, people expect to live a long life with as much pride and enjoyment as in every other phase of life.

Today, the new old age has become a given, no longer revolutionary or even out of the ordinary. But in the intervening quarter century, much more than attitudes have shifted. The mystery of the aging process, which occurs at around 1% a year after age 30, is beginning to yield some viable answers. For example, its genetic basis is now better understood. Researchers continue to probe clues offered, for examples, by telomeres, the end caps to a strand of DNA that ravel with time as the body ages. Preserving the integrity of telomeres through meditation seems like a very promising lead.

But the sheer amount of new data and hopeful clues can be very confusing, so I think it’s worthwhile to summarize in very general terms, where anti-aging is going. The three fronts that need to be covered are physical, mental, and psychological. Continue reading

How You Create the Universe  

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D.

 

We all identify with the physical world and would be shocked to discover that this is a mistake. Even in an age of faith like the Middle Ages, when people believed in miracles and attributed creation to an omnipotent God, the physicality of things was totally accepted. Rocks were hard and water was wet, no matter what faith you believed in. If you wandered the stacks of the Library of Congress and pulled books off the shelf at random, you’d discover no serious challenge to physicalism except for one book out of a million written by mystics, sages, Eastern philosophers, and other members of a motley crew who were detached from everyday reality.

Even so, it is undeniable that we’re mistaken when we identify with the physical world, and correcting the mistake has enormous implications–it would be like waking up from a dream. The fact that the dream of physicalism is supported by many modern scientists science gives it weight and authority, but scientists, with very few exceptions, promote physicalism because they haven’t really examined its faulty assumptions. Like the rest of us, they tacitly assume that the world “out there” is real and dependable. In last week’s post Deepak Chopra argued against that assumption; this follow-up will attempt to answer the inevitable question, “So what?” Unless the end of physicalism makes a difference in our everyday lives, arguing over it seems arcane and abstract. In fact, the very opposite is true.

If we stop accepting the basic tenet of physicalism–that everything in existence is explainable by exploring the matter and energy that compose the universe–a huge shift is possible. Already the role of mind is central in orthodox quantum mechanics, which does not accept a physical reality devoid of observation. Despite the obvious triumphs of science and technology, one has to abandon the traditional scientific worldview, expanding instead on what quantum theories state, if we want to explain the following mysteries:

Where did the Big Bang come from? Continue reading

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