Category Archives: Science

What’s the Point of Being Human? The Best Answer So Far

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

The point of being human is to push the envelope of being human. This is worth remembering when times are tough and we lose confidence in ourselves. No other creature on earth has the capacity to redefine itself. We do.  How humans gained this ability remains a totally mystery. Looking at physical remains, it’s possible—although controversial—to outline the evolutionary march from ape to hominid, from hominid to Homo, and finally from Homo to our specific species Homo sapiens.

But the physical evidence is blurry at times, and even a simple achievement like the discovery of fire is up in the air; estimates could be off by hundreds of thousands of years. But not a single physical trait explains why we are self-aware. Awareness gave us the ability to push the envelope of being human. Ten thousand years ago the higher brain, the cerebral cortex, was a finished structure, more or less. In other creatures, once their brains are finished, that’s the limit. An elephant’s huge brain allows, we think, for emotional empathy. Elephants grieve over the dead and are emotionally tied to one another.

But an elephant’s brain can’t do math, write poetry, or invent the atom bomb. The human brain is the secret, physically speaking, behind our incredible abilities with language, tool-making, art, and weaponry. But no one knows the secret behind how the mind uses this brain. On the one hand, we remain totally confused about who we really are. We don’t even know if we are basically good or bad. At the moment, opinion has turned us into baddies destroying the environment. But that’s a lopsided view, given the fact that no matter how horrible our behavior, we can look in the mirror and change it.

If this is true—and it seems undeniable—then what’s the next stage in pushing the envelope? No one knows, because the whole point of human evolution is that you can’t predict where it’s going. Indeed, none of us knows what our next thought will be. We plunge into the unknown at every second. But in the face of confusion, uncertainty, and low morale, one possibility remains untarnished. We are likely to become even more self-aware. That’s the pattern that has held good for all of recorded history, and despite every catastrophic setback and horrifying turn of events, the march of awareness continues. Continue reading

Who Controls Your Mind? (Hint: It’s Not Your Brain)

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

One of the easiest bets to win is to offer a million dollars to anyone who can accurately predict their next thought.  It would be foolhardy to accept such a bet. As we all experience every day–and yet rarely notice–our thoughts are unpredictable and spontaneous. They come and go at will, and yet strangely enough, we have no model for where a thought comes from.

This lack of understanding has serious medical significance in mental disorders, for example. A common symptom of various psychoses, particularly paranoid schizophrenia, is the belief that an outside force is controlling the patient’s mind, usually through an alien voice heard in the head. Being sane, a normal person has the opposite experience, that his thoughts are his own. But if that was true, we’d call up any thought we wanted to have, the way you can call up a Google search. But this is far from true.

If you are asked to add 2+2, you can call up the necessary mental process, and there are millions of similar tasks, such as knowing your own name, how to do your job, what it takes to drive a car home from work–these give us the illusion that we control our own minds. But someone suffering from anxiety or depression is the victim of uncontrolled mental activity, and even in everyday circumstances we have flashes of emotion that come of their own accord, along with stray thoughts of every kind. Artists speak of inspiration that strikes out of the blue. Love at first sight is a very welcome example of uncontrolled mental activity.

So at the very least, the human mind can’t be explained without understanding the dual control feature that gives us total control over some thoughts and zero control over others. That challenge is hard enough, but several others are just as thorny. If I listen to rap music and love it while you listen to the same music and loathe it, what creates this difference, given the same input? This is a vexing question for any theory that attempts to put the brain in charge of the mind. The brain is supposedly a machine for thinking. But what kind of machine churns out a different response to the same input? It’s like the world’s most dysfunctional candy machine. You put in a nickel, but instead of getting a gum ball every time, the machine spits out a poem or a delusion, a new idea, or a trite cliché, a great insight or a totally wrong conspiracy theory. Continue reading

Physics’ Split Personality: Is the Dark Side Winning?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD, and Menas Kafatos, PhD

For some time now most of the universe has gone dark. This startling news was brought to popular attention in a June Op-Ed piece in the New York Times called “A Crisis at the Edge of Physics.” It began, “Do physicists need empirical evidence to confirm their theories?” In other words, once you work out a theoretical explanation for how Nature works, do you need evidence to prove it?

The answer seems like an obvious yes. If someone had a theory that unicorns live at the center of black holes, no one would believe it without evidence. But for a hundred years, ever since the quantum revolution, mathematics has often substituted for empirical data. The quantum world is too far removed from the everyday world for empiricism to guide the way. There have been famous validations of arcane theories, as when astronomers used a total solar eclipse in 1919 to verify Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity that light can been bent into a curve by strong gravitational forces. Continue reading

Human Universe and Eternal Inflation

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I was reminded recently that we live in a Catch-22 Universe. What makes it a Catch-22 is that no one is qualified to penetrate the mystery of the cosmos without skill in advanced mathematics, and yet those who have this skill are so tied to numbers that they see reality no other way. Clearly the universe isn’t a set of equations. It’s the all-embracing reality that gave rise to human life. This obvious fact makes many physicists very uncomfortable.

In the last post I challenged Brian Cox, the author of Human Universe—a book, ironically enough, that rejects the concept of a human universe—to confront the current crisis in physics. For many non-scientists, this crisis only came to light thanks to an op-ed last June in the New York Times. But in the profession, especially among physicists who deal in cosmology, the crisis is well known. Cox, a physics professor at the University of Manchester and a popular science presenter on the BBC, didn’t accept my challenge. Yet his book makes no mention of any real sense of crisis. To him, as to all the most orthodox physicists, every answer will be revealed as long as the public continues to trust in the current state of affairs. Continue reading

What Does “the Human Universe” Actually Mean?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

 

Most people have never heard the phrase “the human universe,” so it got a major boost from British physicist Brian Cox. A popular science presenter in the UK and physics professor at the University of Manchester, Cox called his latest BBC series by that name. (The amplified text is available in a lavishly illustrated book, Human Universe, written with producer Andrew Cohen, just out in paperback.) Cox covers the biggest unanswered questions, not just in physics but in science: Where are we? Are we alone? Who are we? Why are we here? What is our future? Continue reading

Why a Mental Universe Is the “Real” Reality

By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas Kafatos, PhD, Bernardo Kastrup, PhD, Rudolph Tanzi, PhD

handsScience concerns itself with reality, in the form of “real particles”, “real organisms”, and the “real universe”. The tacit assumption is that science can answer the question of reality itself. If this wasn’t the case, science would have a hard time explaining why it holds a special place as a human activity. So one must grant that science concerns itself with the reality of “objects”. What this assumes, of course, is that objects exist independent of conscious experience. In the first two articles of this series, we’ve discussed the evidence that our universe is in fact fundamentally mental. What we call physical things and events, as it turns out, do not exist independently of subjective experience.

If they did, how would one even prove such existence? Conscious experience is the only way that reality can be known. The implications of this increasingly unavoidable conclusion—that the universe must be approached as fundamentally mental—are often misunderstood. For this reason, the vast majority of scientists cling to the belief in materialism, regarding anything else as metaphysics and not science. The goal of the present article is to address some of these misunderstandings.

To begin with, we aren’t proposing that human mental activity is necessary for the world to exist, i.e., for it to be real. Or to put it another way, reality can be independent of the human mind, but not necessarily of mind or consciousness in general. When we say that the universe is mental, many people interpret this to mean that reality is in our heads. Precisely the opposite is the case: if all reality is mental, then our heads and bodies, as parts of reality, are in the mind. This may sound surprising at first, but it is entirely consistent with everyday experience. There is nothing to our bodies but our felt perceptions of them. A body is what a particular swirl in a transpersonal flow of experiences looks like, just like a whirlpool is what a particular swirl in a stream of water looks like. Continue reading

The WholeTooth: Diabetes testing in the dental office?

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Years ago, when my book on athlete’s nutrition was just published, I gave a talk to my daughter’s kindergarten class on the benefits of eating well. Never too early to start them on the right path, I reasoned. And maybe they would have second thoughts about eating those fried baloney balls for lunch. Throughout my “lecture,”  I felt I had their rapt attention. Gee, I thought to myself, I am really making an impact on these kids. I finished with a flourish, telling them the importance of a healthy diet, not only for their minds but for strong bones and teeth, as well.

Then it was time to answer any questions. A little girl’s hand went up. “Mrs. Michael,” she chirped, still staring intently at my face, “how many teeth do you have?”

So much for my health talk!  “Thirty two,” I said, with a laugh, “and they are in good condition because I also brush and floss and have twice-a-year cleanings and checkups with my dentist.”

What I didn’t tell her was that those appointments were not exactly on my list of favorite things to do. And that holds true to this very day. As my readers know all too well, I am a confirmed hypochondriac whose blood pressure rises to dangerous levels at the sight of anyone in a white coat, even a butcher. (Odd, I know, for a lifestyle columnist and author who hosts a weekly radio show about health!) In fact, to prepare for a recent visit, I tried to reassure myself by thinking, “It’s just a cleaning.” Read: No shots or needles.

So imagine my horror when the hygienist asked if she could poke my finger to get a blood sample to measure my A1C levels and check for diabetes. “Diabetes?” I was incredulous. “In the dentist’soffice?” Turns out, I never made the connection. Continue reading

Want to Lead a Happier Life? Talk to Your Genes

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By Deepak Chopra, MD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD

Genetics may be on the verge of solving a very complex question in a revolutionary but quite simple way. The question is, What does it take to be happy? The question never goes away. It hangs over our heads every day. The possible answers are many, but they follow two general trends whose results, frankly, have been disappointing. One trend is psychological, holding that happiness is an emotional state. The other trend is philosophical, holding that happiness is a mental state. When someone is unhappy, psychologists aim to improve their mood, largely by addressing anxiety, depression, and various psychological wounds from the past. A philosopher, on the other hand, would examine the underlying idea of happiness itself and why it is or isn’t feasible. In the end, happiness is all about health and wellbeing.

Yet after thousands of years of deep thinking and a hundred years of psychotherapy, the condition that the vast majority of people find themselves in is marked by total confusion. We muddle through on a wobbly combination of wishful thinking, hope, bouts of high and low spirits, denial, family ties, love, distraction, and the constant pursuit of external pleasures, as if happiness can be cobbled together more or less randomly.

For all of our muddling, the key to happiness could be as simple as biology. To a biologist, the wellbeing of an organism consists of healthy cells functioning without falling into dysfunction. Dysfunction is a dry-sounding term, but once the life of the cell starts to go awry, it’s only a matter of time before the whole body is affected, resulting in pain, discomfort, illness, and a general decline from wellbeing. The brain operates through cells like any other organ, and neuroscience now has abundant evidence that psychological states like anxiety and depression have physical correlates in brain cells.  Continue reading

Making a Choice: Is the Universe Mental or Physical?

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By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas Kafatos, PhD, Bernardo Kastrup, PhD, Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD

Science often makes strides by contradicting what we take for granted, and the biggest thing everyone takes for granted is the physical world.  Our senses wrap themselves around tangible objects so naturally that it’s difficult to believe that they may be misleading us completely. This is true of working physicists as well, so when any prominent theorist states the evidence of a different view of reality, one in which the mind creates the properties of what we call “the physical world,” it’s more than intriguing.

The possibility of a mental universe has a strong lineage going in the quantum era, but present-day physicalists (physicists who accept the physical nature of reality as a given) feel free to dismiss or ignore figures as towering as Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, and John von Neumann. We discussed them in our last posting. Physicalism holds sway with the vast majority of cosmologists, and yet Andre Linde of Stanford University made some important points in an article on the most current theories of the inflationary universe: “…carefully avoiding the concept of consciousness in quantum cosmology” may artificially narrow one’s outlook.” ( http://scienceandnonduality.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/UNIVERSE-LIFE-CONSCIOUSNESS-Andrei-Linde.pdf)

As a result, Linde points out, a number of physicists have replaced “observer” with “participant” when describing how humans interact with the universe. Others use the phrase “self-observing universe.” It’s startling when an important authority on the inflationary cosmos opens the door for human participation as a key element. Linde asks the same question posed by many quantum pioneers a century ago: “Is it really possible to fully understand what the universe is without first understanding what life is?” Continue reading

Physics May Stonewall, But Reality Doesn’t

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By Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas Kafatos, PhD, Bernardo Kastrup, PhD

In a recent blog posting, physicist Lawrence Krauss defended the notion that the physical universe is objectively real. To think otherwise, he says, is nonsensical. “Deepak Chopra, for example, keeps implying that quantum mechanics means that objective reality doesn’t exist apart from conscious experience.”

Krauss seems to suggest that the notion of a mental universe is naively entertained only by non-physicists. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Over the past couple of decades, experimental evidence in favor of a mental universe has been mounting, as argued by Prof. Richard Conn Henry in none other than Nature magazine (Vol. 436, 7 July 2005, p. 29), in an essay suitably titled “The Mental Universe.” After a particularly significant experiment published in 2007, Physics World went as far as to say that “quantum physics says goodbye to reality;” that is, to an objective reality outside mind. Krauss, as a physicist, should presumably be aware of these seminal developments in his own field. Yet he curiously chose to use his authority to paint a very different scenario: “The truth … is that consciousness is irrelevant to the act of measurement,” he says confidently.

This is an old story, of trying to stonewall on behalf of a current belief system that allegedly is so obviously true, only an ignoramus or naïve thinker would disagree. The flat Earth was such an idea long ago. Krauss’ version of the flat Earth comes down to solid objects that exist “out there” beyond the tip of our noses. He labels as “nonsensical” the contrary idea, that reality is possibly entirely mental. Continue reading

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