Category Archives: Science

How the Universe Solved the “Hard Problem”

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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

How to Free Yourself from Your Brain

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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

Why the Physical Universe Needs Mental Glue

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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

How to See the Whole Universe: Nonlocality and Acausality

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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

Sleep to Win! Seven Ways to Gain the Competitive Edge

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By Dr, James B. Maas and Haley A. Davis

Whether you’re a pro-athlete or haven’t run, or hit or touched a ball since your high school days, you have no idea how your abilities can dramatically improve overnight. And the best part is – it’ll be the easiest and most enjoyable change to your workout routine. All you need to do is get more sleep!

Most people don’t realize how significant a role sleep plays in daytime performance. Research regarding sleep and athletics is gaining more attention than ever and many new findings are coming to light. Here are seven ways to get the right quality and quantity of sleep to maintain your competitive advantage. Continue reading

If Science Is a Game, Here’s a Game-Changer

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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

Why Gravitational Waves Are Red Herrings

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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

Your New Year’s Resolution Just Got A Lot Easier: Learn How You Can Burn Fat While You Sleep

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It sounds too good to be true, but, when done right, you can use a powerful protein found in milk to burn fat as you sleep. Casein protein powder is known to form structures known as micelles. As milk is processed, micelles are transformed into less complex structures that provide a steady release of amino acids throughout the body. Amino acids are the building block for new, strong muscle tissue, and regular consumption of casein protein powder can ultimately lead to the adaptation of the body to use your body fat as fuel while minimizing the waste of essential amino acids. Continue reading

Why Science Is Ultimately Spiritual, and Vice Versa

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By Deepak Chopra, MD

Despite attempts to reconcile science with the long history of spirituality, a gulf still exists between them–a totally unnecessary one. There is only one reality, and science differs from spirituality only in its style of describing what is real. If this is true, then it’s not simply an option to merge science with spirituality. They must be compatible. If not, then reality has eluded both camps.

Here is a way to see the two approaches as one, based on a common element, the brain. Whether you are a physicists or a mystic, you experience the universe through your brain. So how does the brain organize experience? That’s easily answered by looking at everyday life. We experience everything from toasters and school buses to clouds and rainbows by attaching a name to them. Names are how we identify anything that has a form. In this way the brain freezes things in place, even if the thing is a fleeting subatomic particle like the Higgs boson or an electron. Continue reading

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

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