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By Deepak Chopra, M.D., Menas C. Kafatos, Ph.D., P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D., Neil Theise, MD
Telling someone that Truth exists with a capital T may seem like a quixotic crusade. We have raised a new absolute – universal consciousness (or pure awareness) – to the level once occupied by God, an all-pervasive, all-powerful agent who is secretly in charge of everything. But reality has led us to this conclusion and, by any definition, science is an activity that must follow wherever reality leads it.
The oldest and most sacrosanct assumption of science – that reality exists “out there,” independent of consciousness – has reached the end of its usefulness. The time for a paradigm shift is long overdue. Quantum physics sniffed around the importance of the observer a century ago, and now the tide has come in. Without an observer, so-called physical reality cannot be perceived in any way, either through validation and measurement by experiments or through theoretical, mathematical calculations. Moreover, a reality existing “out there”, devoid of consciousness, is, ultimately, not possible.
Our final task is to show why any of this matters in the real world of everyday experiences. After all, if we are right in saying that consciousness is the absolute upon which everything is based, reality must agree. There is no court of higher opinion than reality itself. Mainstream science has proved wildly successful despite its setting a low priority for pursuing the nature of consciousness as a major force. What kind of success can we point to for this newer paradigm? Subjectivity is anathema to the scientific method. What perversity impels us to suddenly elevate it? We’d like to sketch in plausible answers to both questions.
To begin, the bugaboo of subjectivity has always been a fairy tale. All experience is subjective, including the experience of doing science. The human mind is capable of separating subjectivity into various compartments, one of which is rational thought. You don’t buy a new car because you like how shiny the metal gleams in the sun or how smooth it feels under your touch. You can separate those sensations from rational considerations about price, reliability, style, safety, etc.
Science takes one aspect of reality – that it can be measured in bits of data – and runs with it. But it never runs so far that subjectivity is left behind. In fact, theories, to which all measurements of data must eventually lead and from which they originate, are, in the words of Einstein, “free inventions of the mind”. And beyond theories, all experience happens in consciousness, which means that if you want to get at the source of love, truth, beauty, hope, aspirations, art, insight, intuition, and scientific hypothesizing itself, the proper field to explore is consciousness itself. Consciousness gives you the answers to questions about meaning and purpose, such as “Who am I?” and “Why am I here?” Asking science to answer these questions is pointless.
Despite the proliferating number of brain imaging studies with press releases depicting colorful hotspots, neuroscience is not much closer to discovering why we love one another or where God resides in the brain. While fMRI and EEG studies are helpful to diagnose brain death and map the activation of high level circuits associated with self-awareness or decision making, our current imaging tools still do not, in fact, answer fundamental cause and effect questions about mind or consciousness. When science gets away with confusing data with meaning, philosophers squawk, but philosophy is in the same position as the hapless Bart Simpson confronting the cynical Krusty the Clown:
Krusty: What have you done for me lately?
Bart: I got you that danish.
Krusty: And I’ll never forget it.
Philosophy can plead for science to acknowledge what great thinkers and wisdom traditions have accomplished, but Science (capital S, the institutional reifications of scientific activities) is currently all-powerful and can choose to ignore it as irrelevant. As a result of this often willful amnesia, we have been saddled with the crude assumptions of materialism. It’s as if someone went to Detroit and said, “You build such fantastic cars. Tell me where I should take my next vacation.” The ability to arrive at incredibly sophisticated technology doesn’t remotely give science the right to speak about meaning and purpose.
In fact most scientists shy away from doing that. They correctly point out that present day science is neutral on such human constructs and values. But the new science of Consciousness will be able to at least put in the right tools, the experiences would be an integral part of what is being observed. Although “metaphysics” remains a term of dismissal among scientists, the hardest problem in metaphysics, the relation between mind and brain, has become a hot topic in recent years, largely because of advances in neuroscience. Here is the one place where consciousness can clearly make a difference to science, since understanding the brain in all its complexity will tell us a great deal about the mind if only the conversation goes both ways and science is willing to see the brain in terms of the mind.
The urgency of solving the mind-brain problem (or the mind-body problem, as it was stated in philosophy for many centuries) is greater than ever. Two partial answers exist, each with its own partisans. One camp holds that brain is the creator of mind. To have any thought or sensation, there must be a corresponding brain process that “lights up” with fMRI. These processes are fascinating in their complexity, but this is a mechanistic metaphor and does not actually answer the question of whether the mind creates brain.
In our prior metaphor of music and the radio, showing the structural and functional behaviors of the radio’s individual antennas, circuitry, and speakers, does not reveal how it “made the music” because it didn’t make the music – such analysis only reveals how the radio detected radio waves and transformed them into something a human ear could comprehend as music. Beethoven, the Beatles, and Beyoncé still made the music. Will an fMRI ever reveal how Shakespeare wrote, how Leonardo invented, or how Michelangelo painted? We think not. So the other partial answer is that the brain transduces forms of communication between humans – like plays, music, technology, and art – from their creative source in an all pervasive, pre-existing consciousness.
The events in consciousness include all experiences, including the experience of having a brain. When the word “hippopotamus” pops into your head, that’s an experience. When you isolate the exact set of neurons that triggered the word, that too is an experience. One didn’t cause the other; they arose together. Does this defy the Newtonian world view in which every effect must have a cause? Yes, but that demolition job was done a hundred years ago when the pioneers of quantum physics dealt with the behavior of subatomic particles, which obey “quantum indeterminacy,” a probabilistic way of looking at reality, wherein two events are linked by probability not by certainty. Yet this probabilistic view of reality is incredibly accurate. Quantum mechanics predicts parameters to one part over one followed by 16 zeroes! This quantum reality of indeterminacy has to be taken seriously, if we are to be self-consistent in our own science.
Stay tuned for part 8!
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Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 70 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers, including co-author with Sanjiv Chopra, MD of Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and The American Dream, and co-author with Rudolph Tanzi of Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-being (Harmony). Chopra serves as Founder of The Chopra Foundation and host of Sages and Scientists Symposium – August 16-18, 2013 at La Costa Resort and Spa.
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 ofSuper 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 — Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York.www.neiltheise.com