I almost wrote a post about Deepak Chopra recently, but I decided against it because I find him utterly repellent. He adopts a superior, condescending and authoritarian tone to his readers (with baseless assertions about “YOUR” true nature) and aggressively insults and attacks those who criticize him. And then of course pulls every dirty trick in the book to evade constructive criticism. He is a horrible person who does not deserve attention.
However, a recent article by Chopra was “co-authored” by one Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D, who despite being a qualified neuroscientist and holding a post at Harvard, shares both ideology and disgraceful manners with Chopra. In this post I will deal with their article, and then in a separate post, with Dr Tanzi’s response to criticism. (The article was roundly criticized by Prof. Jerry Coyne, whom Tanzi threatened to sue for libel. He also pulled most of the typical woo tricks that I list in the comment policy here.)
The article is titled — in typically presumptuous and intrusive Chopra style — You Will Transform Your Own Biology. It consists of the usual Chopra distortions and word-tricks, only this time with a Harvard professor signing off on it too.
Biology, they claim, sees humans as “puppets of our genome”. This crass deterministic model (which is supposedly in all the text books), sees the effects of genes as:
fixed and unchanging, controlling every aspect of our physical makeup, behavior, and susceptibility to disease. Not just eye color, height, and other physical characteristics were predetermined by inherited genes, but perhaps all kinds of behaviors, from criminality to belief in God.
That claim about current models of physiology, psychology, medical science and genetics is false. It’s too extreme to be judged an oversimplification. But it does accurately reflect a widespread misconception about genetics among the public, especially the public who read hucksters like Chopra. (No coincidence!) People fear such crass genetic determinism, because if it were true it would mean the end of the inner life, the extinguishing of hopes and aspirations, and the abolition of personal identity.
But there’s no need to fear, because Chopra and Tanzi will rescue you from this (albeit nonexistent) ideological threat. Their “new model” “gives control back to each person.” Note here the salesmanship and assumption of power and authority over you — they will “give control back” to you. The “old model”, foisted on you by evil materialist scientists, has taken away your control over your most basic bodily and psychological functions. It is your birthright to tinker mentally with your genome, and the “new model” will give you back this power. So buy Chopra & Tanzi’s new book Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being, selling for just $19.20 at all good bookstores now.
Just to make it completely clear before going further, the “old model” is a complete misrepresentation of modern genetics, and the “new model” is entirely speculative. It is derived from a dualistic ideology, which is so popular that few people ever even realize that it’s based on a long string of assumptions, let alone question these assumptions.
At this point the article leaves coherence behind altogether and wades into the murky waters of Chopra-esque marketable jargon and trigger words. We make a quantum leap from talking vague nonsense about the genetics of the individual to suddenly talking about the evolution of every species who ever lived on this planet.
Theories of evolution and genetics have long taught that genetic mutation is entirely random. However, genetics has been gradually stepping into a new era of “self-directed biological transformation….”
So here’s the deal. Your non-physical soul gets to reach down into your biology, right into your genome and prevent it from turning you into a puppet. And this also disproves Darwin. Deal!!! For only $19.20.
But do you really want to evolve into a new species?
Regardless of the nature of the genes we inherit from our parents, dynamic change at this level allows us almost unlimited influence on our fate.
You could grow a nice furry tail like a fox or something. Cool!
Joking aside (if that was joking — I see nothing in this article beyond the vague qualifier “almost unlimited” that would preclude that), there’s a serious danger here for people wanting use this “new model” practically. If you want to break a habit, let’s say smoking, you will think that you can do it by altering your genome. Your nonphysical soul can reach down into your genome and miraculously — er, I mean, holisitcally — know which bits to fiddle with. You will alter your own behavior as a fait accompli, ordering your current and future self to quit and stay quitted…. Unless your immortal soul decides it likes smoking and changes your genome back again.
This is a very poor and dangerous model for psychological functioning. Do you really need to alter your friggin’ genome before you can change your behavior for god’s sake? No, but what the heck, it’s easier to sell if you tell people that. Go ahead, Dr Tanzi, tell me this isn’t what you were both meaning. And then make sure you tell your customers too.
The three words in the advertising slogan — er, sorry, I mean the “new model” — are explained:
Self-directed = Voluntary activity in your thoughts, feelings, habits, and desires. This is the realm of personal choice.
Biological = Effects at every level of the mind-body system, including reactions by your genetic material.
Transformation = Major shifts in cellular activity leading to physiological changes.
(Hmmm, maybe you really can grow a tail with this stuff.)
We get some biology talk describing how all this works, and then it’s back to the highly marketable and completely pointless activity of Darwin-bashing:
Darwin didn’t know about epigenetics and “soft inheritance”. Otherwise, he may have written a very difference [sic] treatise, in which evolution wouldn’t solely result from random gene mutations. Self-directed evolution is the emerging paradigm.
Here’s a red flag for pseudo-science: “X is the emerging paradigm.” This also frequently takes the form “What scientists are beginning to see is…” The ideology behind this claim is the anti-scientific notion that we intuitively “know” certain things, and “science still has yet to catch up and confirm what we already know.” Hang your head in shame for putting your name to that, Dr Tanzi…
Overturning evolutionary theory is the holy grail of modern woo. It means that our species made itself evolve, rather than being the product of natural processes acting over long periods on icky hairy apes. It makes you a child of God, or a divine being having a human experience, or… whatever Chopra tells YOU that YOU are.
Bringing evolution (or evolution-bashing) into this discussion is transparent populism and crass marketing. Whereas the authors at least make a token effort to justify their assertion that thoughts can alter your genome, they say nothing at all to justify their quantum leap into evolutionary theory. There are important steps missing here. Altering the cells in one part of the body does not automatically alter the DNA in other cells, and especially not in the reproductive system — which would be necessary for such changes to become heritable and potentially affect evolution.
Maybe the authors think that DNA contained in sex cells miraculously — er — holistically adjusts itself in real-time to the miniscule alterations in the cells in the rest of the body. Maybe they mean that your non-physical soul can holisitcally descend into your testes and ovaries and twiddle various knobs or something. I don’t know. They don’t say. Whatever the case, Tanzi and Chopra are waltzing happily with Intelligent Design Creationism, only with YOUR soul taking the place of Yahweh.
There is an awful lot more speculation going on here than the authors, especially Tanzi, want to admit. A multitude of undefined and miraculous mechanisms are supposed to have been active in– how many species, for– how many billions of years?
Who knows, but this “new model” will give you back the control over your genome that materialistic scientists like Richard Dawkins stole from you. It will cure your cancer, make you permanently happy, and allow you to alter the course of human evolution, all for just $19.20!!!
Stay tuned (it might take a while — sorry) for a fun post looking at Tanzi’s indignant grizzling, threats, insults and excuses on Coyne’s website, (starting here, if you wish to read ahead).
*Who is Bruce Lipton? You don’t want to know, but here’s a sample.
Posted by Yakaru