Medieval Quantum Theology with Deepak Chopra

July 18, 2010

I finally got around to watching the debate between Sam Harris & Michael Schermer (on the skeptic side), and Deepak Chopra & Jean Houston (promoting the cause of New Age unaccountability on the other). It aired way back in March on ABC’s Nightline.

It was a lesson in devious obfuscation from Chopra; and clarity, sincerity and intelligence from Sam Harris. Schermer was ok, but nowhere near as impressive as Harris. New Age self-important blitherer Jean Houston, could easily have been replaced with Sammy the Performing Dachshund without detracting from the intellectual level of the debate.

Chopra spoke his usual pompous mess of arrogant bullshit, alternately attacking science and claiming science for his own. He thinks his particular type of spirituality (which he sees as the only universally correct brand) can “upgrade science”. And he accused scientists of living in the “dungeon of scientific orthodoxy”.

Then he claimed that science itself(in particular, quantum physics)has actually confirmed that “we live in a sea of consciousness”, and anyone who denies this is a “scientific jihadist“.

Sam Harris calmly pointed out how foolish it is for non-physicists to lecture people about quantum physics, especially in an audience of a thousand at CalTech. Chopra angrily asserted his credentials as an MD and as someone who has repeatedly spoken with real proper scientist people, so he has the right to use “specialist language” – by which he means his special redefining of terms like non-locality, for example.

Harris:  If you are saying that non-locality is an operant concept in neuroscience, then that is woo woo.

Incredibly, Chopra countered that non-locality is indeed a valid part of neuroscience, and claims that not only the brain, but even a pace-maker (yes, a freaking pace-maker!) functions according to the principles of the aforementioned non-locality.

Yes, he really said that.

Any Chopra fans reading this should let that sink in.

Chopra was very insistant on this point, that it his work is a valid part of science. As he once explained to Richard Dawkins, “The aficionados in the world of quantum physics have somehow hijacked the word for their own use.”

Yes, he really said that. Any Chopra fans, etc. etc.

There is a marked contrast between D-Bag Chopra’s pig-ignorant deceitful waffle and Sam Harris’s well-informed awareness of the limits of his own knowledge, and the current stand of science. In fact he made a better case for research into spirituality than Chopra himself did. Harris:

We need a scientific discourse on the possibilities of human well-being, and you can get as esoteric as you want there. You can talk about self transcendence, the ego being an illusion, you can ask what is the relationship between consciousness and the rest of the physical world.

And the truth is that when you get out to some of those fringe areas, you are getting to an area of real scientific ignorance, and the first thing you want to do in the spirit of intellectual honesty is admit ignorance, not claim that you, by closing your eyes, can realise your identity with the entire cosmos, and that you can get to before the big bang with your unguarded intuitions. That’s not how you discover what happens.

And therein lies the fundamental difference between Chopra’s idea of science and the thing which the word usually refers to. Chopra has a foregone conclusion that he has “intuitively grasped” through subjective experience:

Chopra: It’s called [neural] binding.
Harris: It’s called absolute ignorance of what is actually going on outside your subjective consciousness.

Of course, being prepared to recognise your ignorance, study hard, take risks and wait for answers is of no use to New Age teachers. The market wants answers NOW and there are profits to be made. Science, just like ancient mythology and indigenous cultures, is there to be plundered for marketable ideas and concepts.


  1. Great description of the event! Yes, and when the physicist in the audience said Chopra was wrong, Chopra was nonplussed, but unfortunately the physicist was too nice and let him off the hook.

    Chopra just sits there, though, in the glow of his millions, and unfortunately that makes him attractive to most people. I don’t think skeptics should even be debating the dude–just makes it seem like “his side” has something legitimate to bring to the table.

  2. Thanks, Janice.

    Yeh, they probably shouldn’t debate Chopra. Harris did a brilliant job of it, but he is in the unique position (among outspoken critics of Chopra) in having a more than a passing familiarity with Buddhism and meditation, as well as being an accomplished neuroscientist. He remained several steps ahead of Chopra the whole time and knew exactly when to nail him on a point, and when to let him babble.

    Mlodinov (the physicist who spoke at the end) did everything right in terms of sticking to the format, but of course Chopra could pull out his weasely tricks and evade the issue. So there’s this bizarre scene of one of the world’s leading physicists being forced to ask Deepak Chopra question, and then being forced to listen to the answer.

    I was thinking about posting that vid, so I’ll put it here.

  3. Funny video! Chopra is an idiot, Did not think he came off well at all with the physicist.

  4. […] post, Medieval Quantum Theology, covers a debate between Deepak Chopra and Sam Harris. Chopra doesn’t quite seem to know what […]

  5. That account has gone, but I guess this is it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z17sIJyQ3oY

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