Dr Rudolph E. Tanzi — the thinking person’s Bruce Lipton

December 22, 2013

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!!!

See the next post, covering Tanzi’s admission on Jerry Coyne’s website that he doesn’t in fact have any evidence at all for any of this. It’s all hype and speculation foisted on his customers as fact.

*Who is Bruce Lipton? You don’t want to know, but here’s a sample.

Posted by Yakaru



  1. Nicely done, Yakaru! This stuff makes my skin crawl. Metaphorically speaking. Deepak is a pretty bad fella, I’m finding out.

  2. Thanks, Mariah.

    From first impressions of Tanzi’s profile, he looks like a respectable scientist doing important work. From a brief look at his twitter account and his reactions to criticism, he looks like a stereotypical woo. He’s not a hard core cancer quack or kook like Lipton– yet, but he seems to have unquestioningly swallowed a whole lot of religious ideology and is spouting it in public. His status as a PhD lends credence to quackery, and he will feed off the support of quacks who refer their customers to his work.

  3. Oh dear Mr Tanzi does seem a tad upset by the comments on Dr Coyne’s blog. He doesn’t seem to reslise that the angrier he gets the more fun the blog becomes.

    He is also missing the obvious route to rebuke the criticism, and that is to provide proof that an immaterial res cogitans influences material res extensa. A proof that has been somewhat illusive over the past 350 years.

  4. Hehe, yes I’m enjoying that discussion. My jaw dropped particularly satisfyingly when “Mr” Tanzi (yeah, we should probably remove such people’s doctorates in common speech) started inviting people to talk in private by email rather than provide a scrap of evidence. My other gob-smacked moment was where he started to distance himself, saying, “Linked In asked Dr. Chopra to write a bold and innovative “Big Idea” for 2014. He asked my help and I suggested discussing the potential for epigenetics and the extent to which we can affect our own health via our genetics. We did this, albeit with some speculation about the possibilities – we were expected to do so.” Fabulous. Lesson: don’t “help” Deepak Chopra to write “speculative” pseudoscience whipped up by SoldOut (LinkedIn is fast becoming THE woo’s mutual masturbation hub, from what I saw when I joined it for a few weeks). Besides, if a scientist is going to “discuss … the extent to which we can affect our own health via our genetics”, they should presumably focus on the immensely powerful phenomenon of deliberate genetic engineering. That’s more hopeful if you’re really after a furry tail, or to choose children who are healthier, more intelligent or less susceptible to snake oil contamination. OTOH, it’s probably more than $19.20. I don’t want a furry tail. I’d rather have wings so I can hover just above the heads of yogic fliers and “encourage” them.

  5. @wtf,
    Yeh, Tanzi seems oblivious to just how much more than he can chew that he has bitten off ! It’s one thing to say there must be an immaterial mind because subjectively it seems to be so; but he’s insisting not only that, but also that it has infinite knowledge about genetics. That means that the mind must be much more complex than the brain. How did that state of affairs arise?

    No wonder he’s pissed off that “militant atheists” are asking him for evidence.

    I really don’t understand why woos are so keen to fool around with their own DNA. It’s asking for trouble! And if LinkedIn is asking Chopra of all people to write about science, it’s no surprise it’s a hotbed of woo.

  6. And this will lead to new « quantum » therapies, new delusions and disillusions, but NO disease-dilution.

    Chopra wants us to know he is the quantum physicist, the biologist, the absolute song writer (after all, he helped Michael Jackson write two songs). What else ? Oh, he is a beacon for humanity, spiritually. What is this called ?

    Folie des grandeurs.

  7. People like Chopra have been speculating for decades now that the new scientific paradigm will transform everything when it arrives. It’s a bit like waiting for the Messiah — it’s turned into a fine old tradition with a long history.

  8. In the UK we have a tradition of Pantomime at this time of year. Traditionally, at some point the villain shouts “Oh yes it is” to which all the children reply “Oh no it isn’t”. I think we should extend this idea to refute Chopra and any errant professors he recruits to his payroll.

  9. Excellent wtf1962 !

    Yes Yakaru.

    They pretend that quantum mechanics support their vision of the universe. That quantum mechanics legitimate their believes that human consciousness determinates the reality.

    Scientific observations do not confirm this. It is a wrong way from mathematics to philosophy.

    There are books everyone can read to discover a little bit of the three or four biggest fallacies in this approach. This confusion began 50-60 years ago.

    And Chopra surfed on it.

  10. @Caroline,
    In reference to a comment you asked me to remove–
    Your English perfectly easy to understand. Also, I try my best to make my writing intelligible to non-native English speakers, so I’m always happy to have them commenting here. (And, living in Germany, I know what it’s like to try and communicate in a second language!)

    I think Chopra cashes in on his Indian-ness very well. Academics are often reluctant, I suspect, to criticize him for fear of being seen as a “Western” bigot. But his presentation of mystical ideas is dull, intellectualized and laughably literal. Normal sensible people look into their beloved’s eyes and see something unfathomable and mysterious. Chopra sees a non-local quantum event localized non-relativistically in the space time continuum in a multidimensionally non-lunar eclipse.. or something.

    I couldn’t stomach the guy even when I was a big fan of mysticism in general.

    There is an element of the pantomime in Tanzi’s performance there! And imagine his boss (Chopra) in the background, having stirred up a hornet’s nest – telling Coyne to read his article – and the hapless Tanzi plunging into it to try to save his own reputation.

  11. Yesterday, I stopped by Game Exchange and saw Deepak Chopra’s Leela for the Wii. IIRC, it’s supposed to be some kind of psychedelic meditation-assisting game or something.

    Epigenetics certainly seems to be the new quantum. I read enough of PZ that I know it’s an important (and like QM, widely misunderstood) issue in evo-devo. I strongly suspect there will be medical applications based on it if there aren’t already. But it’s a convenient buzzword for woos because it gives them a tool to fight yesterday’s folly of genetic determinism.

    It’s a recurring theme in woo: They’re always fighting decade- or even century-old mistakes and straw men long after modern science declared them dead, irrelevant, and started peeing on the graves. Homeopathy created “allopathy,” pretending that “mainstream” medicine was all about countering disease with opposites. They continue to rail against symptomatic medicine long after we nailed down how to treat many causes, and homeopaths in particular miss the irony that symptoms are the basis of choosing a homeopathic snake oil 50X. “Health Freedom” rails against paternalistic medicine from the 50s, not recognizing mainstream patient-centered trends and emphasis on informed consent. Meanwhile, they’re shocked to think you’d question their all-knowing gurus instead of blindly trusting in their innate authority. They rail against perceived racism against “eastern” medicine while science’s principles don’t acknowledge east or west, only good methodology. At the same time, they often go on racist tirades about the inferiority of the west and imply easterners were compensated for their lack of book smarts with magical wisdom from heaven. Creationists are still railing against Piltdown Man, notions of an inherently progressive evolutionary ladder, fantasies of humanity evolving superpowers, racial eugenics, Crocoduck chimera, depictions of evolution built purely on randomness, and so on.

    And somehow, despite being chronically trapped in the past, these people are supposed to bring about new world-changing paradigms?

    On dualism, one annoying trope I recently encountered again is the notion that our (skeptics’/monists’/atheists’) minds are affected by drugs and such because we believe matter is superior to mind. They’re projecting their dualist hierarchy onto us despite the fact that we reject dualism altogether. Thoughts are synonymous with their corresponding electrochemical reactions. It’s not a hierarchy where one dominates the other, it’s recognition that there are multiple, equally valid ways to describe the same event at different levels of abstraction. I could describe the nucleus of an atom in terms of protons and neutrons, or as trios of up and down quarks. The quarks don’t control the protons and neutrons, they are the protons and neutrons and vice versa.

  12. And somehow, despite being chronically trapped in the past, these people are supposed to bring about new world-changing paradigms?

    Chopra is an “Evolutionary Leader” along with people like Bruce Lipton, Gregg Braden and a bunch of crooks from The Secret. In fact they already ushered in the New Paradigm on December 21 2012. I guess the rest of us missed the boat if we didn’t feel the earth change on that date.

    Tanzi has changed his tone remarkably in the comments on WEIT, from threatening legal action to admitting he hasn’t got a shred of evidence for any of his claims, “yet”. But most of what he and Chopra say is simply a repetition of Lipton’s nonsense, only more coherently presented. (Not surprising, I guess — to present something less coherently than Lipton would require a super-human effort.)

  13. Bronze Dog, that was a great set of observations and made me laugh, especially the bit Yakaru just quoted. It is quite amazing the propensity dualists have for projecting their world view onto the scientific one and then criticising the distorted results. It does remind me, though, that we all see the world only from one particular vantage point, and thus to try to be careful and try to visualize and understand “alternative hypotheses”.

    They fall down, generally, on the issue of lack of reliable evidence, or they stink to high heaven of wishful thinking, or they are clearly arbitrary preferences out of an infinite array of possibilities, or some combination of these. The more sophisticated types try to transcend such earthly considerations as “evidence” by vaunting the power of subjectivity or other philosophical games (if there are infinite universes, as Dr Scientist says, then we can create our own…).

    They will always find a way to circumvent a logical objection. It would be easy to reevaluate your time-fixated, linear, reductionist – not to mention snide and hateful – statement above ;-) in such a manner. Their views are not “trapped in the past”, but encouraging a New Age Renaissance. The Ancients knew all the Secrets (presumably they had an Old Age Renaissance or Always Knew), but over time we lost the knowledge. I don’t know why the Knowledge of the all-knowing Ancients was so uninspiring, or their parenting so ineffective, that their offspring descended into the sickness of modern times. It’s just one of those Mysteries, I suppose.

    Faith – that’s obviously the Way (Back). To be a Truth-Seeker one must learn to stop Questioning!

  14. Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.

    – Voltare.

  15. Great post Yakaru, I’ve read it now for the 3rd or 4th time.
    The first time, within a paragraph or two the tangential subjects that seemed to me to be so heavily involved and relevant were already pouring into my mind.
    But as I read, you were describing these supposedly tangential subjects with great fluency and completeness, one by one, as fast as I was receiving them.
    Such that I now have nothing to add in my usual tangential style.
    Thank you, Yakaru, your post has covered the ground to leave even me without further comment.

  16. It is very liberating but somewhat painful to realise how « my spiritual enlightenment » has gone in the way of the honest estimation of the facts. The statement that « religion poisons everything » is a sharp thing, above all the word « everything ».

  17. Thanks Woody. I could have made a few distinctions a bit more clearly in the post, like that epigenetics doesn’t involve alterations to DNA structure, but Chopra & Tanzi fudged the whole thing so much that it’s difficult to criticize coherently. Creationists have Gish Gallop; I think New Agers have the Lipton Lump.


    Faith – that’s obviously the Way (Back). To be a Truth-Seeker one must learn to stop Questioning!

    Ah yes, the hidden Power of capitals…..

    Join the club!

  18. Message for Yakaru :

    oh please can you remove my comments about quantum physics ? hahaha. Has so nothing to do with your post. I am going to read more in french. Unfortunately it is not so easy to find interesting blogs and even books about these kind of subjects in french. I thank you very very much for your posts.

    I wish you the best and say bye bye, I will not comment anymore. Better not ;) But read with great appreciation your posts and so interesting comments from a few of you.

    Take care


  19. @ Caroline,

    Don’t leave. The opening post didn’t mention quantum physics explicitly, but Tanzi and Chopra assert that mind is a quantum phenomenon. They espouse a sort of Quantum Idealism, when in fact they practice Cartesian Dualism. You were therefore correct to bring up the subject of Quantum Physics.

  20. @Caroline- your comments are always worth reading. Yakaru has his blog set to automatically post comments, unless someone is a first-time commenter. Also, subscribers get copies of the comments, so just keep that in mind when posting. :)

  21. I agree with Andy(/@wtf1962) and Mariah, Caroline!

    Quantum physics is all part of Chopra’s “quantum healing” nonsense, and the article I was criticizing is part of that too. So your comment was entirely relevant. But I know the feeling very well of having posted something and then later wishing I hadn’t. But in this case, I don#t think you need to feel like that. I’m sure everyone who reads here would find that comment perfectly in order.

    (Maybe I should clarify that it’s only those who have subscribed to the comments on a particular post who get new comments on that post. Blog subscribers only get a notification of a new blogpost.)

  22. Thanks for what I understand being true gentleness.

    So, in appreciation, let me offer in a Choprates manner :

    The unbridled energy of possibilities of neural network for the absolut expression of ephemeral thinking about my own opportunities leaded to this dimensionless chaos in this unique space time event and as I now understand that our consicousness transcend quantum self knowledge, I certainly will first be illumanited by an abundance of photons before writing without understanding infinite knowledge.

  23. A whole new paradigm. Cool.

  24. Very good! Chopratic inquiry does indeed exist, and has exactly the opposite purpose as its Socratic counterpart.

  25. @lettersquash: Glad the humor born from my annoyance is appreciated. Getting people to laugh with you really helps one deal with the roving bands of trolls.


    Ah yes, the hidden Power of capitals…

    I remember one really annoying time early on Rockstar Ramblings (before and after I took it over as the original Bronze Blog) where every other troll used ellipses, seemingly at random, and not for acceptable forms of trailing off. Statement, trailing ellipses, paragraph break, leading ellipses, continuation/elaboration of statement. Ellipses between items in a list. Ellipses between clauses of a sentence. Ellipses between paragraphs. It read like Calculon’s Dramatic!


    Okay, maybe not quite that bad. Split the difference between Calculon and Shatner… (comedic beat simulated by proper use of an ellipse) Now that I’ve typed that, I realize it might be difficult to split that hair.

    I think they were trying to enforce a script where they posit something, the ellipses depict our dumbfounded speechlessness in response, and then they post their oh-so-original “zinger” that every ex-religious/spiritual person thought up during our youth and are now embarrassed by. It’s certainly fitting that a lot of them were hit-and-run trolls.

  26. To you esteemed human biengs, coming from a severe spiritual background; completely bereft of any type of logic and scientific evidence and also recently exposed to the ‘new age’ scientific spiritualism, where the likes of Dr. Bruce Lipton and Gregg Braden to name a few, how does one prevent themselves from falling into this blackhole of misinformation and could someone please kindly explain the basics of quantum mechanics and basic human biology.

    thank you kindly.

  27. Hi Elemental. That’s a good question. The first thing is to realise that there is such a thing as misinformation, so any piece of information has to be judged for its validity.

    But I see that validity as a relative thing. Something might be partially true, and my opinion is subjective. I really don’t know anything at all in an absolute sense. It’s really important to learn to be comfortable with not knowing and not being sure. Those who want to deceive us play on our desire to know and feel certain.

    Ideally, we should try to judge the information for ourselves. The trouble is that we often want to judge things that we don’t have much expertise on, and in these cases we have to check what other people think, and make a judgement about how reliable we think they are.

    It’s really good to learn the basics of critical thinking, which means learning a bit of logic – not necessarily mathematical, but linguistic. People tend to think they are logical, but often they’re not. For one thing, we don’t notice that our emotions distort our reasoning. In important matters, we should be like the Vulcans in Star Trek (Mr Spock). It’s not that they don’t *have* emotions, they train themselves to *control* their emotions. There are loads of resources on critical thinking: just google and enjoy digging about a bit. Learning about the scientific method is good, too, and empiricism and skepticism. It’s all about the evidence.

    Learning a bit of psychology is useful, because it helps us understand the errors of thinking that we all make, “cognitive errors”. A lot of misinformation encourages us to trust our subjective experience, and insists that subjective experience is good evidence, but psychology shows us again and again that we shouldn’t trust that. Just because I feel that Jesus loves me, for instance, does not make it so, because feelings can be pure imagination.

    I don’t know much about QM, and it is famous for being virtually incomprehensible. I could tell you more about human biology, but you could research either subject just by googling. If I want to learn something new, I sometimes google things like “QM for dummies” or “the israel palestine crisis for kids” or “human biology introduction”. Is there anything specific you wanted to know?

    Another good trick is when someone tells you to go and research something mindblowing, as well as searching for the name on its own, do some searches where you add terms like “debunked”, “criticism”, “scam”, “pseudoscience”, “controversy” etc. in the search. This often gives something to balance against the material itself.

    I hope that helps.

  28. Great reply, lettersquash! I’ll add that spending a bit of time studying logical fallacies is very helpful. And I agree that learning about some of the cognitive errors that we make is extremely helpful.

  29. I thank you Lettersquash, this is indeed very helpful. In a world of endless opinions and tons of information, i really agree that one aught to verify everything one recieves.

    @Mariah; thank you Mariah, you are too kind.

    this has been an enlighning experience, learning from people that leave nothing to chance.

    Love, light and truth

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