Deepak Chopra muddles words like “consciousness” and “quantum”, but that doesn’t make him a charlatan

Thanks to Julian Marc Walker for his excellent, exhaustive analysis of Chopra’s use of language, and to Rene Tschannen for hosting the Facebook dialogue that stimulated this post.

_____________

Deepak Chopra gives me an ambivalence migraine.

On one hand, he’s largely responsible for the groundswell of interest in the art of Āyurveda, which I love and practice. I’ve had many students and clients seek Ayurvedic counsel based upon their exposure to Chopra’s conveyor belt of books. Those who have been especially comforted by him often had unfulfilling experiences with biomedicine that would make a former biomedical practitioner who had moved on to something more transcendent very attractive. In Chopra they found a post-medical expert who mirrored their own post-medical yearnings.

On the other hand, he’s accomplished this through a two-pronged attack on the holism he professes to nurture. One prong consists of the relentless commercialism that continually upsells overpriced products, services, and self-satisfaction to a privileged and starry-eyed market. The other prong is forged in the basic intellectual dishonesty of positioning Vedantic spirituality as science.

Chopra’s commodified Āyurveda creates a parody of accessibility to what should be a very simple and thrifty kitchen medicine. One example would be his endorsement of Zrii, the pyramid-scheme-marketed amalaki-based bottled juice that sells for $40 per 25oz and which gullible yoga teachers were aggressively trying to hook each other on several years ago. The hard-selling was out of hand for a while: thank goodness it calmed down. I remember telling one particularly obnoxious pyramid schemer over the phone that you couldn’t possibly bottle pasteurized juice as a tonic according to the principles of Āyurveda, because juices are basically inert unless freshly squeezed and raw. I also told her that the very notion of a universal tonic violated the principles of constitutional therapy – how could any single thing be good for everyone? She ignored me and continued pounding out her script to tally up what my residual income could be if I signed up ten Zrii suckers of my own, and they turned out to be heavy users.

Another example would be the “Perfect Healing” retreats offered by the Chopra mothership in San Diego, which will set you back about $8K for six days and $10K for ten, once you factor in travel. There are plenty of expensive retreats out there for the well-heeled, but the Chopra Center’s ten-day version claims to offer full panchakarma, a series of cleansing and rejuvenative activities that actually cannot be performed in ten days. “Perfect Healing” as a program name, while it establishes a connection with the parent-concept innovated by Maharishi Ayurveda (MAV) constitutes egregiously false advertising. And while the Chopra Center’s abbreviated panchakarma will turn some people on to the sweet experience of a period of simplified diet, contemplation and an extended rhythm of self-massage, sweating, and herbalized oil enema, it’s a total overreach to use the old term. Panchakarma traditionally lasts for an undetermined period, to account for the differences in how individuals will respond to the therapies. It seems that if he’s not pasteurizing and bottling amalaki, he’s pasteurizing and bottling therapy, and he has to mangle basic herbology and tradition to squeeze it in. People expect it to work to the extent they are enthralled by the placebo of a brand, rooted in the charisma of a person. Unsurprisingly, the glow from such retreats is short-lived, as many clients have related to me, leaving them unsure as to whether it was the spa treatments or Chopra’s beneficent gaze, or simply being away from the rat race that made them feel better for a while. Some of them sustain a sense of self-empowerment for some time, however, and this is a good thing.

More problematic is Chopra’s spiritual claim – posited as “scientific” – that “Consciousness” (the capital “C” is crucial here) is eternal, immaterial, apart from and beyond organic life, and influences matter in magical ways. Consciousness is the baseline constituent of reality, says Chopra. Consciousness holds everything. A recognition of the eternal pervasion of Consciousness is all it takes for healing on the mundane level (you know, where we all happen to live, in some form of unreality or illusion). As a spiritual belief this is one of a multitude, and may have integrative benefits on a psychic level, which may in turn positively impact our psychoneuroimmunology. But to posit “Consciousness” as the “ground of being” rather than as an evolute of bio-complexity that can introspect as a scientific fact is a gross misappropriation of science. Yet, Chopra’s scientism is crucial to his overall marketing platform, just as it was for that of his teacher, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of MAV, which is a wealthy multinational with an unfortunate habit of making false medical claims (see essays by Newcombe, Jeannotat, Humes in Modern and Global Ayurveda: Pluralism and Paradigms, ed Wujastyk and Smith, SUNY, 2008).

What’s slippery is that when Chopra uses the word “Consciousness”, he doesn’t seem to know that he’s replacing a neuropsychological term with a theological one. He does it with the seamlessness of someone religiously convinced, resulting in a hopeless confusion of paradigms. A look at his opening statement at “The Nature of Reality” panel at Chapman University (I can’t find the date on this) will illustrate:

Is there an ultimate reality? For me, the answer is ‘yes’; that ultimate reality is the ground of existence, which many Eastern wisdom traditions have called Consciousness…. Here’s my definition of Consciousness. Consciousness is the ground of existence… that differentiates into everything we call reality. Our thoughts: can you have thoughts without Consciousness? The answer is ‘no’. Our cognition, our perception, our behaviour, our speech, our biology, our social interactions, our personal relationships, our environment, our interaction with the forces of nature, these are differentiated aspects of this very fundamental reality which we cannot conceive of because it is the source of our conception, and we cannot perceive because it is the source of our perception. When we ask if there is an ultimate reality and will science ever be able to disclose it, I say ‘no’; it will never be able to disclose it because science is an activity in Consciousness. Science, mathematics… can you imagine a world outside of Consciousness? No you can’t, because you have no way of stepping out of Consciousness. Okay, so you’re experiencing me in your (C/c)onsciousness, I’m experiencing you in my (C/c)onsciousness, I’m experiencing body in my (C/c)onsciousness, and even my scientific methodologies are in (C/c)onsciousness.

Wherever you see capital-C “Consciousness” in Chopra’s speech, substitute “Brahman”, and you’re much closer to what he means, and what he has learned, devotedly, in whatever school of Vedānta he’s grown up in. Chopra’s Consciousness/Brahman is a totalizing, absolute, absorptive, integrating, transcendent phenomenon that has no scientific analogue, unless we admit a proto-scientific term like “Ether”, and then endow it with hyper-subjectivity. The paragraph reads like a paraphrase of the Sāṃkhya devolutionary narrative, or like the involutionary plunge described by Sri Aurobindo. Step-by-step might reveal the tangle.

…that ultimate reality is the ground of existence, which many Eastern wisdom traditions have called Consciousness…

Um, no. Sanskritists have translated “citta” and “Brahman”, and several other metaphysical terms with the word “Consciousness”, but no one in the contemporary study of consciousness uses the word to describe anything beyond the capacity to introspect, to become self-aware. When scientists of consciousness are working on their subject, they are not studying “the ground of existence”, but a particular property of complex neurological function which some organisms display and others do not. So Chopra begins with a confusion in translation.

Consciousness is the ground of existence… that differentiates into everything we call reality.

Based on this initial confusion, “Consciousness” is now used to begin the Vedantic creation story, redacted straight from the Upanishads.

…can you have thoughts without Consciousness? The answer is ‘no’. Our cognition, our perception, our behaviour, our speech, our biology, our social interactions, our personal relationships, our environment, our interaction with the forces of nature, these are differentiated aspects of this very fundamental reality…

The creation story moves from subtle to gross, and, like Sāṃkhya and Vedānta, lumps its devolutes together in a messy, polysemic salad. This would be permissible if Chopra stuck to “Brahman”, which as a absolutist category (like the word “Life”, perhaps) can contain “cognition” and “biology” within the same frame. But because he uses the word “Consciousness” incorrectly, he’s forcing those who actually know what it means to parry the absurd claim that the capacity to introspect creates biology, social interactions, and the environment! This is fine in Sāṃkhya, which claims that the tamasic (slow, confused, occluded) aspect of ahaṃkāra (the individuation principle) produces materiality. But it won’t wash in the lab.

Unfortunately, Chopra’s confusion then runs even deeper, as he remixes his usage of “Consciousness” to include a smidgin of what neuroscientists might recognize as their subject — lower-case “c” “consciousness”:

… can you imagine a world outside of Consciousness? No you can’t, because you have no way of stepping out of Consciousness. Okay, so you’re experiencing me in your (C/c)onsciousness, I’m experiencing you in my (C/c)onsciousness, I’m experiencing body in my (C/c)onsciousness, and even my scientific methodologies are in (C/c)onsciousness.

Notice how he pivots now to temporarily limit the term to perception. “Consciousness” has moved from the totality of Brahman to acts of “consciousness” or awareness. But how could it not? When we begin with a translation boondoggle that conflates theology with science, we shouldn’t be surprised when the word oscillates between the two in meaning. Chopra may or may not be internally aware of whether he is using a capital or lower-case “c” in any given utterance, but the rest of us are certainly in the dark.

Not only is claiming the primacy of Brahman/Consciousness as a scientific axiom meaningless, it’s neither necessary to a vibrant practice of Āyurveda today, nor is it really true to Āyurveda’s history. As Kenneth Zysk shows in his fascinating Asceticism & Healing in Ancient India: Medicine in the Buddhist Monastery (Motilal, 2010), the Vedantic inflection in Caraka’s saṃhitā (collection) of medical aphorisms is likely an orthodox brahminical palimpsest upon what was originally a non-denominational and eclectic sramana (wandering) tradition, codified first by early Buddhist monastics, amongst whom any hyper-subjectivist posture similar to Vedānta would have been extremely rare. Even though Vedānta has persisted as the spiritual framework for Ayurvedic practice into the present age, I believe that these three strikes against it are an invitation for it to crumble away: (1) it is no longer defensible for a healing tradition that wishes to gain stature in relation to biomedicine; (2) it reinforces the alienating dualism between “Consciousness” and matter (or “spirit” and “body”) that a more naturalistic understanding of Āyurveda is capable of dispelling; (3) it’s a socio-political construction anyway. For practitioners like Chopra, however, letting the Vedantic paradigm slide would necessitate substantial rebranding. There’s a pointed continuity between the totalizing thrust of Vedanta, the marketing meme of “Perfect Health”, and Chopra’s continuous intimation of the possibility of miraculous healing.

Chopra has been taken to task for his conflations of spiritual and scientific terms, and hard. Sam Harris, Michael Schermer, Leonard Mlodinow, and Richard Dawkins have all demolished him in debate, leaving him with little but his swagger, diamond-encrusted glasses, and self-reflexive orientalist chic.

But he keeps coming back for more, going so far as to invite his trouncers to further debate. Which is why I think it’s important for those who oppose him, especially within yoga culture, to refrain from calling him a charlatan. Nobody goes out for public beating after public beating as Chopra does without being an earnest and dogged believer. Honestly, it’s like watching Rocky Balboa in a rope-a-dope: hopelessly outclassed by a triple-team of Apollo Creed, Mister T, and that Russian dude, leaning into shot after shot snapping his head back, flailing in the corner with his mishmash of Rumi, Blake and outlier scientific misquotes. This is not a man who is knowingly trying to deceive others. Charlatans avoid confrontation. Manipulators do not invite humiliation. But there’s Deepak, at every roundtable he can elbow his way onto, leading with that charming rubber chin.

Even if we could empirically prove that Chopra was consciously manipulative in his exaggerations and conflations (which would be impossible without a full fMRI setup watching his neurons as he debates) those of us who simply want him to be transparent about the difference between scientific and spiritual languages and methods would still be better off ditching the ad hominem, because indulging it is just gas on the fire of a larger socio-political battle that no one wants to see worsen. Calling him a charlatan alienates his vulnerable followers, ignores his own transparency about his techniques, misses cultural and linguistic subtleties that everyone could learn from, and needlessly darkens the stain of postcolonial acrimony.

First, regarding his own transparency, consider Chopra’s amazing confession of how he uses scientific language during his stare-down with Richard Dawkins:

DAWKINS: “So where did the ‘quantum theory’ come into that [notion that a ‘shift in consciousness’ precipitates a ‘shift in biology’]?

CHOPRA: “Oh it’s just a metaphor. Just like an electron or photon is an indivisible unit of information and energy, so a thought is an indivisible unit of consciousness.”

DAWKINS: “Oh, it’s a metaphor! It has nothing to do with quantum theory as we know it in physics!”

Later, Chopra defends his metaphoric usage to the word “quantum” by laying claim to it, declaring that quantum physicists themselves have “hijacked the term for their own purposes”.

Chopra’s nonsensical jiu-jitsu here makes sense if we recognize that here he is self-consciously announcing his use of the declamatory mode of artha vāda (hyperbole in spiritual teaching), which takes as its express purpose the creation of wondrous affect. All of Chopra’s speech carries the implication that the listener will derive psycho-spiritual benefit from listening. It would never occur to Dawkins to speak this way, nor to gaze at an interlocutor as though he were giving holy darśana.

Within Chopra’s Vedantic paradigm, which is suspicious of reason as a mundane and egotistical tool, spiritual benefit is often elicited with this purposeful cognitive dissonance of hyperbole, to generate the feeling that when the intellect fails, something radiant hovers in its ruins. We might say that Chopra is simply obfuscating, but a more informed analysis might reveal that he is following the forebears of his paramparā in using language with the implicit notion that nothing in māyā can really mean what we think it means. Ultimate meaning is silent and inexpressible, according to Vedānta. This is reflected in the performative difference between Dawkins and Chopra: Dawkins must be pinched and quizzical as he struggles to foster cognitive clarity; Chopra can be soft and sonorous and moist in the eyes as he waves the anxiety of clarity away.

Beneath this linguistic disjunction roils a painful postcolonial echo. One of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s primary goals was to “scientize” yoga and ayurveda, and to evidence-test the effectiveness of Transcendental Meditation. (Given that each TM mantra is unique, I don’t know how their studies could propose adequate controls, but that’s another issue.) Mahesh’s efforts were a continuation of other secularizing projects amongst Indian pandits reaching back to Swami Kuvalyananda and Sri Yogendra, among others (see Alter, Yoga in Modern India, Princeton, 2004). Chopra belongs at least thematically to a long lineage of thinkers who have paradoxically strived to use “western” terms and methods to re-invigorate and reify Indic modes of knowledge that had been degraded by Western influence. While Chopra’s pronouncements and especially the results claimed by his clinics and attributed to his products should be subject to close scrutiny, it should be considered that he may be embroiled in a complex cultural movement much more than an agent of privatized intellectual dishonesty.

On a deep level, we’re watching Dawkins and Chopra enact a mytho-cultural theatre. Beneath the specific content conflict we can see echoes of the “west” presuming intellectual superiority as it interrogates an “east” it no longer completely oppresses, while the long-suffering “east” responds with melancholic dignity and a Mona Lisa smile. I think many find the dialogue compelling, whether irritating or pleasurable, because of this dark undercurrent.

Chopra is a true believer. When I listen to him I hear someone still vibrating with a spiritual conversion, and is trying to square it with what he learned in medical school. I can say from experience that this tension can transmit an evangelicalism that both is highly un-self-aware and self-assured at the same time. This is important to understand: more than sloppy science, it is the charisma of his inflated self-confidence that I think attracts thousands. Dawkins the skeptic might get BBC contracts, but the charismatic believer scores the Oprah Network, and positions himself as a daddy besides. Precious few daddies are aware of the strings they’re pulling.

But beyond the impoliteness of calling an earnest spiritual believer a charlatan, there’s a diplomatic reason for avoiding the term when critiquing someone like Chopra: it’s easy for accusations like it to be thrown back in the opposite direction.

Chopra’s misprisions are taking place within a much larger debate over ownership, appropriation, and epistemology that modern yoga has amplified. On one side, non-denominational, evidence-hungry practitioners from both inside India and beyond are innovating the yoga they have found in their nomadic, postmodern lives. They actively distance themselves from Yoga’s religious contexts. There’s a boatload of folks in the ambivalent middle. But then on the other side, Hindutva activists are bearing down on all fraudulent interlopers into the Indian heritage of Vedism and yoga, who they strangely accuse of being closeted Hindus who paradoxically hate all things Indian, and will do anything they can to sever their fascination from its Indian roots. Here I present Dr. Rajiv Malhotra, who has devised a powerful rhetoric that suggests that most “westerners” who profess serious enough interest in Indic thought and yoga to actually practice it are plagiarizers, distorters, thieves, and misanthropes.

The first 10 minutes drives home the mood, although the rest of the presentation is well worth watching. The problem is that while Malhotra has crucial and eloquent points to make about transcultural exchange in the shadow of power inequities, and he provides an excellent roadmap of the diaspora of Indic views, his argument overextends its terms. He is far too willing to armchair-psychoanalyze “westerners”, imputing arrogance, bigotry, and self-hatred to every non-Indian who cracks a shastra or unrolls a mat. His accusations of intentional malice are a great example of how dialogue about important issues of fact can continue to be derailed by sectarian resentment.

If we’re going to critique Chopra as an interloper into science let’s keep it clean of the ad hominem, and not feed the cultural projection beast, as hungry as it is. Critique the material only; force ever greater transparency about the distinctions between science, spirituality, and poetry. Don’t allow him to perpetuate a transcultural and transhistorical language error that confuses scientific terms with religious terms. Allow for the possibility that, like many of us, he is less of a manipulator than one who is manipulated by history, baffled by this clash of ages, and reaching for poetry in the storm.

128 Comments

  • Excellent, Matthew. Best article about Chopra I’ve ever read.

    I agree with almost everything you say here, except I would add that Chopra might look very different in 50-100 years when science actually does try to figure out not just how the universe works but why it ever started to work that way in the first place–what was the original source, what caused mathematics to be mathematics, and the brain to be the brain, and what came before the Big Bang, etc.

    Like you, I wish Chopra had just stuck to the word “Brahman” or “Unknown Source and Root of Everything”, and framed his quest to somehow bridge the gap between whatever that unknown source is and science.

    But by and large I’m in agreement with you about Chopra’s strengths and weaknesses. I guess another difference might be that I love his books, at least the four out of his 60 that I’ve read. In many ways your article is a far more detailed look at what I wrote in this blog almost four years ago, in answer to someone who was complaining about Chopra’s marketing hype in the title of “Ageless Body/Timeless Mind”:

    “Ageless Body/Timeless Mind” is actually an excellent book. But it’s excellent because the inside doesn’t begin to match the promise of the cover and title. So your derision of the title is entirely justified.

    Chopra is a real puzzle. If you look at the actual content of his work, he is a modern sage of the Upanishads (one of the three main ancient Yoga texts, along with the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra). He comes across the same way in his presentations, which are just dripping in the one-with-the-universe message of the Upanishads and Gita.

    “Ageless Body/Timeless Mind” is actually a well thought-out and deeply inspirational update of the philosophy of the ancient Yoga sages. “Timeless Mind” makes perfect sense in this context, because according to Yoga philosophy we are all part of the ocean already, not just a wave, and since the ocean (the universe) is timeless, so are we.

    When you get inside the book “ageless body” means not living forever, but rather the fact that our molecules all turn into other things and continue on, with a lot of detail from modern quantum physics, and the fact that we might someday figure out how to arrest aging. Certainly not what’s implied by the cover.

    I believe Chopra is, in fact, a modern Yoga sage, carrying on the central message of the ancient sages in a modern context. But he either creates or allows a marketing effort that can make him look like a quack.

    I like his writing so much I’m willing to put up with the silly upfront hype. The books I’ve read so far are really terrific and not at all quackery.

    Bob W. Editor
    Best of Yoga Philosophy

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

      http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Quantum_woo

      the above two links point out the problems with this interpretation bob.

      matthew – i agree with you in general here, as usual. i would just defend the use of the term “charlatan” to mean one who sells people the perception that he has some special magical knowledge or ability, which no-one does in the pragmatic sense of the word “magical.”

      [ Definition of CHARLATAN

      1
      : quack 2
      2
      : one making usually showy pretenses to knowledge or ability : fraud, faker

      OR

      charlatan
      noun [C] /ˈʃɑr·lə·tən, -tən/

      Definition
      › a person who pretends to have skills or knowledge that the person does not actually have

      OR

      charlatan (ˈʃɑːlətən Pronunciation for charlatan )

      Definitions
      noun

      someone who professes knowledge or expertise, esp in medicine, that he or she does not have; quack.]

      by definition then, someone who makes these kinds of claims is willfully deceiving others, and this for me qualifies them especially for charlatanism if they make a lot of money via convincing people of this untruth.

      sai baba, for example was perhaps the greatest charlatan of all time. on his recent death he had an estate valued at around $9B (yes, BILLION)- all money made from convincing millions of adoring followers that a) he was literally a god on earth and b) that his ability to perform dime store magic tricks was evidence of his divine identity.

      it should go without saying that he was not a god on earth and had no magical powers.

      if sai baba had deepak’s education i have no doubt that in today’s spiritual landscape he would have framed his fraudulent claims regarding powers of physical manifestation in the language of quantum physics – because this just seems to lend such a glow of credibility to otherwise nonsensical beliefs and outrageous claims.

      i say this with confidence because of the emergence of a new “holy man” claiming magical abilities to affect matter with his mind, by the name of trivedi, who has been endorsed by ken wilber – a man who’s intellectual brilliance seems only to be matched by his complete inability to know a manipulative charlatan when he meets one (notably both adi da and andrew cohen are wilber-endorsed gurus with extremely violent and abusive track records.)

      trivedi of course claims that he can make crops grow through using his mind to influence the quantum level of matter.

      deepak is for me squarely in the camp of those who prey on people’s desperate need and gullibility by selling them on false hope, making outrageous claims about medicine, healing and consciousness and then pretending that these are backed by science by evoking quantum physics.

      when challenged in his incorrect use of terminology and the lack of causal connections or evidence for anything he is saying, he uses doublespeak and poetic hyperbole to do a classic bait and switch.

      now, it is possible he actually believes everything he is saying – so i do take your point regarding the ad hominem that suggests he knows he is lying.

      however, in the true sense of being a charlatan, i think there are many practitioners who make make a very good living via various claims of magical abilities, psychic powers, medical quackery etc who fit the definition, but nonetheless are sincere (or at least have convinced 99% of themselves of their sincerity, with a small creeping doubt they are suppressing in the depths of their being.)

      my charges are very simple:

      1) he misuses the language and concepts of quantum physics. this is simply factual.

      2) he insists on a definition of “consciousness” that as you point out is theological rather than scientific (again this is factual) and

      3) he then tries to make a link between these two fallacies that backs up (or at least creates a lovely embroidered backdrop) for unreasonable and outlandish claims about medicine, healing, human cosnciousness and reality itself.

      in so doing, he not only is very slippery in eluding the counter arguments of those (like dawkins) interested in the facts and in scientific definitions of both quantum physics and consciousness, not mention medicine and biology, but worse still he has powerful influence over an entire zeitgeist that makes up part of the current culture wars.

      he makes people who want to believe that there is an intellectual and even scientific basis for believing unlikely and even flat out untrue things in the name of spirituality think that he has provided such reasons and that along with him they can be on the cutting edge of a hip new field of knowledge that one day will be undeniable to the currently closed-minded mainstream.

      this is a problem for two massive reasons:

      1) it is simply untrue and so a whole sector of the population is buying into a set of ideas about the relationships between mind, body, medicine and reality that has dangerous consequences – AND what is worse they are being given a set of fallacious arguments to throw back in the faces of people (like doctors, psychologists, actual scientists) who might actually be able to help them make better decisions in the moments when the stakes are high.

      i say this as someone who knows 3 people who died from HIV because they believed that the power of intention was stronger than a virus – and that they should not disclose their HIV status because if the person they were having unprotected sex with wasn’t conscious of the viral dangers then, for them they clearly didn’t exist!

      i say it too as someone who has helped countless people overcome the indoctrination that their childhood abuse trauma was somehow created by their own intention/consciousness and that this “realization” was somehow key tho their not seeing themselves as a “victim.”

      bad ideas/beliefs have bad consequences. bad beliefs/ideas wrapped up in authoritative claims about science and spirituality make those consequences worse and harder to undo.

      2) it is simply untrue and so all of the benefits of meditation, yoga, bodywork, and the many disciplines that do wonderful things for people both in terms of nervous system and brain function, but also in less tangible, less empirically demonstrable ways with regard to well-being, run the risk of getting lumped together as all being untrue by the scientifically literate sector of the population who come across deepak’s nonsensical word salad.

      this means that we remain marginalized by those with the biggest megaphones, making the most money by shamelessly selling people on the most unreasonable claims.

      it also means that our field sees his strategy as something they should emulate a la, say james arthur ray: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Arthur_Ray

      this then too means that a whole generation of newbie yogis and meditators (for example) perceive that deepak chopra is somehow a proponent of a belief system that they should by default buy into, and that all yoga and meditation teachers (or as in my case, teacher trainers) must somehow be in line with this authoritative message.

      this is made doubly difficult by the taboos against critical thinking and against reasoned argument – because surely if you are spiritual then you either just feel the truth of what he is saying and have faith in it. i mean after all, ancient scriptures, quantum physics, empowering feel-good platitudes, spontaneous healing and complete freedom to live in an ageless body…. what’s not to like! 🙂

      is he echoing the teachings of ancient vedantic texts? well, sure, in as much as they are idealist (in the philosophical sense – meaning that they propose consciousness as primary to matter) and dualist (in the philosophical sense of claiming that consciousness is transcendent of material/biological/bodily expression.

      a small point of interest is that neither of these claims have turned out to be true, and we can at best ascribe them to an outdated model of reality. these same sages no doubt believed that the sun went around the earth and that one could learn to levitate via meditation practice, dualist and idealist claims with regard to consciousness (for my money) fall into the same beautiful, poetic, interesting cosmology that nonetheless is factually false.

      when this is pointed out, the common move is to revert to:

      a) an idealizing of the past – ie: the ancients knew something about the cosmos that we have lost touch with and suggest that

      b) science has yet to develop the means for ascertaining the truth or falsity of their claims. (straight-up god of the gaps fallacy by the way..)

      but the lack of any evidence whatsoever for these sorts of claims is what makes folks like deepak throw his lot in with quantum physics, for a very simple reason: at the subatomic level, particles behave in ways that are very hard to understand and that go against the expectations of classical physics.

      fascinating!

      but let’s not forget that the laws of classical physics describe the world we actually live in very well. knowledge of quantum physics does not affect the likelihood of us being able to survive an approaching SUV moving at 50 miles an hour, and even though at the quantum level many strange and *magical *seeming phenomena occur, at the macro level of everyday reality there is still exactly zero evidence for any of the paranormal stuff folks misinterpret as being implied by the anomalies of quantum mechanics.

      like all quantum hucksters, deepak specifically and deliberately blurs the line between the subatomic level and the macro level as a way to make is seem as if magical claims have a scientific basis.

      does he believe his own claims? i cannot say for sure. my guess would be he probably believes about 70% of what he says and rationalizes the rest using what i see as the diabolical trinity of logical fallacies:

      the god of the gaps (linked above), the argument from ignorance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_ignorance) and shifting the burden of proof (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_burden_of_evidence)

      all of this is central to the new age world view and as such is extremely hard to dislodge given it’s very well-constructed impenetrable circular defenses against critical thinking, evidence and logical reasoning, but it’s still worth making a stand for honesty!

      in fact, i see it as a kind of spiritual imperative to both cut through delusion in ourselves and support teaching that do so for others, especially in the current market place of new age hoopla and revisionist religion.

      • Beautiful, Julian. You nail it. And sadly, won’t change anyone’s mind, most likely, because we’re not dealing with reason, logic and evidence; we’re dealing with religious belief. Perhaps garbed in psuedo-scientific jargon, but religious faith none-the-less, and as has been shown, the minds of those who eschew critical thinking only double-down when the holes in their arguments and beliefs are exposed.

  • Matthew,

    As far as his marketing of his ‘brand’ of Ayurveda, for years when I lectured on Ayurveda, I’d ask the group I was addressing how many had heard of Ayurveda and always, very few hands went up. Then I’d ask, how many of you have heard of Deepak Chopra and most of the people would raise their hands. And this happened over and over. Chopra may not be a ‘charlatan,’ because like you I sense he really believes his nonsense, but he definitely fits the bill of being a Quack.

    He is shilling Vedanta as science, and trying to have it both ways by denigrating science and then using it (badly) to legitimize his woo. On top of all this, he has the gall to write a book on the buddha when he gets it all wrong. Just look up wiki on the buddha’s conception of consciousness (NOT later mahayana and vajrayana distortions) and you’ll see it’s a construct as when he compares form (the body) to a lump of foam; feeling to a water bubble rising and bursting on the surface of water; perception to a shimmering mirage; volitional formations to the trunk of a banana tree; and consciousness to a magical illusion.

    At the Towards A Science of Consciousness conference here in Tucson some years back, Susan Blackmore (who practices buddhist meditation) referred to the illusion of consciousness and Chopra just about blew an aneurysm mocking her and reiterating his notion that consciousness is the fundamental substratum of the universe. I quoted the buddha and he just sat there arms crossed, looking away as the audience applauded, scowling. All this, in my opinion, showing him as an eloquent wind-bag.

    This essay eviscerates Chopra’s illogical, bait-and-switch, mode of argumentation:

    http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2009/12/deepak-chopra-michael-shermer-larry-king.html

    xoxo

  • For those who want to explore further and make up their own minds, here are some additional links I’ve found helpful:

    1) The Dawkins vs. Chopra Video at The Yoga Blog and the resulting discussion: http://theyogablog.com/deepak-chopra-vs-skeptic-richard-dawkins/

    2) The Chopra Wikipedia site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra

    3) Chopra’s extensive Huffington Post blog where he addresses all his critics very directly in great detail: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/

    4) The Science & Non-duality Conference: http://www.scienceandnonduality.com/speakers.shtml

    Bob W.

    • for me the best resource with regard to this subject are these clips from the chopra vs harris debate, especially the moment when a professional physicist in the audience invites deepak to come and learn how to use quantum terminology correctly:

      i would also invite you bob to respond to the deep critique being offered here by myself, matthew and frank.

      • i was actually at this debate ( i posted clips from above) live and deepak was not only completely out of his depth, but most of the audience knew it. key moments included observing that the two atheists, harris and shermer were more polite, respectful and well-reasoned in their arguments, whilst deepah and jean houston were disorganized in their thinking, talked over their opponents, interrupted, seemed agitated etc

        i found that ironic given their being representatives of being spiritual.

        the other big moment was professional physicist (who cowrote a book with stephen hawking) leonard mlodinow publicly calling out deepak on his misuse of quantum physics.

        seeing sam harris (who has a phd in neuroscience, a BA in philosophy and has been on 3 month silent meditation retreats patiently explain deepak’s confusion about consciousness and the brain and even physics was not only satisfying but relieving.

        what stuns me is that otherwise intelligent people actually fall for deepak’s bag of tricks. he has always seemed like a new age bufoon to me.

        i have already gone into some depth about the facts of what he gets deeply wrong and the details of how he confuses categories and misconstrues causality and terminology. matthew has elaborated on it in some ways , as has frank.

        i still have heard no real rebuttal on any of it…

      • Do you notice the only arrogance displayed is from Chopra? I thought Harris, in particular was way more respectful and displaying more inner peace, calmness and equanimity than the “guru” himself! The disdain in Chopra’s eyes and the dismissive wave of the arm? Petulance.

        I’ve no respect for the man and will most likely not bother with this thread anymore as I have really important things to attend to; like my daughter’s first day back to school tomorrow morning!

      • Julian…..Personally, I did not feel that interaction with the quantum physicist & Deepak was in any way incriminating or unfavorably revelatory with respect to Deepak. I actually felt Deepak came across more credible in that exchange.

        As far as the other two clips, I wish to qualify & clarify what I’ve expressed, above, with respect to my perceptions of Deepak.

        There are, undoubtedly, moments when Deepak makes scientific claims, however, my perception of how he [for the most part] communicates is that when he offers “scientific claims” he does so with care & discernment, as well as from a position of authority as an M.D. This includes, for example, propositions he offers forth regarding the non-local nature of consciousness which some scientists may dispute, while other scientists may ascribe as credible & supportable via satisfactory scientific evidence/support.

        I also feel he makes intuitive claims he proposes as “likely” or “probable” due to suggestions from certain scientific claims, findings, etc., as well as inspired by certain intuitions, and is careful & responsible with respect to distinguishing between what is “theory” or “hypothesis” and what has been established to be valid & supportable according to scientific criteria.

        What distinguishes Deepak from someone like Harris or Shermer, in my opinion, is that he’s comfortable observing & assessing phenomena from these multiple perspectives & paradigms, while Harris & Shermer simply are are not.

        In my opinion, such doesn’t make Harris or Shermer better, worse, or more attuned to Realities of Reality than Deepak, or vice versa. In some instances one side or the other may be, while in other instances the other may be. In some instances perceptions springing from the exclusively scientific paradigm may be limiting, while in other instances perceptions springing from within the multidimensional paradigm may be inaccurate or misleading.

        Specifically in those 3 clips, I saw nothing – nor can I recall anything I’ve read or seen elsewhere from Deepak – that alarms me as blasphemous with respect to science. I feel Deepak’s a credible & responsible spokesperson for science on those matters on which he chooses to speak, and I feel because of that he brings an interesting and value-adding perspective to spiritual inquiry, exploration & practice.

        In other words, I feel Deepak’s perspective is a value-add to human-consciousness rather than any sort of subtraction or detriment. Simply my opinion.

        I just wished to clarify my overall position, as well as speak directly to those 3 clips you posted. Clearly, since you posted them, we disagree on what they demonstrate, and I guess that brings us back to Rene’s statement to me — i.e., folks like me & folks like you [and Rene] are simply way apart on this subject-matter. We see/perceive things differently, and that results in different overall paradigms.

        Having said that, I’ll submit that I feel the energy of judgment, sarcasm, berating, and ad homonym is more contaminating/destructive to the public space of collective conversation than Deepak’s multidimensional perspective and all he offers to the collective conversation based on his perspective. My perception is that he’s careful, mindful & responsible when he offers both his scientific claims [based on his credentialed medical background], as well as when he offers his hypothetical claims based from his medical background integrated with spiritual intuition.

  • Okay, okay, Julian and Frank. I think I published too quickly. Thanks for the great resources.

    Ha! I’m so rarely in the position of “accomodationist”. I’ll see how it feels in a few weeks.

  • As an avid student of Einstein, who is one of my absolute heroes, I like to imagine what he would say if he were here. I believe he would chide Chopra like Matthew does, for some of his language and theories, but would be even harder on Harris and Dawkins for their hubris in thinking science is even close to being able to answer any of the biggest questions of existence and the nature of the universe.

    There is a whole chapter in Isaacson’s definitive biography called “Einstein’s God”. It’s not personal God, to be sure. And yes, before you jump in, I know his quotes have often been taken out of context by religious people a support for a type of God Einstein did not believe in. This is all discussed in this chapter.

    But Einstein wrote and spoke a lot about this very topic, so there’s no reason not to understand his point of view. The whole chapter is important, but these three quotes will suffice for now, which are only a small sample of similar quotes in the book:

    Try and penetrate, with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible, and inexplicable. Veneration for this force, beyond anything we can comprehend is my religion…

    I’m not an atheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws…

    The fanatical atheists are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who–in their grudge against traditional religion as the “opium of the masses”–cannot hear the music of the spheres.

    Bob W.

  • I admit I have not taken the time to read all of these discussions, but it reminds me of a line from one of Leonard Cohen’s songs here: I fought against the bottle, But I had to do it drunk – Took my diamond to the pawnshop – But that don’t make it junk. http://www.maxilyrics.com/leonard-cohen-that-don%27t-make-it-junk-lyrics-e85c.html.

    Trying to describe the Self, Tao, Brahm, whatever we label it, is not the Self, as Lao Tze would say, we have to Be it to know it.

    Since fire cannot burn it, nor water wet it, nor weapons cleave it, as Lord Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, then how can words describe it? It is only when He tells him how to be without the three gunas, to be without attachments, to be established in the Self, ie, to transcend, to Be, can he understand it. He had to enlarge his frame of reference, go beyond his limited intellect, to transcend.

    We all speak from our own level of understanding, of awareness, of consciousness. I am reminded of two axioms of Maharishi’s Science of Creative Intelligence: Knowledge is Structured in Consciousness, (Richo akshare parame vyoman…) and Knowledge is different in different states of consciousness (He describes 7 states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, sleeping, transcendental consciousness, cosmic consciousness, god consciousness and unity consciousness). It would appear that intellectually, at least, such debates are taking place from different perspectives, different shades of consciousness, and not being on the same page, they can never come to any agreements, except to disagree. But for some, this makes for entertainment as they share their worldviews with an audience.

    • Hi Ken — Thanks for posting. I don’t think the ineffable nature of being alive, and Cohen’s reflection that we’re trapped in our metaphors, has anything to do with this post, which is about clarity within and transparency about the discourses we actually commit to, be they scientific or theological.

  • In other words, we’re all addicted to, attached to our own perceptions of reality. But the truth of it shifts as our individual and collective consciousness evolves, shifts through different interpretations and understandings of what truth is, i.e., paradigms shift in understanding on the nature of reality. Those who break from the norm are considered charlatans, and generations later, saints. I am reminded of a few in these paradigm changing quotes:

    All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered;
    the point is to discover them.
    — Galileo Galilei (1564–1642)

    All truth passes through three stages.
    First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed.
    Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    — Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

    A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,
    but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.
    — Max Planck (1858-1947)

  • I want to thank Bob for bringing all this knowledge, debate and information into being. I love having the opportunity to read different attitudes about consciousness, yoga, Buddhism and the place that science plays in the whole. This website is just what I have longed for – a place to really hear others and then, as Buddha suggested, take what is true for me.

  • What an interesting discussion!

    I agree with Ken Chawkin that some things are beyond words and with Bob that there is evidence that Deepak is more than the man that elicits such strong reactions as he has on me.

    I have taken my swipes at him for his high priced offerings that contradict (in my mind)interest in doing good for the general public. (But I also balk at the price of a Rolling Stones ticket. What’s up with that?) I have noted his lame classes at La Costa where my folks live, have looked askance at his relationship and videos with Tara Stiles and at his Elton John attire. My first reaction watching his talk with Dawkins was that his eyes were terrifying. He has a look that any sociopath would envy.

    On the other hand there is no denying that he has garnered a great force to promote the notion that medicine needs to be multi-dimensional, that there is more to life than what we see, that there are means to manage human potential that most folks would be unaware of but for his drive. And in these thing I see little harm to the public even if his notions are not entirely correct.

    Though I lack ambition toward scholarly debate these days I tremendously enjoyed the post, the comments and thank you all for the additional links offered here. For now I just enjoy mulling over the impressions I recieve from whatever comes my way and I appreciate this bounty. I would like to add that as much as over the years I enjoyed being irritated by the image of the all knowing Deepak when I considered him a fraud, I also and concurrently admired the hell out of him. It may be that ultimately I didn’t care that much what he said or did and perhaps that’s just a reflection on a typical human without enough time or fire to slay dragons. 🙂 I do admire dragon slayers though so again thank you for the clash of swords.

  • Here’s a link to an article I wrote about a month ago on Deepak Chopra:

    http://atheistyoga.com/an-atheist-explains-what-he-likes-about-deepak-chopra/116/

    Here’s an excerpt:
    [“Trying to use raw logic to “disprove” Deepak Chopra’s assertions and prove him “wrong” logically and philosophically overlooks the simple fact that the vast majority of his audience are already deeply rooted in a spiritual worldview, something not easy to abandon that is, properly considered, not really a choice—any more than being an atheist or an unbeliever is a choice. It also overlooks the fact that his language is often specifically crafted for this core audience, for the purpose of enhancing their meditative relaxation and bliss, or to encourage them to develop their personal potential, shed bad habits, and live better. His message is, naturally, always presented in a form that is pleasing to the spiritual expectations and tastes of this audience; his fans and readers want of course to improve and to find positive change within themselves, however Chopra’s trusted stamp of spiritual approval is what allows them to freely indulge not just in self-improvement but also in the idea that the human mind is itself a wave of “infinite possibility” that extends beyond rationality and mundane self-identity. Thus, when opponents try to pin Deepak Chopra down to strictly logical or scientific definitions and terms, his peculiar brand of mental jiu-jitsu is perfectly understandable: his language often has a certain Ericksonian sugarcoating to it, the open-ended vagueness and intentional subjectivity of someone who uses words not to “win” arguments or to prove others wrong, but rather as a real world professional who uses it to connect with people, to draw them out of their self-limiting beliefs systems and identities in order to help them change for the better. Keep in mind that I’m not actually making a value judgment on this particular point, I’m merely pointing out that scientific rationality is not necessarily the relevant factor to be considered.”]

    ———-

    As I said in the comments of Matthew Remski’s Facebook discussion on this, I actually caught some flak from a few atheists over this particular article. One guy continually just wanted to say that DC is full of it. He was on a mission to be “right” and felt I was essentially helping to give DC “cover” and helping to blur the lines of rational thought. I do get where he was coming from but I think he somewhat missed the point; everything doesn’t have to be about being “right” all the time.I don’t think that Chopra is really about being “right” necessarily, or about winning debates, nor is he claiming to be a scientific researcher, so I think it is ok to evaluate him on slightly different terms.

    • It’s a good point. If DC was about being “right” rather than about evangelizing Vedanta and drafting psychotherapeutic models of inspiration, he would sharpen up his language, or simply decline the next debate. The relative choicelessness of views is another excellent point to keep in mind.

  • Thanks to all here.
    I’ve been waiting to hear mremski pick up on his comment that he was ‘gonna have something to say about Deepak.

    And I’m encouraged to hear that mremski is ‘gonna do some more thinking.
    Great. Love this guy thinking and writing, and reaching for poetry and delicious word salad.
    ?? The so-mentioned “Culture Wars”. But I’m not sure these wars even exist.
    Time Magazine? –Since when is Time Magazine a “Western Framework?? Wow.
    And !!Thanks for the intro to Mr/Dr. R. Malhotra. There is a guy who has “devised a powerful rhetoric…”

    The kirtan call: He(d)ge-mon(e)y: The 3rd Act.
    Facination.
    With the Indic Source??
    I’m vibrating.
    And Matthew? I’m the “middle” and I am NOT ambivalent!

    My charges are very simple:
    A kazillion, Down, The rest after the miracle is performed.

  • Matthew,

    Great article.

    As someone who obviously has an interest in the play of language, however, I’m a little surprised you’re so offended by Chopra’s use of the term “consciousness.” I’d argue that the neuropsychological definition is but one definition that is useful in that particular domain. At least Chopra defines his terms–so you know that your dealing with the Brahman/Atman variety of Consciousness and not one of the others.

    I’d also argue that for the most part both camps are “religious,” although the Schermer/Harris camp would likely take issue with this argument. Harris, in particular, has been beating the “End of Religion” as a means of income for some time. Not to say I don’t like Harris–I just read his book, “Free Will”, and it was excellent.

    The fact is that most of us are dilettantes–not scientists or among the enlightened–and it is usually by experience, from interest or woo-woo intuition that we adopt one stand or another. The actual “knowledge” is another matter–we simply know what we like. That isn’t to say that I don’t think we should strive for more knowledge, but it isn’t really what gets us up at 5:00 a.m. to start working on something we’re passionate about.

    Some of us want to rebrand Yoga, Buddhism (or Buddhadharma), or Ä€yurveda and strip some or all of their religious/cultural trappings. Personally, I’m fine with these projects, but I’m equally fine with those that are more “woo-inclusive.” In fact, if I start talking with an intelligent yogic tantric or a Tibetan Buddhist, I usually find that the “woo” or magic doesn’t necessarily rule their lives or their practice.

    I don’t mind the religious folks–be they scientific materialists or Chopra types–but I find fundamentalists and zealots of both camps hard to take.

    Matt

    • Hi Matt — thanks for posting. He doesn’t define his terms. That’s the problem. I hope this article helps with the distinction. I don’t have time to address this here, but I’ve heard Shermer/Harris accused of being “zealots”, and “religious” in their own, and I can’t understand it. The only zealotry apparent to me in them is a zealotry for evidence and the falsifiability of claims.

      • Matthew,

        You point to Chopra’s definition of consciousness in your article:

        “Here’s my definition of Consciousness. Consciousness is the ground of existence… that differentiates into everything we call reality. ”

        It might be too fuzzy, too “woo” of a definition for your liking, but it *is* a definition all the same.

        Your point about the purported [ir]religiousness of blokes like Shermer and Harris is a fair one, but again, it would be difficult to debate unless we both agreed on a common definition of religion in that context. And like “consciousness” there is not just one definition, even in common usage.

        Thanks for listening.

        Matt

        • To repeat myself, it’s not “woo” or “fuzzy” that I’m targeting. It’s the usage of the same word for objects of two different paradigms: science and theology. Chopra would be fine if he used whatever theological term best expressed his Vedantic view. But he appropriates “consciousness” instead. The fact that he doesn’t use “Brahman” or another similar term suggests that he wants to pretend that he is not offering a religious view.

          • Matthew,

            I think that is the essence of the problem, however. Some folks don’t see a strict separation between science and spirituality–especially when we’re talking about largely “inspirational” literature, not actual scientific practice.

            To me it seems a bit silly to anguish over the categorical separation of word use. If I’m reading a book by a neuropsychologist or neurophysicist I would expect a different usage of “consciousness” than I would from Chopra–unless of course that neuropsychologist or neurophysicist happens to be writing a spiritual book. That happens sometimes.

            As Ramesh points out below, Consciousness (big “C” or not) is not a word that has only been in the domain of science. This is also true of “mind.” Should we also vainly attempt to move that term from spiritual/theological parlance?

            The fact is: words are multidimensional and *are* used in different domains all the time.

            Chopra is free to use Consciousness as he sees fit. In fact, he may be legitimately concerned that words like Brahman–with all its historical/cultural trappings–may not be appropriate for the meaning that he wants to convey.

            I don’t see that most real scientists have issues with such word use–because, y’know, they are practicing science, not debating Chopra like Shermer, who garnered a Ph.D. in the history of science after breaking from his born again Christian beliefs and going on to found the Skeptics Society. He has been on something of a “crusade” ever since.

            Matt

          • I’m not in anguish, and I don’t think words should be banned from particular disciplines. I just think transparency about how one uses language is crucial, especially when one is as blessed/cursed as Chopra is with the kind of charisma that can encourage people to follow him, rather than the clarity of his ideas. That words are multidimensional means that those with cultural power must bear the burden of transparency when using them. Words have material effect, and if a theological usage distorts or confuses a scientific usage, people with scientifically measurable issues may start trying to pray them away. This may have some marginally positive effect, but I’ve seen too many clients trying to meditate tumours away because they’ve been told by people who use language like Chopra does that tumours are metaphors.

          • Fair enough, but I think such people who are looking for magical answers to serious or desperate life problems will gravitate to whatever inspiration they can find. If Chopra isn’t available, they’ll move on to someone else.

            That said, I would probably also pray and meditate in such circumstances–in addition to getting my chemo or whatever Western medicine seemed most effective. I’m not going to hedge my bets! 😉

            Of course, tumors are metaphors and they are also actually real things. It seems education–or the lack thereof–is the real culprit here if people can’t discriminate between the two.

  • Is the “confusion” with Chopra, Matt, or perhaps with the “scientists of consciousness”?

    Why come down on Chopra? : )

    My sense is he’s pointing to more fundamentally & universally real realities than the “scientists of consciousness” are. From my present perspective, many have not yet evolved their mindsets, paradigms, approaches & methods to those of a more universally holistic and, therefore, authentic, nature.

    I feel you’re pointing to a valid & relevant present challenge stemming from perceptual & conceptual gaps, hwvr, with all due respect, I also feel you’re distracting attention/consciousness (small “c” : )) away from the plain & simple root cause of the gaps — i.e., the gaps, themselves, not “an individual person” or his “incorrect” vocabulary.

    From my perspective, the degree to which we tighten up & ‘upgrade’ the universal lexicon will be the degree to which we can all begin connecting more dots, together/civilly, argue less and allow unindividuated ego to dissolve as we advance towards a more & more collective understanding/innerstanding of more & more universal truths. It’s really no more than a little language tweaking/refinementl, in my opinion.

  • Your entire assessment springs from a schema underpinned by presumptions about definitions and paradigms from a particular perspective rather than from a more universal perspective. That was my point. The cause/driver of the gaps are deeper, in my opinion, than [your & others’] perception of Chopra’s “incorrect” vocabulary.

    The structure and, therefore, focus, of the scientific paradigm and, therefore, “method”, is defined by it’s language and the limitations, thereof. My sense of Chopra is not so much that he’s using “incorrect” language, but talking in language many do not understand/follow in an effort to point to some complex meaning(s) about the Reality within which we exist.

    That passage you quoted of Chopra made perfect sense to me because I aim to follow, understand & appreciate the meanings to which others are pointing [prior to deciding my degree of accordance, or not] rather than focus [too much] on the words they are using to point to the meaning(s).

    If Chopra’s missing an opportunity in one area, perhaps it’s in more elaborate explanations of his terms. My sense is he’s trying to keep conversations from getting too complex & long, and he’s simply speaking with the hopes that those with eyes to see & ears to hear will see, hear & appreciate that to which he is pointing.

    To get to the dots of any ‘meaning’ful gaps, those interested must come to understandings of the gaps btwn underlying meanings, not btwn the pointers (i.e., “words”, “language”), themselves.

    Folks aren’t following Chopra’s language with respect to “big C”/”little c” c/Consciousness, hwvr, that, in itself, doesn’t mean what he’s pointing to is “incorrect” or invalid. You [and/or others] may, ultimately, not agree that what he’s pointing to has validity, hwvr, disputing his language or word choices, alone/[primarily], is diverting attention & [“little c”] consciousness away from the primary subject-matter & issue at hand, i.e., gaps btwn paradigms of Reality and, more importantly, a mindful analysis/assessment of which paradigm serves as the ‘better map’ (i.e., which one allows one to more effectively/optimally engage & harmonize with “cause & effect”).

    Basically, I’m suggesting the “debate” would be more meaningfully engaged at the ‘meaning level’ than at the ‘semantical level’.

    Reality is more complex than the classical scientific paradigm & method is able to explain. Such is why “quantum physics” came into being in the first place….i.e., “classical science” does not sufficiently explain phenomena at subatomic levels and, in some cases, at macroscopic levels beyond experience here on earth.

    Yes…..”god of the gaps”, “the argument from ignorance” and “shifting the burden of proof” are all tactics employed by some at various times to advance or protect an argument/position. This subject-matter (i.e., meaning, the “paradigm” subject-matter) is too deep & complex [and I have areas of interest of more proximate value for me, personally] for me to invest too much of my valuable time defending Deepak, his approach, and/or his value [or lack or harm thereof] to the overall co-inquiry, co-exploration & collective conversation.

    I also have better things to do than to “defend” Deepak’s bank account or “perceived success”.

    That said, I will offer this last comment to help clarify my position & suggestions in the effort to, indeed, help inspire the conversation and, in turn, ‘human-consciousness’, forward.

    I agree Deepak uses language from a lexicon inconsistent with that of classical science. That said, I *also* feel his language is relatively consistent [and sufficiently so, for me, personally] with the language of quantum physics.

    I also appreciate how Deepak’s perspective is both scientific & theological/spiritual, and therefore understand & appreciate how his language reflects that perspective.

    Where I sense I differ from you & Julian is that I’m more open to the possibilities offered forth by many of Deepak’s *fundamental* propositions.

    One reason I feel that’s possible [for me] is that I don’t take everything Deepak says as “Truth” but, rather, as suggestion/proposition. Others have the free will to perceive Deepak however they wish and guide their choices & actions, accordingly.

    To suggest the nature of one’s thoughts/consciousness does not impact one’s experience/Reality on a quantum level [as well as on practical levels] I feel, itself, is as invalid as one suggesting that if I step onto the freeway, right now, and ‘think very hard’ about being ‘non-physical’, an SUV will drive right through me.

    It’s not “either”/”or”, in my opinion, and there could be very valid reasons [beyond human-beings’ *current* understanding/capacity-of-perception] why *both* statements could be True/valid *and* relevant.

    Hence, I stand by all my previous comments & suggestions and augment them as follows…

    a) I think the conversation about semantical differences between lexicons can be a relatively brief, simple & clear conversation arriving at clear mutual understanding & appreciation btwn/of debating parties. I also feel that’s a worthwhile conversation to conduct because, yes, coming to agreement on terms/pointers does help move co-inquiries, co-explorations & co-discoveries of/for truths, forward

    b) I think the conversation about the validity of different paradigms is a deeper & more complex conversation, and personally, I feel *evidence* supports the proposition that there’s far more value in “keeping minds open” (i.e., not allowing present biases [that may be] unconsciously embedded within human-consciousness due to ‘idealizations’ of “conventional science” and/or “the conventional scientific method” to shape perceptions & arguments) as continuing co-inquiry & co-exploration is employed by those committed to seeking to discover reasonable & rational explanations for the presently unexplainable.

    c) I feel folks’ stigmas around “money” and “perceived success” can cloud civil & constructive discourse. Some folks can tend to get very emotional around “money” which I *do* feel can muddy discernment, analysis, assessment and, ultimately, conversation.

    I, personally, don’t have an issue with Deepak earning ‘good money’ saying & offering everything he’s saying & offering. I’d rather see economic resources go in that direction than a lot of others, including where present “science” directs it!

    Now, my sense is folks like you & Julian will disagree with my stance on that because it appears from your writings that you feel Deepak is actually “doing harm”, and doing “serious harm”, at that.

    Personally, I don’t see it this way. Rather, I feel he’s contributing to the unfolding collective co-inquiry, co-exploration & co-discovery of more & more universal truths by challenging existing paradigms & patterns of perception/thinking.

    Resist it or not, folks, evidence supporting the merging of ‘spiritual tenets & wisdom’ & ‘quantum physical tenets & knowledge’ are strong. That much is undeniable, I feel. This is “exciting”, for me, not a turn-off, and frankly, if there are folks out there who can inspire the deepening of collective conversation & discovery and attract financial resources their way to even further deepen the conversation & co-exploration [via ‘attraction of attention’, increased resources available to foster the deepening process, etc.], I’m all for it.

    Why should I blame Deepak for an HIV patient with poor discernment, denial issues and irresponsible, unwise behavior?

    To do so is, in fact, “distraction”, in my opinion, as is muddying the space of civil discourse by attempting to make the conversation about “semantics” inextricably entwined with the conversation about which “paradigms” serve best for discerning truths & realities.

    Such are two separate conversations, and the first one is a relatively brief & easy one to conduct, while the second is deeper & more complex to conduct & sort through.

    Having said that, I *do* feel the second conversation would be served by squarely conducting the first, however, with all due respect, I don’t feel your piece [or Julian’s] moves consciousness and, hence, ‘the macro-conversation’ in that direction because it’s integrating the two conversations into one which augments confusion & incivility [in my opinion].

    It’s two separate conversations, but because [by your own acknowledgement] you disagree from the get-go with many/all of Deepak’s “assumptions” [while I do not], you are making these two conversations, one, which adds further confusion to the deep & complex second conversation. That’s why I suggest your & Julian’s pieces accentuate & exacerbate incivility rather than the contrary (i.e., help inspire *more* civility).

    The Catholic church authorities in Copernicus’ & Galileo’s times framed their “positions” by asserting the propositions being put forth by C & G didn’t “fit”/”jive” within conventionally & historically held paradigms. From Wikipedia…

    – – – –

    “Biblical references Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 include text stating that “the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved.” In the same manner, Psalm 104:5 says, “the Lord set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Further, Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that “And the sun rises and sets and returns to its place.”

    Galileo defended heliocentrism, and claimed it was not contrary to those Scripture passages. He took Augustine’s position on Scripture: not to take every passage literally, particularly when the scripture in question is a book of poetry and songs, not a book of instructions or history. He believed that the writers of the Scripture merely wrote from the perspective of the terrestrial world, from that vantage point that the sun does rise and set. Another way to put this is that the writers would have been writing from a phenomenological point of view, or style. So Galileo claimed that science did not contradict Scripture, as Scripture was discussing a different kind of “movement” of the earth, and not rotations.

    By 1616 the attacks on the ideas of Copernicus had reached a head, and Galileo went to Rome to try to persuade Catholic Church authorities not to ban Copernicus’ ideas.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei

    – – – –

    Note how Gaileo responded to his dissenters/challengers by inviting a deeper look into language of the bible and a cultivation of more refined discernment with respect to the actual meaning to which the language was pointing.

    What’s interesting/ironic is that the positions are reversed as far as “‘Galileo’ vs. ‘the Church'” and “‘Deepak’ vs. ‘Conventional Science’ & ‘the Conventional Scientific Method'”. Compelling/intriguing, if one begins to think about it! “Spiral Dynamics” : )

    And I bring up the potential stigmas & emotional energy around “money” and “perceived success” because I feel these add more confusion to the spaces of co-inquiry, co-exploration & collective conversation.

    I sense some energy around these two issues (i.e., “money” & “success”) in the suggestions & assertions you & Julian are putting forth against Deepak. We must be careful about the unconscious biases we bring to conversations about “Reality”.

    It’s not “rational” to blame Deepak for an HIV patient’s unwise & irresponsible thinking & behavior and chide/accuse him for/of being a “charlatan”, accordingly. *That’s* “bait & switch”/ “shifting the burden”, in my opinion. Get to the locus of responsibility….the exerciser of “free will”. Don’t blame Deepak for ‘muddying the public space’ and not hold exercisers of free-will accountable. Deepak can say & do whatever he wishes, as can everyone else.

    One can be “open” to what Deepak offers while *still* being “fully responsible” with one’s perceptions & actions. To shoot down [or contribute to campaigns of ‘bringing down’] Deepak is akin to what folks of previous generations did to other folks challenging predominantly conventional paradigms & thinking.

    As Emerson put it… “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

    The human psyche [up to & through the present] is an interesting thing. Folks will allow dogma [cloaked in everything from “religion” to “science”] to color their perceptions, form their conclusions & direct their actions. What’s often offered forth as “sane & rational thinking” can sometimes be a clever disguise for protecting the ego.

    My minimum bottom-line suggestion with all this is that you & Julian invest your acute & well-meaning intellect & energy inspiring discernment between the two conversations (i.e., “semantics” vs. “paradigms”). To me, inspiring such discernment both on interpersonal & collective levels helps move not only the collective conversation forward, but the species, in whole. “Reality” *does* follow “c/Consciousness”…..I feel *that* is a proven “Truth”.

  • Super useful to have you hold up Chopra’s unfortunate conflation of ‘Brahmin’ with ‘consciousness’ Matthew. My undergrad, a good long time ago, was on the ‘Origins and Evolution of Consciousness’, and the first thing I did was dig into the etymology of consciousness. According to Eric Partridge (‘Origins’) and others the deep roots of the word ‘consciousness’ are ‘com’ – with; and ‘scire’ or ‘scio’ – to know. ‘Scire’ has a direct relationships to the word ‘science’ itself. Jump to Merriam-Webster’s origins of the word ‘science’ and things get interesting: “Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin scientia, from scient-, sciens having knowledge, from present participle of scire to know; perhaps akin to Sanskrit chyati he cuts off, Latin scindere to split”.

    So, yeah, the roots of the word ‘consciousness’ may well be in ‘chyati’ and ‘skindere’ which are all about ‘cutting’ and ‘splitting’ (also related to ‘schizo’ meaning to ‘split’) which is generally how we understand the Newtonian and Cartesian scientific paradigms. Basically, the very opposite of how Chopra uses (and others use) the word.

    I treated ‘consciousness’ as an anthropological phenomena: that which differentiated human evolution. Its attributes were things like time consciousness, strategy, narrative, and the capacity for guilt and alienation. My post-grad work (in Existential Theology) was on the tension between ‘consciousness’ and ‘Being’ (cf. Heidegger et al) which I saw as intrinsically irreconcilable. ‘Consciousness’, by definition, dreads ‘Being’.

    ‘Being’ is really a much better translation for ‘Brahmin’ than ‘consciousness’ which is, etymologically, Brahmin’s opposite.

      • Hey Matt.

        Thanks for a very fruitful forum!

        I thought that Jaynes was pretty far out there.
        In my undergrad I worked my way through Erich Neumann’s Jungian take on consciousness in ‘The Origins and History of Consciousness’ which was pretty spectacular, some Piaget on the development of consciousness in children, and also Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘Phenomenon of Man’, who I thought brilliantly defined ‘consciousness’ (which he believed is what humans were all about) as evolution reflecting on itself; ie. humans are evolution reflecting on itself.

        So these are all very different takes on ‘consciousness’ from the ones thrown around in New Age circles.

        • Thanks Nik for the old Confucius and all. Jaynes was an outlier for sure, but my understanding is that his more speculative neurology has been validated over time. I love Piaget, but de Chardin probably started my whole intellectual career. Something really suave about a Jesuit paleontologist with an artist girlfriend in every port! Sigh.

          • de Chardin completely blew my brain. Loved his stuff so much I went to study with the Jesuits…
            but wait… girlfriend in every port??? Now this is gossip I totally missed! You’ve got to tell!!

  • Thanks to Dustin for such a comprehensive, thoughtful, hard-hitting, and yet utterly polite rebuttal, both here and at https://www.facebook.com/matthew.remski/posts/10153163454125602.

    Point of information. This debate has been going on for a long, long time. I was just catching up on my Spinoza (1632-1677), since he has been evoked on both sides here. If you have ten minutes, this Wikipedia page is fascinating and highly relevant, with plenty of ammunition for both sides of the our debate. Some consider Spinoza anti-religious, and some considered him the beginnings of modern religion. And some thought he was a representive of ancient religion–an unconscious Vedantist, with views identical to Chopra’s:

    “Max Muller, in his lectures, noted the striking similarities between Vedanta and the system of Spinoza, saying “the Brahman, as conceived in the Upanishads and defined by Sankara, is clearly the same as Spinoza’s ‘Substantia’.”[91] Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society also compared Spinoza’s religious thought to Vedanta, writing in an unfinished essay “As to Spinoza’s Deity—natura naturans—conceived in his attributes simply and alone; and the same Deity—as natura naturata or as conceived in the endless series of modifications or correlations, the direct outflowing results from the properties of these attributes, it is the Vedantic Deity pure and simple.””

    Bob W.

  • This is such a great article!

    For me, the most profound part of what mremski is sharing with us is the hinting at, and then the fleshing out of, the “…much larger debate over ownership, appropriation, and epistemology that modern yoga has amplified…”.

    Remski is pointing out that Chopra may be embroiled in a complex cultural movement
    (is DC aware of this?)
    –and that Deepak: “…needlessly darkens the stains of post-colonial acrimony…”

    I encourage all who read mremski’s diaglouge here to please view the Malhotra video that Remski includes!!
    Stay with the video for a good long time.
    Far longer than you feel you ‘have time for’.

    While viewing the Malhotra video: Please notice that the ‘audience’is not allowed to ask questions, and that the visual aids are rushed through with a kind of flaming (and tense) need-to-move-on that is the ODDEST kind of pedagogy I have ever witnessed! It’s like Malhotra IS having a debate. But he is –alone– as he is speaking and gesturing (and indoctrinating).

    A note to mremski: I see your kindness here, and I clearly understand –now– your tremendous kindness toward Dharmacology on another post.
    You are a lovely person, Matthew.
    You have taught me a lesson in compassion. But lets not let our compassion get in the way of calling out abuse.
    — Deepak may be guilty of ‘crimes’.

  • Pop-quiz. Who wrote this?:

    The Higgs boson points to the existence of a hypothetical unified field at the heart of our matter-energy complex–a kind of syrupy substrate by which elementary particles acquire mass–that would answer the previously metaphysical question: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. With things mutually sharing their parts, and consciousness moving towards intersubjective empathy, what might be possible?

    Bob W.

    • Before this game goes any further, this is from Matthew’s recent book, “Threads of Yoga”. Matthew wrote on the facebook thread that he felt I was taking this quote out of context, to which I replied:

      Hi, Matthew. I didn’t cherry pick. I wanted to include the whole paragraph, but felt is was too long, and the that the part I quoted was representative anyway.

      If you feel I’m being unfair, I’ll drop this whole line of inquiry instantly, in deference to our friendship. But before I do, having just read “Threads of Yoga” with some considerable care over the last couple of months, let me just say that I personally see a lot of commonality between “Threads of Yoga” and Chopra’s thinking. (The above is only one of many quotes I have marked in my heavily annotated copy of your book.)

      But, that’s the last word on this if you feel I’m off track or unfairly quoting.

      Bob

  • The Superfluid Vacuum Theory (SVT) (aka Theory of a BEC vacuum).

    — [Vacuum = non-removable background.]

    The SVT is one of the several ‘Quantum Gravity’ (QV) theories.
    A Quantum Gravity theory: To describe all known interactions and elementary particles as different manifestations of the same entity.

    — [Should not be confused with the objective of unifying all fundamental interactions into a single mathematical framework.]

    A ‘fixed’ background vs an un-fixed background –is some flexible.
    Fixed/UnFixed: The way the general and the special relativites ‘differ’.

    As there are theories that allow the ‘background’ to be ‘perturbed’…
    In this ‘perturbed’ way, a ‘fixed background’ can actually ‘change’.
    So I’m not too sure if anyone is about to consider a ‘fixed’ background
    -as some kind of way to find the ‘origin’ of the universe (hidden in ‘plain sight’, so to speak.

    Now I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about really.
    But I’ve wondered: Is the –origin– of the universe anything to do with the universe, really? (anyway?) HeHe.

    Time to crack open a few books!

  • I found this article about Chopra interesting. Sure I think he gets things confused and goes off on weird tangents however Cartesian Dualism is far from being disproved. It is an excellent explanation for free will and creativity. I have spent over ten years studying the supernatural and psychic phenomena as well as experimenting with mantras and attempting to see auras and ghosts as well as reading the other side of the coin with confirmation bias, psychic fraud (cold reading ect.) I think it is fair to say that Chopra has an axe to grind however in the way that he tries to incorporate everything into a spiritual world view which is based on flimsy evidence. I have spent a few hours reading into how the materialist worldview also does the same with trying to sweep stuff that cannot fit into that worldview under the carpet. I was reading about Dawkin’s program Enemies of Reason where he debunked spiritualism where the leader of the spiritualist church claimed that stuff came out that couldn’t be explained by “shotgunning” and “the forer effect” and other claims by skeptics to explain spiritualism. I think both sides should not throw out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to trying to make things fit both with the materialist, reductionist worldview and the spiritual and psychic worldview. To reiterate as an open minded skeptic who is indeed skeptical of skeptics and scientists (because everyone has an angle) I think that the debate of consciousness is far from over, it is truly the “hard question.”

  • Remski writes: “Not only is claiming the primacy of Brahman/Consciousness as a scientific axiom meaningless,….”

    Where does Chopra do that in the quotes used in the article?

    I found the article to be poorly argued, actually. Lots of hyperbole, lots of attacks on Chopra, but very little evidence that he talks about magic, or appropriates science, but rather, in the quotes supplied, he presents his Vedantic worldview and claims it includes science, which, in itself, is a valid world view. If you had attacked that, fine, but why spend half the article attacking his business practices when its an article about consciousness. Finally, you argues as if science agree on what consciousness is. Science does not. There are almost as many views on consciousness in science as there sciences and scientists. It has barely begun to understand consciousness. And some aspects of it, like the quality of my inner bliss consciousness in meditation, science, material science, as parctices by Dawkins, will never be able to discern/understand/perceive the way I do it, because science wants objective proof and that is not so easy when in the subjective realm of consciousness.

    • The point of the article is clear: Chopra is conflating, purposefully or not, scientific and theological language. His description of “C”onsciousness is taken whole cloth from Vedanta, but everyone who actually studies consciousness professionally takes it to be a neurological process. I cannot quote him using the word “Brahman”, because that’s the problem — he doesn’t, and this does damage to both languages.

      Vedata does not include science, Ramesh. Where in the Upanishads is there method, peer review, evidence, open inquiry? Vedanta is the poetry of internal experience — some of the finest we have, but it doesn’t fly planes or end polio. Science doesn’t need to agree on what consciousness is: it just has to agree on the method for investigating it. This demands precision in language, and falsifiable claims. The consciousness that neurologists study is not subjective. It performs subjective functions, but it is as objective as a tree or anything else: when you cut its roots it dies. Science can’t steal your experience from you, but it can prevent you from claiming that your experience yields some kind of scientific truth.

      The FB thread contains comments from Julian, Rene, and Frank Jude that address many of the other issues you raise: https://www.facebook.com/matthew.remski/posts/10153163454125602?comment_id=43103118&offset=0&total_comments=107&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment

  • Chopra is not the only one translating Brahma with consciousness. This has been done since the Upanishads and the Tantras and Vedanta was translated into English. There is a whole textual tradition for the use of Brahma/Brahman as Consciousness. That’s why he is using it as part of a long standing tradition–from Vivekananda, Woodroffe, on down to satyananda, Anandamurti et al. He is not inventing a term as you claim.

    According to Advaita Vedanta, which is Deepak Chopra’s main reference point, these different categories of consciousness are classified as absolute consciousness (brahma-caitanya), cosmic consciousness (īśvara-caitanya), individual consciousness (jīva-caitanya), and indwelling consciousness (sāksi-caitanya). However, all these distinctions are due to limiting adjuncts (upādhis) and are not intrinsic to the true nature of consciousness, which is by itself one and non-dual. Advaita Vedanta says that there is a substratum of this universe, even finer than energy (prāna), called brahma-caitanya. The very nature of this substratum is sat-cit-ānanda: absolute existence (sat), pure consciousness (cit), and bliss (ānanda). Atman, or soul, is also sometimes referred to as consciousness in Yoga, sometimes as parama-atman, as cosmic soul/consciousness, or jiva-atman, or personal; individual soul/consciousness.
    In Tantra yoga, Brahma is the composite of Puruśa (consciousness) and Prakrti (energy). Prakrti is the Operative Principle and Puruśa is the Consciousness or the Cognitive Principle. Brahma is two in one. Brahma is thus Cosmic Consciousness in Tantra, it contains the two principles inherently, the ability of intelligence or awareness and the ability of creation, of evolution. It is Prakrti that creates the universe in Tantric cosmology, it creates the three gunas, then the five elements, etc. Finally matter, which contains consciousness, since the nominal cause of matter is consciousness according to Tantra, as well as and prana shakti, thus the potential for life.
    Hence, we can conclude that when Chopra refers to Brahma as Consciousness, he is basically philosophically correct.
    Matthew Remski toys with the idea that perhaps Ether or Space (Vyomtattva in Sanskrit) of the fifth and most subtle element in the physical universe according to Ayurveda, Tantra, Samkhya, etc gets close to describing consciousness, but establishes that it is not close enough. Of course not. Consciousness (Brahma, Chit, Ananda, Shiva, etc) in the Eastern universe is very different from ether/space, as ether is metamorphosed consciousness, the most subtle of the physical elements, but not consciousness per se. But again, from the point of view of Tantra, especially, (because in Tantra, there is the cosmological rationale that Brahma is composed of Purusha/consciousness and Prakrti/energy, but this is not clearly reflected in Samkhya, nor Vedanta, as Samkhya does not link Purusha and Prakrti with Brahma the way Tantra does. That is a subtle yet important distinction.

    So, here’s Chopra’s logic: because Brahman/Consciousness is the Ultimate Subjective essence of the universe, from which everything originates, including objective reality, from the comsic mind of Mahat, Aham and Citta (depending on the system, but in Tantra, these are the 3 components of cosmic mind), the three gunas, to the five elements, to matter, to mind in matter, to life, to cellular beings to insects, to humans, and so on. This is the evolutionary cycle. But more to the point: Chopra can, within his paradigm claim that subjective cosmic consciousness includes, even creates objective consciousness, even science… this is indeed the claim he is making. Yes, it is farfetched by objective scientific standards, but he is within the purview of Vedanta, Tantra, etc. Thus the claim he is appropriating a term is nonsense. He is not. He is using it differently than science, but he has the right to do so. He is indeed, absolutely on track philosophically, something Remski has flat out missed.

    • You can address me directly, Ramesh, we’re just chatting! I didn’t say he invented the usage. I’m saying he’s failing to be transparent about how he’s using it and where it’s coming from, when he’s sharing a stage with those who are using the term in a very different way.

      Thank’s for laying out the Vedanta/Tantra framework so well. Chopra is free to speak as a philosopher, and I’ll grant that he’s a good Vedantist, but he’s crashing a different party. To be intellectually honest he should simply declare: “I’m using the word ‘Consciousness’ as an analogue for a theological concept with its roots in Vedanta.” Then there would be no argument. But he would also lose his place on stage with physicists and neurologists, which he seems to value. That he isn’t transparent here suggests that he’s trying to play it both ways. The loser here is the common listener who may be fooled into believing that he is for the most part speaking as a scientist instead of as a believer. Many people suggest that he intends this confusion. My position is ambivalent.

      • Just a point of information:

        Today, to deal with this charge of pretending to be a scientist, Chopra almost always co-authors articles and appears on these kind of stages with physicists, neurologists and psychiatrists.

        Obviously, one may disapprove the particular scientists he partners with. But he’s worked hard to overcome this charge that he is pretending to science as an individual. Today, critics need to deal with a small movement of scientists, not just Chopra.

        See his latest series of articles for Huffington Post:

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/

        Bob

      • I’m starting to research his collaborators, to see who they are. For those interested–an article about co-author of recent articles, Dr. Rudy Tanzi, who heads Massachusetts General Hospital’s Genetics and Aging Research Unit and teaches neurology at Harvard Medical School. About half way down he talks about why he has chosen to work with Chopra. http://b.globe.com/1cHn0wE

        Bob

    • This is a great addition Ramesh, because I’ve always wondered how the word ‘consciousness’ – which in the west has been used by evolutionary theorists to describe what differentiates human beings from other animals, and by developmental theorists to describe what differentiates infants from adults (ie. a set of discursive cognitive processes) – came to be used in the world of New Age philosophy as a kind of cosmic unity or, as you put it, “the Ultimate Subjective essence of the universe, from which everything originates, including objective reality”. Etymologically, as I wrote earlier in this thread, ‘consciousness’ is actually antithetical to an ‘ultimate essence’. Infants, for example, who would be seen by developmental theorists as being *less* conscious are, in the New Age determination of the word, possibly *more* conscious.

      Amazing how language can morph, particularly as cultures collide.

      I tend to agree with Matthew though. I don’t follow your Vedantic taxonomy at all but that’s not because it doesn’t lack an internal cohesion: I just don’t know enough about Vedanta to make any kind of judgement. However, no one would claim it’s science, which is apparently what Chopra is trying to do. If Chopra would state his definition (ie. “my understanding of ‘consciousness’ is that it is the Ultimate Subjective essence of the universe, from which everything originates”) people could have an argument about etymology, but no one would be arguing about science. I think Chopra, consciously or not, is deriving too much benefit in hitching his ‘consciousness’ to ‘quantam physics’ to clarify his terms.

  • Hi Matthew,
    I disagree, and for reasons mentioned earlier. Chopra may not use the term Brahma/Consciousness on stage when discussing with Harris and Dawkins. Doing so would indeed be more confusing than using Consciousness, as very few people know Sanskrit. He is clearly and openly representing a spiritual view when speaking with them, moreover his concepts are modern Vedanta, English Vedanta. Most people understand that. That he is trying to reconcile this view with science is perhaps problematic at times, but also necessary and fruitful. The dialogue is constructive, and I felt you made him look like a fool for doing so. Sorry, but many of us felt that, my friend. I got letters from friends who go quite reacted… Finally, one can clearly state that Vedanta/Tantra are not religious dogma and get away with it and say it is spiritual cosmology. My teacher did that. Vivekananda did that. Indian philosophy is logical and rational, that is the nature of philosophy. Thus one needs to respect the paradigm and it usage, then compare. Chopra is indeed using consciousness as many have before him. Lastly, there is a big difference between Chopra and the Vedic priest offering Ghee to the Trinity, and we are all benefitting from that difference.

    • Ramesh — I’m sure you have a very calming influence on your friends, and I hope you work your magic here!

      Chopra doesn’t need to use “Brahman”. He could use “God”, which everyone would understand. If he really was “clearly and openly representing a spiritual view”, he would. But he’s not being clear and open. He’s perpetuating a translation that has a venerable pedigree, but has become more and more conflating/confusing as the science-religious dialogue has intensified.

      Why exactly is the attempt to reconcile Vedanta with science “necessary and fruitful”? So that Vedanta can be validated by some means beyond its terms? Do professional quantum physicists yearn to reconcile their views with metaphysical concepts? No. It is always the metaphysicians who struggle to keep up with empiricism, dodging, weaving, bending terms — all in an attempt to maintain power over meaning. This has been going since the first empiricist naturopathic doctors began prying control over the public imagination from the priestly castes. The latter are always reframing their terms to say: “O, my tradition said that very thing all along. It’s not the herbs that are healing you, but the God inside the herbs, and you still have to deal with me if you want to understand God.” The translation issue I raise here represents a compounding of the same tendency. Because Chopra’s “Consciousness” is untestable and therefore unshareable, he must adopt a tacit priestly affect in order to intimate that knowledge comes not from measurable evidence that anyone can access, but from metaphysical contemplation, and a faithful attitude.

      What’s the difference between “religious dogma” and “spiritual cosmology”? Does each establish their terms differently?

      To me, the most useful spirituality knows that it is primarily an experiential enterprise best described by a refined aesthetics. Like art and art criticism, it is dealing with unmeasurable sensation and meaning. It is not establishing the facts about how things work. Otherwise we’d pay priests to do our surgeries and design our seatbelts. Chopra mainly presents as a spiritual philosopher, and I’d hope he’d stay in that realm and show a little humility when treading outside of it. That is, if he even realizes he’s treading outside of it.

      • Matthew: “To me, the most useful spirituality knows that it is primarily an experiential enterprise best described by a refined aesthetics. Like art and art criticism, it is dealing with unmeasurable sensation and meaning. It is not establishing the facts about how things work. Otherwise we’d pay priests to do our surgeries and design our seatbelts.”

        I hear you, Matthew, but I myself hardly ever uses words like God due to its religious connotation and baggage. So I can also understand why Chopra is reluctant to use it.
        I hear you most specifically when it comes to describing the internal, experiential journey and about the use of language, but while you like to draw distinct line between science and spirituality on the one hand, you seem to blur them in others by bringing in the priest. To me, there is a distinction between the priest and the yogi: the priest is the believer, the follower, the one resorting to magic answers, while the yogi does not need that because he wants to experience, he wants the direct gaze into the ineffable mystery; he wants to be the mystery, not believe in it. So, to me, that is a kind of science, a kind of empirical enterprise.
        I also hear you very clearly and I agree in terms of those wanting to meditate their tumors away. Meditation is helpful in healing, no doubt, to deal with stress and to deal with fear and to give spiritual strength in a difficult situation, but it is no magic pill and does not cure all ills because you think Chopra said it. And, I am not sure if he says that, but if he does, I disagree. So, when you bring in the priest as the spiritual representative, he is not. The priest is the magic believer, while the yogi is the practical dude, who observes, investigates, experiences, longs for answers not yet seen. Very different enterprise, but not that different from the scientist’s journey. Just different laboratories, one objective, one objective/subjective. So the lines are a lot blurrier–thus to me, yoga is intuitional science, empirical spirituality.

        • I bring in the priest specifically to sharpen the line between science and spirituality, and to the extent that priest and yogi employ metaphysical language to elbow in on scientific discourse, they’re doing the same thing, and neither you nor I have insight into whether Chopra is more like one or the other. A “kind of science” is not science. Things would be so much easier if we just used the more honest term: spirituality is an art form.

          Chopra’s entire brand is built upon statements that imply contemplative action can heal any disease and change any circumstance. This is the overwhelming subtext behind memes like “Perfect Health” and “Quantum Healing”. Others have catalogued this: I haven’t the time.

          And we really have to stop characterizing science as being blind to subjectivity. The very existence of method and peer-review is an acknowledgement of subjectivity, and neuroscience is fascinated with subjectivity, including its own. I’m really tired of the artisans of spirituality making themselves somehow feel better by minimizing what scientists do.

      • Refined aesthetics. Like art and art criticism.

        Here are some Power-Play tools!

        1) The term ‘Aesthetics’ is loaded with socio-political control, and the term has various meanings over the course of time…

        — same for 2) ‘art’ and especially 3)’art criticism’.
        Art criticism is measuring…

        And critics are always using language to ‘persuade’ others to see things the way they/Power wants ‘it’ seen.

        And are we painting-out/eliminating the rubric ‘Art History’? It’s not like the so-called ineffable exists in a vacuum…
        — And the art history ‘cannon'(Western or otherwise).
        — And art history with it’s ‘commentary texts’, borne of the ages that spawned.

        The control of the masses moving through spiritual space using: art.

        — And the Yogi?
        –Talk about a magical thinker! Making the spiritual nectar out of ‘ordinary garden materials’. I suggest a read of David Gordon White’s book/s to get at a clear understanding of the ‘yogi’ behind MPY, anyway…

        Hmmmm. Just thinking out loud…

        • Allise — you’ve busted me. That was my implication. Art criticism is the most political of acts, exerting power over emotion and expression. I think it’s a good analogy for what happens in spiritual debate. Everyone’s talking in immeasurables: the victor is victorious through the accumulation of social power. Thank you for all of your notes here.

    • Thanks, Allise. Yes, I’ve read a lot of this before. At least no one can accuse Deepak of shrinking from his critics. He’s got science coming at him from one side and Hinduism coming at him from the other, one for being too religious and one for being too secular.

      Bob W.

  • I’m just going to make one really quick comment here: Consciousness is, largely, ineffable. Great philosophers such as Shopenhauer and Hume and brilliant psychologists such as Freud and Jung have gone very far and very deep in describing it but, in part do to the inherent subject-object distinction, consciousness is still largely ineffable.

    I myself have been largely unimpressed with Chopra’s descriptions of consciousness; in fact, he seems to dance around any direct descriptions, and on the whole his writings are geared for a particular kind of audience, in my opinion one that reads for pleasure and inspiration or motivation rather than for hardcore philosophical insight. Some people might disagree with me on that point, that is totally ok, I’m not actually trying to criticize, although I know that first line sounds like it.

    Anyhow… the attempts to conflate “consciousness” with Brahmin (as well as various other deities and even cosmological or quantum concepts) is clearly just something that is done out of convenience. The ineffable nature of consciousness, and the generally undefined nature of deities and mystical phenomena (as well as the hard-to-comprehend fuzzy nature of quantum physics etc) mean that it is very easy and convenient to throw around the term consciousness and equate it with… literally anything. ANYTHING. From what I’ve seen Chopra actually doesn’t deny this… if a debater narrows the subject down as says “well how do you know that XYZ is real” or “how do you know that XYZ is consciousness” he might say something like “Look, XYZ is just a name that we call this cosmic principle that is everywhere and in every thing, every molecule, and that same energy is consciousness” etc.

    If you look closely at that linguistic structure you’ll see that it never really defines XYZ, and in fact I’m quite sure that if asked Mr. Chopra will say that not only does Brahmin equate with consciousness, but it also equates with Jesus, Yahweh, Buddha — you name it. This of course is part and parcel of some standard Eastern religious/philosophical viewpoints, which I wouldn’t call pantheism, and would actually describe as, at bottom, a form of mystical monism. But the point is that, from a believer’s perspective, any phenomenon, manifestation, incarnation etc can be lucidly described as part of this “mystical wholeness” and consciousness can just be tossed in as yet another name or descriptor for it without actually delving into the nature of consciousness very much at all.

    Like “mmmmmmmmmmmmmm, I just bit into this apple, it is so delicious.”

    “What is an apple?”

    “It’s a type of fruit.”

    “No, what IS an apple. Look at it. What is it really?”

    “I… guess I don’t know.”

    “That apple is a manifestation of the pure cosmic life force, the ever present consciousness that pervades all being, and comes into being so that it may nourish the light of consciousness inside you. That apple is pure solar energy distilled with the love of the earth to sustain the light inside you; the Sun is pure cosmic consciousness, and so therefore that apple is PURE CONSCIOUSNESS.”

    “Oh……. Oh my goodness I think I just had a spiritual experience.”

  • Just to go on with this a bit further, another very obvious way that this is made clear is that there is never any real differentiation between “consciousness” and “super consciousness.”

    What is super consciousness? It is the conscious that underlies all consciousness; all consciousness EMERGES from super consciousness. WHICH of course is also the same as “quantum consciousness.” Which is also the same thing as divine consciousness, mystical consciousness, cosmic consciousness, etc. Which obviously begs the question “What is consciousness?”

    However, as I’ve pointed out, that question is perhaps not what an audience at a particular level of development is looking for or is ready to contemplate; however my feeling is that if you give them the good stuff people will be able to understand it, but Chopra is obviously very popular and motivates a lot of people so perhaps he understands something that I don’t.

  • To me it’s exquisitely simple.

    Brahman/God is neither religious nor scientific, but self-evident.

    Brahman/God is the entire universe, both what we know about it and what we don’t know, including its unknown origins.

    To not believe in Brahman/God, one would have to say there is no universe, or say there is nothing we don’t know about it, or both.

    This definition is the one that millions of diverse people, both the highly religious and the highly scientific, come together on.

    Science is, of course, included within Brahman/God, because everything is.

    It also follows that to anyone who rejects this definition of God (which would be to reject the definition of countless spiritual people of all stripes down through the ages) then I’m an athiest.

    Bob W.

    • Bob,

      I’ve also been reading–or reading about–Spinoza’s philosophy lately (he is back in vogue, it seems) and I appreciate your poetic aphorisms–but not only for this reason.

      It makes realize that some of our debates about Buddhism vs. yoga (where there is separation) are more about technique than actual disparities in outlook.

      Thanks!

      Matt

      • Hi, Matt.

        Yes, personally I’ve never seen any distinction at all between:

        “God tells me to love my neighbor”

        and

        “Evolutionary Biology tells me to love my neighbor”.

        Same-o same-o. Even the Roman Catholic nuns of my youth used to tell us, when pressed on the true nature of God:

        “God is love.”

        Bob

        • Bob Yes, personally I’ve never seen any distinction at all between:

          “God tells me to love my neighbor”

          and

          “Evolutionary Biology tells me to love my neighbor”:

          Bob, you said it all in a few eloquent lines. Thank you! I agree! Integration is what the world needs!

    • Bob, it seems to me that saying “Brahman is the entire universe” just makes the word “Brahman” a synonym for “universe” and does not actually add any extra information.

      Now, if there is an underlying philosophy behind that (“Brahman is cosmic consciousness that creates, sustains and destroys the entire universe” etc) than that is something else: in which case to be taken seriously in the scientific sphere it would be necessary to explain what/where/how “brahman” exists outside of the universe and what the mechanism is of its power to create etc. What is it, can you show evidence of it, etc.

      Science is fundamentally materialistic, i.e. the universe consists of matter and energy and operates according to some natural laws of physics. I delve into this pretty thoroughly in the Atheist Yoga book.

      Any kind of “mystical” viewpoint that says there is a realm “beyond” or “outside of” materiality, or that the material universe is just a dream or delusion obscuring the true nature of consciousness and enlightenment are, at bottom, incoherent, at least in my opinion. Having analyzed this fairly thoroughly it seems evident that there are huge/pivotal unexplained terms in any such philosophy. For instance, if God is “beyond the beyond, beyond any understanding or definition” then what does it even mean to throw the word “God” around? First it is labeled as undefined, THEN it is used as an explanation for everything. Substitute any similarly vague term for God here: cosmic consciousness, supreme being, Brahman, Buddha, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

      • Hi, Anton. I’m just speaking for myself personally, not representing any religion. This is my very simple and precise formulation of God, on my terms. So, at least with regard to me, you are needlessly over-complicating things.

        So, remove the “Brahman” part, if that’s confusing you. And my simple proposition looks like this now:

        To me it’s exquisitely simple.

        To me personally God is neither religious nor scientific, but self-evident.

        My personal definition of God is the entire universe, both what we know about it and what we don’t know, including its unknown origins.

        To not believe in my God, one would have to say there is no universe, or say there is nothing we don’t know about it, or both.

        This definition is similar to the one that millions of diverse people, both the highly religious and the highly scientific, come together on.

        Science is, of course, included within my God, because everything is.

        It also follows that to anyone who rejects this definition of God (which would be to reject the definition of countless spiritual people of all stripes down through the ages) then I’m an athiest.

        Wouldn’t you agree with this pure logic? I’m reinforcing my earlier point in our God discussion on facebook that it’s all a question of definition.

        In short, If you let me define God, then we all believe in God, including atheists.

        If I let you define God, then I’m an atheist, too.

        Nothing metaphysical about this. This is just pure logic.

        Bob

        • Well, I mean I’m quite sure you are just teasing me right now, and that you must see the kind of linguistic game that you are playing.

          I mean if I define spaghetti as God then I just ate a big plate of God, right? Doesn’t that hold by the same logic?

          But just in terms of linguistics, if you define God as “the universe”, then God = the universe.
          Both signifiers point to the same object, and so the terms are essentially synonyms. UNLESS by saying God = the universe you are meaning to sneak in some metaphysical assumptions about God and apply those to “the universe.” But if you merely want to call the universe “God” there is no problem with that. In fact Einstein was an atheist and he did something very similar.

          When I say god is undefined… I mean in terms of mysticism and religion, and surely we don’t have to go far to find a zillion examples of religious and spiritual rhetoric, but generally there we see the word “God” and various synonyms thrown around a lot and they are rarely defined. Astonishingly, they are often actually defined in terms of being “undefinable.” So, God becomes the “ineffable” or the “unexplainable” but somehow this definition serves as if the word “God” actually pointed to some object.

          • Not teasing in the least, Anton. It’s a dead serious question.

            And you couldn’t have come up with a better confirmation of my point. You consider Einstein an atheist. But I consider him a believer in God, the same exact God, in fact, that I believe in.

            Einstein’s most recent biographer, Walter Isaacson agrees with me, to the extent that he titled a whole chapter in his biography “Einstein’s God”, and defines it just like I do above.

            But I’m not trying to win that argument, only to get you to see that it’s all a matter of definition.

            The fact that you so confidently claim Einstein as yours and I so confidently as mine is proof positive of my exact point. Neither one of us is wrong. We are simply defining God differently.

            Remember, I already agreed to be called an atheist if we go by your definition of God. My definition and Einstein’s (and countless others) is completely consistent with the material/energy world and requires no metaphysical constructs at all, just normal human brain-driven wonder & awe.

            For the atheist shtick to work requires a narrowing and stereotyping of the true richness and variety of spiritual philosophy and life.

            I’m actually with you and other atheists on most philosophical matters except their insistence on telling me and Einstein and everyone else what we can and can’t call and experience as God.

            Bob

            P.S. See Einstein quotes in on of my previous comments above and in discussion on the facebook thread.

          • Einstein: “It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.”

            Einstein: “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”

          • Now, if I had an interest in incorporating or assimilating the word “God” into my worldview… surely there are a zillion ways to do it. Especially if I can define “God” as “the entire universe.”

            I mean I understand the Spinoza-ist conception… but to me that really isn’t different from atheism. The crucial distinctions are whether a personal creator God exists and whether the mind can exist without the physical body.

            Obviously “God” is defined in the Abrahamic religions with a very primitive “man in the sky” formulation: “God” is a divine king who rules mankind and the earth (in those days the Earth and the sun was “everything”) and who demands worship. So, when xtians and others say “God” that is what they are talking about, the God of the Bible.

            Now the interesting thing comes in when you look at more mystical forms of religion or spirituality, including Eastern spirituality. Now you will often see “God” defined as “that which cannot be defined” or “that which is eternally beyond human perception and understanding” or “not that, not that” etc.

            So… it always seems to me that there is a bit of caginess right on this point specifically. Especially if someone is asking you “do you believe in God?”

            So, if someone asks me, do I believe in God, is it fair for me to ask them what “God” is? Or what they mean by “God”? If they mean “the entire material universe” or “a plate of spaghetti” or *anything* then, obviously, I am obliged to say yes.

            Say for instance someone asks me “who is Bob Weisenberg?” and I say “Bob Weisenberg is the universe. Bob Weisenberg is the totality of the universe and its immutable laws of physics.” Then what do they say? Is there a discrete entity known as Bob Weisenberg? Is Bob Weinberg different from Bob Eisenberg and Bob Weisenstein? And then if I say “Bob Weisenberg is undefinable. He is effulgent, magnificent, ineffable; to look at him is like to look at a million suns simultaneously in the sky. Bob Weisenberg is the entire universe and he is also beyond the entire universe.”

          • Hi, Anton. I think we are in near complete agreement, Anton, and would probably be even more so with further discussion. Since “God” has such a wide variety of meanings, as Einstein demonstrates, then to be an atheist has no meaning without defining God. Thanks for engaging and working through this with me.

            One final note. No reason to truncate my very short definition of God. It’s “God is the entire universe, both what we know about it and what we don’t know, including its unknown origins.” That seems plenty precise and viable as a definition, and infinitely rich with both scientific and spiritual import, don’t you think. And yes, as Einstein says, it’s not personal and has nothing to do with an afterlife.

            Bob

        • Hi Anton and Bob.
          I think a missing element in your dialogue re. the existence or non-existence of God is the classic question of evil. Einstein could say that he ‘believed in Spinoza’s God’, and Bob, your definition is that “God is the entire universe”. But, if God is the entire universe, then God’s activities would include rape, torture and slaughter (I know of no better depiction of this dilemma than Dostoyevsky’s presentation of it in the chapter ‘Rebellion’ in ‘The Borthers Karamazov’ via Ivan, the main character’s atheist brother). Spinoza, I believe, considered good and evil to be merely human biases and our descriptions of God to be anthropomorphic: our descriptions of ‘God’ conform to our desires which exclude what *we* call ‘evil’.

          To the vast majority of folks, “God’ is de facto equated with ‘good’ or with ‘love’ or ‘beauty’. To me the ‘God of the entire universe’ is better described simply as ‘Being’: ‘all that *Is*’, ‘undifferentiated’, non-judgemental, total oneness, etc, etc. ‘Consciousness’, on the other hand, is a cognitive process, an existential and evolutionary project, that discursively and strategically *chooses* a path *through* Being , weighing good and bad based on apparent net benefit.

          • Hi, Nik.

            Not missing at all in my concept of God. Remember, the whole definition is “God is the entire universe, both what we know about it and what we don’t know, including its unknown origins.”

            So part of what is unknown is where our concepts of good and evil come from.

            In my own view, as for atheists I assume, this comes simply from evolutionary biology–that goodness and love are brain-driven preferences that ultimately help promote the survival and success of the human race. (Ironically, and perhaps paradoxically, this would have to include the common drive towards religion and the seeming need for faith in God itself!)

            So in my concept of God, goodness and love are all part of the mystery in the definition of God, the “what we don’t know, including its unknown origins” part.

            Bob

          • I came across this note that I wrote some months back:

            “If God is defined as the most fruitful relationship possible between consciousness and evolution:
            Science is God’s sandbox.
            Science is God’s workshop.
            Science is God’s kitchen.”

            Also, all this reminded me of a ‘culminating essay’ I wrote on ‘Consciousness and Addiction’ which I used, at the time, as a sub-text to liner notes for a rock album I wrote.

            Here ’tis:
            http://www.nikbeeson.com/consciousness-and-addiction/

  • Hi Anton,
    Speaking of ineffable concepts. Just wanted to point out that Brahmin, as you used it, is not as ineffable as Brahma or Brahman. A Brahmin describes a person’s caste, job in the Vedic system, such as a Brahmin priest, for example. It describes a person. Brahma is sometimes the God Brahma, but for Deepak it is used to mean Consciousness. Same with Brahman. Some Indians insist Brahma only means the God Brahma, but that is not correct, you may use both Brahma and Brahman and mean the ineffable Consciousness. Moreover, Consciousness, in Tantric philosophy is both ineffable and beyond the physical but also the cause of physical reality and the intelligence of nature, the make up of your mind, that which creates and has been created, thus subject/object, both Purusha and Prakrti, or Nirguna Brahma (the Conscious void, beyond gunas and the world) and Saguna Brahma (the created world, with gunas) You cannot have one without the other.

    • Ramesh,
      Yes of course Brahman not brahmin that is a typo.

      Actually, in Tantric philosophy, as I understand it, the “make up of the mind” is said to be part of the world of manifestation — ahamkara, buddhi, etc. The “ineffable consciousness” is said to be another plain, the plain of pure consciousness. This concept traces back to Samkhya (an atheist system by the way, however a dualistic one).

      In my view, this entire dualistic conception of the universe is at bottom unscientific and should be honestly called into question. Modern philosophers like Shopenhauer have described the subject/object distinction, and in that sense there is a level of subjective consciousness that is in some sense on another plane than objective material reality; that subjective consciousness is, however, also based in material reality (the physical brain).

      If the physical brain is destroyed, an individual’s consciousness no longer exists. One cannot live without a body, and concept such as transmigration/reincarnation are simply incorrect.

      I would assert that ALL of these terms “Nirguna Brahma”, “the Conscious void”, “cosmic consciousness”, etc etc are at bottom undefined. They all reference or point to hypothetical places or spheres outside of material reality; and nothing outside of material reality has been adequately described or defined, because nothing outside of material reality has ever been shown to exist.

      As you analyze this you will start to see that it just boils down to a matter of faith; assertions about the purusha/pakriti distinction or the nature of the three gunas or the structure of cosmic consciousness etc are invariable supported only by previous mystical assertions or scriptures. (“We know the essence of purusha is beyond the three gunas because purusha consists of pure Brahman which is beyond the material world/delusion of maya” etc etc.

      If you want a copy of my book just let me know I’d be happy to send you one via email. I will be doing a giveaway of the Kindle version possibly next week, it goes over these concepts in a pretty streamlined and readable way. But the main point is that science is at bottom materialistic; if anything new or “outside of” the material universe is discovered it will, by definition, be part of the material universe, unless it can be discovered to consist of something other than matter or energy–and even then that just changes the definition of “material universe.”

      As far as I know no mystics have produced any ideas on this front, and the attempts to throw the term “consciousness” in don’t change that, because consciousness is based in the physical brain. On that point psychologists such as Freud have elucidated the vastly powerful concept of the “Unconscious” which is glaring in its absence from any of the ancient scriptures, which means that academically we live in a completely different world today. The idea of the unconscious is borrowed from extensively by Chopra, but not necessarily in philosophical terms, but more in the way of implementation: using Ericksonian language and techniques to influence people. This is why, to outsiders, much of his language seems like mush but really “resonates” with his fans and readers; it’s also why I’d say he’s not all “wrong” necessarily because his real business is to change/influence people and you can’t really do that rationally most of the time. He also stands against dogma, racism, sexism, prejudice, etc which is kind of cool.

  • Matthew: “Things would be so much easier if we just used the more honest term: spirituality is an art form.”

    I am not making the case that spirituality is better, but that case is for sure being made by many in the science community. So this goes both ways: there’s plenty of scientism and dogma in science and feeling that science and the objective world is all there is to it.
    You are on a crusade to denounce Chopra. You are “tired” of hearing such and such. I understand, but in your tiredness there is a tendency to do the same as what you denounce: claim that there is only one truth. Spirituality is art, you say. OK. But,, to me it is also science. Empirical. It is both. Painting is both art and science. Science is also both, as a lot of scientific investigation involves imagination, speculation etc. It is not black and white, no matter how much you want it that way. I agree that Chopra goes overboard and make magical claims, but there is more to him than that. As Matt said, the magical thinkers will be drawn to that, but the more discerning, such as the scientists he works with, will not. So, yes, science is also subjective. I agree. it is not just this or that, but this and that. There is not just one way to define science, Matthew. In doping so, you become more like Dawkin than you want to, because he will have a hard time reconciling the other you. The artful part, the spiritual. Why not trash Dawkin for flattening the universe…. he does, but that is only part of the story. There are great things about Dawkins science, too. But it has limitations, for sure. But I like how science kills religious dogma. But it also kills the genuinely spiritual. Goes both ways.
    There is a narrow and broad way to define science. I define it broadly: systematized knowledge in general….so Ayurveda is science and spirituality to me, yoga as well. I know you disagree.
    Here is the dictionary definition of the word science, as you can see, there’s not only one way to define it.
    1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

    2. systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.

    3. any of the branches of natural or physical science.

    4. systematized knowledge in general.

    5. knowledge, as of facts or principles; knowledge gained by systematic study.

    6. a particular branch of knowledge.

    7. skill, esp. reflecting a precise application of facts or principles; proficiency.

    • You’re still doing it. Science studies subjectivity, invests in subjectivity. Dogma in science is bad science, but it’s par for the course in spirituality. Of course science involves imagination and speculation, but its product is not considered knowledge until speculations have passed through the rigour of method. Can we at least agree that there is no such thing as a commonly accepted spiritual “method”, or testing protocols?

      I’ve never come close to claiming one truth, anywhere. Truth is plural to me, socially negotiated and constructed, and shifting. Because this is so, responsible and transparent use of language is essential. Truth is an agreement, and it begins with at least the attempt to agree upon terms.

      Here’s another common charge that’s totally fatiguing to me: that Dawkins “flattens the universe”. Really? How? What flattens the universe more — a vague God-of-the-gaps answer to everything undiscovered, or the honest admission about the limits of current knowledge and a radical commitment to the open-ended process/method that will continue to grow knowledge, not in the image of our wishes, but in according with evidence that we can share? This has been the charge of religious hegemony in the face of every knowledge advancement: “That’s reductionary! That takes the mystery out of things.” No. Metaphysical refrains flatten and reduce the universe, and worse, dissuade the imagination.

      Your definition of science omits history and etymology. Scio is the root for any kind of knowledge, and yes, might have included Vedanta and Ayurveda prior to the empirical age. But nobody gets a Sciences degree today in “any systematized knowledge”. The reason that Ayurveda cannot be studied scientifically is because it is founded on principles and quantities that cannot be measured. As I’ve said elsewhere, this doesn’t make it less useful, just differently useful.

      • Terrific reply mremski!
        I think it’s important to keep going over this stuff. It clarifies
        –in the way only dialogue can.

        • Science involves INTUITION.

          (not simply ‘imagination’)

          Just ask the physicist! Many research endeavors are carried out upon what is intuited about the subject/object.

          PS: I’m some interested in clarifying how Brahman would be ‘subject’. I think clarity here is important.
          — This use of the term ‘subject’ as Brahman… (purusha=subject prakriti=object) as stated earlier in this post. Does this indicate somehow that ‘Brahman’, as ‘Sat’, is ‘knowing’??
          Hmmmmm.

          • I’m pretty sure that you’re confusing the way that “intuition” is defined in mathematics, epistemology or the philosophy of science with something different.

          • Oh, another way, a scientist way, to define ‘intuition’? I’ll look in to that.
            I’m quoting a quantum gravity researcher. He is speaking about ‘ah-ha’ types of ideation, that are then put through the scientific method. Ah-ha moments are what I believe is referred to as ‘intuition’ by this researcher.

            Yes, the philosophy of science can get to the issues quite nicely. Especially in the ‘softer’ sciences. Clarity of assumptions and all that….

          • The subject of intuitions is somewhat deep–what these are and how our unconscious minds put them together, how reliable they are, to what extent they reflect our biological evolution, etc.

            But what I meant is, that at the root levels of mathematics are certain assumptions that might be theoretically difficult to explain, yet we just “know” they are right. For instance in geometry there are various assumptions about space or about the nature and extension of objects etc.

          • I think I hear you saying that root assumptions can function as intuitions. — For sure there are answers to the ah-ha feelings we have in cognitive science… Explanations that are brain based. Yes.

  • There are some characterizations of Chopra’s views in comments here that I think are false or misleading.

    Here’s the link again for the first of four essays on Consciousness and Science by Chopra and his distuinguished physicist and neurologist buddies on Huffington Post:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/can-the-truth-come-back-w_b_3561406.html and here is Chopra’s page with all the rest of his articles, that last ten of which are directly relevant to everything we’re discussing here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/

    No reason to be in any doubt about what Chopra and his collaborators are really saying.

    Then I say to his critics, by all means, “fire away”. I know I’m learning a lot.

    Bob

    • For example, here is Chopra’s actual view on consciousness and science, which to me seems pretty close to what Matthew is saying:

      There are many competing definitions of consciousness, tracing their origins back thousands of years. East and West, each of these strands has something valuable to contribute. A modern definition of consciousness that all or most researchers can agree upon is highly desirable. Such a definition doesn’t exist at present. It is hidden at the junction of visible matter and invisible mind. Now that science has turned its gaze, at long last, to this junction, we believe it will be the very crux of reality. The Consciousness Project is going where reality leads us – this has been the impetus that resulted in every great scientific discovery, past, present, and future…

      (Complete article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deepak-chopra/the-consciousness-project_b_3529269.html )

      Bob W.

      • I myself see this article as a mixed bag, by the way, favorable and unfavorable to Chopra.

        On one hand, I deplore the extraordinary claims made in this article for what this project may achieve, which I join others in deploring.

        On the other hand, I applaud the commitment to scientific method and scrutiny.

        Bob

  • Matthew, Dawkins and the scientism that he represents has done great things in this world and will continue to do so, especially when it will start studying Ayurveda and yoga more, but it has also done great disservice by disenchanting the world, by appropriating everything into its own rational image and separating itself from the inner world. That is not necessary. The medical system we have at present, with its reliance on drugs to cure everything is a great example. It is too often an example of science gone amok, of science flattening reality and making people believe that Niaxin, due to the 100 million bucks it took to launch it to market is the only way to cure (which it does not, it mainly suppresses symptoms) heartburn. You and I know that there are better ways. Same with diabetes II, which we help people cure here at Prama Wellness center through diet, yoga, meditation etc. Science tells you insulin injections is the only cure. That is how science can flatten reality. And these are just a few examples. So we need integration of the Purusha and Parkrti on all levels of realty, the integration of science and art, of objective and subjective science. Thus Chopra is doing a service among his many blunders; he is helping to open up the scientific investigation of the holistic sciences. So, I think you are too harsh on him, and drawing lines that have and will come back to haunt us in all kinds of schizophrenic ways. We need more integration, not disassociation. The greatness of the enlightenment rationality is the ability to discern, to understand the and separate the make-believe religiosity from the real, but the western enlightenment has also colonized the world and flattened reality into its own sterile image of matter, of efficiency, of superficiality. It’s been a disaster in so many ways. So, more integration of hard sciences (physics, neurobiology, chemistry, astronomy) with the soft sciences (yoga, Ayurveda, meditation, acupuncture, philosophy, cosmology) and the more enchantment, more of the whole shebang.

    • Ramesh, I agree that Chopra does, as you say “a service among his many blunders.” I think he is beneficial in many ways and I view him as a very positive figure generally, although in terms of scientific or philosophical thought I surely disagree with him on a lot of points. And honestly I think he is a very smart man and he probably understands the arguments against him; I take it for granted that if the arguments are thoroughly understood they are eventually believed, and so he is probably obliged to be at least partially disingenuous in order to continue pleasing his many fans and followers. If you know what I am saying.

      As regards science “flattening” the world, and I faced some of these complaints also when launching the Atheist Yoga book, the dilemma is that if we do indeed live in a material universe made up of matter and energy and if there is no God; if that is truly the case (as in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it certainly appears to be) then in order to be rigorous we must attempt to explain science, medicine and even yoga in terms of our understanding of the world.

      As I’ve said before, belief is not a choice. If you believe God, or a supreme being, or whatever, fine; I don’t believe in God and I do believe in the reality of the material universe. I don’t have an actual choice in that and so I must try to make sense of the universe (and yoga) according to the world I find myself in. If we start from a place of materialism, we can’t (and shouldn’t in my view) merely dispense with things like yoga, meditation, and even ayurveda and herbal healing etc which have a lot of value; instead we must strive to describe and understand these things in rational terms.

      • Hi Anton,

        I hear you say above:

        “…we must strive to describe and understand these things (yoga etc.)–in rational terms.”
        and
        “…belief is not a choice…”

        Are you saying the notion –you– have of yoga, ayurveda, or meditation as ‘un-rational’ (or ‘non-rational’ or even a-rational)needs to be (re)described
        — in ‘rational’ terms?

        It appears you feel that the ‘sense making’ of yoga, meditation, ayurveda must need be described –by those who believe in the material universe –‘rationally’

        Here it seems you are speaking about where you find Your beliefs: the (rational?)material universe.

        Overall — I assume the emphasis you place on rationality means: — you emphasize as ‘your good’ the ‘rational affect’ of those who are believers in the reality of the material universe.

        [And I’m not sure if you are allowing for ‘rational’ intellect for those who believe in a/the ‘non-material’ ‘universe’.]

        I think I hear you say above that if one “…understands arguments thoroughly” then one becomes a “believer” in those things that one ‘thoroughly understands’ (at least for arguments ‘described rationally’ in the first instance).

        So, we must strive to ‘rational’ understanding of arguments –so that we can believe ‘in’ –what we have striven to understand (if we are ‘rational’ about this endeavor).

        Is this what you are trying to say here?

        I think the Hindutva agenda is very keen to dispense with the notion of Western definitions of ‘rational’.
        At least listening to Dr. Rajiv Malhotra.
        — I’ll re-listen to the man.

        I think Deepak Chopra is one who is ambivalent too,
        about the ‘rational’.

        !And perhaps you are correct, belief is not a choice!

        Do you think your ‘belief method’ could be better stated using the word: bias?

        Again, forgive me, I’m thinking out loud.

        • I’m thinking along here, and thinking about Krishnamacharya’s expertise in several various schools of logic.
          Here we had a fellow who could argument-along in various schools of logic, from several points of view.
          — Having logic sandwiches from several Delhi’s.

          And yet ever the Bhakti yogi.

          Pure logic? I think it was Bob who used this term.
          What is ‘pure’ logic?

          • I’ve located an interesting author:

            ‘The End of Conceit: Western Rationality after Post Colonialism’
            Patrick Chabel

            One of the “best paperbacks of 2013” (came out in 2012).

            Here is a clip:
            It is the “…The process of [Western]thinking itself, which makes it difficult to question the type of rationality that is the foundation of Western practical thought…

            The author details the need to question our ‘everyday’ ‘assumptions’.

            Like that –rationalism– is stemming from the ‘scientific’,
            and that the ‘scientific rational’ is a sign of superior intellect at work, –and since the West is superior, globalization is good for the world (good in that the rest of the world can now catch up)
            — and the West can continue to secure it’s dominant position vis a vis the world:

            -control the levers of capitalism -consolidate economic advantage…

  • So, the Yoga Sutras (Shamkya) tell us that:

    The ‘intellect’ has nothing to offer the ‘soul’.
    Is this your understanding, mremski?

    I haven’t yet had the pleasure of your book ‘Threads’.
    I’m just catching up on all that has gone down the last 15 years.
    — I’ve been on hiatus regarding all things yoga for the last 14 years or so.

    But, this is my understanding of YS message….

    • I’m going to re-phrase that slightly:
      “… the intellect –realizes– it has nothing to offer the soul…”
      and then the intellect rests in prakriti with this realization? Or some such??

  • Thanks to all of the contributors to this thread, and to Matthew for the essay that kickstarted the conversation. Reading through the comments has been illuminating, and oddly enough I found myself agreeing with parts of nearly every post while calling into question other parts. Here are some of my thoughts, for what they’re worth.

    Deepak seems to inspire more ambivalence than most public figures outside of politics. I suppose that’s inevitable when you’re rich and famous, consort with celebrities, and gleefully try to be many different things and speak with authority in areas of expertise where you lack the usual credentials. Is he a charlatan? Not by my definition. He’s helped too many people, and done too much to transmit Vedanta and Yoga to merit a label that in my eyes would negate those contributions. While his shortcomings and flaws are very real, they don’t seem to rise to that level.

    He’s a complicated dude. I met him back when he was a relatively unknown TM Ayurveda spokesperson. I saw him a number of teams over the years as his star ascended and peaked, and I interviewed him for American Veda a few years ago. I always found him to be sincere, friendly, and – believe it or not – somewhat humble (he once told me he was merely in the right place at the right time with the right credentials and the right accent). That side of him seems to live alongside the persona that people find arrogant and egotistical. A self-contradictory public figure: imagine that.

    About the larger topic of Deepak’s forays into physics, and his attempts to present Vedantic principles as established science, I am not a physicist but I know enough to know when liberties are being taken. He seems to take them, and I wish he didn’t. There’s a larger context, however. Vedanta and physics have been flirting, holding hands, and occasionally making love with one another for a long time. Tesla hung out with Vivekananda. Schrodinger, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer and others were well versed in Vedantic texts and were inspired by them. They found parallels to quantum mechanics in Vedantic cosmology, just as Indian gurus and scientists found parallels in physics to their spiritual heritage.

    But, of course, parallels and metaphors are one thing; unverified scientific claims are quite something else. Starting with Fritjof Capra’s Tao of Physics in the 70s, non-scientists – both well-intentioned scholars and New Age hucksters – began to go overboard in their East-West, spirit-science links. The same thing happened in neurobiology, by the way, where every discovery about the brain was leaped upon and exploited by hawkers of self-help books and seminars. I remember interviewing brain scientists were either enraged or amused by the wild leaps and unwarranted statements being made about the early right-and-left hemisphere findings.

    All of which is to say that Deepak is hardly the first to go a step too far in trying to link Eastern metaphysics and Western science. I think he (and others, like John Hagelin) would get much more traction if they spoke in terms of intriguing parallels and metaphors, and proposed useful hypotheses rather than make premature claims that skeptics and actual working scientists can easily debunk. Hagelin, who is a bona fide theoretical physicist with a distinguished early career, speaks as though physics has firmly established a unified field. Few physicists would agree, and I suspect he would have more credibility if he simply stated that physicists have proposed plausible unified field theories, and are by and large convinced that they will one day strike gold.

    Similarly, it might be more credible if Deepak and others would settle for arguing for hypothesizing that Pure Consciousness is distinct from consciousness of objects, or predicting that objective science will one day establish that consciousness is not just an epiphenomenon of brain activity. To imply that such notions now have scientific currency is to invite ridicule.

    I think Matthew is spot on in arguing that Deepak mixes his epistemologies and thereby misleads many of his readers and followers. However, I would not use the term “theological” for Vedantic precepts, because theology is a distinctly Western discipline and does not quite fit the Vedantic and Yogic legacy of rational inquiry and empirical introspection. It is not a huge leap to think of those traditions as subjective sciences, as most gurus have done – different from Western science as historically practiced, for sure, but not unscientific in their own right, and also not theology in the same way that Abrahamic theologies are.

    We should also acknowledge that Dawkins et al often exceed the boundaries of their own scientific standards in their attacks on anything resembling religion. In my mind, assuming that consciousness is nothing more than the result of brain activity is a bigger leap of faith than the reverse, since we have centuries of testimony about object-free consciousness from yogis and no real research to test the assumption that consciousness arises from brain activity. Defining consciousness that way conforms to the paradigm of materialism and is amenable to current research technology. That makes it either an operational definition or a faith-based definition. That’s fine, but it’s not presented that way. It’s presented as if it were scientifically proven, and that’s not a very scientific thing to do. It’s an assumption, embraced as if it were a self-evident axiom. To me, that’s as egregious as anything Deepak and other spiritual teachers do, but it goes unchallenged.

    This gets us into the realm of Eastern v. Western notions of epistemology: What are the right criteria for gaining knowledge in this realm? What constitutes adequate authority for truth claims? These are huge topics, and better left for another day.

    Finally, let me add something that may shed a wee bit more light on the topic. I spent a lot of time around Deepak’s mentor, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the early-70s heyday of TM, 10-15 years before Deepak came along. (By the way, Matthew, if I may be permitted a slight digression: Where did you get the idea that TM employs a unique mantra for every person? I assure you, the repertoire consists of a finite set of traditional bija mantras.) MMY majored in physics in college, and he loved hanging out with scientists, knocking around ideas and looking for parallels between cutting edge quantum theory and Vedic precepts. He was very keen on marrying what he saw as a subjective science and an objective science. The physicists seemed to enjoy it as much as he did, and they seemed to be creatively inspired by one another. Often, MMY would stretch farther than most scientists approved of, even substituting terms from physics for Sanskrit terms as if they were equivalent.

    I was present more than once when a scientist said something like “But Maharishi, you can’t say X is proven,” and the guru would wave off the objection as if it was inconsequential. He seemed to think it was close enough, or take it for granted that the equivalency would be proven one day as science and its methods continued to evolve. Was that arrogant? Unscientific? Maybe so, but it is consistent with an epistemology that holds that the repeated testimony of rishis and yogis, and the evidence of Vedic texts, matters a great deal – as much, perhaps, as peer-reviewed research and replicated experiments matter to Western scientists.

    Perhaps Deepak inherited some of that perspective, which would inevitably lead to clashes with scientists whose credentials exceed his. What might be tolerated from a guru who stays in the role of a spiritual leader and expert on Vedanta would not be tolerated from someone who presents himself as a man of science stepping out of his own discipline and into another. I think he might get more mileage if he (and others like him) were more careful about sticking to the rules of the establishment whose gates they wish to crash. It would seem that exploring parallels, metaphors, and hybrid hypotheses would be more fruitful than making claims that invite attacks for which a solid defense is hard, if not impossible, to mount.

    Thank you all for stimulating my mind and giving me a great excuse for not working on what I should be working on.

    • Thank you Phil for the history tour. I imagine my TM informant was either misinformed or a crummy student!

      I take your point about theology as a discipline. But the translation is “words about God”, as we know. Since that’s Deepak’s real discourse, I think it’s appropriate.

      “No real research to test the assumption that consciousness arises from brain activity.” It’s not an assumption. When the brain dies, consciousness evaporates, no?

    • Yes, big thanks Phil for your comments.

      “However, I would not use the term “theological” for Vedantic precepts, because theology is a distinctly Western discipline and does not quite fit the Vedantic and Yogic legacy of rational inquiry and empirical introspection. It is not a huge leap to think of those traditions as subjective sciences, as most gurus have done – different from Western science as historically practiced, for sure, but not unscientific in their own right, and also not theology in the same way that Abrahamic theologies are.”

      I studied Theology, and dumped it *because* of its unwavering effort to be ‘scientific’ in the western sense of ‘science’:, that is, ‘objective’ and ‘critical’, with an object of describing reality without the self in the picture. As you point out, as well as Ramesh earlier, the Vedantic tradition is a ‘subjective’ scientific tradition, with, I think, an object of self-transformation. And I regret stating in response to Ramesh’s taxonomy that Vedanta is ‘not science’. As both you and Ramesh point out, it is ‘not science’ in the way that Dawkins et al view science – “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation” – but *is* science in the way that all Psychology is science – “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws”.

    • Phil,
      “Materialism” is an extremely difficult concept to disprove. In fact, if you can even coherently describe what is meant by “transcendent” reality or that-which-is-beyond-the-material-world, I will congratulate you. In my experience, that entire realm goes undefined, and since in linguistic terms it doesn’t really make sense, even though “materialism” just seems like one little teeny tiny word and should be no problem, it in fact is a huge problem if you are trying to explain it away.

      Keep in mind that gurus and other religious figures in the East have been teaching for thousands of years (and also justifying class and caste systems)based on the Buddhist/Hindu idea that all of visible reality, the entire “material” world, is nothing more than a dream of maya or delusion, and that beyond that lies a realm of perfect enlightenment, if only you could erase your own mind. In the meantime, there is reincarnation to contend with.

      The fact is that everything in yoga works without any of these mystical assumptions. I would even contend that as you get further into advanced meditation, if you really start to succeed at meditation, materialism and atheism are what you will arrive at. Of course, that is just my perspective; but from where I’m at, if you are meditating everyday and still trying to pull mystic energy from a mantra and still believing that you are surrounded by deities and spirits — in short, if you are interposing some extra-physical divine entity between “you” and “yourself” or your meditation, then you still have a significant obstacle to overcome. If you can’t “own” your own self, and are obliged to always think that your thoughts/mind/inner self are not “you” but rather Buddha/Shiva/Brahman/Devi etc etc then you still have a ways to go, in my view. And believe me when I say that I understand how comforting or intoxicating such a methodology of meditation can be, but ultimately I believe that it just leads to a mind-numbing dissociation from ones own inner self.

      The arguments for monism/atheism/materialism are compelling. For anybody throwing around Dawkins name or decrying what Dawkins seems to represent, I heartily suggest reading or listening on Audible to his book “The God Delusion.” It is a magnificent book that is incredibly deep and very enlightening and valuable. I do not think that you will find anything that oversteps reason or the unrestricted and open-ended principles of science in there. He even mentions the possibilities that space aliens could’ve planted or brought life to Earth, and goes deep into the possible evolutionary origins of religion, as well as the somewhat “illusory” nature of our subjective mental reality, because of how humans have evolved within a narrow sensory zone in the midst of a vast macrocosm and microcosm full of energies and frequencies that we cannot see or feel. (the “middle world” concept).

      anyhow, sorry for the long post. The God Delusion is highly recommended though.

      • Anton, I appreciate your comments but the assumptions you’re making about meditation do not apply to the meditation practices, and instructions, and explanations, that I’m familiar with. Of course, there are a zillion forms and a variety of teachers, so I’m not saying what you describe doesn’t exist, only that it is by no means typical or exhaustive. What you call “mystical assumptions,” I see as verifiable experiences — hypotheses, if you like. If they were just assumptions, meditation would be as religious as prayer. I see it as empirical in the same way that a psychotherapy or a physical remedy might be. You are absolutely right that many gurus have taught in a world-negating, social justice-ignoring way. That is a tragedy, and I see it as the result of misinterpretations mixed with degradation of the original insights of the rishis mixed with India’s debilitating legacy of conquest and colonialism. Ironically, Western yogis – and Westernized Indians – may be leading the way to a revival of proper understanding of those matters.
        All best,
        Phil

        • Phil, what form of meditation do you practice? If I may ask.

          Again, in my book Atheist Yoga I delve into the various distinctions involved in analyzing this quite deeply… In my view yoga is based, at bottom, on concentration. Even Patanjali’s classical definition of yoga as “the stilling of the thought waves of the mind” stems from the concept of mental concentration, in its various forms.

          Since mental concentration, particularly inward/introspective mental concentration is in my view a human characteristic and not something supernatural or spiritual or religious in nature… most of the techniques and methodologies of classical and modern yoga are transferable to a purely secular and materialistic context.

          As for how others interpret yoga and meditation, as you point out that can vary. In my opinion, many meditators and yoga practitioners, especially if they don’t have firm and clear ideas to the contrary, tacitly accept many of the Eastern philosophical premises that underlie classical yoga or the way it is often presented. These include concepts such as “liberation” or nirvana and reincarnation, as well as the idea that chakras are spiritual energy centers in the body.

          All of these ideas are impossible, and therefore untrue, if a materialistic view of the universe is accepted. Therefore there is in fact a philosophical rift between western science and yoga philosophy, vedic philosophy, Buddhist philosophy or Eastern mysticism in general. The fact that these systems are very tolerant and relativistic and “see God everywhere and in everything” doesn’t change this fact. Such distinctions can make a large difference in how meditators view themselves and their own minds, and what they strive for during meditation. I am of course aware that secular meditation is possible, in fact I have tried to formulate a coherent basis for it that is fully compatible with the techniques and symbolism of classical and tantric yoga. I am also aware that others have interpreted meditation in terms of secular concepts like relaxation and self-actualization that do not have a mystical aim. If I was going to guess, I’d say that Deepak Chopra will head increasingly in this direction because that is flow of the current zeitgeist, and the increased need for cognitive dissonance and denial will likely prove ultimately unsustainable, while a switch to explicit atheism or materialism (complete with fanfare) will likely be quite profitable.

          • Hi, Anton. I don’t agree that traditional yoga philosophy is inherently anti-scientific all. It’s a great mix of things. As you’ve pointed out yourself, some strains of yoga were atheist from the start.

            It seems to me that one of the central tenants of yoga, the ubiquitous “I am the ocean, not the wave” analogy is both literally true and completely consistent with modern science, both from the physical standpoint of the interchange of our molecules and the processes going on inside our brain.

            Secondly, even if this “feeling of oneness with the universe” that is core to yoga is strictly a function of our brain, as I tend to agree, it’s sill plenty fantastic and mysterious enough to justify a sense of spiritual wonder and awe towards it, (recognizing that “wonder and awe” are also functions of our brains, of course).

            My own personal approach to the ancient yoga texts is completely consistent with conventional modern science, as is clear, I think, in all my writing about yoga. If it seems otherwise, then just ask me about it, and I’ll explain the metaphors I’m using!

            Bob W.

          • Bob, no that’s great, I respect that viewpoint. I do, however, think that there are some things in classical yoga philosophy that are at odds with the underlying basis of modern scientific philosophy; and in more modern interpretations things like the chakras or the gunas or the tattvas get tossed around and called “the science of yoga” by many teachers or gurus, or people like Deepak Chopra kind of mix it all together with things that sound sciencey and then claim it is scientific. The fact that Chopra hedges so much in interviews and dodges around his lack of empirical or experimental data, and refuses to acknowledge the raw hypothetical or speculative nature of some of his assertions is fundamentally unscientific however.

            Contrast that with Carl Sagan, for instance, who might say “what if?” or “we can imagine a race of aliens on the other side of the galaxy…” and proceed like that, while still making it clear that what we don’t know is simply that, what we don’t know, and without ever trying to fill in the gaps of speculation with slick talking *woo* that makes sense to the credulous but requires immediate backpedaling and fuzzy doublespeak in any serious discussion. Again, I think that Chopra has some social value and represents some good universal values, but his role as a “scientist” has so far been to act as a kind of obfuscator.

          • Hi, Anton.

            I couldn’t have asked for a better article to reinforce my points above than this one by Derek Beres: “Peak Experiencers and Jesus the Zealot” http://bit.ly/156F8WX . Derek actually never mentions Yoga philosophy, but as I say in my comment:

            “If you think Maslow and his “peak experience” have nothing to do with Yoga philosophy, think again. Maslow was himself heavily influenced by the Bhagavad Gita, as described in Phil Goldberg’s “American Veda”. See http://bit.ly/16Y0NW3 .”

            And how fitting that it was Phil Goldberg himself you were replying to above!

            Bob W.

          • Anton, sorry I took a while to respond, but the email notice about your comment somehow got into my spam folder.
            I learned TM in 1968, became a teacher of it, and still do it regularly. It is decidedly NOT a form of concentration. It is, rather, an effortless non-concentration, non-control practice, and it’s not the only one. The common notion that meditation is synonymous with effort, focus, and concentration is simply not true. The description fits some forms and not others.
            As you know, there are many many translations of that key sutra in Patanjali, and I’ve often said that how it’s interpreted can lead to different types of methodologies. Some translations use words like repress and control, while some have a gentler, more effortless connotation, i.e., settling, or stilling. Stilling itself can be interpreted as requiring effort: still that monkey mind! Or, it could be interpreted as describing a RESULT, not a PRACTICE — i.e., it’s a description, not a prescription — and this might lead, as with TM-style meditations, to a non-concentration practice that results in a stilling of the mind.
            The word concentration itself carries different connotations. It can be an act, a process, a practice, a verb: to concentrate. Or it could be a descriptive word, as in the juice is made from concentrate, or, more to our topic, the mind becomes concentrated. But one doesn’t have to concentrate (i.e., engage in the act of concentration) to become concentrated.
            I hope this is making sense, I’m typing right into the comment box without proofing.
            I agree with this: “most of the techniques and methodologies of classical and modern yoga are transferable to a purely secular and materialistic context.” But I don’t fathom why you think it implies a strict dichotomy between a secular/material/scientific orientation and the traditional spiritual descriptions. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive.
            There may well be a “philosophical rift between western science and yoga philosophy, vedic philosophy, Buddhist philosophy or Eastern mysticism in general,” but I’m not so sure about that. Eastern precepts have held up pretty well to scientific scrutiny so far, and we’ll see how that shakes out in the future. Meanwhile, one can derive benefit from yogic practices whether they believe in the traditional premises or not — and that is one of the main reasons the practices have caught on here. Most gurus didn’t care whether or not students believed the philosophy.
            There is another point to be made: Maybe science will blow the lid on materialism before it destroys Eastern metaphysics. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that science itself has done a good job of disproving – or at least calling into serious questions – the assumptions of materialism. The view of the universe I get from modern physics doesn’t seem materialistic to me. The chair I’m sitting on is made up of atoms, which are mostly “empty space,” comprised of “subatomic particles,” which are really energy forms that are hardly solid or material.
            Bottom line to me: I think we’re in for a very interesting future as western science and yogic science get more and more intimate, and we would all do well to avoid leaping to conclusions too quickly.

  • Philip Goldberg: “It is not a huge leap to think of those traditions as subjective sciences, as most gurus have done – different from Western science as historically practiced, for sure, but not unscientific in their own right, and also not theology in the same way that Abrahamic theologies are.”

    Thanks so much, Philip, for your well balanced and very insightful comments. It is indeed not a huge leap at all to think of these traditions as subjective sciences, because that is often how the traditions view themselves. Not only that, they were the sciences for thousands of years. So, to claim they are not is a Western cultural bias. Tantra, for example, is considered a system, a science, a method and it practices are built on experience, not only trust and belief. My teacher used the concept “intuitional science” and when we know that much of yoga and meditation affect the body and its sensations, hormonal secretion, brain activity, etc, there are overlaps between the hard and soft sciences that are already and will continue to be explored.
    That said, I especially liked this part of your piece: “In my mind, assuming that consciousness is nothing more than the result of brain activity is a bigger leap of faith than the reverse, since we have centuries of testimony about object-free consciousness from yogis and no real research to test the assumption that consciousness arises from brain activity.” So true.

  • Nik, you wrote: “As both you [Philip] and Ramesh point out, it is ‘not science’ in the way that Dawkins et al view science – “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation” – but *is* science in the way that all Psychology is science – “a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws”.”

    Nik, I basically agree with you, but I think it is fair to say that yoga is also a science of the physical world gained through systematic observation and experimentation.” When I teach yoga history to yoga teacher students, this is one of the aspects I emphasized–that yoga comes from the shamanic tradition, the herbal tradition of old, in which knowledge was gained by observation and experimentation as opposed to through priestly beliefs as in the early RigVedic tradition. Poring Ghee on a stone hoping it will give boons for a long life is belief in magic, observing how the body responds to various asanas and how the same can alleviate/reduce indigestion, make the limbs less inflamed, is quite different, it’s science; its pragmatic. There are of course overlaps in the Indic tradition ( I think of two archetypes: the Yogi and the Priest, sometimes they are one and the same person/tradition, sometimes two different people/traditions), in the Hindu tradition when magic (priest) and science (yogi) is mixed, or when it is all magic and belief, but most of what I practice in my daily Tantric yoga practice, for example, is thousands of years old, and I consider it “experience gained through observation and experimentation.” So, again, my main issue with Matthew’s article is that I think he draws too many artificial distinctions favoring one paradigm (western science/knowledge) over another (eastern science/knowledge). Both can and are already overlapping/integrating in so many beautiful ways.

    • For the priest, it is imminently practical to pour the ghee.
      It is the act of ritual that secures a result.

      Placebo is as real as Penicillin, and the priest knows this.
      — The congregants ‘know’ this!
      The ‘yogi’? His magic too depends upon placebo.
      –The student ‘knows’ this.

      It all boils down to a brew, alright.

      Mostly, never underestimate the potency of ‘nothing’.
      –Nor the potency of a mix-mix.

      Warning: do not swallow quick silver!

  • Perhaps for Deepak Chopra, M.D., and many of us Westerners, or Western influenced, where the shoe pinches, where the ennui pinches, in that, on the one hand –we ‘get’ it– we ‘get’that pesky Placebo Effect.
    We understand, alright.
    And subsequent to our ‘enlightenment’ the PE is lost to us.
    ‘We’ know it works, for ‘some people’. It just can’t work for ‘us’.
    Unless We Don’t Know We Are Receiving It.

    Can ‘it’ work for us?
    We know better.
    — We even know we MIGHT be given a placebo.
    And knowing this, the placebo loses its efficacy.
    Many people in medical trials KNOW they are getting the placebo. How so? Well, it isn’t working! They don’t believe. No faith. No trust in A-nada-nada.

    Deepak Chopra? …knows that his clients are better off if ‘it’ costs a LOT.
    That the protocol is imbued.
    Better off in that he says: That the protocol is NOT a placebo.
    And it isn’t. It’s poured ghee. The real deal!
    Perhaps the ‘charlatan’ needs to protect the mysteries.
    Keeping –his– hope alive?

    Perhaps Deepak is a yogi experimenting on…
    –us.

  • Might be of use to look at the MPY taught at the Chopra Center. To get an idea of where Deepaks thinking lies.

    Recall ‘Svaroopa’TM? yoga.
    This was what –was– on offer at the Chopra Center, in the person of Rama Birch.

    Rama is now a ‘Swami’. And does not mention her connection to Chopra at present, that I can see.

    Recall that Rama/Swami was the crucible of the 200 hr. RYT –at the inception of the thing… she held the paperwork and took all the info for anyone wanting to be “grandfathered in”. Personally, I refused to send in my data. It was just to controlling.

    Who/what is in charge of MPY at the Chopra Center at this time? Is the ‘practice’ basically yoga nidra type stuff??
    I’ll call the Chopra Center and see what I learn.
    I think it’s a question to explore, anyway.

  • Drake wrote:
    “If you can’t “own” your own self, and are obliged to always think that your thoughts/mind/inner self are not “you” but rather Buddha/Shiva/Brahman/Devi etc etc then you still have a ways to go, in my view. And believe me when I say that I understand how comforting or intoxicating such a methodology of meditation can be, but ultimately I believe that it just leads to a mind-numbing dissociation from ones own inner self.”

    Drake, your description of yogic meditation, even Buddhist meditation, is inaccurate. Yogic meditation as per Vedanta and Tantra is not about me becoming Brahman or Shiva, some disassociate, foreign god, but about me becoming a deeper me, a more peaceful me, a more loving me, about finding my true self. it is the opposite of disassociation with the real self, it’s about finding your real self. I have been teaching it and practicing for many years and that is my experience. Breath work, concentration, sound (mantra), asanas, visualization are used with one purpose, to liberate the mind from the samaskaras, vrittis, the psychic imprints and impressions, scattered thoughts, dreams and to go beyond all that into a space of witnessing self-awareness, to abide in that stillness, to be that stillness. That process has been described in part by Patanjali, but the practices are not well known in the West yet. And the practice has nothing to with what you describe above, quite the opposite.

  • Okay, I’ve spent a half hour on the Chopra Center/Chopra Yoga website/s.
    I see the new ‘facility’ to open in Toronto.
    –So I understand mremski’s impetus to write about Deepak Chopra.
    _________________________
    I will say at the outset, that the website tells that Dr. David Simon in the “driving force” behind the entire enterprise. The two, Deepak and David, are co-directors.
    So: DC ‘removes’ himself –back from the ‘edge’– with another man as the one (front man?)who has been the lead in all things ‘Chopra’ Chopra Center, Chopra University, Chopra Yoga…etc. Hmmm. This fellow is a neurologist, and mind-body guru type.

    Here is the blub:

    “The Sanskrit word yoga means union — union of environment, the sense, body, mind, and soul. This union is described in an ancient text known as the Yoga Sutra, written by the sage Patanjali, who explains that yoga is the progressive settling down of the mind in the field of pure silence, which is usually overshadowed by the activity of our minds.”

    I’ve no idea what the phrase “…the sense…” alludes to.
    Must be a typo which should read ‘the senses’. But then again, maybe they mean ‘the sensse’. Kinda woo, anyway.
    And the use of the word ‘soul’…
    (??as a place holder for the usual ‘spirit’) -in this context is interesting…

    Simon describes the –foundational coursework– for becoming a yoga teacher under the Chopra rubric:

    You will partake of the following to be 200 Hour certified:

    Principles of Yoga And Consciousness:

    1) A retreat to experience the higher states of consciousness
    2) A workshop to learn the foundations of Ayurveda and mind-body healing
    3)You will go home and personal practice with regular connection thru webinars and teleconferences.
    4) You will partake of powerful home study.
    5) You will conclude with 2 interactive certification weeks at the Chopra Center Part A, and then after a few weeks/months, Part B.

    You will then be in the mix of –continuing education, and all that entails,
    to keep your certificate in order, and all that kind of thing…

    All of this yoga education is aligned with the Chopra text: “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” as well as “The seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga” These two texts (or is it just one text?) — are used to underpin the practice of:
    — ANY style of yoga,
    — and to be aligned with the “magnificent rhythms of consciousness.”
    All this is referenced as “A return to the true principles of yoga”.

    “What is Chopra Yoga?” The website queries.
    “A return to the true principles of yoga; true consciousness in motion”.

    Master Classes are offered at the Chopra Center/s (Vancouver and Toronto and La Jolla) that are sometimes restricted to Yoga Teachers only.

    Frequency Healing: “…to feel, sense, and find your own unique experience of healing frequencies that reserachers feel is here for the first time”.

    Reconnection Healing: “…opening to a healing power that transcends the limitations of human ability and imagination…” (Dr. Eric Pearl presiding).

    Reconnective Yoga, “You’ll experience direct alignment with universal oneness and discover a new dimension of yoga”

    ‘New Thought’
    — teachers who — “ignite the divinity within”
    [within the student, the practitioner, the client]
    “rather than blindly believe that it [the divinity] exists somewhere out there”/

    Rewire your Consciousness:
    “If you believe that a shift in consciouness can lead to personal and global evolution, you are in the right place”.

    I like this master class quote:
    “The Reconnection is a comprehensive spectrum of vibrational frequencies with the power to catalyze spontaneous healings. Embodying universal intelligence that surpasses technique and technology”

    There are a couple of funny claims for yoga on the website:
    “yoga improves memory”
    “yoga improves balance by strengthening your core”

    I guess you could say yoga improves memory. Whatever.
    But I think that balance should be better understood as creation of proprioceptive nuance. –Whatever core strength contributes to balance? Well, whatever…

    The ‘Chopra’ yoga studios offer all kinds of styles and eclectic yoga. And Pilates! Hot yoga, cool yoga, and everything in between. You need to bring your own water for your shower, haha. Or you could read it this way…
    They need to do some editing of the website!

  • (This comment is part of our “God” discussion above, and has nothing to do with the Deepak Chopra debate.)

    I had a clarifying vision today.

    Julian Walker, Richard Dawkins, Albert Einstein and I are standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

    Albert says to Julian and Richard, “See, can’t you feel the overwhelming sense of wonder and awe in this place? Now you know what Bob and I mean by God.”

    Julian and Richard reply, “Sure, we feel the wonder and awe alright, but we don’t call it God.”

    “Oh, really? What do you call it then?”

    “We just call it overwhelming wonder and awe.”

    “Oh, OK.”

    And the four of them continue together in shared rapture and inspiration, looking out at the incredible view before them.

    Bob W.

  • Anton wrote: “In my view yoga is based, at bottom, on concentration. Even Patanjali’s classical definition of yoga as “the stilling of the thought waves of the mind” stems from the concept of mental concentration, in its various forms.”

    Anton, when writing this, you replied to my comments, not Philip’s. Yes, yogic meditation involves concentration, but that is only part of it. The Yoga Sustras is, mostly about the practice of meditation, but does not go into any detail about the practices directly. Simply, there are five aspects of meditation mentioned in YS: pranayama (breathing techniques), pratyahara (withdrawal of mind), dharana (concentration), dhyan (flow meditation, often using visualization) and Samadhi (absorption in the self/deep mind/ experience of peace, the goal of meditation)
    So, as you can see, concentration is only one, albeit important, aspect of yogic meditation. I agree with you that one can be an atheist practicing this kind of meditation, but do not agree if that is what you imply, that most Western yogis are atheists; they are not.

Leave a Reply to Hilary LIndsay Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.