With all the anti-vaccine nonsense going on and my feeling the obligation to fire a broadside at “America’s doctor,” there was a tasty bit of woo that totally escaped my attention from an old “friend” of the blog. Actually, he’s an old “friend” of many skeptical blogs, both here on ScienceBlogs and around the blogosphere. In fact, it’s a man so steeped in only the finest quantum woo that I once coined a name for it: Choprawoo.
Yes, we’re talkin’ Deepak “Quantum Consciousness” Chopra! He’s back and woo-ier than ever in–where else?–that repository of woo, quackery, and anti-vaccine lunacy, The Huffington Post in an article entitled A Little Boost for Immortality, which, as he usually does, he posted to his own blog. It’s definitely primo grade A Chopra, which means that it’s a full frontal assault on science, reason, and his readers neurons. It’s yet another apologia for immortality. Now, it would be fine if he had simply argued that on the basis of faith he believes that there is life after death. However, deluding himself that he’s a “man of science,” Chopra keeps trying to produce “scientific proof” that there is life after death. The results have always been embarrassing. Predictably the results this time are equally embarrassing, perhaps even more so. He begins, annoyingly enough, by once again abusing information theory:
It’s a given in physics that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed. In recent years theorists have extended this notion to information. We began to hear about information fields that are as basic to the cosmos as energy fields. Why? Because as simple molecules grew into more complex ones, they kept moving into even greater complexity. You’d think that once it reached thousands of individual atoms, an organic chemical would break apart instead of building itself into an even more complex molecule. Yet life has evolved inexorably. Blue-green algae, a very primitive life form, is still with it, but it no longer rules the scene. Without wiping out the lower forms of life, evolution kept adding on.
I was a chemistry major, and I could feel my brain start to ooze into my ear canals reading this. There is nothing in chemistry that makes the formation of complex molecules impossible or unusual. Given the right conditions, in fact, the formation of complex molecules can even be favored. However, the paragraph above is only a warm-up for the woo that is to come, and here it comes:
The bald fact is that DNA exists, whether or not a theory can explain it. Another bald fact is that every person is already a field of information containing trillions of data, each one related to an experience. As billions of pieces of raw data bombard our senses every day, the information field shifts, changes, and grows. No mechanical notion of randomness makes sense here. What we observe in ourselves is that information has a life of its own.
I love how Chopra can juxtapose something as simple as the fact that DNA “exists” with his woo-ful interpretation of some other bit of science. Of ocurse DNA “exists.” That much is not in doubt, and scientists understand much about how it works, although clearly there is a lot more that remains to be discovered. Chopra then moves on from something as inarguable as the existence of DNA and launches into his specific interpretation of what “information theory” tells him about human beings. Because there is so much information in human cells and memories, Chopra concludes that randomness doesn’t make sense and information has a life of its own. In other words, Chopra goes back to implying that random mutations are not the raw material upon which evolution acts, as he has done so many times before. In essence, what he is saying here is little removed from the hilariously off-base discussion of genes that he wrote for HuffPo over three years ago. Because we are intelligent, Chopra “reasoned” (if you can call it that) that our genes are also intelligence, laying down an incredible straw man argument that scientists consider attempts to find the mechanism of intelligence outside of genes to be “preposterous.” He then launched into a discussion of a discussion of dubious experiments that claimed to show that “intent” could affect random occurrences.
Of course, no bit of Choprawoo would be complete without an attack on skeptics buried in his abuse of “science by analogy” to “prove” that immortality exists. Chopra’s done it before when it comes to neuroscience, in particular his dualistic belief that the mind exists outside of the brain and that the brain is not sufficient to describe human consciousness, the corollary being that human consciousness is allegedly too complex for science ever to understand. Of course, one of his favorite conceits is to postulate without any evidence the existence of a “universal consciousness,” of which we are all supposedly a part. It’s a nice concept, but it’s far more religious in nature than scientific. Certainly Chopra can provide no evidence for it.
But he sure can carry an analogy one woo too far, as he does here with information theory:
Some scientists believe that information can only be transformed; it cannot be created or destroyed. That sounds convincing for molecules, but the implications for human immortality are also striking. It’s too easy to palm off the afterlife as something incidental to human comfort, a way of not being frightened by death or a primitive reaction to the unknown. Atheists and skeptics, who are astonishingly glib as a group, constantly fall back on the primitiveness of sacred beliefs, disregarding that they are talking to people who are not primitive, afraid, or myth mongers. (Some believers, in fact, are quite a bit less primitive than the usual run of atheists and skeptics.)
Damn those nasty skeptics! They’re such a buzz kill when it comes to Chopra’s woo. How they task him. They task him, and Chopra will have them. Or so he thinks. Unfortunately, he has nothing but woo to support him. In this case, he concludes that, because “some scientists” believe that information can not be created or destroyed, then it must mean that by analogy the concept of a soul fits in very well with information theory:
Then we find that reincarnation, for example, fits rather well with the idea of constantly transforming information. The soul fits rather well into the notion that information can organize itself into a coherent, contained structure, the way DNA organizes billions of chemical bits into a coherent, contained structure. I’m not saying that information is enough to explain the soul. We must account for consciousness, too. It’s very nice if my memories survive my demise the way a computer’s hard drive survives when the machine is turned off. But what we really want is that “I,” the self, survives.
I think that wish, basic as it is, blocks our vision. This limited self that is encased in a physical body stands for much more — it stands for consciousness as a whole. No one contains all the possibilities of the mind, which are infinite. Yet the field of consciousness, like the field of information, does contain the whole. That’s how a field works. The electromagnetic field contains all the electromagnetic energy in the universe, even though a compass or an electric toaster manifests only the tiniest fraction of the field.
Wow! This is some seriously awesome Choprawoo! Note how he’s woven abuse of information theory with abuse of neuroscience and abuse of biochemistry, and then tied it all together with what is in essence Buddihst religious beliefs about reincarnation and the attainment of Nirvana through loss of self. As is typical for his lazy thinking, Chopra thinks that simply making analogies between information and “field of consciousness” (which he doesn’t even really show as actually existing) is the same thing as demonstrating that there is science behind his mystical religious beliefs. Mr. Chopra is entitled to his religious beliefs, but he is not entitled to his own facts, nor is he entitled to abuse those facts. Not that that stops him, as Chopra once again abuses physics:
Immortality got a boost when science realized that fields are the source of everything that exists, and since a field isn’t solid, visible, perceived by the senses, or contained by a single brain, the whole solid, visible world was called into question. In short, the immortal came first in Nature, the mortal came second. All change must be explained against the background of non-change. Immortality is just a synonym for wholeness. I know that sounds very abstract, and we haven’t even touched on the details of relating advanced physics to consciousness.
“Sounds very abstract”? More like it sounds like nothing more than word salad science. “Fields”? Mr. Chopra, you keep using that word. It do not believe it means what you think it means. Ditto the words “consciousness,” “information,” and evolution. Chopra thinks that by liberally sprinkling his posts with science-y-sounding words like these will make it sound as though he really knows what he’s talking about and that there is actual science behind his mystical speculations. We nasty scientists and skeptics know that there isn’t, but people not trained in science and skeptical thinking don’t necessarily have the background to be able to recognize Choprawoo for the woo that it is.
The amusing thing about Chopra is that he really, really wants to be taken seriously. He can’t stand it when scientists and skeptics laugh at him or scoff at him. Unfortunately for him, he seems incapable of refraining from giving us copious material to continue to scoff at. This wouldn’t be a problem if all Chopra did was to provide entertainment for skeptics, but unfortunately a lot of people believe him.