Move over, Deepak, there’s a new woo-meister at HuffPo

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for any length of time longer than a few weeks knows what I think of Deepak Chopra. Indeed, he’s been a recurring topic here since the very beginning (just type his name into the search box for this blog if you don’t believe me). In fact, Chopra has “distinguished” himself by becoming a fairly recurring target on ScienceBlogs in general and a number of skeptical blogs, including SkepChick and NeuroLogica Blog. The reason should be obvious. No one–and I mean no one–lays down the quantum dualistic woo the way that Deepak can. Whether it be abusing genetics, whining about those nasty skeptics, bloviating about “scientific evidence” for life after death by abusing near death experiences, or postulating a “quantum consciousness” that to him supports mind-brain dualism, no one does it like Deepak. No one wants to.

At least that’s what I thought until I came across Ervin Laszlo. After running into Laszlo, all I can say is that Chopra had better watch his back. There’s a new woo-meister in town, and he’s gunning for Chopra.

Naturally, like Chopra, Laszlo is blogging at that repository of quackery, woo, and anti-vaccine pseudoscience, The Huffington Post, thus muscling in on Chopra’s territory, although I do note that the two seem to have a rather mutually respectful relationship. Maybe Chopra is the source of Laszlo’s woo. Maybe Laszlo can even surpass the Master of Woo himself. Who knows? Let’s find out.

But first, who is Ervin Laszlo? Given how strong the woo is in this one, I was shocked that I had never heard of him before. According to his HuffPo bio, he’s:

Ervin Laszlo is a systems philosopher, integral theorist, and classical pianist. Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, he has authored more than 70 books, which have been translated into nineteen languages, and has published in excess of four hundred articles and research papers, including six volumes of piano recordings.

Dr. Laszlo is generally recognized as the founder of systems philosophy and general evolution theory, and serves as the founder-director of the General Evolution Research Group and as past president of the International Society for the Systems Sciences. He is also the recipient of the highest degree in philosophy and human sciences from the Sorbonne, the University of Paris, as well as of the coveted Artist Diploma of the Franz Liszt Academy of Budapest. Additional prizes and awards include four honorary doctorates.

Wow! Those are some pretty impressive credentials! After all, he’s been nominated for the Nobel Prize twice! Of course, pretty much anybody can nominate anyone for the Nobel Prize (well, not quite, but it is a lot of people–perhaps I could get one of my buddies who happens to have the rank of Professor to nominate me), making this honor a rather unimpressive one in the scheme of things I could ask all of you out there who are professors to nominate me and have more nominations than Laszlo! (It would be easier than getting my legislators to do it.) Actually, I look at being nominated for the Nobel Prize to be like fight club. The first rule is, no one talks about fight club.

With all these awesome credentials, this guy couldn’t possibly be a crank, could he? Well, not so fast there, pardner. The dude may have the credentials in a lot of things, but it’s painfully obvious from his HuffPo output that he’s not a scientist. It starts right away in his latest post entitled The Dis-Ease of the Western Mind (which he has also crossposted at his own website). Now, there are at least a couple of rules of thumb that I’ve learned over the years to help me identify woo-meisters or the woo-prone very rapidly. One is that whenever I see someone refer to “Western medicine” or the “Western mind,” there’s a high likelihood that what is about to follow will not be scientific. However, that rule, although pretty good, is not enough to base a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence on. There is, however, one rule that is about as close to foolproof as any rule of thumb can be. Whenever I see someone–anyone–spelling “disease” as “dis-ease,” I know with at least 99% certainty that pure woo is about to follow in copious quantities. Think Robert O. Young, for example. And follow it does in Laszlo’s channeling of Deepak Chopra:

Take merely these characteristics of the Western mind:

  • it sees things as separate, each thing on its own, connected merely by mechanistic relations of cause and effect;
  • it’s competitive: each individual is on his or her own, making his or her way in an impersonal and indifferent world;
  • it disconnects the mind from the body: the mind only “drives” or “manages” the body as it would a car or an organization;
  • it best understands the things it creates as artificial, synthetic things that can be readily and unambiguously manipulated;
  • it disconnects the human from the natural; nature itself becomes the “environment” that humans can manage and manipulate to serve their interests;
  • it categorizes, schematizes people and things, viewing them as abstract entities rather than as existing, living realities;
  • it deals with the representations of people and things rather than with our living experience of people and things;
  • and it views all things, nature included, as mechanistic kinds of systems, put together from their parts and capable of being manipulated by acting on their parts.

These traits add up to a dis-ease, to the long-discussed malaise of civilization — Western civilization. Other civilizations have their own problems and failings, but the above traits are typically those of the Western mind: of the civilization created by the Western mind.

While there’s a grain of truth to some of these, what Laszlo really appears to be complaining about is not so much the “Western” mind, but rather science itself. He’s complaining about reductionism, which is a useful tool of science. He’s complaining about a mechanistic view of how nature works, but that view is also useful to science. But most of all he appears to be complaining about a “disconnect from nature.” There’s a grain of truth in that to the extent that we humans tend to view ourselves as outside of nature, thanks to technology, but that is not a trait unique to the “West.” Rather, it appears to be a consequence of technology allowing us to isolate ourselves more and more from the elements, from the actions of nature.

Lazlo blames this “problem” (if problem it even is) on the split between science and religion, with science relegating the “felt ‘inside’ world of value, feelings, and spirit” to religion and everything else to technology. Of course, one can’t help but wonder how Laszlo explains how little influence religion is increasingly having in secularized “Western” nations in Europe. (The U.S. is an anomaly among developed nations in the intensity of its religiosity.)

All of this is not so bad. As I pointed out, there is even a germ of truth in some of it. However, like any good woo-ist, Laszlo starts reasonable-sounding before diving into the deep end of the woo pool. Starting out with a discourse on the difference between the “right brain” and the “left brain,” Laszlo dives right in. Apparently the water (maybe a homeopathic remedy?) is just fine. After lamenting the “left brain’s” hold on rationality, cause-and-effect, and–of course!–science, Laszlo opines:

The world of the right brain would be a very different world. Although having only the right brain available to us we would mean we couldn’t analyze things and express them in language, our experience would be filled with many positive things. We would be making connections between things, seeing the world around us as a whole in which people and things are organic parts. We would be attending directly to our experience, seeing people and things in their presented uniqueness. We would be living in our body, feeling ourselves one with it and the world that surrounds and embeds it. The sense of time, the “flow” of things, would be primary, and we would enjoy experiences where this flow is evident, such as narration, theatre, dance, and music. Because of the betweenness connecting us to the world, we would be more empathetic, tuned to compassion and fellow-feeling, and concern with all things in nature. And our empathies would get a powerful boost by our being aware of our intuitions, of our subtle communication with the world beyond the range of our bodily senses. This perception is within the compass of the nonlocal quantum-receptivity of the sub-neuronal networks of our brain, but is repressed by the narrow rationality of our left hemisphere.

Quantum. He mentioned the word “quantum.” Why did he have to use the word “quantum”? I hate that word. Well, not really. Quantum physics is really, really cool–mind blowing to contemplate, actually. Unfortunately, though, the whole concept of quantum coupling has been a goldmine for quacks and “quantum” hucksters like Deepak Chopra, so much so that I frequently find myself responding: Quantum. You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. That’s exactly what’s going on with Laszlo as he concludes:

The dis-ease of the Western mind is a product of historical circumstance. But it is not fated; we could overcome our one-sided heritage of the past. The key to it is using our brain more fully. This would give us a consciousness where the broad, holistic world of the right brain is linked with the pragmatic, skillful world of the left. This “broadband” consciousness without loss of acuity is the hallmark of what I called Quantum Consciousness. QC could be the next step in the evolution of the human mind, and it could be our salvation. Moving toward it by balancing your own approach to reality would be a good beginning toward curing the dis-ease of the Western mind.

This is nothing more than science word salad, but it leads me to the question of “salvation.” What, exactly, does Laszlo think that we poor “dis-eased” people with left brain-oriented “Western” minds, who are so pathetically lacking in the the “wholistic” view that those right-brained “traditional” people have. Of course, I can’t help but note a bit of not-so-subtle racism here, a version of the “noble savage” myth tarted up with quantum jargon–as though “traditional” people can’t reason or learn science as well as we left-brained “Western” people with “dis-eased” brains. I’m sure this little slip derives from Laszlo’s nonanalytical, wholistic right brain; he’s probably completely unaware of it.

But what is “quantum consciousness” (or QC, as Laszlo puts it)? For that, we have to go back a couple of posts and look at Quantum Consciousness: Our Evolution, Our Salvation and Cosmic Symphony: A Deeper Look at Quantum Consciousness. Add these posts to Laszlo’s most recent post, and he’s produced a symphony of woo that will rival anything the reigning champion Deepak Chopra could come up with. Well done, sir! Well done! Here we find woo worthy of Chopra, for example:

Here I call “quantum consciousness” the consciousness we access when we use the potentials of our quantum-computer brain. Our brain is a macroscopic quantum system, yet we use it as if it were exclusively a classical biochemical system. With its quantum-system functions, our brain can receive information not only from our eyes and ears, but directly from the wider world with which we are “entangled” — nonlocally connected. Insightful people throughout history, whether shamans or scientists, poets or prophets, have extensively used this capacity, innate to all human beings. Today it is widely neglected. This impoverishes our world picture and causes a nagging sense that we are separate from the world around us.

I give this passage 4 Chopras out of five possible. The only thing it lacks is whining slaps at scientists. On the other hand, maybe I should give Laszlo five Chopras because he confidently predicts that QC will be the next stage in the evolution of human consciousness. In the process, he abuses quantum physics willy-nilly as stupidly as anything Chopra has ever written. You know, quantum woo-meisters like Chopra and Laszlo should have tattooed on their heads with dirty needles, “Quantum effects do not couple macroscopic objects.” In any case, what Laszlo is postulating is nothing more than old-fashioned boring mind-brain dualism draped in a mantle of New Age quantum woo. If you don’t know anything about quantum physics, it sounds impressive as hell, but in reality it means nothing, particularly in the post from which I quoted the passage above. He tries to rectify that lapse in his “cosmic symphony” post.

If there’s one thing I can’t grok, it’s why Laszlo would use the utterly lame metaphor of comparing the brain to a radio that picks up signals–consciousness–from elsewhere. It’s nothing more than a variant of the cell phone metaphor that everybody’s favorite creationist neurosurgeon Michael Egnor used three years ago. It was easy to demolish that analogy then, and it’s just as easy now. Let’s put it this way: To make a cell phone or a radio stop producing sound, all you have to do is to block its signal by putting it in a lead box. So why can’t we find something that blocks all those “quantum-y” signals that (or so Laszlo says) are pouring into our brain? It’s a question that neither Chopra nor Egnor could answer; so I doubt that Laszlo can, either. But he sure can conduct a symphony of woo:

The quantum-perception of the world is just as real as its sensory perception. Here, in brief, is why.

All things in space and time emit waves, and these waves interact with the waves produced by other things. They create wave interference patterns. Pressure waves in the air, and electric and magnetic waves in the EM field, diminish with distance, and the patterns they produce are limited to our immediate vicinity. However, quantum waves (waves that propagate in the nearly infinite virtual-energy domain that fills cosmic space) move instantly over any distance. The kinds of interference patterns they create constitute quantum holograms, and quantum holograms are “entangled” with each other — they are instantly connected. As a result the information carried by one quantum hologram can be transferred to any other quantum hologram. Thus a system that can “read” the information in one hologram has access to the information carried by all. Our quantum-resonance-decoding brain could in principle capture information on anything and everything that creates quantum-interference waves in the universe.

That’s right. Your perception isn’t just holograms; it’s quantum holograms! Apparently holograms are better with quantum-ness. But it’s not just quantum holograms. No, that would be too…boring. Rather, it’s quantum holograms that are all entangled with each other and “instantly connected. “It’s time for Laszlo to read that tattoo again. Either that, or it’s time for him to “get in the f-ing sack“!

But he won’t. In defiance of the tattoo, Laszlo justifies his claim that the brain is a “quantum computer”:

What’s revealed at the leading edge of quantum physics and quantum biology is that your body is not just a biochemical system: it’s also a “macroscopic quantum system.” Quantum systems were believed to exist only at the submicroscopic level, where quanta are in the state known as “coherent,” which means that they are able to get into synch with each other.

Laszlo then goes on to claim that “some theories” claim that quantum coupling can function at the macroscopic level, and that’s why…well, let Laszlo tell it:

This makes sense because living systems exhibit highly and until recently inexplicably coherent behavior. Their cells and organs resonate in phase, and the entire living organism seems to obey one encompassing “macroscopic wave-function.” In other words, instead of functioning like a bunch of cells and chemicals each doing their own thing unaware of each other, all the biochemical and bioelectric dance in superb coordination acts like a giant wave which moves and flows as one, despite the many individual droplets that are within it.

This means that your body is not just a biochemical system: it’s also a macroscopic quantum system. Your brain is not just a bioelectric and biochemical computer, but also a quantum computer. The cells of your body, and the neurons and networks of neurons of your brain, are entangled with each other. This is why your brain can perform functions that are entire dimensions beyond the capacity of any conceivable biochemical system.

Ding ding ding ding ding! Give a prize to that man! He’s managed to bring the other essential ingredient to any form of New Age pseudoscience that is at the basis of so much quackery. That’s right, the vibrations have taken over! Why is it that everything in woo world always has to come back to vibrations and the abuse of quantum theory? I suppose I should be grateful that Laszlo didn’t tell us that we could “reenergize” or “activate” our DNA somehow. On the other hand, I’m not at all grateful that apparently Laszlo understands evolution just as well as he understands quantum physics, as he demonstrates right here in an article entitled Design? Yes. Evolution? Yes. Contradiction? No. Then Why the Controversy? (conveniently cross-posted, for maximal pseudoscience potential, on HuffPo).

Gack! It’s nothing more than the anthropic argument and the sharpshooter fallacy all rolled into one. It’s truly worthy of a game of “name that logical fallacy.” In the end, I’m surprised I’ve never heard of Ervin Laszlo before. After all, he’s been around a long time, apparently. I have no idea what his achievements might have been outside the realm of science and philosophy, but his entire schtick seems to be eerily similar to that of Deepak Chopra. Take Cartesian dualism, tart it up with a bunch of quantum-y obfuscation, and succuss. Unfortunately, unlike homeopathy, Laszlo does not dilute his woo.

That much is obvious.