Deepak Chopra issues a hilarious “challenge” to James Randi over consciousness

Deepak Chopra isn’t very happy right now. In fact, he appears downright pissed off right now, particularly at skeptics, so much so that he’s issued a hilariously fatuous “challenge” to James Randi (a.k.a.) The Amazing Randi on You Tube entitled Deepak Chopra’s One Million Dollar Challenge to Skeptics:

Yes, apparently with The Amazing Meeting (a.k.a. TAM) less than four weeks away, Chopra is looking to stir the pot a little bit with his usual blend of Choprawoo about consciousness and mind-body dualism and how nasty skeptics can’t accept the paranormal and the healing powre of “intent.” It’s at this point that I can’t help reminding my readers (or at least pointing out to the newbies) that I was the one who originally coined that term nearly eight years ago and have been using it regularly since then to the point that long ago I came up with the only response ever needed to Choprawoo. Of course, having come up with that response doesn’t mean that I can’t go above and beyond what is needed when the mood strikes me, and right now the mood strikes me because this is more than just Choprawoo. It’s pissed off Choprawoo, and that’s a spectacle I haven’t seen in a very long time. Somehow, even though Chopra’s broadsides against skeptics and atheists in print are clearly angry, actually seeing Chopra read such a broadside on video takes it to a whole new level of stupid, even beyond that of his infamous two-part Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism. Basically, his pique seems to derive from his self-important belief that skeptics should take his ill-informed speculations seriously. We don’t. For obvious reasons.

The video is over five minutes of pain to anyone with a shred of critical thinking skills. As is usually the case with any criticism Deepak Chopra levels at “skeptics” and, in particular, Richard Dawkins, whom Chopra really appears to despise, it’s chock full of logical fallacies, appeals to other ways of knowing, and major misunderstandings of science that could take textbooks to explain. The first thing, however, that struck me about Chopra’s manner in his “challenge” was just how smug and arrogant Chopra is.

Chopra starts out declaring that he’s issuing a “challenge” to the Amazing Randi and “all his so-called militant atheist friends and professional debunkers.” This alone tells you that he understands little about Randi, because if there’s one thing about Randi it’s that he’s not a “militant atheist.” Indeed, if anything, he’s sometimes criticized by those who are more “militantly” (for lack of a better word) atheist because he has consistently said that he’s more about scientific skepticism than he is about atheism, although he is an atheist. As for Randi’s colleagues, one wonders whom he means besides Richard Dawkins (a man who, although he has appeared at TAM, isn’t exactly closely associated with James Randi or his foundation, JREF). Perhaps he means Jamy Ian Swiss, a good friend of Randi’s who a couple of years ago drew the ire of certain real militant atheists for giving a rabble-rousing speech at TAM in which he downplayed and dismissed atheism as far as the skeptical movement goes and emphasized scientific skepticism. Maybe it’s those colleagues of Randi whom Chopra meant.

If there’s one thing Chopra’s video reminds me of, more than anything else, it’s not Randi’s million dollar challenge, which it’s obviously meant to mirror. Rather, Chopra’s “million dollar challenge to skeptics” reminds me, more than anything else, of Jock Doubleday’s “vaccine challenge.” You remember that oldie moldy antivaccine trope, don’t you? Basically, it’s an obvious publicity ploy in which Doubleday challenges “an M.D. or pharmaceutical company CEO, or any of the 14 relevant members of the ACIP” (the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices)…

…agrees to drink a body-weight calibrated dose of the poisonous vaccine additives that M.D.s routinely inject into children in the name of health. The mixture will include, but will not be limited to, the following ingredients: thimerosal (a mercury derivative), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), phenol (a disinfectant dye), benzethonium chloride (a disinfectant), formaldehyde (a preservative and disinfectant), and aluminum.

It’s the sort of challenge that other antivaccinationists have made in other forms, such as this challenge from antivaccine loon Viera Schiebner (whom we’ve met before when she made the despicable claim that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis of vaccine injury) to Simon Chapman. In other words, it’s a transparently obvious challenge that the person making the challenge knows is incredibly unlikely to be accepted and, if it is accepted, has a bar for being met that is virtually impossible to meet and frequently morphs as anyone tries to accept the challenge.

Chopra’s “challenge” is cut of much the same cloth, but it’s even worse.

Why is it worse? Simple. The “challenge” as stated is impossible to meet, and I’d be willing to bet that Chopra almost certainly knows it’s impossible to meet. Think about it. Chopra starts out by saying:

Dear Randi: Before you go around debunking the so-called “paranormal,” please explain the so-called “normal.” How does the electricity going into the brain become the experience of a three dimensional world in space and time. If you can explain that, then you get a million dollars from me. Explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness in a peer-reviewed journal, offer a theory that is falsifiable, and you get the prize.

Of course, the big problem with this challenge is that Chopra doesn’t lay down concrete conditions, other than an article in a peer-reviewed journal. What does he mean by “explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness”? What sort of “solution” would be adequate for him? He doesn’t provide criteria so that an objective observer could reasonably determine whether Randi has met the challenge or not. This is very different from Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge, in which the person accepting the challenge and skeptics conducting the challenge have to agree before the testing ever occurs on specific criteria that must be met for the challenge to be met. Both sides have to sign off. Here, it’s just Chopra blathering on, as he is wont to do, about a nebulous “challenge” without letting himself be pinned down over the criteria that, if achieved, would indicate a successful meeting of the challenge. It’s disingenuous—hell, it’s dishonest—in the extreme. Chopra’s not a stupid man, although he is arrogant and has apparently forgotten whatever he had learned of the scientific method in his training. He must know this.

Next, to make sure there’s absolutely zero chance of Randi’s meeting the challenge, Chopra makes it virtually impossible to do by setting conditions that eliminate the tools necessary to do it. He begins by telling Randi that he’s “bamboozled” (word choice intentional, I’m sure, in an ill-fated attempt to sound clever by throwing one of Randi’s favorite words back at him) by the “superstition of matter.” (I wonder if that’s anything like the enigma of steel. Maybe it is.) Then he delves into an astoundingly obvious observation that serves, as is so frequently the case, as the basis for Choprawoo:

You don’t realize that everything we experience as the physical world is actually a perception, and that perception is the result of an experience in consciousness. And we have no idea how that happens. If I ask you to imagine a sunset on the ocean right and you have the experience—somewhere—then explain to me where that picture is. And don’t just give me a neural correlate, or NCC, as it’s called. Neural correlates of consciousness are well known, but they’re not enough of an explanation for how we experience the world, how we experience color, taste, sound, form…any perception. You can’t explain it. Texture, solidity, you cannot explain it. You can’t even explain how do we have perception or experience of our own body, or our thoughts, intuition, insight, imagination, creativity, cognition, self reflection. And once again, neural correlates are not causation. So when I ask you to think of that sunset, there was a neural correlate, but it wasn’t there until you had the experience or had them simultaneously or one before the other. Doesn’t matter. You had intention. Explain to me intention.

F*&king magnets, how do they work?

Chopra’s fame and wealth, of course, is largely based on his books, videos, and speaking tours in which he promotes the idea of a “conscious” universe. His woo and medical quackery both assume mind-body dualism and that we can influence the universe with our mind, specifically our “intent” (hence his reference to “explaining intent” directed at Randi). Indeed, he has even attacked the theory of evolution on multiple occasions, because he believes that we can control our own evolution with our consciousness. He bases these concepts on a huge amount of abuse of quantum theory, even beyond that of many woo-meisters coupled with abuse of neuroscience. It’s clear to me that Deepak Chopra does not understand any of it on other than the most superficial level. Indeed, he mangles the hell out of it, as I’ve explained time and time and time again over the last four years or so. He takes quantum physics, abuses it and the findings of scientists like Einstein, Pauli, and Heisenberg, and lumps the result together to claim that there is some sort of “universal consciousness,” claiming that the physical world is an “illusion.” Or, in this case, apparently, our perception is illusion. So the universe can be anything we imagine it to be. At least, that’s the way I’ve interpreted Chopra’s blather over the years.

Yes, it really is that facile and puerile. If you don’t believe me, let me go back to something he wrote eight years ago:

The physical world can’t deliver God, not because God doesn’t exist, but because the solid, physical world is an illusion–as quantum physics proved long ago–and one must look inside consciousness itself to find what God is about. If God is a universal intelligence, that will turn out to be a fact. It won’t be superstition. It won’t be derived from the Bible or the Koran.

Yes, as Steve Novella put it, Chopra is the Magic Man. As Jerry Coyne describes he is a pseudoscientist par excellence, pointing out that, contrary to Chopra’s many pronouncements, photons do not have consciousness, nature does not have a mind, the moon is there whether humans see it or not, and intelligence is not inherent in nature, but a product of naturalistic evolution.

Later in the video, Chopra delivers yet another howler, saying “experience is experience, whether it’s so-called ‘normal’ or whether it’s so-called ‘paranormal,’ and we don’t understand either of them, OK?”

Of course, no one’s claiming that paranormal experiences aren’t “experiences.” What skeptics argue, with good evidence, is that the explanation for paranormal experiences is not in the supernatural but the natural, just as explanations for seemingly “miraculous” healing from alternative medicine like homeopathy or reiki virtually always have a more plausible explanation that does not rely on magic. And I’m talking about magic magic (as in mystical magic), not stage magic, or illusions performed by magicians.

Overall, his video is nothing more than a massive appeal to ignorance, a claim that, because science doesn’t know anything about consciousness then Chopra’s pseudoscientific views must potentially be valid explanations. It’s a perfect example of what Dara Ó Briain described in one of his more famous comic bits in which he said:

Science knows it doesn’t know everything. Otherwise, it’d stop. Just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.

That’s exactly what Chopra specializes in, filling in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to him. In his case, the fairy tale is that the universe is conscious, and the tools he uses to try to convince you of the fairy tale include abuse of quantum mechanics and neuroscience, neither of which he understands.

Maybe that’s why Chopra’s been showing up on Twitter since his video was posted with Tweets like this in response to JREF’s characterization of his video.

Not surprisingly, Chopra couldn’t hold his own and retreated ignominiously:

Same as it ever was.

Chopra uses the words of science, demanding from Randi and his “cronies”—tsk, tsk, what happened to all that demand for “civility,” Deepak?— peer-reviewed publication and a falsifiable “theory” (although his using the word “theory” when he really means “hypothesis” is a dead giveaway that he doesn’t understand the scientific method), but it’s clear that it is nothing more than a stunt, and a particularly sad and pathetic one at that. He even descends to calling Randi and skeptics “self-appointed vigilantes for the suppression of curiosity and imagination and legitimate science.”

Again, same as it ever was.