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Does the moon exist if there are no sentient beings to look at it?

by Michael Shermer, Mar 23 2010

In my last True/Slant post I explained why it is that quantum effects do not apply to the macro world because of the size difference between sub-atomic particles and (say) chemical reactions inside the neurons in your head, concluding:

During the debate Deepak claimed that the moon is nothing more than a soup of teaming quantum uncertainty. No. Subatomic particles may be altered when they are observed, but the moon is there even if no one looks at it.

Deepak wrote a thoughtful response to this blog (on his Blackberry while running on a treadmill with his agile thumbs no less!):

When you see an object, the moon being the example you chose, your eyes are not really “seeing” the moon. Your eyes are responding to photons that follow all the rules of wave-particle duality. The electro-chemical reaction in your rods and cones sends an electrical current to your brain, an action potential that goes to your occipital cortex where it is registered as a particular intensity and pattern of electrical firings in your synaptic networks. No image entered your eyes, no image enters your neural networks. Yet you see the moon in your consciousness. There was no moon till it was an experience in your consciousness. Your brain is not registering pictures of the moon. It is sensing a digital on-off code of photons or waves of electricity (same thing) The collapse of wave function that creates the moon is in your consciousness (that has no location because its non local) The moon exists in consciousness — no consciousness, no moon — just a sluggishly expanding wave function in a superposition of possibilities. All happens within consciousness and nowhere else. In fact, the sluggishly expanding possibility wave function is also within consciousness. The same principle applies to any macro object including your own body. That’s why I said on Larry King that you are not in your body, the body is in you. You are not in the world, the world is in you. You are not in your mind (thoughts are possibility waves till experienced in consciousness) the mind is in you. This “you” of course is not a person. It is what Stuart Hameroff (whom you quoted in your blog as generating heat but not light — alas they are the same thing — light and heat:)) says in an upcoming interview: “I think a fundamental field of protoconscious experience has been embedded all along — since the big bang — in the (quantum realm) and that biology evolved and adapted in order to access it and maximize the qualities and potentials implicit within it — this could be the basic fabric of the universe.” Take care.

I agree with nearly everything you say here, except that the moon would exist even if there were no humans to observe it. If all life on earth were instantly eradicated by a rogue asteroid, the moon would continue on its merry way about what would be left of the shattered earth. In fact, even if there were no life anywhere in the cosmos, all those galaxies of stars would still be there. Do you disagree with that position? That reality exists separate from us observers? Otherwise, wouldn’t that just be solipsism?
I disagree. Let’s take a simpler example. Let’s say your looking at a rose, a beautiful red one. What does it look like to a honey bee? The honey bee has no receptors for the usual wave lengths of light that you and I sense. It responds to ultraviolet so I don’t know what the experience of a rose to a honey bee but it has some experience, it is drawn to the flower and in fact makes honey out of it. What about a bat who can perhaps sense it as the echo of ultrasound. I don’t know what that experience is like either because I’m not a bat. What about a chameleon whose eyeballs swivel on 2 different axes? I can’t even remotely imagine what that object looks like to a chameleon. There are innumerable species who because of the nature of their sensory apparatus have a different experience of that rose. The senses do not see a rose. They register electricity! The neurons do not see a rose, they sense ionic shifts. What is the real look of the rose? There is no such thing! It depends on whose looking and also the instruments of observation — in this case the instrument of observation is the nervous system. (Of course that’s where you and I differ because you say you are your nervous system and I say you are the user of your nervous system.) Who is looking? A non-material observer. What is it looking at? It is looking at possibility waves that collapse as space time events in its own consciousness. That non-local observer is a single observer in all these different observations. Schroedinger: “Consciousness is a singular that has no plural.” You are the eyes of the universe looking at itself as a rose or the moon! Rumi: “Let the waters settle and you will see stars and the moon mirrored in your own being.” Every sentient biological entity is a singular consciousness looking at itself as a particular object. The observer and observed are the same being. The history of the cosmos is a history that is conceived in a particular way as if we were there or other biological organisms were there to observe it. But just as you cannot have an electrical current without a +ve and -ve terminal in place, you can’t have an object unless there is consciousness and a collapse of wave function to create that experience. There is now also a field called “time symmetric quantum mechanics” that says that information from the future fills in the indeterminacies of the present.” In other words the universe evolves teleologically.

Okay, Deepak, I think I understand the core of our disagreement: you are placing epistemology over ontology — how we know reality over reality itself. I think this is a result of your metaphysics and the worldview with which you begin. Since I privilege ontology over epistemology — reality over how we know reality — my conclusions will inevitably be different from your own.

On Larry King you stated: “There are traditions that say the in-body experience is a socially induced collective hallucination. We do not exist in the body. The body exists in us. We do not exist in the world. The world exists in us.” I wrote in my True/Slant blog that I didn’t understand this. Now I think I do after reading you more carefully. For you, the first-person “I” perspective is primary. As in your example with the rose, without rods and cones to transduce the photons of light bouncing off the rose into neuronal action potentials that register in a visual cortex, there is no rose. Of course, I could just as easily argue that without the rose there would be no photons to transduce into action potentials to register on a visual cortex.


36-inch Crossley reflecting telescope at the Lick Observatory

So … which is the right perspective: reality first or I/self first? Reality takes precedence over self. Why? Here is one answer. Look at this photograph of the 36-inch Crossley reflecting telescope at the Lick Observatory, which I visited the day before our Caltech debate. It was through this telescope that the mysterious spiral nebulae were first imaged well enough for astronomers to conclude that they represent “island universes” (galaxies) far away from our own galaxy, and are not developing solar systems within the Milky Way. But the “imaged” nebulae did not register on anyone’s retina (or visual cortex): it was imaged on a spectrographic plate — a machine, not a brain. And those photons would register in that machine even if every human on earth disappeared that night.

131 Responses to “Does the moon exist if there are no sentient beings to look at it?”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Quantum behavior is not necessarily directly observable in large aggregations of particles – it really isn’t the size at all, it’s mostly the sheer number which results in the net effect not being observable as a quantum phenomenon – but they may be observable as a bulk phenomenon such as a reflection in a mirror. Another example would be interference; you can set up an experiment to demonstrate interference and with a low number of particles you see an interference pattern, but with enough particles you just see a smudge. Unlike many phenomena though, you can choose some interference experiments which work well even with a large number of particles.

    However, I don’t see what any of that has to do with the question of the existence of the moon. Of course it would exist – there simply wouldn’t be anyone around to know or care. As far as we can tell, the universe works now as it had long before humans existed. It would be absolutely silly to believe that the universe did not exist until humans evolved to ask the question “if we didn’t exist, would the rest of the universe still exist”? No, humans are just another accident of nature and not the pet creation of some skydaddy. The universe does not exist simply because humans do, though many people would like to believe that humans are special due to some magical design.

    • JGB says:

      Hear hear, Mad!

      The matter of QM on the macroscopic scale is not size, per se. It is *averages*. Consider a coin or a six-sides die, I cannot tell you the outcome of any single toss, but – IF I KNOW THE STATISTICAL PROPERTIES – I can tell you about 1,000,000 tosses pretty damn well.

      Deep is right that the Moon is a sum of quantum mechanical probabilities … so is Vegas ;) But by summing we average out these fluctuations and the result converges to our macroscopic experience.

      BTW: Deep sure likes to generate a lot of wordplay. We don’t ‘see’ the Moon we detect electromagnetic radiation with photo-receptors in our eyes and then our brain interprets those sensations… huh. I thought that was ‘seeing’. My advice is don’t debate anyone who is trying to rewrite the dictionary.

  2. Brian the Coyote says:

    Chopra’s brand of mystical of obscurantisim is most frustrating because it is so hard to repond to statements that are largely unsubstantive.

    I think a lot of his quantum nonsense comes from the use of the verb “to observe”. Perhaps the early quantum theorists would have done better than to choose a different verb. “To observe” implies a conscious act, to me anyway. I have often wondered if this was an artifact of translation.

    The Moon is the aggregate of all its sub-atomic particles which are, in a sense, “observing” each other and resolving all their probability fields into that friendly big rock in the sky.

    Oh well, Julia Sweeney said it best: “Deepak Chopra is full of shit!”

    • danekart says:

      Quite. Chopra dresses up mystical mumbo-jumbo as science, then expects us all to buy his book.

      Michael Shermer, I don’t know why you give this guy the time of day.

      • MrMike says:

        > Michael Shermer, I don’t know why you give this
        > guy the time of day.
        This is what I find the most fascinating over all of this. I will declare that Michael Shermer is smarter than I am. Yet, several times, I have tried to convince one of the local flat earthers that he is wrong. I would imagine that most of us have had the exact same experience (except, perhaps, you’re smarter than Dr. Shermer.) The debate is like watching a car crash: you know it’s going to get ugly, but it’s fascinating to watch.

        The interesting question, is how can someone who is completely steeped in woowoo ever be convinced of the reality of reality? And, what I think is as interesting – how did we and Dr. Chopra get to where we are? And to say ‘Stupid people are believers’ is a cop-out – again, I know several people who are smarter than I, yet, they believe in little men in heaven.

    • Harrison says:

      Brian (Mr. Coyote?),
      I don’t agree that Mr. Chopra is “full of shit” – I think he is a very thoughtful person has has lots of interesting ideas and valuable insights. However, you are right on in your assessment that the moon “is the aggregate of all its sub-atomic particles which are, in a sense, ‘observing’ each other and resolving all their probability fields into that friendly big rock in the sky.”
      Some people take the term “observe” too literally. Two entities, quantum or otherwise, simply have to be in relationship with one another for the “collapse” and an actual “reality” to occur. Whether or not there is an independent observer to record the event is only important to the observer. The universe itself goes on.

  3. Anon says:

    No matter what animal of thing is seeing or registering something, it’s all properties of the very same object. These properties exist whether they are registered or not. Science tries to describe properties of a given object as best as possible. Degrading the moon to a wave function or whatever is just borrowing one of the many properties and dismiss everything else. One could just as well say that the moon is just romantic and beautiful and does not have anything to do with quantum mechanics when nobody thinks or talks about it. Plain wrong just as well.

    Everything is based on mathematics. Mathematical laws apply even in a complete void, empty universe where there is nothing to think about it or consider it. Hard to imagine maybe, but even the properties of our moon would theoretically be valid. Would it therefor exist? No, but if mathematical laws would allow it somehow it would ‘eventually’. No matter if there is something around then to observe it, describe it or whatever.

    • OppositeLock says:

      Everything is not based upon mathematics. Mathematics is a human construct to understand everything. We created mathematics to understand and predict what goes on around us. Three objects is still three object regardless if we have the words or math to describe it. Imaginary number, irrational numbers, etc. Gravity is described by us using mathematics, but it would still exist without mathematics. The fact that humans have found that much in the universe seems to follow mathematic principles does not mean that the universe would not exist if there wasn’t mathematics. Probability is something humans devised to predict what event is most likely to happen. On the macro level, the event would occur regardless. What Chopra describes is the mechanism humans, and other creatures, utilize to interpret the universe around us. While “observation” influences events on a quantum level, it does not, through the shear weight of the quantity of events on a macro level. It certainly does not equate to causality. This is an argument about semantics and highlights the limitations of language to adequately describe “reality.”

      The day the universe changed, to use James Burke’s term, describes only humankind’s perception of the universe, not the reality that is universe

  4. RickK says:

    A small asteroid traveling on a collision course with the moon will have its motion altered by the moon, regardless of whether we see it or not.

    This is just another version of “humans are the reason the universe exists”. I wonder if the pigeons think New York was made for them?

    • A. Shreck says:

      “I wonder if the pigeons think New York was made for them?”

      It’s as good a theory as any I can come up with. :-)

  5. A. Shreck says:

    More from a desire to play devil’s advocate than to position myself with Chopra, I have to observe (heh) that until pointed by human consciousness, the telescope registers nothing. You can remove the observer from the equation at any point you like, but neither ontological nor epistemological statements generate themselves.

    • I call BS on this. Aside form the fact that a telescope could be programmed to point itself, either based on some set of search criteria, or on some sort of semi random search pattern, if the telescope is pointed at a certain part of the sky, and everyone on earth disappeared immediately thereafter, what the telescope registers will change without human intervention as the moon and planets move in the sky, as the earth spins on its axis, as the Earth orbits around the sun, as the sun orbits the center of the galaxy, etc, etc.

      Along a similar line, light from the sun shines on the Earth, and the Earth “registers” this by absorbing, re-emitting, and/or reflecting energy regardless of whether any intelligent beings observe these processes or not.

      as long as Chorpa pretends to have any actual understanding of quantum physics, he will continue to integrate it into his a priori spiritual view of life, the universe, and everything.

      • A. Shreck says:

        I don’t know that it’s any more BS than the telescope analogy itself. I like your earth comment and even more so the one about the tides above better. Rather than invoking a human-made artifact like a telescope, they rely on non-intelligent natural entities (I don’t know enough about Chopra’s philosophy to know if it permits such things, but I’m betting it doesn’t) being influenced by others.

        On the other hand, we are using an experiment of human thought to demonstrate that a thing can exist without human perception. Such is the wonder of our big brains.

      • A. Shreck says:

        My bad. Tides comment by Larch is below, not above.

  6. Max says:

    I guess Chopra doesn’t need a Blackberry to translate microwaves into readable text for him.

  7. bigtitch says:

    If I close my eyes will Chopra cease to exist?

  8. Larch says:

    I would like to have Chopra stand on the plain at Mont Saint-Michel with his back to the moon and explain why the water is rising (and will soon be over his head).

  9. Chopra’s argument about the rose actually is counter-productive for his side.

    He lists several different ways of experiencing a rose, and states that none of those ways is privileged as the right one.

    But, taken another way, all of these different ways of experiencing a rose account for solid evidence that the rose really does exist in objective reality independent of observers.

    If it did not exist independent of observers, we’d expect to see some sort of privileged view of the rose as the right or only one. Or we’d expect the different views to not correspond to one-another (e.g. one person sees a red flower, the other sees a monster truck). But they do correspond. But there aren’t any privileged views.

    That’s because the rose really does exist, and it would even if nobody smelled it.

  10. DavrosFromSkaro says:

    I really do wonder if Chopra believes the things he says or just puts them out there to wind skeptics up.

    This discussion is the exact same as “If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody to hear it does it make a sound?” As Bertrand Russel points out in his Introduction to Philosophy (I’m paraphrasing as I don’t have the book to hand). There is actually a difference between Somebody being there and nobody and it’s to do with sense impressions or perception if you will. In fact the whole argument that Chopra usee is dealt with by Russel in the first chapter when he explains how he perceives his table:-

    • DavrosFromSkaro says:

      Sorry that should read “Bertrand Russell”

      • OppositeLock says:

        Thanks for that reference. It’s been a while since I studied philosophy.

        Did the dinosaurs exist? Or did they only exist because humans found their fossils and interpreted them? Almost certainly our interpretations of what the dinosaurs were like are mere approximations to reality. While those approximations continue to get more and more accurate, they will never become exact. Indeed millions of species that existed on Earth will never be known to us. They will have left no discernible record of their presence. Does that mean they never existed because no human was extant to observe their actuality? Of course not.

        The universe has been around for a lot longer than humans and it will continue to exist long after humans have disappeared from it. (Mr. Chopra may choose to interpret that as all humans passing on to their next plane of existence.)

  11. A. Shreck says:

    “If it did not exist independent of observers, we’d expect to see some sort of privileged view of the rose as the right or only one. Or we’d expect the different views to not correspond to one-another (e.g. one person sees a red flower, the other sees a monster truck). But they do correspond. But there aren’t any privileged views.”

    Huh? Why would non-existence imply a privileged view? Isn’t the statement that it does exist independent of observation the argument for a privileged view, even if it’s not necessarily our (human) view? Also, I think you are making a false dichotomy. A lack of any particular observer’s privileged view doesn’t imply radical inconsistency of views (i.e. roses vs. monster trucks). That’s where you get ultimately (I think) but again I’m not sure I get the first part.

    I am thinking of the parable of the blind men and the elephant, which is like a tree, a wall, a rope, etc. when the reality is an aggregate that requires a different sense to synthesize.

    The bee experiences the reflected light differently from us. It is certainly not a “red” flower to the bee because red does not exist in the ultraviolet. The surface of a petal may be the entire universe to a mite living there. None of these views are privileged, but neither is our view of “rose”. Skeptical ontology (I am generalizing, let’s see if anyone take me on) posits that there is an independently existing arrangement of matter we call a rose that is deterministically experienced by different sense equipment and perspectives as different things. It explains why one does not see a monster truck, but I’m not sure it makes a conclusive statement about the existence of “a rose”, only something that we call “a rose” from our unprivileged perspective.

    I can’t believe I’m the first to invoke Shakespeare’s observation that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” This observation ultimately relies on the sense of smell, not the absolute existence of the rose, but it certainly requires something that is consistently sweet.

    • A. Shreck says:

      Apologies. I meant to attach this as a direct reply to the quoted post.

    • Jason says:

      Actually it’s: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet”. Shakespeare also said: “There are more things in heaven and earth Than are dreamt of in (y)our philosophy.” But my favorite, and perhaps most appropriate here: “Words, words, words.”

  12. LovleAnjel says:

    Apparently, a rose does not exist if a blind person touches & smells it. Only if the sighted see it.

    Chopra has tied his own hands with his choice of terms, as if observation is only through some sort visual inspection by a living organism.

    So the mirrors on the moon do not reflect light unless someone at NASA is paying attention?

    (Yes, picky I know, but language determines thought on some level.)

  13. Max says:

    Does Chopra believe in telepathy, remote viewing, precognition, and all that testable paranormal stuff? Perhaps he should apply for the JREF Million Dollar Challenge.

    • Max says:

      Yup, he does believe in all that paranormal stuff.

      KING: Believe in telepathy?
      CHOPRA: Absolutely. Telepathy is…
      KING: And clairvoyance, that sixth sense?
      CHOPRA: Clairvoyance is the ability to go into the submanifest order of being…

      Chopra clearly demonstrated his clairvoyance in that interview 10 years ago (March 18, 2000).

      CHOPRA: … We will cure diseases very dramatically in the next few years, Larry. In the next — less than 10 years, you’ll be able to replace your heart with a little bit of skin from your mucus membranes, a little bit of cells…

  14. tmac57 says:

    So, if I follow Chopra’s logic, then when I saw the movie Avatar, I was the one that was creating it. That is great news! So, where’s my Oscar!? More importantly, where’s my share of the movie profits?

  15. miller says:

    Actually, I sort of agree with Chopra here. If no one is there to see it, there will still be stuff in the world, but it will not be intelligible, because there is no intelligence to make it so. In the sky, there will still be regions where water vapor condenses and scatters light in the visible range, but there will be no intelligence to differentiate these regions from others and call them “clouds”.

    But to agree with Chopra is to get sidetracked by philosophy, when the subject is science. Everything I said above has absolutely nothing to do with quantum mechanics. It would be just as true in a purely classical universe.

    As soon as Chopra starts talking about quantum mechanics, it’s all BS. Error #1: Confusing observers with consciousness. An electronic measuring device suffices as an “observer” in quantum mechanics. The rest is garbage in, garbage out.

    • Max says:

      I agree with Chopra that he uses 10% of his brain.
      He said so himself.

      KING: I mean, what do we use, 11 percent of our brain?
      CHOPRA: We normally use less than 10 percent.

      • AUJT says:

        If Chopra only uses 10% of his brain then why’s his head so frickin’ big? To house the remaining 90% of the BS I suppose.

        We should start a fund to help Deepak utilize more of his gray matter.

      • OppositeLock says:

        Chopra uses language and vocabulary to obfuscate. Like most purveyors of snake oil and con men he uses just enough factual (scientific) information and throws in terminology to make something sound plausible then he pulls the old switcheroo: The supernatural!

    • Robo Sapien says:

      If the first paragraph is true, then we may as well throw evolution out the window. Multi-cellular organisms of intelligence came to be without the observance of another intelligence.

    • Max says:

      The worst part is that Chopra injects his quantum BS into medicine. His third book was Quantum Healing, and he pushes all sorts of alternative medicine.

  16. John Powell says:

    Is Deepak Chopra full of shit, or is shit full of Deepak Chopra?

    • Robo Sapien says:

      Ah, but sensory perception is the main issue here. Shit is not only seen but smelled. Therefore there cannot be a Deepak Choprah if one does not smell the poo.

      • Brian the Coyote says:

        Ah, but where do the roses grow? In manure (ie shit). You see how everything is connected in the Quantum Consciousness(tm)? And roses don’t smell like poo so it is all in your perception.

  17. Ted says:

    Bishop Berkley rides again.

  18. Robo Sapien says:

    It seems to me that Deepak’s logic takes us backwards to old ways of thinking. It is same kind of hedonistic perspective-based logic that convinced men of old that the sun revolved around the earth.

  19. Daniel says:

    Here’s how Richard Feynman (a guy who knew a thing or two about a thing or two) might respond.

  20. AUJT says:

    The ABC debate in it’s entirety here–>

  21. Micheal says:

    I just finished reading Deepak’s response on the Huffington Post site.  Is this man serious?  I’m sure this has been said already, but he arguments basically boil down to god, as defined by me Deepak and only me, exists because I say so and I can write an article that sounds scientific to people who have absolutely no clue what the heck I’m talking about so believe everything I say.

  22. Shii says:

    The original “tree falls in the forest” statement was an argument for the existence of God. Namely, that we assume things exist when we aren’t looking at them, so God must be watching them. The existence of God is unprovable by definition, so this question is unanswerable.

  23. Vince says:

    It it tough to see exactly what he is saying as it appears to be a confused muddle of reasonable philosophical ideas mixed with unsupported assertions. Worse, he conflates the unsupported assertions with QM to make it seem sciencey. At the core he seems to be making some bald faced assertions about what collapses a wave function. He is also smuggling in a particular interpretation of QM that is not universally accepted. I think Harris had it right when he said that none of the debaters were qualified to say much about QM. The problem is, at the level Chopra discusses it, neither are the physicists.

    By itself the notion that mind itself shapes our experience is a reasonable one. At the base all I have are my own experiences. For each person everything has to start there. The nature of those experiences are fully dependent on my sensing equipment and my brain that processes, filters and transforms it in various ways. In that sense bees (or whatever) will have a different experience of a flower. As you noted this does not mean that the objects don’t exist. All it means is our concept of “moon” is an approximation in some sense. However, it does correspond, if roughly , to a real pattern of matter.

    This is where he smuggles in a particular interpretation of QM. To get rid of the pattern of matter that our concept of “moon” corresponds to he says (paraphrased), “No all that exists (in the ontological sense) is a wave function of superimposed states. What we see is only one of those states so we are picking which one.”

    The problem for him is there are physicists that would disagree with giving wave functions the property of existence. There are interpretations of QM that are statistical in nature. They say that WRT micro and macro objects all wave functions tell us is what we should observe over a large number of trials. For example, Shroedinger’s cat is either alive or dead each time. All the probabilistic nature of atomic decay tells us, in that thought experiment, are how many times “alive” or “dead” should occur if we do the experiment a large number of times. Obviously this is not the only interpretation. I only mention it to point out that his view of wave functions being ontologically fundamental is NOT REQUIRED by QM.

    Putting that rather large problem aside, and assuming superimposed states are things that exist, there is the problem that he is going on to tell us what collapses them. This is a subject the science does not have an answer for. (Again, if the statistical interpretation is correct there isn’t even anything to have an answer for!) Note that he is not saying it is a physical brain collapsing the wave ala Penrose. He is saying physical brains are wave functions too (i.e. they are made of matter which is really just wave functions) so, therefore, there must be a non-material entity, namely a universal consciousness, that is doing the collapsing. This has no basis in any of the science. It is pure invention.

    Even if we grant him the notion of consciousness collapsing wave functions there is no good reason for his next leap. It could just as easily be that there is a bee consciousness and a human consciousness, etc, and that all of them can collapse wave functions. The leap to a universal consciousness is unwarranted. The only justification I can even remotely see is the problem of “different histories”. If Schroedinger’s cat collapses the wave, through its own observation of the apparatus, and dies is it still in a superimposed state for the human experimenter before he opens the box? How about our colleague who didn’t see the box directly and only found out by us telling him. Was it a superimposed state for him until we told him about it? These types of paradoxes were used initially by some physicists as way to point out the absurdity of the superimposed state interpretations. Ironically Chopra might be using them to assume a universal consciousness.

    Unfortunately I don’t think the telescope example will do much good. He would simply say that our immaterial consciousness collapsed the wave function of the plate to show us what we wanted to see. And that
    until we observed it it did not exist in that state.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      Just tell him to look the other way while someone sneaks up and stabs him in the kidney. He won’t lose any blood until his consciousness observes the wound, err, wave function, or whatever.

      It would be a win-win for Deepak. He either lives and claims the 1M JREF prize, or his mind gets freed of its fleshy prison, free to explore the infinity-squared possibilities of an entire universe of bullshit.

  24. Brian M says:

    What if the photons aren’t produced by the flower, but my a computer screen, or a photograph? Does that mean every photograph or computer screen is actually a flower, because the photons waves collapse into your “consciousness”?

    Can we just take pictures of food, send them to africa, and claim we have given them food, as the wave collapsed on their eyes? There was no original food, only the concept of food, and thats the “real” food, right? So the pictures of food can feed people! They have the concept!

    Choopra sometimes hurts my brain…

    • Robo Sapien says:

      Better yet, lets send them PC’s with Photoshop, then they can all make their own food!

      • stephen says:

        We’ll have to send them pictures of infrastructure too: water faucets and treatment plants, powerstations, etc, etc.

  25. Jen the economist says:

    So what if there’s no reality?

    In this on-going debate between Michael Shermer and Deepak Chopra on the subject of god and reality, Shermer champions knowledge based on reason and the scientific method, while Chopra prefers science based on faith. Deepak Chopra tells us that there is no reality. Or more precisely that reality resides within us and not without us. To be sure, that has a really nice ring to it, AND, he tells us, there is science to back it up… even better. “When you see (the moon)…” Chopra explains, ”your eyes are not really ‘seeing’ the moon. Your eyes are responding to photons which (cause)… an electro chemical reaction in your rods and cones (that) sends an electrical current to your brain… No image entered your eyes… Yet you see the moon in your consciousness. “

    Ok, with you so far. Then he adds. “There was no moon till it was an experience in your consciousness.” Hold on. If there was no moon, Shermer points out, “there would be not photons.” Chopra’s argument seems to be that since human sensory organs and neural networks are necessary to project an image into our brains therefore there is no reality outside of human consciousness. But what about the photons? There seems to be a “faith” that the recent(ish) advances in quantum physics will, at some point, validate these claims of a fluid reality, although there is no real indication of that.

    What is so appealing about the idea that reality resides within us that people are now extending the concept of faith to the realm of science? Well, if I believe that there is no reality, only perception, then I can do anything! Like Indian Jones in the Temple of Doom, if I believe, the path will appear before me and I can walk on the air. People want to believe this because they want to believe that the laws that govern cause and effect are not set in stone. They want to believe that this time, losing weight will be fast and effective just by following this one easy trick. This time, I will get up late, take a shower and drive to work faster than ever before, arriving just on time. If reality is in my perception, then perhaps I have some control over reality.

    It’s not just chronic dieters and hapless optimists who victim to the lure of belief in a “fuzzy-reality”. People face the same temptation when it comes to politics. Every person that laments special interest politics and simultaneously supports placing more regulatory power in the hands of government agents, who are susceptible to temptation, is making the same error. They want to believe that politicians won’t respond to incentives, this time. Every person who argues against charter schools on the grounds that it takes money from the already ineffective public schools, is making the same error. They want to believe that school-board administrators, principles and teachers will start acting like their jobs are on the line if they don’t produce.

    Having hopes, having dreams, is good. Seeing the ideal potential is good. It gives us something to strive for. But the reality, and I don’t use that term lightly, is that cause and effect do exist. And deluding ourselves that they don’t, just so that we can hold out hope for the impossible, costs us much more than the price of the next Deepak Chopra book. It costs us the opportunity to take the world, reality, as it is and make it better.

  26. SeanG says:

    Chopra: “I disagree. Let’s take a simpler example…”

    Oh, gotta love the “No, I’m right but I don’t want to reply to your points. Let me heap on more BS” style of debate.

    He actually quotes a poet to make a scientific point? As Neitzche wrote: “(poets) all muddy their waters to make them appear deep.”

    • Max says:

      Scientific jargon is designed to be as unambiguous as possible, while poetry is frequently designed to be as ambiguous as possible so that it means different things to different people.

    • tmac57 says:

      A man of ‘science?’ named Chopra

      Became famous by being on Oprah

      His philosophy’s new agey

      His debate style is cagey

      He belongs on some analyst’s sofa

  27. bigjohn756 says:

    OK, if a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound? Yes.
    If it falls on Deepak Chopra does it make a sound? No, but, it makes a lot of noise.

    • RickK says:

      If Deepak Chopra believes with every fibre of his incurably spiritual being that the tree doesn’t exist, if he is certain beyond any doubt that at a physical and metaphysical level the tree doesn’t exist, he will still be dead when it drops on him.

      “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
      — Philip K. Dick

      • tmac57 says:

        You know, that is really true, because I don’t believe in Deepak Chopra, and yet still, there he is!

  28. Dionigi says:

    Since light takes time to arrive at the eye from a distant object and we see it as soon as we look at it it must have been in existence before we looked at it or the light waves would not exist to be viewed. we are looking at the past and could not do this unless it existed outside our consciousness.

  29. Long cock you suck says:

    And everyone of you will be forgotton in a 100 years because you are all meaningless pieces of shit.

  30. Derek says:

    Deepak Chopra has a nice vocabulary, but that’s about where it stops. When he plays peek-a-boo, does the rest of the world cease to exist when he covers his eyes?

    Shermer, you are far too nice. When will you start treating Chopra like the moron he presents himself to be?

  31. Shannnon says:

    If there is an objective Universe that does in fact exist outside of human consciousness, how would we prove it?

    Like the tree falling in the forest, if we leave a tape recorder to see if it did indeed make a noise, even though no one was there to hear it, it would still be an unknown until someone listened to the tape.

    Listening to the tape brings the data into human consciousness.

    Still, the tree seems to have been there before we first perceive it.

    Is there some new way of looking at these seemingly exclusive ways of viewing this problem that integrates both points of view?

  32. Thomas Goodey says:

    The reason that both the participants in this argument get themselves into knots is that they have never troubled to think about the actual meaning of the term “exist” which they use so freely and happily. Eddington drew a distinction between “exists” and “really exists”, which latter he glossed as being the same as “Exists – Loud Cheers!” He maintained that the former, i.e. “exists”, has a clear meaning – “is present in the structure contemplated”. As in “no two dimensional map that requires five colors exists” or “a perfect square that is the sum of two perfect squares exists”. (The structures in question are of course implicit in the questions.) The arguments of Shermer are against a God “existing” in this first sense. But Eddington maintained that the latter concept, i.e. “Exists – Loud Cheers!”, which is the meaning for which Chopra argues, has no clear meaning at all – or at least, no clear meaning has ever been suggested. He stigmatized it as “a parrot-phrase of which people do not trouble to consider the meaning”.

  33. FauxScientist says:

    Each of us creates and lives in a parallel universe of our own making.

  34. Antoine says:

    As a geologist, I am studying all sorts of traces that the Earth has left of its own history. Most of those traces came into being before any sentient being could “observe” them. And yet, they are there. The history which we reconstruct may be open to debate on details, and some episodes are still quite unclear, but there is a history to be discovered. That’s why serious geologists are so hot against creationists: they got it wrong. What’s right and what’s wrong is not dictated by the way we perceive things, but by some objective set of realities which exist, whether we know about them or not. I refuse to be so arrogant as to declare that the Earth’s history is as I perceive it, and that it doesn’t exist if I am ignorant of it. Following that line of reasoning, the world would cease to exist when I die. I don’t think that will be so.

    How exactly my system of perception works is academically interesting, and Deepak gives a version of that, very eloquently. But it is irrelevant to what is really there.

  35. At first I thought this might be a reference to creation. God made the “lesser light” to rule the “night.” I’ve always wondered what it’s doing up there in the daytime; taking a break?

    “If a tree falls in the forest ….” Haven’t we all heard this from childhood? Depends on the definition of sound! Adults didn’t like my answer; they wanted me to be as confused as they were over the question.

    • Brian the Coyote says:

      So how would Chopra answer: “If a tree falls on the Moon, does anybody hear?”

    • Seth Manapio says:

      The big problem with the tree argument is that if you define sound, as Chopra does, as something that is registered by a human brain when vibrations in the air are detected (or something like that) then the answer is clearly ‘no’, because he’s stated the question: If a tree falls in the forest and no human hears the tree fall, did a human hear the tree fall? Which is just stupid.

      And if you define sound as a physical thing that happens, the vibration of molecules in the air, then the answer is clearly ‘yes’. The tree fell, therefore it disturbed the air by the definition of fall. So the question becomes “When a tree falls in a forest as we understand the term ‘forest’, does it fall in a forest as we commonly understand the term ‘forest’? Which, again, is just stupid.

      So it only sounds like a good question when you do what Chopra does, which is try to use murky and conflated definitions of terms to create a space where he can sling bullshit.

      This is because he is confusing models of reality with reality. There is, in every epistomology, including his own, an external generator of data, a real world. He claims that this real world is the mind of god or something like that, but it is still external to experience, and experienced differently by bees, humans, etc. But even in his bullshit world, that set of wave functions or possibilities or whatever is still there. So even in his world view, the set of phenomena that are potentially ‘the moon’ exist, and only exist under certain conditions relative to other conditions.

      We can call these conditions, which do not exist randomly or arbitrarily, ‘the moon’. And even in Deepak’s worldview, those conditions exist independent of the observer.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        A “Sound” is a vibration with a frequency within audible range. Thus the sound exists regardless of the presence of any sensor.

      • Seth Manapio says:

        Exactly my point. If you define Sound scientifically, as a phenomena, you’re actually asking the question “If a tree falls in a forest under normal atmospheric conditions, is that atmosphere normally disturbed?” To which the answer is clearly yes.

        But Chopra defines sound by a sound being heard. Which is fine, because again, the question becomes, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it fall, did anyone hear it fall?” Again, easily answered question.

        But regardless of which position you take, Chopratic or Rational, the existence of some sort of external reality is taken as a given, that is, there is a reality out there that generates data.

      • Max says:

        It doesn’t even have to be audible, like infrasound and ultrasound. And the speed of sound is independent of any sensor.

        Real sciences distinguish between objective reality and subjective perceptions. Consider optical illusions.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        You mean like Reaganomics?

  36. Slingword says:

    Deepak is an un-collapsed wave function.

    Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead, until it is observed (where “observed” as noted above, is by human, machine, or other. It is more accurately interpreted as “interacting with a larger system”). At that point the wave function describing it collapses into a “dead” or “alive” state.

    Deepak never says anything that is testable, or quantifiable. He says things that sound good, but can never be proven right or wrong. He is not interacting with the universe, he is interacting with people’s minds and thoughts. His wave function will never collapse into “right” or “wrong”, since nothing he does can be put to a reality test. He philosophizes about dancing angels on pin heads.

    Deepak is an un-collapsed wave function, and he will always be such.

  37. Ed Graham says:

    So, would a chemically induced hallucination create a new reality?

    Debating Chopra is not reality.

  38. Curt Carlson says:

    This ‘debate’ is an illustration of the futility of arguing with the religious about religion. Logic and reason do not have an impact on the thought patterns of those who reject them. It’s frustrating to hear someone like Chopra try to bolster the validity of their stated beliefs by using terms provided by rational endeavors like science and mathematics, but mystics have been using that rhetorical tactic for millenia. Arguing with a mystic is nothing but an exercise in futility, with no outcome but frustration.

  39. John Aalborg says:

    Nothing exists, whether we are “here” or not. The future, which we can only imagine because it isn’t “here” yet, flows smoothly into the past, which we can only remember because the past isn’t present, either. Time, a human construct, does not tick like a clock, exposing little plateaus of “present time”. What we call the present is only a series of instant replays in our brains. At what point in it’s falling, does that forest tree exist truly? There are no points.

  40. Garry says:

    Deepak Chopra may be a fancy doctor and all, but he’s really just another self-serving, third-world, BS artist in the finest Dinesh D’Souza tradition. These bozos couldn’t tell the difference between fact and opinion if their lives depended on it. They, and their like, are examples of what keeps the third-world third-world.

  41. John Holland says:

    Upon reading all of these blogs (many of which are as hilarious as they are insightful), I wish to add … a rose is a rose is a rose. Period!

  42. Odometer says:

    On notion of the different perspectives of a rose.

    This proves that the objective rose does exist and is far greater than any 1 subjective view. The objective rose is one that contains all the views; and that any 1 subjective view will only reveal a portion of the objective rose

    I think we can look into the electromagnetic spectrum for the answer. The real rose is the collection of the entire electromagnetic spectrum it emits. Any 1 subjective view will only reveal a part of the real rose. Nonetheless, the rose still exists with or without this subjective view.

  43. Warren Whitaker says:

    If Depack is correct, and humans have nuclear war that makes them extinct, will the moon disappear and with it the tides which will eliminate all of the life forms that are adapted to the tides also disappear?I think not as the life forms were there before man evolved. Of course, that does not eliminate God and I have no clue as to God’s appearence.

  44. Doug says:

    “Reality” does not exist until observed. The Proof: Wile E. Coyote could run off a cliff, and he would not fall until he OBSERVED that he was in midair Q.E.D.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      I think you’re on to something there. That could explain why Chopra gets all his material from ACME Metaphysics.

  45. Paul Werst says:

    Perhaps you are missing Deep’s point.
    The universe is an expanded singularity, all is one. Self awareness divides the universe (reality) beginning with me/not me. By giving the moon a name we seperate it from everything else. While it is advantagous to divide the universe into parts (food or foe), enlightenment transends concepual duality.

    • tmac57 says:

      Who gets to define what “enlightenment” means?

    • Max says:

      It’s called analysis, and it’s how we understand that there’s order in our universe rather than chaos. We demonstrate our understanding by making predictions that others can verify, like where the moon will be tomorrow. What does the enlightened mystic predict? “All is one” today, “all is one” tomorrow.

      • Max says:

        Oh duh, the mystic can see into the future and make vague prophecies that only make sense in retrospect.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      So if I loosely toss about words like singularity, duality and transcendence, I can be enlightened too? Holy cow, why haven’t they been teaching this in public schools!?

      I’m no english major, but I believe “expanded singularity” is a contradiction in terms, the likes of which seem to be a trend among metawhateverologists. All grammar policing aside, the best I can gleen from that comment is that expanded awareness inevitably consolidates into a single notion as the enlightened mind sees a broader perspective, able to see the universe as a single entity (not a singularity) instead of a jumble of parts that repel/attract each other in a heirarchy of connected binary relationships. In other words, as the mind gets bigger, everything else gets smaller.

      Did I get that right? But how does naming the moon have a thing to do with any of it? I miss the point there for sure. Anyhow, self-awareness it not some obscure window to an elevated reality, it is simply a cluster of material forming a synapse that links data to other data. At least I think that’s how it works..

      The fact is that we are just machines of nature like everything else, but our unique ability (at least on this planet) is to collect and retain tremendous amounts of information, and easily access and cross-reference that information and respond accordingly. Emotions are physiological responses, every last one of them is a link between some pattern recognized by the brain and the alteration of body chemistry. This is the natural mechanism for dictating our behavior and the way we respond to every piece of information our senses record.

      So, it is understandable to fall in love with Chopratism (coined?). Enlightenment is a very desirable state of being, so much sexier to be cosmically aware than firmly grounded. But you gotta wake up, man! Don’t you ever read this stuff and say WTF does that mean?

      • steve says:

        It’s cute that you cling to your scientific instincts to define and analyze what’s wrong with Paul’s post, but if you were truly enlightened you would see it’s just dumb.

    • Max says:

      Heh, this might be the first time I see the word “singularity” used to denote “oneness” rather than degeneracy (in the mathematical sense, like dividing by zero).

  46. Paulo says:

    One thing that puzzles me in D.C. fuzzy talk and writing is the jump he makes from waves to synapses and brains, without justifying that jump, which should not be possible according to his own point of view (I won’t call it theory). How does he know we have brains? Shouldn’t brains exist only if there is someone watching those brains? And, btw, has anyone seen D.C.’s brain? I’d like like very much to know if he has a brain- because, if he doesn’t have one, that would explain much of that woo-woo BS he produces!!!

  47. Stuart B. says:

    The funniest part of all was when Deepak was debating Shermer and Sam Harris at the Cal Tech auditorium on March 14th, regarding the future of God. All these wonderful quantum terms came out of his mouth, supposedly justifying his viewpoints on the metaphysical. He sounded very authoritative if one didn’t listen too closely. Unfortunately for him, during a subsequent question and answer period, a gentleman got up who was a bona fide theoretical physicist, currently co-authoring a book with Stephen Hawking. His comment to Deepak, “I have no idea what you’re talking about!” He offered to give Chopra a course on quantum physics, which Deepak accepted. The moment — priceless! Lesson: Know your audience.

  48. treadsway says:

    The example of the rose that Chopra gives contridicts his own words. The rose has to phisicaly exsist (like the moon) for no other reason then every thing from the human to the bee to the bat all recognize that there is something there, its attributes may very from observer to observer but the fact remains that they all “see” something there. To say that it exsists only in ourselves and that if nothing exsists without observation is simple insanity. By observing an “object” the observer can only file it under what it has to reference it to; if the observer has no reference to the object then one is created in the mind of the observer using the next closest reference point thus if the object did not exsist the observer would have no reason to create said object in the mind.

  49. epicurus says:

    C’mon guys can’t you appreciate comic absurdity? It’s not worth commenting on Chopra. He’s talking absolute nonsense. Selena Gomez would make more sense talking about quantum mechanics and philosophy! LOL

    • Robo Sapien says:

      I think it is quite worth commenting on. All cults start with a guy like Deepak selling people a conjured up explanation to the great mystery.

      • tmac57 says:

        He did seem to have a lot of audience support, judging from the level of applause. We shouldn’t underestimate the influence of people like Chopra just because they seem so obviously wrong to us.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        There were a few people who asked some extremely nonsensical questions, but the one that disturbed me the most was the Jamaican guy. He did not specify his condition, and we know very little about what afflicted him, but he seemed thoroughly convinced that Deepak’s “wisdom” cured him.

      • epicurus says:

        Yeah I’d rather follow Selena she’s so much sexier than Deepak and she makes more sense too! LOL

  50. epicurus says:

    “I choose my friends for their good looks and my enemies for their good intellect.” – Oscar Wilde

    Shermer, don’t insult your intelligence by debating with Deepak. I’ll pit him in a debate with Selena Gomez live on Disney Channel. Let the viewers vote who wins. I bet my ass Selena will clobber him ten to one! LOL

  51. JWedg says:

    To quote someone far more intelligent than DC, “He’s not even WRONG!”

    Michael, please stop validating this charlaton’s views by giving the impression that they are even WORTH “debating”! He is like a parrot. He has learned some key QM phrases like “wave-forms collapsing” and strings them together to say… absolutely nothing!! He demonstrates repeatedly that he lacks the ability to even consider concepts which don’t fit his preconceptions about “reality”. His statements about the rose are a clear give-away. “In reality” a rose is ALL the things conscious beings perceive AND more which their limited senses just don’t respond to! And you don’t need a “God” to cover the things which we don’t perceive. Sheesh! He argues with classic fallacies: The Straw-Man, False Dichotomy, etc, and displays a simply stunning lack of understanding of science itself. Michael! Stop “debating” him! I sometimes worry people might think that you are doing things like this just for exposure or for a buck. Yikes! You are a prominent figure in Skepticism and this reflects badly on you and on those who work so hard against the woo. Please stop.

  52. JWedg says:

    Additional thoughts:
    – His inadequately defended conclusion that: 1) reality requires consciousness, and 2) that those beings whose consciousness is “within” this universe are inadequate for this, leading to 3) it must be God’s consciousness, outside our spacetime, is simply a rerun of the argument of “God as the First Cause”. He has just done a “Find-and-Replace” to insert QM phrases to make it sound new – just as the creationists did with “Of Pandas and People” as noted at the Dover trial! This is the kind of thing Skeptics must label as bogus immediately when we recognize it.

    – I don’t think this “debate” was about whether precedence is given to Ontology versus Epistemology when discussing reality (although those are important concepts). I think it could have been an opportunity to bring the broad range of science to bear on the question and demonstrate the benefits of critical thinking. (False Dichotomy?)

    – I think skeptics need to use assertiveness and clarity to EDUCATE those who view, listen or read these debates, or the comments about them. Otherwise the audience might get the impression that these are two equally valid points of view, which they are NOT! What if Nightline allocated the time to debate Darwinian evolution (in it’s most ancient and incomplete form) versus fundamentalist, young-earth Christian creationism. Do any skeptics reading this REALLY think these are two equally valid points of view, that are important for the next generation to learn? I don’t. (Straw-Man knocked down? OK, I’ll accept that.)

  53. Justin says:

    Michael, last night I watched a debate between yourself/Sam Harris vs Deepak & a rather nice generically spiritual lady at Caltech I believe.

    Whats funny is when we anthropomorphise *humans*. When we hear someone we deem to have some intellectual capacity come out with random child-like prattle we say to ourselves, “ah..he must have meant *this*”. Deepak Chopra has been over-anthropomorphised…there is nothing coherent to meaningfully work with.
    Deepak completely destroyed the quality of the debate with his somewhat insane dribblings in which he uses his limited knowledge of science (1st year Physics?) and throws in some new-age gobbledly-good mixed with some nice compassionate motherhood statements and claims that this senseless tumble-dryer mix is the future of religion!
    Instead of putting religion in the gaps in science he is putting religion in the gaps of the knowledge he perceives in the general population. In this way he directly insulted the intelligence of the audience many of whom had a massively greater understanding of the topics he referred to. They showed great restraint at question time! I sincerely don’t think this individual should be given airtime with the calibre of individuals & audience as presented.
    As to the topic above. It is important to note the Schrodinger Equation was NOT an equation derived from 1st principles, it was made up to reflect the probability distribution (wave function) of the results observed. When we observe a “particle” it is said that the “wave function collapses” but what is really being said is that we actually found the particle inside the probability distribution as predicted (Surprise!). These distributions may apply to the position, momentum and spin of the particle. To say we have somehow changed the particle simply by observing it is to not recognise the origin of a single mathematical equation which simply reflects our knowledge of the system and of the dual nature of the particle.
    At macroscopic scales with large numbers of particles quantum decoherence toward classical mechanics emerges (where mass x velocity x distance > planck constant) so that we can’t do things like walk through walls even though this is possible (just a tad improbable). In the end, even if observation were to collapse the superposition of states describing the moon it would still exist as that set of states. But to say even this is nonsensical.


  54. idiot who flushes says:

    i’m just the idiot who flushes the toilet. i smell the rose, look at the moon and have a bite of griz. sometimes i breathe in the essence of the rose, and let moon beams bathe me in illumination. both sides in this discussion invent new language to define what they are thinking. science discipline is logical, reproduceable, functional, has a nice set of rules,,,refined. spirituality has many adherents at various places on thier journey and levels of understanding, with various motives, taking a whack at defining their perceptions. there are no rules in this esoteric wild west of thinking and scant discipline. i used to think philosophy was a mumbo jumbo waste of time because it didn’t actually produce anything,,,no bridges, or medicine, or calories, nothing with value or function. but through (forced) study i grew in my thinking, learned the language of philosophy,,,their particular ‘jargon’ and discovered it’s incredible function and power,,,it organized thought…logically and gave the seeker new ways to think, bend and twist, and see the world,,,the power of thought and the power to inform thought,,,actually defining it, packaging it, teaching it, and learning new insights because of it became a mind blowing, powerful tool,,,nothing physical produced,,,merely fireworks, lighting other fireworks domino like, in the brain. some wheat, some chaff. definining spirituality, or new age religion, or god or enlightenment may not have arrived yet,,, it is mostly mucking about in the swamp looking for legs,,,but, yet, there is something there, another place? power? spirituality? some call it spirituality,,,but what ever it is, it hasn’t yet been laid open and defined in logic and made fully useful. as philosophy is just thought about thought, one step removed from concrete function and manipulation to form something tangible,,,the ‘spiritual’ dimension is more steps removed. thought in free fall… perhaps. man tool fire language . . . new frontiers. deepak is maddening. man persists. evolution thrashes on.

  55. billgeorge says:

    Clearly, Deepak pocesses some knowledge, however knowledge doesn’t always equate to intelligence. He displays a hostile defense a bit often which may indicate he’s ONLY protecting his livihood opposed to actually believing the new age trash he hawks.
    Skepticism is a threat to the personal and spiritual growth industry – the credulous sheep that feed Deepak’s ego and bank account.

  56. JonGee says:

    At night, with the lights turned off, I can’t see the coffee table but when I kick it, I still experience it.

  57. msgtvance says:

    OK, so am I a physical being in a imagined world or a imagined being in a physical world. Of course it,s my imagined self in a physical world and the moon was there before people were a grin on daddy’s face. ha! ha!

  58. Jim Hull says:

    It’s startling how cynical and snarky are some of the above comments, especially with reference to Chopra’s ideas. It’s one thing to disagree with him on issues that are not, strictly speaking, scientific but, instead, philosophical; it’s quite another to launch _ad hominem_ attacks against his motives. Shermer, to his great credit, treats Chopra’s ideas seriously and fairly, and he makes clear where he differs philosophically with Chopra without cavalierly accusing him of being a charlatan.

    That said, I’d like to offer a possible solution to this debate that might satisfy the views of both sides.

    Everything that happens to us in life is witnessed within “consciousness” — or “awareness” — and there is no information available to us that exists outside that realm. Further, there appears to be no edge or border to consciousness, so that consciousness isn’t embedded inside something else. In short, consciousness, or awareness, is all we’ve got to go on. Our sensations — light, sound, touch, plus emotions and thoughts — constitute all the information we can gather, and we can’t escape to some outside realm to acquire more info.

    Within consciousness arise thoughts that model aspects of awareness, so that we can map out our experiences and know, for instance, how to get to the grocery store. But most of us, at that point, make an almost unnoticeable error in our thinking: we assume that the grocery store is somehow “out there” beyond consciousness, that it is a permanent thing that exists whether we witness it or not. And we start to think of consciousness as a kind of ethereal gas that floats like a bubble through the physical world. And then we get into all of these weird debates about how consciousness can arise in a physical universe, and how we can know about “the world out there”, etc.

    But for a moment let’s be very, very scientific and very, very strict in our thinking. All we have to go on, as evidence, are the elements of our awareness. We can’t get “outside our own consciousness” to gather information from somewhere else. To be strictly scientific, we cannot assert that there is, e.g., a moon out there whether we look at it or not, because we cannot assert that there’s an “out there” for the moon to occupy. The strict way to think about the moon, then, would be to say, “When I aim my gaze upward at the proper hour, I will see a mottled white disk that I call ‘the moon’.” That avoids the unprovable hypothesis of a separate physical world by limiting the observation to what we know of our own awareness.

    Again: all I can say for sure is that, when I step outside, I may see the moon in the sky. I _cannot_ assume that there’s some sort of permanent thing called “the moon” that exists in some hypothesized realm called “the physical universe” that I have no way of knowing about, much less proving. But I CAN assert, with good evidence, that when I step outside I’ll see a sky that’s often moon-adorned. This is a statement about the contents of my awareness, and it avoids assumptions about an external reality.

    Otherwise, I’d be making the same metaphysical mistake as people who believe that, if they visit Ecuador, they will see an actual equatorial dotted line extending west across that country and out to sea. Or I’d assume that, at the restaurant, I’m supposed to chew on the menu as dinner. I’d be mistaking my symbology for something concrete and separate. The symbol is not a separate reality. It is merely a mapping of an aspect of awareness.

    Strangely, given that there’s no escape from one’s own awareness, it’s also not possible ever to be certain that you aren’t simply dreaming your entire life, and the rest of us are sophisticated mannequins manifested by your dream.

    In that regard, you might demand, “Well, what ABOUT everyone else’s awareness? If my consciousness has no boundary, then where’s the room for THEIR consciousnesses?” Excellent question! Aside from the imponderable issue of whether you’re simply dreaming, is it possible to have billions and billions of separate consciousnesses all contemplating essentially the same awareness data set, except from different perspectives, and without a concrete physical universe to tie those perspectives together? Is there any way to show some commonality within all those separate experiences that doesn’t depend on some “physical world” center to which all awarenesses refer?

    There’s a simple, Occam’s Razor answer: Every awareness contains within it the building blocks of every other awareness. Example: I hold up a globe of the Earth. You look at the globe from your side of the room and see the images of Africa and Europe and North America; from my side, I see the Pacific Ocean and Australia and maybe a little printed legend near Antarctica. What I can’t see of the globe is there by implication, “unconscious” to me but conscious to you, and _vice versa_.

    It’s like an equation that can be written in a million different ways, each version separated from the next by an “equals” sign.

    In effect, then, your awareness IS my awareness, but from a different point of view. (If each of us could see all of our viewpoints at the same time, it’d probably be a chaos of white noise.) Each awareness is, in my formulation, essentially identical to every other awareness, except that the point of view is translated differently for each perspective.

    When Chopra says, “You are the world” (and he’s quoting Krishnamurti, so, yes, he does like to borrow freely from others), he probably means “your awareness is all there is … and so is mine. There is no world outside of awareness.”

    Alan Watts put it nicely: “While it’s true that the eyes see light because of the sun, it’s also true that the sun is light because of the eyes.” The sound coming from your stereo only exists when every element of the production of sound is lined up: the electrical power to the amp, the CD being read by the laser, the speakers pumping air in the room, your unplugged ears functioning properly, your brain processing the input data. Any failure anywhere along that chain, and there’s no sound. The same is true for all other sensations. And without sensations, we have no data about anything, much less some “physical universe” that we hypothesize based on that sensory data. The thing and our awareness of it arise mutually; they’re inseparable; they are, in effect, the same thing.

    What are the implications for science? Most days, both sides of this debate can pursue science and technology without a hitch. But this “awareness is primary” viewpoint is to the “physical world is primary” viewpoint as Relativity physics is to Classical physics: just as Newtonian concepts are useful in the near world but break down at cosomological scales, so the idea of a separate physical universe is a useful shorthand, but the larger “one awareness” idea resolves the contradictions about, e.g., Schroedinger’s Cat and quantum uncertainty in general. (But that’s fodder for a whole separate discussion.)

    Meanwhile, awareness has the capacity to model itself, using the techniques of science to create elaborately accurate maps of a realm that is, when all is said and done, simply awareness.
    So maybe Chopra and Shermer both have valid points, and the above proposed solution can mediate between them. And we won’t have to resort to name-calling.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      If Chopra defended his position as eloquently as you did, then perhaps he could be taken seriously in a debate. Instead, he uses gross assumptions, misuse of terminology, and misdirection. At your conclusion you bring up the implications of science, but that is exactly the problem. Chopra’s science is bad.

      So I see no need to find a happy medium here. The Shermeric (coined!) view is substantiated by fact, the Chopratic view is not. When the smoke clears, we’re still talking about shit that is WAY beyond our capacity to understand at this time.

      And you don’t see Shermer selling people medical advice based on stuff he doesn’t know.

  59. tmac57 says:

    Jim Hull said-” Aside from the imponderable issue of whether you’re simply dreaming, is it possible to have billions and billions of separate consciousnesses all contemplating essentially the same awareness data set, except from different perspectives, and without a concrete physical universe to tie those perspectives together? Is there any way to show some commonality within all those separate experiences that doesn’t depend on some “physical world” center to which all awarenesses refer?
    There’s a simple, Occam’s Razor answer: Every awareness contains within it the building blocks of every other awareness.”

    I suppose that you COULD answer the question that way, but from an ‘Occam’s Razor’ point of view, I would have to say WHY would you ask the question? Isn’t the simplest point of view, most consistent with the facts, that there is indeed a “physical world” to which all awarenesses refer?

    • MarMar says:

      OMG, I would have to agree with you there. I skipped all the comments and came to the last to see if somebody finally lost his/her patience with the stupidity of the issue at hand. Good grief, go find something more vital to be concerned about!

    • Seth Manapio says:

      Besides which, who cares? Assume we’re all dreaming or what ever. And that every awareness contains within it (yadda yadda yadda).

      What, exactly, is the difference between a common data set shared by all consciousnesses (including, by the way, novel data brought in by deep field telescopes, etc) and a physical world?

      There isn’t one. The common data set is for all intents and purposes, the physical world, and it exists exactly like a physical world, interacts exactly like a physical world, etc. Something is generating the data, and that something behaves according to certain rules. Whether you call it “physical” or not is just irrelevant. It acts like a physical world.

      • tmac57 says:

        Yeah, but looking at it the other way makes you go “far out man, that is sooooo trippy!!!”

  60. Patrick says:

    The profound paradigm shift presented by this assumption challenging theory that consciousness is the primary source of the way we understand reality should be taken more seriously. That Chopra is involved in this leads some to be distracted from this serious proposition with merit. To begin to understand this .. biocentric .. theory leads one to see that too often the objections to it are rooted in the paradigm biocentrism seeks to replace.

    See Robert Lanza’s book: Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness Are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe

    Free MSNBC abridged version

    Robert Lanza recently did a couple hours of audio talking about his theory. You can listen here: (As with Deepak Chopra, the name of the interviewer might lead some to dismiss the topic.)

    “Challenging assumptions is always excellent mental exercise. In this book Robert Lanza takes on one of the key tenets of modern thinking: that all scientific disciplines ultimately reduce to physics. In its place he offers the provocative thesis that biology is primary, and the Universe literally flows from the conscious perceptions of living creatures.”

    Robert Lanza, M.D. is an American scientist and is currently Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Lanza was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and grew up south of there, in Stoughton, Massachusetts. Lanza altered the genes of chickens in his basement, and came to the attention of Harvard Medical School researchers when he appeared at the university with his results. Jonas Salk, B. F. Skinner, and Christiaan Barnard mentored Lanza over the next ten years. Lanza attended University of Pennsylvania, receiving BA and MD degrees. There, he was a Benjamin Franklin Scholar and a University Scholar. Lanza was a Fulbright Scholar.

  61. Aradan says:

    René Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender asks “The usual, René?” Descartes replies “I think not.” and disappears! *Ba-dum-bum!*

  62. Famously quoted by Dawkins, J.B.S. Halding once said he suspected the universe was not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. This marvelous statement should warn us skeptics against the trap of thinking that we have access to the wonders and secrets of nature by means of our educated and logical minds. This would be presumptuous, as presumptuous are many of the comments regarding Chopra in this thread. Departing from the argument, in a clear ad hominem attack, these comments only fuel the popular belief in skeptics as cynic, closed-minded geeks.
    That said, my opinion regarding the debate is that Chopra’s arguments are clearly faulted, an unsuccessful attempt to marry ancient oriental philosophies of the mind with modern quantum physics. Nevertheless, this new age approach to what has been known as “sciences of the mind” for more than 2,500 years in traditions like Buddhism, should not prevent us westerners from exploring these realms of investigation.
    Chopra’s faulted assertion that nothing really exists independent of an observer, is a simplistic and false interpretation of the principle of emptiness of the Buddhist tradition, that affirms that nothing has “intrinsic existence”, this is, nothing exists as an independent, solid, invariant whole. Everything we perceive is composed, made of parts, and as such, any identity that is assigned to it is artificial and temporary. It is not that the Moon doesn’t exist if we don’t perceive it; it is that the Moon doesn’t exist as we perceive it. The concept of “Moon” only arises when a human observes it. A bat or an electromagnetic telescope perceives something totally different. Quantum mechanics seems to somehow confirm this conceptual emptiness of reality, but it certainly doesn’t do it in the romantic way Chopra describes (“If you think you undesrtand QM, you don’t understand QM” – Richard Feynman, thanks again Dawkins).
    Regarding the nature of consciousness, including the idea of reincarnation, Chopra once again closes the topic to the serious scientific mind with his explanations, which seem more directed to sell books than to explain reality. Being this a very complicated topic, I will only say that in the context of the Buddhist sciences of mind, the continuity of consciousness does not comply with the western idea of reincarnation, where the “ghost in the machine” leaves the mortal remains to go animate another corpse. In this context, what we call consciousness, where our thoughts and emotions happen, is body dependent and dies with the body. Behind that, there is a more fundamental base of consciousness.
    I invite everybody to disregard Chopra’s arguments, and further explore these fascinating “sciences of the mind”. There are very serious, scientific approaches to this matter. A very entertaining and educating resource is the Dalai Lama’s most recent book “The Universe in a Single Atom”. I would love to hear Michael Shermer commenting on this book. Open your mind and enjoy.

    • Robo Sapien says:

      I agree to a point, science of the mind is a fun topic, but a complete waste of time and energy, IMO. Anyone smart enough to make any headway in this area would be better suited doing work that is of significance to humanity in the here and now.

      Dalai Lama’s concept is nothing new, but for all we know, the universe just might be contained within a single atom from another. The vacuum of space might not be a vacuum at all, but a thick soup of material that we just don’t have the means of observing yet (dark matter?).

      If Deepak has a greater understanding of reality than we do, perhaps he should direct his talents toward real science that yields real discoveries, instead of selling obscure nonsense.

    • tmac57 says:

      Regarding the use of ad hominem attacks, I watched the entire ABC debate that Shermer and Chopra participated in with Sam Harris and Jean Houston called “Does God Have A Future?”, and I found him to be rude, bullying, and defensive. He constantly interrupted inappropriately, and ruined what could have been a thoughtful debate. So I think that by this kind of behavior, coupled with what appears to be a cynical misuse of science to sell his wares, Chopra opens himself up to the kind of derision that you see here. Its because skeptics see what appears to be an insincere con man, that they feel free to not only take down his logical arguments, but to also satirize and mock him. I think that if most of his critics saw him as honest but just wrong, you would probably see less of the personal attacks.

  63. Donna Gore says:

    I just read Chopra’s response. Disclaimer — I don’t know much about quantum physics. (The only book I’ve read on the subject was Brian Greene’s Fabric of the Cosmos, and all I can say is — it’s a good thing for me that the author used diagrams.)

    It may be just my interpretation, but here’s what it sounds like to me. It sounds like Chopra is saying, not only would the moon not exist if we were not here to observe it, but nothing in the entire universe would exist without us, either. Isn’t that rather self-centered? Religion in general I find to be an extremely self-centered activity (“I’m so blessed!” “Our religion is the TRUE religion, our god is the REAL god, We are the chosen people,” etc.). The new-agey-pseudo-scientific-type religions are showing similar stripes. They’re every bit as self absorbed as conventional religion. It’s just the same old self-serving tripe, repackaged.

    It also sounds as if Chopra is claiming that the rules of Quantum physics apply on a larger scale. If he’s so sure about that, why doesn’t he present his evidence to the scientific/academic world? Physicists have been searching for the unification of classic physics and quantum physics – the “theory of everything” – for YEARS. If he has it, then let him come forward and claim a Nobel Prize in physics.

    • Max says:

      “If he’s so sure about that, why doesn’t he present his evidence to the scientific/academic world?”

      He probably thinks that his claims have already been proven by quantum physicists.

  64. Ray says:

    Deepak Chopra said (and with apologies to Dave Barry, I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP):

    “The moon exists in consciousness — no consciousness, no moon”

    Let’s test his idea about physical reality depending on consciousness. Let’s put Chopra in a locked room with only a sandwich and keep him there for two weeks. Let’s see if he really believes what he preaches, i.e. the sandwich exists in consciousness – no consciousness, no sandwich. After two weeks we can open the room and if he’s alive, then we know he broke down and ate the sandwich so he must have accepted that the sandwich was real. But if he’s dead we’ll know he actually believes the crap that comes out of his mouth.

  65. Patrick says:

    It has been a few years since I attended college but Deepak sounds like he would fit snugly in an academic department strong in constructivist thought.

  66. Curt Carlson says:

    If no one “debated” Chopra, would his views have any audience beyond those who are already so fuzzy-brained that they think he’s saying something meaningful? The best approach to such gobbledy-gook – which is such an abuse of rational thought and clear language that it’s impossible to scientifically respond to – is to leave its proponents to talk to themselves.

  67. HighFlier says:

    I think that Deepak Chopra is lost in his own babbling, he really needs to be scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist, pronto.

    Frankly, I see a very easy way out of this rather ridiculous(and might I add useless?) argument: The earth was here billions of years before we humans were ever walking on it, reproducing, thinking, reasoning, designing, building and destroying. Where did you come from? Your mother. I came from my mother, I remember seeing the video my father took of me being born. I’m sure pretty much all of you on here have baby pictures of yourself when you where only a number of months old or maybe even weeks or days old. Well does that confirm it? Of course, like the example Shermer provided about the telescope, your brain, when looking at those pictures of yourself (or anything for that matter) is registering the image that a non-living, fully inanimate, electronic device took of the real, true, actual thing. And to even assume that you are “creating your own reality” is hogwash to the extreme, and is overtly arrogant. Why? Because you are essentially saying that you didn’t come from your mothers womb as we all did, and as all living mammals have. In a way, you are saying you created your mother and father. We know this is totally false (and genetically and bioligically impossible) because you have probably seen photographs of your parents at a time before you were born, and even when they were kids or even infants. Before them, came your grandparents and their parents and so on. Also, we share the genetic traits of our parents whether it be in appearance, build, and even personal character and sometimes interests.

    We are entirely biological, just like any other living creature. We have an exceptional ability however, of a great magnitude more than other mammals: Intelligence. With intelligence, we learn and can shape ourselves mentally and how we perceive experiences, but nevertheless – we do experience the world we live in. It can only be experience if it is there and was way before us. In some way, this goes to show the stupidity of some of us. Perhaps we should learn from the animals and you know, let things naturally be?

    Quantum mechanics has nothing to do with us, it applies to subatomic interactions only. I think Chopra is attracted to its fancy terms.
    Also, if we create everything, then explain fear? Explain uncertainty? Explain why someone is afraid of something they have never done before? Obviously, wouldn’t logic permit someone to have no fear of anything if this were true? And, if we create everything, then why does it take us roughly eighteen to twenty years time to achieve maturity? We would just pop into the world as we are now. Also, if all these claims Chopra makes were true, why do we even have to drink water and eat, and got to the bathroom to sustain ourselves, hmmm?

    He is also implying that if his crazed claims are true, than why does drinking an alcoholic beverage make us tipsy? If the person makes their own reality, he or she has total control of everything in it, including how things affect us. Sure, we can make ourselves feel happy or calm, but that is a mental state, made by active mental processes. But if we drink six ounces of hard liquor, whether you expect to be just fine or not has no effect on that fact that when the alcohol get into your bloodstream and gets to your brain, you are going to be stumbling about or passed out unless you’ve been a raging drunk for years and years and your body has built up a tolerance of it to some extent.

    The truth is your have total control of yourself: You decide whether or not your are going to down the liquor or not. But you have no control whatsoever over the world, because you live in the world, you and I and everyone else (and every animal) were born into it. You can drink the liquor or not, but the liquor will affect you if you guzzle it down no matter what you think. The only way we can change the world is by going out and literally changing something. A very, very elementary example is as such: An orange will fall to ground eventually whether you are there or not, the only way you can stop that orange from falling to the ground is to set up a net to catch it. Or, sit there and wait to spring foward and hopefully catch it if you’ve got great reflexes.
    I don’t know who would want to do it that way though, LOL!

    I say that Chopra is living in his head WAY too much.

    Secondly, if we “made everything” we would know everything. And we clearly don’t. We learn from past histories, validated theories from experimentation, and clear observation. In his twisted quantum mechanical views, he easily contradicts himself. Wanna know why? Well, let’s it tear it down a bit:

    From Chopra’s point of view, he creates the world he lives in, so would he not have total cause over every person that came to hear him speak? On that ABC debate about God, why was he being opposed by credible skeptics that understand and used real science, and by an actual theoretical physicist that opposed and argued with him if he “created his own reality”? Does anyone see a bit of an error here?

    Also, he appears to be going through a process we call “aging” doesn’t he?

    That doesn’t mean we can’t be healthy our entire lives, but we have to be proactive about it, and do the things that allow us to be healthy and remain fit. If you want to lose weight, get jogging or swimming, eat right and keep an attiude of perserverance. That is just the way it is.

    Stop trying to blend science and religion or science and mysticism. Science is science. Leave it at that, period. That is his other huge mistake, and I feel for the delusive behaviour some have that leads them to believe it all.

    His use of the Moon is exasperating and falsely-rooted. Einstein made that quote, and he meant it entirely as metaphor. It is not literal. From what I know, when you get to the size of an atom or small molecule, everything becomes “classical”. So in summary, this man has a very distorted view on the world. I came across a good explanation from a physicist about the Moon fallacy.

    “Talking about the moon confuses the issue greatly, because it a macroscopic object. The combined uncertainty of the particles composing the moon is NOT a fact in macroscopic observations. The question is not whether particles composing the moon exist. It is whether those particles have distinct values independant of individual observations. The answer is that they don’t. That does not mean the particles don’t obey gravity – because they do. They also bond into atoms, etc.

    People simply talk about the moon as a metaphor. It is not intended to be literal.”

    Metaphorical, NOT literal.