on November 4, 2011
In Plato's Allegory of the cave human beings live confined and restricted in a subterranean cave which has a mouth open at one end to the light outside. The human occupants of this cave have been there since childhood and are shackled in such a way that there heads are immobile, with there gaze constantly fixed on the back of the cave, opposite the opening, upon which are projected shadows. Knowing no different, the constrained humans take the shadows on the cave wall to be reality. Some of the cave dwellers, being of a scientific disposition, spend their whole lives studying the movement of the shadows, recognising regularities and patterns, speculating as to their origins. Some shadows exhibit such regularity that laws of shadow behaviour are developed. So hypnotised by the shadow play are these cave dwellers that they little suspect the reason for there being any shadows at all is due to the light - that non of them have ever directly seen - coming from the mouth of the cave.
This scenario pretty much sums up the theme of this book. Deepak Chopra considers materialistic science to be engaged in the study of shadows. At the same time he feels science is ignoring, and indeed hostile to, the very thing that gives the shadows any reality at all, the light i.e. consciousness or spirit (both words are used interchangeably by Deepak as pointers to THAT which is itself formless and empty but which gives rise to all forms and potential).
Leonard Mlidinow argues that, without good reason to think otherwise, we must confine our interests, our studies, our investigations and inquiries to the shadows (the material world), limiting our hopes, dreams and desires to the shadow world. It is a naïve and vain hope to think there is anything else. Besides, the shadows are infinitely fascinating, varied and awe inspiring and offer the prospect of beguiling us for many years to come. By contrast, Deepak argues, to limit our gaze to the shadows is to limit the potential for greater discovery.
The book is essentially about knowledge, the different ways of knowing, and how we can be certain that our claims to knowledge are true. Leonard comes from the perspective of radical empiricism in which only that which is amenable to the senses (and their extensions), and that which can be measured, quantified, predicted and verified through third person confirmation, can be considered a legitimate truth claim. Deepak considers that science, technology and the media have conspired to produce a view of the world that is profoundly materialistic and competitive and which claims exclusive rights to being "right". Deepak argues that the scientific worldview is missing an essential ingredient i.e. spirit. However, Deepak is at pains to distance his version of spirituality from religion. He writes: "Organised religion may have discredited itself, but spirituality has suffered no such defeat." He then contrasts organised religions with the "profound views of life" propounded by spiritual teachers such as the Buddha, Jesus and Lao-tzu who pointed to a "transcendent domain", beyond the reach of the five senses, "mysterious, unseen" but which could be known by diving deep into one's own awareness, to the source of both the inner and outer reality.
Thus, in essence, Deepak's spiritual perspective is one in which he equates spirituality with consciousness. Deepak believes that "consciousness" is the ordering, creative and intelligent principle at the heart of reality, without which there would be no reality at all (the light at the mouth of the cave). "We need to go back to the source of religion. That source isn't God. It's consciousness". Deepak breaks down his spiritual perspective into three parts:
1. There is an unseen reality that is the source of all visible things.
2. This unseen reality is knowable through our own awareness.
3. Intelligence, creativity, and organising power are embedded in the cosmos.
Deepak argues for a worldview in which consciousness and the material universe are seen as two aspects of an indivisible whole. He writes: "Reality is reality. There is only one and it is permanent. This means that at some point the inner and outer must meet; we won't have to choose between them". This desire to unite science and spirituality through a grand synthesis is at the heart of Deepak's philosophy. The main obstacles to this synthesis, in Deepak's view, are religion and materialism. Most religions (mainly the monotheistic western religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity) posit an extra-cosmic God who "tinkers" with reality as and when it suits Him, judges, condemns or loves you (depending on what mood He's in) and is completely "other" and unknowable, revealed to us solely through "sacred" texts which must be believed unquestioningly if one is to achieve salvation. Such a view of the world, Deepak argues, is rightly shunned by all reasonable and thinking individuals. Similarly, he argues, the "superstition of materialism", the belief that only the world revealed to us via our five senses is real, is hostile to the "inner journey". Deepak perceives science as aiding and abetting this materialistic worldview as it reduces the universe to a closed physical system of purely physical cause and effect, ungoverned by anything other than blind purposeless laws of nature. The question for Deepak is fundamentally: "What is reality? Is it the result of natural laws rigorously operating through cause and effect, or is it something else?"
Leonard writes: "We would all like to be immortal. We'd like to believe that good triumphs over evil, that a greater power watches over us, that we are part of something bigger, that we have been put here for a reason. We'd like to believe that our lives have an intrinsic meaning." Leonard recognises these as legitimate human concerns. He views the answers that religion provides as mankind's earliest attempt to address these concerns within the limits of incomplete knowledge. "Today science can answer many of the most fundamental questions of existence. Science's answers spring from observation and experiment rather than from human bias or desire. Science offers answers in harmony with nature as it is, rather than nature as we'd like it to be." In terms of inspiring awe and wonderment as well as addressing questions of ultimate concern Leonard believes science, despite its limitations, to be the "triumph of humanity" and of our "capacity to understand". He resents Deepak's implication that scientific explanations are "sterile and reductive". He goes on: "Scientists are often guided by their intuition and subjective feelings but they recognise the need for another step: verification." He then loosely outlines the "scientific method" with its emphasis on observation and experimentation; and, while acknowledging the part spirituality has to play "regarding human aspirations and the meaning of our lives", he highlights the lack of verifiable evidence as being the main reason religion and spirituality are excluded from scientific consideration; or, more to the point, religious and spiritual doctrine make "pronouncements about the physical universe that contradict what we actually observe to be true." So Leonard's view is that the knowledge claims of science are open to verification, refutation and testing and as such we have every right to place our confidence in science as opposed to religion/spirituality when it comes to our understanding of the world and our place in it.
As much as I enjoyed the exchanges between Leonard and Deepak, and as much as I commend Leonard for engaging in communication with someone I'm sure many of his colleagues would run a mile from, I found the book on the whole disappointing (hence the three stars). Essential to a debate such as this is the necessity of defining terms explicitly and to the satisfaction of both parties. The problem with this book is that terms are so sloppily defined (if at all) and so ambiguously employed, that both Deepak and Leonard spend a great deal of their time talking passed each other. Deepak uses terms such as "spirit", "consciousness", "mind" etc so loosely and vaguely as to render them meaningless at times, while Leonard, though more diligent in his effort to define terms, is similarly guilty of obfuscation (this is to be expected from someone who co-authored "The Grand Design" with Stephen Hawkin in which it is claimed, Nietszchian like, "philosophy is dead". It was premature of Leonard to bury philosophy because philosophy, at the very least, is the art of conceptual clarification). In fairness to Deepak, terms such as spirit, consciousness and mind are notoriously slippery and science has yet to agree on a working definition of consciousness. Notwithstanding, I feel Deepak could have made a greater effort to be more precise in his definition of these terms, if for no other reason than, by not doing so, Leonard had all the ammunition he needed to dismiss many of Deepak's arguments on the grounds of ill-defined terminology. Leonard, too, would have aided the reader had he more specifically defined what he meant by "science". To make claims about a "scientific worldview" already obfuscates because science is not philosophy, it is a method of inquiring into the physical world (methodological naturalism). Science should be philosophically neutral. To talk of a "scientific worldview" in the manner in which Leonard does is to conflate science (the study of the physical world) with the philosophy of physical naturalism (which states that the physical world is all there is). If, however, Leonard means something more by the term "science", then he should have made it clear in what sense he was using the term.
The level of argument was also unsatisfactory. One example will suffice. Deepak writes: "Creation without consciousness is like the fabled roomful of monkeys randomly striking the keys on a typewriter...No matter how small the scale or how large, the cosmos is seamlessly exact in a way that randomness cannot account for. Something must have caused this, and it must exist beyond the physical universe." Simply insisting that something "must" be the case does not make it so and Deepak is intelligent enough to realise that to employ such language is to weaken his case. To address this "random-typing" argument of Deepak's, Leonard invokes the computer "selection" programme from Richard Dawkins' book The Blind Watchmaker in which "a mechanism analogous to natural selection" is used to arrive at Shakespeare's phrase "Methinks it is like a weasel". Through the random typing of letters that is believed to imitate the evolutionary process, this programme supposedly demonstrates how the process of natural selection mitigates randomness. But this does no such thing! The very fact that the programme "chooses" letters in keeping with the "target" phrase shows the programme to be governed by a purpose i.e. achieving the target phrase. Thus "design" is written into the programme in a way that is supposedly absent in nature. So this is a rather weak argument and shows Leonard to be unaware of the more sophisticated challenges to Dawkins' Darwinian gradualism. As Stephen Jay Gould wrote: "Natural selection might explain the survival of the fittest, but not the arrival of the fittest".
Throughout the ages there have been individuals who have broken free of their cave bound condition and "seen the light" and who have used that insight to inform the rest of us of our cave dwelling, shadow beguiled existence. Such individuals are the great sages, rishis and mystics of history. There insight is as uncompromising as it is consistent: We are not who we think we are and the world is not as it seems. Unfortunately, the word "Mysticism", through loose popular usage, has become synonymous with magic, mystification and even self-delusion and it is this debased usage of the term that falls so readily from the lips of both Deepak and Leonard (Deepak preferring the word "spiritual" to "mystical" and Leonard not showing any evidence that he's given the true meaning of mysticism any serious consideration whatsoever). The rationalistic bias of contemporary science, which equates the verifiable with the true, links the "mystical" with superstition, self-delusion and the avoidance of life. But Mystics ask you to take nothing on faith. Even Sam Harris acknowledges this. In The End Of Faith he writes:
"Mysticism is a rational enterprise. Religion is not. The mystic has recognised something about the nature of consciousness prior to thought, and this recognition is susceptible to rational discussion. The mystic has reasons for what he believes, and these reasons are empirical. The roiling mystery of the world can be analyzed with concepts (this is science), or it can be experienced free of concepts (this is mysticism). Religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time" The End Of Faith, 2006 edition p 221, emphasis added
Science is the study of the world employing the formidable resources of the mind and human ingenuity. There is nothing wrong with this knowledge and it has indeed rewarded us in the West with unparalleled and privileged lives. However, it is in the nature of the mind to categorise, differentiate, bifurcate, dissect, intellectualise, separate, limit, demarcate etc. Thus, approaching the world with the mind condemns us to viewing the world through an opaque screen of concepts, dualistically splitting the world into that which is seen and that which is doing the seeing. Similar to Plato's cave, we become hypnotised by the shadow play of our abstract knowledge, mistaking our conceptual knowledge for the way things really are. But mysticism offers us an alternative and complementary way of knowing the world, directly, unmediated by any conceptual abstractions, intimate and non-dual. Reality is what is revealed from this non-dual level of knowing. Concepts can no more encapsulate Reality than notes on manuscript paper can encapsulate what it is to listen to a symphony. We can study the shadows on the cave wall all we like but until we break the hypnotic trance, turn around and look, we'll never "see the light".
on October 5, 2011
Being an admirer of Dr. Chopra for more than 10 years now and a perpetual seeker of truth, I was extremely curious about how he would stand against such a renowned and accomplished theoretical physicist and author who has famously collaborated with the single greatest scientific mind of our time, Stephen Hawking.
The initial difficulty I had with this work is that for every topic of discussion, no agreed-upon definition of terms was established. As a result, although they used the same terminologies, half of the time Chopra and Mlodinow appear to be discussing completely different subjects. Mlodinow in fact acknowledged this by stating: "It is easy to use words imprecisely in an argument, but it is also dangerous, because the substance of the argument often relies on the nuances of those words." After a few chapters however, along with the acceptance of this inconsistency, I began to completely enjoy each argument. Chopra is tenacious in living up to his role as a "researcher of consciousness". Mlodinow is lucid, erudite, engaging and effective as a writer.
During the course of reading this book, I went from having a teleological view of the world to what I can only describe as nihilistic -- and then back; only to find myself, at the end, to be somewhere in between. I think most readers will have a similar experience whether they are currently on the side of spirituality or science -- which speaks loudly of the effectiveness and significance of this collaboration.
What's most surprising (and ironic) to me at the end is the realization that Mlodinow's arguments have successfully reached into my soul -- he made me laugh, cry and marvel at the universe and humanity's existence. After reading this book, I'm in awe in finding myself wanting to become more of a student of science than of spirituality -- although one could argue that they are just two sides of the same coin of truth.
I predicted I would favor Deepak Chopra's side of this age-old debate, since I have enjoyed several of his books ... but Leonard's clear, no-nonsense thinking and writing won me over. He makes the scientific approach sound so damn logical and irrefutable. At times during this read, I felt I was listening to Spock and Kirk arguing over the merits of logic vs. emotion, but in the end, Deepak's positions seemed untenable, no matter how hard he tried to squeeze out a convincing argument for that which cannot be supported by anything other than belief. I recommend the book for anyone who has wrestled with the science vs. spirituality debate in their own mind.
Physicist Leonard Mlodinow (co-author of The Grand Design) and popular New Age author Deepak Chopra team up for War of the Worldviews, a debate book which puts spiritualism against science. The book is divided up into sections about the universe, life, the mind, and religion, each of which contain several chapters phrased as questions. In these chapters the authors both answer these question in terms of their "worldview" and respond to one another over disagreements.
I generally enjoyed Mlodinow's sections. Though I disagreed with some points here and there (and though I'm sure other readers will disagree with entire swaths of his sections), he wrote in a very clear way which laid bare the way he looks at the world as a scientist. He explained the virtues he sees in skepticism and warned against wishful-thinking in the face of reality.
Chopra's sections, on the other hand, are a mess. Throughout the book he never makes his views very clear. He certainly distances himself from various forms of orthodox and fundamentalist religions, but in discussing his beliefs he prefers to use vague New Age buzzwords like "consciousness," "spirituality," and "evolution," where he is never consistent with their definitions. When he discusses evolution, for example, it's very difficult to tell whether he means biological evolution, the general concept of change, or some type of personal growth.
It is worth noting too that Chopra champions Darwin's theory, but he continuously fails to grasp basic concepts like "natural selection." This pattern is repeated for other areas of biology, as well as subjects within physics, cosmology, and neurology. Luckily, Mlodinow is usually there to set things straight on these scientific issues.
Overall, Mlodinow's sections made the book a worthwhile read whereas Chopra's sections seem to be a good foil, allowing Mlodinow to address some pretty interesting scientific issues. I think every reader will be illuminated by this book to some degree, but anyone looking for an old fashioned "Does God Exist?" debate will be sorely disappointed.
on November 29, 2011
This is a very interesting and readable book for those who are interested in debate and reflections on the fundamentals of life. It is a discussion from two contrary viewpoints about some of the basic questions of existence, as how the universe and life as we know it came about and what we are as living beings. The two participants of the debate are Deepak Chopra, whose viewpoint is considered spiritual, and Leonard Mlodinow, whose position is that of common objective science. Their disagreements and different approaches to the basic questions of existence really made me think deeply on them, and that is what I believe is the real value of the book.
In earlier history, mans view of life was very much dominated by religion. In the latter decades, a more materialistic and atheistic scientific position has gained ground. It is based on actual observations and measurements of animate and inanimate physical objects, such as cells and structures of living organisms. Contrary to religion, it is considered by its proponents to be a purely rational approach to reality, as it is based on observable facts and not on religious dogmas.
The question is, however, if the materialistic science that Leonard and many other prominent scientists represent actually is as rational as they claim it to be. For instance, if I interpret Leonard correctly, it is a common view among many scientists that creation could have sprung from a state of nothingness, and thus that life could have sprung from non-life, that intelligence, purpose and the laws of nature could have sprung from non-intelligence and that consciousness could have sprung from non-consciousness? But is this really logical?
Chopra argues that consciousness is the basis of creation. That it constitutes an eternal transcendental reality that is imbued with an organizing, creative intelligence that manifests, sustains and coordinates the innumerable factors that coincide to make our life possible. Leonard, however, refutes this on the grounds that it is not proven. Though, he seems less particular about offering evidence for some of his own views. He argues keenly for the viewpoint that mind and consciousness only are products of the physical brain, and that the brain is only created and governed by physical laws. Yet, he admits that the science he represents doesn't know what consciousness is, doesn't know what the actual connection between the physical brain and the mind is and doesn't know where the physical laws come from. Hence, I find it difficult to consider this viewpoint as anything more than speculation and guesswork. Yet, it is a view that seems to have become dominant in our modern society and in academia.
Modern science has a very strong authority in our western society. When you ask people why, they will probably point to all the achievements of modern technology, like cars, telephones, space rockets etc. But I think it is a very different thing to understand parts of nature, and to utilize some of its laws, than to understand the wholeness of it.
If one should accept the view that the inner being of man is only a product of a physical brain, it has quite dramatic implications. First of all, there would be no room for any free will. Secondly, all the people of the past that have been considered truly wise, like Jesus, Buddha, Socrates, Plato etc. must all be reconsidered to have been totally deluded. Thirdly, life would not have any deeper meaning or higher purpose, and what we do in this life and how we behave would have no consequence for ourselves as soon as our soulless physical body ceases to function. However, if Chopra's view of consciousness being the fundamental reality should be right, would it at all be possible to prove it?
The problem with pure consciousness from a scientific point of view is that it is not an observable object, as it by nature is totally abstract. It doesn't have a form or a color. It can't be observed in a microscope or by the help of an x-ray. It can't be measured or weighed and can't be dissected. So how shall a science that is based on observation and measurement of physical objects relate to such a concept? Well, as it seems obvious from the discourse in the book, it doesn't relate to it at all. Rather, they strive to exclude all elements of subjectivity and achieve some kind of pure objectivity. But is this really possible? For how can we escape the reality of consciousness?
Everything we experience, we experience in consciousness. Everything we observe, we observe in consciousness. Everything we think and understand, takes place in consciousness. How can we even possibly confirm if there exists a reality outside or independent of consciousness? Accordingly, the idea of pure objectivity seems illusory. One person measures gravity in China, another in California. By the common language of mathematics, they are able to give the same description of their observations - the same mathematical equation. This is what modern science call objectivity, but it is still based on subjectivity.
Furthermore, how can we take for granted that the senses deliver the truth of reality? When we go to a cinema, we can see people walking about, people riding on horses, trees and mountains etc. For an ignorant person, it would all be considered real - real people and real sceneries - for a knowable person, however, it is just shadows on a silver screen. How is it possible to know if something like this is not applicable to the physical reality of the universe? That the physical reality that we think is out there, that we think exists independently from an observer, only exists in consciousness?
Because of the abstract nature of consciousness, I believe Chopra's task to explain his position is much more difficult than what it is for Leonard. It is probably more difficult to understand the abstract nature of consciousness than to relate to and understand observable physical objects, even if they can be very complex or minute. Leonard insists that serious science can only be based on what can be proven. But what if it simply is not possible to prove an independent transcendental reality of consciousness the way he demands it to be done, even if it should be the truth? This is one of the great dilemmas raised by the book, and which poses one of the important and meaningful intellectual challenges it gives to the reader.
First of all I'll say that this is Not a book that is meant to blend science and spirituality (although I saw some blending anyway). It is a debate between two authors, each with his own world view.
Early on, I began highlighting passages and flagging pages so I could later organize significant information for my review. I now have pages & pages of highlights and 30+ pages of notes. It didn't take long to realize that my review would end up being a book if I didn't pare down and condense everything I wanted to say. So... I will try to be brief.
Of the two authors, Leonard Mlodinow is the non-spiritual scientist. He believes that spirituality arose from our desire to be immortal, that our imagination formed compelling pictures not based on reality, but simply manufactured in our minds to serve our needs and desires. For the most part I feel he is only moderately respectful of Deepak's views; he is quick to point out all the instances in which a spiritual concept is illogical or cannot be proven. He seems unwilling to even consider that unanswered questions may have a spiritual side. He is honest about science not having all the answers and makes no apologies for it. Some of his writing is fascinating and I learned from it, although I could find No instance where the conclusion was: "This is science, therefore spirituality is unproven".
Deepak Chopra is the other author, a physician who has a strong scientific & spiritual background. The main difference between the two authors, is that Deepak is able to see the spiritual component in not only the unanswered questions, but in the answered ones as well. And although Deepak may not be able to prove the viability of spirituality by the black & white scientific standards of some, his arguments are nonetheless extremely compelling. Throughout the book he is very respectful of Leonard's views, while deftly substantiating his own beliefs using scientific data.
As far as the format of the book goes, it is very well organized. The topics are divided into chapters, and for each topic the authors take turns being the first one to write his view. The next author replies with a rebuttal, and through this switching back and forth they get to trade off on who has the last word on a subject. The topics are fascinating; a couple of my favorites were, "Is The Universe Alive", and "What is the Connection Between Mind And Body".
To summarize, I will say that although I found some of Leonard's information interesting, he (thankfully) gave absolutely no information that would sway me from my spiritual beliefs. When I thoughtfully considered his seemingly convincing arguments, I always concluded that he was simply unable to see even the possibility of spirituality, on the basis that spirit could not be proven to his satisfaction. And yes, I know my 'thankfully' comment above confirms that as Leonard says, we humans do desire to be immortal, to have something to look forward to after physical death. But just because we desire it does not mean it's illogical or impossible.
As you have probably guessed, I lean strongly towards Deepak's views (as I did before ever reading the book).
You might say I was biased going in, and I suppose that's true. But I did try to go in with an open mind. In fact, when I saw what the book was I immediately wondered if there would be anything in it that would cause spiritual doubt for me. I decided to be brave and read it. But before I did, I asked myself "What if I am wrong...What if there really is nothing after we die...How would that change the way I live?" I was surprised at the answer that immediately popped into my head at the last question. The answer was `It would change nothing'. I would still strive towards love, kindness, compassion, and non-judgement. It felt good to know that I have no ulterior motive for choosing to live this way.
I'm glad I read this book. It in no way diminished my beliefs, and in many ways strengthened them. I respect the views of Leonard M., even though I do not agree him. And if by some remote chance I am deluded in my spiritual thinking, I will simply enjoy my delusions while in physical form.
Note: This review is from an advanced pre-release copy of the book.
For a philosophical dialogue to occur, the two inquirerers must speak the same language. When they use a term, they both must know what definition the other provides that term. We must mean what we say, and say what we mean. Altho Leonard Mlodinow CONSTANTLY reiterates that Chopra misunderstands the language of science, Chopra continues to run fast and loose with his writing. From the very first pages this was clear. To say something like "God isnt the whole of spirituality", makes one wonder if the definition of "GOD", or "RELIGION" is truly clear to this writer. Chopra does go on to differenciate between the personal God (Incarnated God as Jesus, Krishna, aka the "consequent" nature of God), and the impersonal God (God without a face, or pure conscousness.) Then, turns around and states the source of religion isnt God, its conscousness. First off, God is pure conscousness, as well as pure love, and pure truth. (Hindis call it Satchitananda, which is the very nature of the divine.) Yet Chopra believes there is no personal God, because human conscousness offers "unbounded awareness". So, are WE the personal God? These odd self contradictions, and loose terms, make Chopra's intentions at times unintelligable. Maybe his overarching problem is a form of Solipism. Around pg.42 he claims "Everything we experience occurs in consciousness; therefore, there is no reality "out there". Right after that, he states that involking cosmic consciousness does away with the war between subjective and objective, and that we "DONT NEED GOD." Okay. I could continue pulling his statements apart all day...the book is filled with this miasmia of half thoughts.
Oh the other hand, you have Leonard Mlodinok's arguments on each topic of the book. He starts off with the statement that "Emotion, Intuition, Adherence to authority--traits tht drive the belief in religious and mystical explanation--are traits that can be found in the other primates, and even in lower animals." So for Leonard religious and mystical experiences are just pre-human, irrational behaviors. We have taught some apes sign language, with some using 1000s of hand signals, but NEVER have we been able to discuss abstract ideas with them like God, ethics, or esthetics. It's derogitory to assume that animals have ANY religious experience, other than the LOVE that some animals show. (Tho its LOVE for other animals, not a concept based on high consciousness.) For Mlodinow to write that the religious experience is built upon "Adherence to authority" shows that this guy doesnt have a clue about various avatars or prophet's lifes. Jesus was killed for NOT following authority. Moses driven out of Egypt for NOT following authority. (when he killed that guard who was about to kill the hebrew slave, he broke MANS law, but not GODS law.) Mohammed waged war on the warlord authorities of Saudi Arabia, to bring Allah to the Arabs. In fact, going against the establish authority, is more a trait OF the prophet-avatar-saint, than not. In fact, Mlodinow's leading statement, shows that he believes religious experience to be something closer to the sex drive, or migration in birds, than the opening up of an area specific to the Homo Sapien brain, the frontal lobe. (He SHOULD know this, cos when masters of prayerful awareness of divine love are placed in a functional MRI, the higher functions found only in human brains light up like Christmas trees.) Still many topics are covered in this book, far too many really, and with many of them Mlodinow shows insight and awareness. This book's major flaw is when Mlodinow counters Chopra's arguments. He constantly reiterates the same problem I have. Chopra DOESNT define his terminology, or at best, he defines it and changes it again.
This book is overall just weak. For a book to devote 12 pages to the nature of TIME, and never bring up entropy and the arrow of time, shows a problem. From Mlodinow comes the definition of time as DURATION, and synchrony, and Chopra talks about eternity, precreation thinking itself into becoming, and the (subjective)timelessness of the spiritual experience. Even on the Mind Body connection, to devote 13 pages to a discussion on this topic, when books, in fact whole college philosophy courses just barely pull the lid off this topic, shows that this book dumbs down, topic by topic, the heaviest, most serious questions in science, religion, psychology, and astronomy. I doubt any serious student of ANY of these questions will gain anything from this book. Without any intended sarcasm, this is a book that might work for a high school "Introduction to philosophy" class. I am surprised that Chopra is as popular a writer as he is, tho being a best selling author isnt a usual quality of high spiritual attainment. Chopra's book titles like "Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire", "Creating Affluence", "Uncondistional Life" or "Golf for Enlightenment" are probibly as spiritual as they sound. (To this guy, they sound like writings done by fundamentalist televangalists who preach affluence.) I'm not convinced Chopra's spiritual attainment is that advanced, since he seems immured in materialistic topics. As for Mlodinow, he helped Steven Hawkings writing "An even shorter History of Time". And this might be why his writings at least have a grounding in the philosophical logic, that any philosophical argument requires to produce some wisdom. Altho I dont agree with his concept of religion, at least he understands science. He's the only reason the book isnt a total disaster. But his offerings here are not enough to save the dialouge. There are books in the world that address the topics within WAR OF THE WORLDVIEWS with more rational, well thought out approaches. Those would be much better reads. But honestly, unless you're a huge fan of Chopra's writings, I'd avoid this disaster.
on October 12, 2011
Deepak Chopra M.D. has authored almost innumerable books on spirituality, mind-healing and related topics. An endocrinologist, Chopra worked with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi before his (Chopra's) move into alternative medicine. Not a theist as such, Chopra engages here in a structured debate on opposing worldviews with Leonard Mlodinow. A physicist who wrote the book Feynman's Rainbow: a Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life, Mlodinow also co-authored The Grand Design with Stephen Hawkins. There are many books presenting "debates" between such opposing worldviews, involving the likes of William Lane Craig and Alister McGrath on the one side and of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris et al on the other. Those books can often be frustrating to read because the opposing parties tend to talk past one another, giving little heed to the legitimate points made. I feel that Chopra and Mlodinow have succeeded in avoiding this pitfall in two ways: (1) by being genuinely respectful of one another; and (2) by covering eighteen specific aspects of the debate rather than getting narrowly bogged down in a dead end.
Chopra's worldview is based on the assumption that the universe is pervaded by an invisible eternal consciousness: Samadhi in Indian spiritual tradition. While a theist's locus for this creative, self-aware entity is God, Chopra posits that the universe itself possesses these qualities. His primary argument is that whatever the universe contains must exist in potential first. Whereas advocates of Intelligent Design focus on complexity as evidence of design, Chopra posits that it is not the complexity of the carrier but the nature of a "message" that points to intent and hence self-awareness. Mlodinov dismisses what Chopra calls Samadhi or universal consciousness as being unnecessary to explain the physical world as we know it. An excellent writer, Mlodinov presents quite complex ideas from physics in a way that would be accessible to most people. But I was surprised that he cited Dawkins' example of the typing monkeys in support of his case. Briefly, Dawkins showed that the Shakespeare phrase "methinks it is a weasel", far too complex to have been generated randomly, could in fact have been generated in just twenty-six cycles provided that each time a "correct" letter occurred it were locked in. Dawkins claimed that this represented a proxy for the way in which natural selection operates, but that is a spurious claim that could only be valid if a superseded aspect of Darwin's theory still held true - that every change must be incremental (no room for punctuated equilibrium for example). In the absence of that as a valid assumption, the simplest (Occam's Razor) explanation of the working of the theoretical typing monkey model would be supportive of Chopra - that there was an awareness of the "right letters" in advance.
Chopra at times takes liberties with scientific ideas such as quantum theory but his removal of organized religion and a personal god from the picture make his case less contentious with which to engage materialist ideas. But after asserting the primacy of observation and validation in science, Mlodinov also shows he is not immune from taking liberties with his stated principles, for example: "if a realm that obeys physical laws were to interact with a realm that doesn't, wouldn't the interaction cause noticeable exceptions to the laws of nature in the physical realm?" Why, Leonard? Chopra claims that awareness is enacted through the free will of aware persons, so the manifestation of the posited non-material realm's effect in the physical world would be through the physical actions that those persons choose to undertake. There's no legitimate scientific objection to that hypothesis unless and until science has proven free will not to exist.
After reading and re-reading the book, I reflected on the fact that each of the two protagonists had started from an assumption that could not be challenged under either's legitimate rules of engagement. Mlodinov can rightly claim that we have no physical evidence for the non-physical but should be willing to admit that the idea of the Big Bang emerging from a quantum vacuum is just as speculative as Chopra's that it was caused by Samadhi. An excellent read, this is the kind of discussion that could eventually find common ground between the extremes - a co-existence of worldviews in healthy tension.
War of the Worldviews: Science Vs. Spirituality by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow
"War of the Worldviews" is an interesting debate on two worldviews: science and spirituality. On the side for science is Leonard Mlodinow a theoretical physicist and an accomplished author in his own right. While in defense of spirituality is the well-known author and internist Deepak Chopra. The debaters tackle on eighteen topics that cover a wide spectrum of the human experience. This surprisingly even-handed 336 page-book is broken out in the following five parts: Part I. The War, Part II. Cosmos, Part III. Life, Part IV. Mind and Brain., and Part V. God.
In order to make this review more comprehensive and useful, I have broken out the positives and negatives section by General, Deepak and Leonard.
1. A civil debate covering fascinating topics.
2. Both debaters established fairly early their worldviews. Deepak's position is that higher consciousness is the key to obtaining knowledge while Leonard defends science as the best tool to find the truths about our world.
3. Fair format, both debaters alternated.
4. Many fascinating topics.
5. Thought-provoking essays.
6. Both debaters are very accomplished authors and thinkers.
7. A lot of great insight of the brain, neuroscience.
1. Deepak's strengths: friendly-approachable demeanor, accepts evolution, has panache, able to mask his beliefs in a scientific-sounding manner with ease, and has a positive outlook.
2. Accepts science as a viable partner.
3. Provides a new creation story. Not buying it but some interesting thoughts. "Spirituality hold that consciousness is basic to creation".
4. Makes a lot of thought-provoking comments regarding consciousness, "everything we experience occurs in consciousness; therefore, there is no reality 'out there,' divorced from consciousness.
5. Give Deepak credit he didn't shy away from criticizing religion and uses science skillfully to do so: " Having declared the creator perfect, religion couldn't call God's creation imperfect; therefore, the universe didn't need to evolve, either. But the rise of intelligent life from primitive life-forms is undeniable".
6. It takes skill to defend your position with what appears to be science..."Spirituality will win the struggle for the future by restoring consciousness to evolution". Hmm, hey I don't understand his logic but I admire his passion.
7. Deepak is clever too, " But people don't use subjectivity to measure time; we use it to experience time".
8. Deepak is much better at asking the tough questions than answering them. "Where did DNA come from?"
9. Deepak is skilled at appealing to common sense notions even if it is flawed.
10. Deepak shows off style but does it really have substance?, "Science can make life better in material ways, but no one could say that the world is suffering from a lack of materialism; in fact, the world is suffering from the exact opposite: a lack of self-knowledge".
11. Claims that spirituality comes closer to science than religious faith, well that's positive. It still isn't science though...
12. The clever Deepak even attempts to find an opening for spirituality in the genetics world.
13. Deepak does make some good points regarding how chemicals keep track of time.
14. A good point regarding selfish genes. Even Dawkins had reservations about the title of book.
15. Feedback loops is an interesting concept.
16. Deepak's spiritual approach is very positive. Kudos for that.
17. Since science admits we don't know much about the world of consciousness, Deepak masterfully incorporates his worldview. The "hard problem"...
18. Once again let me give Deepak credit for defending the indefensible. It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to pull off such a feat but somehow Deepak does. He provides a map to a journey of higher consciousness...
19. "We must free ourselves from the burden of religious dogma" I agree...now don't turn your back on materialism.
20. Deepak I may disagree with you...but I give you credit, the ten qualities of pure consciousness.
21. "All experience occurs in consciousness". The unrelenting Deepak. "Reality is pure consciousness".
22. Another tough question, "Where do qualia come from?"
23. Positive outlook.
1. Leonard's strengths: methodical, bright, able to convey difficult subjects to the masses, never overextends himself and limits what we do know versus what we don't, realist and a humanist.
2. Leonard defends the scientific method with gusto.
3. The scientific method works!
4. "In science it is only the evidence that matters". Amen...ummm, scratch that last part.
5. Provides many great examples of scientific discoveries.
6. Quantum theory in its proper perspective.
7. Leonard attacks consciousness straight forward never once extending science beyond what it knows. And posits interesting questions that Deepak can't answer scientifically, "If the universe is conscious, how can we tell?
8. Evolution in its proper perspective. "Natural selection is what makes evolution more than just a random process". The purposeless laws of nature...
9. Deepak's first cause argument debunked.
10. Has the guts to take the tough stance, "It takes special courage to instead believe in science--to face the fact that after death our bodies return to the temperature of the inanimate objects around us, that we and our loved ones reach equilibrium with our environment, that we again become one with the dust".
11. Good quotes, "Biologists tell us that the designer of life was not a being, but the environment".
12. Argument from design debunked.
13. Language as an inherently human experience.
14. Free will debunked don't go there Deepak.
15. Great defense of materialism even when he doesn't use the term.
16. Great chapter on genes. The fact that our ancestors needed a tail and we still have the gene for making one is enlightening indeed!
17. Good explanations on altruism.
18. Makes it very clear what we do know and what we don't know about consciousness. I admire that trait. We know very little about the "felt quality".
19. Great section on Mind and Brain, one of my favorites. Debunks the Aristotelian worldview of purpose in the universe. Worth the price of the book.
20. One of the strongest rebuttals against mind -brain dualism, "split-brains".
21. The power of oxytocin.
22. Another great quote, "But if Deepak is right about a universal consciousness, and that the universe is loving through us, then it must also be hating through us, murdering and destroying through us, doing all the things that humans do in addition to loving, including the acts that blew up my mother's faith in God".
23. The mind is the phenomenon of the brain.
24. "You might believe in an afterlife, but you're in no rush to perform the one experiment that could tell you if you are right". Good one...
25. NDEs and OBEs and their causes.
26. A look at how we come to beliefs.
27. "Science is open to new truths. What it resists is accepting untruths". Excellent quote.
28. Consciousness is science's last frontier.
29. A worldview grounded in observation and evidence.
1. The format though fair as debaters alternated, didn't work as well as I had hoped. It seemed at times, as if the debaters were not debating but stating their position in an essay.
2. No bibliography or notes, a shame.
3. I would have added a couple of wildcard topics or a section where a blow-by-blow debate actually occurred.
1. I have to say it...but spirituality until it's able to come up with hypothesis that is falsifiable is in essence pseudoscience. Deepak is very adept at making his claims sound science friendly but when you dig a little deeper you are dealing with pseudoscience.
2. Key definitions were lacking, what is a spirit? If you claim that some immaterial spirit or soul is ultimately controlling the actions of the brain, you have to ask yourself, how does this immaterial thing that carries no energy or momentum provide energy and momentum to particles in the brain? What characteristics does a spirit have that would enable you to know objectively that it exists let alone what mechanism would allow it to operate in the material world?
3. "Science lost its sense of awe, increasingly seeing Nature as a force to be opposed and conquered..." nothing can be further from the truth. Leonard clearly shows this not to be the case, it's his awe of nature that lead him to science to begin with. Really Deepak?? In fact, here is a direct quote from Leonard, "The universe is an awe-inspiring place, especially for those who know something about it. The more we learn, the more astonishing it seems".
4. "But here the superstition of materialism breaks down..." superstition??
5. Deepak said Jesus was a scientist...honestly?
6. The fact that science hasn't been able to explain consciousness doesn't mean it belongs in the supernatural realm. Our world is full of examples that once were attributed to the supernatural and now have been fully explained by science.
7. Too many times Deepak makes comments that seem to have come out of the side of his mouth instead of being dare I say it "conscious" about it, consider when Deepak calls the scientific explanation of how we got her "science's creation myth". Really? Come on Deepak...
8. Deepak just frustrates me at times, consider this. "When you and I can experience the timeless, then phrases like "eternal life," "the immortal soul," and "a transcendent God" aren't just wishful thinking. When we look at it closely, eternity doesn't mean a long, long, long time. It means a reality where time is not present". Oh my science!
9. Deepak makes claims he can't support with science. Answers that lie in the realm of consciousness?? As of yet, nothing sufficiently profound has resulted from such a claim.
10. Once again Deepak overextends himself. "He (Deepak) says that to look for the physical basis of humanity's essence will fail, because we are unpredictable, and "unpredictability destroys all forms of determinism" and so is "fatal for physical explanations." That's not in fact true. Quantum theory, for example, is famous for the limits it places on predictability, and physicists do fine with that".
11. "Today evolution is bringing people closer to God". Really Deepak, have you been in America? Of course you have, this is an unforgiveable comment!
12. Spirituality can be seen as a higher form of evolution, best described as "metabiological"--beyond biology". Oh no he didn't?!
13. "You cannot explain this kind of self-sacrifice as contributing to survival; the bee is dead". And I thought Deepak understood evolution.
14. Oh here we go again..."The human brain, like the universe itself, delivers whatever you expect it to, in accordance with your deepest beliefs". Really Deepak?
15. Deepak believes that the brain is the puppet of the immaterial mind. There is no evidence that, our brains are controlled by something outside of them but in the case of Deepak...
16. "The mind has looked deeply into itself and discovered its source, which is transcendent". What does this even means?
17. "The fine-tuned universe"...the universe wasn't fine tuned with us in mind, we evolved into it. If anything the cosmos appears to be fine-tuned for black holes.
1. A little more passion. A bit too controlled for me but it's effective.
In summary, let me use an analogy from boxing to describe this book. Deepak is that flashy boxer, he has a lot of moves, he talks a big fight but once he gets into the ring all he does is dance, he connects a couple of jabs and he smiles to the audience every time he lands an otherwise ineffective punch. Leonard on the other hand, is methodical, the technician, he lands his jabs and follows up with effective blows to the midsection. He lands the bigger punches and proceeds to wear down the opponent until he lands the final blows that forces the end of the match. Honestly, that's how I saw it. Deepak provided style while Leonard provided the substance; and substance carries more weight. The book is worth 4.5 stars, Deepak's misrepresentations keeps the book from getting 5. Leonard by technical knockout! Has a ring to it doesn't it?
Further suggestions: "The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer, "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" by Victor Stenger, "Physics of the Future" by Michio Kaku, "SuperSense" by Bruce M. Hood, "Human" by Michael Gazzaniga, "Hardwired Behavior" by Laurence Tancredi, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker and "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard.
Two respected authorities in their disciplines - Deepak Chopra a noted author and persuasive advocate for spirituality and Leonard Mlodinow, also a noted author and theoretical physicist at Cal Tech - go head-to-head, in this thought-provoking and respectful discussion of fundamental questions that concern scholars in the sciences and emerging field of spirituality:
How did the universe emerge?
Is the universe conscious?
Is the universe evolving?
What is the nature of time?
Is the universe alive?
What is life?
Is there design in the universe?
What makes us human?
How do genes work?
Did Darwin go wrong?
What is the connection between mind and the brain?
Does the brain dictate behavior?
Is the brain like a computer?
Is the universe thinking through us?
Is God an illusion?
What is the future of belief?
Is there a fundamental reality?
As mentioned in the Foreword, "this book is about a clash of worldviews..." and was the result of the two thinkers meeting during a televised debate on "The Future of God," held at California Institute of Technology. (Chopra was on stage and Mlodinow was pulled from the audience to ask a question.)
Readers will find this to be a fascinating look by two scholars who - as they put it, "believes deeply in the worldview he represents." Looking at the universe on three levels - the cosmos or physical universe; life; and, the human brain; the three consider "where the universe came from, its nature and where it is going."
Recommended for college, university and public library collections serving a highly literate population.
R. Neil Scott
Middle Tennessee State University