a furious chopra throws down the gauntlet
We have good news and bad news. The good news is that after years of struggle, Deepak Chopra has come to accept that he’s so deeply intertwined with New Age woo that the label is now firmly affixed to him. The bad news is that instead of challenging himself to see if perhaps he was wrong about his assertions, he’s using his column in the Huffington Post to proudly crown himself King of Woo and declare that he’s an iconoclast in the wings and that the scientists and skeptics who shoot him down accomplish nothing of value. To put it a bit more bluntly, the supposedly open-minded, peaceful and kind spiritual guru — or at least that’s what I was told about him — has coiled up on himself and spat back in the face of his critics with a very irate screed.
Maybe it’s the holiday spirit in me, but I’m going to start off gently this time. That anger eating at Chopra can be a wonderful thing. It’s the transition someone who’s deeply invested in his ideas and opinions has to make if he ever wants to return to the scientific realm. In my experience and in the experience of many students doing scientific or engineering work in college or in the field, this is how you learn science. Your beliefs get hit from all sides. You’re challenged to back up your assertions with data, cite your sources, and even do experiments and supporting research if that’s what you need to do. Professors don’t do that because they’re evil and get a kick out of torturing you, but because they’re training you to think critically and question everything. They’ll tear you down to build you back up with a flexible, analytical mindset that constantly asks why and how. It’s not the easiest transition to make but once you do, you gain immense appreciation for feedback and criticism.
Being challenged and criticized excites me. It motivates me to work harder, to triple check my math, to run just one more test and to look up a specific term again just to make sure I made a solid case and have my facts in order. With people like Chopra, that’s not the case. They see the criticism and rigor being applied to their high brow ideas as vicious personal attacks motivated by nothing more than envy of their brilliance. This is why our now admitted King of Woo writes the following statement with an acid pen…
Afterwards, however, I had an unpredictable reaction. I realized that I would much rather expound woo woo than the kind of bad science [Michael] Shermer stands behind. He has made skepticism his personal brand, more or less, sitting by the side of the road to denigrate “those who believe in spirituality, ghosts, and so on,” as he says on a YouTube video… You would think that skeptics as a class have made significant contributions to science or the quality of life in their own right. No, they haven’t. Their principal job is to reinforce the great ideas of yesterday while suppressing the great ideas of tomorrow.
This isn’t just nonsense, but very bitter, self-serving nonsense. Rather than note such things as heliocentrism and cosmology, antibiotics, vaccines, electricity, space travel, satellites, computers, cars, oncology and any of the other advances to our quality life given to us by science in just the past century or so, he declares that any scientific mindset that demands evidence before accepting his claims at face value is only there to hold back geniuses like him. He refuses to understand that the great minds of the past who revolutionized how we see the universe did so by questioning accepted theories of the day and providing complex bodies of work, asking others to put their ideas to the test, ridicule and help them polish their ideas. Instead, Chopra simply believes that by virtue of being unconventional an idea already has merit. And this, as the popular expression goes, is having a mind so open your brain falls out. So unreasonable is this argument, even other HuffPo bloggers are giving him a good dose of well deserved snark.
Will Chopra snap out of his daze and start embracing the real mysteries of the universe like black holes, dark matter and the Higgs boson, or complex scientific and engineering challenges of the future like warp drives and cyborg technology? I highly doubt it. Preaching the gospel of woo made him a millionaire and he’s going to do anything he can to keep his stream of income, even if he really does decide that he’s selling nothing more than fluff spiced up with random scientific terms and a mangled pseudo-history of science.