Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

Multi-institutional Collaborative Clinical Trial to Examine Health Benefits of Integrative Lifestyle Practices at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing

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Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI) study will use latest mobile health sensors and genomic/cellular/metabolomics biomarkers

Scientists and clinicians from seven research institutions have joined together for a first of a kind clinical trial on a whole systems approach to wellbeing. Such an in-depth clinically focused study is unique because previous research studies have typically examined the beneficial effects of individual wellbeing practices – such as meditation, yoga, or specific herbal preparations – few have taken anything like a whole systems approach which simultaneously includes a number of such practices to promote improved mind-body functioning.  The Chopra Center for Wellbeing has been in the forefront of integrating whole systems approaches such as Ayurveda, meditation, yoga, massage, herbal treatments, and nutrition into programs for improving health and wellbeing.

This new study pulls these strands together in the most comprehensive manner to date.  By measuring the total effect of an intensive immersion into a whole systems program, the aim of the SBTI study is to see if the data will demonstrate a person’s connection to the healing process. The body’s healing system is still little understood as a whole, because of the complex inputs—thoughts, emotions, diet, stress, exercise, immune response, etc.—that affect whether we heal or not. The picture is further clouded when isolated findings overlap or contradict one another.

 

In the context of Ayurveda and most other traditional medicine, therapies and practices aren’t done in isolation. Instead of focusing on local symptoms, the diagnosis is systemic. Only now is Western medicine beginning to understand that a blanket condition like “stress” or “inflammation” connects many diverse disorders, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. A strong link has also been made to lowered immunity and aging.

 

The SBTI study will objectively examine the benefits of a whole systems approach in a controlled trial design. The resulting data will cover a broad range of biochemical, physiological, and psychosocial measurements. The intent of the study is not to examine the separate effects of the ‘active ingredients’ of the intervention, but rather assess the combined effects of the full suite of wellness practices.

 

The SBTI study will be being conducted during a weeklong intensive Ayurveda treatment program at the Chopra Center, located at the OMNI La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, CA. Potential study participants are randomized to join either the Ayurveda program or a seven-day stay at the resort without treatment, which serves as the control. Participants are evaluated four times: at home prior to arriving at the Center, immediately upon arrival, immediately following the treatment program, and one month later in a follow-up assessment. As shown in the table below, the contributing institutions are examining many crucial markers through sophisticated testing of

 

  • RNA expression
  • telomerase activity (linked to the aging process)
  • a variety of metabolites, peptides, and neurohormones (connected to metabolism, addictions, and mood changes as well as the messaging between brain and body)
  • the microbiome (the enormous population of microorganisms on the skin and in the intestinal tract, and their collective genetic material)
  • circulating protease activity
  • mobile cardiac functioning
  • balance of the autonomic nervous system
  • assessments of mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.

 

It is anticipated that findings from the SBTI study will demonstrate the considerable cumulative value of taking a whole systems approach to health and wellbeing (an expectation bolstered by important studies cited below). If the results of the SBTI study are strong, it should deepen our appreciation of the potential for wellness that exists in the body-mind system. This will be a critical next step in lending empirical validation to whole systems approaches and could inspire greater dissemination and availability of such approaches into mainstream medicine, as the integrative health movement strongly advocates for.

 

——————

Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, Co-Chair of SBTI Research Project, Founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego

 

Rudolph E. Tanzi, PhD, Co-Chair of SBTI Research Project, Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit and Vice-Chair of the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School

 

Paul J. Mills, PhD, Director of Research, The Chopra Foundation, Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Medicine Program, Director, Clinical Research Biomarker Laboratory, University of California, San Diego

 

Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, Morris Herzstein Professor in Biology and Physiology, University of California, San Francisco

P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Member, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and M. Arthur Moseley PhD, Director Duke University Proteomics Facility

 

Elissa Epel, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco

 

Sheila Patel, MD, Medical Director, Chopra Center for Wellbeing, Clinical Instructor of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego

 

Valencia Porter, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine, Chopra Center for Wellbeing for Wellbeing, Clinical Instructor of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego

 

Eric Schadt, PhD, Director of the Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, Chair of the Department of Genetics and Genomics Sciences, and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics, Mount Sinai Hospital

 

Steven R. Steinhubl, MD, Director of Digital Medicine and Professor, Scripps Translational Science Institute, Scripps Research Institute

 

Eric J. Topol, MD, Director, Scripps Translational Science Institute Chief Academic Officer, Professor of Genomics, Scripps Research Institute

 

*Potential conflicts of interest: One or more study investigators may have financial relationships with healthcare and/or biotechnology companies and tests.

 

Changes in emerging cardiac biomarkers after an intensive lifestyle intervention.  Chainani-Wu NWeidner GPurnell DMFrenda SMerritt-Worden TPischke CCampo RKemp CKersh ESOrnish D.  Am J Cardiol. 2011;108(4):498-507.

 

Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators.  Jacobs TLEpel ESLin JBlackburn EHWolkowitz OMBridwell DAZanesco APAichele SRSahdra BKMacLean KAKing BGShaver PRRosenberg EL,Ferrer EWallace BASaron CD. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011;36(5):664-81.

Collaborating Institutions and Contributions to the Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI) Research Study

Institution
Harvard University Gene Lab, Boston, MA

Assessments
1. Whole genome sequencing using HiSeq at Illumina, gene expression of roughly 40,000 transcripts
2. Alzheimer’s-related amyloid beta protein species in plasma
3. Cytokine levels in plasma
4. Whole-genome epigenetic changes using Pacific Bio systems; plasma proteome

Institution
Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, NY

Assessments
1. Bioinformatics for all data generated by the Harvard Lab listed above
2. Microbiome of gut
3. Microbiome of skin
4. RNA expression

Institution
Scripps Translational Science Institute, La Jolla, CA

Assessments
1. Mobile ECG & heart rate variability monitoring
2. Physical activity / Sleep
3. Respiratory rate and depth

Institution
University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA

Assessments
1. Inflammation, cardiovascular disease biomarkers
2. Stress biomarkers
3. Circulating protease activity – metalloproteinases, trypsin, elastase, chymotrypsin
4. Psychosocial assessments

Institution
Duke University, Durham, NC

Assessments
1. Metabolomics
2. Mood assessments

Institution
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

Assessments
1. Telomerase and telomere length
2. Oxidative stress
3. Mitochondrial DNA health

Institution
Chopra Center for Wellbeing, La Costa, CA & Chopra Foundation (La Costa, CA) & Fred Foundation (Hilversum, The Netherlands)

Assessments
1. Perfect Health Ayurvedic Program
2. Integrative Medical consultation
3. SBTI and onsite program support

Let’s Raise ISHAR – and why we need to

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YouTube Preview Image       Please watch Let’s Raise ISHAR

 

Please join us on indiegogo at  http://igg.me/at/ISHAR

 

Dear Community,
ISHAR is an online digital library. ISHAR stands for Integrative Studies Historical Archive and Repository. This will be the digital Library of Alexandria for the 21st Century. A compendium of the entire mind/body phenomenon. Mind/body health, mind/body research, and mind/body practices from all over the world will be represented in one trusted and credible location for researchers and online users alike online and free of charge for everyone.

 

ISHAR is a project very dear to me – and something I truly want to invite all of my friends and the entire global mind/body community to help build and raise.
ISHAR belongs to the entire mind/body community. This project emerged this year in the chaos of online issues dealing with many websites publishing misleading information in the mind/body area. Everyone was having similar problems – and from this place of chaos ISHAR began to form in a very organic fashion, and everyone began to pitch in and contribute where they could. Very quickly ISHAR began to take on a life of its own.  ISHAR emerged from a small community to begin, but now we open up the building of ISHAR to the entire mind/body community.

 

This is a very ambitious project, potentially of historical precedence. ISHAR is a community effort. I ask and invite everyone involved in the mind/body area to please, let’s raise ISHAR.
With love,

Deepak Chopra

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Getting Real About Brain Science—A Challenge to the Current Model (Part 2)

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Getting Real About Brain Science—A Challenge to the Current Model (Part 2)

 

By Deepak Chopra, MD, Bernardo Kastrup, PhD, Menas C. Kafatos  PhD, and Rudolph Tanzi, PhD.

 

Brain research could someday hit a dead end if we do not address the basic question of what the brain truly is. Assuming that we know what the brain is won’t work—not forever. In the first part of this series the assumptions of neuroscience were held up to the light, and it turned out that almost everyone in the field believes, without question, that the brain is a physical object that produces thoughts and feelings. Without this physical object ticking away inside our skulls, we wouldn’t have a mind–so the currently dominant belief system goes.

 

It seems outrageous, then, for philosophy to come along and say, no, you don’t know this at all. You are stating a working assumption as if it were a fact.  Change your assumption, and all the beautiful data that has been gathered by brain science, although still very useful, will look entirely different. As one scientific paradigm breaks down and a new one replaces it, all assumptions become vulnerable, all knowledge becomes open-ended. There are a lot of unstated assumptions in the current view.

 

Let’s imagine that a brain scientist has been backed into a corner by this argument. He can always say, “Don’t bother me. I’m an expert, and I know what I’m doing.” But if the cornered brain scientist takes the argument seriously, he can push back on several rational fronts. He might say the following:

 

“You claim that the old paradigm doesn’t work anymore, but thousands of useful findings are being produced. There’s no end in sight. Treating the brain as the thing that creates the mind is enormously productive. You can’t deny it.”

 

True, but imagine a sailor before Copernicus. “The sun still rises in the East and sets in the West. Because that’s a fact, my ship can go anywhere in the world navigating by the sun. You can’t deny it.”

 

The sailor thinks he’s talking about a fact of reality, as does the brain scientist. As long as a paradigm is useful, it won’t collapse. But this doesn’t mean its assumptions are undeniable. The Copernican revolution took place when someone looked beyond practicality and saw that putting the sun at the center of the planetary system gave much better calculations of how the moon, stars, and planets moved. (It actually took the later work of Galileo and Newton to make the Copernican system more precise than what came before.)  In the case of brain science, there will be much better knowledge about the mind once we question the assumption that the brain is a physical thing that produces mind. Here are the reasons for why the brain-as-mind model is crumbling.

 

  1. The model is self-referential.  The very thing you need to define (the brain) is also the thing doing the defining.
  2. Quantity isn’t the same as quality. Water feels wet. You can’t explain this quality by weighing water, breaking it down into its elements of hydrogen and oxygen, or splitting oxygen and hydrogen into even smaller bits. The experience of wetness will elude you no matter how many measurements you take.
  3. Experience consists of a constant stream of qualities. At this moment you see colors, feel temperature, detect movement in the air, and so on. No amount of brain measurements will get at any of these qualities, just as weighing a liter of water will never tell you why it feels wet.
  4. Mapping the brain is not sufficient to understand a qualitative experience, since everything we know about the brain is an experience.  The brain is gelatinous, dark, gray, moist, and zapping with tiny electrical shocks. Those qualities are simply there, like the hardness of a rock. You can’t get beyond them, and yet you need to if you want to know what’s real.

 

This last point is the toughest, so let’s go into it. The sun is bright. The brain is dark. Is the brightness of the sun produced by the darkness of the brain? Neuroscience says it is, but clearly it can’t be.  If you put the brain to your tongue, it will have its own taste. But in that taste you won’t find sugar, salt, chocolate, fish and chips, etc. As long as you stay inside the brain’s thingness, the vast range of color, taste, sight, sound, and smells that constitute our experience of reality cannot be explained.  Many cultures have a saying that the eye cannot see itself. This is a metaphor that applies to the brain: If everything we know is produced by the brain, we are trapped inside its processes. Any attempt would be just another brain process.

 

This seems to give our cornered brain scientist a way out. “Aha, if I can’t get outside my brain, neither can you. So I don’t have to consider anything you say.” This would be a solid refutation if no one could go beyond the brain. Likewise, if fish couldn’t jump out of the sea, they wouldn’t be able to find out whether the ocean is wet. Forever trapped inside the thing they want to examine, they hit a dead end.

 

So brain science can’t be challenged unless we can get outside the brain. Copernicus made his breakthrough by getting outside the limitation of seeing the sun rise and set every day. But he didn’t get outside the brain, which is much harder to do, nor did Einstein, Heisenberg, and other modern geniuses we look to to explain reality. But they actually said one profound thing that current brain science does not always consider: The world is in the mind, not the other way around.

 

In order to get outside the brain—meaning outside the picture of reality that the brain produces—requires a new paradigm. That’s really the nub of the matter. The old paradigm is comfortable staying inside the brain, using its processes to explain everything else, giving the brain a privileged position in the entire universe: it’s the one physical object that can think. This is like giving God a privileged position in the Book of Genesis—God is the one thing in the universe that didn’t have to be created.

 

The new paradigm stops turning the brain into God. It’s obvious that the brain had to be created, and whatever did that isn’t the brain. Once this obvious fact is accepted, a better set of ideas can be accepted at the same time.

 

  1. The brain, being an ordinary physical object, doesn’t create mind, which isn’t physical. (Is it just gray gel infused with chemicals and electromagnetic signals that makes you love your children or want to look good on your next date?)
  2. Something beyond the brain creates the experience of the world. The brain, in fact, is just another experience, so it is disqualified as the creator.
  3. Once you throw out the brain as the creator of experience, it’s plausible that the mind creates experience. There’s no reason to disbelieve this, and every reason to believe it, since all experiences are mental.
  4. Getting outside the brain is easy once you accept that the mind is running the show.

 

Our cornered brain scientist is someone with intellectual integrity. He’s not going to squirm away by refusing to listen or stubbornly insisting on false assumptions. We have him sweating now, but he hasn’t run out of denials. “Clever thinking, but you have no facts in your new paradigm. You just have ideas, and without facts, backed up by experimental data, an idea might as well be a fantasy.”

 

This would be true if mind were just another assumption like assuming the brain can think. Clearly mind isn’t an assumption. Mind is our portal to the real. In fact, the mind is the only portal to the real. You can’t step outside it.  Yet facts are necessary to science—meaning measurements and data—which makes it hard for philosophy and its method of pure thinking, to make headway. In the first post we focused on an article in the journal Cell that defended the brain as the one and only route to explaining consciousness. The rationale behind the article was that in time, the mass of findings collected about the brain will improve, becoming more sophisticated and complex, and thus the riddle of consciousness will be unraveled, thread by thread. So the story goes. But science is also based on theory, and we still have no viable theory demonstrating that the mind is produced by neural circuitry in the brain.

 

To believe that the riddle of consciousness will be unraveled is to mistake a correlate for a cause. It’s absolutely true that every mental event has a corresponding physical event in the brain. The way the process looks carries valid information about the process. Flames carry valid information about combustion because they are the way combustion looks when observed from the outside; not the cause of combustion. In exactly the same way, brain states carry valid information about subjective experience because they are the way subjective experience looks when observed from the outside. But they are not the cause of subjective experience.

 

And it doesn’t matter how complicated the correlations get. A major focus in neuroscience is to assess cross-talk among various areas of the brain with increasing granularity, on the underlying assumption that this will get us closer to understanding consciousness. But will it? This would be similar to stating that the integrated circuitry inside your TV creates your favorite show. This we know would be an absurd assumption, as absurd as the Earth being flat just because the ground near us to appears flat.

 

Instead of looking upon back-and-forth communication between different brain regions—so-called ‘reverberation’—as a cause of consciousness, the new paradigm would view it as a mechanism of amplification of certain contents of consciousness.

 

Insofar as it increases the footprint of certain subjective states, reverberation can indeed be viewed as a form of amplification. Instead of looking upon different neural processes as either conscious or unconscious, one would see them as either amplified or obfuscated, respectively.  The moment certain contents of consciousness become amplified, they naturally obfuscate other contents, the way the sun obfuscates the stars at noon. Obfuscated contents are still in consciousness, for the same reason that the stars are still in the sky at noon. Instead of looking upon decisions that precede (amplified) awareness as the deterministic outcome of unconscious neural processes, one would see them as choices made by (obfuscated) consciousness.

 

Indeed, what the Cell paper calls ‘consciousness’ is, under this alternative way of seeing, simply a particular, amplified segment of consciousness. The so-called ‘unconscious’ is, in turn, merely the obfuscated segment of consciousness—there is no actual unconscious. This is easy to see: For the past several minutes your breathing—the feeling of the air flowing in and out of your lungs—has been an obfuscated content of your consciousness, which now becomes amplified as you read this sentence. Were you truly unconscious of your breathing just a moment ago? Or was the consciousness of your breathing merely obfuscated while your focus was on reading this article? What the Cell paper calls ‘unconscious’ neural processes are simply what obfuscated processes in consciousness look like from the outside.

 

Now we can solve one of the world’s great mysteries. How can mystical experience—seeing angels, connecting with God, hearing the voice of your soul—be real? There is no problem with them being real if, like breathing, other experiences are obfuscating, or blocking them out. Remove the obstructions, and consciousness can naturally include so-called mystical experiences.

 

If you enter an expanded state of consciousness, as saints, swamis, seers, yogis and according to many scientific accounts dying persons are said to do, your reality shifts.  Suddenly you experience certain things that were always there but blocked from view. The fact that the reality we experience is different in different states of consciousness indicates that reality is consciousness-dependent. Saints feel God’s presence everywhere; swamis have detected the self that is beyond ego; seers perceive what lies behind the veil of appearances; yogis rest in pure Being.  And dying persons, in fact those who clinically died but came back, report experiences that are quite similar to one another’s. These are facts in their states of consciousness. Something real is known, and on that knowledge a solid foundation can be built, leading to a revolution in science.

 

Hearing this, our cornered brain scientist would probably be dazed and confused. He might sink to the floor with his head in his hands. “You’re destroying real science with your damn philosophy.” After a while he’ll recover his composure, at which point he’ll go back to his normal way of doing things—but then where is his intellectual integrity?  The new paradigm may look outrageous from the viewpoint of the old. Even so, it’s the duty of science to take it seriously. This is how science progresses, by shunning hidden dogmas and stolid belief systems. Outworn assumptions are reaching their expiration date. We need to admit this to ourselves and move on. A higher, more useful science is waiting in the wings.

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain, co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing.

 

Bernardo Kastrup has a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering and has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the “Casimir Effect” of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). He has authored many scientific papers and four philosophy books: Rationalist Spirituality, Dreamed up Reality, Meaning in Absurdity, and Why Materialism Is Baloney. This latter book is a grand synthesis of his metaphysical views. Bernardo has also been an entrepreneur and founder of two high-tech businesses. Today, he holds a managerial position in the high-tech industry. In parallel, he maintains a philosophy blog, an audio/video podcast, and continues to develop his ideas about the nature of reality. Bernardo has lived and worked in four different countries across continents. He currently resides in the Netherlands.

 

Menas C. Kafatos is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor of Computational Physics at Chapman University. He is a quantum physicist, cosmologist, climate change researcher, and works and writes extensively on consciousness and the above fields. His doctoral thesis advisor was noted M.I.T. professor Philip Morrison who studied under J. Robert Oppenheimer. He is co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles. (Harmony)

 

Rudolph Tanzi, PhD is the Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit and Vice-Chair of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also serves as the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tanzi co-discovered three of the four known Alzheimer’s disease genes and currently directs the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund “Alzheimer’s Genome Project.” He is co-founder of several biotech companies, including Prana Biotechnology. He also co-authored the popular trade books “Decoding Darkness” with Ann Parson and the New York Times Bestseller, “Super Brain” with Dr. Deepak Chopra.

 

Getting Real About Brain Science—A Challenge to the Current Model

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Bernardo Kastrup, PhD

 

It’s time to make up our minds about the brain.  Every day, it seems, neuroscience announces new findings that uncover more and more of the brain’s secrets. The day cannot be far off, we are told, when the deepest mystery of all—how the brain produces consciousness—will be solved. At the risk of raining on everyone’s parade, such a claim may be entirely wrong. Let’s see why.

 

A recent paper, published in the prestigious journal Cell , poses a central question: “Why does a relentless stream of experiences normally fill your mind?” No one in neuroscience claims to have the answer—yet.  This is a very familiar “yet,” a promissory note that says, “Stay tuned. Once we have enough data, consciousness will be explained once and for all.” This promise is the whole point of the Cell article, which sets its sights against the notion that consciousness is a “miracle” whose explanation is ultimately outside scientific investigation. It argues that by using a more sophisticated understanding of brain function, today’s progress will turn into tomorrow’s solution (the authors speak, for example, of awareness arising as the product of “a reciprocal exchange of information across multiple areas in the cerebral cortex.”)

 

If such steady progress is being made, why was it necessary to write an article defending the whole area of brain research as the key to unraveling the mind? Because the most basic assumption of neuroscience, the platform that supports all the talk about information, neuronal signals, activity in the cortex—literally the whole shebang—is wobbly. Everyone is assuming that the brain produces the mind in the first place. Knocking down this assumption isn’t likely to be funded by the federal government the way it is funneling $100 million into the Brain Activity Map. The only proof that the brain=mind assumption is wrong comes from philosophy, which most scientists, including brain scientists, dismiss out of hand.

 

How can thinking about the mind be better than gathering hard facts about the brain? Because data only has meaning given a certain way of seeing it. This point was made in the one book almost every college student reads (if they read any) in the philosophy of science, Thomas J. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published in 1962. Kuhn shattered the notion of objective progress in science by arguing that given their starting assumptions, every scientific scheme for explaining Nature—what he called a paradigm—is right on its own terms.

 

This seminal insight went back to 1947 when Kuhn, then a graduate student at Harvard, was wrestling with how wrong Aristotle had been. Aristotelian physics was the first systematic explanation of Nature in mechanical terms, the cornerstone of Western science that made Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein possible. And yet a brilliant mind like Aristotle’s arrived at completely wrong conclusions about such basic things as why objects fall to earth or what heat is. Suddenly Kuhn had an epiphany: what we call Aristotle’s mistakes in fact weren’t mistakes. If you accept the starting assumptions behind Aristotelian physics, its description of Nature was valid.

 

Kuhn seemed to be saying that Aristotle was just as right as Newton, which to most people, including probably every scientist, makes no sense. In our time, the acceptance of scientific progress is all but universal, and the triumphs of modern technology are undeniable. Yet no one has rebutted Kuhn’s point that we view Nature through our own paradigm, our worldview, and that the history of science is a constant stream of shifting paradigms, one after another.  There is no way to step outside the paradigm you totally believe in.

 

But what if our current paradigm happens to be absolutely right? A Theory of Everything has been on the horizon for decades, and we are told that it’s only a matter of time before the theory is complete. Kuhn’s point is that an absolutely correct theory, no matter how much data you feed into it, cannot be achieved. All you can achieve is the fulfillment of the paradigm you believe in. Eventually problems will arise that cannot be solved without shattering the present paradigm so that a new one can be formed.

 

The authors of the Cell article, along with the entire field of neuroscience, anchor their faith on the starting assumption that the mind must be explainable through the brain.  They are turning their backs, then, on what the philosophy of science teaches.

  1. Theories are right about what they include and wrong about what they exclude.
  2. There is no such thing as direct, objective proof about any theory of existence (known in philosophy as ontology).
  3. Data has no meaning unless it is interpreted, and interpretations are bound by the observer’s starting assumptions.

These three points are enough to level the playing field when it comes to competing worldviews and scientific paradigms. In a word, everyone has a story, and everyone believes their story. Even contradictory stories can be valid and fit the same data. This startling conclusion applies to any situation where competing stories are told: marriages when they break apart, defendants protesting their innocence in court, and the most sophisticated theories in science. Sticking to your story convinces you that you’re telling the truth when in fact you are just defending a way of seeing.

 

The starting assumption of neuroscience, that brain=mind, is particularly weak, but that’s the nature of paradigms as they start to crumble around the edges. Their proponents defend them more stoutly. There is absolutely no data to indicate that neurons can think; they merely light up on an fMRI as thinking occurs, which isn’t the same thing. You could construct a setup so that a 100-watt bulb lights up over your head every time you have a bright idea, but that doesn’t mean the light bulb caused the idea. Neuroscience ignores this obvious flaw when it arrives at the same false conclusion, using neurons instead of a light bulb.

 

The current state of confidence in neuroscience powerfully illustrates the inability of many scientists to step out of a particular way of seeing, regardless of how limited or problematic it may have become. Has science been making progress in understanding consciousness as an outcome of brain function? The authors of the Cell article think so, pointing to promising recent empirical results, all the while ignoring the fact that their interpretation of these results is entirely based on assumptions about the underlying nature of matter, metabolism, and consciousness itself. Thus the authors appear to take for granted that matter exists fundamentally outside consciousness; that metabolism is a purely material process; and that consciousness is somehow generated by metabolism. Were they to set aside their hidden assumptions and look again at the very same results, very different – and no less valid – conclusions could be extracted.

 

To give a simple example: It is assumed that when a person sees a red apple, the red light is real, in the sense that it exists outside our awareness. Moreover, one can point to activity in the visual cortex when the wavelengths of light corresponding to red strike the retina and get transmitted along the optic nerve. With precise, minute examination, the specific neurons that process color can be described in detail.  And there you have it, a red apple is seen as a red apple.

 

It would baffle many neuroscientists to be told that nothing in this chain of reasoning actually tells us how the color red is perceived in our minds. To begin with, the redness of an apple doesn’t exist independently in Nature. To quote the eminent British neurologist Sir John Eccles, “I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no textures, no patterns, no beauty, no scent.” Without a human observer, redness has no existence, nor any other quality we perceive “out there” in the world. This criticism of materialism is bolstered by another realization: No one has made the slightest progress in showing how the brain, a totally dark place filled with electrical and chemical activity, produces the sensation of light, including its colors. Photons are invisible. The quality of brightness is a mental creation. The brain isn’t bright; the visual cortex doesn’t contain a photo album of the images you see; the movie in your mind is projected on no physical screen.

 

The only thing that keeps alive the promise that the brain will one day explain consciousness is neuroscience’s blindness to any explanation other than the one assumed to be true in advance.  The latest experiments in quantum physics have rendered all but untenable the notion that reality exists outside consciousness. (See Kim, Y.-H. et al. (2000) “A Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser,” described in detail in a Wikipedia entry devoted to it. An even stronger stand is taken by Gröblacher, S. et al. in “An experimental test of non-local realism,” which physicsworld.com discussed under the header “quantum physics says goodbye to reality.”). If all of reality is in consciousness, then obviously the brain – as part of reality – is also in consciousness, not consciousness in the brain. As such, a different way of seeing is required under which the brain is merely the image of particular processes in consciousness;the brain is not the generator of consciousness.

 

We said that the same data about the brain can be fruitfully interpreted through a new way of seeing, or what Kuhn would call a new paradigm. The next post in this series will explain how a new interpretation might work.  Until mind comes first, neuroscience is like a car speeding downhill, exhilarated by the ride but not seeing the brick wall it’s heading toward around the next bend.

 

(To be cont.)

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain, co-authored with Rudi Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing.

 

Bernardo Kastrup has a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering and has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the “Casimir Effect” of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). He has authored many scientific papers and four philosophy books: Rationalist Spirituality, Dreamed up Reality, Meaning in Absurdity, and Why Materialism Is Baloney. This latter book is a grand synthesis of his metaphysical views. Bernardo has also been an entrepreneur and founder of two high-tech businesses. Today, he holds a managerial position in the high-tech industry. In parallel, he maintains a philosophy blog, an audio/video podcast, and continues to develop his ideas about the nature of reality. Bernardo has lived and worked in four different countries across continents. He currently resides in the Netherlands.

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