Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

Can Sam Harris Wake Us Up?

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It caused a stir when Sam Harris, in a new book titled Waking Up, changed his message from militant atheism to peaceful Buddhism. A positive message is better than a negative one, and since Buddhism is often labeled as “a religion without God,” Harris’s move isn’t as radical as it looks at first glance. He has had Buddhist teachers for a long time.  Waking Up speaks to a growing number of Americans who say they are spiritual but not religious. Some of these people want to find God, only outside the constrictions of organized religion.  Since he’s still adamant that God doesn’t exist, Harris probably has nothing to say to that group.


What he offers, with abundant backing from neuroscience, is a new flavor of Buddhism, in which some time-honored tenets are proven to be true by examining how the brain works. There is always a danger when someone holding personal beliefs dresses them up with science. You wonder if the contrary evidence has been fairly examined. Many readers may accuse Harris of paying serious attention only to the research that fits his scheme, and this is certainly true. An entire realm of spiritual experience is alien to him, not just the kind associated with praying, feeling God’s presence, contacting the soul, and near-death experiences. To Harris, this whole realm is delusional; therefore the research that supports it must be worthless (not that he shows any depth of knowledge about it—his dismissal is out of hand).


He’s also uninterested in Eastern paths like Yoga and Vedanta, although they get a few passing references.  What’s crucial for him is to find a neural basis for subjective spiritual experiences. He whispered about this when he was among his militant atheist friends, who took a scornful view of subjective experiences, on the grounds that science and rationality are opposed to the woolliness of subjectivity.  It’s heartening that Harris has more sense. His own personal experiences—with drugs, meditation, and various spiritual guides—has convinced him that experiences in consciousness are valid.


Without describing himself as a Buddhist, Harris puts Buddhism up as his candidate for locating the neural basis of spiritual experiences, thus connecting objectivity and subjectivity into an acceptable, rational package. My own strong belief is that Buddhism isn’t compatible with the materialistic slant (i.e., it’s all in the brain) that is the bedrock of Harris’s book. I don’t want to spoil the good that readers will take away from the book. The more that people give credence to their subjective experiences, the more likely they are to take up meditation, as Harris advocates. That’s hardly a new idea, but it’s good to have it reinforced, since research on the benefits of meditation, now more than forty years old, has become ever more convincing.


We can’t find what we’re not looking for, and what Harris seeks to prove isn’t at the core of spirituality. He likes the Buddhist teaching about the personal self being an illusion, because he can match it up with several pet theories about the brain. One of these holds that we believe we have a self, a personal “I,” because the brain’s complexity can’t be fathomed, so we choose arbitrarily to believe in “I” in order to make sense of the world.  There’s also the matter of finding “I” somewhere in the brain, in the way that vision can be found in the visual cortex. Some neuroscientists feel, in fact, they have located a brain center for the sense of self. The drift is clear enough: we are products of the brain’s chemical and electrical activity. That’s the hard reality, and the good news, as Harris sees it, is that the brain creates valid experiences that can and should serve to support a better brand of spirituality devoid of miracles, for example, which he disdains.


Yet all of this can be countered. In the Vedic tradition of India, going back centuries before the Buddha, there are some key ideas about the self that are still compelling today. Let me summarize them.


The everyday self, according to the Vedic seers, is a faint reflection of the higher self, clouded by the restless mind and the demands of everyday life. Through meditation, the higher self can be experienced. It is the source of love, compassion, creativity, and intelligence. The everyday self wouldn’t have those qualities without the higher self. Once this is realized, a path opens that enriches life by freeing us of illusions about who we really are. As we wake up, inner and outer reality are no longer separate. In unity consciousness–the highest state of enlightenment–reality “in here” is no longer separate from reality “out there.” Both exist as the play of universal consciousness.


Buddhism takes a very different view and offers a different path. Leaving aside the many schools of Buddhism, the path outlined by Harris offers no higher self. It is based on the total illusion that a personal “I” exists. It is this fictitious self, the ego personality with its countless demands, preferences, and insecurities that binds people to an unending cycle of pleasure alternating with pain. To escape from this bondage, then, is the main goal of the spiritual path. Through meditation, a person gains mental clarity. The ultimate clarity is achieved in a state of pure detachment, in which it is seen that consciousness is empty of any content. In the state of enlightenment, one is fully awake to the freedom that arises when the ego has died.


The teaching of “no self” looks very different from the teaching of “higher self.” Without identifying as a Buddhist, Harris believes that “no self” can be scientifically validated. (It also rationalizes his atheist position.) Has he successfully made the case?  If he has, then Sam Harris is the man to go to if you want to wake up. Since the research he cites is solid and valuable, what matters is how he interprets it.  For each point he makes, I’ll give a counterpoint from the “higher self” perspective.


Point: On p. 41, addressing the cause of human suffering, Harris takes a phrase from the Buddha, “the unsatisfactoriness of life,” twisting it a bit into “the unsatisfactoriness of the good life.” Pointing out that even happy, successful, healthy people have subtle kinds of suffering, he leaps to two conclusions (p. 42): “Most of us feel a wide range of painful emotions on a daily basis.” “We are all prisoners of our thoughts.”


Counterpoint: Neither of these statements has a basis in experience. Do you feel a “wide range of painful emotions on a daily basis”? This attempt to undermine “the good life” requires Harris to make thought the enemy, so that he can teach us how to stop participating personally in our thoughts. But he overlooks the fact that deciding to follow Buddhism, or Sam Harris, is a thought. How do we know which thoughts are positive and which are negative? Being a utilitarian, Harris invokes pain. But sadist, psychopaths, liars, con men, and even ordinary people pursue and even enjoy “painful” thoughts. If I feel unattractive and fat, the thought is painful, but it leads me to lose weight, which is good.


In reality, suffering isn’t a matter of seeking pleasure or avoiding pain, because in the complex tapestry of the self, most experiences are tinged with both pleasure and pain. Anyone who has been a parent knows this very well, as does anyone who has experienced the travails of love.  The “higher self” view holds that what we want is richer, more fulfilling thoughts, of love, compassion, truth, and so on.


Point:  On p. 43-44, discussing the meaning of enlightenment, Harris writes, “”It is quite possible to lose one’s sense of being a separate self, and to experience a kind of boundless, open awareness—to feel, in other words, at one with the cosmos.” But, and it’s a big but, this boundless awareness “says nothing about the universe at large.” This is the physicalist guarding the wall that separates scientific facts from subjective feelings.


Counterpoint: In the Vedic tradition, the portal to higher knowledge is the unbounded awareness Harris describes, and because all of reality is the product of consciousness, what we learn and know through the inner journey far surpasses scientific data. This is the point, so often made, that the map isn’t the same as the territory. Falling in love, creating great art, losing yourself in the beauty of music—these are the ways we experience reality. Collecting data about them isn’t remotely the same as having the experience. In the states of enlightenment described in Vedanta, there are experiences that say a great deal about the universe. In the fully awakened state of unity consciousness, a person experiences his awareness as his core existence. This is the control switch that creates everything. Harris permits his limited experience of unbounded non-self as valid, but not the experience of advanced states of unboundedness of fully enlightened beings. Of course scientific knowledge is valuable, but it doesn’t explain how our experience comes to exist or how subjective experience connects to the objective universe. Harris puts the universe “out there,” waiting to unfold a wealth of data, but in reality we live in a participatory universe, and it’s how we participate that determines the outcome of every moment.


Point: Harris follows the Buddhist principle that it takes a thorn to remove a thorn. The mind creates suffering, but we must use the mind to get out of suffering. The point is made in classic Buddhist fashion on p. 45: “Even just recognizing the impermanence of your mental states . . . can transform your life. Every mental state you have ever had has arisen and then passed away.” This analysis is key to the rest of the book, since Harris is heading for a state where thoughts are witnessed from a place of detachment, and if the brain can deliver such a state, poof, no more suffering.


Counterpoint:  It’s psychologically incorrect to say that a mental state like anxiety, depression, or anger merely rises and falls away. These feelings can be endemic, repetitive, and stubbornly fixed. There is a stage of therapy, and a very valuable one, where the patient gains some distance from negative thinking, and by not being so overwhelmed, healing can begin. It is also true, as classical Buddhism teaches, that the “witness” is an aspect of the mind associated with detachment.


But it puts the cart before the horse to try and witness. Should I witness the death of a child rise and fall in my mind? Should I be detached from the thought that I love my wife? The fact that thoughts appear and disappear is secondary. The primary thing is what you do with the thought. Good, bad, and indifferent actions can follow from any thought. Your next thought might change your life. The witness state develops spontaneously when meditation allows the mind to settle into its true nature, which is peaceful, loving, creative, intelligent, and so on. Because the mind is at the root of all experience, it delivers the best that existence has to offer, not in a blank state of detachment but in a subtler state where you enjoy what is happening and also witness it as the product of your own consciousness.


The Upanishads have a beautiful image about this, speaking of two birds sitting in a tree. One bird eats the fruit while the other looks on silently. This is the classic Vedic view of the mind, that its silent source creates and supports the active mind. Witnessing and thinking go together. One isn’t used to demolish or detach from the other.


These counterpoints are not posed out of hostility to Harris’s book, and I hasten to add that I venerate Buddhism as a great spiritual tradition. I hope Sam Harris has viable responses to these points. In the next post we’ll go deeper into the brain science he relies upon. But it would seem that his angle of interpretation was firmly set before he looked into the data. That angle is his to pursue, of course, but as a directive for everyday life among his readers, I have my doubts.  If “no self” is only a stepping stone on the way to the “higher self,” these issues can be resolved to the benefit of everyone.


(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. Coming soon, The Future of God (Harmony, November 11, 2014)

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

Harvard University Gene Lab, Boston, MA

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

Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, NY

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

Scripps Translational Science Institute, La Jolla, CA

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

University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA

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

Duke University, Durham, NC

1. Metabolomics
2. Mood assessments

University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

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

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

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


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.


Previous Posts

Memo to Neuroscience: “We Are Not Brain Puppets”
The notion that human beings walk, talk, think, and do things because our brains control us is a fringe idea, easily refuted with a few moment’s thought and rarely taken seriously. But it got a boost from an Op-ed piece in the New York Times last week under the title, “Are We Really Conscious?

posted 2:29:43pm Oct. 20, 2014 | read full post »

A Science of Miracles--No Longer Optional? (Part 2)
For most people, miracles are something left behind in childhood. They require innocent belief, not adult rationality. The camp of vocal skeptics and atheists provide a crossroads, in fact, where one way leads to irrationality, the other to rationality, as if this definitively defines where the trut

posted 1:17:47pm Oct. 13, 2014 | read full post »

A Science of Miracles—No Longer Optional?
In its ambition to explain every aspect of the natural world, modern science has sidestepped very few problems. Some mysteries are so difficult that they defy the scientific method. It’s hard to conceive of experiments that will tell us what happened before time and space emerged, for example. But

posted 10:36:20am Oct. 06, 2014 | read full post »

Can Sam Harris Wake Us Up? (Part 2)
Most of us recognized ourselves in the mirror this morning.  The person looking back at us has a familiar name, a family, a job.  He (or she) carries around a long menu of likes and dislikes, along with a personal history from the moment we emerged from the womb. It would amaze the vast majority o

posted 11:38:22am Sep. 29, 2014 | read full post »

Can Sam Harris Wake Us Up?
It caused a stir when Sam Harris, in a new book titled Waking Up, changed his message from militant atheism to peaceful Buddhism. A positive message is better than a negative one, and since Buddhism is often labeled as “a religion without God,” Harris's move isn't as radical as it looks at first

posted 1:31:53pm Sep. 22, 2014 | read full post »

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