Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

The Army Fights “With God on Our Side”

posted by dchopra

An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question:
The ACLU has asked the U.S. Naval Academy to end prayers at mandatory meals, and yet all branches of the service employ chaplains. What is the proper role of religion in the military?
Speaking realistically, patriotism can’t be divorced from religion. Every war is fought with God on our side — on both sides. And the prevailing notion is always that the enemy is godless. The ACLU may prevail legally, on the basis of separating church and state, but psychology works massively against them. Soldiers know that they may die in battle, and the armed forces must create an ethos that protects their psyches from the impending danger of the conflict. Team spirit and protecting your buddy is one aspect of feeling safe. Trusting your weaponry is another. But so is the idea that God approves of your cause and implicitly will take you to Heaven if the worst befalls.
The entanglement of personal duty, troop morale, patriotism, and religion isn’t simple. The ACLU’s lawsuit will antagonize anyone on the inside — besides the “us versus them” mentality about the enemy; there is an “us versus them” attitude toward the civilian public. And rightly so. No one on the home front can understand the searing experience of frontline fighting. Since Vietnam, an additional element has entered the situation: the resentment by soldiers that nobody appreciates their sacrifice. “Vietnam vet” has become synonymous with a new kind of forgotten man — unsung, alienated, often psychologically scarred for life — and society seems to feel the same way about Iraqi vets. One sympathizes with their plight; it would be inhuman not to.
That said, it is disturbing to know how deeply fundamentalist Christianity has sunk into the ethos of the armed forces. First noticed with alarm at the Air Force Academy, hard-core proselytizing is apparently rampant. Soldiers pray as they go into training exercises as well as into battle. Atheist and Jewish soldiers are ostracized or hit hard with pressure to convert. The simple notion that fighting for your country is the same as fighting for Jesus is endemic. Yet here, too, the solution isn’t clear. Weeding out chaplains who encourage right-wing fundamentalism may do some good, but if cadets and enlistees come from the same Christian background, they have rights, too. Even though one may suppose that young men and women barely in their twenties, if that, are too susceptible to peer pressure and religious indoctrination, we consider them mature enough to go to war. Splitting the difference won’t work.
In the end, this feels like a minor point of discord. The Army and Navy are adult institutions, not grade schools, and the admission or exclusion of prayer can be handled by each soldier as he or she sees fit. The armed forces should be left to develop their own ethos. Until we have a draft that puts war on a democratic footing and enlists a broad swath of the population, all of us are outsiders who contribute almost nothing to the Iraq war other than a flurry of words. American militarism is a serious problem that needs radical solutions. Pulling God out of the mess hall is beside the point.

Genes at the Crossroads

posted by dchopra

For years the general public has been receiving optimistic predictions about how genetic research will change everyday life. In particular, there have been promises that all kinds of human behavior — including overeating, belief in God, altruism, happiness, and depression — can be linked to genes in a one-to-one correspondence, i.e., a single gene providing the key to a behavior. Hence the obesity gene or the gay gene, even the faith-in-God gene. But in his New York Times column a few days ago, David Brooks quotes a Hastings Center report that says, “behavioral genetics will never explain as much of human behavior as was once promised.” The reason for this about-face, which has spread throughout the genetics community, has to do with the word “complexity.” Human behavior isn’t complex the way a game of chess is, or the way the wiring is in a computer, for example.
In those cases, the root of complexity is mathematical. There are so many possible moves in a single game of chess and so many crossover connections in a computer that simple actions become logarithmically multiplied. Human behavior isn’t complex like that. We are complex because we are creative, emotional, unpredictable, uncertain, conflicted, confused, contradictory, impulsive, and personally unique. We are also constantly changing in response to the environment. It would seem obvious that these all-too-human traits cannot be ascribed to one gene or even a large group. An article this week in the journal Nature finds that it takes over a hundred coordinated genes to participate in the process of cell division, implicating an equal number of feedback loops, since cells operate by self-regulation, monitoring chemical reactions through opposite chemical reactions that keep both in balance. Cell division is simple compared to human behavior, and without knowing how the cell coordinates its activity, genetics is miles from figuring us out.
The deeper problem is that genetics insists on the wrong kind of complexity, the mathematical kind, in order to make progress. In another Nature article, researchers found that rats will perform not simply for rewards but for cues that remind them of those rewards, which the team terms cues for happiness. Human beings do the same thing. Seeing a can of Coke — if you happen to like Coke — will cause you to reach for it even though you haven’t tasted it yet. But the researchers are stumped, in terms of brain response, by perverse behavior like drug addiction, which causes addicts to reach for their drug of choice even though the outcome will be unhappy. If cues produce happy and unhappy responses both, no clear brain function can be found for happiness. Again, one is facing a materialist fallacy, for it’s not the brain that makes people happy or unhappy but a complex relationship that involves both feelings, often at the same time, as we live our lives. Perverse behavior is at once confused, conflicted, compulsive, influenced by memory, and tied to self esteem. So are bad marriages and dead-end jobs: people stay in them not for happiness but for reasons that bounce off each other and interweave in a tangle. Rats aren’t a suitable model for our inner world and its mysterious ways.
In theoretical terms, genetics will predictably proceed in the same direction it is going. The mathematical model of complexity won’t change. How could it? To truly understand human behavior, you have to turn inward, and subjectivity remains anathema to science’s credo of detached objective observation. But since by definition consciousness can only be explored by consciousness, it has to be a subjective exploration. Any objective understanding of consciousness can only be inferential. On a practical basis, however, genetics is at a crossroads. In the same week that human trials for a potential AIDS vaccine had to be abandoned, the complex behavior of a retrovirus has defeated two decades of research, making one wonder exactly when those vaunted promises of a new age in medicine based on genetic breakthroughs are going to produce results.

Why the Paranormal Is Normal

posted by dchopra

An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question:
Polls routinely show that 75 percent of Americans hold some form of belief in the paranormal such as astrology, telepathy and ghosts. All religions contain beliefs in the supernatural. Is there a link? What’s the difference?
In general, it’s fair to say that the popular belief in the paranormal falls outside the official picture of reality. The official picture is grounded in science, rationalism, and materialism. It takes a definition of “natural,” after all, before “supernatural” can exist. God was natural in the medieval world, and thus miracles, healings, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, stigmatics, and so on, were considered natural. At the moment, it doesn’t matter how many people believe in the supernatural. Until the official picture changes, astrology is bogus, astronomy is legitimate. Ghosts are bogus, apparitions of the Virgin Mary are — well, that’s the rub. Religious people are allowed to cling to a different model of reality, tolerated by the official gatekeepers but not believed in. This gives rise to the curious phenomenon of religious scientists, who manage to hold on to two totally conflicting worldviews at the same time.
Any of us can hold conflicting viewpoints at the same time — it’s called compartmentalization. If the various compartments are tight enough and separated by thick walls, a whole range of phenomena can be believed in without making them consistent. I can imagine a cell biologist who is Catholic, has seen a UFO, reads the astrology column in the newspaper, and hopes to go to Heaven when he dies. It would be far better, however, to promote a consistent worldview, one that allows the walls to come down so that official reality might open up to unofficial reality. And vice versa, since popular belief in certain kinds of totally unproven folk cures, for example, can do harm, just as the official insistence on pharmaceuticals and surgery does its own brand of harm at times.
The only consistent worldview that I’ve ever discovered places all phenomena, natural and supernatural, on the ground of consciousness. The noted Australian neurologist Sir John Eccles pointed out a truth that materialists, including both scientists and ordinary people, don’t remotely grasp. There is no sight or sound ‘out there’ in the world, Eccles declared, no touch or taste, no beauty or ugliness, no sensation of light or objects. All these things are created in subjectivity, which is to say, they exist only in consciousness. The fact that your hand seems solid is an illusion. A neutrino passes through the entire Earth without encountering an obstacle. Every atom in your hand is 99.9999% empty space. Measured in proportion, the distance between the electrons and nucleus of an atom is greater than the distance between the Earth and the sun. At the next level of reality, atoms disappear into energy waves and then into pure potential, the ghostly state of so-called virtual reality. Only perception makes a hand solid. and perceptions are interlinked to create the world you and I inhabit, so that color, light, sound, smell, solidity, etc. all fit together.
In my view, paranormal events are neither fringe nor unreal. They are simply things not yet admitted into consciousness by our official belief system. Reality has this curious habit of keeping certain things under wraps until the human mind is willing to look at them, and then all at once they appear, changing the world when they do. Germs and gravity were once waiting in the wings but now stand center stage. In ancient India, astrology was center stage and now has retreated again, for the coming and going of phenomena works both ways.
Even so, consciousness never retreats. In the darkest ages, people know that they are aware, and from that basic premise they create a personal reality, and when enough individuals agree, then collective reality comes about. Trying to base common reality sheerly on material objects has been wildly successful in the West, but that means little about ultimate reality, which transcends individuals and groups. In the ultimate reality there is only pure consciousness, which can be conceived of as the modeling clay or box of paints that Nature provides, adding the simple instruction: Use as you please.

Deepak Chopra: Do We Live in a World of Free Will?

posted by akornfeld

Do we live in a world of free will or determinism? The answer seems to me to be the paradox that it is simultaneously both. While these processes appear to be two separate processes they are actually the manifestation of the one process.

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