Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

A Better Way to Approach Pain, and America’s Pain-Pill Epidemic

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By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, and P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina

 

You may have noticed headlines about the rise of prescription drugs as a major cause of addiction and death by overdose. Pain pills are overshadowed by illegal drugs like heroin and their dangers masked by a certain air of respectability. Yet America is in the midst of an epidemic of painkiller overuse as well as addiction. As a nation we constitute only about 5% of the world’s population, but we consume some 80% of the prescription drugs called opioids, the strongest and most addictive pain pills, that go by names like Vicodin, OxyContin, Dilaudid, codeine, and Percocet. We consume 99% of the global supply of a particular opioid called hydrocodone, which is used in combination with other drugs for pain relief but also cough suppression. In 2014 the FDA approved a new version of a pure hydrocodone despite the objections of its own medical advisory panel (which voted 12 to 2 against approval) and 30 states. Today opioid overdose deaths (one every 30 minutes) exceed deaths from motor vehicle accidents as well as the combined total of deaths by heroin or cocaine overdose.

How did we get here? The pain-relieving properties of opium have been known for thousands of years, but because of its dangerous side effects and addictive properties, it has generally been reserved for more severe forms of acute pain. This changed in the mid-90s when doctors became more lax about prescribing opioids over a longer period of time. Pharmaceutical companies launched marketing campaigns, and medical use of opioids in the US increased tenfold over the next two decades. This was a gamble between relieving the pain of patients and the risk of overuse, a gamble that obviously hasn’t paid off. Mounting evidence suggests that long-term opioid drug use triggers a vicious circle of continued pain and addiction. Citing the predictability of such an outcome, some counties in California and Illinois have sued the makers of opioid drugs for misinformation campaigns.

Pain has become the most common reason that people see doctors–more than 100 million Americans are reported to suffer from chronic pain, a number that exceeds the combined total of people suffering from diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia and stroke. Is there another way to resolve chronic pain besides the disastrous course we’re on?

The first step toward an alternative is to view pain as a mind-body experience that is highly subjective. As such it can often be approached through a phenomenon called “self-efficacy.” The brain contains many pain-relieving chemicals, and these can be triggered mentally, which is why taking a placebo leads to pain relief in a significant proportion of people. (The reverse is also true through the nocebo effect, where a harmless substance induces pain or fails to relieve it when the subject is told that this is the expected outcome.)

In a related example, people who thought they were getting expensive pain pills reported more pain relief than those who thought they were getting generic drugs even though both groups were given the same inactive placebo. Likewise, bigger placebo pills work better than smaller ones, and injected placebos work better than oral ones. In all of these findings, subjects are unwittingly calling upon the self-regulation of pain.

Nor is this just the mind playing a trick of us. Brain scans show that a placebo, when effective, changes the brain in the same way as do active pills, and these changes can be found in the spinal cord, not just the brain. The implications are strong for chronic pain over an extended period, too. Studies in arthritis patients have shown that the placebo effect can last over two years. In sum, self-efficacy is more powerful and more long-lasting than is generally realized, even among physicians.

If you suffer from chronic pain, where did it originate? Our latest understanding is that about half of our pain sensitivity is thought to be genetically determined and the other half by a mixture of variables: cultural and religious background, mood, past experiences with pain, and the surroundings (e.g. having a good support structure or not). Women feel pain differently from men, even as newborns, and are more likely to report painful medical conditions. African Americans tolerate experimental pain less than Whites, perhaps due to greater vigilance.

Some astonishing recent experiments at Oxford University have shown us a new way to treat pain using the inverted microscope, an instrument makes objects look smaller. The researchers showed that when people viewed their injured hands through an inverted microscope, they experienced less pain and even reduced swelling. What we see modulates how much pain we feel, more evidence that pain originates in the mind.

The point is that subjectivity plays a key role in the degree of pain each of us feels from the same stimulus. As the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius noted in the second century A.D., “if you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” That’s why a child who’s about to have some blood drawn can be distracted with a new toy and feel no pain, and why long-distance runners can work through their pain from a desire to win. Pain can thus serve as a strengthening activity, the “no pain, no gain” motto of athletes.

Religion and spiritual background play their part, too. Researchers at Oxford University used brain scans to study how religious beliefs affect the pain response. Subjects were shown either an image of the Virgin Mary by a 17th-century Italian painter or a nonreligious painting by Da Vinci (Lady with an Ermine). After looking at each image for half a minute, they were given mild electric shocks and asked to rate their pain. Devout Catholics and atheists responded to pain similarly after seeing the Da Vinci painting, but devout believers rated their pain lower after seeing the Virgin Mary. Brain scans showed that the devout Catholics were engaging more of their ventromedial cortex, a brain region known to be involved in the placebo effect, which apparently made their pain less threatening.

In Hinduism pain affects the body, arising from a person’s karma, but it doesn’t touch the soul or higher self. In the Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna tells the warrior Arjuna that “weapons do not cut it, fire does not burn it…the self is indestructible and timeless.” An understanding that all pain is temporary gives believers mental strength to put it in proper context and to cope without falling into depression or self-blame. The nonreligious can achieve similar levels of coping through mindfulness, yoga or various forms of meditation. A 2011 randomized controlled three-month study of Iyengar yoga in 313 patients with back pain showed that how their backs functioned at 3, 6, and 12 months was superior to the usual medical-care group if they took up yoga.

Love is another potent pain reliever. Studies have shown that a 20-second hug can relieve pain and stress as effectively as prescription drugs; it also acts on nerve cells to release pain-relieving brain chemicals such as oxytocin and endorphins.

The upshot is that pain management has come a long way since the era when the placebo effect was shrugged off by most doctors as “not real medicine.” Placebos trigger a person’s own brain to relieve pain, but this happens unwittingly–the element of self-deception is present. Removing this element ruins the placebo effect, but it opens the way for conscious, self-aware techniques. Clearly we are not suggesting that anyone should take pain lightly or that you should treat any medical pain entirely on your own. No one should stop taking prescription opioid painkillers abruptly, either. What we are suggesting is that the long-term solution to America’s opioid drug epidemic lies in changing the self-efficacy environment. Painkillers should come after a patient has explored the power of the mind-body connection, keeping up the search for the best and most efficacious techniques. The field of self-care is burgeoning, and pain should become a central part of that if we want to end our dependency on drugs whose prolonged overuse is so dire.

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.

Take a moment to check out ‘Self Directed Biological Transformation Initiative – SBTI’ on Indiegogo and share it with your friends. Get perks, make a contribution, or simply follow updates. If enough of us get behind it, we can make ‘Self Directed Biological Transformation Initiative – SBTI happen!

P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP, Professor of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina and a leading physician scientist in the area of mental health, cognitive neuroscience and mind-body medicine.

Naïve Realism, Or the Strange Case of Physics and Fake Philosophers (Part 2)

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By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas Kafatos,PhD

 

Scientists have assigned  the role of Mister Answer to science, the source of knowledge on every subject. This is peculiar because science does not accept a complete body of knowledge at any one time as final, therefore no answer can be final. This is how science progresses. Scientists though often forget that and they go on as if their current knowledge is all there is to know. By the very nature of science, some subjects are beyond science. Does this mean they are beyond knowing? That’s a tricky and at times disturbing question.  Doubts arise on many fronts. Can science tell us what it means to be human, or how molecules developed the ability to think, as they seem to do in the brain? These are questions that science was never meant to be able to answer. It does not mean they are not valid and fundamental. However, the most troubling issue is whether science can continue to perform its most basic function, describing the nature of reality. As we saw in the first post of this series, there’s every indication that reality is becoming more mysterious, not less, as one probes deeper into it.

 

Some leading scientists are on record dismissing philosophy as “junk,” “useless,” and “an obstacle to progress,” because philosophy consists purely of thinking while science produces hard facts, experiments, and provable findings. Yet in its disdain for so-called “metaphysics,” these scientists  have become over confident. It turns out that there are three areas where philosophy is likely to resurge in a new guise, bringing answers about reality that all of us need to know, including the most advanced scientists.

 

The first area has to do with how we know what we know, which is called epistemology. How do you know a rock is hard and heavy, the sun is hot, and a red rose is red? You use the five senses, which seem to be trustworthy in the everyday world.  This trust is called naïve realism, and as the first post revealed, the five senses are totally untrustworthy in the quantum domain.  The fact that a rock can be reduced to a cloud of vibrating energy that in turn is only describable as a smear of probabilities knocks naïve realism off its pedestal.  Even more devastating is the fact that the brain, which we rely on to know everything about the world, isn’t a privileged object. Like a rock, it too can also ultimately be reduced to a smear of probabilities, undercutting our assumption that what the brain reports is true knowledge.

 

Neuroscience is entirely based on the premise that the brain can do things a rock cannot do, yet if the brain and a rock are embedded in the same quantum domain, where did the brain acquire its ability to know anything? What is the difference between the elementary particles in a rock from the elementary particles in a brain? None whatsoever. Brain scientists would argue that it is the incredible complexity of the brain that makes it different but incredible complexity in machines created by man does not make them capable of even the tiniest of thought, or feeling for that matter. Science has offered no credible answer, and the vast majority of scientists would be baffled by the possibility that the brain doesn’t in fact know anything, any more than a rock does. Rather, it’s the mind, using the brain to express itself, that knows, just as Mozart, knowing music, used the piano to express himself.

 

The second area where philosophy can guide future science is ontology, the study of existence itself. To be or not to be isn’t just Hamlet’s dilemma as he contemplates suicide. What it means to be has challenged great philosophes for centuries. Naïve realism tries to cut the Gordian knot by declaring that ontology is dead simple: What you see is what exists. End of story. But just as with epistemology, this position is untenable, using the findings of science itself and in particular quantum physics, which has shown conclusively that the visible universe emerged from a pre-created and unknown state. This state contains nothing, if what we mean by “something” is physical objects in time and space.

 

Because the human brain operates in time and space, not to mention that it is a physical object, there seems to be no way to reach the pre-created state of the universe where time and space did not exist. Science faces the prospect of a dead end, even as news reports about the so-called God particle trumpet that Nature is on the verge of revealing its deepest secrets. The truth is that quantum theory, along with the mystery  of dark matter and energy, calls ordinary existence into question. (In the case of dark matter and energy, the problems are twofold. First, there is so much of it, amounting, perhaps, to 96% of everything in creation. Second, “darkness” is related to  the quantum vacuum from which the universe arises but in no relation to the familiar scheme that builds the cosmos out of waves and particles.)

 

Philosophy long ago encountered the mystery of existence. An idea arose that can be of immense help to modern science. This is the notion that the void—the nothing from which everything arose—isn’t alien to us. It may exist beyond time and space but not beyond consciousness. In our own awareness we meet the primal “stuff” of creation, which is mind. A cosmic mind wouldn’t be like an individual mind. It wouldn’t think one thought at a time; it wouldn’t identify with a separate ego; it wouldn’t be limited by the abilities of the brain (which after all, is constantly evolving).

 

Instead, the cosmic mind would be consciousness itself, a field of infinite possibilities. Among these possibilities is the emergence of time, space, matter, and energy. This idea is actually not against quantum field theory. But a cosmologist can counter with a purely physical theory, such as the multiverse, which has no need for God, mind, or metaphysics. The multiverse, in a word, states that if you have nearly an infinite number of universes bubbling up, the odds eventually favor the birth of our universe (akin to the notion that a thousand monkeys typing randomly on a thousand computers will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare). This is a clever end run, but the multiverse isn’t open to experimentation, so it holds no advantage over metaphysics. And, ultimately, it really answers nothing about the real universe where we all live and die. This looks like a stalemate, with some people believing in mind and others believing in matter.

 

What breaks the stalemate, if metaphysics can do it, is the existence of some very mind-like aspects embedded in the fabric of reality. A number of these aspects are complex, such as so-called non-locality, by which two particles communicate instantaneously, no matter how far apart they are in space, thus disobeying the limit fixed by Einstein that nothing can happen faster than the speed of light. For some theorists, this alone is enough to throw all standard materialist explanations out the window.

 

But on a simpler basis, we can look at the human mind in everyday operation. It is markedly creative, intelligent, self-aware, and open to new possibilities.  Where did these properties come from? Physicalists maintain that they emerged through random chance, which seems more and more unlikely. Metaphysics (principally in the Indian tradition known as Vedanta) declares that the properties of mind are universal. The pre-created state may be inconceivable, but everything conceivable was born there. By employing our own awareness we are actually in contact with awareness itself. Your mind may be smaller than the cosmic mind, but both have the same essence, as a drop of water has the same essence as the ocean. This solves the mystery of existence far better than any physical explanation.

 

The third area where philosophy has immense value is the vexing question of duality. It’s very hard to see how mind grew out of matter, or vice versa. Thinking about a rose isn’t the same as an actual rose. A mathematical formulation of the nuclear reactions inside the sun isn’t the same as lying on a beach feeling the sun’s warmth. There is no obvious way to stitch mind and matter together so that duality goes away, and yet it’s totally unsatisfactory to let them live apart, either.

 

To see this, consider a common experience like feeling elated when you hear the words “I love you” whispered in your ear. The words produce a physical state in the brain, measurable as chemical reactions. But words are mental. How do they turn into, trigger, or even connect with chemicals? Is your brain happy? If so, are neurons happy? Not likely, since by reductio ad absurdum, molecules and atoms can’t be happy, yet the brain is nothing but atoms and molecules. We are back to the old problem, how can inert particles that make up everything be capable of feeling in one case but not in another case?

 

In some way “I love you” belongs in the same scheme as the hormones and neurotransmitters associated with feeling happy. To keep them separate won’t work. Plato, Aristotle, and Kant, along with every other great philosopher, had no idea of how the human brain processes input, and in turn neuroscience, despite its exciting discoveries, cannot explain how experience arises.  Both modes of explanation have something to offer, out of which a credible view of reality is possible.

 

Why is this whole argument important in everyday life? Think of a friend who has fallen in love and is about to get married. At one time or other in history, the explanation for his behavior could be any of the following:

God told him what to do.

                It was destined for him to find this particular woman.

                It was his karma—he loved her in a past life.

                Brain chemistry produced the sensations he mistakes for love.

                Love is a mystery. Who knows why two people experience it?

These are contradictory explanations, and all can be found, not just historically, but alive in people’s minds today. The beauty of metaphysics is that it makes room for all of them, sorted out into specific categories (myth, psychology, neuroscience, etc.) while giving a privileged position to none. The privileged position belongs to the only thing that unites all explanations, models, theories, and stories: they arise in the mind. Ultimately, consciousness allows these apparently contradictory statements to hold part of the whole truth. But not the total truth.

 

A mind-based understanding of reality has been the province of philosophy, but now science is having to confront mind at the core of reality. This is actually the view of many of the founders of modern quantum physics. Without philosophy to save us from naïve realism, science will be stuck defending the indefensible.  Fairy tales about atoms randomly colliding to eventually form DNA and after more collisions, the human brain will persist. To use an old analogy, this is like saying that a hurricane blowing through a scrapyard can build a 747. That’s why the pretense that molecules can think, feel, create, love, dream, and be self-aware—the very things that humans do with the mind—is collapsing.

 

Until human experience is taken into account, we remain like children with our noses pressed against the bakeshop window.  Far better to recognize that this is a participatory universe, and the way we participate is through an infinite variety of experiences—including the experience of doing science—that must be explained before anything else is explainable.

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. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014.www.choprafoundation.org

Take a moment to check out ‘Self Directed Biological Transformation Initiative – SBTI’ on Indiegogo and share it with your friends. Get perks, make a contribution, or simply follow updates. If enough of us get behind it, we can make ‘Self Directed Biological Transformation Initiative – SBTI’ happen!

 

Menas C. Kafatos, is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor of Computational Physics, at Chapman University. He is a quantum physicist, cosmologist, and climate change researcher and works extensively on consciousness. He has authored about 300 articles, is author, co-author or editor of 14 books, including “The Conscious Universe” (Springer), and is co-author with Deepak Chopra of the forthcoming book, “Who Made God and Other Cosmic Riddles” (Harmony).

 

 

Naïve Realism, Or the Strange Case of Physics and Fake Philosophers

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In a most unexpected way, physics has started to criticize its own sense of reality. Noted figures are speaking out against other noted figures, and heads are being knocked. A prime example: In the blog section of Scientific American, the highly respected South African physicist and cosmologist George Ellis says, quite bluntly, “The belief that all of reality can be fully comprehended in terms of physics and the equations of physics is a fantasy.” In the same vein, the esteemed British physicist Sir Martin Rees made a headline in 2010 that read “We shouldn’t attach any weight to what Hawking says about God.”

 

Stephen Hawking has been quoted around the world for saying that God isn’t necessary to our understanding of creation. Lord Rees, former president of the Royal Society and sometimes labeled “Britain’s greatest scientist,” expressed himself pointedly: “I know Stephen Hawking well enough to know that he has read very little philosophy and even less theology, so I don’t think we should attach any weight to his views on this topic.”

 

But physics has long disdained philosophy. The prominent PBS personality, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, recently called philosophy useless, asserting, as countless scientists do, the superiority of science in answering the big questions about existence. Richard Dawkins feels qualified to show the falseness of all theological ideas back to the beginning, ridiculing them without actually examining them. Ellis singles out a staunch Dawkins ally, physicist Lawrence Krauss, for making statements about the source of the universe without benefit of experiments or data. In other words, Krauss feels free to foist off his own philosophical baggage under the guise of being scientific.

 

He’s hardly alone in this. Ellis is one of the few famous physicists with a strong background in philosophy, and he shakes his head over scientists like Krauss who are faking their way through the field of great ideas: “It’s very ironic when he says philosophy is bunk and then himself engages in this kind of attempt at philosophy. It seems that science education should include some basic modules on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, and the other great philosophers…” DeGrasse Tyson wouldn’t be on board with this suggestion, since he calls philosophical questioning “a pointless delay in our progress.”

 

Behind the physics versus philosophy debate lie some crucial issues that impinge on everyone’s life. The discussion can become very arcane, but the questions being tackled aren’t: What is the nature of reality? Where did the universe come from? What place do humans have in the cosmos? It’s probably safe to say that 90% of people look to science to answer these questions, yet if science itself is feeling wobbly about finding the answers, that’s an important shift, perhaps a seismic one.

 

So let’s examine the wobbliest issue of all: What is reality?  If you toss out thousands of years of philosophy, what you’re left with is what you see with your own eyes: a world of physical objects. These objects—trees, mountains, houses, cats– look real. In everyday life we move through the world on the assumption that the five senses are delivering reality to us. The fact that this assumption, known as naïve realism, is completely false is what modern physics is all about, from Einstein’s proof that time and space are relative to quantum mechanics’ proof that physical objects are essentially clouds of energy, and this energy emerges from a “bubbling vacuum.”

 

If it’s ironic that some overly cocky physicists practice fake philosophy (an accusation that most people outside the field would shrug off as in-fighting), the double irony is that so many prominent physicists practice naïve realism. Their graduate-school training dismantled any faith they might have had in the five senses, yet their notions about reality stubbornly adhere to such faith, in subtle ways.

 

Examples abound: There is the naïve belief that the brain, a solid, tangible object, produces the mind. To believe anything else would place mind or consciousness squarely at the heart of creation, which is anathema to the vast majority of scientists. Second, there’s the belief that cosmologists and high-speed particle physicists will discover what came before the Big Bang.  Ellis is quick to puncture this fantasy: “How indeed can you test what existed before the universe existed? You can’t.”  Third, there’s the belief that with enough time and thought, a model of the universe will be completed, the famed Theory of Everything.  Such a belief crashes when you realize that “everything” includes subjective experience, love, God, the soul, the purpose of existence, meaning, and the behavior of consciousness—none of these things, grappled with by philosophy for centuries, can be understood through physics.

 

(For background, see the three-part post co-authored by the eminent physicist Henry Stapp that precisely describes why the universe behaves more like an idea than like anything purely physical. Part 1, part 2, part 3.

 

The danger here is that we, meaning all of us, will get backed into a corner. With philosophy dismissed as useless, and science promising to answer questions that it is actually incapable of answering, what happens to reality?  It will remain a mystery smothered by pseudo answers, until one day more people wake up to realize that Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and so on were wrestling with the meaning of human existence, and that’s very, very important.

 

At the level of educated popular culture (i.e., people who watch science programming on PBs or the BBC), naïve realism, backed by casual atheism and unspoken scorn for metaphysics, is the order of the day. Appealing presenters like deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox in Britain smile their way through issues that have challenged the world’s wisdom traditions, as if a dose of basic science mixed with good old-fashioned rationality will tell us everything we need to know.

 

But in the background there is an acknowledgment, not only that naïve realism is false but that nobody can agree on a viable alternative.  A single example will show what’s at stake: Imagine that you are looking at a chair. Apparently one physical object—the brain—is taking in true knowledge about another physical object, the chair. But that’s impossible. Both objects are made up of atoms that aren’t objects at all, according to quantum theory, but a set of invisible waves whose position can be known only as a smear of probabilities. As the chair vanishes into the quantum vacuum, so does the brain.

 

This is a devastating challenge to naïve realism, the belief that what you see is real. In fact, what you see is an image of your brain’s perceptual mechanism. Such images are severely limited, since your brain operates in linear time and perceives actions as cause and effect. In the quantum domain, time isn’t linear and cause and effect dissolves. Since we have no scientific explanation for perceptual experience it is unscientific to assume that what we perceive is real. Gazing out at the world, you are actually gazing at your brain’s imaging capacity.  It may turn out, as the ancient Vedic sages held, that what the brain reports is a kind of neurological dream that we all inhabit.

 

The comfy certainty of Cox and deGrasse Tyson, like the skeptical hectoring of Dawkins and Krauss, gives a false sense of “everything’s okay, we’ll have all the answers shortly.” In fact, reality has become more mysterious than ever, and yet there is a viable alternative to naïve realism after all, as we’ll explore in the next post. Here’s a preview: Metaphysics counts, and it counts a great deal.

(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. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014.www.choprafoundation.org

Take a moment to check out ‘Self Directed Biological Transformation Initiative – SBTI’ on Indiegogo and share it with your friends. Get perks, make a  contribution, or simply follow updates. If enough of us get behind it, we can make ‘Self Directed Biological Transformation Initiative – SBTI’ happen!

Is a Mind-Element Needed to Interpret Quantum Mechanics? Do physically undetermined choices enter into the evolution of the physical universe? Part 3

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 By Deepak Chopra, MD and Henry Stapp, PhD

Our previous two posts on the role of mind in nature have argued that rational analysis of the empirical evidence entails that the world is not only influenced by ideas, but consists of them. Of course, the everyday experience of a physical reality made of things that seem solid can be very compelling, especially when combined with the classically held understanding of subatomic particles orbiting around one another like small planets. This view, which everyone is familiar with, supports the existence of a real external world independent of mind.  When you stub your toe on a rock, you don’t feel it’s like stubbing your toe on an idea.  Indeed, as Erwin Schrödinger, a principal founder of quantum mechanics, remarked; “It comes naturally for the simple man of today to think of a dualistic relationship between mind and matter as an extremely obvious idea. … But a more careful consideration  …[leads to the conclusion] that surrender of the notion of the real external world, alien as it seems to everyday thinking, is absolutely essential.”

Schrödinger knew, based on empirical evidence that at the basic level a subatomic particle doesn’t behave like a tiny planet but like a smear of possibilities. Our experience of the solidity of day-to-day reality–for example the hardness of a rock–is mathematically explained in terms of the rock’s elementary particles being just such smears of possibilities. Schrödinger had a huge advantage over the preceding German idealist philosophers like Hegel, who posited that reality was more like an idea than a thing. They had arrived at this conclusion on the basis of logic alone, without the critical empirical evidence. That evidence was supplied by experiments done during the 20th century.

Empirical evidence ought to be persuasive to scientists, but mainstream opinion in science is often governed more by socio-political forces and personalities than by rational thinking based on the data. Nowhere is this more evident than in present-day neuroscience, where in spite of the strong evidence for quantum effects in biological systems and in the brain, workers doggedly adhere to the physicalism that Francis Crick called for decades ago (i.e., reducing all the mind to physical processes in the brain and nothing more).

To rationally settle this issue one needs an adequate conceptual framework. Finding one is not easy, however. That’s because the dynamics involved is described in three different incompatible languages. The empirical data is expressed in terms of the concepts of classical physics, while the mathematical machinery needed to explain the detailed structure of that data is couched in the very different mathematical language of quantum physics. Then there is the question of the possible physical effects of our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, which are described in a third language, the language of psychology. According to classical physics, mental events can be left out of the determination of physical properties. But according to orthodox quantum mechanics, our mental intentions play an essential role in the determination of brain behavior.

Such a mismatch could be compared to investigators showing up at the scene of a wreck by the highway where a car has landed in a snow bank. One investigator, being a classic physicalist, says that the cause of the wreck was a sudden swerve of the car’s tires on the icy road. Another investigator, a quantum physicist, produces a set of calculations derived from Schrödinger’s equation that pinpoints the statistical probability of the car winding up where it landed. A third investigator, a psychologist, points to the driver’s recent divorce, which led him to heavy drinking as emotional compensation. Three different descriptions are derived from the same event. Without a doubt, no matter which alternative you choose, the simple matter of physical cause and effect is no longer so simple.

The crucial question is whether the choices that you and I make in daily life are determined by purely mathematical rules. John von Neumann’s 1932 book, The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, says no: The orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics requires the observer’s “ego” to enter into the unfolding of reality in a way that lies outside and beyond the known mathematics. In everyday life we certainly feel that the things we do, think, and say aren’t fixed by the laws of physics. According to classical mechanics, however, these feelings are illusions, whereas in orthodox quantum mechanics these feelings represent an awareness of the true nature of reality.

There are, of course, non-orthodox formulations of quantum mechanics, but they fail to meet the demands of its founders that the theory encompass the realities we know actually exist, namely our conscious experiences. (Who falls in love as a result of gravity, thermodynamics, and Newton’s laws of motion?) The main alternatives to the orthodox approach not only fail to bring our conscious experiences into their foundational structure, but they fail to explain rationally how a person’s known experiences can arise from physically described reality–the physical description contains no hint of their existence. There is no scientific virtue in avoiding all mention of our personal experience when science is supposed to be based on empirical (i.e., experienced) evidence. The offered alternatives actually tend to extol the fact that they lack any mention of consciousness in their foundations, instead of recognizing this as a likely fatal flaw. Yet that flaw is built into a theory based essentially on the concepts of classical mechanics, from which all connections to our experiences have been systematically removed.

Possible explanations of reality keep proliferating–with some truth it’s been said that there are as many quantum theories as quantum physicists. Actually, there are probably more theories than theorists, because when you confront a physicist who holds an unorthodox view, he soon changes to another view, recognizing that his prior view is not completely defined. As he shifts to ever new positions, the discussion goes nowhere.

But one can classify the existing theories as idealist, materialist, and dualist. Orthodox quantum mechanics is the prime dualist theory. But, as we have argued in the previous two articles, it essentially reduces to idealism when you analyze it. If we must choose between idealistic monism or physicalistic monism then it must be idealism. At the end of the day, the only realities that we really know exist are our ideas. That’s the basic point behind all idealisms. Even physical descriptions, as far as we can know them, are inventions of the human mind.

This last point is worth elaborating upon.

The scientific description of reality is essentially mathematical. To reduce Nature to a set of regular, universal “principles,” Newton applied mathematics to things located in a four-dimensional space-time filled with an infinity of points. (Imagine any location you’ve ever been in your life located on a three-dimensional chess board, with the addition of time as a fourth dimension.) The basic idea of classical (Newtonian-type) mechanics is that every fundamental property can be located at such a real place: these real points are where the basic realities of Nature reside. But how well does this idea fare when we demand compatibility with the quantum empirical facts, which are fundamentally incompatible with the basic concepts of classical physics?

In classical mechanics a “really existing” 4-D continuum of points provides the places for the assumed-to-exist real particles to be. In quantum mechanics we again use a 4-D continuum of locations, but as we’ve discussed, these are locations only of possibilities. In the switch from classical to quantum, the points of the 4-D continuum lose their status as the places where real things can be, becoming places where potentialities exist for experiences of seemingly real things to appear if an observer looks for them there. This is the crucial shift made by the founders of quantum mechanics and by von Neumann in order to cope rationally with the mysterious twentieth-century empirical findings.  In so doing, space-time points were reduced to parts of an idea-like reality.

The persuasiveness of seeing the universe as mind-like isn’t new, and skeptics find themselves scoffing at the thoughts of some of the most distinguished physicists of the modern era. “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” (Planck quoted in the Observer, 25 January 1931). The usual ploy among skeptics is to dismiss anyone who talks this way as a bad thinker or else a once-notable scientist who has lost it. But in truth the shoddiest thinking is among physicalists themselves, because their thinking is rooted in the classical concepts that have been found to be grossly incompatible with twentieth century empirical findings.

Equally strong are statements from the eminent British astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington: “The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind.” “To put the conclusion crudely – the stuff of the world is mind-stuff”. “It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference – inference either intuitive or deliberate.” (Eddington, 1928, The Nature of the Physical World, Chapter 13)

In 1961 Erwin Schrödinger wrote in the same vein and at length.

“… it comes naturally to the simple man of today to think of a dualistic relationship between mind and matter as an extremely obvious idea. … But a more careful consideration should make us less ready to admit this interaction of events in two spheres—-if they really are different spheres; for the … causal determination of matter by mind …would necessarily have to disrupt the autonomy of material events, while the …causal influence on mind or bodies or their equivalent, for example light…is absolutely unintelligible to us; in short, we simply cannot see how material events can be transformed into sensation or thought, however many text-books… go on talking nonsense on the subject.

“These shortcomings can hardly be avoided except by abandoning dualism. This has been proposed often enough, and it is odd that it has usually been done on a materialistic basis.   ….But it strikes me that …surrender of the notion of the real external world, alien as it seems to everyday thinking, is absolutely essential.

“…If we decide to have only one world, it has got to be the psychic one, since that exists anyway (cogitate—-est). And to suppose that there is interaction between the two spheres involves something of a magical ghostly sort; or rather the supposition itself makes them into a single thing.” (Schrödinger, My View of the World, pp. 61 -63)

Einstein arrives at essentially the same conclusion about the mental character of the reality implicit in standard quantum theory. This is something he complains about, however, as when he says that “What I dislike about this kind of argumentation is the basic positivistic attitude, which from my point of view is untenable, and which seems to me to come to the same thing as Berkeley’s esse est percipi.” [To be is to be perceived.] (Einstein: Philosopher-Physicist, Schilpp, p. 669)

But despite his opposition to such a view, it is undeniable that our observations are the basis of science. Einstein was never able to incorporate quantum phenomena into his classical physics-type view of Nature. When the absolutely unavoidable facts of non-locality (i.e., faster-than-light effects) are included in what must be explained, the physicalist ontology advocated by Einstein (the view that the universe of physical objects exists in and of itself) collapses. One is invited to consider instead the alternative proposed by von Neumann’s rationally coherent orthodox quantum mechanical conception.  As we’ve seen, this conception both physical and psychological, but the universe presents an overarching reality that is fundamentally mental in character.

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. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

Henry Stapp is a theoretical physicist at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, specializing in the conceptual and mathematical foundations of quantum theory, and in particular in the quantum aspects of the relationship between our streams of conscious experience and the physical processes occurring in our brains.   Stapp worked closely with Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and John Wheeler, and is author of two books on the quantum mechanical foundation of the connection between mind and matter: “Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics;” and “Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer.” These works lay the foundation for a science-based approach to the question of human free will. His new book “On the Nature of Things: Human presence in the world of atoms” will be available soon. He thanks his son, Henry Pierce Stapp IV, for help in the presentation of ideas appearing in this series of articles.

 By Deepak Chopra, MD and Henry Stapp, PhD

 

Our previous two posts on the role of mind in nature have argued that rational analysis of the empirical evidence entails that the world is not only influenced by ideas, but consists of them. Of course, the everyday experience of a physical reality made of things that seem solid can be very compelling, especially when combined with the classically held understanding of subatomic particles orbiting around one another like small planets. This view, which everyone is familiar with, supports the existence of a real external world independent of mind.  When you stub your toe on a rock, you don’t feel it’s like stubbing your toe on an idea.  Indeed, as Erwin Schrödinger, a principal founder of quantum mechanics, remarked; “It comes naturally for the simple man of today to think of a dualistic relationship between mind and matter as an extremely obvious idea. … But a more careful consideration  …[leads to the conclusion] that surrender of the notion of the real external world, alien as it seems to everyday thinking, is absolutely essential.”

 

Schrödinger knew, based on empirical evidence that at the basic level a subatomic particle doesn’t behave like a tiny planet but like a smear of possibilities. Our experience of the solidity of day-to-day reality–for example the hardness of a rock–is mathematically explained in terms of the rock’s elementary particles being just such smears of possibilities. Schrödinger had a huge advantage over the preceding German idealist philosophers like Hegel, who posited that reality was more like an idea than a thing. They had arrived at this conclusion on the basis of logic alone, without the critical empirical evidence. That evidence was supplied by experiments done during the 20th century.

 

Empirical evidence ought to be persuasive to scientists, but mainstream opinion in science is often governed more by socio-political forces and personalities than by rational thinking based on the data. Nowhere is this more evident than in present-day neuroscience, where in spite of the strong evidence for quantum effects in biological systems and in the brain, workers doggedly adhere to the physicalism that Francis Crick called for decades ago (i.e., reducing all the mind to physical processes in the brain and nothing more).

 

To rationally settle this issue one needs an adequate conceptual framework. Finding one is not easy, however. That’s because the dynamics involved is described in three different incompatible languages. The empirical data is expressed in terms of the concepts of classical physics, while the mathematical machinery needed to explain the detailed structure of that data is couched in the very different mathematical language of quantum physics. Then there is the question of the possible physical effects of our thoughts, ideas, and feelings, which are described in a third language, the language of psychology. According to classical physics, mental events can be left out of the determination of physical properties. But according to orthodox quantum mechanics, our mental intentions play an essential role in the determination of brain behavior.

Such a mismatch could be compared to investigators showing up at the scene of a wreck by the highway where a car has landed in a snow bank. One investigator, being a classic physicalist, says that the cause of the wreck was a sudden swerve of the car’s tires on the icy road. Another investigator, a quantum physicist, produces a set of calculations derived from Schrödinger’s equation that pinpoints the statistical probability of the car winding up where it landed. A third investigator, a psychologist, points to the driver’s recent divorce, which led him to heavy drinking as emotional compensation. Three different descriptions are derived from the same event. Without a doubt, no matter which alternative you choose, the simple matter of physical cause and effect is no longer so simple.

 

The crucial question is whether the choices that you and I make in daily life are determined by purely mathematical rules. John von Neumann’s 1932 book, The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, says no: The orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics requires the observer’s “ego” to enter into the unfolding of reality in a way that lies outside and beyond the known mathematics. In everyday life we certainly feel that the things we do, think, and say aren’t fixed by the laws of physics. According to classical mechanics, however, these feelings are illusions, whereas in orthodox quantum mechanics these feelings represent an awareness of the true nature of reality.

There are, of course, non-orthodox formulations of quantum mechanics, but they fail to meet the demands of its founders that the theory encompass the realities we know actually exist, namely our conscious experiences. (Who falls in love as a result of gravity, thermodynamics, and Newton’s laws of motion?) The main alternatives to the orthodox approach not only fail to bring our conscious experiences into their foundational structure, but they fail to explain rationally how a person’s known experiences can arise from physically described reality–the physical description contains no hint of their existence. There is no scientific virtue in avoiding all mention of our personal experience when science is supposed to be based on empirical (i.e., experienced) evidence. The offered alternatives actually tend to extol the fact that they lack any mention of consciousness in their foundations, instead of recognizing this as a likely fatal flaw. Yet that flaw is built into a theory based essentially on the concepts of classical mechanics, from which all connections to our experiences have been systematically removed.

 

Possible explanations of reality keep proliferating–with some truth it’s been said that there are as many quantum theories as quantum physicists. Actually, there are probably more theories than theorists, because when you confront a physicist who holds an unorthodox view, he soon changes to another view, recognizing that his prior view is not completely defined. As he shifts to ever new positions, the discussion goes nowhere.

 

But one can classify the existing theories as idealist, materialist, and dualist. Orthodox quantum mechanics is the prime dualist theory. But, as we have argued in the previous two articles, it essentially reduces to idealism when you analyze it. If we must choose between idealistic monism or physicalistic monism then it must be idealism. At the end of the day, the only realities that we really know exist are our ideas. That’s the basic point behind all idealisms. Even physical descriptions, as far as we can know them, are inventions of the human mind.

This last point is worth elaborating upon.

 

The scientific description of reality is essentially mathematical. To reduce Nature to a set of regular, universal “principles,” Newton applied mathematics to things located in a four-dimensional space-time filled with an infinity of points. (Imagine any location you’ve ever been in your life located on a three-dimensional chess board, with the addition of time as a fourth dimension.) The basic idea of classical (Newtonian-type) mechanics is that every fundamental property can be located at such a real place: these real points are where the basic realities of Nature reside. But how well does this idea fare when we demand compatibility with the quantum empirical facts, which are fundamentally incompatible with the basic concepts of classical physics?

 

In classical mechanics a “really existing” 4-D continuum of points provides the places for the assumed-to-exist real particles to be. In quantum mechanics we again use a 4-D continuum of locations, but as we’ve discussed, these are locations only of possibilities. In the switch from classical to quantum, the points of the 4-D continuum lose their status as the places where real things can be, becoming places where potentialities exist for experiences of seemingly real things to appear if an observer looks for them there. This is the crucial shift made by the founders of quantum mechanics and by von Neumann in order to cope rationally with the mysterious twentieth-century empirical findings.  In so doing, space-time points were reduced to parts of an idea-like reality.

 

The persuasiveness of seeing the universe as mind-like isn’t new, and skeptics find themselves scoffing at the thoughts of some of the most distinguished physicists of the modern era. “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness.” (Planck quoted in the Observer, 25 January 1931). The usual ploy among skeptics is to dismiss anyone who talks this way as a bad thinker or else a once-notable scientist who has lost it. But in truth the shoddiest thinking is among physicalists themselves, because their thinking is rooted in the classical concepts that have been found to be grossly incompatible with twentieth century empirical findings.

 

Equally strong are statements from the eminent British astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Eddington: “The universe is of the nature of a thought or sensation in a universal Mind.” “To put the conclusion crudely – the stuff of the world is mind-stuff”. “It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character. But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference – inference either intuitive or deliberate.” (Eddington, 1928, The Nature of the Physical World, Chapter 13)

 

In 1961 Erwin Schrödinger wrote in the same vein and at length.

“… it comes naturally to the simple man of today to think of a dualistic relationship between mind and matter as an extremely obvious idea. … But a more careful consideration should make us less ready to admit this interaction of events in two spheres—-if they really are different spheres; for the … causal determination of matter by mind …would necessarily have to disrupt the autonomy of material events, while the …causal influence on mind or bodies or their equivalent, for example light…is absolutely unintelligible to us; in short, we simply cannot see how material events can be transformed into sensation or thought, however many text-books… go on talking nonsense on the subject.

“These shortcomings can hardly be avoided except by abandoning dualism. This has been proposed often enough, and it is odd that it has usually been done on a materialistic basis.   ….But it strikes me that …surrender of the notion of the real external world, alien as it seems to everyday thinking, is absolutely essential.

“…If we decide to have only one world, it has got to be the psychic one, since that exists anyway (cogitate—-est). And to suppose that there is interaction between the two spheres involves something of a magical ghostly sort; or rather the supposition itself makes them into a single thing.” (Schrödinger, My View of the World, pp. 61 -63)

 

Einstein arrives at essentially the same conclusion about the mental character of the reality implicit in standard quantum theory. This is something he complains about, however, as when he says that “What I dislike about this kind of argumentation is the basic positivistic attitude, which from my point of view is untenable, and which seems to me to come to the same thing as Berkeley’s esse est percipi.” [To be is to be perceived.] (Einstein: Philosopher-Physicist, Schilpp, p. 669)

 

But despite his opposition to such a view, it is undeniable that our observations are the basis of science. Einstein was never able to incorporate quantum phenomena into his classical physics-type view of Nature. When the absolutely unavoidable facts of non-locality (i.e., faster-than-light effects) are included in what must be explained, the physicalist ontology advocated by Einstein (the view that the universe of physical objects exists in and of itself) collapses. One is invited to consider instead the alternative proposed by von Neumann’s rationally coherent orthodox quantum mechanical conception.  As we’ve seen, this conception is both physical and psychological, but the universe presents an overarching reality that is fundamentally mental in character.

 

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. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

Henry Stapp is a theoretical physicist at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, specializing in the conceptual and mathematical foundations of quantum theory, and in particular in the quantum aspects of the relationship between our streams of conscious experience and the physical processes occurring in our brains.   Stapp worked closely with Werner Heisenberg, Wolfgang Pauli, and John Wheeler, and is author of two books on the quantum mechanical foundation of the connection between mind and matter: “Mind, Matter, and Quantum Mechanics;” and “Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer.” These works lay the foundation for a science-based approach to the question of human free will. His new book “On the Nature of Things: Human presence in the world of atoms” will be available soon. He thanks his son, Henry Pierce Stapp IV, for help in the presentation of ideas appearing in this series of articles.

 

 

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