Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

Getting Zombies Excited (It Takes a Million-Dollar Challenge)

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In science, problems get solved faster when the pot begins to boil. Dormant questions need motivation, which is why I posed a million-dollar challenge to anyone in the materialist camp who could demonstrate how matter turns into mind. (Please see the two preceding posts, which set up this provocative issue.) In the wake of the challenge, a stir was indeed created. The general public isn’t aware that 99% of neuroscientists, biologists, and physicists interested in the mind-brain problem assume without question that the brain creates the mind. This is one of those assumptions that, once exploded, seems ridiculous in hindsight.

 

It’s not exploded yet, but we’re getting closer. Consider what it means to say that your brain creates your mind. Somewhere in the fabric of time, floating molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon, the basic elements in organic chemistry, organized a complex clump of molecules that learned to think, to take in the three-dimensional world, and finally to become aware of what they were doing. This seems like a totally untenable position to me, and to a growing body of scientists who are adopting a far different view, that mind came first, bringing with it the organizing power to evolve the structure of the human brain.

 

At first blush the two possibilities seem equal and perhaps equally improbable. If the materialists are correct, there has to be a way for matter to learn to think, which has never been proven. If the consciousness camp is right, mind has to find a way to create molecules. The reason that the second position makes sense is that our thoughts are creating molecules all the time–the chemical makeup of the brain is altered with every thought, feeling, and sensation. That is indisputable. But the bias in favor of materialism is strong, upheld mainly by inertia. Why bother to re-examine the entire creation when it’s obvious, we are told, that we live in a physical universe?

 

The answer is this: We don’t live in a physical universe as defined by rocks, trees, mountains, and Chinese porcelain. The quantum revolution long ago unmasked the illusion of physicality, proving with exact mathematical certainty that matter consists of waves in an infinite quantum field. How these waves transform into material objects remains one of the two greatest questions facing physics (the math is there but not the actual process). The other great unsolved mystery is to find the biological basis of mind.

 

My million-dollar challenge encompasses both issues. Until we know how matter relates to consciousness, there is nothing definitive to be said about the brain, normal experience, and the origin of thought. No one knows where their next thought is coming from. Thoughts emerge from a field of infinite possibilities, and the same is true of atoms and the subatomic particles that they are made of. My challenge isn’t frivolous, but I firmly believe no solution exists as long as anyone, however brilliant, adopts the physicalist position that everything about the mind, our inspiration, reasoning, love and joy, can be derived from physical properties. It’s like someone claiming that Picasso’s genius comes down to analyzing the paint he used.

 

Which brings us to the zombies. The relation between mind and matter has vexed philosophers for centuries.  In the twentieth century the problem landed in the lap of science, which began to search for hard data and provable facts. These would prove superior to woolly-minded speculation. But the only result anyone could obtain was in the area of brain activity. So the conclusion was drawn that if mind and brain are the same, there’s no need to go beyond super sophisticated fMRIs, and in short order the mind would have no more mysteries to yield. No serious thinker with a philosophy background can actually agree to this conclusion: it’s like saying that since Mozart’s music is played on the piano, all we need to know is how a piano works.

 

Science needed an ally from the philosophers’ camp, which it found in Daniel Dennett, who seemingly erased the whole dilemma by saying that the most mysterious products of the mind — a person’s sense of self, free will, and even self-awareness — are total illusions produced by brain chemistry. Since our every thought and action is actually the product of neuronal activity and nothing else, we are like zombies, showing all the signs of autonomous awareness while in fact existing on the level of biological machinery. (Zombie has become part of the terminology, synonymous with biological robot. I hope Dennett includes himself.) Dennett became notorious for his zombie metaphor, since he meant it literally. Only extreme materialists feel comfortable adopting such a theory, since it’s evident on the face of it that we do in fact have self-awareness, free will, creativity, choice, and all the other advantages of mind that are not enjoyed by a computer.

 

But Dennett was clever enough to take the materialist assumption to its logical conclusion. This leaves everyone with only two choices. Either the human mind is only an artifact of neuronal activity, including the minds of Shakespeare, Bach, and Einstein, or carrying the materialist assumption to its logical conclusion reveals its absurdity to begin with. Both alternatives are hotly argued, so the game is afoot. Apparently money can even motivate a zombie.

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

Skepticism and a Million Dollar Challenge

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When public perception is skewed and distorted, it’s important to push back. I’ve found myself doing this in the arena of skepticism. Without a doubt we live in a skeptical age, and it affects everyone. To doubt is a tool for finding truth, but like every positive value, there are pitfalls. Skepticism, of the kind advanced by characters as diverse as James “The Amazing” Randi, Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, and Jerry Coyne, does far more harm than good.

 

We’re confronted with a strange mixture of bedfellows: an aging stage magician, an Oxford professor on the rampage against “the God delusion,” an astrophysicist, and a biology professor at the University of Chicago who sees himself as a gadfly against pseudoscience. Behind them marches a ragged band of atheists, scientists, blogosphere pests, mischievous troublemakers, and sincere doubters.

 

What makes this movement particularly strange is that there is no real need for it to exist. Secularism and science won the day long ago. Does anyone seriously believe that our current problems arise from too much reliance on faith in God? Church attendance has been in decline in the U.S. and every other developed country since the 1950s. Other than serving as an outlet for malcontents, the skeptical movement’s posture of holding back the tide of ignorance has little basis or utility. They aren’t converting the believers to atheism. In the face of actual harm done by religion (e.g., the rise of jihadist Islam, the pressure against stem-cell research, the prejudice against gay marriage on the religious right), skepticism has a very small, even insignificant role to play.

 

Solving these problems requires rational people acting out of conscience in a concerted effort to bring a solution. Skepticism, as a gadfly movement, consists of angry people who play “gotcha,” adopt an air of smug superiority, and generally alienate anyone who comes close to them.  So why confront them in the first place?

 

As one of the major confronters, I’d say that my primary goal is to defend the truth of spirituality. The world’s wisdom traditions are just as precious as science. To lump them together as arrant charlatanism (as if Buddha and Jesus stand on the same level as a stage magician or con man) is grossly misleading. To dress up this hostile attitude as scientific and rational only deepens the deception. In the familiar metaphor of Elmer Gantry, the fire and brimstone preacher who was a greater sinner than those he preached to, the skeptical movement is much more close-minded and blindly irrational than anyone they expose.

 

In that light, I recently put out a video called “One Million Dollar Challenge to the Skeptics.” The title plays on Randi’s offer of a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate the reality of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power. My offer was the opposite, offering the same amount to any skeptic who could prove how electrochemical activity in the brain produces the appearance of a three-dimensional world, the point being that debunkers of the paranormal can’t come close to explaining the normal. The mystery of everyday reality is confronted by all of us, skeptics and believers alike, and the cumulative efforts of physics, biology, psychology, and neuroscience has only begun to unravel it.

 

Within twenty-four hours, my challenge met with the predictable reaction. My skeptic fans decried the video as silly, ridiculous, a publicity stunt. But in what way was my offer any different from Randi’s? He won a prestigious “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 1986, which placed an intellectual seal of approval on his campaign against the paranormal. It began as a challenge to another magician, Uri Geller, but spread out to unseat televangelist faith healers and other merchants of superstition.

 

Since Randi’s reward has never been handed out, the overall effect seems unquestionable: Nothing beyond the grasp of the scientific, rational mind is real. The toxic side effect, however, has been to tar spirituality and hoaxes with the same brush. The educated public buys into this conclusion, and as a result, being on the side of the truth  means that you dismiss faith, healing, alternative medicine, unexplained phenomena, and ancient wisdom while priding yourself that none of it needs examining, since science is the one true way. As a society for the suppression of curiosity, the skeptic movement has no qualms about attacking anyone they please with contempt and ridicule.

 

Sane people stay away from dogfights, and for years I stayed away. But it turns out that a positive good can be achieved by going after the skeptics. Let’s leave aside the whole question of God, faith, miracles, and the so-called supernatural. These things have been incendiary for a long time and arouse stubborn resistance on both sides. The real issue is exactly what my offer focuses on: What is consciousness, how does it create reality, and how far does this reality extend?

 

Compared to this issue, what the skeptics do, for good or ill, is not very significant. Who opposes the exposure of hoaxes? It’s sad that thousands of dedicated researchers and farseeing thinkers earn almost no public attention while noisy skeptics grab the limelight. When all is said and done, the people outside the glare of publicity will do far more good than even the best-intentioned skeptic. The reasoning behind my million-dollar challenge, which is really a challenge against materialism, will be explained in the next post.

 

(To be cont.)

 

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. 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

The Fourth Dimension Is Real, But Who Owns It?

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The human imagination has been inspired for centuries by the possibility of a higher dimension. The ownership of this dimension was in the dubious hands of “charlatans, mystics, and science fiction writers”, to quote a recent article by Michio Kaku, the noted theoretical physicist and best-selling author. Actually, since Heaven can be considered a higher dimension, ownership should be extended to most religious people and many spiritual traditions. But Kaku wasn’t writing to denigrate the concept of a reality beyond the five senses. Instead, he declares that the much-prized Theory of Everything, the holy grail of physics, may not be found without adding a fourth dimension to the three we all navigate in.

 

This is more than an abstract question. The fourth dimension that Kaku describes isn’t time, although time is popularly called the fourth dimension. Rather, physics needs a fourth or fifth or more spatial dimensions (hyperspace) to make mathematical sense of the universe. For fifty or sixty years this goal has proved impossible to reach. The problem is that the four basic forces in nature–gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong forces–are so different from one another that only looking to a higher dimension of “vibration” could hold the key to unifying them.

 

What most fascinates me isn’t this scientific pursuit but its implications for everyday life. Kaku holds that the fourth dimension is inconceivable to the human brain, and he points to evolution as the reason why. Our survival depended on operating skillfully in three dimensions, which allowed our ancestors to judge how to locate and kill game and how to elude prey. An extra dimension wasn’t necessary until mathematics and the frustration of physicists made it so.

 

This is the point at which ownership of higher dimensions becomes controversial. As the realm of God or the gods, of higher states of consciousness, of miracles and other so-called supernatural events, a higher dimension was absolutely necessary in the past. Kaku holds that there was never any scientific proof for that kind of higher dimension, which is arguable. But let’s accept his point. The new ownership of higher dimensions sweeps away all such claims about spirituality. And yet there are surprising resemblances between the two conceptions.

 

Both consider higher dimensions inconceivable and yet necessary for the existence of the universe.

Both attribute powers to the fourth dimension that cannot be duplicated in three dimensions.

Both look on the fourth dimension as a hidden, invisible field that permeates every part of the three-dimensional world.

 

That science and spirituality should have even this much in common is fairly astonishing. The problem, however, is that reality has no ownership. It’s simply real. So what could a higher dimension be that satisfies both claims? To answer this, let me refer to an extended example Kaku offers, derived from a cult novel beloved of scientists titled Flat Land, by Edwin A. Abbott.  The fictional inhabitants of Flat Land, known as Flatlanders, live in two dimensions, or to simplify it, their domain is like a piece of paper with no concept of up or down. As beings of three dimensions, we can look down on the piece of paper and see everything on it, while Flatlanders must travel from one point to the next to discover what’s happening at a distance. So to them, we are omniscient. We can reach down into their land, but they can’t see us coming, so we are invisible until we make our presence felt. We can crumple and manipulate a piece of paper any way we want, which makes us omnipotent, and so on.

 

In other words, our godlike powers are actually the product of limited perception on the part of Flatlanders.  Their brains are not set up to perceive what we take to be natural–the third dimension–and we would smile to be thought of as gods.  Seeming supernatural is one implication of a higher dimension, including the fourth one that our brains can’t perceive. To operate from the fourth dimension seems omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent as related to our world. I’d like to suggest that this isn’t a fiction or a limitation of perception–it’s how reality works.

 

To speak of God, as a spiritual person does, or of vibrations and fields, as a physicist does, amounts to the same order of explanation. There is no relationship between our world and dimensions that are inconceivable. Therefore, no theory or model can describe higher dimensions. Kaku and other physicists are reluctant to concede this point, because they think they possess a tool that can penetrate the inconceivable: mathematics. However, there is no proof that this is true, because many aspects of theoretical physics are beyond experimentation, data collection, and every other extension of the mind, including pet theories about super strings, multiple universes, and the time period at the very beginning of creation, known as the Planck epoch.

 

We might pity Flatlanders because they can’t peer into three dimensions, but we shouldn’t. When they imbue us with omniscience and omnipotence, they are right from the viewpoint of two dimensions. And when spiritual traditions imbue God with the same qualities, there’s a good chance–a rational chance–that something correct is being said.  Not that there is a superhuman patriarch sitting above the clouds, but rather the higher dimension may be the field where mind originates. With mind comes intelligence, awareness, creativity, insight, and infinite possibilities. More pointedly, mind brings mathematics.  This means that math can’t rescue the Theory of Everything, as if it stands apart and can look down upon the universe the way we look down on Flat Land.  Math emerges from the mind field along with everything else.

 

Anyone fascinated by this argument should read Kaku’s articulate article, “Hyperspace–A Scientific Odyssey,” online at his website; it’s geared to the non-scientist reader.  What he calls hyperspace can’t be equated with Heaven.  For one thing, hyperspace applies only to the physical universe, while Heaven crosses over into our inner world. But if the fourth dimension permeates everything we call creation, there may be no difference between hyperspace and Heaven except for whether it contains mind or not. That’s a burning question, which I firmly believe will be settled in favor of mind over matter. Let’s wait and see.

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. 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

 

A Spiritual Mystery: Does God Listen to Prayers? (Part 3)

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It may sound odd at first, but there are ways to improve the chances that God will answer your prayer. In the first two posts we saw that the whole subject of prayer is filled with assumptions and preconceptions. Once they are cleared away, a prayer turns out to be a special kind of intention. Therefore, the rules that apply to intentions, which are rules about consciousness, apply. Your prayer will be answered, or not, depending on events happening out of sight – but not out of mind. The mind furnishes the mechanics of making any intention come true.

 

This quick summary will raise eyebrows if someone denies that the inner and outer worlds are connected. (See the two previous posts for the reasoning behind the union of these two domains of reality.)  The world’s wisdom traditions don’t run into this obstacle, which is peculiar to modern materialism. Yet in a way it’s good to start with a blank slate.  What makes any intention come true? Three vital elements are at work, as mentioned in the first post of this series:

 

1. How deep into the mind is the intention coming from?

2. How steady is your focus?

3. How fluid is your intention?

 

When you perfect these three things, the power of intention becomes real and useful. This is the teaching of Samyama, as it is described in Sanskrit.  Let me treat each element in the way Vedanta prescribes.

 

1. Depth of awareness is Samadhi. Like a river that runs fast on the surface but much more slowly near the bottom, the mind is conceived of as both active and still, even though it’s the same mind. The stillness is present, for example, in the space between thoughts. When you are accustomed to experiencing your mind only through activity (i.e., sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts), the silent source of the mind has been missed. The whole point of Eastern meditation practices is to reacquaint a person with this source. The more often you dive into silent mind, the deeper your intentions are coming from when you aren’t meditating.

What helps Samadhi: meditation, calm, peaceful surroundings, lack of mental agitation, absence of stress, minimal distractions, self-acceptance, self-awareness.

What hurts Samadhi: the opposite of the above.

 

2. Steady mental focus is Dharana. Calling up an intention is natural to everyone’s mind. The key is that the intention be one-pointed, that is, your desire doesn’t conflict with other desires or get dissipated in mental restlessness. To be alert, sharp, and clear should be the goal. This isn’t accomplished overnight, and yet there is nothing exotic to learn. We’ve all experienced moments of knowing exactly what we want and never losing focus as long as our desire holds our attention.

What helps Dharana: Clear thinking, acting purposefully, not losing sight of the goal, confidence, the ability to stick with a mental task, follow-through, diligence

What hurts Dharana: multi-tasking, mental confusion, conflicted desires, lack of self-knowledge, fantasy and daydreaming, short attention span, a craving to escape the self.

 

3. Fluid awareness is Dhyana.  Although all the elements behind intention come naturally and are part of everyone’s mental makeup, there is a seeming contradiction between holding a steady focus (Dharana) and being in a flexible, fluid state of mind (Dhyana). It’s like asking water to be ice and liquid at the same time. But the mind isn’t an object or substance. It exhibits complementary states that seem opposite but actually work together. In this case, an open mind that can adapt to any response is compatible with steady focus. No better example exists than playing a video game, where the player is fiercely intent of scoring points but must be open to every surprising, unexpected event in order to reach a high score. In everyday life, a desire is one-pointed at its inception, but you let it go and await whatever response comes to you. There is a skill involved: Learning to view the world “out there” as responsive to the signals you send to it from “in here.”

What helps Dhyana: Being relaxed and easy, mindfulness, acceptance of things as they are, putting a value on being, trust, believing in the wisdom of uncertainty, allegiance to a higher level of intelligence that organizes reality

What hurts Dhyana:  Tension, anticipation, controlling yourself and others, rigidity, insistence on rules and routines, obsession, compulsive behavior, inability to believe that the universe supports you.

 

In these three elements, as you can see, lies a lifetime of potential unfolding into actuality. Every thought has the power of intention behind it. The only issue is how far you are willing to go to cooperate with this ability, to unearth its possibilities, and improve your skill at Samyama. I’ve deviated from the Indian spiritual tradition by making the power of intention a natural aspect of the mind rather than an advanced, specialized ability that only yogis and swamis can attain. But this is in keeping with the spiritual principle I hold highest: All spiritual attainments are a birthright belonging to everyone. The greatest mysteries are answered by looking at ourselves, here and now.

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. 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

Previous Posts

Getting Real About Brain Science—A Challenge to the Current Model
By Deepak Chopra, MD and Bernardo Kastrup, PhD   It’s time to make up our minds about the brain.  Every day, it seems, neuroscience announces new findings that uncover more and more of the brain’s secrets. The day cannot be far off, we are told, when the deepest mystery of all—how

posted 6:00:15am Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

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

posted 11:24:03am Aug. 25, 2014 | read full post »

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

posted 10:14:04am Aug. 18, 2014 | read full post »

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

posted 9:54:26am Aug. 11, 2014 | read full post »

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

posted 11:07:52am Aug. 04, 2014 | read full post »


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