Pseudoscience Religion Science Skepticism/critical thinking

When woo masquerades as reason and science

A while back, I coined a term for woo so irrational, woo so desperate to masquerade as reason and science, that it could be spewed forth into books, the Internet, and the blogosophere by only one man.

The man is Deepak Chopra, and the term is Chopra-woo, examples of which can be found here and here.

I had thought that there was no man quite as capable of producing such concentrated woo cloaked in the language of science (well, except perhaps for the DNA Activation guy or the guys at Life Technology, but their woo is so utterly over-the-top that I have a hard time accepting that they actually believe in it). Chopra makes you think he really does believe in his woo, as he mangles evolution, quantum theory, and neuroscience to argue that science shows that the universe is “conscious” and that we are the manifestation of that consciousness. No one, I thought, could match that combination of bad logic and bad science.

Until now.

Meet Avatar Singh, who, not surprisingly, blogs at Deepak Chopra’s group blog, IntentBlog. This time around, he tries to out-Chopra Chopra with a woo-fest entitled When Science Becomes Religion or Pseudoscience.

You knew I’d hate it just from the title. It’s just begging for a loving application of Respectful Insolence™. It’s one of the oldest, tiredest canards pseudoscientists love to push, that science is just another religion, and it irritates the hell out of me. You know it’s going to be a load of fetid Dingo’s kidneys when it starts out like this:

The purpose of science is to reveal the universal reality. Knowing this reality helps improving not only the material quality of life but also achieving fulfillment of being human. Even if science is not able to prove or describe the ultimate reality in measurable terms, it is expected that its theories may be able to extrapolate or point to the universal reality in terms that are comprehensible to the human mind. Has science met its objective? Is it capable of ever revealing the ultimate reality – the Theory of Everything?

No, no, no, no!

The purpose of science is not to “reveal the universal reality” whatever that means. Science is a method of thinking, a systematized method of investigation that is inherently self-correcting. Even if science ever did come up with a “theory of everything” (something that has been eluding physicists for decades), it would not do or be what Singh seems to think it would. But first, get a load of his characterization of the state of science:

One of the most serious outcomes of existing and widely accepted theories is the meaninglessness of the universe and life in it, thus making science itself meaningless. Mainstream science is still far apart in explaining the observed universe and, hence the success of science has been only global and not universal. The flagship theories of science namely Newtonian theory, relativity theory, and quantum mechanics suffer from unresolved inconsistencies among them that prohibit a generic representation of the observed universe behavior. These theories may explain results of countless individual experiments, but fail to predict observations at universe scale. Such failures raise serious doubts if these theories represent the universal laws accurately and completely as the mainstream science claims.

Excuse me a minute while I vomit.

The very nature of science is that theories to describe how the universe works are always incomplete, always tentative. They are always subject to revision as new evidence is found, new observations made, and new experiments performed. Even the most accepted and seemingly most airtight theories (the theory of evolution or the theory of relativity, for instance) have gaps, and it is the job of science to try to fill in these gaps. Singh doesn’t appear to understand this and indeed can’t resist the pseudoscientist’s whine:

However, for most people science means the one and only mainstream science. It is common (mis)understanding or mindset that whatever is not agreed upon or approved by the mainstream science is pseudoscience.

Uh, no, it’s not a “misunderstanding.” Pseudoscience is nothing more than ideas put forth as science that are not actually scientific. The hallmarks of science and scientific theories are empirical measurability, consistency (as demonstrated by replication), and, most importantly, falsifiability. Moreover, theories must actually be useful in predicting how nature behaves. Finally, skepticism is an absolute requirement in science; no result or assertion is to be taken on faith. “Show me the evidence!” is the mantra of science, not “Om.” Everything must be questioned. Indeed, the characteristics of science are nothing like those of religion, where faith is the highest value, and dogma is regarded as inerrant truth, not to be questioned.

Singh then goes on to characterize three different “alternative pursuits of science,” what he calls “holistic science,” “science of matter, or ‘mainstream science,'” and “metaphysics, or metaphorical science.” In the process he laments “the limitations of experiments to measure only the manifested reality” and the “ignorance of reality in any other form than matter,” while laying down howlers like this (quoted in full, that you may marvel at the woo):

This science, also known as the mainstream science, reveals only the material part (4%) of the overall reality. In a way, materialism is the religion of the mainstream science and the materialistic experiments its rituals. The countless experiments (rituals) that are performed to validate the mainstream theories are nothing but to worship the goddess of matter. The material benefits of the mainstream science are considered to be the Prasad or the holy gift from the goddess of matter. Like an orthodox priest preaches the belief in God, a mainstream scientist propagates his/her religion of materialism and belief in the goddess of matter. It is not even funny when the mainstream science boasts about its objectivity, which is confined to the sole and literal subjectivity towards the objects of matter – the particles and things. It is ironic that the great theories of motion – Newtonian or quantum mechanics are unable to explain what caused the very first motion in the universe.

This is evidenced by the fact that the mainstream science can predict only 4% of the observed universe in the form of the visible matter. Rest 96% of the universe is unknown or explicitly immeasurable and unexplainable dark energy and/dark matter. Because of the serious incompleteness or missing physics of the non-material reality (consciousness) from the mainstream scientific method and theories, it not only unable to explain the observe universe, but remains full of several serous unresolved paradoxes that kill the purpose and meaning in the universal existence and life itself.

The enemies of science are within – the materialists who have clipped its wings (consciousness) to imprison it in its golden cage of matter. These very enemies have also killed the purpose in the universe and life by squeezing away consciousness or life from it. The universe of the mainstream science (quantum mechanics) is a dead universe inhabited by mindless particles of inanimate matter or anti-matter running around with no purpose at all in the ocean of nothingness and filled with evolutionary uncertainty, complexity, and destiny of an ultimate demise into the oblivion. What an achievement and productive use of the resources of humankind?

I tell ya, Deepak ain’t got nothin’ on this guy. What a load of twaddle!

All his complaint against science basically boils down to is the usual lament of those who don’t like science because it isn’t sufficiently servile to religion or spirituality that science “robs meaning” from the universe. It’s the same complaint of creationists who don’t like the idea that humans evolved from lower creatures, rather than being created de novo apart from the animal kingdom. It’s echoed in the constant refrain of creationists that they can’t believe or accept the evidence that “random chance” mutations could result in the diversity of life and in their constant use of the epithet “atheistic evolutionist,” spit from between clenched teeth. And it’s heard here, with Singh’s ridiculous metaphor of scientists as priests worshiping “materialism” and the “goddess of matter.” True, when our experiments didn’t work during my time as a graduate student, we would sometimes joke about “sacrificing a goat” to the gods of molecular biology, but I assure you that we were joking.

Most of the time, anyway.

More amusing is Singh’s proposed “solution”:

The good news is that there is a common root cause paralyzing the mainstream science and it is within our reach to eliminate this cause. This root cause is the ignorance of the inherent consciousness or the observed spontaneity in the universe.

The Holistic Relativity (HR) mathematical model proposed in references [1] thru [5] integrates the observed spontaneity with a simplified model of general relativity, which is shown to provide resolution to many of the questions and paradoxes above. HR is not a philosophy or pseudoscience, but a simplified general relativity applied to the spontaneous decay of particles – a phenomenon ignored in the past by the mainstream science. The HR formulations enhance the status of the mainstream science from a pseudoscience to a Holistic Science as defined above since it allows the material reality to absolve into the universal reality. The proposed HR model demonstrates that a common set of universal laws govern the behavior of the matter, mind and consciousness. Consciousness or the spontaneity in nature is shown to be a physical phenomenon and not an epiphenomenon. Its existence is a physical reality and not a metaphysical myth that can be excluded from a rigorous scientific theory.

How grandiose can you get? Just like a good crank. Particularly amusing is his “both religion and science will hate this” bit that he concludes his article with. (Read it for yourself.) Read the comments, too, particularly this one (#84), where Singh whines about criticism and puts impossible conditions on any critiques he will consider. Hilarious!

Quite frankly, I was so singularly unimpressed by the “holistic” blather of this article that I had no desire to look up the articles referenced by Singh, nasty materialist that I am. Of course, if Singh could provide some of that nasty, materialistic evidence that we scientists crave so that actually supports his statements, I might start to change my mind. It would have to be compelling evidence though–compelling enough to make me want to stop the interaction between my consciousness (more specifically, my lack thereof) with the matter of my pillow.

In the meantime, Chopra had better watch his back. There’s a new woo-meister in town, and he’s gunning for the title of One Woo To Rule Them All.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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