Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Deepak Chopra’s woo-ful whine

Pity poor Deepak Chopra.

I’ve abused him on this blog many times, even coining a word (“Choprawoo”) for the silliness that emanates from his keyboard every time he posts his inanity to the Huffington Post or his own IntentBlog. I even wrote the only response ever needed to Choprawoo. Of course, he richly deserves the abuse heaped upon him, given his idiotic meanderings in which he misrepresents evolution and neuroscience willy-nilly in his attempt to argue that we are infused by the “consciousness of the universe.” It also doesn’t help that he’s a credulous woo-meister who sells non-evidence-based supplements and defends astrology.

Now, for once, he seems to have addressed the issue of woo head on–sort of:

Bad manners are the norm in the blogosphere, and no one who dips into that world should bring along a thin skin. Salt air stings but it’s refreshing at the same time. There’s a raffish lack of respectability to blogs, however, that drive away good people and good minds. Insulting boors abound here, and it’s easy enough to go elsewhere and enjoy a civilized debate.

The invective rises higher and higher the more you prick the rigid mind-set that most skeptics cling to. As a small experiment I vary my posts. Sometimes they are about fairly radical ideas, like the mind outside the brain. Sometimes they are about conventional ideas with a new twist, like the recent post on mirror neurons. In both cases the howls of protest reach the same level of raucousness. When commenters who claim to be scientific address you as brain dead, idiotic, unversed in science, and worse, their spleen is evidence of the exact opposite of the cause they espouse, which is objectivity.

Give me a break. Commenters address Chopra as brain-dead, idiotic, and unversed in science because he keeps saying things that are idiotic and reveal him to be unversed in science over and over and over again. After a while, as with creationists or die-hard alt-med aficionados who are immune to evidence, the scientifically-inclined sometimes lose their patients responding to Chopra. Deepak Chopra may think he understands science and the scientific method, but he demonstrates every time that he discusses biology and neuroscience that he does not. He knows how to speculate based on pseudoscientific crap like the late, unlamented Princeton group that claimed that human thoughts could alter random number generators or exceedingly dubious “evidence” for past lives from Ian Stevenson. Worse, in the process of lamenting just how terribly, terribly mean and nasty bloggers like me have been to him, he can’t resist throwing in the old “science is a religion” canard.

If you want to see why Chopra inspires such richly deserved attacks, look no further than this sentence in his lament:

Matter is inert and lifeless, apparently devoid of intelligence, and prone to random action that somehow turns into exquisite orderliness. If you take a single molecule of sugar and follow it from its source in a glass of orange juice, for example, to the moment the juice is drunk one morning at the breakfast table, the final destination of that molecule could be the cerebral cortex. Therefore, the sugar in your brain is what enables you to read this sentence. Yet it is absurd to say that the sugar itself is reading or understanding or in the case of skeptics, trying to shut down the whole investigation of what’s actually happening.

Leave aside the fact that skeptics are self-appointed vigilantes for the suppression of curiosity (a delightful coinage from the English writer Lyall Watson).

And Deepak is a self-appointed vigilante for the suppression of good critical thinking skills in favor of woo.

No scientists say that the sugar is reading or understanding. It’s the combination of the cells for which the sugar provides the fuel or the basis for the biosynthesis of other macromolecules linked together with each other that is reading or understanding. Skeptics aren’t trying to “shut down” anything. They’re just criticizing the very obvious holes in Chopra’s discussions of evolution, neuroscience, and consciousness. You know when you’re dealing with a crank when he starts claiming that legitimate criticism of stupid things he says is an attempt to “shut him up.”

Not surprisingly, he finishes with a comparison of how “human” the woo-meisters are compared to those soul-less scientists, who, as he points out, brought us “diabolical means of destruction and mechanized death”:

What I like most about the ‘woo woo” camp, on the other hand, is its desire to remain human. I would much rather talk to ten people who believe that they have heard from their dead Aunt Minnie than a hundred who shout in my ear that only idiots believe in the afterlife. Skeptics include many well-mannered, intelligent, open-minded people and not just the yahoos one must plug one’s ears against. But even among the well-mannered there is an enormous tendency to conform. However, what is intellectually respectable changes from age to age.

Boo hoo.

Of course, the reason that what is intellectually respectable in science changes from age to age is usually due to new evidence and new experimentation. Sometimes science goes down blind alleys and wrong paths, but its self-correcting nature usually eventually asserts itself to weed out useless or incorrect ideas. All this whining about “civility” and appeal to the “human-ness” of woo is nothing more than a transparent attempt to distract attention from the simple fact that Deepak Chopra is totally unable to support his woo with anything resembling science.

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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