Field of Science

The bundle of non-truths that's Deepak Chopra

You can always trust Deepak Chopra to put a positive spin on pseudoscience and casually pummel straw men and misrepresent facts while he is at it. His latest favorite concerns experiments done by Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier (the co-discoverer of the AIDS virus) who has ventured into highly questionable scientific territory by trying to demonstrate that DNA can imprint its "memory" on water even at great dilutions, which basically boils down to pushing homeopathy. Unless supported by massive evidence, there's no need to take Montagnier's results seriously for now. But as usual for Chopra, this is a resounding victory of what he considers to be the "inconvenient truths" of science. And as usual, Chopra's greatest achievement is the remarkable number of strawmen, non sequiturs, misguided conclusions and plain misrepresentations he manages to include in a single article.

Chopra starts by extolling what he sees as the "fraying of science at the edges" done by scientists themselves.

"What delights me about this controversy, which will be won by the skeptics, naturally, is that conventional science is fraying around the edges, and the fraying is being done by scientists themselves. A decade ago, for example, you couldn't find more than a small handful of physicists and biologists who were willing to consider that the study of consciousness was reputable. This year there will be conventions on the subject with hundreds of participants. This isn't because there's been an outbreak of rebelliousness in labs across the globe. Rather, there was nowhere else for the trail to go. You can't discuss memory, either in the human brain or in water, without explaining consciousness"

First of all, science has been "frayed" at the edges by scientists for hundreds of years; it's called scientific progress. One can argue that any new revolutionary result or theory pushes the envelope and tries to redefine the boundaries of conventional science. But this has nothing to do with Montagnier's experiments or the paranormal and only time will tell if these results will challenge "conventional" science. And of course in Chopra's definition, "unconventional" science is new-age mysticism whereas most scientists define it as new but still concrete and validated results that advance our understanding. Secondly, Chopra is just constructing a straw man with his quip about consciousness. He tries to make consciousness sound like some kind of non-material entity whose existence scientists are now being grudgingly forced to accept. That's just plain wrong. Consciousness has long since been thought to be a function of the basic biology and chemistry of the brain. No scientist worth his salt who is researching consciousness believes that it's supernatural or somehow outside the purview of science. If you doubt this, just read noted neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran's latest book to understand how scientists are boldly tackling consciousness; you will find them all using novel but standard scientific tools like MRI and CT scans. The only "rebelliousness" that Chopra talks about is in the fact that we can now actually tackle the problem of consciousness using modern scientific methods. Most scientists think consciousness is a remarkable phenomenon, but only Chopra thinks that it's remarkable because it's paranormal and outside the boundaries of traditional science.

Further on Chopra cannot help but tar the founders of quantum theory, a discipline whose real understanding he completely lacks and which he himself has done so much to dress up in mumbo jumbo and completely misrepresent.

Popular books like The Tao of Physics and God and the New Physics played an enormous role in the general culture. But their impact on professional physicists has been slight and gradual. That's because physics is based on materialism. Anything that isn't a thing, any phenomenon that cannot be measured, doesn't belong in physics. But the solid, material world vanished a hundred years ago, and almost all the quantum pioneers, such as Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Schrödinger, either became outright mystics or remained baffled by the radical discovery that the universe emerged from a void"

No. The solid, material world did not "vanish" with the advent of quantum mechanics. In fact if anything it became even more fortified because quantum mechanics helped us understand it better. The predictions of quantum theory were taken seriously only because they agreed with measurements in the material world to an outstanding degree of accuracy. And while some of the founders of quantum theory were great philosophers and interested in "mysticism", every single one of them always emphasized that quantum mechanics is only as good as its compatibility with hard experimental data on material objects. As Bohr himself said, "Physics only tells us what we can say about the world". In fact it is a triumph of traditional "materialist" science that some of the most bizarre predictions of quantum theory like entanglement are now being validated through meticulous experiments. By declaring that the founders of quantum theory became outright mystics, Chopra grossly misrepresents and insults their great contributions to science.

Further on Chopra again wants to convince us that the "wall between science and consciousness has broken down". Again, the wall is probably breaking down but only because of hard scientific experiments that are allowing us to actually study the phenomenon, not because of new-age thinking emerging from pseudoscience. I could go on, but what's the point? Deepak Chopra, in Derek Lowe's words, has been a "firehose of nonsense". He wants to portray every scientific development as some kind of maverick paradigm shift which is forcing scientists to re-evaluate material reality itself. Yes, there are paradigm shifts in science, but they come about because there's massive amounts of actual data, not because some isolated experiment whose results are inexplicable require scientists to believe in the paranormal. Chopra is about as misguided as they get.


  1. "His professional interests include protein design and folding, organic chemistry, computational chemistry and pharmacology"...I don't see anything here that gives you the authority to condemn Chopra or his beliefs and
    your opinion is so obnoxious that I will probably be the only one to comment on your
    "misguided" information - God Bless You!

  2. Jim, look up "computational chemistry" on Wikipedia and then we can talk. Also, note that Caltech physicist Leonard Mlodinow publicly requested Chopra to take remedial quantum physics classes, a request which Chopra himself gratefully accepted. And thank you, but I have enough people commenting on my posts, so it's perfectly ok if you don't!

  3. There are also many of us reading and appreciating your posts without generally posting a comment.

  4. Don't waste your brain on stuff like this. There will always be people like Chopra and people with the need to believe stuff like this. Back to the bench for you and the origin of life.


  5. Ad hominem attacks on Chopra or anyone else are worthless in the pursuit of truth.

    Like it or not, David Chalmers hard problem of consciousness (the first hand subjective experience) is a thorough refutation of hard core materialism. Regardless of however much physical explanations of consciousness we will discover, consciousness will never be entirely reducible to matter because its not entirely material. That is Chopra's point.

    The science stays the same as science deals with the material universe. But the philosophy of monistic materialism is out dated and materialists need to come to terms with that.

    We are left with dualism or idealism as the correct possible philosophical framework of reality. Take your pick.

    And just FYI, the following is a list of qualified physicists and scientists who think very much like Chopra when it comes to consciousness and quantum physics:

    Bruce Rosenblum & Fred Kuttner - Physicists (Quantum Enigma)

    Henry Stapp - Physicist (Mindful Universe)

    Amit Goswami - Physicist (The Self Aware Universe)

    Bernard Haisch - Astrophysicist (The Purpose-Guided Universe)

    Bob Berman - Astronomer (Biocentrism)

    Other physicists and scientists of the past:

    John Von Neumann, Werner Heisenberg, Eugene Wigner, John Wheeler.

    One can sneer away at these group of scientists for being "mystical", but the reality is here to stay. All the best.

  6. -Consciousness will never be entirely reducible to matter because its not entirely material.

    And the evidence for this assertion is? As best as we know, the human brain operates entirely on the basis of the laws of chemistry and physics. This has been validated through two hundred years of scientific research. The point is that the burden of proof is on people like yourself or Chopra who make assertions to the contrary, not people who argue in favor of materialism because they stand validated. Note that this does not mean that we are arguing in favor of reductionism; one can stay entirely scientific without pushing reductionism (look up emergence).

    I always find it amusing how people argue against "materialism" as if it was some kind of derogatory, ugly scar on the landscape of science. The fact is that materialism is the norm and it's any conviction to the contrary that needs to be demonstrated.

    The rest of your listing seems to be the usual "argument from authority".

    All the best!

  7. In the middle ages sickness was caused by "spirits".. now we know it was bacteria and viruses because we see them. When the "hard data" leads you to the threshold of God.... what do you believe...

  8. >>-Consciousness will never be entirely reducible to matter because its not entirely material.

    And the evidence for this assertion is?<<

    The evidence is your own first hand subjective experience. The subjective perception of taste, smell, sight, sound and touch... these can never, in principle, be reduced to matter or even emerge from it. That's an obvious observation. Look up David Chalmers if you are having a hard time understanding this.

    >>The fact is that materialism is the norm and it's any conviction to the contrary that needs to be demonstrated.<<

    Materialism is a philosophy, not science. It is a philosophy about the ultimate nature of reality, just as dualism and idealism are. The presence of subjective perception/sentience/qualia is a big problem for materialism. It, in fact, negates absolute materialistic monism.

    People who try to "explain" first hand subjective experience with objective models tend to actually "explain away" the very experience itself - a very dishonest thing indeed.

    Everything ultimately rests upon subjective experience, even the whole enterprise of science and so called objective reality.

  9. Anonymous, I would strongly recommend reading Vilayanur Ramachandran's latest book "The Tell-Tale Brain". It is precisely your criticism about subjective "qualia" not being reducible to scientific investigation that he answers by citing several case studies. Yes, we still have a long way to go, but as Ramachandran demonstrates, we are now in a tantalizing position to start explaining many of the subjective experiences you talk about through more or less traditional "materialistic" scientific means. One of the triumphs of modern science is that that it's turning subjective experiences into objectively measurable scientific concepts (BroncoDave put it well), and there's nothing wrong with this; in my opinion this kind of explanation only enhances those subjective feelings and does not diminish them. Don't be scared of materialism.

  10. Dear Wavefunction,

    Thank you for your recommendation of Dr. Ramachandran's latest book. I will try to get a hold of it. I admire the work of Ramachandran. I once saw his documentary which I believe was called "Phantoms of the brain".

    However, I really don't see how the "subjective" can ever, in principle, be reduced to matter entirely. Explaining everything in nitty gritty details, in nuts and bolts is fine by me. Its just that you end up "explaining away"/ignoring the first hand subjective qualia which is OTHER THAN MATERIAL. It is EXPERIENTIAL.

    That's where materialism falls short.I am not "scared" of materialism. In fact, I was materialist atheist for 6 + years, until I found it to be not entirely convincing. It all comes back to David Chalmers' arguments.

    I will try to read Ramachandran's book but I am really confident he will just "explain away" (rather than explain) qualia like how Dennet and the rest of the materialists do. I don't see how he can escape the observations of David Chalmers.

    To digress a little, please visit to see that why various physicists link quantum physics to consciousness.


  11. "Popular books like The Tao of Physics and God and the New Physics played an enormous role in the general culture. But their impact on professional physicists has been slight and gradual."

    Because (a) once they get to real physicist school, physicists learn from real physics books, not watered-down popularizations; and (b), learning real physics reveals the Tao of Warblegarble genre for the crap that it is.

  12. What Chopra never mentions to his audience either is that what scientists are discovering in neurobiology is that conscious arises from brain functions. Memory is of the brain. Mind is to the brain what sight is to the eye.

    This was an excellent article.

  13. Actually, there is no valid reason to believe that consciousness is anything other than a property of matter, complex matter at that and, what is more, very particularly complex matter. This implies not only that consciousness can be false, but that, by default, it is, and must be informed by external reality in order to render it true. Something that is borne out by common human experience, let alone scientific research.

    Consider the nature of memory and dreams. Memory is notoriously faulty and imprecise, and dreams are - by definition - fictional, but they are, beyond dispute, articles of consciousness, and demonstrably false. The idea of a super-consciousness that serves no higher purpose than itself is patently ludicrous, and without being bribed or blackmailed, even a six year old child can grasp that without any particular guidance because by then it has grown out of the primitive delusion of teleology.

    In other words: Nobody honestly believes in God, and people like Deepak Chopra who insist that they do, are setting out to deceive people.

    I have to agree in the final analysis that arguing with such people is futile. There are a huge number of analogies out there, but playing chess with a pigeon is one of my favourite.

  14. I'll state in advance that I am a fan of Chopra...just so you know.

    All Chopra tries to do is reconcile two sides of the spirituality vs. materialism debate. He's trying to bring together these two sides and find a way that they can coexist and even support each other. The pseudo-science and quantum "mumbo jumbo" is the product of his attempt to collaborate instead of conflict.

  15. "All Chopra tries to do is reconcile two sides of the spirituality vs. materialism debate. " So why is he full of venom and lies?

  16. "So why is he full of venom and lies?"

    All of his claims regarding consciousness are backed up by Stuart Hameroff, one of the leading researchers in the biology and physics of consciousness.

    He often interprets scientific research in a way that it will coincide with spiritual concepts. If this is venom and lies that you speak of than I understand where you are coming from.

    There has never been a spiritual leader that is so concerned with science as much as Deepak Chopra. I don't expect him to be championed in the skeptic community, but I think he deserves a little more respect for taking on the improbable endeavor of reconciling science and spirituality.

  17. You might be interested in the following --

    Which comments on this post and its comments, and Wavefunction's post before this one. It was too long to fit in the comment section


  18. Perhaps the problem stems from combining empirical, inductive science with deductive philosophy. Chopra may tend to use scientific discoveries as metaphors to a greater extent than is generally recognized.

  19. May I ask the author of this article where he is doing research in biotechnology, and what was his field of study in chemistry? I'm aware that the article is expressing the opinions of the author, and is not meant to represent an employer or an academic program, or any particular group of scientists. I'm merely curious since 'science' and 'scientist' are such broad terms, and to some extent self-identifying semantically according to one's inclinations, removed from intellectual capacity, to be sure, as both the author and Mr. Chopra's intellect is not in question. I am curious as well, but haven't had the opportunity to ask, the extent to which Mr. Chopra regards himself as a 'scientist', and to the extent thereby his 'science' differs from the author's, if his work in the field of medicine would then by definition 'pseudo-science' to this author. My personal connection to the subject is to have had the privilege of speaking to great scientists, none of whom seemed to have similar critiques of Mr. Chopra, his work, or how he expresses his ideas, even when they appear to be at odds.


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