Skeptic asks Deepak how to distinguish real truth from that garnered by “other ways of knowing”

November 30, 2013 • 2:06 pm

In 2010, skeptic and manga artist Sara Mayhew got a chance to ask Deepak Chopra a question after his ABC News debate with Sam Harris and Michael Shermer. The topic of the debate was “Does God have a future?“, and Chopra teamed with philosopher Jean Houston. (Thanks to a reader for pointing out this video.)

Here’s Sara’s question, which is quite good, and one that I’m currently preoccupied with:

“I heard Deepak mention that there are deeper ways of knowing, and I get the impression that this is based on intuition and the subjective. And I’d like to know if we don’t use the objective scientific method, how do we distinguish what is true from what we simply want to be true?”

My answer would be that we can’t—if we construe science broadly as “the use of reason and empirical evidence to understand the universe.” Truth isn’t truth, even if it’s suggested by intuition, until it gets science’s stamp of approval. But of course Deepak doesn’t say that. Listen to his 45-seconds of blathering, and tell me if you see an answer in there.

Okay, I’m Deepaked out for the nonce, but wanted to note that Mayhew zeroed in on the critical difference between not only science and religion, but also between reason and superstition. Theology is a giant machine for buttressing our desires, while science is indifferent to them.

89 thoughts on “Skeptic asks Deepak how to distinguish real truth from that garnered by “other ways of knowing”

  1. My “prayer” is that Deepak will evolve so that he can say something true, or even useful, rather than just babbling.

    1. I wish I could be a mean as Chopra so as to become as rich as him, beguiling with nonsense the fearful, the innocent and the uneducated. That’s quite the business he’s developed. Good for him from a capitalist point of view; is he a Republican?

  2. Not an answer to the question, but an expression of hope that it may be answered someday with some kind of recognition that consciousness is one with… um… ah… some assertion of oneness… er, um. Everything is just one, dammit. I hope.

  3. “Nature is One”
    I am really not sure what Chopra means by this statement. This can not even be true in principle, as communications are limited by the speed of light, and therefore the cosmos can not be unified.

    Perhaps he means that everything is connected by quantum entanglement. That is clearly incorrect, as interference prohibits large entangled states from forming. Indeed, it takes much laboratory coordination to entangle atoms.

    Alternatively, he could be implying that the observer always in some way disturbs or affects the state of the observed; e.g., measuring the position of an electron perfectly makes its velocity entirely uncertain (roughly speaking). Even so, in quantum mechanics, we still use mathematical formulas, for example, to make predictions about the distribution of likely positions of a particle, measure the positions of many such particles, and compare the results to the original predictions. To say that the scientific method does not apply here is complete nonsense.

    1. unicycle = one wheel
      unicorn = one corn
      unibrow = one eyebrow
      unilateral = one sided
      unimpaired = one mpaired
      uninflated = one nflated
      unitard = …uh, I think I’ll skip that one
      unison = one son
      united = one inspired talk
      universe = one verse, where “verse” is Latin for “nature”, or something like that.

      I don’t know… do I have to explain EVERYTHING here?!?!

    2. It is also made of one sort of stuff, matter. Of course, he disagrees with that, being an idealistic monist instead.

      I wouldn’t be suprised though if he’s trying to echo a silly, crazy notion of monism, where there is literally only one thing – the usual interpretetion of Parmenides, which also has echoes in Indian metaphysics.

  4. Uh, let us refer to the Deepak quote generator:
    ‘Our consciousness exists as immortal energy’.
    ‘Your consciousness opens universal sexual energy’.
    ‘The universe reflects total experiences’.
    Oh, here it is:
    ‘Infinity explores the flow of knowledge.’

    I hope that explains everything.

    1. It really is scary how close those generated quotes are, to the actual things the man says with regularity.

      If you asked a random Chopra fan which of those quotes were from him, I bet every one would be a coin toss for them.

  5. I recognise the words – they’re english, but the meaning eludes me [much like a badly translated diy guide]

  6. Smart woman. Clear, concise, unambiguous.

    Chopra, in contrast, relies on bafflegab and incoherent premises. “Subjective / objective divide”? What the fuck is that even supposed to mean?

    Once again, it matters not whether Chopra is that profoundly confused or simply sniffing his own snake oil. At most, the distinction matters between whether we should pity or scorn him, but condemnation is a necessity regardless.



    1. Oh man, “bafflegab” is a great word., I’m going to have to integrate that into every day use. My phrase for most of Chopra’s nonsense up until now, has just been “quantum babble”.

      Unfortunately he blocked me on Twitter and called me a “pseudo skeptic”, so I can’t share my opinions with him any more.

      1. If a “pseudo skeptic” is somebody who’s skeptical of the claims of pseudoscientists such as Chopra, then I’m absolutely a pseudo skeptic. And getting Chopra to Twit-ban you would seem like a badge of honor….


    2. Please! Chopra is not confused. He’s a common con man selling his elixirs.

      What Deepak needs to do is to move to Sedona, Arizona where he could open a Healing Crystal and Elixir Emporium. It’s a great location full of rich, gullible tourists and he’d be surrounded by his own kind. Great weather, good food. I can just see him now resplendent in his saffron robes, bathed in the rays of the setting sun, chin up, hand outstretched holding a crystal vial of Deepak’s Quantum Consciousness Cola (lite).

      1. Oh, yes — he would be perfect in Sedona. I can just see him omm-ing in the middle of summer, waiting for a “vortex” to appear. (Dust devils are common in the Southwest, and it’s fun to watch them march across the Valley of the Sun from a prominence such as Dobbins Lookout.)

        It’s rather a shame that the Woo-ists infested Sedona, for it really is a lovely place. The Red Rocks State Park has some hummingbird feeders set up at the visitor’s center; it’s on a major migratory path, and the feeders regularly get absolutely mobbed by swarms of hummers. Oak Creek Canyon is a wonderfully charming steep and verdant valley that I’m hoping to hike with Baihu sometime in the not terribly distant future. And they’ve got some good arts festivals, including performing arts as well as visual.

        Fortunately, those Woo-ists are generally harmless, except to the pocketbooks of the gullible. But if you consider it a form of entertainment, and if you suspend judgment as to the aesthetic value, it’s not all that unreasonable, for the most part.


        1. Same here. I did my undergraduate degree at NAU when you could slide down Slide Rock, race up Oak Creek Canyon, and have a kegger in what became Red Rocks park. I guess that was pre-Vortex.

  7. Impenetrable fog comes out of Deepak’s mouth. He’s not even wrong, he’s just incomprehensible. I’d really like to know if he is that clueless or simply a con man with giant balls.

  8. I’ve found this whole debate and the Q&A afterwards is a great way to determine where people stand philosophically. I’ve had interesting discussions from it.

    And of course Deepak didn’t answer the question. He probably didn’t really understand the question. He just spews out what has made him rich because, let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how many times his fraud is pointed out, people don’t want to see it….they believe his crap because it feels good for them.

  9. Whether The Deepa believes his crap or not, this frequent outing and mockery of his babble can only be good thing. Let us all make fun of him. Laugh and point. Let the word spread to other outlets of news and commentary. The more this spreads the less cash and cache’ he will have.

  10. Has anyone ever tried taking something he’s said in the past, reformulating it into a question, and seeing what kind of reply comes back?

    It probably wouldn’t happen, but it would be hysterical if he paused on it, trying to figure out what the question was.

      1. Or, another question. Has anyone ever asked him to repeat something because they didn’t quite catch it? And if so, does bafflegab II have any resemblance b’gI?

  11. “Okay, I’m Deepaked out for the nonce, but wanted to note that Mayhew zeroed in on the critical difference between not only science and religion, but also between reason and superstition.”

    Exactly, science gives us a set of methods for overcoming confirmation bias and motivated reasoning. Religion gives us a set of methods to intensify confirmation bias and motivated reasoning.

  12. It is necessary to continue to give no free pass to the Chopra’s and other like deceivers (thanks for decades of groundwork/great example, James Randi). It isn’t fair to any of us, society at large, or even the emperor’s themselves, to let them continue to strut around and pretend they’re actually clothed instead of bare-assed nekkid. Same goes for those invested in faith belief.

    Imminent challenges presented by climate change plus overpopulation stress are perhaps insurmountable no matter what, but things are well and truly f*_k@d for sure if those challenges are not soon countered with decisions reached solely via sober reality assessments instead of willful self-deception.

    I personally anticipate ignorant hysterical primitive cataclysmic violence on a massive scale spanning too many decades to venture a guess at the number of, ramping up soon, with authoritarian leaders marshalling masses of terrified followers into rigid totalitarian societies. But then I’m something of a pessimist, and I feel a little sickly today, like maybe a touch of flu is coming on. I’m right at the depressing part of a book I’m reading, too.

  13. Did I understand that he said his hpoe is “…that science will evolve to include consciousness in its evolution”? What the fuck does that mean? Actually, does anyone know of anything Deepak has ever said that means anything?

      1. Yes! Several times Harris did what he could to stick to a coherent line of reasoning but Deepak would just interrupt him with attention deficit disordered nonsense. Harris was incredibly patient but very amused, like he was dealing with a mental patient of sorts. Someone who simply couldn’t hold a train of thought or put words together into sentences with any meaning.

        Jean Houston was completely out of her depth….la la land somewhere, but at least she spoke in more or less meaningful sentences.

  14. Everytime, the deepak says quantum mechanics is responsible for one vague thing or the other, people should just stand up and shout “Lyman Balmer Brackett Paschen Pfund”. Q Mech might be weird but it makes very very precise predictions about the universe, and we should keep reminding people that while Q Mech has weird interpretations, there is very little room in it for vague bullshit. One of the most amazing things I learnt in a qmech class was that perturbation analysis could give up to 8 digits of accuracy for some effects. That sort of science has very little room for woo.

    1. For added effect, we should do it around a caldron. We non believers should show that we can do drama too. 🙂

  15. The man is, truly, a complete idiot. His fortunes though, serve as a good reminder of how many OTHER idiots there are out there!

    “I see stupid people- EVERYWHERE!- They try to get me to help them…”

  16. Jerry:

    Certainly agree that Mayhew’s was a cogent question, and that Chopra did little more than blather in response.

    However, I think you’re not really construing science as broadly as it should be, that it should encompass intuition and its close cousin induction. For instance, the British scientist and Nobel laureate P.B. Medawar, in his collection of essays The Art of the Soluble, develops and discusses what he regards as the essence of science, “the hypothetico-deductive method”, but which appears to be, arguably, the basis of all human cognition:

    The three essential stages in the process which he continued with deliberate vagueness to call ‘induction’ were in his [Jevons’] own words,
    (a) Framing some hypothesis as to the character of the general law;
    (b) Deducing consequences from that law;
    (c) Observing whether the consequences agree with the particular facts under consideration.
    [Two Conceptions of Science; pgs 149-150]

    Which then raises the question as to where those hypotheses come from if not induction and intuition as it seems a stretch to argue they derive solely from “reason [conscious at least] and empirical evidence”.

    Not that that gives or should give much of a “leg up” for either Chopra or other peddlers of woo such as theologians. I figure they’re heavy on the “hypothesizing” – to be charitable as “wild speculation” may be more accurate – but are totally out to lunch on the next two crucially important steps.

      1. True – and good video of Feynman.

        However, while the term is a nice label and a reasonable analog to intuition and induction, there’s still the question of what’s happening underneath the hood, in the hardware, that leads to those perceptions. As Will Shakespeare said, “Aye, there’s the rub.” And as Daniel Dennett phrases it in his Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness:

        … how can cells, even conscious cells, that themselves know nothing about art or dogs or mountains compose themselves into a thing that has conscious thoughts about Braque or poodles or Kilimanjaro? How can the whole ensemble be so knowledgeable of the passing show, so in touch with distal art objects (to say nothing of absent artists and mountains) when all of its parts, however conscious or sentient they are, are myopic and solipsistic in the extreme? [pgs 11-12]

        And, as Douglas Hofstadter put it (quoted by Dennett): “Is the soul more than the hum of its parts?” (“The Mind’s I”). In any case, it then seems of some value to ask the further question why there is apparently some significant degree of commonality between the “revelations” of both scientists and theologians, and as manifested in the colloquial images and expressions of ideas dawning as light bulbs turning on. And, as a case in point, consider this story about the astronomer Fred Hoyle from Paul Davies’ The Mind of God:

        Fred Hoyle relates such an incident that occurred to him while he was driving through the North of England. “Rather as the revelation occurred to Paul on the Road to Damascus, mine occurred on the road over Bowes Moor.” …. One day, as they were struggling over a particularly complicated integral, Hoyle decided to take a vacation from Cambridge to join some colleagues hiking in the Scottish Highlands:

        “As the miles slipped by I turned the quantum mechanical problem … over in my mind, in the hazy way I normally have in thinking mathematics in my head. Normally, I have to write things down on paper, and then fiddle with the equations and integrals as best I can. But somewhere on Bowes Moor my awareness of the mathematics clarified, not a little, not even a lot, but as if a huge brilliant light had suddenly been switched on. ….” [pgs 228-229]

        I kind of expect that that is the “other way of knowing” that Jerry – somewhat unreasonably, I think – tends to throw stones at. While the “light” is frequently a false one – probably a consequence of the GIGO phenomenon, and proof that consistency is not synonymous with “truth” – that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as attested to by the experiences of Hoyle and a great many other scientists – including Feynman.

        1. I’m not familiar with Sweet Dreams, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that Dan asks those questions not because they’re insolvable, but as a rhetorical device to set up the answer. Further, it’s clear from the way he phrased it that he sees consciousness as an emergent property, an intuitively-puzzling but well understood phenomenon. How can water be wet if single water molecules aren’t wet? How many birds do you need in order to have a flock? What’s the precise temperature that divides hot from cold?

          It’s the same with brains. A single neuron or even a dozen isn’t going to be writing any sonnets. But with as many billions as humans have, it’s inevitable.

          There are lots of very interesting and important unanswered questions regarding the particulars of how it all works, but the basic outline is quite clear and not at all anything remotely resembling a profoundly mysterious problem.



      2. Ben Goren said:

        … but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that Dan asks those questions not because they’re insolvable, but as a rhetorical device to set up the answer…

        Sorry, he doesn’t bring down any stone tablets from Mt. Sinai as a conclusive answer, although he does shed a fair amount of light on the questions and topics, some of which I agree with, some of which I don’t. For instance, he says:

        … a mind is fundamentally a control system, implemented in fact by the organic brain …. even the underlying microarchitecture of the brain’s connections can be ignored for many purposes … since it has been proven by computer scientists that any function that can be computed by one specific computational architecture can also be computed … by another architecture. [pg 18]

        That may be true enough, but time is of the essence: consider what would happen if it took 30 minutes to calculate a course correction for a rocket which has deviated substantially from its path because of severe wind shear.

        So while I’ll grant that the quantum-computing theory of Penrose and Hameroff may be somewhat of a non-starter, something like it seems to be required. Something analogous to, or virtually the same as, the quantum-coherence / quantum-computation exhibited in the photosynthesis of some bacteria that we discussed earlier (1) is required to underwrite something – consciousness – that gives some evidence of being almost “outside of time”. Something in its speed and its analysis of a wide range of conditions, as with that photosynthesis, that quantum computing (2) seems uniquely capable of doing:

        Large-scale quantum computers will be able to solve certain problems much more quickly than any classical computer …. However, the computational basis of 500 qubits, for example, would already be too large to be represented on a classical computer because it would require 2^500 complex values (2^501 bits) ….

        All very well to engage in some vague hand-waving and blithely assert that the brain and consciousness itself are, of course, no more than a computer and its operations; quite another to actually implement whatever attributes consciousness exhibits. Even assuming that one can even quantify all of those.

        In addition, while Dennett briefly discusses or alludes to emergence, I don’t think he realizes that the concept covers a lot of ground, that it is a prime case of “the devil in the details”. Or, more appropriately, the ghost in the machine. But, as with trying to prove that one of some 10^500 different models for string theories is the right one, one might suggest that actually trying to implement consciousness as opposed to just “explaining” it – an entirely different kettle of fish; after all, Genesis “explains” the universe – might well be equally insurmountable.

        1) “_″;
        2) “_”;

        1. The brain is far too big, hot, and noisy to be a quantum computer. And, quantum computing, even in theory, is poorly suited to most types of computation; it’s only in certain very limited domains that it has theoretical value. Those domains have great significance for certain commercial aspects of computer design, especially cryptography…but the last thing you’d want is to try to design an AI around a quantum computer (unless it’s for a cheesy SyFy plot device).

          And there’s no need to invoke the spooky. The human brain has orders of magnitude more neurons than the most advanced CPUs on the market have transistors, and each neuron has dozens of connections to other neurons in an incredibly baroque multi-dimensional parallel configuration that is, not at all surprisingly, just about the level of complexity necessary to account for human cognition.

          Claiming that we must continue to invoke a ghost in the machine to explain cognition until we have a complete naturalistic alternative is as silly as insisting that Atlantean mermaids are necessary to explain thermohaline circulation until such time as we have a real-time meter-scale map of the seabed.



  17. Deepack is not the first person using language to say nothing; mexican Cantinflas did it before. In spanish talking like this is “cantinflear”, maybe in english this is “deepaking”.

  18. This reminded me of the Wisdom of Chopra random word generator which hilariously creates meaningless sentences indistinguishable from Chopra-speak ( So I posted about that site on a general culture discussion forum I frequent, inviting people to try it.

    I wish I were making up what happened next. The first response was from someone all excited about it and thanking me. She posted her random-generated result… then actually went on to interpret its “wisdom.” She clearly understood how it worked… yet said it’s like getting a private reading, and will be referring to it often.

    No, it wasn’t satire.

  19. I was just about to write a check to my local PBS TV station when, lo and behold, I found Deepak flogging his DVDs and books on Maine Public Television this morning. What to do? I don’t watch PBS very often. Maybe I can get along without them altogether. But I would miss the BBC at 6pm.

    1. Write your PBS station, tell them your story. If you aren’t going to support them due to their support of the deepak, let them know.

  20. Chopra: Nature decides that both the subject and the object are my activity.

    Nature: In your attempt to deepak Sara you produced a limp lizard.

  21. you guys are just a bunch fo “militant skeptics”.

    chopra spends more time on the buzzwords for the groups he’s referring to on twitter than he does on the design for the jazzy jewelry he’s selling on his site. #whatahack #fraud

    what bugs me is this guy thinks he’s the one who is supposed to interface the sophisticated (physical) nature of the universe with the deep and spiritual theories of the mind (such as sir sherrington’s), but he’s not.


  22. Okay guys, if ever mob-mentality was easy to witness it’s right here on Jerry Coyne’s blog, article after article. Deepak Chopra is obviously the whipping boy for this mob, and when I stand back from this, yet another, battle of ideologies, it seems like a childish display of indoctrination from both sides.

    In seeing more of the “Skeptics vs Deepak” battle over the last few weeks, I get the feeling folks are getting more closed down, which is natural during arguments where people become defensive rather than engaging. But you guys should look at your own displays of crapware, the way you throw around ridicule of “woo woo” and “his patent pseudoscience” in one post, and then in another post talk about how humans can create systems of moral and humanist law. Well, I don’t want you people deciding law any more than the next guy, it seems like you’ve got a lot of growing up to do still before I’d agree to that.

    Isn’t what’s being discussed out there, and ridiculed here, mostly based in the ancient philosophies around nondualism? That’s what I’m hearing, and it’s a philosophical discussion that’s still taking place, thousands of years later. Have you read Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos? Have you heard Neil Theise on Complexity Theory & Panpsychism?

    I don’t think all the people who want to discuss, research, and test nondualism or the role of consciousness in reality and evolution are becoming multi-millionaires peddling their quantum-wares. It seems that many are genuinely interested or have some level of insight into this. So can we dare have a conversation about it? Or will the vandals immediately rip it apart?

    As far as consciousness being a primary force and driver of reality, how about finding methods to test that? I’d rather see all you bright scientists discuss that instead of ripping each other new a-holes. Ralph Abraham has modeled the idea mathematically, why not review it? Nick Bostrom has laid out the “simulation argument” (which is very ancient indeed). Several quantum physicists (Beane, et al) published a paper proposing how we could test reality-as-a-simulation by detecting glitches in the matrix, as it were, based in part on the types of glitches they were seeing in their own small-scale quantum simulations.

    My point is, can we breathe, and have an imagination, maybe even a conversation, about these things? That would seem more enlightening that watching Jerry Coyne throw bones to a pack of wild dogs.

    1. I’ll ignore the snide potshots, and dismiss the entirety of your arguments based on this snippet:

      Isnt whats being discussed out there, and ridiculed here, mostly based in the ancient philosophies around nondualism? Thats what Im hearing, and its a philosophical discussion thats still taking place, thousands of years later.

      Dualism is deader than geocentricism, and should have been left on the scrap heap of intellectualism about the same time as the invention of beer. The simple fact that any number of trivial physical alterations (alcohol, other substances, injuries, tumors, and so on) will cause radical yet entirely predictable changes in consciousness and personality and moral reasoning and all the rest is all you need to know that those are all entirely physical phenomenon. Sure, we don’t know the details, but we’ve got all the major bits mapped out.

      Clinging to dualism is akin to insisting that some lucky seafaring explorer still just might stumble across Atlantis, and that this is possible because we don’t have perfect maps of the oceans yet — never mind that we’ve mapped the entire planet, above and beneath the waves, to scales far smaller than that of a continent.

      The only reason why dualism is still popular millennia after it was demonstrated incoherent is the same reason that billions of people still believe in the faery tales of the major religions: it’s very, very, very good business for the churches and the snake oil salesmen, and far too many people are all too eager to be taken advantage of by nice-seeming people who’ll sell them pleasant fantasies.

      When you realize just how many people seriously think that the “true story” of human origins has something to do with an enchanted garden with talking animals and an angry wizard, it’s no trouble at all to understand how similar magical fantasizing (which is all that dualism is, just with “sophisticated” language) can be as popular as ever.



      1. Thanks for the reply Ben Goren. However, you turned my statement about “nondualism” into one of “dualism”. I’m not sure why you did that but it’s incorrect.

        Also, Jerry asked me to strip out my denigrating comments and snide remarks and re-post. I did this, however I see that he went ahead and posted my original comment anyway.

    2. We tend to go where the evidence leads us in these parts. It is patently obvious that Deepak Chopra is mistaken in how he interprets quantum mechanics. Moreover, it is unethical that he does so in order to peddle other non proven medicinal crap on his web site. By non proven, we mean non evidence based – the kind of evidence obtained in a way to reduce bias like double blind studies, etc.

      I fail to see how this is “crap ware” and AFAIK there is a lot of work being done re: consciousness by many scientists so I fail to see how that is related to our discussions here which reject non evidence based claims.

    3. One prerequisite to having a conversation is agreeing on certain ground rules. Chopra violates a very basic epistemic principle – do not misrepresent very well established science, especially when there have been deliberate, and painstaking, refutations available for decades. (This is why I keep saying that subjectiveist interpretations of quantum mechanics can be *provably* shown to be wrong, and have been so since 1967 at the absolute latest.)

  23. Deepak is the one knowing how “nature” decides… I hope nature won’t decide to provide him the new 10 commandments of quantum consciousness…

  24. It seems to me that Sara Mayhew’s way of characterizing knowledge as that which concerns “the objective scientific method” is not very useful. There seem to me to be some things I know to be true aside from scientific truths, but which were not arrived at this way.

    (1) 2 + 2 = 4 (mathematical truths)
    (2) I am aware of myself thinking now (internal awareness)
    (3) If A is larger than B, and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C (logical inference)

    None of these propositons are properly understood as the products of the “scientific method”, and yet I think I know them.

    1. I don’t think she was offering an exhaustive definition of knowledge. She simply asked “if we don’t use the objective scientific method, how do we distinguish what is true from what we simply want to be true?” which seems like a fair question. Mathematics and logical inference are two other ways knowledge is obtained.

      I’m far from convinced, however, we learn much from internal awareness. Just from the example you gave, you seemed to assume there is an “I” which is thinking. That seems doubtful to me since I think there are good reasons to believe selves do not exist. Internal awareness in particular seems an area where we are governed by unseen assumptions and what we want to believe is taken as true.

      1. You are right that she does not say she was offering an exhaustive definition of knowledge, but her question would seem to suggest a dichotomy between scientific knowledge and everything else. That was what I was concerned with. If we are agreed that math and logic are other ways knowledge is obtained, then I am happy with that.

        As to your second point, I would first note that in your own response you use the word “I” several times. The very first word in your post is “I” and you also write, “That seems doubtful to me since I think there are good reasons to believe selves do not exist.” In some respects this is an odd way to express your concern since “I” refers to the self. But we might put this issue aside since I’m not trying to talk about the self in particular. I am merely saying that I can have knowledge that “I am currently thinking.” This is something I think can be known as described. I am not talking about everything people claim to know by internal awareness. I am talking about an example like this where my knowledge is pretty secure.

        1. It doesn’t matter what she said about science or didn’t. She asked how Deepak can know what is true from what he merely wishes was true. And then Deepak used a lot of words to dodge around the fact that **he can’t**.

    2. Everything you’re describing stems from empirical observation.

      Perhaps the best example to use to demonstrate this is the Pythagorean Theorem. After all, what could possibly be more abstract and “pure” mathematics than a**2 + b**2 = c**2 ?

      But that’s not what the Theorem actually is, and it’s not an accurate description of its origins.

      Rather, the Theorem states that the sums of the squares of the adjacent sides is equal to the square of the hypotenuse.

      And this is something that you can empirically confirm for yourself. Draw a right triangle. Now, draw squares on each of the three sides of the triangle. Last, measure the areas of the three squares. The Pythagorean Theorem is thus demonstrated not to be an abstract algebraic formulation, but a scientific conclusion from an empirical observation of the geometry of the Universe, no different fundamentally from Kepler’s Laws of Motion or Einsteinian Relativity.

      And so, too, is the conclusion that the algebraic formula is a useful and valid means of quickly determining the areas of those squares — and it quickly follows in a similar fashion that knowing those areas is a good way to determine the lengths…and the whole of trigonometry follows not long after.

      While it is certainly true that much of mathematics — and especially modern, cutting-edge mathematics — is many steps removed from its empirical foundations, it’s only because, empirically, these things work in the first place that we do them. And, further, the history of math is replete with examples of some abstract, rarefied, and even borderline incoherent mathematical conclusion that loops around and again is shown to have an empirical grounding. The relationship between imaginary numbers and electrical current would probably be the most famous example.

      The power of math and logic is twofold: first, by empirical observation, they have never failed; second, again by empirical observation, they permit the construction of models that would never be practical to build in the real world but that are highly reliable and effective and useful for examining the real world, as well as not-so-real worlds.



      1. Ben, thanks for your comments. I don’t agree with you that the examples I gave stem from empirical observation. I agree with you that there is an empirical component to geometry—which is because this is the study of three-dimensional space. But algebra and other areas of pure maths are not like that. I also don’t think that the rules of logic are based on empirical observation. What observation corresponds to the logical law of excluded middle”? In any case it seems that Sean Carroll the phycisist would disagree with you, since he notes:

        “Which is not to say that every worthwhile intellectual endeavor is a version of science in some way. Math and logic are not science….”

        Finally, I’ll just note that I don’t see how my knowing that I’m thinking from internal awareness can be understood as based on empirical observation. Internal awareness is not a form of empirical observation as I understand it.

        1. What observation corresponds to the logical law of excluded middle?

          Oh, that one’s trivial.

          Just as with the proverbial rabbit in the Precambrian, all it would take is a single observation of, for example, a Socrates who is both mortal and not mortal, to invalidate it.

          I don’t plan on losing sleep over the possibility of either observation being credibly reported within my lifetime.

          In any case it seems that Sean Carroll the phycisist would disagree with you

          Sean is awesome, but he’s hardly infallible. And in that essay he makes clear that this is largely a semantic question, one of definitions, and that there’s no universal agreement.

          For me, science is the apportioning of belief in proportion with a rational analysis of empirical observation. I would argue that that simple summary encapsulates all of the sciences and excludes religion and pseudoscience. It also hoovers in math and logic, but I have no problem with that.

          In Sean’s essay, he points out that, “when it comes to collecting [empirical] data, the only rule is ‘do the best you can.'” And, of course, one should adjust the error bars accordingly — that’s what I mean by the apportioning of belief in proper proportion. You observe yourself thinking; that’s an observation. It’s not necessarily a particularly precise observation, but the question is a binary one, and so precision isn’t important. Either you’re thinking or you’re not, and the observation is consistent with though and inconsistent with the lack of thought. Ergo, you’ve empirically observed that you are, indeed, thinking. I can’t directly observe your thought, but there are many proxies for such observation that have demonstrated themselves to be reliable. I should’t have as much confidence that you’re thinking as you should have, but I should still have very high (though not absolute) confidence that you are, in fact, thinking.

          I’d like to think that Sean would have a hard time finding fault with my definition, but I certainly haven’t put it to him, so who knows?



  25. “all it would take is a single observation of, for example, a Socrates who is both mortal and not mortal, to invalidate it.”

    I don’t see how this reply really supports your position since I don’t think I understand how it is possible to observe “a Socrates who is both mortal and not mortal” at the same time. I don’t see how any empirical information is really relevant to the truth of the law of excluded middle. That’s the problem.

    “You observe yourself thinking; that’s an observation.”

    I’m fine if you want to call this an “observation”. But what needs to be shown is that this is an “empirical” or “scientific” observation, and I don’t see how that follows. When I look inwardly at my thoughts I’m not doing something that can be observed by others and verified in the way scientific observation ordinarily implies. So I’m afraid I don’t see how this known by empirical observation.

    1. I dont think I understand how it is possible to observe a Socrates who is both mortal and not mortal at the same time.

      First, I completely agree with you that I can’t imagine how such a thing could be possible, either.

      However, the Universe is not limited by our imaginations. Not that long ago, nobody could imagine how a photon could be both a particle and a wave, or how life could be designed without a Designer, or so on.

      And, indeed, in the specific example I gave…well, a great many Christians argue that Jesus is simultaneously fully human and fully divine. No, it makes no sense to me; however, were there to be an actual, credible — and, for me, at least — reproducible observation of Jesus or Socrates or Chopra or whomever as both mortal and not mortal, I would have no choice but to (at least tentatively) conclude that the excluded middle might not be quite so rock-solid after all.

      For that matter, there are things in Quantum Mechanics that tread perilously close to that line, as Schrodinger explored with his infamous imaginary cat.

      When I look inwardly at my thoughts Im not doing something that can be observed by others and verified in the way scientific observation ordinarily implies.

      As Sean noted, what’s important is to do your best.

      There are all sorts of examples in science where a lone individual observed something which nobody else could have. Those observations are still empirical observations; they’re just treated with an appropriate amount of skepticism. However, if enough other people make similar observations and they all report similar results, then the degree of skepticism should be lessened.

      Ultimately, virtually all of science fits that exact form. You have no way of verifying that the fruit that Newton dropped actually did accelerate as he described, or that the balls I timed rolling down ramps in high school physics class took as long as I indicated on the lab paperwork, or that any other measurement of the acceleration of gravity is as described. You can, of course, perform your own experiments; however, unless I’m there with you, I have no way of knowing that you’re not just making it up, yourself.

      But, when you put all the reports together and combine them with your own independent verification, it takes an impractical level of paranoia to reject the validity of all those other reports.

      Similarly, I have no way of verifying your own observations of your own consciousness, but I can perform a similar observation of my own consciousness, and compare it with your observations and of those of other people. And, since they’re all reasonably consistent, I’m perfectly happy to accept as valid your observations, subject to the usual caveats.

      And if that doesn’t make your observation as objectively empirical as Newton’s observations of falling fruit, then what does? (Not necessarily as precise or rigorous, of course — but, again, we’re discussing something more along the lines of, “Do things drop when you let go of them?” as opposed to “What’s the combined mass of this gravitational system to within so many significant figures?”)



  26. First off kudos to Sara Mayhew for being more objective and scientific in ten seconds than Deepak’s one minute ramble. How long will it take before Deepak is really challenged? The ‘amusing’ thing is that the ongoing dialogue surrounding Chopra is merely a smoke screen..That question she pointedly asked, has real world meaning in terms of an actual medical practice, one that is apparently not based on a belief in clinical studies (See the Dawkins/Chopra youtube interview).

  27. If I may add something, the scientific method is not really something new but a fancy name for rational thinking, based on empirical evaluation, which has to be instinctive in the brain. Either it’s physical testing or it’s done in the mind. But i’d disagree that it requires some body’s approval, a committee of scientists, truth isn’t owned by scientists, no one owns it and that keeps it from being corrupted.

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