Deepak Chopra embarrasses himself by offering a million-dollar prize

June 16, 2014 • 7:46 am

I realize now that Chopra’s affliction with Maru’s Syndrome—the condition described by Dr. Maru as “When I see a box, I cannot help but enter”—is a chronic condition. Although Chopra feints at friendliness, enticing me to his fancy conference with a big honorarium, and trying to pal around with Michael Shermer (who, I suspect, doesn’t like Chopra), in reality he’s as thin-skinned as ever. What has really wounded Deepakity is the intimation by people like Shermer, Dawkins, Sam Harris, and me, that he is not a scientist.  After all, the old Woomeister makes his millions by putting on a veneer of science, bandying about nonsense phrases like “quantum consciousness” that bamboozle those who are impressed by science, but don’t understand it.  Were they to understand that there is no hard science behind Chopra’s claims, perhaps they’d be less likely to open their wallets.

At any rate, the video below is one more sign of Chopra’s butthurt.  In response to James Randi’s famous “million-dollar challenge,” in which the magician has a standing offer of a million dollars to anyone who can produce a convincing demonstration of the paranormal, Chopra has issued his own challenge.

You probably know Randi’s challenge: if anyone can produce a convincing demonstration of the paranormal under conditions specified and controlled by Randi and his colleagues, that person wins a million bucks. But nobody’s ever won it.  Every year, some sap tries for the prize with a demonstration at Randi’s “The Amazing Meeting” (TAM), and every year the sap fails. Last year, when I was there, someone claimed to have the power of remote viewing. But he couldn’t reproduce it under strictly controlled conditions.  The provisional explanation for all the failures is that there are no paranormal phenomena.

Deepak offers his own challenge in the first 55 seconds of the 5.5 minute video:

“Please explain the so-called ‘normal’: how does electricity going to the brain become the experience of a three-dimensional world of space and time. If you can explain that, then you get a million dollars from me. Explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness in a peer-reviewed journal; offer a theory that is falsifiable—and you get the prize.”

(Thanks to Sharon Hill at Doubtful News for calling this to my attention.)’

Chopra spends the remaining 4.5 minutes insulting skeptics—calling us “naive realists,” “superstitious,” and “bamboozled by matter,” —and saying that he won’t accept neural correlates of consciousness as its explanation. (In the end, though, that’s how the problem will be cracked, if it is cracked.) He’s so eager to parade his “clever” challenge that he simply repeats it over and over again, interspersed with nasty cracks about how self-congratulatory we skeptics are in our rejection of the paranormal.

Watch this embarrassing demonstration of Maru’s Syndrome:

Now the “Hard Problem” of consciousness is the problem of qualia—subjective sensation.  The Hard Problem, then, is to show how the electrical impulses of our brain, generated by the environment or our inner workings, give rise to sensations of pain, of beauty, of pleasure, and so on.  While, contra Chopra, we know some things about consciousness—that it can be removed with anesthesia, that it can be altered in predicted directions with chemicals, and we know some things about where it sits in the brain—the “Hard Problem” is hard because while one can experience qualia, it’s hard to demonstrate them in others, and so to know when they’ve arisen. After all, I know I’m conscious, but you might be a zombie.

In a 2007 piece in Time Magazine, one of the best things I’ve read about consciousness (read it!), Steve Pinker first distinguishes the Hard from the “Easy” Problem of consciousness, and then talks about why the hard problem is hard:

What exactly is the Easy Problem? It’s the one that Freud made famous, the difference between conscious and unconscious thoughts. Some kinds of information in the brain–such as the surfaces in front of you, your daydreams, your plans for the day, your pleasures and peeves–are conscious. You can ponder them, discuss them and let them guide your behavior. Other kinds, like the control of your heart rate, the rules that order the words as you speak and the sequence of muscle contractions that allow you to hold a pencil, are unconscious. They must be in the brain somewhere because you couldn’t walk and talk and see without them, but they are sealed off from your planning and reasoning circuits, and you can’t say a thing about them.

The Easy Problem, then, is to distinguish conscious from unconscious mental computation, identify its correlates in the brain and explain why it evolved.

The Hard Problem, on the other hand, is why it feels like something to have a conscious process going on in one’s head–why there is first-person, subjective experience. Not only does a green thing look different from a red thing, remind us of other green things and inspire us to say, “That’s green” (the Easy Problem), but it also actually looks green: it produces an experience of sheer greenness that isn’t reducible to anything else. As Louis Armstrong said in response to a request to define jazz, “When you got to ask what it is, you never get to know.”

The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place. And not surprisingly, everyone agrees that the hard problem (if it is a problem) remains a mystery.

. . . Many philosophers, like Daniel Dennett, deny that the Hard Problem exists at all. Speculating about zombies and inverted colors is a waste of time, they say, because nothing could ever settle the issue one way or another. Anything you could do to understand consciousness–like finding out what wavelengths make people see green or how similar they say it is to blue, or what emotions they associate with it–boils down to information processing in the brain and thus gets sucked back into the Easy Problem, leaving nothing else to explain. Most people react to this argument with incredulity because it seems to deny the ultimate undeniable fact: our own experience.

The most popular attitude to the Hard Problem among neuroscientists is that it remains unsolved for now but will eventually succumb to research that chips away at the Easy Problem. Others are skeptical about this cheery optimism because none of the inroads into the Easy Problem brings a solution to the Hard Problem even a bit closer. Identifying awareness with brain physiology, they say, is a kind of “meat chauvinism” that would dogmatically deny consciousness to Lieut. Commander Data just because he doesn’t have the soft tissue of a human brain. Identifying it with information processing would go too far in the other direction and grant a simple consciousness to thermostats and calculators–a leap that most people find hard to stomach. Some mavericks, like the mathematician Roger Penrose, suggest the answer might someday be found in quantum mechanics. But to my ear, this amounts to the feeling that quantum mechanics sure is weird, and consciousness sure is weird, so maybe quantum mechanics can explain consciousness.

And then there is the theory put forward by philosopher Colin McGinn that our vertigo when pondering the Hard Problem is itself a quirk of our brains. The brain is a product of evolution, and just as animal brains have their limitations, we have ours. Our brains can’t hold a hundred numbers in memory, can’t visualize seven-dimensional space and perhaps can’t intuitively grasp why neural information processing observed from the outside should give rise to subjective experience on the inside. This is where I place my bet, though I admit that the theory could be demolished when an unborn genius–a Darwin or Einstein of consciousness–comes up with a flabbergasting new idea that suddenly makes it all clear to us.

The Hard Problem, then, is to demonstrate when you’ve produced subjective sensations, and to distinguish that from simple input-output dynamics that, for instance, can occur in computers or zombies. But I don’t think a solution is beyond our ken. Perhaps there are brain interventions in an individual that can eliminate parts of subjective sensation, and which can then feed into a general and perhaps testable theory of how we get sensations.

But perhaps the problem will remain unsolved, or, as Dennett thinks, isn’t a problem at all (I disagree).

That, however, is completely irrelevant to Chopra’s “challenge” for two reasons.  First, his challenge implicitly thinks that our failure to understand consciousness means that it has a paranormal explanation. This is really a “woo of the gaps” approach, whereby any scientific problem that has defied explanation must have a paranormal or supernatural solution. This is of course analogous to “God of the gaps” arguments, in which anything we don’t understand is imputed to God. Theologians often suggest supernatural solutions to difficult problems like consciousness, morality, and the laws of physics. They once suggested them for things like lightning and evolution, too—until science filled the gaps with naturalistic explanations.  Chopra is simply a Theologian of Woo, and his mistake is the one identified by Robert G. Ingersoll in one of my favorite quotes:

“No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, from what is understood, but from the complex, from the unknown, and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science.”

In this case, Chopra infers not a god but woo: immaterial and non-naturalistic forces beyond our ken—the stuff he makes his living touting. And why not offer a million dollars for other hard questions, like why the constants of physics are what they are instead of something else?

Second, Chopra’s challenge fails to parallel Randi’s in an important way. Randi is simply asking for someone to demonstrate paranormal phenomena like ESP, telekinesis, or remote viewing. He’s not asking their advocates to explain them. It’s a lot easier to demonstrate ESP than to explain it, although neither ESP nor other paranormal phenomena have been demonstrated. Chopra, on the other hand, asks for an explanation of consciousness, though a demonstration of it (all of our individual experiences) is dead easy. The latter is already at hand; the former may take decades to work out.

But this is all persiflage on Chopra’s part. If he wants to explain the “normal,” there are lots of questions he can ask. Why does mathematics work? Why are the speed of light in a vacuum and the force of gravity constants rather than variables?  Does that constancy prove something about the paranormal?

Chopra’s little demonstration is not only misguided, but embarrassing. He gives away the game when he bashes skeptics over and over again, chastising them for their “arrogance.” But who is more arrogant than Chopra, a man who constantly makes statements that either have no scientific basis or (as in his claim that we can permanently change our genes by changing our experience) are dead wrong? Real scientists like  Rudolph Tanzi should be embarrassed to be associated with Chopra.

My message to Chopra, who will be reading this for sure, is this: Deepak, you’re 66 years old, but in this video you act like a butthurt teenager.  Your challenge is ridiculous, and not worthy of consideration for even a second. After all, neuroscientists are already working on consciousness, and they don’t need your jibes to prompt them. If the paranormal does exist, as you implictly and explicitly claim over and over again, why hasn’t Randi demonstrated it? Why haven’t you won Randi’s prize?

250 thoughts on “Deepak Chopra embarrasses himself by offering a million-dollar prize

  1. It does not take this prize for Chopra to embarass himself. He does that quite nicely whenever he opens his mouth.

      1. I also don’t like comparing Deepak to cats. I assumed cats like boxes and small places because they are sweet and fluffy, these small places are the way one hugs themselves. Deepak should be compared to the slugs that crawl out into the middle of the road on a wet night and then get stuck when the sun starts shining in the morning.

      1. Great. Thank link “forced” me to go to youtube and watch other Maru videos. There was 30 minutes of my life I can’t get back. But 30 minutes of FUN.

      2. Such beautiful markings. I love that cat. I love my cats, they are pretty funny too. I immediately thought of this Maru when the story said Dr Maru. Who are we to say he’s NOT a doctor?

        Unlike CHopra, who is, technically, a physician. Just shows how much THAT means…

  2. “Why haven’t you won Randi’s prize?”

    Because he hasn’t yet figured out a successful con/trick to get past Randi’s control parameters.

    1. The Randi prize is nothing more than a publicity stunt. After accepting my challenge I suggested we video tape the testing because I might need the tape after I successfully complete the challenge if I have to take Randi to court to collect. Randi then blatantly lied to weasel out of my challenge saying I wanted no photos taken as his reason for backing out. I have offered ten thousand dollars to Randi or anyone else that can produce any evidence that I refused photos, just the opposite since video takes 30 pics a second I was insisting on hundreds of photos taken.

          1. Yes, it is very likely that you can’t answer the question in an “objective” sense.

  3. >…The problem is hard because no one knows >what a solution might look like or even >whether it is a genuine scientific problem in >the first place.

    Spot on Jerry. Additionally, what will suffice as a solution? It is an issue (an issue that I feel is bland) of emergent properties. For example:

    Q: Why does ice form when heat is removed from water?
    A: The water molecules slow until they form crystal structures.
    Q (follow up): That doesn’t explain why ice looks the way it does. Why doesn’t ice look like liquid water?

    The answer to his question is that when matter and energy is configured in a particular way, consciousness arises. It is a property of the universe. Chopra, like many other woo-mongerers , wants to proclaim that science cannot answer certain questions without evoking magic. Yet his kind of ‘magic’ is the idea that consciousness doesn’t require a brain, i.e. it is ‘immaterial’. Unfortunately for him, there is not a shred of evidence that consciousness exists without a brain.

    1. Yes, that is a pretty good analogy. I am, currently, in the same camp as Dennett. The Hard problem seems to be overhyped to me, but then again I am no expert on this issue. As talked about by Chopra and other wooists/religionists, it resembles one part an argument from incredulity and one part an argument from human specialness to me.

      I could be wrong of course. But right now I’d put my money on an explanation becoming evident once “chipping away at the Easy problem” is far enough along.

      1. Same here.

        It seems certain people are demanding some sort of different form of “explanation” for consciousness than what we accept everywhere else. So they will always say “but all those physical correlations don’t EXPLAIN consciousness.” (Except that such explanations are accepted for everything else in the world).

        What would count as this “explanation” always seems conveniently unclear.


        1. “It seems certain people are demanding some sort of different form of “explanation” for consciousness than what we accept everywhere else.”

          Exactly what I was trying to get across, but for some reason I just couldn’t coax my brain into assembling such a straightforward and clear sentence.

        2. The whole argument is that *in principle* consciousness cannot be explained by adding up physical facts any more than you can explain the economics of China using Newton’s laws.
          The point is that reductionism about the natural world (as Swinburne points out) presuposes a difference between the phenomological qualities and physical qualities. So reductionism presupposes dualism.

          1. “Consciousness explained by adding up physical facts” vs “China’s economics explained using Newton’s laws” are not even close to equivalent. And there is a whole lot more wrong with that analogy than just that.

            Using “physical facts” to explain both of the above would be equivalent, but then that doesn’t seem such a stretch anymore so that is probably why the analogy isn’t formulated like that.

            But “physical facts” is not an accurate description of what a scientific, materialist explanation for consciousness would be based on anyway. Though we may speak of facts for convenience in communicating, science does not deal in facts, and since the topic is the process of science it should be described with more accuracy. Since science is about developing models using various tools that describe observed phenomena and testing those models by comparing them to reality via experiment and more observation, there is a whole lot more there than just “physical facts.”

            Though in the most general terms it is very simple. Find out what works by testing against reality. Since the methods of science have proved to be so enormously successful at explaining our reality, what is it about consciousness that makes you think that it can’t be the result of physical processes. Just like all the complex phenomena science has already managed to provide very useful and accurate explanations for. It seems very much like a god of the gaps argument / argument from incredulity to me.

            And “reductionism presupposes dualism?” Really? How bizarre. That sounds like a rhetorical tactic, accusing your opponents, even though it does not apply to their position at all, before they can, accurately, accuse you. Obfuscation.

  4. >>>After all, the old Woomeister makes his millions by putting on a veneer of science, bandying about nonsense phrases like “quantum consciousness” that bamboozle those who are impressed by science, but don’t understand it. Were they to understand that there is no hard science behind Chopra’s claims, perhaps they’d be less likely to open their wallets.<<<

    In addition to being ignorant about science, one has to be quite enriched with Vitamin M to enjoy a live demonstration of Mr. Chopra's oratory skills. As per his website, attending his lecture in Australia can set one back by @600 Australian dollars (Unless the living standards and currency rate down south are drastically different from North America/Europe)

  5. Trivial, but I’m curious. From the article.

    “Identifying awareness with brain physiology, they say, is a kind of “meat chauvinism” that would dogmatically deny consciousness to Lieut. Commander Data just because he doesn’t have the soft tissue of a human brain.”

    This doesn’t make sense to me. How does awareness being dependent on the hardware lead to the only possible hardware being meat? Wouldn’t you have to assume that from the start for this to make any sense?

    1. I too found that odd. If Mr. Data implies that we must “grant a simple consciousness to thermostats and calculators”, then human consciousness likewise implies a simple consciousness in bacteria and jellyfish. Why should the former implication be any more problematic than the latter?

      1. If you could use the term “humanist” like “racist”, you’d have your answer (and considering that humanism doesn’t necessarily cover trees or robots or aliens some people think this is a good way to go- eventually we have to move to a non humano-centrist view). A lot of people in theory of mind say Data cannot ever be conscious, because he’s not human. When people like Dennet point out Data passes every test we could ever come up with for finding consciousness in a person, they say well it’s not something you can test for. That’s just the bad strategies of woo-woo. There really is no problem of mind in that every issue that can be solved, basically has been, and the only “gaps” are just areas where people are uncomfortable with the result and need a happier-sappier way of formulating the answer until it tastes good enough that the baby-spoon choo-choo is allowed into the station and they finally swallow it. Where does consciousness come from? It doesn’t, if by consciousness you mean qualia, because they don’t physically exist. Unless you mean that qualia exist as a concept, like “love” or “tomorrow”, but those are just abstractions, they don’t necessarily map onto physical reality, like “unicorn”. Borrowing a parable from Zen: You say qualia trouble you? Then place them before me. If you cannot, then your problem is absolved.

        1. * A lot of people in theory of mind say Data cannot ever be conscious, because he’s not human. *

          How many is *a lot*? And who, for instance?


          Sent from my iPad mini

      2. I think Dennett has made this very clear in his writings. Robots ( a vending machine?) and animals are conscious in some degree. Which makes sense when you consider that humans seem conscious in degrees. Early homonims were necessarily conscious and aware enough to allow supreme court justices to arise some time later.

    1. First a video of Mr. Oily. Now, the upchuck Proverbs verse (albeit one of those most rare both spot-on & witty Biblical metaphors). Have a care, people! It’s lunchtime where I live. I’m trying to eat, here.

    2. ‘As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.
      — Proverbs, 26:11’

      That is my new favorite passage.

  6. At first I thought this was a good thing, kind of like the Longitude prize. Something actually helpful. But Deepak’s challenge is just immature, he’s designed it to advertise himself and his woo. Deepak is using his prize to try to prove that we don’t know what consciousness is or how it works, then he can flaunt this gap in our understanding (or perceived gap as he does with quantum mechanics) with whatever he is trying to sell. This is all Deepak advertisement, this is all for his own ego. I may have taken him more seriously if he didn’t direct it directly to James Randi and his “cronies.” That was immature. Direct it towards actual scientists, write a letter to Nature. This challenge of Deepak’s and the way he sold it is a big part of the reason why we don’t take him seriously.

    1. The person who solves the hard problem of consciousness is going to ge the Nobel, so there is already a million dollar prize waiting for them. And I bed if someone were to win that, Chopra would still refuse to grant that person his prize, because that would remove the woo. So you’re right, this will not be helpful.

      1. Eric,

        The problem cannot be solved because every answer begs the question. Awareness and other properties associated with consciousness evolved — That we do know. It is also plainly evident to the science literate that ‘consciousness’ comes in many different shades. Last week wife was put into a semi-conscious ‘twilight’ state by a anesthesiologist. Was she conscious? Sort of. Is a stapler conscious? No. A crow? Seemingly a little bit. An elephant? Sure seems like it. A human? Usually. The requirement is a relatively complex intact brain. The questions woo-mongerers focus on are pointless. Those question are as worthless as asking why gravity is dependent upon mass and not penile flaccidity? Human consciousness slowly evolved. Get over it Chopra.

        1. Maybe. I think advancing our understanding of how nerological signaling leads to consciousness etc. by a significant amount would be worth a Nobel, even if the problem was not solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

  7. I’m sill impressed by the idea that consciousness is the result of the “mirror neurons” that permit us to estimate the inner thoughts of others being recursively directed inward.

    If that holds up and plays out as I think it will, Chopra is going to have to face the music much sooner than I’ll bet he thinks he does.



    1. But in that case, mirror neurons would only permit us to infer the existence of someone else’s consciousness – they would not be an explanation of one’s own consciousness.

      Or am I missing your point?

      1. There’s nothing special about that type of mechanism that says that it has to be directed towards others. Direct it inwards, especially in a recursive fashion, and Bob’s yer uncle.

        Remember consciousness is the awareness of our internal thought processes. It isn’t the actual processes themselves; just the awareness of them.


        1. Yes, I see what you mean. It does seem like a productive line of research to pursue, especially considering the alternatives.

        2. It boils down to “awareness.” What is it? Is a self diagnostic program aware? Yes, no, a little bit?

          I confess that I don’t really understand why so many think it so surprising, or improbable, unbelievable even, that “awareness” be a result of sensory input combined with computation of some sort. To me it doesn’t seem like that much of a leap based on what we know now.

      1. Normal mirror neurons are constrained to work at a distance from the minds they model. Consciousness mirror neurons would have direct neurochemical access to those processes. That alone would be more than ample to create the impression of the intimacy and importance of self.


      2. Sam Harris would disagree, probably in his new book. He has a few blog posts about the self, and how our sense of self is different from consciousness. He says that meditation can get rid of this sense of self completely, and that it’s actually quite beneficial.

    2. The term “estimate” in your explanation seems to assume that the neurons are already conscious. (On the other hand, if you were just making a metaphor, then I’m not sure why this process turning inward should lead to consciousness.)

      1. Then substitute, “model,” if you prefer.

        A computer is perfectly capable of creating physics (and other) simulations of the real world. Our minds do the exact same thing. The mirror neurons create such models of the people around you, including the world inside your own skull.



        1. I think the same issue arises if we substitute “model.” You’re either assuming that the neurons (and the computers you refer to) are conscious, or you’re using a metaphor that leaves it unclear why consciousness should arise from a model.

  8. “You probably know Randi’s challenge: if anyone can produce a convincing demonstration of the paranormal under conditions specified and controlled by Randi and his colleagues, that person wins a million bucks.”

    JREF doesn’t dictate the conditions from on high, they work with the claimant on mutually agreeable conditions created to suit the specific claim, conditions the claimant agrees they can perform under, whereas Deepak is just dictating conditions.

    1. Yup yup. They also generally require an ‘open’ test run before the test, where the result is already known (for example: where the dowser knows where the water is). The test run is to ensure the claimant agrees that he/she can perform under the exact test conditions – and if the claimant wants to then make changes, they generally can.

    2. My favorite challenge is the Paul Cooijmans test for e.s.p. Paul is the founder of the high I.q. Society – the ‘Giga Society’.

      To prove your e.s.p. simply answer the following five questions pertaining to Index cards placed in the top drawer of Paul’s dresser. Details and odds

      Which number is written on the first?
      The name of which historical figure is on the second?
      Which English word is on the third?
      Which geometrical figure is drawn on the fourth? Draw.
      Which object or organism is drawn on the fifth? Draw.

  9. After all, the old Woomeister makes his millions by putting on a veneer of science, bandying about nonsense phrases like “quantum consciousness” that bamboozle those who are impressed by science, but don’t understand it.

    Actually, he makes his money selling tea for $350/kg which costs him less than $20/kg

    He’s a true snake oil salesman.

  10. I watched Deepak’s challenge yesterday and I was hoping you would respond, Jerry.

    You did a great job dismantling him.

    And thanks for the wonderful explanation of the “Hard” and “Easy” problems. Pinker’s article is great too!

  11. There is not sufficient proof yet that only electrical pulses make up what we call the brain. That being said, there is no proof that the brain is anymore than the physical brain.

    Chopra’s challenge is Randi’s challenge, in reverse. Chopra can not, to my knowledge, win Randi’s challenge, therefore he automatically loses his own challenge. Who is he going to pay? For that matter every time someone loses Randi’s challenge they should get money from Chopra.

    The stronger the evidence for no paranormal, the weaker the evidence for Chopra’s wished for world.

      1. It’s electrical pulses, as far as that goes. Flows of ions generate the pulses. But that’s all within a neuron. Crossing of the synapses between neurons happens by diffusion of neurotransmitters.

  12. If anyone or any institution builds an AI that can pass the Turing test over a prolonged period of conversation with many different people, they will have answered one aspect of this hard problem. It can be done with hardware.

    I suspect, however, that hard AI will have to evolve, and we may never fully understand what it is doing.

      1. I would agree that a brief test will never be convincing.

        Asimov anticipated this, writing a story that is essentially 200 year Turing test.

        A number of thoughtful writers have anticipated to problem of distinguishing convincing AI from human(or sentient).

  13. But, Deepak is wearing a tee shirt that proves his exalted status within the quantum consciousness of the mind melded universe.

          1. It is Cyrillic and I can read it but it does not make any sense except the last two words roughly translated as “how about you?”

            “Az cheta vseki den!”
            “A ti?”

          2. Oh, it’s Bulgarian, not Russian: I read every day.

            I found it on Orac’s post about Chopra, which I’d actual skimmed through earlier today before sending it to. Jerry (who’d already seen the video elsewhere). I should have read it more carefully!


            Sent from my iPad mini

          3. I love that people here look at things like this. Elsewhere people just think I over analyze.

          4. Overanalyzing is part of a good life. In life, there are:

            1. those who work out how things happened,

            2. watch things happen,

            3. and wonder WTF happened.

            Most WEIT personnel try to work how things happen. Chopra thinks he is part of camp 1 but he is mostly in 3.

          5. I learned it as a swimmer. You are no good unless you make things happen and you certainly won’t accomplish anything if you just watch things happen (spectator). Though I am sure someone else thought of it.

          6. I also watch things happen. I watch things happen so much that I often forget to react when I should. “Oh, that rock is sailing through the air. Look how it appears when it comes toward me; I don’t normally see a rock from this perspec….Ow! Why didn’t I react?!”

  14. Man, he’s awful. It’s hard to believe he’s actually as stupid as that video suggests. “Solve the hard problem of consciousness and publish it for a million dollars…” As if he thinks no one has been working on this, or that they’re keeping it a big secret because there’s been no monetary prize for announcing the solution. No, I don’t think even he is that confused. I think the target audience for this video is his own followers. They can be fooled into thinking that he is saying something profound here, bravely issuing a real challenge and proving some kind of point with it. He’s not speaking to Randi or Dawkins; he’s preaching to his choir. Also, “you’ve been bamboozled by the superstition of matter?” To him believing in matter is superstitious, but believing in the intelligence of the universe or the existence of chi is not. I do not think that word means what he thinks it means. And finally, after five minutes of insulting them he says, “all the best, guys” and after declaring the he knows the truth and they do not, he suggests they need more “humility.” It really makes me wonder how much of his act is calculated cynicism and how much is sincere ignorance/lunacy.

  15. Chopra sounds just like a creationist advocating a 6000 year old earth when he speaks this way. Good grief! Have some humility already!

  16. This is rich: “self-appointed vigilantes for the suppression of curiosity and imagination and legitimate science” @ 4:03

    Chopra wouldn’t recognise legitimate science if it jumped up and masticated his gluteus maximus!


    1. Skeptics promote imagination as much as the most strident woo-ers. Skeptics just believe imagination doesn’t affect reality. It seems that Chopra is so delusional that he doesn’t even realize he is advocating a methodology of learning about the world that is opposite of science. Imagination is what science calls hypothesis — an explanation readily abandoned, approved, or revised in accordance to the results of testing, evidence. Chopra believes something is true and insulated that belief from any testing or criticism.

  17. Nice, Chopra is offering a prize to anyone who can prove the stuff he’s been teaching for decades.

    I guess this is kind of a runners up prize or second prize — a million is peanuts compared to the prize money you get for convincing people that hogwash is plausible.

  18. I’ve lately liked R. Scott Bakker’s brain theorizing at the Three Pound Brain ( He is a fantasy novelist for those who are into such. Also has a disquieting thriller called Neuropathy about a character who goes mad in telling the world that materialism of mind/brain is true and we have no free will, robust selves, etc. For your summer reading displeasure.

    Anyways, my take is more in line with Dennett on some accounts. On one hand, we have representation/information structures. It makes perfect sense that your information structures are unique, you are the only one representing a person with your name, in your city, with your particular relationships and the knowledge that you have. In that sense you are subjective. In order for someone else to have the exact same representational and self-representational structures (and likewise experience) that you have would have to have the exact same information and representations as you (including walling off other information). That seems rather uninteresting.

    On the other hand, I am not sure we have a good explanation for feeling, such as the painfulness of pain. Some of this, maybe all, can be seen in representational terms, as in the way Antonio Damasio discusses emotions (Feeling of what Happens). Emotions are essentially measurement of changing bodily conditions; feelings somehow derive from conglomerate accounting of such (which I never quite understood, admittedly). In whatever manner pain and other feeling are manifested in us, say through the chemical and neuronal architecture, what we can do is deflate the meaning of such. The main structures of pain or pleasure or ecstasy in humans were already present in other mammals, we assume. In humans, given that we have a great deal more (self-)representations and reflective capacity, those feelings may multiply and combine, like in the complex feelings of human guilt or schadenfreude. But we can see that the origin of these feelings was not miraculous but were simply nature’s way of increasing organizational control. Pain encourages animals to care about the body.

    So, human “specialness” and the important part of our “consciousness” comes from linguistic representations and increased self representations that grant a high level of reflecting on our selves and our place in the world, including representations “placing” us in a world, and not from the power of these “feelings,” whatever they may be. If our personal representations belong only to us as individuals in a seemingly induplicable way, that is because those exact representations and feelings, assuming those two hang together in some way, can only be duplicated as they are, lest you recreate at least a slightly different structure of representations/feelings.

    1. I’ve seen criticism of Dennett’s idea that language can be representative in the way he thinks it is (or the idea that it can be said to be constitutive of our thinking), so I’m not so sure about attributing any “specialness” to human consciousness on that basis.

  19. The Robert Ingersoll quote
    “No one infers a god from the simple, from the known, …, but from t…the unknown, and incomprehensible. Our ignorance is God; what we know is science.”

    somehow reminds me of John Lennon’s “God is a concept with which we measure our pain”.

    On the related problem of free will vs. determinism, Bertrand Russell viewed it as unsolvable given our current state of knowledge (he wrote long before the advent of modern neuroscience), and I wonder if he might say the same re the problem of consciousness.

  20. I wish I had a million dollars to spare. I’d like to challenge Deepak Chopra to demonstrate how a soul (or anything supernatural) would solve the problem of consciousness.

  21. I’m curious to know whether people like Chopra who believe in the mind-brain dualism, wherein the brain is merely a radio receiving signals from a ghostly soul (or whatever), hold that a fruit fly’s brain operates according to the same principle, that is, it only receives signals from a fruit fly’s little ghost….

    1. In the 70s there was some BS show on TV that claimed to scientifically demonstrate things had souls. I think it showed a ghostly image of a leaf dying or something. It was nuts.

  22. The “Hard Problem” seems to me to be special pleading, nothing else. Am I missing something? Am I a particularly silly salad?

  23. The part of me that dearly loves well-executed heist & con movies is thinkin’ there’s bound to be some way to take this cool million…

  24. We should consoder this question solved. And Dan Dennett should get the million dollars.

  25. First, his challenge implicitly thinks that our failure to understand consciousness means that it has a paranormal explanation. This is really a “woo of the gaps” approach, whereby any scientific problem that has defied explanation must have a paranormal or supernatural solution. This is of course analogous to “God of the gaps” arguments, in which anything we don’t understand is imputed to God.

    Because we are actually talking specifically about consciousness as a pure force or essence of mental-ity, I think this is not so much a “God of the Gaps” argument as a “God IS the Gap” assertion. A supernatural explanation is an “explanation” which doesn’t actually explain anything — and glories in it. That is, it doesn’t help us understand qualia by breaking it down into ‘lower’ nonmental elements and processes. Instead it simply asserts something mental (Consciousness, Intelligence, Love, Intention, etc.) as an irreducible answer. It’s primal: this is where you get to start.

    So what is Chopra’s own solution to the Hard Problem of Consciousness? Consciousness. It just is. It is what it is. Mind is like a force or energy or nonmaterial substance which is explained by itself. Take the question and insist it is the answer!

    As I see it Chopra’s not so much inserting a supernatural explanation into a problem as he is solving a problem with the problem itself. Supernaturalism reduces to various bland and pointless repetitions and iterations of the banal insight that mind is Mind is MIND!!11!!!1!!!!1

    All the virtues of theft over honest toil, as they say …

  26. Are we quite sure Deepquak knew what he meant when he says “falsifiable” in his snotty presentation? Did he not mean “verifiable”? (At least he didn’t resort to his usual junk catch-phrase “wisdom traditions”!) And did I hear him call Richard Dawkins an “ignoramus”? Nice to know real science is getting to Quakshop, anyway…

  27. No matter how many time someone explains the “hard problem” – be it Chalmers or any number of philosophers I’ve read (or listened to) on the subject…it seems to hold no traction at all for me.

    It’s not that understanding consciousness, how it works and how it arises in it’s specific minutia sounds like an “easy” problem. It’s clearly quite complex. But what I simply don’t get is this “mysterious-in-principle” character that the “hard problem” folks keep assigning to consciousness.

    I just listened (on a podcast) yesterday to two philosophers discussing the problem of consciousness, one was a panpsychist who thought consciousness must be a basic element in the universe. Amazingly enough for someone who supposedly thought a lot about this, he had very little cogent to say about how atomic particles would be “conscious.” The other also thought it might not be solvable in principle, yet every time the cited why my brain screamed “what? what? That’s it?”

    The fact that consciousness seems inherently private and you can’t experience my consciousness? Well, of course not. You don’t have my brain. Why WOULD one even think this is a “problem” given it seems what one would expect of consciousness as a result of brain function?

    The fact you can’t “see” consciousness by looking at the brain? Again: who in the world would EXPECT to see it that way?
    You don’t see Mac OSX by looking at the circuit boards.

    The fact it “pain feels like something?” or “blue looks blue” or “it feels ‘like’ something at all?”

    Well, given we have senses running to complex brains, and that we need to have some representation of what we sense in the first place, and that being able to also “think about our representations” seems like a useful thing as well…why WOULDN’T it “feel like” something to touch fire, to see a red flower, to internally observe, manipulate, re-represent and construct models based on our sense input? We are a bundle of “things evolved to feel” – so why wouldn’t this be what these things feel like?
    What’s the alternative? If someone says “well, you could have a brain just like ours, but which doesn’t feel things, or have qualia, or isn’t conscious” then you get into Chalmer’s “philosophical zombie” silliness in which it simply begs the question. simply assumes you can have what we have materially, and not ‘feel’ or have consciousness. It seems another being that duplicates our physical cognitive system would be conscious – after all, that’s the conclusion we reach about any other person.

    When one lists all the ways in which we do seem to understand the relationship of consciousness to specific brain functions, and how it can be disrupted, then you get objections like “but all you are getting there is correlation, you haven’t established causation and you aren’t “seeing” consciousness at work that way.”

    But why not? We understand the functions and links of every other organ in our body by just the same method…and for that matter, pretty much everything else. You can knock pieces of a car out of commission and observe what happens to it’s operations, what it suddenly can’t do, and infer understanding of how it works that way.
    You don’t get these “it’s only correlation, not causation” complaints when you apply anesthetic to put someone to sleep, or take
    the spark plugs out of a car and watch it malfunction in just the ways you’d expect if the spark plugs played the causal role you think they do.

    I just see a lot of people assigning an inherently mysterious quality to consciousness to the point of: 1. they don’t even seem to be able to convey what they even mean by it anymore and 2. to the point of no true Scotsman fallacy – that if you ever talk about a physical model of consciousness well then you just “aren’t getting” the hard problem, because it’s “much more mysterious than that, you see, and your model does not embrace that inherent mystery.” What I never get from the “Mysterians” as Dan Dennett calls them, is what they would actually accept as a physical model of consciousness – how they would recognize one as legitimate, or how their “mysterious” concept of consciousness would be proven wrong. Which is of course what Chopra is trading in – he’s simply setting up his own, vague, subjective and likely incoherent criteria of what consciousness would be in the first place, such that it could never be satisfied.

    Which gets to the problem of the very definition of “consciousness.” There seems to be a lot of equivocation when we get to asking “could a zombie be conscious, could a computer be conscious, could a thermometer be conscious?” We start off with some vague
    idea of consciousness as we experience it, but when looking at “what else could be conscious?” and we start looking at entities, like thermometers and atoms that seem to have very little in common with the type of nervous system that produces what WE experience as consciousness, then it seems pretty clear such entities don’t have the properties that would generate a consciousness like ours, and then we’ve slipped, often unacknowledged, from “ontology” (whether consciousness exists in X) into the problem of our own categorization: “What should we call conscious, and should we call such things conscious?”

    That, and Deepak is silly.

    1. Taking a reductionist approach might be useful here to put paid to *obvious* intuitions about thought in the first place. Alex Rosenberg’s “everything is fixed by physics” approach to mind (in *The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”) tells use that the mind does have “thoughts about” things in any real sense. Once you let go of that notion the steps to explaining consciousness (why we think we have thoughts about things) might become clearer. Defining what it is that we’re actually trying to explain when we’re trying to explain consciousness may be the crux.


    2. The instant you define consciousness as emergent Chopra is screwed. He is trying to fight that particular line of the thought very much off.

  28. ” After all, I know I’m conscious, but you might be a zombie.”

    That’s exactly the kind of thing I would expect a zombie to say to me.

    1. Weird, because I’d expect a zombie to say, “arrrrrrrghhhh jjahifikkwjdndwkod, brains!”

  29. We understand the functions and links of every other organ in our body by just the same method…and for that matter, pretty much everything else.

    But oh, we can do a thought experiment and imagine two identical engines moving in exactly the same way in the exact same position within two perfectly equivalent automobiles — but in one case the car moves ….. and in the other case it doesn’t!!! OOo, spooky. “Motion” and “Speed” are thus irreducible immaterial essences which science can never hope to explain.

    Sometimes I like to imagine someone coming up to Chopra with a big Bucket-O-Consciousness. “Here it is!” they say cheerfully and dump it out on his desk.

    Suddenly the deep internal experiences of deep sea diving, smelling a baby, rolling down a hill covered in wildflowers, and listlessly channel flipping through a program guide which contains nothing on the television that night but poker, reality shows and various permutations of CSI just courses through Chopra’s awareness at record speed. He feels it on the personal level.

    “Okay,” he admits grudgingly as he starts mopping up the Consciousness and squeezing it back into the bucket. “Fine. You win. Consciousness is material after all.”

    I don’t know. If we could do that … wouldn’t he win?

    1. Yes, good analogy Sastra.

      The two philosophers I referenced kept saying things like “you could investigate the brain more and more, and find ever more correlations between what you see and conscious experience, but you will never have EXPLAINED consciousness that way.

      And all I could think of was that if you set that bar that high then we have never explained anything to such a satisfaction.
      Why are we to special plead, and set some unattainable mode of explanation only for physically investigating and explaining consciousness?

      It just seems to be a standard case of the chauvinism humans always exhibited when thinking about minds, and ourselves. It seems so hard for us to break out of some reflexive “mind-first” understanding of reality.

      What I found really bizarre was to read someone like Sam Harris who is so fine tuned to such special pleading everywhere else, seemingly fall right into this “consciousness just can’t be explained like we explain everything else” mode of thinking:

      1. I think that Sam Harris is a *very* bright bloke but he needs to be a lot more cynical.

        Not sure whether this issue is mine or his, to be honest!

        1. Oh hell no! You have to read Sam’s descriptions of violent events. Every time he describes something, it scares the crap out of me and makes me want to hide in my house for weeks with a security detail outside the door!

      2. It’s hard to know what to make of statements like these:

        The problem, however, is that no evidence for consciousness exists in the physical world.

        Nothing about human behavior, or language, or culture, demonstrates that these products are mediated by subjectivity.

        Is Harris seriously arguing that alien archaeologists studying our literature would have no clue that it was created by conscious beings? That our language bears no imprint whatever of our subjective experience?

        If that’s not what he means, then what on Earth can he mean? These claims are simply incoherent as far as I can see.

        1. I presume, of course, that Sam is excluding the stunningly large amount of discussion exchanged by Earthlings struggling with something they refer to as “The Hard Problem of Consciousness”?

    2. You underestimate the hard problem.
      The point is that is impossible! Motion is reducible to a set of physical states.
      Consciousness and phenomological qualities of experience , have not been shown to be reducible as such.

  30. The most popular attitude to the Hard Problem among neuroscientists is that it remains unsolved for now but will eventually succumb to research that chips away at the Easy Problem. Others are skeptical about this cheery optimism because none of the inroads into the Easy Problem brings a solution to the Hard Problem even a bit closer. Identifying awareness with brain physiology, they say, is a kind of “meat chauvinism” that would dogmatically deny consciousness to Lieut. Commander Data just because he doesn’t have the soft tissue of a human brain. Identifying it with information processing would go too far in the other direction and grant a simple consciousness to thermostats and calculators–a leap that most people find hard to stomach.

    So I’m not into this, too much philosophy bandied about. But in the context of Deep Pockets failed analogy for Randi’s prize. I have noted a psychologist who has a theory that predicts the behaviors associated with both the easy and the hard problem. And it seems to be testable too: “Graziano and his group plan to explore these regions with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), such as by capturing images of a person’s brain as they attribute awareness to themselves versus others, in order to zero in on the different activity that takes place.”

    That is the easy part, maybe not as easy as a real analog to Randi’s prize, but perhaps reasonable to achieve now. Interestingly the theory seems to respond to the more difficult questions put here. It is only partly concerning itself with a biological template, so one can abstract it to devices like poor Data’s brain. And it is only partly concerning itself with information processing, so the abstraction does not grant consciousness to thermostats and calculators.

    [Interestingly, the attention to attention, the self-description of where one focuses attention, could possibly grant bee hives a simple consciousness since they have a bee dance description of feed search attention. Hive minds is an old scifi idea, and it may possibly been a prescient one once again.]

  31. Wow! You guys are absolutely nuts in going after Chopra. Frankly, I don’t care for Chopra’s worldview one way or another.

    It’s astonishing that rationalists have such hatred and aggression for those with whom they disagree. Perhaps it’s shaped by their experience with Abrahamic thought.

    Rarely have I seen them come out and admit the massive theft of knowledge from Dhaarmic traditions, e.g., dhysan yog renamed as mindfulness. (Just because I mentioned Dharma, please don’t equate it with support for Chopra.)

    The game of Western rationalists is abundantly clear now: the good old USA’s Wild west approach. Shoot first, then loot the left-overs, claiming resulting discoveries as completely original.

    Why should it be surprising to any neutral observer? First, they plundered lands; now, they plunder minds and ideas. I’m just waiting for Sam Harris’ new book — due in September 2014 — to see how much original insights he will claim with heavy reliance on ideas that are thousands of years old.

    You will NEVER accept non-Western leaders in science; that, the whole lot of you have made abundantly clear.

    In this particular case, getting along is more important than being right. You picked the fight by ambushing Chopra. Do you have the courage to initiate a detente? If I had a million dollars, I’d bet that you lot and Chopra could never get along. Sad.

        1. Yes, I expected you’d come back with some variation of No True Scotsman.

          If you’re simply going to dismiss any successful scientist as “Western”, regardless of birthplace or cultural background, then you’re not arguing in good faith; you’re just displaying your own prejudice.

          1. He is not any scientist. He fits within defined parameters. It is Western traditions in science that are systematically marginalising philosophy; check Krauss versus Scandanavian philosophers mid-2012 or mid-2013. Chandrashekhar appears to fall in that tradition (taken back if I’m wrong, with apologies). When philosophy is marginalised, it becomes easy to exclude Masai as scientists because they use culture to be better conservationists than scientists of Chandrashekhar mold.

            Attacking — by calling me prejudiced — is default mode of Western thinking. Please save a species instead of attacking.

          2. How many species did you save with your initial post attacking “Western” science as prejudiced and intolerant?

          3. I am observer. You call me attacker, thus moving discussion from ideas to personal level; thus also proving my point that Western thinking is in attack mode by default. From this thread, it appears you can’t even get along with anonymous poster. Every response drives wedge deeper.

            No matter how hard anyone tries to deflect, onus is on torch-bearers of ideas that have caused massive harm to planet to fix system producing such ideas.

          4. At least Greg and I use our real names but I guess you’ll say we are just jihadists, right?

          5. @ ek chakkar

            “you can’t even get along with anonymous poster”

            Well, as Diana notes, that’s part of the problem.

            You’re new here and have not built up any credibility, and from the start you have been making snide, unsubstantiated comments about our supposed disregard for non-Western ideas.

            Well, we generally don’t care from whom or from what cultures ideas come, only that ideas actually have substance in the real world.

            Likewise, criticisms should be based on facts rather than apparently baseless assertions.

            We’d get along much better if you respected that.


          6. I’ve resisted the urge to jump in. But I’ll go this far…

            “What Ant said.”

          7. This has devolved to personal level.

            @ Gregory Kusnick – I read all rules. As neutral observer, I am stating that you all are picking needless fight and trying to place such fighting in context of Western culture. If I have broken rules, then moderator is free to remove relevant posts or bar me from further participation.

            @ Diana MacPherson Posted June 18, 2014 at 9:58 am — Sorry for not seeing logic in using real names and reference to jihadis. Further, the comparison is that most posters on this comment section are akin to Sufis, i.e., peace-loving types with grudging support for scientists who help military complex. So your guess is wrong; I would never call you or Greg jihadis. Ideas don’t deserve more respect because they are posted by user using real name.

            Ant (@antallan) Posted June 18, 2014 at 10:22 am — My assertions are grounded in fact. However, I respect your view of calling them apparently baseless. Here is small example of such assertions being based on fact. Prominent Western scientists like Dawkins are poking nose in Subcontinent politics. See his tweet recently supporting petition that *ALL* 600M women in India are unsafe, after flood of headlines on gang rapes. It is irrational support because, even after accounting for massive under-reporting, rapes per 100K in India are far lower than all Scandanavian countries, UK, USA, Australia and Belgium (a bloc of 500M people or 250M women). Game here is to spread atheism in Western mold on Subcontinent. Hope you can see how Dawkins is Sufi supporting jihadis. You are naïve if you think science done in West and geopolitics are just mildly related.

          8. Well, then.

            Non sequitur. Whatever Dawkins says about India as a private individual is quite distinct from his work as a scientist.

            And, re your comment to Diana, “Ideas don’t deserve more respect because they are posted by user using real name.” No, but opinions do, when you’re willing not to hide behind an alias.


          9. “Non sequitur. Whatever Dawkins says about India as a private individual is quite distinct from his work as a scientist.”

            So you are one to define boundary of private work and science work, is it? One can comfortably posit that his work in science defines his worldview and, therefore, little can be classified under “private individual”. Further, his views are based on politicisation of rape statistics. Rationalists can’t ignore such irrationality from public intellectual and scientist.

            “No, but opinions do, when you’re willing not to hide behind an alias.”

            Non sequitur because, here, we agree. Vast majority of what I stated is based on fact and is not opinion.

          10. “Vast majority of what I stated is based on fact and is not opinion.”

            Well, all we’ve see so far are unevidenced assertions … if you can provide citations, you should.

            Dawkins, like all scientists, however celebrated, is human, and prone to human flaws and biases, and will, from time to time, fool himself. (Whether or not that’s actually the case here.) Science is a collaborative affair and the scientific method weeds out these things over time.


          11. Last post, in respect of rules.

            “Well, all we’ve see so far are unevidenced assertions … if you can provide citations, you should.”

            They are “unevidenced assertions” for you and others agreeing with your approach, but they are still factual because they are easily verifiable.

            “Dawkins, like all scientists…… Science is a collaborative affair and the scientific method weeds out these things over time.”

            I call you out on this non sequitur. Dawkins’ stand on rape statistics is political. Published numbers are based on established social science, so nothing is there to fool him. Empirical evidence is widely available. Poverty is root issue of social crimes. He CHOOSES to pick on India because, in my opinion, he has agenda. I know, he picks on many other regions of world as well but his stand on this issue is WRONG. In age of instant communication and in spirit of “collaborative affair”, where are rationalists of West scolding Dawkins on this issue that stigmatises 600M men? Evidence is clear and, logically, so is agenda.

    1. First of all, have you looked at the history of Chopra “going after” Jerry and anyone who disagrees with him? No one here got up one day and decided to pick on Deepak Chopra, we simply disagreed with him and provided evidence for doing so and as a result he has attacked all those who dare to do so (publicly apologizing to Richard Dawkins, having to be told to settle down in a debate with Sam Harris and apologizing in social media to Jerry). So, your characterization of Chopra as an innocent victim of vicious skeptics is wholly misguided.

      Second of all, “massive theft of knowledge” is a rather odd perspective. Science has completed many a study on Eastern practices, especially meditation, even scanning people in an MRI as they meditated to understand what the brain was doing. There was no “theft of knowledge”. This was science using controlled experiment to see if meditation affected the brain. Gurus may have experienced changes in outlook as a result of meditation for millennia but science confirmed it and understood what was happening. Scientists didn’t think “ha! we should steal an idea from some sucker from the eastern tradition then claim it as our own and discredit this eastern sucker”.

      Sam Harris has often touted the benefits of meditation. He has also asked Chopra why he doesn’t just promote this without all the extra quantum made up woo. So, implying that Sam Harris is just repackaging woo in a way that is scientifically palatable is way off the mark.

      Lastly, “you will NEVER accept non-Western leaders in science”. Is this implying that western scientists are just racist? If you really mean that science will not accept unsubstantiated claims then yes, science will not do that. The aim of science is to understand phenomena based on evidence obtained through controlled experiment and experiments that can be reproduced independently. What area of the world this person hails from who obtains evidence in this way – that’s not really important.

      1. What Sam Harris is doing is very deft politics of ideas. He is slowly parsing Dhaarmic traditions and, in Adam-Smith-invisible-hand style, game is to divide all Dhaarmic traditions and continue break-up of Subcontinent. He is small cog in big machine operating across centuries.

        You lot, like ones on this article’s comment section, are akin to Sufi Muslims. You all talk peaceful language, profess love for nature and promote oneness in Western mold. But you fully support jihadi scientists; you know, those sitting in $800B military complex of Western industrialised countries; you know, those who earn living building and maintaining 9000 nuclear warheads. You lot are incapable of controlling your fundamentalists.

        Please understand that I care little to nothing for Chopra’s worldview. Dawkins ambushed him for “Enemies of Reason” and this fight is rooted in that ‘interview’. I saw whole version and edited version. Edited version is epitome of intellectual dishonesty. How did you interpret that as me painting him as innocent victim? Oh, I know how! It is mindset and culture in which you operate that dictates adversity. Like scorpion can’t avoid stinging, Western mindset can’t avoid demeaning other worldviews.

        Why bring up racism? Did I imply it? Again, your mind shows its inherent bias in asking clarifying question on racism.

        Any system of thought that results in observed loss of biodiversity deserves only condemnation. Large parts of Western thought have wreaked havoc on natural world in less than 250 years, speeding up current great extinction. You know why? See scorpion reference above.

        Stop petty fighting. Save remaining biodiversity.

        1. But you fully support jihadi scientists; you know, those sitting in $800B military complex of Western industrialised countries; you know, those who earn living building and maintaining 9000 nuclear warheads. You lot are incapable of controlling your fundamentalists.

          Jihadi scientists….hmmm. Jerry, don’t forget to to turn off the launch sequence to your nuclear missiles before you go home tonight!

        2. Since we seem to be in diagnostic mood, I detect a bit of chip in the vicinity of your shoulders about anything “western”. You should have someone take a look at that or it can grow to a bigger problem.

          1. Good suggestion! So I checked with someone and she said that the one who suggested is projecting. She started explaining that it might be related to plunderers’ syndrome, an ancient psychoanalysis stolen from Dhaarmic thought traditions by Greeks and passed down the ages in Western scholar lineages.

            But I had to stop her when she said that reading Chopra’s books will help one who suggested with problem of projecting. After all, I was not there to ask her how to torture an Abrahamic materialist.

          2. An “Abrahamic materialist”? Please define what this is as the most obvious definition is a logical contradiction. Materialism is traditionally anathema in all the Abrahamic religions.

          3. “Materialism is traditionally anathema in all the Abrahamic religions.”

            Are you living in modern world? Sole hyperpower of today was built early on Protestant work ethic. Here you go: Christian theology to Protestantism to Adam-Smith-capitalism; giving birth to neoliberalism. Abraham is very much connected to materialism.

          4. I’ll try this one more time. Define both “Abrahamic” and “materialist” as you are using them in this context since citing 250 year old economic theories alongside Protestant theology and questions about living in the modern world are all over the map. Alluding to laissez-faire economics would seem to indicate you’re not talking about materialism in the reductionist sense, but rather the sense that the purpose of life is acquiring material things. Once you’ve clarified this, please explain how this has anything at all to do with the topic at hand.

            If you answer this and the other posters’ questions, perhaps there can be a fruitful conversation. Non sequiturs about Western thought or other cultural labels which have nothing to do with the merits of a particular idea aren’t useful.

          5. chrisbuckley80 Posted June 18, 2014 at 11:15 am — You are right about map analogy. I will connect dots for you so picture is clear.

            Newton, part of Protestant reformation, viewed universe as machine. Lineage of this thought leads to academics viewing everything in hierarchical format. Neoliberalism, which is system in which we all live today, is balance between 250-year-old capitalism idea and its counter, socialism. Therefore, Abraham and materialism (both theological and scientific) are directly related.

            As to relevance to this topic, I responded to question you had in defining “Abrahamic materialist”, which itself was used in jest to DV’s sarcastic chip-on-shoulder remark.

            I have responded to all other posters’ questions with proper reference to their points. Your view that references to Western thought are non sequiturs is respectfully noted; I disagree and we can leave it there only. It is utmost helpfulness I have presented.

    2. We even stole their numerals, and have the gall to only occasionally refer to them as “Arabic numerals”… For shame!

    3. I totally agree. It seems to me that one side complains bitterly about the other using “insulting” language and then does exactly that themselves. Why insult the person – how does that help in any way – and could it not have the counter effect of making some folks think those that get personal have in fact lost the argument?

  32. Knowing what infinity is, it has no end, likewise with conciousness.
    That organ inside the skull, we can and may know it’s evolution, how it’s made, it’s processes, measure and describe it (it is not done and dusted yet by any stretch) but it will always be like the line with no end. A vanishing point?

  33. Dear Mishter Chopra:

    I would like to answer your million dollar challenge with an answer you will immediately recognize as self-evidently true:


    Please mail my check to my accountant.

    Shwell Thanksh

  34. He said that no one has an explanation for any of it. Shouldn’t that then be his final public statement and he should publicly rescind all the woo he has peddled I’m the past? Scientists aren’t the ones making things up as they go along.

  35. Following the likes of Chopra requires faith rather than a knowledge of science. And so many people, including celebrities, follow him.

    Like Gwyneth Paltrow and her “conscious uncoupling” and belief that water has feelings as “evidenced” by the was it may differently freeze. Of course, it’s not feelings that affects the way water freezes but other chemicals, like fluoride that makes the difference.

    It’s so ludicrous.

    I’ll take science over faith any, and every, day.

      1. glenn2point0 “I’ll take science over faith any, and every, day.”

        Not only have you not answered microraptor, you can’t read.

        1. Sorry glenn2point0, my comment was for Bill Perron not you. I was trying to point out his reading was not your meaning which you make clear.

      2. I didn’t see Glenn make that statement.

        While we’re on this topic though, in order to make conversations flow more smoothly and eliminate those nasty straw men from the conversation, let’s stop conflating the two definitions of faith, below.

        complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
        “this restores one’s faith in politicians”
        synonyms: trust, belief, confidence, conviction; More
        antonyms: mistrust
        strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
        synonyms: religion, church, sect, denomination, (religious) persuasion, (religious) belief, ideology, creed, teaching, doctrine More

  36. >”The Hard Problem, then, is to demonstrate when you’ve produced subjective sensations, and to distinguish that from simple input-output dynamics that, for instance, can occur in computers or zombies.”

    Demonstrating ‘when’ you’ve produced subjective sensations does not answer the hard problem. To answer it, you would need to explain why and how input/output of arbitrary complexity would become presentations of aesthetic phenomena rather than logical representations that might be inferred from chemistry or biology.

  37. Ok, enough already. I’m going to explain consciousness. Now I’m not smart enough to come up with this myself. I read it somewhere, I believe months ago on the Dawkins website but I have no reference. So here goes.

    Consciousness is just a series of models (like still pictures of a running horse on a deck of cards; flip through the cards and the horse appears to run) built up over our lifetimes to guide us through the macro-world we live in. Data for the models come to us through our senses.

    Useful models can be tested. “Is that a rock I’m looking at? Kick it. Ouch (I think I broke my toe)!”

    Not-so-useful models can’t be tested (or fail our tests but we still cling to them). When I pray, I’m talking to god (take your pick). Oh yeah? Ockham’s Razor tells me you’re deluding yourself. Prove to my satisfaction that you’re not delusional (or lying).

    So there you have it. Consciousness is just an ever-changing series of models our brains present us with. These models provide us with the illusion of a reality that is both outside of and within us. Simple, eh?

    1. kinda

      and interesting

      but “models” is a bit abstract

      it’s more like a simulated reconstruction of the afferent data available from sensory inputs.

      but even that is simplistic; lizards have that sort of consciousness, over and above their reflexes and instincts.

      at some point we went beyond that. the logical circuitry that we developed that helped us to survive by processing more complex data and make more intricate future plans (something even beyond what animals like wolves can do when hunting in packs) kept expanding so that we could start to think abstractly.

      then we could develop the abstract concept of consciousness. and we could deceive ourselves about what it was. so now we are conscious of people like deepak chopra, and some of us, being a little more experienced and having more memory to compare our contemporaneous afferent information to, are conscious that he’s a fatuous charlatan.

      this isn’t really a million bucks worth of explanation. but then it took a lot less than half an hour to come up with it. more like a millisecond to think and five minutes to type. while watching tv. and it didn’t actually spell out the electrical encoding, which i’m sure he’s realizing he’ll have to insist on to avoid having to pay out the million bucks.

      but i’ll tell you this, it’s guaranteed to be electrical and chemical signalling and chemical storage. no mystical or supernatural or paranormal involved.

    2. Without consciousness, models would only consist of intangible, invisible, silent representations, as they would inside an ideal computer program. The hard problem of consciousness is why any such model would or could invent an entire universe of aesthetic phenomena when all that is happening is data compression. It doesn’t work.

  38. All he does is a god of the gaps argument, just because you can’t explain all the stuff he enumerated it doesn’t mean that his bullshit is true.

    1. OK, there’s the claim. Where’s the demonstration?

      Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

      Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
      But will they come when you do call for them?

      – Henry IV I 3 1, 52–4

  39. I found the video very confusion, he starts by asking that the “normal” be explained, but doesn’t explain clearly what he means. Then he goes on a long ramble asking for explanations for everything and then some. His criteria for success is that he is satisfied, well what’s that? What will satisfy you?

    He is trying to mimic randi’s million dollar prize, but unlike randi he doesn’t give a clear definition of what he is asking for, nor does he give clear criteria of what success would have to be.

    Poor guy seems confused.

    1. I don’t think the Amazing Randi embarrassed himself with offering a million dollar prize for a clear demonstration of the paranormal or psychic ability. Neither do I think Deepak Chopra has done so. His 5 minute video isn’t the most gracious, most elegant piece of work, clearly not academic in its form. But neither do I think it should be dismissed so easily. Deepak is a popularizer of science and mysticism. And this somewhat crude video is certainly stimulating discussion.

      The “hard problem” of consciousness is well known to academics but not so much to the layman. I do not believe his challenge trivializes the issue. In his own particular way he is highlighting that that there are aspects of this problem that any branch of science is having a difficult time tackling. He points out numerous times in the video how he is not interested in neuroscientists parading a litany of correlates to demonstrate consciousness. Science hasn’t come close to describing the leap from the objective descriptions of neural networks, brainwaves, to the wonder of subjective experience. Whether or not consciousness is emergent is almost beside the point. If it emerges how so? Do non homo sapiens animals have it? If chimpanzees have it what about ants, alligators, bacteria, trees, viruses? Any answer is pure conjecture at this point because there is no physical description of consciousness, only of correlates in human beings. I know that I am conscious but I can’t even demonstrate that any other human is conscious since consciousness is subjective. I know that I am conscious and I don’t need science to prove it to me. Claims that consciousness is an illusion are absurd. Daniel Dennett, you may be able to demonstrate that we may be fooled by what we think is true. But that you don’t deny my consciousness by doing so. I may infer that you or anyone is conscious but this inference is faith not science. Just because I can prove brain activity this does not demonstrate consciousness. Deepak is highlighting this fact.

  40. I’m curious, is there a compatibilist who thinks that the “hard problem” of consciousness is a real problem?

    It seems to me compatibilism goes in the same camp as “hard problem” is imaginary, and incompatibilsm goes with “hard problem” is real.

    Ignore the dualists, because they have a completely different idea about these topics.

    For non-dualists, the partitioning line seems to me to be whether you accept valid reductionism and accept emergent properties. If you do, then you don’t have a problem with free will being compatible with determinism and you would not think there is a hard problem of consciousness.

    1. Emergent properties are circular when applied to consciousness. When we talk about emergent properties, what we mean is a phenomena which we would not expect to be related to another one. Outside of defying our expectations though, emergence has no meaning at all. In the context of consciousness, emergence means “Santa Claus sprinkles science dust on physics and it becomes flavors, colors, thoughts, and feelings.”

      1. Saying consciousness is an emergent property is pretty standard for neuroscientists, whether you are a strict materialist or something like an epiphenomenalist. Let me explain it in the vein of Searle. The liquidity of water is a qualitative, emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. When those molecules are not in the right formation, i.e., existing by themselves (a single hydrogen or oxygen atom), they do no exhibit any property of wetness. The property does not hold all the way down. Wetness only emerges at a higher level. In the same way, consciousness emerges when you have the right fucntional organization of an information processing system. It’s not that consciousness is anything mystical or even “not physical”. It is just that it is an emergent phenomenon, like the liquidity of H2O molecules. Some people like David Chalmers believe that consciousness is not an emergent property and does hold all the way down, and that’s when you start attributing consciousness to things like thermostats.

        In response to DV, I’d say the hard problem of consciousness isn’t directly related to free will vs. determinism. All these things bump elbows, but you can be a strict determinist and still believe that there’s a hard problem of consciousness. In fact, I’d say the majority of neuroscientists and even cognitive scientists are determinists who also accept the fact that there is a ‘hard problem’. There are only a few extreme physicalists/reductionists who deny that the hard problem is really a problem, like Dennet or the Churchlands, which makes no sense to me because subjective experience is undeniably real. If you don’t accept that utter absurdity ensues.

        1. “The liquidity of water is a qualitative, emergent property of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. When those molecules are not in the right formation, i.e., existing by themselves (a single hydrogen or oxygen atom), they do no exhibit any property of wetness.”

          The property of wetness is not part of water atoms, wetness is a sensory experience which could be stimulated mechanically in the brain (cats on LSD flick their paws as if they were walking in water).

          This is why emergence fails when applied to consciousness…because all emergence means is that some property emerges from our own ignorance. All emergent properties are sensory interpretations, which would not exist without consciousness in the first place. Without consciousness, there is no frame of reference for any phenomena to be hidden or revealed.

          “Some people like David Chalmers believe that consciousness is not an emergent property and does hold all the way down, and that’s when you start attributing consciousness to things like thermostats. ”

          Panpsychism is gaining momentum. It’s not just Chalmers anymore, and it does not require that we attribute consciousness to thermostats. I call it pansensitivity. The universe is made of sensation; experiences. Matter is a category of experience. Information is a category of experience represented within experience. Thermostats are only machines which we have superimposed onto low level physical sensations, so that the only thing that the thermostat adds to the materials it is made of is a structure which is meaningful and useful to the people who put it there. Eliminativism seems to be gasping its last breath also, at least among people who go to the consciousness conferences that I go to.

          1. “The property of wetness is not part of water atoms, wetness is a sensory experience”.
            You seem to be denying that wetness has any real existence of its own. Instead of wetness I can say liquidity. Again, it is a distinct state that the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are in. As a result, the behavior of those atoms/molecules is very different from when they are in solid or gas form. The phase state it is in puts constraints on their behavior. Liquid rolls down hills. Just as liquid is a real and physical emergent property, some people, like Searle, think that consciousness is just a type of state that the brain is. This is still purely a physical explanation. I’m not sure why someone would have a problem with the concept of emergent properties, as it does not conflict with any materialist type of world-view. It just says that some phenomenon require high level descriptions. Those descriptions are just as empirical as more reductive ones.

            You say, “Without consciousness, there is no frame of reference for any phenomena to be hidden or revealed.”
            When something’s existence requires consciousness (such as sensory experience), it can be said to be observer-dependent, and when not, observer-independent. You seem to be saying that only observer-independent phenomena are ‘real’. It’s a very narrow view of what should be considered real.

            According to your logic, one would say that “red” equally does not exist, because it’s just a sensory representation of the real physical phenomena, which would be the light waves.
            But this line of reasoning doesn’t make sense. If you say only the reductive level is ‘real’, then why stop with atoms? We could just as easily say that atoms do not exist, and explain everything in terms of strings and branes. A tree wouldn’t be considered real, because a tree is brown and green and hard to the touch. You would just say that the only thing that exists is a collection of atoms. Seems absurd to believe this is the only correct physical descriptions. There are useful descriptions at many levels.

            It’s the fatal flaw of reductionism/eliminativism. If you take it seriously, it strips all meaning from everything. Although it’s worked great for physics, it’s not always the most helpful scientific approach to explaining a lot of complex phenomenon. Fact is, there are emergent properties that can only be explained in higher level terms. Although I could be understanding you wrong.

            As far as panpsychism goes, as you said, others are catching on to it, and I wanted to mention Christoff Koch and Tononi. The neuroscience community has largely accepted their Integrated Information Theory. It says that the more integrated the information is in a system, the more conscious the system, but it also assumes that panpsychism is true. Koch has said it’s the “trick” that gets it to work. You seem to be sympathetic to it.
            You said the universe is made of aensation/experience. I like this interpretation but I thought you were arguing against this at first. And are you saying that the universe is only pure sensation?

            Panpsychism is neat, but I still tend to believe that consciousness is something like a new field that emerges, although I hate to use the word field to describe it. It’s completely physical, but something that can’t be explained appropriately in reductive terms.

          2. “Again, it is a distinct state that the hydrogen and oxygen molecules are in. ”

            There may be a distinct state that the molecules are in, but from what perspective? To a molecule, liquidity might be more a sense of freedom, acceleration, and large numbers of collisions. There is no hint of liquidity at that level. Were there no frame of reference above that – no observation place in which molecules are very very small, then liquidity is undefinable.

            “It just says that some phenomenon require high level descriptions. Those descriptions are just as empirical as more reductive ones. ”

            You’re not noticing that “descriptions” and “levels” *are* consciousness. Atoms don’t have levels of description, except for perhaps the sensory experience that exists directly on their level.

            “You seem to be saying that only observer-independent phenomena are ‘real’. ”

            No, no, I’m saying that there is no such thing as observer-independent phenomena. I am saying that the quality of realism is a range within the much broader spectrum of aesthetic experience. It is consciousness itself which is the only phenomenon which is objective, in the sense of being absolute.

            “According to your logic, one would say that “red” equally does not exist, because it’s just a sensory representation of the real physical phenomena, which would be the light waves.”

            No, I’m saying the red is what exists. It is the sensory presentation. The concept of light waves is an abstraction which represents how red experiences can be controlled and measured indirectly using bodies in public space.

            “And are you saying that the universe is only pure sensation?”

            Yes. Self-elaborating sensory-motive experience. I’m not arguing for reductionism, I’m arguing primordial pansensitivity.

            “although I hate to use the word field to describe it. It’s completely physical, but something that can’t be explained appropriately in reductive terms.”

            Exactly. Field is a mistake because it tries invert the native properties of consciousness into the very spacetime metaphor that consciousness already uses to hide itself. Experience is not a field, not a noun, it’s the ongoing continuation of the totality’s self-elaboration. Take a look at my website if you like if you want to get a better idea of what I mean. I’m not arguing against your view, I’m actually following it to the extreme. To me sensations are not unreal, they are more than real.

          3. I see. I initially misunderstood the first part of your argument since it is more frequent that someone argues consciousness doesn’t exist and only the most reductive level of explanation is true.

            Your take on it is interesting, and I’ve had similar lines of thought in the past. I’ll check out the site and probably be in touch. I haven’t read enough Chalmers to know if his views are in line with this, but that’s what “primordial pansensitivity” makes me think of. I hope these sorts of beliefs show that science has a very spiritual but completely non-religious aspect. If these sorts of themes were stressed, I believe many religious people would be more inclined to ditch those beliefs for a logic-based explanation of reality that also has room for spiritual qualities.

          4. Thanks! Yeah, I know what you mean about it being more frequent that people argue for reductionism. It’s very monotonous and a little creepy to hear the same basic argument from so many different people all of the time. Everyone who argues that seems to be completely unaware that there have ever been other positions to argue also.

    2. I’ve been accused of being a compatibilist. I’m more of an idealist than dualist, but at least dualism could conceivably be true unlike any position that could reasonably be labelled “materialism”.

      Yes the hard problem is a real problem *if* you’re a materialist. Not so for dualists or idealists. The hard problem has nothing to do with free will or determinism.

      1. I don’t think you’re right.

        If you’re a dualists, you have two hard problems: 1. How does the dualistic mind give rise to consciousness? (“You still have all your work before you.”) 2. How does the dualistic mind interact with the meat brain? Esp. given the LHC results (see Sean Carroll’s Skepticon 5 presentation).


        1. 1. Depends on the type of dualist you are. It might be the case that consciousness doesn’t come into existence — that it is eternal. Or if brains produce consciousness then that will just have to be accepted as a brute fact about reality i.e when matter reaches a certain degree of complexity then consciousness is generated.

          2. Don’t know what LHC means or where Sean Carroll’s Skepticon 5 presentation is. I don’t know how it interacts with the physical brain. But clearly it does. Any voluntary movement demonstrates this.

          At the moment science wholly leaves out the existence of consciousness. We need a revolution in physics which incorporates consciousness. Then questions such as how does consciousness interacts with the brain — and vice versa — will presumably be made clear.

          1. But this has nothing to do with the hard problem. The hard problem is reconciling the existence of consciousness with reductive materialism.

            There are problems with dualism, *but there are conceivable solutions*. On the other hand consciousness is simply incompatible with reductive materialism. No possible advance in current science which assumes that consciousness is reducible could conceivably resolve it. As I said they’d need to be a revolution in physics where consciousness is seen as a reality in its own right i.e it’s not reducible.

          2. We don’t need to make eliminate reductive materialism to make room for consciousness anymore than we need to eliminate it to explain how the Internet works. All the computers, cables, servers and other infrastructure being reduced to fundamental particles as a very convoluted way of explaining its function neither implies that the Internet needs to be viewed as its own fundamental entity, nor does it mean that the parts are individually capable of what the whole system is capable of.

            If there’s a something else that explains consciousness, it needs to be defined and put forth as a hypothesis. Until then, the answers to questions like the hard problem belong in the unknown category, a category science has done quite well filling in over the years.

          3. chrisbuckley80 I think you might need to rewrite that first sentence? I think you’re making an analogy between consciousness and the Internet.

            But it’s well known that such an analogy is false. The Internet can be explained by the interactions of all the elements making up the Internet. Consciousness can’t be. In order to rescue reductive materialism consciousness has to be *identified* with some physical thing or function. But this is incoherent.

          4. In order to rescue reductive materialism consciousness has to be *identified* with some physical thing or function.

            You mean the brain, or the particular functioning of certain parts thereof?

            Been there, done that, got the FMRI.


          5. Saying it is incoherent doesn’t make it so. Why does consciousness in your view have to be “a thing”? This is almost a perfect parallel to the special pleading that goes on with the God argument all the time, when God is said to exist with no explanation yet the theist claims that it is incoherent to admit that the same could be possible of the Universe itself.

            You’re applying different standards to the Internet than you are for consciousness. Yes, the interactions of all parts of the Internet are understood. It is also understood that there are no fundamental Internet units. All the functionality arises out of the matter and energy involved in its parts. What evidence do you have that consciousness is tied to something else other than matter and energy?

            If it is something fundamental, it would seem that consciousness has to be tied to either a basic piece of the Standard Model or some similar particle that has not yet been discovered for which there exists no evidence (not even in theoretical models). This is far more incoherent based on everything we know than to state that consciousness arises out of complex life forms and follows all laws of Physics. A good start to show that this isn’t the case would be to present a conscious elementary particle. Hell, I’d settle for a conscious atom. Nothing remotely this simple has ever been demonstrated to possess consciousness.

          6. LHC = Large Hadron Collider. It’s the CERN experiment in Geneva that discovered the Higgs Boson and, in so doing, demonstrated that the Standard Model of Particle Physics is complete — and, in turn, that we have a complete accounting of all physics even remotely applicable to human bodies.

            Sean’s presentation is here:

            At this point, postulating physics beyond what we currently know to account for consciousness is no different from postulating an invisible chariot that draws the Sun across the metal dome that is the Firmament in the sky. We have a complete accounting of the Sun’s motion; there is no more room for reasonable doubt nor possibilities of additional explanations. (Short, of course, of full-blown paranoid conspiracy theories.)

            The same is true of the physics of the brain.

            We have many questions about the particulars of what’s going on in the interior of the Sun, of course, but we no more need to invoke new physics — let alone magic — to explain that than we do to invoke new physics or magic to explain consciousness.



          7. I think you are confusing things here a bit. No one said anything about magic. However, we can’t get to subjective experience from contemporary physics. We might have to accept that it is another fundamental property of nature, like mass. All of the questions that modern physics can answer about the brain (just like it will answer the particulars of what’s going on in the interior of sun), all address only the “easy problem” of consciousness.

            People like myself aren’t saying consciousness is magic. Not at all. I consider myself a materialist and I’m a practicing neuroscientist. We are just proposing that there may be other fundamental properties of nature. Qualia cannot be explained in reductionist terms.

          8. We are just proposing that there may be other fundamental properties of nature.

            That’s the domain of the physicists, and the answer they provide is as emphatic a “FUCK, NO!” as any in science has ever given.

            Whatever consciousness is, it’s entirely a property of assemblages of atoms interacting via the electromagnetic force. Period, full stop, end of story.

            (Atoms are composite and there are other particles, but neither fact is relevant to biochemistry. And there are other forces — most notably gravity — but none of those are applicable to the operation of brains, either.)



          9. I don’t see how that helps you. Say you’re right and that there is some as-yet-undiscovered fundamental physics underlying consciousness. That fundamental physics must still be describable mathematically in terms of quantum field theory or something similar. So you’re still left with the problem of how those new physical entities, whose behavior is captured entirely by the relevant mathematics, can give rise to subjective experience and “qualia”.

            If your answer is “They just do”, then I don’t see why you need to postulate any new physics. Why can’t the same answer apply to the physics we already know and understand as sufficient for describing physical brain function?

          10. “No one said anything about magic.”

            And then you do: “We are just proposing that there may be other fundamental properties of nature.” Hard-problem of dualism #2. Anything that *can* possibly interact with the brain *must* be a part of the Standard Model of physics. Period. Physics might have no description of consciousness, but it does provide a very, very, very, very good description of matter.

            “Qualia cannot be explained in reductionist terms.”

            And you *know* this, how? Add a “yet” and I’ll agree with you.


          11. Hi Ben Goren. There’s this thing called the mind/body problem. Current science wholly leaves out the existence of consciousness *unless* we are to *identify* consciousness with some physical process.

            I believe we need a radically new hypothesis to explain consciousness.

            Incidentally science also is complete silent on why there is a *now*. According to physics the past, present and future are all equally real, but there is this moment called *now* which is special. I think that consciousness and the concept of *now* are somehow tied together.

          12. “Complete[ly] silent” is an exaggeration. Read Sean Carroll’s From Eternity to Here, for instance.

          13. There’s this thing called the mind/body problem. Current science wholly leaves out the existence of consciousness *unless* we are to *identify* consciousness with some physical process.

            …you mean like the computation constantly being performed by the electrochemical contraption between your ears…?

            Incidentally science also is complete silent on why there is a *now*.

            The arrow of time is much less mysterious than you’re suggesting. It’s completely understood at human scales and beyond, just as gravity is. What’s lacking is an explanation at scales far beyond those nominally accessible to humans — that is, at the same scales that cosmogenesis deals with.

            But once you’ve made it to the inflationary epoch, a fraction of a bananosecond after the beginning of time, everything’s pretty much settled.

            It’s a great problem for bleeding-edge physicists such as Sean Carroll, but it has even less bearing on human consciousness than the current weather on Tau Ceti IV.


  41. The problem with the terms “paranormal” and “supernatural” is that any definition always sounds a lot like “stuff that doesn’t really exist”. I love Frank Turner’s lyric “I’m not convinced of the existence of these things that don’t exist.”

    1. When it comes to topics like this, I always think of Michael Shermer. I’ve seen him make the point on multiple occasions that supernatural things would simply be incorporated into the naturalistic worldview if there were solid evidence for them.

      I don’t think we even need to make this statement as mere conjecture either. If you look at something like String Theory and its 11 dimensions, it wasn’t too long ago that talk of 5th, 6th and 7th dimensions surely would have been labeled supernatural. There are plenty of criticisms of String Theory, and as a lay person interested in science, I can say with certainty that I don’t have a firm grasp on the nuances of either the theory or the criticisms. But, I can state with a high degree of confidence that any legitimate criticisms of it are not saying that the problem is that it is supernatural.

      Chopra seems to think that a lack of an explanation implies the supernatural, but under the framework I just described, I challenge him to come up with a coherent definition of what supernatural would even mean.

      1. Very good points. I think this option is often overlooked by both scientists and philosophers. Subjective experience is a physical phenomenon, but it can’t be reduced. We simply have to incorporate it in to our scientific worldview, and figure out exactly how to treat it.

    2. “Paranormal” can be useful to describe things that could be true but which the scientific establishment does not expect are actually true. Cryptozoology would be the best example; interstellar alien visitors another.

      “Supernatural,” though, can only be logically understood as a synonym for, “impossible.” The natural world is all that exists and is real; anything not part of the natural world is nonexistent and imaginary. Anything classified as supernatural that’s demonstrated to actually exist would be evidence not of the supernatural but of a profound misunderstanding on our part of how the Universe actually works. The response at that point is to revise our understanding to accommodate the hitherto-inconceivable phenomenon, which, at that point, is clearly natural after all.



    1. On the youtube page Deepak says he went to Bulgaria and someone gave him the tshirt. You can see a flash mob of young Bulgarians wearing that tshirt to celebrate UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day here:

      I keep trying to think of some hidden meaning to wearing that tshirt. I think it represents his habit of using trivial words to create an aura of mystery the better to bamboozle his American audience.

      Or maybe his color consultant told him the colors matched his skin tone, or his aura.

      Embarrassed to be an American at times.

      1. He said you’d have to be of the culture to understand his shirt. Not true of course, non Bulgarians on this site read his shirt.

  42. A clever con artist ! There are many who bought his books listened to his tapes and later realised its full of rubbish! But thats good enough for him to make his millions, thats all he needs and all he wants…

  43. I had initially chanced upon some of Deepak Chopra’s books – after going through them and reading the glowing testimonials of lots of people, I realized a couple of things:

    1. When any author uses obfuscation instead of simplicity to explain concepts then it means that either he himself does not know (ignorant) or he knows and does not want others to benefit but only uses it as a bait for his prosperity/fame/glory (self serving). In either of the two cases the person is best avoided.

    2. A person with a Dr before his name and India as his country of origin leads a certain “scientific (Dr) mysticism (India)”… This is akin to what I call the “CNBC Effect” – keep track of those sharp suited financial gurus on CNBC who advise you what to do in the stock markets – they get more of them wrong than right… An appearance on CNBC does not make a clueless analyst a Buffett and neither does it make an Indian Dr who is the King of Ambiguities a Guru!

  44. there’s a nice simple reply here: Chopra claims that he DOES have the answer to the question he’s positing. Yet hhe would be unable to meet the conditions for his challenge.

    ‘Unknown’ doesn’t equate to ‘My Bullshit must be right’

  45. I think Susan Blackmore is closest to nailing this in that consciousness itself is an illusion. Experiments have long been done to show that there is a time lag between when a decision is made and when we think we made it. Something like a second. A long time in certain circumstances. Consider playing tennis, you can’t spend a second deciding to hit a ball, you just react. But afterwards you act as though it was a decision. “I thought it was going out so I should have left it!” This is probably just the brains way of building experiences so as to make better decisions in future. It’s all really unconscious and the ‘experience’ of ‘feeling’ it is just a useful illusion.

    1. It’s not possible for an illusion to be useful, unless it consciousness is real and in control of some decisions. Otherwise it would be like saying that you like to put a hat on a puppet because the hat makes him feel less like a puppet.

      The Libet experiments and others (which show several seconds lag) are misleading. The way to study free will is not by timing mindless, simple choices in a controlled environment. We often do routine tasks without being personally conscious of it, but that doesn’t mean that there is not consciousness of it on our sub-personal level of awareness.

    2. You may be right about this. Decisions may not really be being made. But that seems to miss the point. Whether you call it an illusion or not, there is a subjective representation of reality that cannot be seen from the objective, 3rd person perspective. Whether we make decisions or not, we do experience the world qualitatively. Explaining this qualitative aspect is the ‘hard problem’, and calling subjective experience an illusion doesn’t erase that. It’s an illusion that exists. And as Searle says, when it comes to consciousness, the appearance is the reality.

  46. Great article! Gladly, I was largely unacquainted with the detail of Chopra’s woo, so it was enlightening to read.

    I do have a question about the changing of genes with experience thing; what about behavioural epigenetics? I realise this is to do with the accumulation of methyl groups amongst other changes, rather than changes in the genes themselves, but the science seems to suggest that these ‘switch’ changes can be heritable and represent an avenue through which organisms can adapt to a particular environment rapidly.

    Even so, changes wrought at an early age are thought to be time-consuming and difficult to change through behavioural interventions alone and it seems that the hunt is on for epigenetic drug-based therapies. Does this view of the science differ greatly from Chopra’s line (I’m deliberately not familiar with his ‘work’ so have no interest in defending him!)?

  47. Let’s say that science never can develop a ‘falsifiable’ theory of the experience of qualia. All that does is leave something subjective without an objective explanation. Believers will want to rush in and insert their favorite beliefs into this gap, but there will be no way to adjudicate the rival explanations. Faith will take over, or the aesthetic or emotional attraction of one’s favorite story.

    1. So what do you think about other explanations that are philosophical but non-religious? For example, some say that information intrinsically has subjective experience sort of ‘built in’, That where you have information, you have experience. Many are familiar with Chalmer’s idea that a thermostat would ‘feel’, albeit a tiny amount. Neuroscientists Koch and Tononi subscribe to this belief. It leads to the notion that ‘mind’ is everywhere. That is not religious, but does seem to have a spiritual quality. I think these sorts of views, spiritual but not-religious, are still scientific and can even be productive. If ideas like these were proposed as options to religion , I think most intelligent young people would leave religion to come over to a spiritual side which is compatible to science (i.e., that information has experience to varying degrees- with deeper experience being correlated with greater information integration in a system.

      1. I am not well enough versed in these things to know exactly what is meant by information having experience, but in any case it sounds like a “story” rather than any kind of scientific claim. Stories may be religious or spiritual or simply attractive, but if they do not advance claims that can be tested they are not scientific explanations.

  48. chrisbuckley80 I’m responding to you here. You and other people on here have no understanding of the mind-body problem.

    I didn’t say consciousness is a thing. Whatever you label it, it exists.

    “What evidence do you have that consciousness is tied to something else other than matter and energy?”

    It’s not a question of evidence. You have to understand what science is, how it works, and what it can conceivably explain. Science deals exclusively with structure and dynamics. It deals with the quantitative. The measurable. Consciousness is none of these things. It is wholly characterised by the qualitative.

    Regarding God. It’s completely pointless discussing this topic with an atheist since they have such a ridiculous naive conception of God. They erroneously think it is a scientific rather than a philosophical hypothesis. And almost certainly they don’t understand the cosmological argument. This includes Dawkins.

    OK this conversation is a waste of time so I’m out of here.

    1. Sorry for the broad generalization with “a thing,” but I thought it was clear from the context that I meant “something fundamental.”

      These conversations are not a waste of time until it comes to the point where assertions are being made but when you start to dig in, no specifics are offered.

      As for it being a waste of time to discuss God questions with atheists, well I hope you realize that the ad hominem fallacy doesn’t give you the upper hand. Just yesterday, an old acquaintance of mine went into an uproar over the UK banning creationism in science classes; we had a nice little discussion where he got to define God on his terms, which is what I strive to do in any one-on-one conversation about any claim. We needn’t bring Dawkins into this, his arguments address the beliefs of an extremely significant percentage of society. Back to the topic at hand, I’ll agree, if there’s no specifics being offered about these alternate claims, especially ones at odds with what we understand about Physics, then yes I agree, it is a waste of time.

    2. It’s completely pointless discussing this topic with an atheist since they have such a ridiculous naive conception of God. They erroneously think it is a scientific rather than a philosophical hypothesis.

      Er…it’s actually the other way ’round. On steroids. With greased rocket sleds.

      I’ve yet to meet a theist who can even go so far as to offer a definition of what a god is supposed to be. Well, sure, they’ll toss out like hand grenades what they say are definitions, but none of them even pretends to be even vaguely logically coherent. Instead, they’re all textbook examples of the most obvious (and embarrassing) novice-level logical fallacies you could think of, with special pleading and circularity being the favorites.

      Philosophers like to make big claims about being big on logic, but, empirically, sophistry is even more philosophically important.

      But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps you’d like to break the philosophical mold, and describe for us a god that isn’t its own self-contained contradiction?



      1. Jus’ a quick response here. Yes I agree people can’t define God. That however doesn’t mean to say that certain conceptions cannot be ruled out i.e this notion that God is a old man in the sky, or more generally is a thing in the world existing amongst other things.

        I can’t define God. I doubt anyone can. But God would not exist within the world, rather the world exists within God. It is the ground of all being, the ultimate reality behind and sustaining all things.

        And god didn’t start the Universe off. Rather the Universe and everything in it only exists from one second to the next by virtue of God.

        1. Lots of people have defined god. I’m fond of John Lennon’s definition.

          You claim you can’t define god. And then you go on to tell us all this thing you can’t define. You see a problem with that? I do.

          1. To continue in the spirit of fundamental concepts, “undefined” surely fits the bill. To add anything to the concept of something being undefined is to define it, an obvious contradiction. X/0 is undefined, period. There are no more attributes that can be assigned. Maybe we can throw this in with the other god concepts, the argument from divide by 0 errors.

        2. If the world exists *within* God, how can God by the *ground* of all being? Surely the *ground* is beneath us, rather than surrounding us and penetrating us and binding the cosmos together … ?


        3. If God can continue to exist from moment to moment without outside help, why not cut out the middleman and grant that Universe that same ability? Where is it written that reality requires a God to sustain it?

        4. Yes I agree people can’t define God. […] I can’t define God. I doubt anyone can.

          Then any and all discussion about “God” is, by definition, as incoherent as discussion about kgheigbuchgkid. And, also by definition, you are completely and totally ignorant about “God.”

          Yet you persist regardless:

          But God would not exist within the world, rather the world exists within God. It is the ground of all being, the ultimate reality behind and sustaining all things.

          It is no coincidence that the “God” you describe is perfectly congruent with the Matrix of the movie of that title; such was the deliberate intention of the screenwriters.

          But, the thing is, even if everything we perceive is actually some expression of the mind of your god, that still doesn’t get you anywhere close to “ultimate reality.” For, you see, any such “ultimate reality” is every bit as inaccessible to the gods as it is to us. Sure, the gods might “sustain” our reality, but what sustains theirs? How is your god to know that ultimate reality stops with it, and that it itself isn’t merely a subroutine of an even bigger Matrix — with said Matrix itself but a small part of Alice’s Red King’s Dream, and so on?

          What you have is not a concept of the divine and the ultimate nature of reality, but a garden-variety conspiracy theory. It is equally impossible to disprove that your tinfoil hat has slipped and the aliens are now controlling your thoughts with their mind rays, or that you’re being held captive on a giant movie soundstage and everybody around you is an actor in on the gag.

          Conspiracy theories such as yours have a number of defining properties. Most importantly, there is nothing that can ever possibly even in principle disprove them. Secondly, they can be used to explain any and all observations. However, lacking actual hard evidence more supportive of the conspiracy than the more prosaic natural explanation, they also represent the very essence of the concept of insanity, of a break with reality — and, as such, are worse than useless when it comes to making sense of the universe. And, oh-by-the-way, they’re also useful as thought experiments to demonstrate that even the most powerful gods theoretically imaginable must themselves be merely local gods, even if their domains encompass more than our Hubble Volume.



  49. Reblogged this on Ignorance is Not Bliss and commented:
    I found this on Jerry A. Coyne’s blog Why Evolution is True. Jerry A. Coyne is also author of “Why Evolution is True.” I recommend visiting his blog, lots of fascinating articles, and post about science.

  50. What are you waiting for? Contact Deepak and collect your prize… I chatted with Deepak today at our mutually favorite cafe and I asked him if he is embarrassed. He said he was very embarrassed and asked for suggestions to turn this video into a hacking debacle. He was like “Josh, if I could establish that a look alike Deepak produced this video and hacked it into my youtube, maybe, just maybe my reputation will remain intact and I can continue accepting cash from dim sub humans that don’t deserve the benefits of off shore bank accounts and real life scientifically sound health care.” I said “Deepak old chum, you better start the back peddle boogie asap.”

  51. Dear Dr. Chopra, I accept your challenge. My explanation for how and why conscious experience arises in the brain is summarized in the following 6-minute video that I created, and I have a full researched paper to back it up.

  52. I don’t know why people even give this person their time and energy. I’ve heard many of his debates, and he is obviously nothing but a publicity hound, hat just rambles nonsense. Why do intelligent people even try to explain things to this man.

    Don’t give him what he so desperately desires. Acknowledgement. It’s almost as embarrassing as watching Ken Ham

    1. Thank you for telling me what I should and shouldn’t post about. Have you, as a new poster, read The Roolz? Apparently not. You comment is gratuitous and arrogant, and I suggest you look at other websites where you can push the owner around.

  53. I don’t know that I’m conscious. In fact, I don’t even know that I’m me; most evidence points towards “me” being a collection of hundreds of thought impulses being selected between to dominate my frontal lobes at any given time – is that consciousness? It seems more like a democracy of recollections, and an illusion for the common good of my DNA. If you would call that the magic of consciousness, be my guest.

  54. I like Deepaks challenge.

    Of course there’s no way that anyone is going to produce the theory that could win the prize. It’s really to make a point. It’s a public relations exercise in making the point that there is something particularly mysterious about consciousness. You could say that it’s that background state in which we are aware of anything. It’s not something that we experience as a particular thing as such, its more the background awareness in which particular things are experienced.

    I think what Deepak is probably trying to nudge people in the direction of, is to try and look at consciousness in a different way. He is not really anti science and he understands scientific principles but he also has a background in Eastern Mysticism and knows quite a lot about that!

    What he is trying to do, I think is to introduce an eastern mystical approach to consciousness. He is aware of the fact that for centuries there have been people who have seriously looked into this matter of “what is consciousness” and have looked at it from a subjective standpoint rather than trying to understand it objectively which is how scientists tend to go about things these days.

    You could say that you are your own consciousness could you not – so to discover the nature of your own consciousness you could ask “who am I?” Objectifying yourself however ( i.e. listing your attributes and then considering them) would be to think of yourself as something external – something that just appears within consciousness – and is not consciousness itself.

    What the people that Deepak is interested in did was to approaching the matter in a different way to the way a 21st century scientist would do, but that doesn’t necessarily invalidate their approach. You could say that these people were scientists of subjective consciousness and were dedicated to getting to the origin or source of it. They were approaching it on its own terms if you like rather than thinking of it as something to be objectified in order to understand it.

    It was done by what is sometimes known as “meditation” – which is an attempt to turn the attention around from looking at everything objectively (which includes subjective feelings) in order to discover the one who experiences objectivity – i.e the background consciousness of oneself. What these ancient consciousness scientists (who have worked on this for centuries) report is that if you investigate this matter properly you attain a state of what is referred to as “Enlightenment” in which you realise the nature of your own consciousness.

    They say that what is discovered can’t be described or anticipated but once realised is found to be completely obvious.

    I think Deepak is trying to introduce this different angle on consciousness. I wouldn’t see this as anti science in any way. Just a different approach to consciousness that any scientist could try.

  55. I fail to understand how one can dismiss the hypothesis that consciousness arises from information processing by citing calculators and thermostats. Is it not possible that consciousness arises from information processing only if one has a sufficiently complicated information processor. “Sufficiently complicated” may refer to the number of bits that can be manipulated per unit time or to the structural and functional architecture of the machine, or to both.

    This hypothesis would suggest that consciousness could emerge in computing machines when they are sufficiently large, fast and appropriately designed. We of course have no idea at present what specifications may be necessary to produce consciousness, nor will it be easy to test whether a machine is truly conscious (because we cannot even prove consciousness in other humans). It is possible that consciousness will arise unexpectedly in a future machine that was designed simply to be faster and more complicated, or to mimic the neural architecture of human brains. We could find ourselves in a situation where we have seemingly conscious machines but still do not understand exactly how consciousness arises.

  56. I am now sure that Mr Chopra is really stuck in his own box and has no perception of reality…

    Should we discuss “normal” or everything else that this degenerate rambles on about…

    Normal is anything that normal people deem to be normal…

  57. An interesting in depth discussion on the nature of consciousness and the “material” universe.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *