Chopra wants me to officially endorse his new paradigm of consciousness

August 30, 2014 • 10:45 am

I got an email from one of the Deepakity’s assistants two nights ago, which said this:

Deepak wanted me to share this letter with you and wondered if you would consider signing it along with 1,000 others [sic] scientists.

Of course I knew, based on experience, that this was something I would probably refuse; but I did read it.  Here is Deepak’s cover letter and then the “statement” we were asked to endorse are below.  Before posting all of this, I asked and got permission from Chopra’s assistant, for which I’m grateful.

The cover letter from Chopra was also sent to several equesterian atheists and, I suppose, to others I don’t know.

Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 12.21.43 PM

General wording? I don’t think so. Here’s the statement we were asked to sign (my emphasis at end):

Science Must Face Reality: In Support of Consciousness

There’s a general feeling that science has advanced to the point that it can answer the two most important questions facing it. What is the universe made of? What is the biological basis of consciousness? If these two mysteries are finally solved, a true Theory of Everything cannot be far off. We are concerned, however, that the old scientific paradigm is not adequate to provide answers to either question. The old paradigm, under which we were trained, along with every working scientist, reduces difficult problems to smaller, more manageable parts. Experiments are conducted, data is collected, and findings are reached. In this way objective knowledge emerges that a consensus can accept, whether it concerns the behavior of moving bodies in Newton’s time or the existence of the Higgs boson in ours.

The mainstream view in science is that this general method of exploring Nature will continue to succeed, based on the enormous progress science has made in the past. We don’t share such confidence. There comes a time when old paradigms falter and fail, giving way to a completely new paradigm. This is the natural evolution of scientific investigation. We urge anyone interested in the advance of knowledge to recognize that the signs of a new paradigm emerging are unmistakable.

What forces such a radical change is reality itself, which science is obliged to follow. Reality has led us to the point where reductionism, a “bottom up” approach that seeks to build reality up from its smallest constituents, must give way to holism, a “top down” approach that accepts an undeniable fact: Reality is one thing. Up to now, reductionism has been successful in disguising the dualism that is threatening to become a fatal flaw. There is no credible bridge between classical and quantum physics, brain and mind, physiology and psychology. In effect, the march of science through theory and technology has yet to explain how atoms and molecules took the leap that produced human experience, our mental participation in the reality science is trying to explain. Science has relegated personal experience to the sidelines and at times even rejected that consciousness is a valid subject of study. The reason is obvious, because the scientific quest has been for objective findings, not subjective impressions. The split between objective and subjective lies at the bottom of every other duality. But without a top down, holistic framework, there will never be an adequate explanation of reality. The two big questions facing science (What is the universe made of? What is the biological basis of consciousness?) needs to be reframed. What’s at stake is actually “What is existence?” and “How is existence known?”

This reframing will strike the vast majority of scientists as metaphysics, in other words, not science. There is an implicit disdain for philosophy among even elite scientists, who are on public record calling philosophy useless, pointless, and an obstacle to the progress of science. But this viewpoint is the product of an old paradigm on the verge of being superseded. Many significant advances in quantum physics depended on thought experiments, and every science depends on hypotheses and models, which are mental activities.

At some point, a problem can approach the horizon where thought experiments, models, and even mathematics, the ultimate mental foundation of science, must confront the nature of experience. Until we understand the basis of consciousness, from which all experience arises (including the experience of doing science) there is no guarantee that how we perceive the universe matches reality. By taking consciousness for granted, or shunting it aside, the old paradigm assumed that perception
is an adequate match for reality–this despite the obvious fact that science distrusts the report of the five senses. A person sees the sun rise in the East and set in the West. Science investigates to discover if this report has any basis in fact.
What would a top down, holistic foundation for science look like? An answer is just now emerging; the new paradigm is emerging through the activity of many minds. We simply want to make a declaration of intent, pointing science away from its collision with reality. The future of a planet in danger depends upon seeing human experience in a new way, so that preservation replaces endless consumption, saving replaces bottomless spending, and caretaking replaces despoiling. The peril we face is entwined with science and technology, and it is widely expected that science and technology will rescue us.

But this will only happen, we believe, through a deeper, better understanding of consciousness, since after all, nothing is real unless we are conscious of it. The late physicist John Archibald Wheeler was among the first to point out that this is a participatory universe. Humans are embedded in the reality they seek to explain. The time is long past when science can afford to stand outside reality in search of perfect objectivity. As useful as that stance has been, a new stance is urgently needed.

Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 6.46.10 AMI answered politely by email, but didn’t register my choice electronically. Can you guess my answer?

This is not a call for a serious new paradigm—at least, it suggests no fruitful directions of research—but simply an endorsement of Chopra’s metaphysical and woo-laden views. If reductionism won’t help us understand consciousness, what will? The “top down” approach is the name for something that starts with woo, and that simply won’t work.

Note, too, that the only “direction” of research suggested is through “the activity of many minds,” which I presume to be some kind of nebulous “quantum universal consciousness.” And there’s also a threat that if we don’t go in this direction, it’s all over for Earth. That’s rather presumptious, to say the least.

It’s clear from this letter that Chopra is asking a number of scientists to sign on to his call for a New Paradigm. He wants validation of his views—views that many of us have criticized, clearly upsetting him.  He’ll get some endorsers, too, including his mate Rudy Tanzi, and maybe some others who are enamored or woo and suspicious of the reductionist approach to science—the only approach that really ever works for understanding biological systems.  But I seriously doubt he’ll get any of the more skeptical neurosciences.

Signing this letter is like wearing a sign on your forehead that says, “I iz baffled. I can haz new paradime?”




102 thoughts on “Chopra wants me to officially endorse his new paradigm of consciousness

      1. Ah that’s it. I had to consult the dictionary to find if there was a meaning with which I wasn’t familiar.


    1. There those atheists of the knight class, belonging to the second estate vs. the clergy who belong to the first estate.

      Yeah, I’m just being a mediaeval smart ass.

  1. That was a lot of words. I guess using lots of words makes you look smart. Chopra can stick those words in his holism! 😀

  2. As they say in the classics:

    First you were all like “whoa”, and we were like “whoa”, and you were like “whoa…”

  3. Waitaminnit. I thought, according to Deepity, that we all collectively make our own reality. If that is true, how can we possibly be in a situation where science is rushing headlong to CLASH with reality? This would imply that reality is some immutable, implacable thing to be clashed with, and properly accounted for… the proper scientific tools used — NOT that reality comes around, bending to our wills and desires when we get out our measuring devices.

    Sounds kind-of reductionist to me.

    One positive thing I did get out of that read though… I never knew that there is NO credible logical connection between classical and quantum physics. That is quite some revelation. I feel so much smarter now.

    Chopra should take another cue from John Archibald Wheeler, and put that in his Fruit Loops: “No phenomenon is a real phenomenon until it is an observed phenomenon.”

    1. The realest phenomena are the the ones most agreed upon, at least that is what Chopra thinks. If enough people agree with him, he’s got to be right. Somewhere in the majesty of creation, science comes down to: if you agree that this is the way it is, then submit your name here, otherwise bugger off.

      Quantum mechanics is what Chopra makes of it, not what’s in an experiment.

  4. “There is no credible bridge between classical and quantum physics, brain and mind, physiology and psychology.”
    Really? I can think of a number of people actually considered knowledgeable in each of the fields named (unlike the Deepakity) who would disagree.
    “We simply want to make a declaration of intent, pointing science away from its collision with reality.”
    Good luck with that! The idea that science is on a collision course with reality is one of the daftest things I have heard in a long time – science may be on a collision course with some things (young-earth creationism, for instance), but reality is not one of them.

  5. His new paradigm is not even worth a nickel. His statement is pure word salad, it really states nothing at all. It is empty, like Chopra’s head.

    1. I made a word cloud by pasting his letter in a word cloud generator. Science seems to be his favourite word followed by reality, consciousness & experience. Yikes.

  6. The sign of a smart person is that they’re able to put complex ideas in to simple language.

    Going by this Chopra is either not smart, or taking the piss. I’m thinking option 2. He’s smart enough to have made a lot of money.

    1. Like Britney Spears, you can’t ignore the fact he’s done very well for himself, regardless of his talents. Nobody ever went broke underestimating the American public.

  7. A few things in this piece caught my eye.

    “The mainstream view in science is that this general method of exploring Nature will continue to succeed, based on the enormous progress science has made in the past.”

    Yes, that would seem to be a pretty reasonable position to take.

    “We don’t share such confidence.”

    Oh, why ever not?

    “There comes a time when old paradigms falter and fail, giving way to a completely new paradigm. This is the natural evolution of scientific investigation.”

    Indeed, but we generally don’t adopt a new paradigm without a really really compelling reason, presumably you have one?

    “We urge anyone interested in the advance of knowledge to recognize that the signs of a new paradigm emerging are unmistakable.”

    They are? Well then let’s hear them. (Reads the rest of the statement) Oh, we’ll take that as a no then.

    The best part is surely this.

    “nothing is real unless we are conscious of it.”

    Basically this is the precise opposite of the truth. If the planet Earth and us were wiped out tomorrow by some stray astral body, would everything that we were formerly conscious of be wiped out along with it? Of course not, the rest of the universe would continue to exist without us.

    1. “nothing is real unless we are conscious of it.”

      Ah, so that explains why nothing existed in the billions of years before conscious intelligence evolved on earth.

    2. The question I want to ask Deepakity is: “Who’s ‘we’, paleface?” I certainly wouldn’t consider him a scientist. Also, I wasn’t aware scientists “distrusts the report of the five senses”. I guess my field data sheets are useless then? Finally, I’d like to know when in Reality ‘we’ ever observed a mind not connected to a physical body?

  8. “…But this will only happen, we believe, through a deeper, better understanding of consciousness, since after all, nothing is real unless we are conscious of it.” – D. Chopra

    A “new paradigm”? This is an old hat called metaphysical idealism: esse est percipi (being is being perceived).

    1. Speaking of old hats, Chopra’s idealistic antireductionism or holism was anticipated by the British idealists such as F. H. Bradley, who “rejected…the view that reality can be understood as consisting of many objects existing independently of each other (pluralism) and of our experience of them (realism). Consistently, his own view combined substance monism—the claim that reality is one, that there are no real separate things—with metaphysical idealism — the claim that reality consists solely of idea or experience.” (

      Idealism, British. Movement in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British philosophy according to which ultimate reality is mental or spiritual, or at least not physical. Bradley, Green, and Bosanquet think matter is not real. Physical objects and the subjective points of view of conscious individuals stand in a system of internal relations called ‘the absolute’ or ‘absolute mind’, so British idealism is mostly a kind of quasi-Hegelian absolute idealism[.] … Although late twentieth-century British philosophy was dominated by the materialist and positivist ideas common to English language philosophy, it is not impossible that idealism will have a new role once non-reductivist explanations of consciousness come to be taken more seriously. It is now clear, if it was not clear then, that materialism, naturalism, and positivistic science have wholly failed to provide any kind of explanation of the existence and reality of one’s own subjective mind.”

      (Priest, Stephen. “Idealism, British.” In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 2nd ed., edited by Ted Honderich, 412-3. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.)

  9. Science has relegated personal experience to the sidelines and at times even rejected that consciousness is a valid subject of study. The reason is obvious, because the scientific quest has been for objective findings, not subjective impressions. The split between objective and subjective lies at the bottom of every other duality.

    Ah, there we go. The objective world and the subjective world, dualism pure and simple, is the way forward. We’ll solve the problem of the nature of consciousness when we stop trying to be unbiased and look outwards, and when we start introspecting and look inwards. With the right frame of mind, of course…

    The flaw is that this is not some radical new paradigm, but the same old, same old we’ve been served since superstition and religion began. And it has advanced our knowledge not a jot.

    Material/Physical monism – specifically the notion of the mind being the computational workings of the brain – was suggested by the implications for the evolution of humanity, stepped forward, and was tested over and over, and now we can find new ways to look into the problem of consciousness that produce honest work and new fields and genuine paradigm shifts.

    The best dualists can offer is to pooh-pooh the enterprise and say “well, dualism is still technically possible“, as if that were an answer to anything.

    I don’t blame you, Jerry, for refusing to sign anything. Chopra is not honest because his position requires him not to be.

  10. The arrogance of Chopra never ceases to amaze me! Just who does he think he is to craft a general statement about the future direction of science, on behalf of all scientists, when he’s not even a credible scientist himself? He’s living in his parallel woo universe, only looked up to by people who assume someone who uses such unnecessarily complicated phraseology must know what he’s talking about. Personally, I find his writing so boring I always find my mind drifting into unconsciousness when reading it. I consider him a charlatan who takes advantage of the suffering of others to make huge amounts of money, which is unconscionable.

  11. Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. – Philip K. Dick

    Just because your nervous system imperfectly interprets reality, doesn’t imply you’ve created reality. – Me

  12. A scientist will be very careful to inform the audience about all the ways that her ideas could be proven worng.

    A conspiracy theorist, especially of the snake oil salesman variety, will be very careful to inform the audience about how it’s impossible for her ideas to be proven worng.

    Which class Chopra belongs to is left as an exercise for the reader….


    1. The basic problem with many conspiracy theorist arguments is just like the joke about elephants painting their testicles.

      Q: Why do elephants paint their testicles red?
      A: To hide in cherry trees.
      Q: Have you ever seen an elephant do that?
      A: No
      First Speaker: See, it really really works.

      This is exactly how conspiracy theorists explain the lack of evidence for their theories. It’s because the conspiracy is so good that they’re so good at erasing the evidence (in spite of how unlikely their real ability to do so is.)

          1. Of course, it does make one pause a moment to consider just how much knowledge of elephant testicles one should wish to admit of. Still, I don’t think it’s too perverted to know that they’re basketball-sized but undescended (internal).


              1. Not necessarily…paint the elephant’s underside with red polka dots, play a loop of George Takei breathlessly saying, “Oh, my!” and call it a day!

                …of course, getting the elephant to stand still while you’re tickling his nether bits with a paintbrush might be a bit…potentially lethal….


            1. Of course the problem is that you are a heretic, the true original riddle went “Why do elephants paint their TOENAILS red?”. This makes all your pettifogging objections vanish as elephant toenails are exactly the same size as cherries. God made them that way specifically so elephants would be safe hiding in cherry trees.

      1. I prefer the Killer Rabbit theory. That the attack of an angry rabbit is invariably and instantly fatal.
        Proof: Have you ever heard of anyone being attacked by a rabbit who lived to tell the tale? No? Well, there you are, then.

  13. He and I both speak English. How is it that he can use all English words in his letter, without making any sense at all?

    1. His might be a useful talent if employed as comedy. The superbly daft “Phelomena Cunk” springs to mind. Her cleverly clueless deliberations, seemingly a p*sstake on Cox, give me instant relief from Chopra’s self-aggrandizing, nonsensical drivel. It’s a shame there seems not to be an episode on “Consciousness” yet. Instead, the episode on Evolution. (British sarcasm, not to everyone’s taste)

      And “Time”

    2. Deepity is doing poetry not science. As in all art the goal is to create emotions in the observer, he does this remarkably well for a certain type of person who doesn’t think too closely about what he’s saying.

  14. Maybe I’m just in a bad mood but I’m thinking someone should accept Chopra’s challenge for debate and start the debate with a “Wizard’s Duel.” A contest between Chopra’s magical nonsense and science. The person on the science side should just walk over and slap Chopra across the face repeatedly while asking where Chopra’s magical nonsense was.

    On a side note, if one integrates over quantum physics you get classical physics. Or, cumulative assessment of quantum phenomena produce results like classical physics. Just like if you use general relativity in a classical setting you get Newtonian formula. Boundary conditions are important.

    That letter simply reveals someone who either doesn’t understand what the word “quantum” means or is cynically trying to take advantage of rubes for profit. Either way it doesn’t reflect favorably on Chopra.

    1. On a side note, if one integrates over quantum physics you get classical physics. Or, cumulative assessment of quantum phenomena produce results like classical physics. Just like if you use general relativity in a classical setting you get Newtonian formula. Boundary conditions are important.

      Perhaps a more accessible example for general audiences is the shape of the Earth. We all know that it’s spherical…but, at human scales, the deviation from perfectly flat is literally undetectable. I have to keep looking up the figures, but it’s on the order of a few inches per mile; literally, that molehill will throw off your measurement — never mind the mountain on the distant horizon. As a result, flat maps are ideal not just for street navigation but even at regional scales. It’s not until you get to continental distances that you need to worry about the curvature of the Earth — and even then you can do just fine if you make frequent enough adjustments based on local measurements. Nobody planning a week-long drive from New York to San Francisco is going to use a globe in preference of a map.

      So it’s pretty clear that the very bumpy local terrain reduces to a flat regional geometry which is a simplification of the spherical global geometry (which, itself, is an approximation of the oblate spheroid geometry). And there’s no profound mystery about how one transitions to the other or how you derive one from another or the rest. The “real” geometry would have to be expressed in (at least) four-dimensional spacetime down to Planck units, but there’s never any need for that kind of precision. Just pick the most convenient, easiest model to describe the scale you’re interested in and don’t worry about the other scales until you have to.


      1. Very nicely put, that’s a favourite of mine too. That the assumption of a ‘flat earth’ works fine for everyday purposes (just like Newtonian non-relativistic mechanics does).
        Surprising how many people, though, are so used to Flat Earth being disproved, that they will argue the point and try to find examples where the curvature of the earth is significant. For all practical purposes not involving advanced technology, it isn’t.

  15. Chopra’s views are indeed woo-woo.

    I do have a question about reductionism in science. Some scientists oppose it to varying degrees. For instance, the cosmologist Joel R. Primack (professor of physics at UCSC) opposes current reductionism as being an inaccurate view of reality.

    If I may ask, what is your opinion of Primack’s perspective?

    I’m fairly certain that Primack rejects psuedo-scientists like Chopra, etc.

    1. What does “reductionism” consist of? Some people use it to mean “monism”, that there is one sort of stuff. This I agree with – matter is all. But it can also mean a denial of systems of matter having properties that are not found in their components (i.e., emergence as understood by biologists, Bunge, etc. – not the the spooky early 20th century sense). I am not a reductionist in that sense; it seems clear that (e.g.) fluidity is an emergent property.

  16. A bit disappointed with his word salad, he needs to up his quantum quota.
    reality = 11
    paradigm = 8
    conscious(ness) = 7
    universe = 4
    existence = 3
    quantum = 2

  17. The phrase new paradigm has, to me, become the pirate flag of a galleon sailing the Sea of Codswallop on to the Mountains of Madness.

  18. If you really want to know about consciousness, I refer to works by actual scientists like Damasio, Tononi, Koch, Dehaene, just to name a few, all of whom are doing contrasting but very interesting work. This nonsense isn’t going anywhere. I’d be embarrassed for the credentialed scientist who would add his name to this latest nonsense.

  19. Before scientific investigation, there was making things up. So, Deepak, if there are any old paradigms floating around this post, you are the foremost one.

  20. Wording “so general” that it came perilously close to saying almost nothing at all despite the word count!

    He very nearly left out his actual intent amongst so many passive tense clauses! Remember, boys and girls, it is always a good idea to say *who* is doing *what* to *whom* and *when*!

    I couldn’t help think that were I writing a screed against “Science” (the social object of fetish, not the actual investigative methods), that I’d be more careful to describe subjective experience, rather, as more likened to “bottom up”, instead of Chopra’s abstract “reductionism” that “disguises dualism”. What? I’d suggest, too, that the ideological impositions of particular public story-tellers, transparently desiring to dictate questions (correct answers assumed) and having charismatic market aspirations, without a body of research, as being necessarily “top down”!

    So, I wonder where this “top down”, “holistic framework” will come from, at last rescuing us from all this painful “top down” mystery and public neglect of our subjective impressions. How will we know, given the opaque mystery that even existence poses? Hmm…

  21. Chopra is mad. I get the idea that “reality is one thing”, but doesn’t that actually make it more likely, not less that complex organisms arose “bottom up” (so to speak)?

    Doesn’t Chopra realize that the billions of years that kind of thing would require have indeed elapsed? And that the incremental stages implied are still reflected in the natural world?

    And if there is an “emerging paradigm” (if such a thing can exist) it is the one that has been clearly emerging for the last few centuries, whereby those who looked for the parts of the brain that where the immortal soul resides, or though which the winds of the spirit pass, have had the rug pulled out from under them by discoveries of how each of the proposed bits of neuroanatomy really function.

    1. You’re talking about a guy who asserts the moon doesn’t exist until we look at it. This really says it all.

  22. Chopra is smart all the way to the bank, I’ll give him that. Like Benny Hinn he’s made a extremely good living being a charlatan for decades, without being fully called out on it, and held to account on it, which I don’t think will ever happen. Making a living by selling lies even to fools is reprehensible in my book.

  23. Deepak Chopra: “…some of us thought it might be time to make a public statement about the need to take consciousness seriously…”

    J.R. “Bob” Dobbs: “Let they that cannot take a joke, let them mount up upon themselves!”

  24. At least, news about Chopra is not depressing, sometimes, quite amusing :)). News about ISIS & Ebola are so depressing…

  25. It is evident that Chopra is having to try too hard to make sense of his perception of the world.

    Seems to me that he wants to play the hero and invent/initiate something original and beneficial to mankind. But he’s misguided. If there is indeed a universal consciousness, why doesn’t he teach it to the religious extremists who are causing trouble?

  26. I don’t know if anyone has seen an old YouTube video in which Chopra made an “official” apology to Richard Dawkins for his “bad behavior” (ranting) toward Dawkins in an O’Reilly show.

    A Public Apology to Dr Richard Dawkins

    He said, at 1:19:
    “I’m 65 years old, and I need, at that time, to learn to listen to my worst critics without being personally being offended.”

    To which, a commenter responded:
    “Chopra you seem to do that a lot: being personally offended […]”

    And, from an Indian commenter:
    “Hypocritic assxxxx!!..He is one of the most prominent enemies of reason and sells his knowledge at a very high price.To a major section of the Indian community it is like “a hole in the bag thing”…just so that we can realise and incorporate his views and philosophical intuitions into ours.”

    1. Just to split hairs, I think you mean Chopra _has_ 20 million dollars.

      How much he is worth could be considered a different question. 😉

  27. “I can’t explain these ideas I have, but they’re right and I’d like proof that everyone agrees with me.”

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