I know everyone’s been asking, “Where has Deepak Chopra gone?” I haven’t seen any shenanigans from him in a while—at least not since he was deplatformed by the College of Emergency Physicians 2½ years ago, with the group realizing too late that they’d invited a Woomeister to give a keynote speech. (They disinvited him.) But reader Pyers (and some others) called my attention to this piece in the Times of London updating us on Deepakity.
Pyers couldn’t resist adding this acerbic remark: “I had hope that the man had disappeared up his own woo-full fundament but no, like the proverbial bad penny, he is back plugging a new book.”
If you click on the link below, you’ll probably find the article paywalled, but a reader found it archived here, and so you can read five pages of rather anodyne interviews with Deepakity. Surprisingly, it describes one decent thing he did, and for which he does deserve credit, but the rest is his usual palaver, including bringing up epigenetics, quantum woo, and making an unconscionable dig at Richard Dawkins.
I’ll mostly give indented quotes from the article. One thing I deplore is Chopra’s repeated claims that, after he’d been emphasizing it for years, science and medicine now recognize that he was right: there’s a mind-body connection—what you are thinking and how you’re behaving affects the health of your body. I am sad to report that we’ve known that for years, from other data, but of course Deepakity takes credit for it.
Some quotes from the article/interview:
His latest and 93rd book, Living in the Light, is about the deeper philosophy behind yoga, and feels of a piece with someone who has guest-appeared on Meghan Markle’s podcast. But his last book was on brain health, co-authored with a professor of neurology from Harvard. While he was accused by some of pseudo-science for a book entitled Quantum Healing, it is also true that research has recently come to support parts of his thinking about the mind-body connection in disease. The medical establishment and he once abandoned each other; now he is a part-time professor at the medical school at the University of California, San Diego. Deepak’s back, and in conversation he doesn’t soften previous claims but doubles down.
“Every experience epigenetically modifies your body’s metabolism, second by second,” he says at one point in defence of his “quantum healing” theory. “And I don’t care what mainstream medicine thinks about that, they’re wrong.”
That last paragraph, about every experience you have epigenetically modifying your body’s metabolism, must make the claim that each experience changes the nucleotides in your DNA, and that change (which has nothing to do with quantum theory) changes your metabolism. That’s bullpucky, of course, and it’s Deepak who’s wrong, not “mainstream medicine,” It is simply dead, flat WRONG that every experience you have epigenetically modifies your DNA and hence your metabolism. It may modify the neurons in your brain, but that’s just called “experience” or “learning” and has nothing to do with epigenetics.
However, Chopra appears to have done at lease one good thing, and should be lauded for it: publicizing a documentary about Tibet, a country that’s fallen on hard times:
His flying visit to London is a favour to lend his starpower to the cause of Tibet: on Wednesday he introduced the premiere of the new documentary Never Forget Tibet: The Dalai Lama’s Untold Story. Chopra first met the Dalai Lama when he appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London more than 30 years ago. Are they private friends? “He’s too much of a transpersonal identity to have a private relationship. But he makes you feel that way.” Watching the documentary about the Dalai Lama’s dramatic escape from Chinese imprisonment in Tibet in 1959 now feels like a very relevant cautionary tale.
“It could happen in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Ukraine. What’s happening in India and Pakistan isn’t comfortable either, if you look at the news right now.”
Here’s Deepak promoting the film a year ago. He seems to have lost a lot of weight but still has his diamond-studded spectacles:
Chopra talks about nearing the end of his life (he’s 76 so he’s got some years to go if he’s healthy, which he says he is):
According to some ancient Indian teaching, he says, the first quarter of life is for education, the next “for family, fame, fortune all of that”, the third “you give back”. And the last, “you realise it’s all been a dream and you prepare for death. At that stage you don’t care what people think of you.”
“I’m in my fourth stage. I turned 76 last year. I’m physically very healthy. But I spend at least two, three hours a day or sometimes more in meditation, yoga practice and looking at my final chapters.”
Then he touts his prescience once again, claiming credit for something known long before his time:
“My training is in neuroendocrinology. I was looking at the ‘molecules of emotion’…serotonin, opiates, oxytocin, dopamine. And there are many others.
And they all happen to be immunomodulators. So if you have anger . . . or anxiety, all that leads to a depressed immune system.”
“I’ve been talking about this for 40 years. When I started, I was vilified. Now what we were saying in the 70s is part of medical school training. There are literally thousands of articles in peer-reviewed journals. I have a faculty position at the University of San Diego Medical School . . . And there’s a waiting list for people to take training in integrative medicine.”
If that sounds defensive to you, I don’t think you’re far wrong.
But of course Chopra’s given tons of bogus medical advice, and has been vilified for that, too. This includes his bizarre speculations about epigenetics and his constant emphasis on quantum mechanics, which he now says is “only a metaphor” (but for what?). The quantum stuff, however, was only there to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing regimen. It was amply on display in the book discussed below, which I think I went after at the time, as did others:
Millions buy into his message but some scientists remain sceptical. One scientific study used words randomly harvested from Chopra’s Twitter feed (three million followers), re-ordered by an algorithm to create a test for people’s tolerance for “pseudo-profound bullshit”.
. . . Did his book Quantum Healing (1989) get him in a little trouble?
“Not a little, a lot of trouble. I had to actually leave Boston [where he had been working at a hospital] because I thought my colleagues were going to fire me.”
However, he says his friend, Rudolph Tanzi, Harvard professor of neurology, persuaded Chopra to reissue the book in 2015 with Tanzi writing a foreword.
“That book has been a perennial bestseller. And I’m now doing a book with a physicist [Jack Tuszynski at the University of Alberta] called Quantum Body. Because I’m 100 per cent sure now that your body at a very fundamental level operates as a quantum mechanical object.”
The article repeats some criticism, which Deepak ignores, but there are some smart people who go after him:
Some physicists argue that Chopra misconstrues quantum theory. Cox said on Twitter of a challenge Chopra offered his critics: “I claim your million dollars Deepak Chopra, for showing that your understanding of quantum theory is flawed. Is there a form to fill in?”.
Dawkins has repeatedly tried to pin Chopra down, including during an interview in Dawkins’s 2007 television series Enemies of Reason, in which when pressed Chopra says his use of “quantum” is “just a metaphor”. Chopra says to me that he means “quantum theory” in a scientific and not just symbolic way, pointing to YouTube conversations with physicists in his support.
That, then, is some equivocation about quantum woo. But the fact is that nothing that Chopra has to say about quantum mechanics is worth hearing.
Then he can’t resist an uncivil slam at Richard Dawkins:
Later Chopra returns to this point. “The very critics that have been so hostile, including the luminary from England, Richard Dawkins. They’re inflamed. Look at their bodies. They have strokes.”
I pause at this mention of Dawkins’s minor stroke in 2016, then reply: “Your revenge is living well.”
“No, it’s not revenge, it’s just validation. But even that’s not important. Things evolve, as I said, it takes one generation or two for things to shift.”
So first he implies that Richard had a stroke because he’s inflamed, probably because he ignored Chopra’s advice and was “hostile.” The stroke, it’s implied, is “validation”—validation for not only criticizing Chopra’s advice, but not taking it themselves. But which other critics besides Richard have been inflamed and had strokes? I find this attempt to justify his woo by pointing to Richard’s stroke (from which he’s clearly recovered almost 100%) an odious act.
I’m not jealous of Chopra or the $180 million fortune the article says he’s accumulated. In fact, I despise him for fleecing the gullible by peddling pseudoscience. I’d rather be right than rich.