Sunday, March 27, 2016

Unpacking Deepak's Mess: The Problem - Part Two

Note: This is part two of a three-part essay on reality and consciousness.

Shortly after “God Makes More Sense Than Atheism," Chopra penned another Huff Post article entitled "God Is The New Physics."  This is certainly not a new idea.  My first experiences with reading material that attempted to mingle quantum physics with spirituality go as far back as God and the New Physics by Paul Davies in 1984, a book I still own in my library.  Numerous articles, books, blogs, etc. cover this subject.  It seems that the mysteries of consciousness cannot resist some of the wonky conclusions of contemporary physics. Since there are a plethora of theories about how the mechanics of the universe work, and very little is really proven, it is fashionable for modern spiritualists like Chopra to grasp at the ambiguities, to play along the nebulous seams of debate by creating a belief system that supports a non-materialistic, non-biological interpretation of consciousness and reality.

Why consciousness should be related to reality at all is something almost no one questions.  I suppose we think that because, as John-Paul Sartre concluded, consciousness is always consciousness of something, consciousness must be associated with reality.  But, reality, as Being, predates consciousness.  While consciousness cannot escape reality (except through the power imagination, in which case it escapes by creating alternates), reality does not rely upon consciousness for anything, belief does not factor in to the universe as a whole.

It is easy to become disoriented when considering consciousness and Being.  Being, as I have pointed out before, entails everything that exists.  Being, as I intend it, is an enormous diversity of primarily unrelated things. Nevertheless, when considering the Being of a supernova or the Being of a tornado or the Being of human love it can seem that Being connects everything because everything is Being. "Being is."  Sartre rightly proclaimed the is-ness of Being. But the diversity of Being overrides the illusionary unity of Being. All Being is not the same; though Chopra wishes it to be otherwise. Chopra desires a "level playing field" in order to create a humane universe or a cosmic consciousness.  This is dreamy, fluffy, happy stuff that makes many people feel good, I guess.  But it hardly constitutes a sober consideration of things. It is, in fact, absurd.  This absurdity becomes self-evident when you consider the Being of weather systems or the cosmos.  Weather is. Betelgeuse is.

Sometime in the coming centuries Betelgeuse will go supernova.  That is completely unrelated to human consciousness.  That will happen whether or not humanity survives to see it. Betelgeuse does not care.  Betelgeuse has no capacity to care in its Being.  As a star it has no conscious agency or relationship to me or you. On the reverse side, anger and love and compassion and hate have nothing to do with the life cycle of Betelgeuse. Chopra wants to connect our intimate experience with cosmic consciousness in order to advance the cause of a spiritual (imaginative) psychology. Chopra wants to explain away indifference by promoting consciousness without biology. This is subtle-arrogance. There is no evidence that consciousness has agency outside of biology.

In "God Is The New Physics," Chopra discusses the great divide between religion and science and, like countless other writers and teachers, claims that there is a "unified theory" to be discovered by the marriage of the two.  In a nutshell, Chopra argues that "religion must abandon its claim to the supernatural." Meanwhile, where science is concerned: "The division between objective and subjective, along with rational versus irrational, must be abandoned, because it's a false duality.  All experience is subjective, including the experience of doing science."

This is a false choice.  For religion to "abandon its claim to the supernatural” has no relationship to science "abandoning" subjective-objective reality. The "supernatural" and "subjective-objective reality" are not equivalent.  Even if you concede miracles happen, reincarnation happens, ghosts exist, whatever, the universe remains indifferent. There is no Earthly miracle that equates to the vastness of space itself. Such an elevation is delusional. 

Chopra argues that the "consciousness-based universe" offers a better perspective over both supernatural religion and scientific materialism.  "In a purely physical cosmos, the most difficult questions lead to answers that make no sense whatever. Molecules can't think, end of story. Therefore, if there is a cosmic intelligence that exists beyond time and space, which under the old terminology was called God, it is the most likely basis for the universe and our place in it."

Why there must be a “unified theory” in place of materialistic or even supernatural (astrology, past lives) explanations of things is rather vague. Chopra seems to desire (believe) that there be such a theory, that everything in the universe be fundamentally connected, but that belief is not based on any science as presented in his article. Instead, he merely states that religion is supernaturally naive and science is materially bankrupt.  This has all the trappings of a belief system. Even if we agree with him on these contentions there is absolutely nothing in his article to confirm that therefore there must be a unified theory of everything and this is where we find what has traditionally been referred to as "God."

This is clearly an un-critiqued (subtly-arrogant) assumption on the part of Chopra.  There is nothing in his article to suggest the inevitability a "unified theory" or a "universal consciousness" at all.  The emperor has no clothes in this regard. “God Is The New Physics” is an idea that has been around for decades and we are no closer to "proving" it now than we were when it was first introduced.  It is merely a matter of taste on the part of Chopra, a racing to conclusions based upon unsubstantiated theories that fail to lead most physicists to any particular "god."

Chopra radically attempts to bring all this down to earth in “God Makes More Sense Than Atheism” when he mentions the two-century "tug-of-war" between science and religion, only this time Chopra attempts to "turn the tables" on science with the statement that "God is actually more rational than science and more practical than technology."  He offers five points in summation of his argument.  I will comment on each of these five points as he presents them in his article.

"If all experience is subjective, going inward is a valid means of exploring reality."

Well, no.  Here's where the subtle-arrogance of Deepak Chopra shines brightest.  He steers you onto a limited path of understanding reality, without you realizing it and probably without intending to do so, because he mistakenly thinks it is an unlimited path, beyond biology.  On the surface what he says makes perfect sense because there is undeniably a lot to learn about subjectivity by "going inward."  My argument is not that human Being is simple and shallow.  Human Being is fascinatingly complex. Human Being is wonderful in its height and depth. Still, he is talking about "reality" here and, as such, he is inadequate.  He is elevating subjective experience to the universal in order to establish a foundation for a unified theory, which is a personal belief on his part.  By saying “all experience is subjective" he is certainly correct as far as the perception of biologically based bodily senses and nervous systems are concerned.

But the unspoken assumption here is that reality is primarily subjective within animal experience.  In part one we saw that there is much more to the reality of Being than animal Being. Conscious experience itself is mundane and not recognized outside of animal life and perhaps the life of certain flora. Instead, physical occurrences throughout the universe far outweigh experience upon Earth or within a person.  Going inward in no way takes all of reality into account.  Feeling so is clearly arrogant by any reasonable definition of the term. 

Experience and physical occurrences are not the same thing outside of our life on Earth. Occurrences have Karma but practically all occurrences occur without consciousness.  A supernova is not conscious of human experience, nor is it connected to (or possess) consciousness by any reasonable consideration.  Humanity cannot experience the supernova, it can only visualize the occurrence after it happened. Conflating occurrence (Being) with experience (consciousness) is an old hat trick of new age specialists.

"In this exploration, new levels of consciousness reveal themselves."

No qualms here.  There are many layers to human consciousness and the exploration of them is useful in terms of living a more mindful life with regard to your own behavior and well-being, as my recent post on Sam Harris attests.  This does not mean anything other than what I just said.  There is no significant "connectivity" with the physical or quantum universal occurrences beyond your intimate ability to be more aware of what you observe and how it affects your behavior.  The occurrence is not affected by your consciousness at all - again, it would be subtle-arrogance to think otherwise. Nevertheless, human Being is capable wondrous expression and looking inward can open our awareness of the possibilities of living on this Earth.  I’ll write more about this in part three.

"At deeper levels of consciousness, perception changes radically."

This change is genuine but it is also the beginnings of illusion.  You have already gone off course by confusing experience with occurrence and by feeling experience is reality.  You validate this misconception with genuine techniques for actual mindfulness that truly do “work” within experience.  This validation leads to further subtle-arrogance by feeling that, because you become mindful, your perception therefore affects reality as a whole, or connects in a different way with reality. There is no basis for this except wishful thinking. In truth, it is more relevant to experience the benefits of looking inward without any impact at all upon the reality of occurrences in the larger sense.

"As perspective changes, so does reality itself, since nothing is real beyond what we perceive in some way.”

This is arrogance in a somewhat less-subtle sense. Your perception changes your reality but your reality is still fixed in space no matter how inward you go.  The human capacity for perspective has no meaning beyond the very limited human horizon of living.  Believing otherwise leads to all sorts of nonsense such as if I change the way I look at things then the things change in themselves.  Your experience of things has nothing to do with the things-in-themselves only how you relate to them. That relationship and understanding does not change anything, it merely makes the pre-existing discontinuity more manageable, which is a positive aspect of looking inward, despite this arrogant side-effect.

"The conjunction of the individual mind with the new source of consciousness is where God lives."

Yes, which is why, to put it positively, "God" is found within your relationship to your “perspective” and to the things you experience from your perspective.  To put it a bit more negatively, there is no "God" outside of your “perspective” and your relationship to things. This "new source of consciousness" is meaningful to the extent it can inspire you and enhance your capacity for compassion and well-being. These are things that should not be discounted.  They are real and meaningful.  But what Chopra indicates in the article is that there is a linear A+B+C+D=E relationship between these various statements.  In other words, exploring reality through inward subjective experience leads to an experience of God. Since we all know God is everything, our experience flows through God and is connected to everything.

What is the relationship between interacting galaxies and subjective human experience?  What is the relationship between El Nino and subjective human experience?  What is the relationship of the earthquake in Nepal with the human beings living there?  These questions about a very real reality cannot be answered within Chopra's five-point thesis. They are out there in space reality beyond human experience. Any connection worthy of deep consideration commits subtle-arrogance, confusing occurrences with experience, Being with consciousness.  The mystery of consciousness itself does not have to have any connection with anything outside of animal consciousness.  The desire to connect animal consciousness with everything is an understandable human weakness.

The truth is that this connection is motivated by unquestioned desire and imagination more than by actual experience and observation.  It is intimately human to connect with the “eternal” in some way. It is a very effective technique to use against the fear of death and anxious uncertainty which so many humans deeply possess and which rules their psyche.  The work of Joseph Campbell reveals this aspect of our humanity to us and the power of myth to address it.  Such actively created connectivity gives rise to magic and reincarnation and resurrection myths.  Living a certain lifestyle or performing a certain ritual will afford us a way to control reality or connect with reality.  The prior sentence has broad, almost unquestioned appeal, and serves as the basis for religion and primitive spirituality. Nevertheless, the fact is we could be wiped out by the orbit of an unknown asteroid or the Anthropic warming of our planet into inhabitability without regard to our "spiritual" practice.

(I am aware that if all of humanity "changed their conscious awareness" in a particular way it would be possible to reverse the human contribution to global warming.  But the fact we have no such earthly awareness presently, and that the event will likely happen beyond human control, or rather that so few of us have it, contextualizes the impotent reality of "cosmic mind." It is likely too late for humans to do anything about the coming heat upon this planet. A scientific, not religious, prediction by the way.) 

Just to clarify, religion and spirituality and imaginative psychology are not the only ones misapprehending consciousness.  Science has its own prejudices, as Chopra correctly points out, particularly among materialists and reductionists. In science's case, however, the issue is not inflating consciousness but, rather, minimizing it to the point of absurdity.  Sam Harris writes about this in his work. Consciousness is irreducible to neurological firing patterns and brain activity alone.  It is a collection of systems working together including biology, language, habitual and social patterns. This dynamic cannot be relevantly reduced to physical activity precisely because nonphysical imagination, belief, intent and action in the world contribute to Being.  

The Being of the nervous system alone is not the whole of human consciousness.  There are acts of spontaneous expression that can be traced to mechanical underpinnings much as the parts of an engine in an automobile.  But the engine is not the automobile.  The automobile is mostly defined by its use in the world (its Being) not by how it works mechanically.  While the basis of conscious expression can be traced to brain activity, the actual Being of expression is beyond mere neurological implications, though clearly founded upon them.

My personal opinion is that almost no one makes the critical distinction between consciousness or Being, either the differences between the two or the interplay of the two.  For that reason most human beings either unfairly sever the connection between the two or over-relate the two as being the same thing.  Neither approach has validity in my opinion. The vague nature of consciousness and Being allow them to become equated, conflated, inflated (choose your word) along their naturally nebulous seams.

Chopra feels atheism makes less sense than God at bottom because theism appears to offer a happier, brighter, non-materialist perspective.  As mentioned above, there is a deep-seated human (imaginative) need to have unity with a nurturing cosmos, to address uncertainty and fear within the context of a holistic paradigm of loving confidence; as if our intergalactic reality is a family, a warm, close, caring family. Which is a great foundation for certain aspects of human behavior but it is also the root of a misapprehension expressed in subtle-arrogance.  

Pursuing this path eventually leads to the point where "consciousness" is the mother of everything and has no biological boundaries at all.  Instead it is elevated to the supreme state, above everything, physics itself becomes a child of biological consciousness.  And what does the term even mean at this level? Consciousness is everything.
Consciousness causes everything in the universe. Consciousness is the cause of the Milky Way moving millions miles per hour through space. This subtle-arrogance isn't really so subtle.  Consciousness trumps everything so that means if you look inward rather than outward you will understand and grasp reality better.

Instead of trying to trump atheism with "God consciousness" we would be better served to look at our existence soberly within the cosmos. While it is true that "reality" is a representation and we do not experience things-in-themselves, only our sensory representation of them, to say that "reality" is an internalized construct is overly simplistic. An internalized construct implies an invention of an illusion of reality or the experience of the indirect nature of reality. Anything is possible within this imaginative construct.

Spiritualists do not hesitate to latch on to aspects of theoretical physics that cannot be confirmed via any scientific method, String Theory, for example. There is a growing controversy about the inability to form any sort of test for the further reaches of physics.  These "non-scientific" aspects of physics are completely speculative, without factual basis. The inability to validate such theoretical beliefs makes them more a product of the unsubstantiated imagination than of factual hypothesis  - and ironically they are more "illusionary" for that reason.

In part one we saw that one reason Stephen Hawking says, compared with religion, science "works", is science's ability to form an understanding of occurrences that allows for accurate prediction.  For his part, Chopra makes at least one prediction, that there is a “tipping point” for global consciousness, as I also mentioned in part one.  Such a massive occurrence is not confirm-able unless it actually happens, which it might.  But my bet is that it is hogwash because we have absolutely no reason to believe that it might happen.  

Phillip K. Dick had a great method for detecting ‘pseudo-realities’.  “Reality is that which is still there when you stop believing in it.”  Quite clearly, Chopra’s reality as it relates to humanity requires belief.  It cannot be factually tested in any way. Going deeper into levels of consciousness does not teach us more about the place of consciousness. The place of consciousness requires adherence to facts about the reality of the universe of space, global weather systems, populations of birds, diseases, earthquakes, numerous things-in-themselves without any necessary connection to human experience.  Any attempt to minimize this reality is subtle-arrogance.  

Parts of Chopra’s reality definitely benefit humanity but its ultimate truths lead to a basis for life that feels right but is nevertheless wrong, its primary assumptions too often go unquestioned. Questioning the validity of Chopra need not affect how we can discover many of the healthy psychological conditions he advocates.  But we should best do so on a foundation of where we are in space.  An asteroid (or comet or other space object) will eventually wipe out the world as we experience it. It has happened several times already, beyond human consciousness.  If the Sixth Extinction happens tomorrow then your life will be just as important and meaningful as it is right now, it just simply won’t be very significant in the cosmos.  That is our place in reality. 

By deconstructing what some see as Chopra’s “bullshit” we open ourselves to a truly authentic and relevant human existence.  That is the solution to the problem of Deepak Chopra’s Mess, which will conclude this three-part essay.

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