In the last two posts on Mystics’ Mutilation of Quantum Theory I showed how Chopra eliminated any trace of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in his book, despite the fact that by his own admission, Maharishi was the source of his quantum healing. I also pointed out the absurdity of trying to explain scientifically the efficacy of the medicine of the Serpent King, Shesha. In this last post on Chopra, I assess his “quantum” physics.
Intelligent Solar System
Chopra unabashedly uses cells, chromosomes, DNA, peptides, amino acids, etc., without acknowledging the source of all these objects. The very notion of “too many chemicals (literally thousands of them)” is gifted to the mind-body medicine by science. Digging through the pages of the Sushruta and Charaka Samhitas for hundreds of years would never have given mind-body physicians a cell, a chromosome, an amino acid, or a single one of the “too many chemicals!” But Chopra does not just use these ideas. He turns them into ammunition against the very source from which he walked off with them:
… somehow the human cells have evolved to a state of formidable intelligence. At any one time, the number of activities being coordinated in our bodies is quite literally infinite. … The healing mechanism resides somewhere in this overall complexity, but it is elusive. … How does the body know what to do when it is damaged? Medicine has no simple answer. Any one of the processes involved in healing a superficial cut … is incredibly complex, so much so that if the mechanism fails, as it does with the hemophiliacs, advanced scientific medicine is at a loss to duplicate the impaired function.(p. 40)
Since we have already seen the similarity between mind-body medicine’s assessment of the complexity of our body and that of the solar system, let’s go back 400 years in time, and locate a ‘mind-body’ astronomer at the turn of the seventeenth century. Let him look at the sky and see the planets move around the sun in elliptical orbits (as Copernicus and Kepler had just shown). Now listen to what he has to say:
somehow the solar system has evolved to a state of formidable intelligence. The mechanism of planet rotation resides somewhere in this overall complexity, but it is elusive. How do the planets know not to go any further when they get to their apogee? Astronomy has no simple answer.
That mind-body astronomer was right until less than a hundred years later when Newton discovered the mathematical law of gravity and the laws of motion, based on which scientists could explain the detailed motion of all planets and show that it was mathematics and the laws of motion that told the planet to return to the sun, once it reached its apogee! Today’s mind-body doctors are also right: scientific medicine has no simple answer now. In fact, it may never have a simple answer. But answer it will have. Just wait a hundred years or so!
Chopra has not yet found the source of the intelligence in cells. To find it, he casually and opportunistically exploits the great discoveries of scientific medicine. He then immediately turns around and starts degrading it by complaining about the shortcomings of what his medical school taught him about neurons, namely that they communicated through electrical signals across synapses. He is equally dissatisfied with his medical textbooks: “… the description we learned in our neurology textbook in 1966 told us next to nothing about how neurons act in real life.” (p. 50)
Is it not possible that the neurology textbook in 1966 contained next to nothing about how neurons act in real life because neurons were not fully understood at that time? Is it not true that the biology textbooks in 1950 said next to nothing about the double helix and the DNA molecule? Is it not also true that the biology textbooks in 1830 said next to nothing about the germ theory of diseases? And physics textbooks of 1910 said nothing about the nucleus of the atom? Science is not the content of some ancient book as Ayurveda is, and the neurology textbook of 1966 is not the Charaka Samhita of neurology! Science is, to use Chopra’s own phrase, “a river not a sculpture.” It is constantly changing, with new discoveries being made on a daily basis, and its textbooks being revised accordingly.
Fragrant and stinking hydrogen atom
The mind-body medicine has thus far discovered that neurotransmitters are the carriers of intelligence. But from where do they get that intelligence? Stretching the intelligence of neurotransmitter molecules further, Chopra puts the official seal on the strange ideas he has been hinting at, and arrives at the heart of his theory of quantum healing:
The mystery of mind-over-matter has not been explained by biology, which prefers to push on to more and more complicated chemical structures. It is still obvious that no one is ever going to find a particle, however minute, that nature has labeled ‘intelligence.’ You may find it easy to think of DNA … as an intelligent molecule; certainly it must be smarter than a simple molecule like sugar. But DNA is really just strings of sugar, amines, and other simple components. If these are not “smart” to begin with, then DNA couldn’t become smart just by putting more of them together. Following this line of reasoning, why isn’t the carbon or hydrogen atom in the sugar also smart? Perhaps it is. (pp. 65-66)
All medical doctors, who, by the nature of their training, are required to take a good number of chemistry courses, should know the qualitative difference between a chemical compound and its constituents. However, Chopra, with his idea of the presence of intelligence in the simple constituents of a more complex structure, shows a complete ignorance of this basic understanding. To measure this ignorance, consider geraniol, the chemical name for the rose fragrance. Each molecule of geraniol consists of ten carbon atoms, eighteen hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom. One of Chopra’s readers has some questions for him. Here is how the QA conversation might go:
Reader: Why does geraniol smell so sweet?
Chopra: Because hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms smell sweet.
Reader: Hydrogen sulfide consists of two hydrogen atoms and one sulfur atom. Why does hydrogen sulfide stink like a rotten egg?
Chopra: Because both hydrogen and sulfur atoms smell like rotten eggs.
Reader: Wait a minute! How can a hydrogen atom smell like a rose and stink like a rotten egg?
Chopra (after some thinking): A hydrogen atom is intelligent enough to know when it belongs to a geraniol molecule and when to a hydrogen sulfide molecule!
Fragrance is a property of a chemical compound, which has to be explained by the electrical interaction and spatial configuration of the atoms of which it is made, plus the interaction of that compound with our olfactory nerves. Similarly, intelligence is a property of our brain, which has to be explained by the electrical and chemical interactions and spatial configuration of the neurons of which it is made. Without understanding the detailed structure of a neuron and the physical and chemical processes in which it participates, no explanation of intelligence is possible.
Destruction of a building by a sneeze
On page 96 of Quantum Healing is a diagram shown on the right. On page 97 is another diagram shown on the left below. Presumably, A is considered a cause and B an effect. The straight line of the first diagram expresses the logical connection in the world of our senses. If A and B are two billiard balls one hitting the other, the outcome is predictable. However, we cannot apply the same diagram if A is a thought and B is a neuro-peptide, because, so Chopra’s theory tells us, there is no straight-line connection between a nonmaterial thought and a material object, even one as small as a peptide molecule. Instead one has to draw a different diagram with a detour in it:
The U shape shows that a process has to take place that is not above the line, in Newton’s rational, straight-line world. There is some hidden transformation happening that turns a thought into a molecule. The transformation doesn’t take any time and doesn’t happen in any place – it is carried out just by the presence of an impulse of the nervous system. …
The whole area below the line is not a region to be visited in space and time; it just stands for wherever it is you go when you turn thoughts into molecule. One could also think of it as the control room that correlates any mental impulse with the body.(pp.96-97)
This is one of those idiotic syllogisms so very common among the anti-science crowd. You can use this kind of reasoning to prove any (absurd) statement. For example, I can claim that my sneeze can disrupt the molten lava under the earth’s crust. How? One of the molecules exhaled during my sneeze can penetrate the earth’s crust and shake the molten lava violently. There is no straight-line connection between a single sneeze molecule and the disturbance of the molten lava above the line. Therefore, I have to draw a U-shaped arrow to connect the sneeze molecule to the disturbance of the molten lava.
The U shape shows that a process has to take place that is not above the line. There is some hidden transformation happening that turns a sneeze molecule into the motion of the molten lava. The transformation doesn’t take any time and doesn’t happen in any place. The whole area below the line just stands for wherever it is you go when you turn a sneeze molecule into a disturbance of the molten lava.
The mind and the body are both above the line. A is a mental event, or thought; all the other letters are physical processes that follow from A. … If you feel afraid (A), then the other letters stand for signals to your adrenal glands, the production of adrenaline, the pounding of your heart, elevated blood pressure, and so on. These are B, C, D, et cetera. All the physical changes that take place in the body can be connected in a logical chain of cause and effect, except for the space after A. This is the point where the transformation from thought to matter first occurs – and it must occur, or the rest of the events will not happen.
At some point in the lineup, there must be a detour. At that point the lineup breaks down, because mind does not touch matter above the table. If you want to lift your little finger (point A), a physiologist can trace the neurotransmitter (B) that activates an impulse that runs down the axon of the nerve (C), causing a muscle cell to respond (D), resulting in the lifting of your little finger (E). However, nothing a physiologist can describe will get him from A to B – it requires a detour.(p. 100)
The best way to illustrate the absurdity of the reasoning behind the U-shaped diagrams is perhaps to go back to the sneeze and the molten lava example and see how the same logic connects my sneeze to an earthquake in Mexico City and the collapse of a building. I reproduce the quote above verbatim, but change the physiological events to geological ones. Here is how it goes:
The molecule and the molten lava are both above the line. A is a microscopic particle; all the other letters are physical processes that follow from A. … If you sneeze (A), then the other letters stand for the motion of the lava, the arrival of the seismic wave under the city, the displacement of the earth crust there, the collapse of a building, and so on. These are B, C, D, et cetera. All the physical changes that take place in the macroscopic world can be connected in a logical chain of cause and effect, except for the space after A. This is the point where the transformation from a microscopic sneeze molecule to a macroscopic motion first occurs – and it must occur, or the rest of the events will not happen.
At some point in the lineup, there must be a detour. At that point the lineup breaks down, because a sneeze molecule does not touch the molten lava above the table. A seismologist can trace the disturbance of the molten lava (B) that activates a seismic wave that runs to the fault under the city (C), causing a displacement of the earth crust there (D), resulting in the collapse of the building (E). However, nothing a seismologist can describe will get him from my sneeze A to B – it requires a detour.
Quantum physics is just a detour!
The same change from straight-line causes to U-shaped detours occurred when quantum physics was born. Although everything in nature once appeared to happen above the table, according to classic Newtonian theory … a few things could not be explained without a detour. The most obvious was light. … Light can behave like A, a wave, or B, a particle [which are connected by a U-shaped arrow]. These two are totally unalike in Newtonian physics, since waves are nonmaterial and particles are concrete. But light somehow can act like one or the other, depending on circumstances, and therefore it must have taken a detour under the line.
This quantum [of light] is a very strange particle, because it has no mass, but for our purposes, what makes it important is that in order for light wave to become a photon, it must take a detour beneath the table. In an unknown realm not covered by Newton’s laws, the transformation takes place.
… As with the neuro-peptides, the quantum allowed nature to become flexible enough to permit the inexplicable transformation of nonmatter into matter, time into space, mass into energy.(pp. 97-99)
Thus, indeed, quantum theory becomes just a U-shaped detour from the Newtonian straight line! Physicists, who were used to drawing diagrams with straight arrows, invented quantum theory and introduced the U-shaped detour when they encountered “those few things that could not be explained” the straight-line way! This is a puerile oversimplification that could be intended only for toddlers! Quantum physics is a highly mathematical and universal theory, which was discovered over a period of about thirty years, and in no stage of its development was there a mention of a detour, U-shaped or otherwise!
To Chopra, a wave is conveniently nonmaterial. Waves used to heat and cook food in a microwave oven have no material existence. X-rays, which penetrate human flesh to scatter off bones and other hard objects inside the human body to convey crucial information to a physician, are figments of our imagination. Gamma rays, emitted by nuclear bombs that can devour hundreds of thousands of lives in an instant, are nonmaterial. In reality, however, all waves are as material as any form of matter we can think of. They move like matter, they interact with other particles of matter, and they carry energy and momentum like matter. In fact, modern physics associates a particle to every wave.
The wave and the particle aspects of light are neither the cause nor the effect nor the “becoming” of one another, but are connected through the probabilistic nature of microscopic reality. They show up together: when seen individually, light consists of photons, but when an army of photons march through a measuring apparatus, they show wavelike properties. (See here for a good discussion of the wave-particle duality and the connection between the two … and how a famous experiment is abused by the mystics to make a particle of light conscious!) To Chopra, probability and statistics, which are at the foundations of the quantum theory, have no meaning. The notion that a large collection of particles can exhibit a different characteristic from an individual particle seems to be foreign to Chopra. Instead, he regards a wave as a nonmaterial entity that can somehow turn into a particle by taking a detour, while real physics tells us that photons and their wave properties are one and the same and no arrow (straight or detoured) is necessary to connect them.