In one of his more than thirty appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Gary Zukav, the best selling author who speciously applies the laws of physics to the conduct of the soul, comforts a couple who has lost a baby. Except for the round table and the holding of hands, the show has all the appearances of a se’ance with Zukav as the medium and Oprah as his assistant; and when Oprah, in response to the father’s request to contact his son’s soul, declares that everybody in the room feels the presence of the soul, and the camera zooms in on a few women wiping away tears, the spiritual authority of the author is sealed, the sale of hundreds of thousands of his books guaranteed, and the indoctrination of their readers’ minds with superstition accomplished.
In the heyday of the countercultural revolution of the 1960s, Fritjof Capra, a physicist, sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, “sees” the atoms of his body participating in a cosmic dance of energy with the atoms of the elements. He “feels” the rhythm of the cascades of energy coming down from outer space and “hears” its sound, and at that moment he knows that this is the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dancers. It is then and there that he finds a connection between Taosim and modern physics, between spirits and matter, between the subjective spirituality of Eastern mysticism and the objective materiality of modern science. The book that he writes about this mystical experience finds millions of gullible readers around the world, who are entranced by its advertised connection between the rationality of physics and the spirituality of Eastern theosophy.
Charged by an Indian guru with finding a “scientific” explanation of Ayurveda – the ancient medicine of the serpent-king Shesha – Deepak Chopra, a mind-body doctor, plunges into the mine of the quantum theory in search of an explanation, and finds a junction between mind and body so “deep that you cannot go any deeper.” When he comes out of the mine, he brings with him a consciousness that takes quantum leaps, a neuro-transmitter that is created out of a nonmaterial thought, a DNA that is smart, and a sugar molecule that is intelligent! As he preaches around the world on his many six-figure lecture tours, he finds captivated audiences absorbing these ludicrous ideas like a sponge.
Equipped with the philosophical bludgeon of emergence, Robert Laughlin, a Nobel Laureate in Physics, pummels the rationality of physics “from the bottom down.” The breakthroughs of physics, all of them without exception, turn into serendipitous discoveries. Mathematics, the language of nature as attested by scholars from Plato to Einstein, becomes a tool for the mastery of the universe. Special relativity turns into an idea that could have been discovered in just one month by an unsuspecting experimentalist armed with an accelerator! And general relativity becomes a speculative theory hiding a skeleton in its closet. He announces the end of quantum physics because of the impracticality of its application to the every day phenomena, and proposes its replacement with the vague, undefined, undefinable, even contradictory discipline of emergence.
Stephen Wolfram, a computer genius and a precocious physicist who founded one of the most successful scientific computing companies, goes into a self-imposed 10-year seclusion to write a 1200-page tome intended to replace physics – and all the other sciences – with “a new kind of science”. The reality of this new science is the collection of images and animations that come to life on the desktop of a computer using certain rules applied to cellular automata. This desktop reality is the primary source of information of the “new kind of science,” and if it disagrees with the physical reality, then the latter is declared wrong. The theory of evolution and the second law of thermodynamics are just two of the casualties of the edicts of this physicist’s desktop reality. The financial might and the internet savvy of the author have turned his book into a best seller, despite its absurd premise, its trivialization of important and glorification of unimportant physical concepts, and its inclusion of many blunders and swindles.
Such prevalence of the specious anti-science has injurious ramifications. Steve Jobs was the victim of his obdurate belief in alternative medicine. Mitt Romney did an about-face on global warming after Rush Limbaugh blaringly counted him out of the Republican primaries. Adults in the United States spend close to $34 billion out of pocket annually on alternative medicine, while the government can afford to spend only $5 billion on cancer research. Two thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution in public schools, and three quarters of them accept at least one form of paranormal belief.
It is unfortunate that outrageous claptrap such as these have gone unchallenged by the scientific community, leading even the intellectual segment of the population to believe in them. I plan to make a dent in this apathy. This blog is dedicated to exposing the nonsense that is being sold as “scientific,” especially when it comes from scientists and other professionals. As a university physics teacher with a passion for the scientific awareness of the public, I have researched the anti-scientific and pseudoscientific books and articles for many years and have found ways of exposing the balderdash in their “scientific” plumes. I hope that my posts will instigate critical thinking and demonstrate the power of science and the baselessness of non-science.