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How to Know Deepak Chopra's God

Michael D. Reynolds



To create arguments for theism, Christians have distorted the facts of human physiology at least since the time of Augustine of Hippo (354-430). That saint suggested that before they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve lacked erotic thoughts and emotions; those were imposed on them as a punishment for sin. (One can imagine the primal couple, after some passionate coupling, asking, "This is a punishment?") How were they to be able to have children? Augustine believed that Adam could produce penile erections voluntarily, with no more emotion than when he straightened his arm.[1]

In the service of theism, Deepak Chopra's book How to Know God: The Soul's Journey Into the Mystery of Mysteries also propounds a set of ideas based on false notions about the function of the human brain. This essay will analyze the foundational first chapter of the book. That chapter provides abundant material for comment, and lays out the concepts that are the basis of the rest of the work.

Before we proceed, note that Chopra uses devices commonly found in religious writing—in particular:

  • He attaches the idea of God to some subject that he is addressing. Then he asserts that the association of God + thing is a discovery or demonstration of the presence of God. Several instances of this device will be noted as we proceed through this analysis.
  • He adopts values in which belief in spirits (indemonstrable beings), and in the unverifiable events that they supposedly produce (such as miracles), is held in higher esteem (pp. 4-5) than giving credence only to propositions about what can be demonstrated and verified. In short, he exalts credulity over evidential reasoning.

Chopra's Basic Postulates

How to Know God is founded on two notions:

  1. God is separate from the "material world," but between them is a "transition zone" where "God and humans meet on common ground."[2] This "three-part scheme" is a "model" (p. 4) of "the religious worldview" (p. 12). (On p. 4 Chopra calls it a "reality sandwich," apparently oblivious that this metaphor makes God and the world equivalent coverings for the distinct content constituted by the transition zone.)
  2. "God's presence" is manifested in "responses of the brain" or "definite events taking place inside the brain," of which there are seven kinds. Each of these constitutes a "God response" in which "God's presence is felt" (pp. 6-7). By "response" the author means that these are the processes by which "the brain [can] register a deity" (p. 10); that is, they are responses to God. Chopra alleges that they are "the basis of religion" (p. 8).

The ground for connecting these two ideas is that "any experience," including feeling God's presence, "must involve the brain." The "transition zone" is "subjective" (p. 6).

Here one immediately encounters problems. The transition zone is supposed to be a "place" (p. 15); therefore it must have a location. If it is "subjective," then it is internal, within people. They "meet" God by means of "events inside the brain"; hence this must be the location of the transition zone. But the brain and its processes are part of the "material world," whereas the transition zone is separate from the material world. How can the "material" and something of an entirely different nature interact? What, in fact, is the nature of the transition zone?

Moreover, zone here seems to be a collective name for billions of individual zones within the brains of all human beings capable of cognition. Now, is the entire brain the transition zone, or is the zone situated in some part of the brain? When a person is asleep or unconscious, does his/her zone become inoperative, or even cease to exist? Do disorders of the brain, such as delirium, intoxication, encephalitis, and insanity, affect the zone? In these states at least some of the "God responses" (laid out in the next section) are inoperative.

Like numerous other metaphysical and religious notions, analysis of Chopra's idea of a transition zone raises multiple questions about the essence of what is postulated. Since Chopra provides no answers, the transition zone is opaque.

The "God Responses"

The list of "responses of the brain" (pp. 6-8) is a hodgepodge of many different kinds of things.

#1, the "fight-or-flight response," is a physiological reaction to danger, in which activity in the brain and endocrine glands affects multiple organs. To call it an "event taking place inside the brain" refers only to the first phases of the response. This is the only item in Chopra's list that is a physiological response to something.

#2 has two components: "the brain's creation of a personal identity," and the pursuit of personal needs, specifically needs "to achieve, accomplish, and compete." "Personal identity" is indeed a "creation of the brain," but not in the sense intended by Chopra. The notion of a discrete self as an auto-observing entity separable from other cerebral activities is an illusion (Metzinger, 2010). Pursuing one's needs is a different kind of thing altogether; it is a set of behaviors.

#3 is the physiological fact that all parts of the brain are not active at all times. The statement that "the brain can be ... at rest" is wrong; the entire brain is never "turned off." Calling this response "restful awareness" is an oxymoron; awareness is an activity.

#4 is a statement of self-awareness ("intuitive" "inner knowledge"), specifically of one's emotions. "Self-awareness" denotes a set of perceptions arising from the workings of the brain, and ideas based on those perceptions. Its physiological basis is a complex set of cerebral interactions (Damasio, 2010; Metzinger, 2010, pp. 101-104). Supposed perception of one's "self" is not obviously distinct from "the brain's creation of a personal identity" (#2).

#5 is the ability of humans to create, a concept that embraces multiple cerebral activities of diverse kinds (such as inventing the plough or the steam engine; conceiving the idea of elements of which the world is composed, or of gravity; inventing an alphabet; or writing a poem). The author includes in this heading the ability to "discover new facts," but not all such discovery is a creative act (such as "I just found out that the sink is plugged").

#6 is "pure awareness" of something without "roots in the material world," or "visions." The author elaborates this concept further along, so it will be discussed more fully below. In the present context, there is no demonstrable basis for a cerebral response to something immaterial (neither matter nor energy); such an entity is necessarily a product of the imagination.

#7 is pure fantasy: the "speck of life" in the zygote from which the brain developed "remains intact" in the brain, and "the brain senses" this "speck" "as its origin." There is no verifiable cerebral activity that consists of sensing a "speck of life." (This notion also regards life as a thing distinct from the living cell or organism, which is a metaphysical idea from antiquity, not a scientific concept. Similarly, Chopra believes that there is a mind distinct from the brain, but on p. 8 he acknowledges that "the mind without the brain is as invisible and unprovable as God.")

Only the first five of these seven "responses" refer to events that are objective and demonstrable. They include processes of cerebral physiology, concepts that name sets of mental behavior, abilities that result from cerebral activities, and a group of behaviors. The final two "responses" are unverifiable spiritualistic[3] notions. The first is a spiritualistic interpretation of certain events that are sets of sensations and emotions. The second expresses a spiritualistic notion of what it is to be alive. It is not a demonstrable "event in the brain."

The functions of the five verifiable cerebral activities (and the abilities that they make possible) are obvious. Their existence is explained by the fact that they promote success in reproduction and therefore are progressively developed during the course of evolution. Labeling them "God responses" contributes nothing to understanding them as cerebral activities. And to allege that any component of this mishmash is a "response" to something "invisible and unprovable," or that "God's presence is felt" or "registered" during each of these processes, is sheer assertion. This is the principal instance of Chopra's use of the semantic device mentioned at the beginning of this essay. He takes an idea or fact that is devoid of any association with God, pastes God onto that idea or fact, and then declares that he has found evidence of "God's presence."

This odd sevenfold group of different kinds of things has neither unity nor logic. The author uses it to develop additional seven-part lists with which he attempts to encompass human experience (see below). (Later, in chapter 3, he uses it to construct a hierarchy of "stages" of conceptions of God and "spiritual experience.")[4]

Initial Elaborations of the "Responses"

Scarcely has Chopra introduced the idea of these seven "responses" before he begins to alter it without acknowledging that he is doing so. The "responses" are introduced as the forms of "holy visions and revelations," that is, of responses to spirits (p. 6). But soon they are called "basic" (p. 9), and become "the seven responses" (italics added) (p. 16). The author seems to be alleging that they are the processes by which the brain "organizes" sensory data, imparts "meaning" to things, and "creates" "a whole world," presumably referring to an individual's worldview, or concept of the universe (p. 9).

Chopra's "responses" are not "basic" outside of his scheme. He presupposes truly basic intellectual cerebral functions, such as reason, inference, memory, foresight, imagination, and desire to understand. These are the processes that create a person's worldview, not the "fight-or-flight" response or "visions."

Moreover, the author's jumble of "responses" is not (as he asserts) the cerebral "basis of religion" (p. 8). Its components are mostly naturalistic things on to which he pastes the idea of God, and it is in his scheme, not the real world, that they are related to religion. The true cerebral basis of religion (Barrett, 2004) was produced by evolution. It includes innate "mental dispositions for arranging conceptual material in certain ways rather than others" (Boyer, 2001, p. 42), and intuitive notions about the world, such as that of agency (Boyer, 2001, pp. 144-147). Each thinker who constructs a theistic edifice, and each religious sect, erects a structure on the foundation of evolutionary byproducts that enable belief in spirits (Girotto, Pievani, and Vallortigara, 2014).

Chopra next elaborates his idea of the sixth "response of the brain": "pure awareness" of something "sacred." He observes that there are no "adequate words to convey that experience," but lists some alterations of sensation that have been described as components of these events (p. 12). This "response" consists of sets of sensations and emotions that are interpreted as representations of something otherworldly. There are, however, naturalistic explanations of them in terms of cerebral physiology (McNamara, 2009; Metzinger, 2010, pp. 93, 133-148, 219-220) or cerebral disorder (for example, it has been suggested that some visionaries had temporal lobe epilepsy). Chopra does not mention that such "visions"—or altered states of consciousness—commonly are induced by behaviors that impair both perception and reasoning: prolonged fasting, deprivation of sleep, prolonged focusing of attention on something trivial (such as one's navel, or a sound), and ingestion of chemical substances like peyote and LSD. They also occur in religious fanatics whose perception of reality, and reasoning, may be demonstrably impaired, as acknowledged even by spiritualistic psychologists (Firman and Gila, 2006).

Chopra asserts that "the sacred," awareness of which constitutes this "response," "isn't a feeling, it is a place," namely, the "transition zone" (p. 15). He seems to locate this "zone" in the brain (as previously noted). And all manner of religious experiences are indeed associated with specific patterns of activity in the brain (McNamara, 2009; Metzinger, 2010, pp. 219-220). The author offers no evidence that they have a component outside of the brain. Are sacred things located inside of the brain, too? Is God there? Are "visions" physical cerebral events, or are they excursions out of the "material world"? If the latter, where is "the place" where they are located?

Chopra calls an experience of this kind "a quantum journey" (p. 6), but does not pursue what seems to be an attempt to link supposed awareness of something sacred to quantum physics (see the following section).

Metaphysical Physics and Quantum Quirks

Chopra uses his three-part model of God, the world, and their connection as a template for an opinion about physics. He alleges that his "religious worldview" is paralleled by a three-layered model of physics:

Material reality, the world of objects and events
Quantum reality, a transition zone where energy turns into matter
Virtual reality, the place beyond time and space, the origin of the universe. (p. 11)

Only the first of these describes a component of physics. Quantum physics is not a "transition zone"; it is a description of "objects and events" at a level much smaller than that of unaided human perception, down to the smallest possible intervals of distance and of time.[5] Space, time, matter, and energy are concepts that are essential for describing and classifying the components of the universe on the macroscopic scale. Physics, however, demonstrates that they are not accurate representations of those components at the ultramicroscopic level. At this level there are, finally, only quantum fields. Space, time, matter, and energy are representations of some results of the activity of these fields (Rovelli, 2016). It is not true that "pioneers of quantum physics broke through the barrier of material reality to a new world" (p. 18); they pointed the way to a new understanding of "material reality."[6]

What is meant by the statement that "quantum reality" is a "zone where energy turns into matter" is unclear. The word zone denotes something distinct from its surroundings; Chopra's text does not enable one to determine what the surroundings or the distinction are. It is also far from evident what the author has in mind when he writes of energy turning into matter. At the atomic level, this transformation has been occurring since the beginning of the universe, and takes place throughout the universe today. It seems unlikely that Chopra would assign these real conversions of energy to matter to the "transition zone" of "quantum reality."

His meaning probably can be discerned from his assertion that "material reality is born in an invisible realm beyond space and time, a realm revealed by science to consist of energy and information.... Something creates and organizes this energy. It turns the chaos of quantum soup into stars, [and all other matter]" (p. 1).

We can interpret the "invisible realm" as the "virtual reality" of Chopra's model of physics. This "place beyond time and space" is a metaphysical-religious notion, not something "revealed by science"; there is no scientific concept of a "realm" "consist[ing] of energy and information."[7] The "something" that is alleged to "create and organize" the energy is God. The "transition zone" or "quantum reality" is the supposed place or series of events in which God creates matter: "stars, galaxies, rain forests, human beings," etc. (p. 1). Hence Chopra's model of physics is simply a restatement, in the guise of science, of the idea of a creator deity: "a Creator who made the whole world from nothing" (p. 7). This endeavor to distort physics into religious notions is an instance of theists' attempts to disguise themselves with the mantle of science. (The foregoing interpretation of chapter 1 is verified by chapter 2, where the "quantum domain" is equated with [the divine] mind, and the "virtual domain" is equated with "spirit," meaning God.)

The phrase "chaos of quantum soup" is an inappropriate metaphor. Chopra seems to think of the totality of quantum phenomena as a kind of building block from which matter is constructed; but, as noted above, quantum physics describes "material reality" at the ultramicroscopic level. Quantum phenomena are not chaotic. The organization of matter and the regularities ("laws of nature") exhibited by material events are manifestations, at the visible scale, of quantum physics; and at the ultramicroscopic scale also, events occur in accord with demonstrable regularities.

Further Elaborations of the "Responses of the Brain"

Again using the first semantic device described at the beginning of this essay, Chopra alleges that each of the seven cerebral responses is the origin of some notion of the nature of God (pp. 6-10). Each of these notions in turn is matched with individuals' perceptions of themselves; for example, "If you see yourself as someone who makes personal dreams come true, yours is a God of the creative response" (p. 9). Some of the alleged connections are logically coherent; for example, the "fight-or-flight response" "points to" a protective deity. Most are logically incoherent. From the "pursuit of needs" (#2) there emerges a God "who has power and might, laws and rules" (p. 7). This seems to presume that it is by the power of God that a person's needs are met, and that God's "rules" serve that purpose. Self-awareness (#4) "matches" an "understanding and forgiving" God who "encourages human beings to reach their full potential." Are these expressions of self-awareness? Is it awareness of himself that enables God to understand human beings? The creative response (#5) points to a God "who inspires us to explore and discover" (p. 10). But exploration is a manifestation of curiosity, not of creativity; and as already noted, discovery often is not a creative act. The perception of God as a miracle worker is attributed to sensations of something sacred (#6); but the concept of divine miracles is independent of any occurrence of "visions."

Next, the seven responses are each attached to a "level of fulfillment" (p. 16). Once again, some of these alleged relations are logically incoherent. The "fight-or-flight response" (#1) "that enables us to survive in the face of danger" (p. 6) supposedly seeks fulfillment "through family, community, a sense of belonging, and material comforts" (p. 16). Except insofar as the things listed are not dangerous, a connection between the response and those things is not evident. The fact that the parts of the brain sometimes are not active (#3) does not translate to seeking fulfillment "through peace, centeredness, self-acceptance, and inner silence" (p. 16). These words seem to denote emotions, ideas, and behaviors that are expressions of cerebral activity, not inactivity ("rest"). The relation between #4, "our ability to know ourselves" (p. 7), and fulfillment "through empathy, tolerance, and forgiveness" (p. 16) is indirect. It requires one to assume both that other persons are like oneself and that this likeness is a reason to be empathetic, neither of which is stated to be part of the response. Having "visions" (#7) is said to be the "avenue to attain" "compassion, devoted service, and universal love" (p. 16). Surely these emotions and behaviors do not require "direct contact" with "the sacred"; they can be present in naturalists.

Chopra also extends the seven-part scheme to levels of "experience": "a level of danger, threat, and survival," "a level of striving, competition, and power," etc. (p. 18).

The intent of these extensions of the idea of "responses of the brain" seems to be to provide a classification of human behavior, supposedly under the influence of God, by attaching other concepts, with more or less logic, on to the original seven-part scheme.

To serve his program, Chopra has chosen a few of the many activities of the brain ("responses" #2, #4, and #5). He writes: "the brain cannot register a deity outside the seven responses" (p. 10). But it is easy, following his example, to pick other complex cerebral activities (and the abilities that they produce), attach the idea of God to them, and use them to propound a notion of the nature of God, and of the individual traits with which that particular concept of God agrees:

  • Creating a three-dimensional representation of one's surroundings from sensory data points to a God who wants people to be aware of and able to respond to what is around them. If you see yourself as understanding your surroundings and interacting correctly with them, yours is a God of the environment response.
  • The ability to find and remember a route to a distant site points to a God who shows us the way to follow. If you see yourself as someone who can find his way, especially with God's help, yours is a God of the pathway response.
  • The ability to recognize and identify other people matches a God who knows each person individually. If you see yourself as someone who acknowledges other persons as individuals, yours is a God of the recognition response.
  • Devising and using mathematics and logic points to a God who offers certainty. If you see yourself as sure about your knowledge, yours is a God of the certainty response.
  • Thinking important original thoughts while dreaming (e.g., Tartini's "Devil's trill" violin sonata, Kekulé's discovery of the molecular structure of benzene) matches a God who speaks to us and is accessible not only through reason, but also by way of our subconscious minds. If you see yourself as relying on your subconscious, yours is a God of the dreaming response.

And with a little ingenuity, a set of "responses" and ideas of God like this could be arranged into a hierarchy, and then used to generate other lists, as Chopra does with his "responses."

Comprehensive Miraculousness

The author also uses the seven-part scheme to organize "miracles" (pp. 20-25). He defines "miracle" as "a display of power from beyond the five senses." His meaning may be that a miracle is an event attributed to something indemonstrable (namely, God). Here are two dictionary definitions of miracle; the first is theological, and the second is secular:

1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.
2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment.
(Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

The examples of miracles Chopra provides include a mixture of these two kinds. The theological miracles are visitation by a guardian angel, prophetic powers, walking on water, healing incurable diseases through touch, and direct revelation from the Virgin Mary (the third and fourth presumably are drawn from miracles attributed to Jesus in the Gospels). The secular examples include a mother who runs into a burning house to rescue her child, extreme feats of martial arts, the rise of a Napoleon from humble beginnings to immense power, and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This designation of unusual but natural events as miracles is another instance of the semantic device of attaching the idea of God to something where that idea was absent.

The author also gives examples of a third kind of "miracle"—alleged events that are abnormal ("paranormal"), but not generally regarded as religious. These include being "visited" by someone who has just died, telepathy, "knowledge" of past or future lifetimes, and "astral projection" of oneself to other locations. They are usually placed in the category of "the occult"; Chopra calls them "strange powers" (p. 224). These supposedly "supernatural" events do not withstand skeptical scrutiny, and are hallmarks of ignorance and credulousness (Hines, 2003; Shermer, 2002; see also Metzinger, 2010, pp. 82-98).

The list of miracles demonstrates the eclecticism and lack of rationality of Chopra's religion. He adopts the Roman Catholic view of Mary as an ongoing agent of the divine, the occurrence of reincarnation (a doctrine of Hinduism and Buddhism), notions of popular occultism, and the imprecise secular use of the word miracle.

Assorted Erroneous Statements by Chopra

Atheists need their God, who is absent and nonexistent. (p. 8)

Here we find an attempt by a theist to subsume nontheism under religion. Persons can neither need nor feel possessive about ("their") something that they think does not exist. Naturalism is not nonspiritualism; it is an independent and evidence-based worldview that does not require any reference to spirits in its account of reality (see note 2). And to offer a remark about grammar: what is nonexistent cannot be present or absent.

Science and religion are not really opposites but just very different ways of trying to decode the universe. (p. 12)

This is an another example of theists' attempting to disguise themselves with the mantle of science. Science and religion have different and incompatible principles for determining factuality. Science uses an evidential principle that can be stated as follows: the objectively best way to determine the degree of credence to give to a proposition is to examine the evidence for and against that proposition. Religion uses an authoritarian principle that posits that the judgmentally correct way to determine the truth or falsity of a proposition is to compare it with a body of statements that one accepts as authoritative for this purpose (such as ideas with which one was indoctrinated by one's parents, and writings regarded as scriptures). Propositions that accord with the body of statements are true (or at least not definitely false), while those that are contrary to that body of statements are (for that reason) regarded as false.

There has to be an unseen source of creation, because the cosmos can be traced back only so far before time and space dissolve. (p. 12)

This presupposes a magical creative event preceding the primal expansion of the universe (often mislabeled "the Big Bang"). There are several noncreational hypotheses of the origin of the universe.

Your brain is hardwired to find God. (p. 14)

The author gives no evidence to support this assertion. There are evolutionary reasons for the widespread belief in spirits (including gods) (Barrett, 2004; Boyer, 2001; Girotto, Pievani, and Vallortigara, 2014), but anthropology, history, psychiatry, and neuroscience do not support the notion that every human being innately possesses a concept of a unique deity like that of Judaism and the religions that derive from it.

...the lightning storm of the brain's endless activity... (p. 14)
It is typical of modern life to believe that nature is set up to be random and chaotic. (p. 15)

These are instances of a another common tactic of theists: pretend that nature as described by science is "chaotic" and that only belief in God enables a person to have an orderly view of the world. Cerebral activity is not a "lightning storm," but a highly integrated and regulated set of electrochemical processes. And it is the prescientific view that the world is "random"; science has demonstrated numerous regularities in nature (misnamed "laws").

In 1998 ... a Duke University team verif[ied] to all skeptics that prayer has ... power [to cause postsurgical (coronary angioplasty) patients to recover "better"]. (p. 17)

Physicist Victor Stenger discusses this study, as well as similar ones (Stenger, 2007, p. 94-102). The results stated by Chopra (p. 308) reflected the conclusions of a preliminary report. The final report "showed no significant differences in the recovery and health between" those for whom prayers were offered, and those for whom there were no prayers sponsored by the study (Stenger, 2007, p. 100).

What Kind of Monotheism is Chopra Espousing?

The religion that Chopra depicts can be characterized as a generic monotheism designed to be innocuous, multicultural, noncontentious, convenient, and reassuring. It has no evil spirits, no savior, no priesthood, no rituals, and no history. It appropriates anyone who is widely regarded as a prophet or spiritual teacher (thereby grouping together persons whose ideas are mutually exclusive). Its function is to make people feel good about themselves without considering to what they are subscribing. It has no place for intellectual rigor.

The first pages of How to Know God are occupied by 27 "endorsements" of the book. The endorsers include adherents of (Tibetan) Buddhism, (Vedantic) Hinduism, Judaism, (Sufi) Islam, and Christianity. A liberal Christian can paste Jesus on to the theism described by Chopra, a Muslim can paste Muhammad there, and a Jew can substitute Yhwh for God, but to do so is both blasphemous and heretical within those traditions. Perhaps one should acknowledge Chopra's ecumenical accomplishment and his pretension to universal knowledge of God by labeling his ideas "Chopraism."

Conclusion

The most startling conclusion of our new model is that God is as we are. (p. 19)

This is not startling at all, but to be expected given that the idea of God was created in man's image.

Works Cited

Barrett, Justin L. (2004). Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Boyer, Pascal. (2001). Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Chopra, Deepak. (2000). How to Know God: The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.

Damasio, Antonio. (2010). Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Elliott, Dyan. (1999). Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Firman, John, and Ann Gila. (2006). "On Religious Fanaticism: A Look at Transpersonal Identity Disorder." Psychosynthesis Palo Alto. <http://www.psychosynthesispaloalto.com/pdfs/Religious_Fan.pdf>.

Girotto, Vittorio, Telmo Pievani, and Giorgio Vallortigara. (2014). "Supernatural Beliefs: Adaptations for Social Life or By-products of Cognitive Adaptations?" In Evolved Morality: The Biology and Philosophy of Human Conscience (pp. 249-266), ed. Frans B. M. de Waal, Patricia Smith Churchland, Telmo Pievani, and Stefano Parmigiani. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

Hines, Terence. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, rev. ed. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Huston, Peter. (2002). More Scams from the Great Beyond! How to Make Even More Money Off of Creationism, Evolution, Environmentalism, Fringe Politics, Weird Science, the Occult, and Other Strange Beliefs. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Lederman, Leon, and Dick Teresi. (2006). The God Particle. New York, NY: Mariner Books. (Originally published 1993.)

McNamara, Patrick. (2009). The Neuroscience of Religious Experience. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Metzinger, Thomas. (2010). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Musolino, Julien. (2015). The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Rovelli, Carlo. (2016). Reality is Not What it Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity. Trans. Simon Carnell and Erica Segre. London, UK: Allen Lane.

Shermer, Michael. (2002). Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, rev. ed. New York, NY: Holt Paperbacks.

Stenger, Victor J. (2007). God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Stenger, Victor J. (2009). Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

Taylor, Kathleen. (2012). The Brain Supremacy: Notes from the Frontiers of Neuroscience. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Notes

[1] For a medieval phantasmagoria of imagined sexual physiology that served the Roman Catholic clergy, see chapters 1-2 of Dyan Elliott's Fallen Bodies (1999).

[2] The author advertises this concept of a transition zone as "new or unusual" (p. 4). But since antiquity, people have imagined divine communication in dreams, the descent of angels, miracles, etc., and regarded those things as connections between the physical world and the realm of the spirits. What is new is that Chopra seems to locate the interface between God and human beings in their brains.

[3] I use spiritualism to mean belief in spirits, which are defined as indemonstrable beings or entities that are conceived as having mentation—perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and will—similar to that of human beings. Most definitions of religion identify it as a form of spiritualism in this sense. The major alternative principle is naturalism, which can be defined as the empirical doctrine that all facts of the universe are explained by its physical character, and by general regularities in the behavior of matter-energy and space-time that are the result of their intrinsic properties.

[4] Chopra's multiple sevenfold lists bring to mind the sevenfold lists in the esoteric theistic system of thought Theosophy, which was invented by Helena Blavatsky in the 1870s. (Blavatsky regarded seven as the symbolic union of "the divine triad" and the four elements.) The religion proposed by Chopra has other characteristics in common with Theosophy, such as occultism, belief in reincarnation, and subsumption of the world religions.

[5] Some theists have made a fetish of quantum physics, alleging that it is evidence of God (Stenger, 2009). The basis for this conclusion seems to be that some concepts of quantum physics and of God both are difficult to understand, and neither of them can be demonstrated by the perceptions of everyday life: "The virtual domain is so inconceivable that only religious language seems to touch it at all" (p. 31). The claim that there is a relation between the two ignores the fact that the concepts of quantum physics are founded on scientific experiments and have been developed by rigorous and verifiable mathematical procedures. In contrast, spirits—including God—are not demonstrable by any means, and their existence cannot be verified. (And while some theists fantasize about quantum physics, God, and the brain, in the real world quantum physics is being used to study the workings of the brain—see Taylor, 2012, pp. 106-108, 143-153.)

[6] In the same vein, in chapter 2 Chopra makes a number of erroneous statements about quantum physics and its relation to perception as part of an argument that God is a "mystery." Cognitive scientist Julien Musolino relates how, during a public presentation by Chopra of his notions about quantum mechanics, a physicist in the audience (Leonard Mlodinow) asked him if he would be "interested in taking a short course" on that subject (Musolino, 2015, p. 124).

[7] The author offers references to six books that "made a deep impression on me" (p. 307). They are works propounding contradictory metaphysical descriptions of the universe; some of them use ideas from quantum physics. They have been criticized with phrases such as "elaborate extensions, totally bereft of the understanding of how carefully experiment and theory are woven together" (Lederman and Teresi, 1993/2006, p. 191). For a genuinely scientific view of quantum physics in relation to religion, see Stenger (2009). In addition, Chopra's admirers might benefit from reading Peter Huston (2002).


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Published:
  2018-09-30

Categories:
  Consciousness, Existence of God, Mysticism, Psychology of Belief, Science and Religion, Skepticism

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