LOL, Deepak has more bogus science for me to read

Ah, the Chopra simply won’t leave me alone. This tw**t  to me was sent by a friend:

Picture 1

At first I just laughed at Chopra’s hysterical pleas for me to read his stuff.  And I vowed not to do it. “Self directed biological transformation”? What is that? But then curiosity got the better of me, and I read the damn piece, but for the same reason that you sniff the milk in the fridge though you already know it’s gone sour. And, sure enough, Chopra’s milk was bad.

The piece is dreadful and dire, requiring doses of Pepto-Bismol to get it down. It’s so full of misrepresentations, bad science, and feel-good woo that it completely belies Chopra’s claim that he’s promoting real science. And it shows that “scientific credentials” mean nothing when you’ve been corrupted by the cash that rains upon you when you push woo and pseudoscience.

What mystifies me is that this article is co-written with Rudolph Tanzi, a neuroscientist at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, described in the article as Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit and Vice-Chair of the Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. Co author with Deepak Chopra, Super Brain.”  Why would a respectable scientist lend his name to such twaddle?

Okay, on to the critique. And if you’re reading this, Deepak, be informed that I am not going to read anything you write any more, ever. So stop tweeting me to read your pieces, and read this one. Fair is fair. As you said in your apology video to Dawkins two years ago, “I’m 65 years old, and I need at this time to listen to my worst critics without being personally offended.”

The misrepresentation starts with the title, “You will transform your own biology.” (I’m not going to link to it as these people don’t deserve the hits. If you wish to read it, see the link it Chopra’s post.)  That’s a deepity, for of course we know that “you” (i.e., your unique genetic endowment and environments you experience) can transform your biology. If you eat a lot, you’ll get fat, and maybe sick.  If you work out with weights, you’ll get stronger muscles.  And if you’re subjected to the pseudoscience of Chopra on a daily basis, you may be thrown into a permanent state of rage and despair.

But that’s not what Chopra and Tanzi mean. One thing that can’t happen, but is implied by the authors as the New Paradigm, is that your thoughts can influence your biology.  If you’re a determinist, which most of us are, then your “thoughts” are themselves the inevitable consequences of your genes and environment—your biology—and can’t be willed independently of those factors. We have no real “choice,” in the dualistic sense, about what we think and do. So if you get calmer because you do yoga, that decision came purely from your biology, not from a little homunculus who says, “Do yoga”. (Of course I realize the meditation can have positive effects on your body!)  Chopra is a dualist who believes in libertarian free will, which of course violates everything we know about science.

So one on level the claim that we can influence our biology is trivial and well known.  How we behave, or what we hear, can surely transform our “biology”. But those transformations are the result of the interaction of our biology and environments, and cannot involve some “free choice” we make about changing our lives.

But the important message, laid out from the beginning, is that you can transform your own genome, and that’s simply not correct.  Here’s how Chopra and Tanzi’s article starts (my emphasis):

To date, one of biology’s greatest achievements, mapping the human genome, is only just beginning to translate into medical advances. But in 2014 there will likely be more headlines about another type of study in genetics that is already impacting everyone.

We are referring to a different aspect of our genome which radically revises a model that is decades old, dating back as far as the original discovery of DNA. In the original model, the effects of our genes were considered to be fixed and unchanging, controlling every aspect of our physical makeup, behavior, and susceptibility to disease. Not just eye color, height, and other physical characteristics were predetermined by inherited genes, but perhaps all kinds of behaviors, from criminality to belief in God.

The new model, however, portrays a more fluid, dynamic genome that responds quickly, even instantly, to all that we experience, including how you think, feel, speak, and act. Every day brings new evidence that the mind-body connection reaches right down to the activities of our genes. How this activity changes in response to our life experiences is referred to as “epigenetics”. Regardless of the nature of the genes we inherit from our parents, dynamic change at this level allows us almost unlimited influence on our fate.

Ummm. . . nope.  Certainly the DNA sequence we have is inherited, and doesn’t change over our lifetime except for DNA-coded epigenetic modifications of the sequence (as in “parental imprinting” of genes in males versus females), and perhaps a bit of environmental modification (through changes such as methylation) of DNA bases. None of these alterations, however, are capable of being inherited for more than a generation or two. They can’t produce “evolution” that lasts. We know of not a single adaptive change in the genome that was acquired purely from the environment and can be passed on for generation after generation.

The activity of genes, however, can respond very quickly to changes in our environment: bacteria, for instance, can activate genes to break down sugars within minutes after being exposed to those nutrients.  When we’re exposed to an antigen protein, we quickly respond by activating those genes producing antibodies that alert our system to the antigen, often leading to attack and destruction of the invading protein, which can be on a virus, bacterium, or any foreign protein that invades our system (that’s what happens when we have an allergic reaction to pollen, for instance).  All this is nothing new.  But it’s not “epigenetics” in the sense that Chopra and Tanzi mean, which is “changing the structure of your genome.” It’s not even “epigenetics” in the classical sense, which is simply “development”: how the products of your genes interact with your environment to produce your body.

As for giving us “almost unlimited influence on our fate,” that’s not true, either. That influence is severely constrained by our biology and our environments, and we have no ability to “will” (in the dualistic sense) any changes.  Our fates are largely determined far in advance of what “decisions” we make, which are themselves determined.  Chopra, who believes in dualism, must of course reject this conclusion. If dynamic change due to environment allowed us almost unlimited influence on our fate, identical twins would be much more different from each other than they are. Their morphological similarity shows that such twins have virtually no biological influence over how they look beyond working out or starving themselves. (Presumably some of them would want to look different.) The environment doesn’t play much of a role here; identical twins reared apart still look nearly identical!

Here’s where Chopra and Tanzi imply that you can change your genes permanently through will power, implying that such changes involve either 1) alterations in gene expression (which cannot be  inherited unless they’re coded in the DNA, in which case the change would be evolutionary, requring many generations) or 2) alterations of the DNA due to epigenetic modification. And the latter type of change is not stably inherited.  Whichever alternative Chopra and Tanzi mean—and it’s not clear because they confuse DNA change over generations with changes in gene expression in a single generation—they are floating a kind of Lamarckian inheritance. They argue that your own “will” can change the sequence or expression pattern of your DNA; and those changes, which are adaptive, can be inherited.  It’s not 100% clear that this is what they’re saying, for the writing is contradictory and incoherent, but that’s how I read this (my emphasis):

This means that control is being given back to each person; we are no longer seen as puppets of our DNA. The human genome is set to be the stage for future evolution that we ourselves direct, making choice an integral part of genetics. This is in stark contrast to the “biology as destiny” view where genes override choice. Unless decisions, lifestyle, environment, and personal preferences are included, a full picture of the mysteries of our DNA cannot be attained.

The speed and extent of change at the genetic level would astonish researchers even a few years ago. Yoga and meditation, for example, can trigger almost immediate responses in genetic activity. Exercise, a balanced diet, good sleep, and stress reduction – all well-known for improving bodily function – exert beneficial effects via our genes. So the next frontier will be to discover how deep and lasting such changes are, how much control we have over them individually, and how they can be passed on to future generations through so-called “soft inheritance,” in which the parents’ life experiences and behavior directly influence the genome of their offspring (transmitted via the epigenome, which controls how the activities of our genes are turned up and down).

Let me repeat: we have virtually no evidence that an individual’s volition, or its environment, can change the DNA in a way that is inherited for more than a generation or two. And almost all these temporarily inherited epigenetic changes are nonadaptive. We can’t make our genomes instantly “better” by changing our behavior.

According to the authors, though, adaptive, inherited changes quickly arise from our mind and emotions. I suspect Chopra, at least, with his belief in dualism, thinks we can “will” these changes in our DNA structure/gene expression.  After a lot of bad biology, their narrative immediately degenerates into the usual blather about consciounesness, self-organization, and so on:

Between any two persons’ genomes there are an average of 3 million differences or mutations. The implications for medicine are major. Only 5 % or less of disease-related mutations are fully penetrant, i.e., guaranteeing a disease when inherited. For the remaining 95%, other genes, lifestyle, and environmental influences also determine disease risk. The mind and emotions directly affect gene activity, and since the mind is the source of a person’s lifestyle and behavior, it directs one’s biological transformations. Self-awareness holds the key to this process of self-transformation. Consciousness is invisibly reaching into the biochemistry of every moment of life. In your body, as in every cell, regulation is holistic, self-generated, self-organizing, and self-directed in concert with consciousness.

Well, what we know is that exercise, diet, meditation, and other environmental interventions can change our physiology. Can those activities change our DNA through epigenetic modification of DNA bases? Probably not, and I don’t know of a single case.  And can those hypothetical, environmentally-induced changes be inherited? There’s not a shred of evidence for that. Chopra and Tanzi are suggesting Exciting Possibilities that have no scientific underpinning. This hype, not science. And it’s deeply misleading.

So what we have here is simply rotten science: a conflation between DNA structure and gene activity, compounded with scientific misinformation about epigenetics and the inheritance of acquired characteristics. What this article tells us is—nothing.  It’s so badly written, so confusing, that I’m not sure the authors even know what they’re trying to say.  Or perhaps they’re deliberately obfuscating the issues to overwhelm the public with their expertise, and making them think that humans can direct their own genetic evolution through our own mental activities.  There is nothing in this piece that accurately conveys to the layperson what is really happening in the science of gene regulation.  It’s all reminiscent of David Dobbs’s confusion (here and here) about gene regulation, evolution, and genetic accommodation.

The authors go on about consciousness, arguing, correctly, that we don’t understand how it works, but implying that there may be some non-material caustion.  They wind up with this this call for “research”:

Many millions of dollars are being spent on the connectome, a complete mapping of the brain. But this will not explain how genes and neural circuits work together to bring us consciousness. Brain and genome maps must be aligned with the fullness of human experience, since what you think, say, and do today shapes your genetic future. Nothing less than the equivalent of a “consciousomeproject” will suffice to serve this loftiest of scientific endeavors.

It would help if they gave some examples of how our volition alone can influence our “genetic future,” but they can’t, for the foundation of their thinking is both muddled and wrong. And of course they have no tangible suggestions about how a “consciosomeproject” would proceed.

If we want to permanently transform our genome in a single generation, the best way to do it is through genetic engineering. That will be possible in humans some day, and isn’t far off. What isn’t possible is to change our genomes by thinking about lotus buds or how we want to be smarter or nicer.

The response I would give Chopra, if I ever read Tw**er and responded, would be this:

@Woomeister I read your piece with Tanzi, and it’s pure garbage, compounded with woo and incoherence. Please read my response at wp.me/ppUXF-qxw #Cosmicderp

By the way, the commenters who know science are severely criticizing this garbage, and Tanzi makes the usual response: “We’re misunderstood!” But they’re not. In further comments Tanzi suggests that we can permanently change our genomes through our activities and thoughts. It still puzzles me why a guy like Tanzi would fall for this New Epigenetics Paradigm in the absence of any supporting evidence.

 Pixcture 1

Meanwhile, Chopra is desperate to get Dawkins to read this, too, again flaunting his co-author’s scientific credentials. My advice to Richard: don’t. But he won’t anyway.

Pictxure 3It’s funny that Chopra keeps telling the “militant skeptics” to read his work, yet he himself has no time to read (or at least comprehend) modern science. Perhaps he’s too busy tw**ting.

280 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    sheesh-a-deep

  2. Linda Grilli Calhoun
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    “Why would a respectable scientist lend his name to such twaddle?”

    Money? L

    • gbjames
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      Trying to get off of the list of respectable scientists?

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        My data speak for me not my opinions. I’ll be just fine and thanks and no I do not need money..

        • gbjames
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

          No, you speak. You may speak about your data, but you’re in charge of interpreting and presenting your view of whatever data may be there.

          • anthrosciguy
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

            That’s the thing about data. It just lies there. Someone has to do the speaking.

        • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:21 am | Permalink

          Show me the data!

          /@

        • wtf1962
          Posted December 22, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

          Dr Tanzi,

          If you don’t need the money why not donate it charity?

          Surely this would at least support your sincerity in collaborating with Mr Chopra.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      The respectable scientist is probably lending his name to this twaddle because he doesn’t realize it’s twaddle: his “spiritual nature” is getting in the way of a clear and honest assessment of the facts. This sort of supernatural obscurantism is the foundation of religion.

      So he’s got the habits of faith-based thinking warring with the habits of science-based thinking. It’s the bane of all the religious scientists. Before they confuse others they confuse themselves, slipping between reason and non-reason in their own minds in order to harmonize the dissonance.

      My guess is that Tanzi is sincere. The money and praise would appear to him like encouragement as opposed to incentive.

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        I agree that some otherwise reasonable people, including some scientists, have a mushy part of their brain, which makes them susceptible to woo. Others may not feel a strong personal need for mushy thinking, but given that society rewards reverence towards religion and various “other ways of knowing” in general, they pay token tribute to those values, probably thinking that makes them open-minded and deep. If you have the courage to call woo by its name, you get the label of “arrogant”, “dogmatic”, “narrow-thinking”, etc., etc., as often happens to the likes of Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne.

        Either way, whether Tanzi does this out of his own need for deepities or he simply conforms to the expectations of the public, giving credibility to Chopra’s nonsense does great disservice to society. A prominent scientist should know better.

        • Rudy Tanzi
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          Our piece is not about religion. It is you who is using the militant and fundamentalist religion of atheism to attack a fellow colleague unprovoked.

          • Richard Olson
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

            ‘… using the militant and fundamentalist religion of atheism to attack …’

            This answers a question I was mulling about Dr. Tanzi’s personal ideology. Anyone who indulges in the belief that atheism is fundamentalist religion may as well write “I do not always utilize reason” on his forehead using bright red lipstick.

            • Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              Crayon would be safer.

            • Rudy Tanzi
              Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

              You have nicely proven my point.

              • scottoest
                Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:11 am | Permalink

                “Atheists – responding with withering snark after all I did was dismiss them as a bunch of religious fundamentalists. Harrumpf.”

          • Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

            Hmmm. Not exactly the dispassionate scientific analysis of a scientist.

            Between projection and cognitive dissonance, this kind of response to criticism (that was specifically requested) seems a little… over-wrought? I expected better from a respected scientist.

            And FYI, atheism is actually the lack of belief in gods, not a militant fundamentalist religion. Although, as a militant fundamentalist, what do I know?

            • omar
              Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

              Former atheist here. it seems to me these days atheism is a term those who “believe” they are reasonable, logical beings, use to defend an argument and ridicule another. it’s the acceptance that there is nothing more to reality than what is observable through direct, or indirect methods. What most atheists cant wrap their understanding around is their own consciousness.
              Now, as for how atheist carry themselves, there is a pattern. A pattern of intolerance for anything beyond numbers and facts, as if those things had meaning without the brains interpretation. More facts, different numbers, new conclusions. All in all keep an open mind, that’s the scientific way not to disregard something because it has spiritual meaning to someone else.

              • Jesper Both Pedersen
                Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:48 am | Permalink

                Former agnostic here. It seems to me that what many former atheists tend to forget is that the lack of belief in any gods doesn’t really say much about your personality.

                It’s as if they think they have a more sophisticated and superior handle on not only their own cosnciousness, but also the consciousness of other homo sapiens of the atheist kind, and this perception leads them to conclude that closemindedness is a general trait of those people. We atheists are simply to cynical to recognize and utilize these other ways of knowing.

                Dismissing pseudo-ideological/scientific “spiritual” claims about reality based on the lack of evidence is hardly an example of a closed mind or intolerance, in fact I’d argue that that is the default of a neutral scientist. Chopra and Tanzi implies in their article actions such as thought and speach can directly affect your genes and afaik there simply is no data that allows for such an extraordinary claim.

                Open minds are fine, wishful thinking not so much. It would appear That Chopra and Tanzi already have reached their conclusions about the proposed ability of the mind to manipulate and control genes, even though the data doesn’t support this.

                That we can alter our physiology based on reactions to our experienced environment is not a new paradigm shifting discovery. It is basic knowledge. If the issue simply is for how long these changes can last, then the data doesn’t support long evolutionary changes from that effect.

                By all means, let’s be open to new directions of scientific endeavour, but let’s not set aside all critical and common sense in the process.

              • scottoest
                Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:02 am | Permalink

                “It’s the acceptance that there is nothing more to reality than what is observable through direct, or indirect methods.”

                This is just a rephrasing of the “other ways of knowing” canard.

                You confuse keeping an open mind, with believing things for which there is either questionable, or no evidence.

                Scientists are more than willing to admit consciousness isn’t fully understood yet. Where woo-meisters like Chopra come in, is in inserting an explanation by fiat, without rigorous testing, peer-review, or otherwise showing their work.

                And then when experts point that out, the fall-back is to say “oh, you people are so obsessed with numbers and observations!” Seriously?

                “Keep an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out” – Richard Feynman

              • Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

                Former religionist here.

                I’m not really sure what all your double negatives are meant not to fail to refuse to imply.

                I must assume, based on your own assumptions, that you fail to not understand what you’re unable to recognise – that “numbers” and direct/indirect methods are the sole arbiter of actual – as opposed to declaimed – truths.

                Your view of reality is so twisted and convoluted that it’s not easy to infer what you’re implying.

                What you need to understand is that atheists are not trying to hide behind arbitrary labels. On the contrary, we disregard nothing!

                The simple fact that you claim to have been an atheist, but have somehow “received” wisdom, indicates that you were never, in fact, an atheist, but instead are using that label as a convenience to cover a lapse in your epistemological judgement of actual atheists.

                In actual fact, it’s impossible for an atheist to “revert” to religionism, without an actual event proving, beyond any doubt, that there is a deity. Such an event can only be of such unimpeachable quality that you would wish to share it, in whatever irrefutable format it consists of, with every other self-proclaimed atheist you can lay your hands on.

                Perhaps you can provide the hard, factual data that convinced you, against all probability, that there is not only a spiritual plane, but that the data proving it is beyond refutation.

                Please go ahead and provide said evidence! If it’s good enough for you, an avowed and self-professed atheist, it’s surely good enough for the rest of us poor unbelievers.

                Go ahead!

          • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

            Your response tells me two things:

            – You are ignorant of atheism in society.

            Skeptics are making itself heard, which means implied and often direct criticism of religion. And religion is today so weak that it can’t abide any criticism, so use special pleading to characterize criticism as “militant”.

            – You are ignorant of atheism in nature.

            Skepticism tells us that since science, the study of natural action, works, nature is filled with natural action. And it also tells us that since magic thinking, the idea of magic action, doesn’t work, nature is utterly devoid of magic action.

            Nature is so devoid of magic action, the gaps-for-magic has mostly gone, that theism and deism is today tantamount to homeopathy. The natural process of inflation during cosmology dilutes any putative initial magic spacetime more than 10^150 parts, which is smack in the middle of generic homeopathic dilution of 10^60 – 10^400 parts. And no other gap magic remains.

            Atheism is simply a skeptics observation of science and magic thinking, and their relation to nature. And since all of that is dependent on revisable observation and outcome of methods, it isn’t “fundamentalist” dogmatic – but the very opposite.

          • Sastra
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

            Your piece concerns the supernatural: a mind-first view of nature, with the mental preceeding or ‘grounding’ the physical. Thus it entails spirituality and yes — spirituality is another word for “religion.” You are far too narrow in your understanding of these terms. Or, perhaps, you think we are.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

          Spot on. Some scientists have a desire for personal meaning beyond the secular, even if not for any particular Religion. They wish there to be more than just their life and then gone back into nothingness.

          Physicists can be rather prone to it.

          Wishful woo is all it is. This weakness of mind leads to crass abandonment of critical thinking, in favour of mystery making. Or crass attempts to join up imaginary dots connecting desire with a crappy understanding of areas of science outside their own.

    • Rudy Tanzi
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      It would seem the one trying to make money here is the one using a blog attack others to sell his own book..?

      • Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        I’d stop this, Dr. Tanzi, before you make a complete fool of yourself. I didn’t even mention my book in my “blog attack”. And it’s not a “blog,” it’s a website.

        • Rudy Tanzi
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

          The whole website is named after the book!!

          • Rudy Tanzi
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

            And your insults and bullying will not work here…you are accountable for your defamations of reputation and character. You cannot hide behind a website and assume you are immune to libelous behavior..sorry, it does not work that way..

            • Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

              Given Deepak’s incessant taunting of Dr. Coyne, his rebukes are warranted. I had a feeling, so to speak, that the spiritually enlightened would eventually resort to legal threats to defend their intellectual dishonesty. And as the many unjustified declarations about science spewed by authors of the paper in question, they [the legal threats] seem immoral and reflect a profound lack of accountability.

            • Leigh Jackson
              Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:43 am | Permalink

              Libel, eh? You has problem matey. A legal action would require you to demonstrate that your claims are science and not woo. That is going to be mighty difficult for you to do. Impossible OI should say. Dropping the L word into proceedings is the act of a pathetic bully.

            • gbjames
              Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

              Now we are getting lolworthy!

              Dr. Tanzi, you really should have stopped while you were behind.

            • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:30 am | Permalink

              I think “fair comment” is a commonly accepted defence against defamation…

              /@

  3. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Loved this bit:

    ….if you’re subjected to the pseudoscience of Chopra on a daily basis, you may be thrown into a permanent state of rage and despair.

    If we could will our genes to change we’d cure cancer in no time. Indeed, there would be no illness – pharmaceutical companies would go bust! Imagine a world where we could will our brain chemistry, change how our neurotransmitters fire and regulate our insulin!

    Somehow Deepak deeply wants Jerry’s approval. It’s getting a bit pathological. Deepak, just accept that if you’re going to keep banging on about woo things, the only approval you will get will be from other woo meisters. Real scientists are not going to endorse you unless they have some other motive$. <—- see my subtle hint? ;)

    • Sastra
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      I don’t think Deepak wants Jerry’s approval. He wants to use Jerry’s feedback as a catalyst to inspire his followers and as a tool to recruitment. Deepak’s failure to recognize reasoned nuance when dealing with deepities makes him see a strawman target to exploit.

      I don’t want to imply that Jerry (and others) shouldn’t bother to take this stuff apart. On the contrary. Science is pseudoscience’s enemy and it’s deadly because it won’t retreat to vague handwavings about “possibilities” being as good as an actual hypothesis. All too often when educated people talk about a ‘reconciliation’ between science and religion (or science and spirituality) THIS sort of thing is what they mean.

      A failure to address it leaves the field to the anti-gnus and their claim that all the atheists ever attack — all they ever can attack — is simplistic fundamentalism and never, ever the wise Middle Path.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

        I think that’s why he wants Jerry’s approval. If any real science agrees on any aspect, Deepak will take that as approval for his entire woo.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

          science = scientist (I was distracted by a bird outside my window – probably I made it exist using my perception :D)

        • Sastra
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          Oh, yes, he’d LIKE Jerry’s approval. Just as we’d like it if Deepak (or more likely Tanzi) would murmur “hmmm… yes… I see: you’re right.”

          But my guess is that he’s counting more on using a gnu atheist as a foil for advancing misunderstanding and contrasting our views with his in order to make it look like he’s not just more spiritually evolved, but on the cutting-edge of new discoveries in science. It’s supposed to look like a hot controversy.

          We’re stronger on the science than they are — but they’re able to pull a lot of sloppy-reasoning tricks and gain popularity. The science though is a leveler. You enter its territory be prepared to be shredded.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

            Yes true. It’s the same technique fundamentalist Christians use. Woo is woo is woo.

        • Posted December 16, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          This is why people quotemine, after all.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    It seems like we should write letters to the Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital informing them of the Woo that’s going on and besmirching their reputations.

    • Rudy Tanzi
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Be my guest..a criterion for an endowed chair and professorship at Harvard is an open mind and innovation. The newest discoveries in science and paradigms of tomorrow often begin with this very ugly type of exchange, e.g. put forward in this vicious blog.

      • gbjames
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        “vicious blog”

        The mark of a newcomer. Two marks, actually.

      • Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        Be my guest..a criterion for an endowed chair and professorship at Harvard is an open mind and innovation.

        But not so open, as they saying goes, as to let your brains fall out.

        What you’re proposing here is a dramatic violation of Crick’s Central Dogma of molecular biology — namely, that information can never flow from protein to nucleic acid. That’s a claim as extraordinary as would be a violation of Newtonian Physics.

        Unless your evidence is as extraordinary as observations of Mercury’s orbit or Young’s Experiment, a person in your position has no business dignifying such a claim with anything other than pro-forma dismissal.

        And to offer as theoretical explanation not biochemistry but vague feel-good spiritualistic gobbledygook? That’s exactly the sort of thing that Harvard needs to be aware of.

        Many notable and esteemed scientists have, sadly, taken a sharp left turn off the pier in their dotage. Linus Pauling, for example, despite all his brilliance, thought vitamin C could cure cancer and is likely responsible for the homeopathic-style use of vitamin overdoses in all sorts of inappropriate settings.

        You would be wise to take Jerry’s criticisms to heart, for this unholy alliance you’ve forged with Deepak is of exactly the same variety.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:37 am | Permalink

          Um… aren’t we the unholy ones?

          /@

          • Posted December 17, 2013 at 8:01 am | Permalink

            Speak for yourself. I’ll have you know that I have all the standard holes in all the proper places, no more, and no less.

            b&

            • Posted December 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

              Holey rusted metal, Batman!

              /@

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

                Curious paradox. I’m a bit rusty in lots of things — chess, French, Perl, that sort of thing. But my only metal bits are in a few teeth, and they’re the opposite of holes….

                b&

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        You’re coming off as a little too vicious yourself. Spend some time and read through this site’s previous posts; you will find “vicious” is the incorrect adjective.

        I get that it is unpleasant to have your work questioned but it is disappointing when someone of your calibre meets such criticism with such a lack of decorum.

        Perhaps rethink your approach and post later when your emotions are under control.

      • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        Aren’t an open mind and innovation two criteria?

        Discoveries? Again: Show me the data!

        /@

  5. Vaal
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Deepak wrote: “Regardless of the nature of the genes we inherit from our parents, dynamic change at this level allows us almost unlimited influence on our fate.

    Even IF you granted the claims immediately preceding this statement, that science is finding a connection between mind and genes, what an ABSURD non-sequitur to leap to our therefore having “almost unlimited influence on our fate.”

    That is as direct a leap to woo-woo, a desperate attempt to get to the new-age extraordinary-feel-good-you-can-do-anything
    tripe by any means necessary, as fast as possible. One may as well be saying “Did you know that science is discovering that exercise actually effects your metabolism.
    Hurray! This means, if we do a bit of exercise, we can all eat anything and everything we want and never gain weight!”
    And even that leap is modest in it’s irrationality, compared to what Deepak is peddling.

    Deepak’s method of writing (as mush-minded as his speaking, apparently) and his wild inferences are just graphic displays of his lack of scientific rigor.

    He couldn’t make his critics points any better!

    Vaal

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      I like “mush minded”. I must remember that one!

    • Linda Grilli Calhoun
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      If we had (almost) unlimited influence over our fate, most people would choose not to die, not to get sick or injured.

      I don’t exactly notice that happening.

      Also, what is the implication for people who are sick, injured and dying? They’re FAILURES.

      Ick. L

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

        I’d spend all my will power on trying to make my skin darker and my legs in proportion to the rest of my body. :)

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          I want more hair on my head and less in my ears.

          • Felix
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

            +2

          • Posted December 16, 2013 at 12:01 am | Permalink

            Ear-hair is one of the few traits carried by a gene on the Y chromosome – so now you know where to focus your attention. Just watch out you don’t turn off your testosterone altogether.

  6. Larry Gay
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    A little typo about half way: Tanzi, not Lanza.

  7. Paul Lurquin
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Lanza? Methinks this is a lapsus linguae.

  8. John Scanlon, FCD
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    OTOH, maybe PZ loved it.

  9. Timothy Hughbanks
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    We know of not a single adaptive change in the genome that was acquired purely from the environment and can be passed on for generation after generation.

    Not counting, I presume, mutations in your parents germ cells induced by chemical mutagens or radiation from their environment.

    Can these guys seriously believe that they can “will” the course of chemical reactions in their DNA?

    • Sastra
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think they do believe that. It follows from the “theory” (world view) that everything can ultimately be reduced to something mental. It’s like asking whether traditional Christians can seriously believe that God can ‘will’ the course of chemical reactions in the DNA. “Intentionality” is taken to be a primal force and power of reality.

  10. Alex Shuffell
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Interesting. They are bringing back the 19th century view of Lamarckism and mixing it with new-age style vanity and over confidence in face of no or contradictory evidence. Interesting to see that Chopra now has a rationalisation of selling his bloody expensive placebos with his website.

    • Posted December 16, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      At least Lamarckism is materialist. This craziness is subjective idealism.

  11. scottoest
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    If you want to have a pleasant Saturday, make sure you don’t read the comments under the article Deepak sent Prof. Coyne. It’s a woo-valanche.

    I may have misread, but I’m pretty sure one commenter said she was able to cure her polio by sheer force of will.

    • scottoest
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      Oh, and sub. :D

    • papalinton
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

      “I may have misread, but I’m pretty sure one commenter said she was able to cure her polio by sheer force of will.”

      Sounds like another undocumented Benny Hinn moment. Would the woman please provide details of how this was accomplished so that others might learn? Has Tanzi or Deepak been able to chase up and verify this event?

  12. twentynine
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Well… I guess all there is to do for Mr. Chopra, is to scrape off some skin cells and start willing their dna to change, then you got all the evidence you need.

  13. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Brain and genome maps must be aligned with the fullness of human experience, since what you think, say, and do today shapes your genetic future.

    Classic Deepity.

    I wonder what “fullness” is and what exactly it is you’re supposed to say that will affect your genes? Is “I really, really want to get taller” gonna cut it?
    Or do we need to buy Chopra’s books to get the full picture and take advantage of these amazing possibilities?

    Either this Tanzi guy really believes in Chopra’s woo, which in my uneducated mind would classify him as a biased researcher in regards to the issue of consciousness, or he is simply in it for the money and/or attention.

    Are Havard employees really that underpaid?

    • Rudy Tanzi
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      The paradigms of the future begin with open minds and are facilitated by people who actually read the newest literature. And, Harvard and MGH pay just fine. :)

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Good on ya, can’t wait for the paradigm to shift and for my genes to be subject to the awesome power of my noggin.

        I’ve got some basic plumbing to do.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

          And the shift after that will allow me to control the entire universe. Yeah, almighty mind of mine!

      • Vicki
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

        It does seem that your mind is open to anything except the possibility that you might be wrong about this.

        Where are the data? Do you have a testable hypothesis involving specific sorts of thinking that can lead to identifiable germline DNA changes?

        • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:42 am | Permalink

          “It does seem that your mind is open to anything except the possibility that you might be wrong about this.”

          This.

          /@

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

        True but insufficient. I believe I have an open mind. So how about you engage with specific criticisms that Jerry makes about your dreadful woo?

        • anthrosciguy
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

          Vagueness is perhaps the most common common feature in pseudoscience.

          • Leigh Jackson
            Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:46 am | Permalink

            Quintessential feature.

  14. Sastra
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    “You will transform your own biology.” … That’s a deepity, for of course we know that “you” (i.e., your unique genetic endowment and environments you experience) can transform your biology… But that’s not what Chopra and Tanzi mean. One thing that can’t happen, but is implied by the authors as the New Paradigm, is that your thoughts can influence your biology.

    You’ve got it exactly right I think. It’s another deepity, with a ‘true but trivial’ interpretation bending over and lending its back for an ‘extraordinary but false’ one to ride on towards credibility.

    Deepak’s argument here is just another version of The Secret, shifting back and forth between the reasonable point that our choices change reality because they’re embedded in naturalism and an opposite claim for supernaturalism. If you glide around on the surface it can look like you’re finding out that the two opposites are connected — or even the same thing. First you mean it one way, then you mean it the other — then you mean both. Enlightenment!

    The Secret is just another version of God — smoothed out and spread out. And, like creationism, it’s both temptingly concrete and wrong.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      “…just another version of The Secret…”

      Great framing!

      • Posted December 16, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        And TS is just subjective idealism, if not solipsism.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          … but reframed into the vocabulary of the average daytime television watcher. ;)

  15. Alan
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    The misleading here works well with people because it sounds so good. “I have the innate power to change my genes, for the scientist tells me so.” This is speculation, but I think when people read this feel good “science” they immediately want to donate money to the cause, so in return they can hear more about the wonderful powers we all have within. They are mislead into thinking science proves it.

  16. Richard Olson
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    sub

  17. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne,
    I guess you have not read the new Science paper from Fred (Rusty)Gage showing that 40% of brain neurons tested had actual new DNA mutations and structural alterations and the data suggesting that these changes occur in response to experience. Before you simply bad-mouth and insult a colleague in genetics with over 450 peer-reviewed publications including dozens in Cell, Nature, Science, NEJM etc you may want to read the newest literature.

    Rudy Tanzi, Ph.D.
    Kennedy Professor of Neurology, Harvard
    Vice-Chair, Neurology, MGH
    Director, Genetics and Aging, MGH

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi,

      How is the number of papers you have published relevant to this conversation?

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        Typical of a professed atheist to only attack the person and not address the science put forward…

        • gbjames
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

          In point of fact, Brygida Berse’s comment was not on an attack on a person. It was on the idea that the number of publications is a reasonable argument for a position.

          “Typical of a professed atheist…” is, on the other hand, a classic ad hominem.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

            Indeed, Brygida was rightly pointing out that a large portion of your post centred on espousing your credentials instead of refuting what Jerry wrote.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          Regardless of your personally feelings about atheists, how does that make the amount of papers you’ve published relevant to the discussion at hand?

        • Dale
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          I think you are revealing yourself sir. We gather that you are not a “professed atheist” yourself but don’t mind throwing the word around in a pejorative sense.

          You didn’t answer Brygida’s question. What does your number of publications have to do with the topic.

          I think that it’s a measure of the extent of the reputation that the DeePak is feeding on. It’s hard to see it as mutualism, since you don’t benefit. More like parasitism.

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

          Typical of a professed atheist to only attack the person and not address the science put forward…

          My question was in direct response to your remark about your publication record. How is a question about relevance a personal attack?

          I have been following your research over the years and I have nothing but respect for your scientific achievements. But, as I remarked already in this thread, they should not serve as a mandate for giving credibility to pseudoscience.

          Granted, there have been some solid papers lately that suggest an important role of epigenetics in modyfying brain development and plasticity. There are also indications that some of these epigenetic modifications could be inherited (as suggested, for example, by the recent Nature Neuroscience paper by Dias & Ressler), although, as Jerry has noted, it’s not known for how many generations this could persist.

          We don’t know where this line of research will lead us. To suggest, based on these very preliminary results, that our consciousness can control our genes and our evolution, is the kind of hype usually manufactured by either over-eager journalists or people who want to sell something to a gullible public. It is not worthy of a responsible scientist. In this case, your distinguished career makes this worse, not better.

        • Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

          Prof Coyne’s article was a response to your mystically incoherent article co-written with Deepak Chopra, who is a known abuser and hijacker of scientific terminology, spouter of vacuous feel-good psychobabble and infamous peddler of new-age trinkets (not to mention a constant touter of his own scientific credentials – as if academic achievement should confer some sort of immunity from being criticised).

          Instead of arcing up over perceived “attacks” from commentators here, or citing the number of papers you’ve authored or referring people to read such-and-such (all common tactics of the superstitious and the web-footed when criticised, by the way), how about you just address Prof Coyne directly and clarify your article? After all, one of the main criticisms levelled was at its confused nature. If this “consciousome” is the new frontier in genetics as appears to be your hypothesis, it’s important enough to write about clearly, i.e. without Chopra’s well-known brand of daytime-TV-friendly word-salad fogging it up.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        My thoughts exactly. Argument mostly from authority or at least the implication that those of authority should not be questioned.

    • Dale
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi, You state “……..showing that 40% of brain neurons tested had actual [new] DNA mutations and structural alterations”

      Ok…..I think we all might accept something like this and ask the question, How does this differ from what we know of deterministic gene driven development and senescence?

      But then you say this and jump the shark,

      “….and the data suggesting that these changes occur in response to experience.”

      “Suggesting”, Dr. Tanzi, really? Are we looking for spirits in the brain?

      How do you allow yourself to be so blatantly used by the DeePak, a well known scam artist? Is there $$ involved?

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

        If you would like to read about some of the evidence, please see my comment below. I am happy to engage with any of you in this debate with direct email exchange. In that way I can provide you with evidence for my arguments that I have been actively collecting. And, it would also keep the many insults and personal attacks out of the public arena.

        • anthrosciguy
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

          Far better for pseudoscience to look foolish away from the eyes of the general public. Another common pseudoscience tactic. May I suggest, in all seriousnous, that if you do not wish to be seen as engaging in pseudoscience, you refrain from using the tactics of pseudoscience you’ve been using in this comment thread.

        • Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:58 am | Permalink

          “And, it would also keep the many insults and personal attacks out of the public arena.”

          What, so you’ll insult and attack people in private as well? No surprise there I guess.

        • gbjames
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          Most of us denizens of this “dark website”, “professed atheists”, “militant, insulting, and bullying” as we are, prefer the light of day when arguing with purveyors of woo. If you can’t defend your position in public then there doesn’t seem to be much of a position to defend.

          I wouldn’t expect many to take you up on your offer to keep the conversation private, Dr. Tanzi.

    • Dale
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      One more thing,

      If what you “suggest” is not Lamarckism, how does it differ? If it does not differ, why not just call it what it is?

    • µ
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      You should know better:

      (1) Are these DNA mutations that you document in the brain neurons inherited (i.e., to these mutations make it somehow into the germ line)?
      If not, these somatic mutations don’t contribute to heritable variation in fitness.

      (2) What is the frequency of somatic mutations that you find in other comparable tissues, like the liver (also a high-metabolism tissue, like the brain)? Your hypothesis predicts that the frequency of somatic mutations is higher in brain neurons than in the liver (unless the liver has some form of consciousness that influences liver mutations?).

    • Michael Hart
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      I think that Dr. Tanzi’s characterization of the paper by McConnell et al. (Science 342 (6158):632-637; DOI: 10.1126/science.1243472) is accidentally inaccurate or deliberately misleading or both. The paper analyzes only copy number variation, that is, very large additions or deletions of pieces of chromosomes > 1 million base pairs in length (what Dr. Tanzi calls “structural alterations”) and not nucleotide substitutions (this is possibly what Dr. Tanzi means by “new DNA mutations”, since he distinguishes them from “structural alterations”, but his comment does not make clear what he means by that distinction). The authors of the paper seem to have been very careful not to suggest (like Dr. Tanzi does) that “these changes occur in response to experience.” In fact just the opposite: the last paragraph of the Science paper is a discussion of how neuronal function (“experience”) might occur in response to these large chromosomal rearrangements. That is, the mutations might affect the function of nerve cells in which they occur. The topic sentence of that last paragraph is “The effect of somatic genome diversification on neuronal function remains unknown.” Perhaps most important and relevant for this discussion thread and the topic of the original Chopra & Tanzi post, these changes appear to be specific to neurons and are not epigenetic, so are not relevant to a discussion of how epigenetic control of gene expression could lead to adaptive evolutionary change in genomes and organisms over multiple generations from parent to offspring. In the second-to-last paragraph, the authors of the paper do speculate about how “electrophysiological activity [could cause] double-strand DNA breaks in neurons”, but such electrophysiological activity specific to neurons does not occur in the stem cells of the testes or ovaries that produce sperm or eggs because those stem cells are not neurons. Also these major chromosomal rearrangements are not nearly as common as Dr. Tanzi’s comment implies. The authors noted that “The overall high mutational load that we report in neurons is predominantly due to a small number of cells with highly aberrant genomes…the majority of FCTX neurons exhibited 0 (59%) or 1 or 2 CNVs (25%).” That is, most cells had no detectable genome rearrangements, and most of the insertions or deletions of large pieces of chromosome occurred in a small proportion of the neurons analyzed. So Dr. Tanzi’s claim that “40% of brain neurons tested had actual new DNA mutations and structural alterations” is misleading in the sense that the vast majority of these alterations were piled up in a few of the sampled cells. One interesting implication is that a few cells each had many different chromosomal rearrangements and possibly had highly flawed gene expression. Missing from the paper is any detailed analysis of which chromosomal regions are altered in the cells with many rearrangements, and whether they tend to be regions of chromosomes that encode genes expressed in neurons that are specific to neurons and related to neuronal function in processing information. Dr. Tanzi’s comment also ignores this point, or assumes that mutations found in neurons must be mutations that would affect the functions of those neurons. This is a very large assumption, and one the authors of the Science paper specifically did not make (but that assumption is important for Dr. Tanzi’s interpretation of the study). Finally, The authors of the Science paper go to some trouble to point out that they cannot yet say what sort of functional differences there might be between neurons with zero, one, or many of these rearrangements. There are many nonfunctional neurons in human brains (note that the FCTX samples came from post-mortem brain cells), and piling up a large number of insertions and deletions of large chunks of chromosome might be an important cause of neuronal malfunction. IANAneurobiologist but this seems like a reasonable hypothesis. In the last paragraph of their paper the authors suggest one way to test that hypothesis: by making replicate copies of the same neuron from stem cells, and subjecting some cells to genomic analysis and others to functional analyses of protein expression or cell physiology.

      • Alan
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        Greatly appreciated.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        What a wonderful and helpful critique–thank you!

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          Yes, seconded. Thank you for putting the time in to review this one.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

        Thank you, very useful!

        “Finally, The authors of the Science paper go to some trouble to point out that they cannot yet say what sort of functional differences there might be between neurons with zero, one, or many of these rearrangements. There are many nonfunctional neurons in human brains (note that the FCTX samples came from post-mortem brain cells), and piling up a large number of insertions and deletions of large chunks of chromosome might be an important cause of neuronal malfunction. IANAneurobiologist but this seems like a reasonable hypothesis.”

        Ha! It would be wonderful if the woo crap turns out to be inspired by crappy, functionally dead, neurons.

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

        Michael,
        Excellent analysis of a difficult article, thank you. I’d like to elaborate on one detail.

        In the second-to-last paragraph, the authors of the paper do speculate about how “electrophysiological activity [could cause] double-strand DNA breaks in neurons”, but such electrophysiological activity specific to neurons does not occur in the stem cells of the testes or ovaries that produce sperm or eggs because those stem cells are not neurons.

        That speculation is based on yet another paper (Suberbielle et al., Nat Neurosci. 2013 May; 16(5): 613–621), which reported that a specific behavior (exploration of a novel environment) in mice increased DNA damage (double-strand breaks) in their neurons. This is indeed an example of an interaction with the environment (“experience”) causing changes in the genome. However, as you correctly pointed out, such DNA changes occur in somatic cells and as such are not inherited (actually, the data show that they are quickly repaired). Also, although the authors hypothesize that transient DNA damage in neurons could facilitate learning in response to new experiences, nowhere in that paper do they present data indicating that those changes are directional (i.e. not random), not to mention consciously controlled. In fact, the majority of the paper describes this type of DNA damage in a pathological context, caused (through induction of neuronal activity) by amyloid beta, the pathological agent of Alzheimer’s disease.

        Recently there has been a growing body of research suggesting a complex interplay between environmental stimuli and the state of the genome in the brain, either in physiological or in pathological conditions. We don’t know the detailed mechanisms of these effects and we don’t fully understand their biological significance. There is very little evidence that they could be inherited and influence evolution, and not the slightest indication that they could involve conscious influence on part of the individual. To suggest otherwise would be in the realm of science fiction. To claim that this is the scientific reality today, is misleading and irresponsible.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

          Also very helpful, Brygida. Thank you.

        • Michael Hart
          Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

          Excellent, thanks for that nice summary of the mouse paper. The McConnell paper in Science is really interesting and seems well done. I’m not a specialist so I would not have read it except that Dr. Tanzi cited it as evidence. The techniques in that paper were as interesting as the result: somatic cell mutations are well known, but this research group used three different techniques to get data from the genomes of single cells both from brains and from cell cultures. Amazing dataset, but I don’t think it says what Dr. Tanzi claimed it says.

          • Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

            Indeed, the only way to get from environmental methylation of somatic cells to heritable traits in the germ line is by the most novice of mistrakes. It’s not far from a biochemistry student who, upon learning that both sugars and petrochemicals are hydrocarbons leaps to the conclusion that you can put sucrose in your car’s gas tank or mix gasoline in with your morning coffee. Add in a research study about producing vehicle-grade ethanol from corn feedstock, and the analogy is almost perfect.

            b&

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        By mutation, I was referring to structural variants or CNV’s. (My lab published a dozen new CNV’s associated with early-onset familial Alzheimers disease this past year and believe they may be more important than missense mutations.) In the Salk study, 40% of neurons included new somatic CNV’s. So, I do think it would be useful to speculate what drives these structural changes especially since some are beginning to associate with mental illness, e.g. schizophrenia and autism (check it on pubmed if you don’t believe me…again). As you know neurons fire in response to sensory input and experience. So, is it not worth looking into whether neuronal activity is linked to these abundant neurosomatic alterations? In the piece that Dr. Coyne skewered, we are only saying think about it, folks. This is how new science is born. And, remember, Linked In asked Dr. Chopra to write a bold and innovative “Big Idea” for 2014. He asked my help and I suggested discussing the potential for epigenetics and the extent to which we can affect our own health via our genetics. We did this, albeit with some speculation about the possibilities – we were expected to do so. Now, did it really deserve this type of treatment? Please re-read it and let me know. Thanks.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

          You have stepped willingly into the line of fire. Now you have to take the shots. Stop whining.

        • Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

          The trouble isn’t so much the piece but Chopra himself. The reason people are so passionate about Chopra is because he smells of occultism/cultism and that is a very hard stink to scrub out of a social system, even when the evidence is plain as day. Look at how many otherwise reasonable people defend Scientology and the evidence revealing that scam is everywhere. Chopra’s conclusions have found a seam to mine and his contributions seem to be the rationalizing of other people’s scientific work into exploiting it.

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:56 am | Permalink

          And, remember, Linked In asked Dr. Chopra to write a bold and innovative “Big Idea” for 2014. He asked my help and I suggested discussing the potential for epigenetics and the extent to which we can affect our own health via our genetics. We did this, albeit with some speculation about the possibilities – we were expected to do so.

          I see that you have begun to distance yourself from the categorical nature of the statements made in the article and even from the direct authorship of it. However, you signed it with your name and affiliation, thus giving it credibility, and you are responsible for its content. In my response to your post at #33, I asked you specific questions about those statements, which you did not answer, so I will repeat them here.

          Can you provide any kind of evidence that human thought can voluntarily influence gene expression, that this supposed effect is epigenetic, that it can be stably inherited and that it can be adaptive?

    • Erik Verbruggen
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Here’s a link to the paper Dr. Tanzi refers to (I assume) : http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6158/632.full.pdf?sid=8d3b87a2-5ac1-4990-b9a9-4fdc312024e2

      The number of mutations is quite striking indeed. I can nowhere in the paper find a suggestion that “that these changes occur in response to experience”

      Anyway, there is no relationship between somatic cells and the germ-line, so they will not be passed on to the next generation.

      It is really a large jump from here to say that even if these mutations are a result of “thoughts” rather than constant, that the resulting mutation have any relationship to the content of these thoughts, let alone a POSITIVE one :-)

      • Erik Verbruggen
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps we are too dogmatic and entrenched to see what is under our nose.

        Let’s say we wait until the end of 2014 and see whether the consciosome has taken off? Or are dogmatic scientists also to blame if it hasn’t? Those pesky skeptics!

      • Sam M.
        Posted December 17, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        Yes, I too am curious how somatic mutations are passed on to offspring.

    • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      Ah. The Harvard gambit again.

      /@

    • Sam M.
      Posted December 17, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Is this the paper you refer to?

      Mosaic Copy Number Variation in Human Neurons

      ABSTRACT:
      We used single-cell genomic approaches to map DNA copy number variation (CNV) in neurons obtained from human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) lines and postmortem human brains. We identified aneuploid neurons, as well as numerous subchromosomal CNVs in euploid neurons. Neurotypic hiPSC-derived neurons had larger CNVs than fibroblasts, and several large deletions were found in hiPSC-derived neurons but not in matched neural progenitor cells. Single-cell sequencing of endogenous human frontal cortex neurons revealed that 13 to 41% of neurons have at least one megabase-scale de novo CNV, that deletions are twice as common as duplications, and that a subset of neurons have highly aberrant genomes marked by multiple alterations. Our results show that mosaic CNV is abundant in human neurons.

      If it is, then I did not see any mention of a notion that this is caused by “experience” in there. I think I will wait for the expression studies. Of note, the write-up in ‘The scientist’ ends with:

      “The key to answering such questions will be to investigate whether the copy number variations translate to gene expression changes, said Nicholas Navin, a professor of genetics at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, who was part of the group that developed the single-cell sequencing technique, but did not participate in the study. “I think in future work it would be nice to actually have both transcriptome and genome copy number profiles to see how that diversity is affecting expression levels,” he said, noting that technology has yet to allow for such dual-analyses on a single cell.”

  18. Nell Whiteside
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    All ‘gurus’ are frauds. They feed off the ignorance, gullibility and fear-of-death of the masses. Many celebrities love woo. Seems like Chopra is seeking respectability!

  19. reason51
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    This is simply more of the nonsense put out over many years by the Institute for Noetic Sciences, which is a major sponsor of Deepak. I highly recommend exploration of this organization, as it is a big player on the religion scene masquerading as new age.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      No, it is New Age*; it is masquerading as science.


      *(remember, the first rule of New Age is to deny that you’re New Age; talk instead about a ‘paradigm shift’ and/or ‘spiritual evolution’ and/or religion-and-science-converging.’)

      • Posted December 17, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        That is, the first rule of New Age is, “Don‘t talk about New Age”!

        /@

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      Puke, splutter! Truly God-awful organisation.

  20. Dale
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    This is why I’m somewhat critical of Leonard Mlodnow (sp?) because of his co authorship of anything with the DeePak. Chopra just hijacks the credentials of others to push crap. It’s hard to understand why people like Mlodnow let themselves be abused in this way. I suppose everyone is attracted to the DeePaks proven record of making $$$$.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

      I could be wrong, but my understanding is that the Mlodnow/Chopra book was supposed to be a sort of debate, one side against the other. Sounds to me like this one is a collaberation, with both authors in agreement. Very different motivations, if so.

      • Dale
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        I think the motivation was the same in both authors. $$$

        Mlodnow still allows the DeePak to use his name and reputation to smear science.

    • Katkinkate
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      Or maybe it’s blackmail …

  21. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Our piece was based on some of the newest findings in this field, ones, of which our critics appear to be unaware. We certainly are not saying you can think yourself to a new genome. We are only urging folks to consider that their life experiences, and how they respond to such experiences can have immediate epigenetic effects on their genome and yes, in some cases, even on their somatic DNA sequence and structure.

    See, for example, Rusty Gage’s newest Science paper showing that 40% of neurons contain new mutations and structural variants:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6158/632.short

    also see: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6158/632.short

    And, take a look at a recent presentation at SfN on how heroin use mutates DNA de novo in brain to drive addiction:

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_142397.html

    Plenty more of examples of permanent changes in DNA based on simply the experiences and exposures of life…

    Meanwhile,I would appreciate it if you did not publicly insult me as you have done here in your vicious blog. It is not only nasty and decidedly non-colleagial, but quite unprofessional.

    For example this comment: “Why would a respectable scientist lend his name to such twaddle?”

    And, this other quote from your blog attack shows you might indeed benefit from reading the newest literature in the field of epigenetics:

    “Certainly the DNA sequence we have is inherited, and doesn’t change over our lifetime except for DNA-coded epigenetic modifications of the sequence (as in “parental imprinting” of genes in males versus females), and perhaps a bit of environmental modification (through changes such as methylation) of DNA bases.”

    I guess you are not considering somatic mutations, e.g. in cancer, as you write this? Or, Gage’s new Science paper..?

    And — this quote from your blog was probably most surprising:

    “The activity of genes, however, can respond very quickly to changes in our environment: bacteria, for instance, can activate genes to break down sugars within minutes after being exposed to those nutrients. When we’re exposed to an antigen protein, we quickly respond by activating those genes producing antibodies that alert our system to the antigen, often leading to attack and destruction of the invading protein, which can be on a virus, bacterium, or any foreign protein that invades our system (that’s what happens when we have an allergic reaction to pollen, for instance). All this is nothing new. But it’s not “epigenetics” in the sense that Chopra and Tanzi mean, which is “changing the structure of your genome.” It’s not even “epigenetics” in the classical sense, which is simply “development”: how the products of your genes interact with your environment to produce your body.”

    You may want to read the newest data in Molecular Cell about how yeast mutations immediately induce other mutations to facilitate adaptation in real time…it’s not just about gene expression and protein activity anymore, as you insist.

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/38178/title/One-Gene–Two-Mutations/

    I would also be happy to share more evidence in support of our article if you wish.

    Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi
    Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology,
    Harvard Medical School
    Vice-Chair, Neurology Research,
    Director, Genetics and Aging Research Unit,
    Massachusetts General Hospital

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

      Meanwhile,I would appreciate it if you did not publicly insult me as you have done here in your vicious blog. It is not only nasty and decidedly non-colleagial, but quite unprofessional.

      For example this comment: “Why would a respectable scientist lend his name to such twaddle?”

      Your example of a personal insult is surprising as it clearly comments on your work and not your character. Indeed, it identifies you as a “respectable scientist”. I would think you would be used to defending your work, having gone through the peer review process so many times.

    • Vaal
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi wrote:

      “Our piece was based on some of the newest findings in this field, ones, of which our critics appear to be unaware. We certainly are not saying you can think yourself to a new genome.”,

      (emphasis mine)

      But Dr. Tanzi, this more modest characterization of your inferences is undermined by actual claims made in the
      book. For instance, from the section quoted by Jerry:

      Regardless of the nature of the genes we inherit from our parents, dynamic change at this level allows us almost unlimited influence on our fate.”

      Surely you can’t portray that type of hyperbole as a scientific conclusion.
      That seems a rather incredible leap from the type of “interesting” research you have been citing. Look at the caution and reserve in which most scientific papers conclude their findings. Does the leap to: “almost unlimited influence on our fate” actually sound like it is coming from a scientist being careful, not overreaching, about what can be inferred from the research? Not to me or most others here.

      But this is what you GET when you are in a discipline that is based on careful, cautious, scrupulous inference from the evidence, and then attach publicly yourself to someone who is known for taking the most unscientific leaps to wild conclusions to peddle to the public, at profit. In their debate, Sam Harris rightly skewered Chopra – who is not a physicist – for making utterly incautious, undisciplined extrapolations from quantum physics to the nature of reality. He happily draws grand conclusions from science well beyond his expertise.
      Of course, Chopra’s conclusions are always, some kind of “feel good” result. It’s ok, we aren’t merely at the whim of mindless fates – it’s actually our minds that are in control! This type of new age nostrum sells very well to a large portion of the book-buying public, eager for any positive affirmations and motivation. But it’s not the type of rigor one expects from a scientist.

      When faced with criticism about this, the hyperbole you find yourself now having to reign in and re-explain should come as no surprise, given this ill-advised alliance.

      Vaal

  22. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Let’s test Chopra’s hypothesis against the real world. How many people have changed the shape of their nose through thought alone? How many bald people (mostly men) have regrown their hair? How many amputees have regrown missing limbs? How many infertile people have managed to have kids?

    Many, many, people are desperate to make such changes, but somehow fail to do so. I wonder if Chopra will blame them for ‘not wanting enough’? Sounds suspiciously like the ‘power of prayer’ in sciencey clothes.

    • davidintoronto
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Not thought alone: thought + Deepak Chopra Endorphinate® ($36.95 per 60 capsules).
      ;)

  23. Posted December 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to know how the correct cells out of all the billions I have know to respond and what happens when the wrong cells get the message that wasn’t intended for them. Perhaps Dr Tanzi can inform me.

  24. gravityfly
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Please Jerry…don’t stop reading the Deepster’s work and commenting on it.

    And Deepak…quit scamming gullible people and start doing some real science or medicine!

  25. Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Seems like Chopra has learned to co-opt scientists rather than simply plagiarizing them like he did Robert Sapolsky.

    http://web.archive.org/web/20000308131349/http:/www.trancenet.org/chopra/news/plagmemo.shtml

  26. Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Jams N. Roses.

  27. Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    May I say a word or two in defence of Chopra and Tanzi? I should say first that I love this blog and visit it regularly; it’s unfailingly entertaining and, for someone like me who who does not know much about science, frequently enlightening. And my general position is to be unconvinced by claims to knowledge which aren’t evidence-based. So I’m prima facie on Jerry’s side in this debate.

    Nevertheless, the tone of the comments here – and in Jerry’s original piece, to be honest – does strike me as unnecessarily snarky. If Chopra’s and Tanzi’s claims about genes being affected by thoughts, and the effect being heritable, are wrong, well, they’re wrong for the usual reasons: the evidence is lacking, or the evidence falsifies the theory, or the hypothesis is not precise enough even to be falsifiable. Those are things that need to be pointed out. But it’s not fair to accuse Chopra and Tanzi of being only in it for the money, or of being desperate for Jerry’s approval – or of being stupid, which a lot of these comments suggest.

    Both Chopra and Tanzi know much more about science than I do; or rather, they know about it, and I don’t (my degrees are in English literature and philosophy). I don’t think it’s irrelevant for Tanzi to point to his 450 scientific papers; they don’t mean he’s right, I agree with Diana McPherson about that; but they do mean we should listen to his views with respect. The response here to Dr Tanzi made me think of someone entering a room of hostile strangers who immediately start to abuse him.

    From what I can gather, the problem with Chopra’s and Tanzi’s hypothesis is simply that it is lacking in evidence. Well then, that should be pointed out, and unless more evidence arrives we should disniss the hypothesis. But we don’t have to be rude about it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Ahem Diana *Mac*Pherson. :)

      I disagree that suggesting that Chopra is desperate for Jerry’s approval is snarky. I’m merely following the evidence: Chopra has been using Twitter for evil (aside: which really doesn’t go far in changing Jerry’s mind about Twitter being a silly thing); either he’s mad tweeting Jerry to read this or that or building up straw men, attributing said staw men to Jerry and then attacking said straw men, and you can read more on Twitter if you, like me, like primary sources. This wreaks of desperation and Sastra is dead on when she says that he appears to want credible scientists like Jerry as foils.

      In my view, Deepak is free to say whatever he likes and behave however he wants, but he can’t expect people on this site to let him get away with it and in this instance he is not only scientifically wrong (as not only Jerry but many readers here have pointed out in detail) but he is acting badly (which I and others have remarked on).

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      Our criticism of the appeal to authority doesn’t mean that we’re being disrespectful, rude or abusing towards him.

      Most of us are criticising statements from their article, not the validity of the papers published by Tanzi.

      Our somewhat consequent reactions may be due to the fact that we’ve been exposed to plenty amounts of Copra speak and thus does not fall for his nonsense.

      Apparently a degree doesn’t protect you from wishful thinking, but in the spirit of your comment; Let the evidence do the talking, not the intent.

    • Alan
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      You see the frustration in the text due to Chopra ignoring every bit of evidence that contradicts most of his claims. Once you see that he is purposely pushing garbage for his own benefit you may begin to understand the harsher criticisms. I cant say the same about Dr. Tanzi because I haven’t heard much from him and I dont want to automatically think hes guilty by association…but it appears he may be going down the Chopra path of deception as well.

    • Posted December 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      If Chopras and Tanzis claims about genes being affected by thoughts, and the effect being heritable, are wrong, well, theyre wrong for the usual reasons: the evidence is lacking, or the evidence falsifies the theory, or the hypothesis is not precise enough even to be falsifiable.

      I could buy that if this was the typical type of scientific tete-a-tete, such as you’ll find in physics today over string theory or competing interpretations of quantum mechanics.

      But what Chopra and Tanzi are proposing is nothing short of telekinesis. It’s as if Sean Carroll were to start insisting that you could use quantum mechanics to levitate objects by sheer force of will.

      I’m sure Sean would be the first to plead with us that, should he start doing so without suitably extraordinary supportive evidence, we should get him proper mental health care.

      Chopra is a well-known huckster, so it’s not surprising that he’s peddling this type of snake oil. But Dr. Tanzi should, indeed, be seeking professional consultations with his co-workers in the psychiatric department of the Harvard Medical School.

      And, no — that’s not snark nor gratuitous insult, for the parallel between Sean’s hypothetical break with reality and Dr. Tanzi’s real break with reality is perfect.

      The only other explanation, and one certainly no more charitable, is that Dr. Tanzi is just in it for the fame and fortune and doesn’t really believe a word of what he’s promoting.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted December 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        Well, this comment is on the borders of–no, transgresses–civility. We don’t need to suggest that Tanzi seek psychiatric help; that’s an insult that crosses the boundary. So I’d take it back. We can speculate about motivations, but mental illness is not one of them.

        • Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, Jerry. My intent isn’t to insult or ridicule. But I am sincere that this sort of lapse of judgment is not the sort of thing that Dr. Tanzi should expect of himself, and he owes it to himself to take a cold, hard look at just what he’s proposing, and that he should seek the advice of somebody he trusts who has a solid grounding in modern evidence-based science and who’s familiar with the ways we fool ourselves to assist himself in that reevaluation.

          b&

    • Chibisan
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Not be snarky, but if you visit this website regularly you know it is not a blog it is a website, as our host just pointed out a few comments above.

    • Vicki
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      It’s more like someone walking into a roomful of strangers who are talking about something else, and shouting at the host “Hey! Everyone listen to me! My friend and I have an idea, and I demand that you talk about it!” So our host took the time out from what he was doing, and said “OK, I’ve looked at it. You’re wrong.”

      If you don’t want people to criticize your material on their web pages, you shouldn’t call them out by name in public and demand that they read your articles. Demanding that sort of attention from strangers is at best pushy. Expecting that they will of course agree with you, or being surprised if they disagree and actually say so in public, is unrealistic.

  28. Posted December 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh oh, been looking through Dr Tanzi’s twitter feed — many quotes from his book with Chopra:

    “You are immutable *awareness*, which with attention to self, becomes *consciousness*. With balance of both, comes insight. #SuperBrain”

    — Thanks for making that assertion about me. And how do YOU know this? You don’t, Dr Tanzi, and neither does Chopra, but you were happy to put your name to it. It’s Chopra’s usual tactic of making a baseless (and ultimately meaningless) assertion in an authoritative tone. Some people will buy it, and buy your your book, without realizing that you haven_’t got a freaking clue what you are talking about and are gambling with their health.

    Your cryptic pseudo-mystical assertions mask the way you and Chopra fail to distinguish between speculation and established science.

    “When you sense a higher purpose in your life, nothing has been accidental.” #SuperBrainQuotes

    — Well actually I don’t. I do sense a higher purpose to my life sometimes, because I have a whole lot of motivations that I’m only sometimes aware of, but it doesn’t follow that this means that “nothing has been accidental”.

    That is idiotic, Dr Tanzi. You have been watching The Secret too many times. And in the context of people trying to solve heath problems or deal with life issues it is a dangerous idea which has already ruined countless lives.

  29. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Man, this is a dark website! Rest assured…this is my last post. Over and out! Phew!

    • anthrosciguy
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

      The “I’m outta here” comment. It never fails to strike me how consistently pseodoscience is practiced, even on wildly different subjects by people with no connections (maybe its morphic resonance at work! :)

      Tanzi did the hurt tone, the false claims of ad hominem while simultaneously engaging in real ad hominems, the claim that data speak without interpretation, the point to another work and claiming that if you don’t accept his interpretation of that work you are insulting and disparaging that other researcher. All in a matter of a couple dozen comments, topped now with the classic “I’m outta here cause y’all are just so mean and hateful”.

      Oh yeah, and the classic “new paradigm gonna wash you all away and you’ll be sorry”.

      • Leigh Jackson
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

        Yes. I’ve been round the block of pseudoscience a few times, in all its gory morphic manifestations. There is most definitely a consistent set of tropes involved. One can prove it’s pseudo x,y,z by virtue of these evasive and obfuscating tropes. The word “paradigm” is highly correlated. Kuhn’s book has become the veritable bible of pseudoscience.

        • Richard Olson
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          My trope list includes ‘militant atheist religious fundamentalist’ very near the top. These words redound so unfavoroubly upon the speaker, for so many different reasons, I never fail to wonder at the inability of those who employ them to recognize precisely who is skewered in the process.

          • Leigh Jackson
            Posted December 15, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

            The phrase is an accommodationist badge of honour. Thus the phrase “honour amongst accommodationists”.

      • Posted December 17, 2013 at 1:11 am | Permalink

        Insightful!

        /@

    • Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:53 am | Permalink

      Phew indeed.

      You, like Chopra, best stick to Twitter. Clearly you both dislike actual scientists and science-literate laypeople disagreeing with and criticising you – and there’s only so much disagreement with your mystical hand-waving that can be packed into 140 characters.

    • gbjames
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      But you’ll still see us all in libel court, right?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Oh good. Let’s all make a day of it!

  30. Ron Schoenberg
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne is naive about identical twins. My daughter had monozygote twins, and they’re chiral, one is left handed and the right handed. And one’s personality is outgoing and the other introverted. There are a many kinds of identical twins.

    • Alan
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

      I think you missed the point entirely. They are constricted by their biological make up. They didnt think their way into being left or right hand dominant and they certainly cant think their way into looking un-identical.

    • Peter Ozzie Jones
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      Hello Ron
      Our genial host is bound to know this about twins. Their gene expression may well be changed by when their foetal methylation happened (how many cells created before splitting, those all had the same. And then after the split, they have different changes) and then there are any subsequent environmental influences. It means that the clones can be quite a lot different even with the same genome, as you have found out.

      You may like to read this FAQ from the twin study in the UK (they have 12,000 twins) and also Prof Tim Spector’s new book “Identically Different”.

      http://www.twinsuk.ac.uk/twin-zone/faq/

    • Posted December 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

      That’s nothing. CC, the first cloned cat, is a tabby even though her genetically-identical mother is a calico.

      Nobody’s claiming that identical DNA sequences express themselves in identical individuals. Clearly, they don’t.

      The claim, rather, is that Crick’s Central Dogma of Molecular Biology holds, and that proteins cannot encode genetic information into nucleic acids.

      There’re all sorts of other mechanisms for information to survive from one generation to the next, with culture being the primary one.

      Deepak and Tanzi are claiming, without evidence, that the Central Dogma can be violated simply by thinking the “right” thoughts — and that’s probably even more Lamarckian than Lamarck himself would have been comfortable with.

      Cheers,

      b&

  31. Posted December 14, 2013 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    IANAS, however I *do* consider myself a reasonably widely-read sceptic. And yet, I haven’t heard of any evidence that supports what Mr. Chopra and Dr. Tanzi are claiming. Not even in their book is that evidence, well, evident. They talk up quite a storm, however as I understand scientific theories, assertions aren’t proof, no matter how vaguely or how often or how strenuously those assertions are made.

    That doesn’t explain Dr Tanzi’s inability to accept the criticism, however pointed, of his theory. I would expect his professional skin to be far thicker, given his remarkable previous publishing record! One wonders if the lack of supporting evidence for this latest paradigm shift / pet theory gives less “protection” against the slings and arrows than he’s used to, after running the gauntlet of publishing in the likes of Cell and Nature? Perhaps he’s more aware that the necessary extraordinary evidence is missing, which (I can only imagine) would make having the bleeding obvious pointed out quite galling.

    In case you were wondering, those sounds you can hear are Mr Chopra’s followers’ minds opening so wide that their brains are falling out and plopping gently next to their similarly wide-open wallets. I guess that must be some satisfaction, given that we sceptical ‘unbelievers’ and members of the Church of the Fundamentally Unreformed and Grumpy Atheos won’t be spending anything, pending remarkable evidence to the contrary.

    That’s the trouble with pet theories, of course – the care and feeding are so time-consuming, let alone the effort needed to protect them from the harsh reality of, well, reality.

  32. Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    I remember a few years back when Chopra jumped on the quantum physics bandwagon, like many of his fellow quacks. Desperate to have “scientific” proof of his theories, he had stated that it has now been proven that something cannot exist until you observe it and tried to fit that into the philosophy. Anyway, thanks to Oprah, he and Dr. Phil and his ilk have made millions selling snake oil.

  33. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    For those of you who are interested, here are some more useful references addressing trans-generational transmission of epigenetic changes (and acquired traits) brought on by parental life experiences. Given that epigenetics is defined as the science of how gene expression is regulated according one’s life experiences, and the growing evidence that epigenetic modifications are inherited, we raised the question in our Big Idea piece of just how much control we might someday have over own genetics via modulation of our life experiences. That’s all…we did not mean to upset Dr. Coyne..

    The references:

    1. Sweatt JD, Meaney MJ, Nestler EJ, Akbarian S (2013) Epigenetic Regulation in the Nervous System. Academic Press, New York.
    (This is a great book on epigenetics in the nervous system and can be found at:
    ftp://www.neurobiology.uab.edu/Sweatt/Epigenetic-Regulation.pdf)

    2. Vassoler FM, White SL, Schmidt HD, Sadri-Vakili G, Pierce RC (2013)Epigenetic inheritance of a cocaine-resistance phenotype. Nat Neurosci 16:42-47.

    3. Franklin TB, Saab BJ, Mansuy IM (2012) Neural mechanisms of stress resilience and vulnerability. Neuron 75:747-761

    4. Ng RK, Gurdon JB. Epigenetic inheritance of cell differentiation status. Cell Cycle. 2008;7:1173–1177.

    5. Martin C, Zhang Y. Mechanisms of epigenetic inheritance. Curr Opin Cell Biol. 2007;19(3):266–272.

    6. Dunn GA, Morgan CP, Bale TL (2011) Sex-specificity in transgenerational epigenetic programming. Horm Behav 59:290-295.

    7. Crepin M, Dieu MC, Lejeune S, et al. Evidence of constitutional MLH1 epimutation associated to transgenerational inheritance of cancer susceptibility. Hum Mutat. 2012;33:180–188

    8. Whitelaw NC, Whitelaw E. Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in health and disease. Curr Opin Gene Dev. 2008;18:273–279.

    • Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi, I can’t find anything in there that suggests that any of these DNA changes make it into the germ line, or that epigenetic modifications survive more than a generation or three.

      If that’s the case, while all that research is fascinating and important, it doesn’t overturn Crick’s Central Dogma of molecular biology — which is exactly the revolutionary new paradigm you’re trumpeting, if not in those exact words.

      Can you point specifically to an example of germ line DNA changes, or of permanent epigenetic modifications?

      I’ll also note that, when somebody not the author of a paper makes bold and radical claims about the implications of the paper that the authors themselves didn’t make…well, that bodes rather poorly for the claimant’s understanding of said paper. I may be missing something here, but that sure seems to me to be the case.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • mcarp0
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget that in comment 29:

        “Man, this is a dark website! Rest assured…this is my last post. Over and out! Phew!”

        which this comment 33 seems to negate…

        • Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:24 am | Permalink

          If I had a dollar for every commenter who said “I’m out of here” and came back, I’d buy Google and stop it from being evil.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

            Google is beyond redemption.

            (Oh, hi Google! Heh heh…Just kidding!…Heh heh…)

            • Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

              I was going to make a comment to the effect of, “Never mind Google; it’s the NSA that matters.” And then I realized that there’s no significant distinction between the two these days….

              The good news, at least, is that D.D.C judge the Honorable Richard J. Leon is setting up the NSA for at least a showdown, if not a smackdown:

              http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/16/nsa-phone-surveillance-likely-unconstitutional-judge

              Judge Leon is, right now, America’s last and best hope to clamber out of our headlong slide into tyranny.

              b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

                At least the big guys of Silicon Valley are asking for more transparency.

              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                It’s just a PR move now that publicity over the matter is cutting into quarterly profits.

                Either they’ve known all along and were complicit but didn’t have the courage to speak up when doing so would have made a difference; or they didn’t know and are profoundly incompetent. Considering the close collaboration, the secret Star Chamber orders they processed, the NSA-agents-only rooms in datacenters and telecom exchanges, the hardware purchases and contracts, and all the rest, ignorance just doesn’t wash — which, for better or worse, also rules out incompetence. Which leaves us right back where we were.

                Fucking collaborators, the lot of ‘em.

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

                My hero! And a Dubya appointee no less. I like it that he uses “Orwellian.”

              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

                If the NSA ain’t Big Brother, I don’t know what is.

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

                At least the big guys of Silicon Valley are asking for more transparency./

                Why does a letter from Corporate America not exactly put my mind at ease?

                Well, maybe strange bedfellows at best…

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

              They’d have to change their corporate motto from “Don’t be evil” to “Don’t appear to be evil”. :)

              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

                Sadly, they did exactly that a long time ago.

                Of course, now being evil, they intentionally haven’t updated the motto….

                b&

              • Posted December 17, 2013 at 1:16 am | Permalink

                Or “Don’t get caught!”

                /@

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 16, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

            Apologies for the OT digression, Jerry.

            • Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

              Sometimes, it’s the digressions that’re more interesting — or, at least, revealing — than the discussions.

              b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

                WEll, and I was liking this one for sure. But we do have a new visitor (or at least did–why do I think he’ll reappear?) related to the title subject, and I thought maybe this wasn’t the time to get off on a tangent…

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

                A tangent would be a bad sine. Buh dum dah!

              • Posted December 16, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

                That radians wit of yours….

                b&

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

                Of cos!

    • anthrosciguy
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      OMGoodness, he did another classic: the posting after his huffy “my last post evah!” which is now the new last post evah.

    • Suri
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      “Given that epigenetics is defined as the science of how gene expression is regulated according one’s life experiences”

      Unless your definition and this one mean the same thing, I think you are wrong:

      “Epigenetics has been defined and today is generally accepted as ‘‘the study of changes in gene function that are mitotically and/or meiotically heritable and that do not entail a change in DNA sequence.’’

      How can someone with your credentials not know the generally accepted definition of epigenetics?…specially when you and Deepak are making such fantastic claims….you should at least know what you are talking about.

      Citing a few papers won’t do.

      “Man, this is a dark website!”

      Yep, the truth hurts.

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

        OK..couldn’t resist..

        In 1942, Waddington originally defined epigenetics as a conceptual model of how genes interact with their surroundings to produce a phenotype.

        ..and he was first..and probably correct..we are only saying let’s explore it.

        • Leigh Jackson
          Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:31 am | Permalink

          That’s your problem; you just can’t resist; you are all over the place. You can’t get a grip. You have launched yourself on the great shit, sorry, ship, of chopra’s poo, sorry, woo. Choppy waters of criticism and ridicule await you. Sink or float, as ye may.

          • Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

            “we are only saying let’s explore it.”

            Don’t forget to tell your customers that.

        • Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:38 am | Permalink

          Where is any reference to “our life experiences” in Waddington’s 1942 definition?

          Is all this “consciousness” / “awareness” stuff applicable to all of life, or only to humans? Can a flatworm’s consciousness and life experiences affect its DNA and hence its descendents? A daffodil’s?

      • Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:56 am | Permalink

        It’s highly probably our visitor is used to people telling him the sun shines out of the back of his kilt.

        • Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:57 am | Permalink

          Probable, not probably.

          How embarrassment.

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

      The papers that you listed deal with epigenetic modifications in response to the environment. This is nothing new and Jerry referred to this in his opening post. Your imprecise definition of epigenetics notwithstanding, nobody denies that the phenomenon is real.

      we raised the question in our Big Idea piece of just how much control we might someday have over own genetics via modulation of our life experiences.

      If that were indeed the case, your article could be regarded as an interesting, if far-fetched, speculation about the future, loosely based on recent scientific findings. However, you made the following specific claims about the current state of knowledge and it is the unfounded nature of these claims (together with the vague, unscientific language, characteristic of the writings of Deepak Chopra) that brought about the criticism.

      The human genome is set to be the stage for future evolution that we ourselves direct, making choice an integral part of genetics.

      Regardless of the nature of the genes we inherit from our parents, dynamic change at this level allows us almost unlimited influence on our fate.

      Self-awareness holds the key to this process of self-transformation. Consciousness is invisibly reaching into the biochemistry of every moment of life. In your body, as in every cell, regulation is holistic, self-generated, self-organizing, and self-directed in concert with consciousness.

      If anybody is unsure what the last sentence means, your paper gives this definition:

      Self-directed = Voluntary activity in your thoughts, feelings, habits, and desires. This is the realm of personal choice.

      Can you provide any kind of evidence that human thought can voluntarily influence gene expression, that this supposed effect is epigenetic, that it can be stably inherited and that it can be adaptive?

      • Eddie Janssen
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

        An example would also be welcome.

      • Posted December 17, 2013 at 6:30 am | Permalink

        The human genome is set to be the stage for future evolution that we ourselves direct, making choice an integral part of genetics.

        So, why now?

        Why hasn’t the human genome already been the stage for past evolution that we ourselves directed? Why hasn’t choice always been an integral part of genetics?

        Genetics has been there throughout human (indeed, all) evolution, so why haven’t we already seen evidence for genetic change and evolution driven by intentionality?

        /@

  34. Chris
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    I find it very interesting that as soon as discussion began on the article cited by Dr. Tanzi to bolster his claim, he is no where to be found.

    I want to read a point by point rebuttal by Dr. Tanzi on Michael Hart’s critique of the article. In fact, I want to read ANY coherent, scientific rebuttal by Dr. Tanzi beyond the “you guys are not being nice” or “I’m just ahead of my time” comments that he’s been making.

  35. Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Peyton Dracco and commented:
    More on the incessant taunting of a Dr. Jerry Coyne by a new-age guru, con-artist, and charlatan Deepak Chopra. and I hope that the state of rage and despair you’re thrown into, isn’t as permanent as Dr. Coyne suggests.

  36. Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:35 am | Permalink

    Tanzi: “Man, this is a dark website! Rest assured…this is my last post. Over and out! Phew!”
    ___
    His social accommodation of choosing the preferred descriptive for Jerry’s place shows he is reading these often clear and task-taking comments. But so far there is no relief from his poor handle on the relevant research, his sloppy and sensational ‘journalistic’ style, and his unethical ‘intellectual’ pairing with a crank/kook.

    That’s what is dark to me, that Tanzi, for reasons only known to himself, is besmirching his prestigious and hard-earned reputation so easily. Oh why oh why do people pretend that the emperor is clothed? Would a ‘light’ website for Tanzi be where people are so intellectually/emotionally dishonest/fearful that they pretend threadbare rags are an example of haute couture?

  37. Chris
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    I’d be interested to know what mechanism could possibly translate a thought (brain state) in to an edit of DNA. Especially a permanent and lasting one.

    Without this I’m afraid it all seems like magic, as per Intelligent Design.

  38. Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Please don’t take this as an ad-hominem attack, but as other people have previously remarked, if Mr Chopra is in possession of evidence of his new paradigm, he sure doesn’t look like he’s using it. But then, I’m a vain son-of-a-gun.

    Regards,
    “Baby Face” Pete

  39. reason51
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    On my way to atheism, I fell into the same hole that Julia Sweeney did (see quote below), only I pulled myself out of it by actually working at a physics facility. You could say I “transformed my own biology to make my consciousness less susceptable to charlatans like Deepak Chopra. It is a shame that Dr. Tanzi didn’t apply the same exercise before he hitched his science star to the woo wagon.

    “Without God would there be no love? In my confusion I found someone who made it clear. Someone who had thought about this topic a lot. Now at this point I knew a little bit of science but not a lot, and that made me the perfect candidate for Deepak Chopra….I was so intrigued with this quantum mechanics that Deepak refers to over and over and over again in his books, that I decided to take a class in it. And what I found is-Deepak Chopra is full of shit!” Julia Sweeney Letting Go of God

  40. John Taylor
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    So if I want to be healthier should I think really hard about carrot and celery sticks or would that transform me into a half carrot half celery beast man? This new paradigm sounds neat but we’ll have to be careful about what we think.

    • Posted December 17, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man!

      /@

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 17, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Ha! Nailed it!

  41. Dale
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Wow,

    Looking at Dr. Tanzi’s quotes on Twitter pretty much says it all, he’s like the Deepak, he believes in solipsism. He thinks that his brain is a function of his mind and not the other way around. The statement below shows that he also completely denies determinism, including genetic, and believes in 100% freewill. He thinks that he has free will over his genes!

    That’s what I call fundamentally crazy, I see this as a major disconnect with reality, the definition of the truly unhinged. It’s exactly why the DeePak is as crazy as he is.

    I think that these two statements below say it all.

    Dr. Rudy Tanzi ‏@RudyTanzi 11 Dec

    ..the true seat of human existence is in the mind, to which the brain bows like the most devoted and intimate of servants. #SuperBrainQuotes

    Dr. Rudy Tanzi ‏@RudyTanzi 9 Dec

    “Where is the universe heading in the next moment? Only you can choose.” #SuperBrainQuotes

    • Posted December 16, 2013 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      Dr. Rudy Tanzi ‏@RudyTanzi 11 Dec

      ..the true seat of human existence is in the mind, to which the brain bows like the most devoted and intimate of servants. #SuperBrainQuotes

      Dr. Rudy Tanzi ‏@RudyTanzi 9 Dec

      “Where is the universe heading in the next moment? Only you can choose.” #SuperBrainQuotes

      Wow! What great deepities! (Deepakities?)
      Two meanings, one true but trivial (our consciousness is in our minds; doing things changes things), the other profound but false (the mind is more real than the brain; what we think can instantly and importantly change the whole universe).

  42. Dale
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Here’s another couple of good ones from the DeePak followers that illustrate the delusion clearly I think. These people completely identify with “mind” over brain. I feel sorry for people who are this deluded and such strangers to their own material, biological selves. See below Unbelievable!

    ♥JoAnnA ♥ ‏@joanne_cooper 12 Dec

    @RudyTanzi That’s true! Your brain is like a computer and your mind the pc user isn’t it?!!

    Expand
    Janine Rogerson ‏@Wellness4UCoach 12 Dec

    @RudyTanzi @DeepakChopra yes the brain cn be tested however we cnt test the mind, cus its part of the universe, very powerful…

    Expand
    Janine Rogerson ‏@Wellness4UCoach 12 Dec

    @RudyTanzi …..wen the conscious tells the unconscious our (minds)then things are created, its the same in the spirit world only faster !

  43. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Coyne may seriously want to put a stop to the continuing defamation of my character and reputation on his website, beginning with the libelous comments in his article.

    • gbjames
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi, legal threats are, lop-worthy. But not quite as funny as French taunts.

      • Posted December 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

        Oh, thanks for that link! I needed a good laugh tonight.

        And yes, all of Tanzi’s threats are exactly that – French Taunts!

        Gratci’ tanto.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Yeah you already said that. I thought you weren’t coming back.

    • reason51
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi- I seriously want to know why you choose to involve someone like Deepak Chopra in your research. I am questioning your scientific credentials on this topic based on the fact that it appears you did no homework about your publishing partner.

      • Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        From a brief glance at Tanzi’s twitter feed I’d say he’s a straight forward woo who jumped at the chance to piggy-back on Chopra’s fame. His behavior here is the standard reaction of New Agers who take criticism as a personal affront.

        And the bullying tactics and threats of legal action are straight out of Chopra’s manual.

      • Suri
        Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

        Oh, but he is just like Chopra just check out his twitter.

        And if you want to have a laugh check out the negative reviews of ‘Super Brain’ @Amazon.

    • observer
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

      You must be joking, Dr. Tanzi. There is absolutely nothing actionable either in the post or the comments. Either you haven’t consulted an attorney or you’ve been lied to by one. At this point you’re simply embarrassing yourself.

    • Dale
      Posted December 15, 2013 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

      LOL

      Often the first to dispense legal advice is the last to seek it. You defamed your own reputation and character by publishing nonsense and by associating yourself with a known new age huckster. You’re promoting a book with this guy remember?

    • gbjames
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

      As I drifted off to sleep last night it occurred to me that the solution to this affair was entirely within your grasp, Dr. Tanzi. After all, given the incredible discovery you have described, why not just think real hard and make all of us nay-sayers and meanies on this page just evaporate? Or turn us into mice? Or, even worse, into Chopra acolytes! Such almost unlimited influence on our fate shouldn’t be just left there unused in this moment of distress!

    • Posted December 17, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      libelous”?

      /@

  44. Posted December 16, 2013 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    “Certainly the DNA sequence we have is inherited, and doesn’t change over our lifetime except for DNA-coded epigenetic modifications of the sequence (as in “parental imprinting” of genes in males versus females), and perhaps a bit of environmental modification (through changes such as methylation) of DNA bases. None of these alterations, however, are capable of being inherited for more than a generation or two.”

    I can’t see how this can work. If one generation, why not another and another and another, etc.? What is it that is weakened after one generation, terminally after two? How does a DNA sequence “know” how many generations old it is? (And we are talking about generations of the phenotype here, aren’t we, not the genotype?)

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 16, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      Shuggy, the answer to your questions lies in the fact that epigenetic modifications are preserved in some genetic events, but erased and then re-built in others, in a very complex manner that is only beginning to be understood. Epigenetic modifications (e.g. DNA methylation) are replicated in meiosis during the formation of gametes and thus are carried to the zygote. However, soon after fertilization, the embryonic genome begins extensive epigenetic re-programming (most notably, DNA de-methylation). This is further complicated by the timing of the de-methylation events being different for the maternal and the paternal genome. Additionally, some DNA sequences (e.g. those involved in imprinting) escape de-methylation and are maintained in somatic cells into adulthood.

      DNA sequences that are particularly resistant to de-methylation are candidates for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, but only if they remain methylated in the germ line (a set of cells “put aside” early in development, which gives rise to the future gametes). Epigenetic reprogramming of the early (“primordial”) germ cells is regulated differently than that in the remaining tissues and involves nearly complete de-methylation that includes the imprinted genes and other sequences that usually remain methylated. Later, new methylation patterns are introduced during development of the male and female germ-lines. This provides the mechanism for the gradual “dilution” of the transiently inherited epigenetic modifications and may explain why we don’t observe preservation of these modifications over many generations.

  45. Jiten
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    How embarrassing for Harvard. Those 450 papers must be dire as well if this one is anything to go by.

  46. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 18, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    I thought this would happen. I make no comments for a few days, and the many on this list suddenly lose interest. The sharks with no chum…look elsewhere… go ahead, prove my point..

    • Posted December 19, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      We were waiting to hear from your lawyers… 

      But, joking (?) aside, if you’d made any substantive comments, we might still be interested in the discussion. At best, as Brygida and others have pointed out, you still need to be more explicit in step two.

      /@

      • gbjames
        Posted December 19, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

        In a night club, when the jokes stop, the laughter dies away. Similarly, here.

    • Richard Olson
      Posted December 19, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

      Brigida Berse asked Dr. Tanzi twice to answer some questions and he never acknowledged them (copy/paste below). I see Dr. Tanzi continues to look in on this thread. Perhaps the questions presented a third time will work as some kind of charm to elicit a response:

      Dr. Berse: ‘I see that you have begun to distance yourself from the categorical nature of the statements made in the article and even from the direct authorship of it. However, you signed it with your name and affiliation, thus giving it credibility, and you are responsible for its content. In my response to your post at #33, I asked you specific questions about those statements, which you did not answer, so I will repeat them here.

      Can you provide any kind of evidence that human thought can voluntarily influence gene expression, that this supposed effect is epigenetic, that it can be stably inherited and that it can be adaptive?’

      • Posted December 19, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Something tells me Dr Tanzi won’t be answering that. This place is suddenly “too dark” for him and he’ll be “outa here, phew” again.

        …Until he comes back again with some different threats and insults, and will have forgotten the question (again).

        (Funny how woos always act exactly the same as each other and never ever realize it.)
        (Whoops, does that mean I’m on the libel list now too?)

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 19, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Indeed, he’ll keep coming back at regular intervals, disappointed that we’re not still talking about him when he hasn’t answered any of our questions.

    • reason51
      Posted December 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      Seriously Dr. Tanzi…. You had three choices at this point. Answer the serious questions put to you about your work…. ignore this “dark” site and move on… or admit you made a colossal blunder in hitching your star to Deepak Chopra. Instead, you return to the scene of the crime, blow raspberries at everyone and dare them to come at you again. This behavior is quite concerning, don’t you think? It appears so to me at least.

    • Sastra
      Posted December 19, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      I thought this would happen. I make no comments for a few days, and the many on this list suddenly lose interest. The sharks with no chum…look elsewhere… go ahead, prove my point.

      Um .. you do understand how websites and blogs work, don’t you? The host continues to put up new material and old posts usually become inactive after a few days, particularly if a debate appears to have fizzled out. It can be difficult to notice new replies and folks gradually lose interest. This says nothing about whether or not the readers are “sharks.”

      Thinking this would happen isn’t going to give you any points for precognition either.

  47. Brett Williamson
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I have read this comment section with great amusement. It is a pleasure to read well articulated, specific responses to the comments of Dr. Tanzi.

    My original reading of the Chopra / Tanzi piece was when it was published on LinkedIn. In reading some of the glowing accolades posted by LinkedIn readers, I felt compelled to point out short-comings in the logic and notions presented in the piece. I attempted to highlight the speculation of the piece and the accompanying video. I was specific on what points were without evidence, and what tripped the piece to pseudoscience, in my view.

    These included:

    “self-directed biological transformation”;
    “Self-directed evolution is the emerging paradigm.”;
    “since what you think, say, and do today shapes your genetic future.”

    Dr. Tanzi responses to my comments started with a reference to explanatory comments within the thread of the LI article;
    followed with an accusation of attack in the form of: “Is it the science you do not agree with, or do you simply wish to attack the authors?”;
    to a more dismissive “You are unique as an advertising man who also likes to read popular science.”;
    to a contention that I am an angry person persecuting Dr. Tanzi: “those who dear to dream this way are always persecuted by those who want answers now and relish in the fact that we do not yet have them. History has also shown that most persecutors are insecure and angry people who are not happy about how they are spending their own lives.”;
    with a final derogatory conclusion: “Well, I guess this is the difference between a career in advertising and marketing versus one pursuing scientific discovery.” (I was amused by the advertising comments in particular as a simple check of my LI profile would have revealed a M.Sc in Chemistry was in my background.)

    It was telling that Dr. Tanzi never addressed the specific questions or comments on where the science was lacking. Dr. Tanzi was also consistent with some of his responses on both LI and in this comment section in trotting out his Harvard credentials and 400 plus published papers as a supporting foundation for the article.

    I would be very interested to know if any funding bodies consider Tweets as representative of the thought processes used by those requesting money for research projects. If so, Dr. Tanzi may find funding more difficult to acquire.

  48. Brett Williamson
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    I included a reference to this post in the LinkedIn comment section of the Chopra / Tanzi article. I suggested that people consider reading it as a broad & concise rebuttal to the points of Chopra / Tanzi. As well, I added that the comment section was an interesting read.

    Dr. Tanzi wasn’t impressed, and commented as follows (though I do not recall seeing these words from Dr. Tanzi in any of his comments here):
    “Jerry Coyne’s rebuttal reflects an overwhelming level of scientific naiveté. He basically claims that the DNA sequence of your genome is fixed throughout your body for life. Perhaps, he has never heard of somatic mutations that cause tumors, or the newest discovery that 40% of our brain’s neurons contain new structural changes in DNA that occur during one’s lifetime. Perhaps he has never read of trans-generational transmission of newly acquired traits during adulthood along with epigenetic modifications to the genome, all of which is now remarkably well documented. The bottom line is that Coyne is not an expert in this area of study and his base remarks reflect this. Epigenetics is blossoming as a field right now. One is either reading the newest studies in epigenetics and appreciating this rapidly emerging paradigm, or ignoring them altogether..while ritualistically reciting 19th century Darwinism, in ignorant bliss. We humbly urge Dr. Coyne to educate himself on this topic before attacking those who have.”

    The exchange on LI can be viewed at: http://tinyurl.com/khq7n6h

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      I saw a comment about how someone loves physics and is so glad that quantum effects are like this (I’m badly paraphrasing). It made me sad that the person clearly is interested in science but then learns it wrong.

    • gbjames
      Posted December 21, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      More buffoonery from Tanzi. There is no reason to expect that to change.

    • Posted December 21, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

      Of course, Jerry not only never made any such claim, he’s directly addressed all of those examples.

      I and others have, many times, directly asked Dr. Tanzi to explain how any of these DNA modifications to somatic cells have any bearing on germ-line mutations; if he has any examples of DNA methylation that survives more than a few generation; and if he has any evidence of intentional thought causing specific DNA mutation anywhere. Empirically, if you want Dr. Tanzi to shut up, all you need do is ask him one of those questions, because he never returns to answer them — instead, he moves onto somebody else.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Brett Williamson
        Posted December 21, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        In the LI comments, direct questions haven’t resulted in Dr. Tanzi moving on to someone else.

        In response to pointing out the following to Dr. Tanzi:
        “In particular you state: “Consciousness is invisibly reaching into the biochemistry of every moment of life. In your body, as in every cell, regulation is holistic, self-generated, self-organizing, and self-directed in concert with consciousness.” This is clearly pseudoscience and you should know better!”

        12 hours ago he responded with:
        “This is not a “scientific article”. It’s a “big idea” piece. It is intended to stimulate the imagination to inspire new scientific investigation into this important area of genetics, one that affects the health and well-being of all of us. All through history there have been “wet blankets” who try to block the emergence of new science and discovery. Luckily, new discovery will go on despite these petty and naive criticisms..”

        Yet he widely throws in papers to back the contentions in the “Big Idea” piece. He either has a very poor understanding of logic, chooses not to exercise logic or is being intellectually dishonest. I’m not sure which is worse.

        I fear for the Harvard students learning under the tutelage of such a mind. Consider a situation whereby Dr. Tanzi espouses some of his notions contained in the LI piece. How should a undergraduate or graduate student respond to such commentary? If she does so with logic and critical thinking it may not bade well for her future standing in the faculty. Dr. Tanzi appears blind to the conflict he unfairly imposes.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          You can bet he doesn’t espouse this stuff in the classroom or the lab. If this is the case (and I hope it is for the sake of the students and the institution) it’s good for Harvard and the students but bad for his integrity.

          • gbjames
            Posted December 21, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

            At this point I imagine there are people seriously rechecking whatever work Tanzi’s reputation is based on.

  49. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 21, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    I remain puzzled by those on this website who have chosen to criticize my recent Linked In Big Idea article with personal attacks and accusations of “pseudoscience”. It seems that the most frequent point of dissension is whether epigenetic changes accompanying a newly acquired trait in adult life, can be inherited by the next generation. “Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” is the central theme of our Big Idea article. We do not yet understand how a mouse can be experimentally conditioned to fear a certain aroma as an adult and then pass this new trait on to the very next generation (http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.3594.html). We do not yet understand how a water flea develops defensive spines in a hostile environment and, then their offspring do so, as well, even if they are born into a friendly environment. (http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=113017). But, the data are the data, and the implications are profound. So, one of the next big frontiers in genetics is to understand the molecular and physiological basis of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance and to consider how we might use it to maximize our own health and well-being. This was basis for our “idea” article. I urge you all to take some time and read the growing evidence for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. Best wishes to you all for the holidays and 2014.

    • Posted December 22, 2013 at 7:00 am | Permalink

      “We do not yet understand how…”

      Uhuh, so when you wrote “Self-directed evolution is the emerging paradigm”, what you really meant was “We do not yet know whether or not self-directed evolution is the emerging paradigm.”

      Kinda sounds a bit different if you de-Chopra-fy it, doesn’t it. Not nearly so marketable.

      • Posted December 22, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        And your book should not be called Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being, rather,

        Super Brain: hypothetically Unleashing the possibly Explosive but so far purely speculative Power of Your presumed Mind to perhaps Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being but we don’t know how or who will work all stuff out.

        • reason51
          Posted December 22, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Excellent comment!I think our whole clue to the problem with Dr. Tanzi”s “science” is the use of the term “spiritual”. No serious scientific paper or book would include that term at all, at least if the author is wanting to be considered in the running in the world of scientific contributions.

    • gbjames
      Posted December 22, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      If your point all along is that there are things which are as yet understood about the universe then you would have encountered not a bit of resistance. It is an obvious and trivial point.

      But that’s not what you said, is it, Dr. Tanzi? You insist on making extravagant claims about the infinite powers of consciousness, and such nonsense, for which there is not the smallest granule of supporting evidence.

      Just because there are things we don’t yet understand is no reason to lend credence to nonsense claims.

    • Posted December 22, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi, do you have any evidence that these epigenetic modifications survive more than a few generations?

      If so, that’s revolutionary and ground-breaking and well deserving of the way you’ve been hyping things up.

      If not…then this is old news. Fascinating, well deserving of lots of research, yes. But it’s not at all a game changer.

      In the same vein, do you have any evidence of intentional thoughts causing epigenetic modifications of any type?

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Brygida Berse
        Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        Dr. Tanzi, do you have any evidence that these epigenetic modifications survive more than a few generations?

        If so, that’s revolutionary and ground-breaking and well deserving of the way you’ve been hyping things up.

        I don’t think so. Even if the inheritance of epigenetic changes over many generations becomes well documented (it hasn’t been so far, and we know of processes that clear epigenetic modifications between generations), that will only provide a potential additional mechanism for evolution and not for “conscious self-directed evolution” as Chopra and Tanzi claim. That’s what their hype is all about.

        • Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          Not as big as the consciousness-directed evolutionary changes, no, of course. But it’d still be some of the biggest news in evolutionary biology of the century, especially if it’s at all common.

          Of course, there’s no evidence that it lasts across multiple generations or that it’s common, and lots of reasons to highly doubt either is the case.

          b&

          • Brygida Berse
            Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

            especially if it’s at all common

            And that’s another key issue, as we know that the vast majority of epigenetic changes are reprogrammed in the embryo. But I agree that it is an exciting line of research – exciting on its own, without the need for pseudoscientific hype.

            • Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

              I think that’s what frustrates me the most about Tanzi’s and Chopra’s distortions of the science, biology and physics (quantum mechanics) both.

              Isn’t all this amazing enough as it is, without having to twist it into fitting into some sort of childish faery tale? And aren’t faery tales even more fun when you don’t worry excessively about how well they comport with reality?

              Whence the need to pretend that reality is what it isn’t and is instead what you think you wish it were?

              b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 22, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

                C’mon, Ben, which approach sells more books? Attracts more hits? Etc.

              • Posted December 23, 2013 at 6:55 am | Permalink

                Last I checked, JK Rowling had sold just a few more copies of her books than Chopra has of his….

                b&

    • Brygida Berse
      Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi,

      You continue to muddle the issue, insisting on one hand that there is support for your claims in the current scientific literature (there isn’t), and on the other hand that your statements were just a broad idea for the future (they weren’t).

      It seems that the most frequent point of dissension is whether epigenetic changes accompanying a newly acquired trait in adult life, can be inherited by the next generation.

      No, that is not the point of dissension. No one here denies scientific reports of transgenerational inheritance of epigenetic modifications. In particular, the Nature Neuroscience article by Dias & Ressler, which you are quoting now, is the very paper that I referenced in my first response to you one week ago. This paper provides the best piece of evidence to date suggesting that experience-related changes in behavior can be transmitted to the next generation and that DNA methylation may be involved in that transmission. However, the paper does not address the question of whether these changes persist for more than two generations (the authors say that this will be the subject of future research). Without stably inherited genetic modifications there is no possibility of evolutionary change, which Jerry pointed out in his opening post. The study is very preliminary, as its authors and other scientists in the field clearly point out:

      http://www.nature.com/news/fearful-memories-haunt-mouse-descendants-1.14272

      And of course nowhere in that paper – or anywhere else – is there a shred of evidence that conscious action can direct gene expression, heredity, or evolution – which was the essence of your LinkedIn piece on “self-directed biological transformation”.

      Anyone is entitled to use current scientific data to speculate or even fantasize about what the future may bring. That’s how the best sci-fi literature is created and how great new scientific ideas are born. But scientists are not entitled to mislead the public and present their speculations and fantasies as the actual state of knowledge – and that is exactly what you have been doing.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        Brygida, I want to be your hype-girl.

        I’ll start with this reply: Word!

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted December 22, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          Brygida, I want to be your hype-girl.

          Sounds exciting, although I don’t know what my role would be and if I would be up to the task ;-).

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 22, 2013 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        Dr. Berse,

        The point is that it does not matter if inherited transgenerational epigenetic modifications last more than two generations, since new epigenetic changes would be inherited by that point, as dictated by the life experiences of those later generations. This is the paradigm shift we wish to explore.

        Rudy Tanzi

        • Brygida Berse
          Posted December 22, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

          The point is that it does not matter if inherited transgenerational epigenetic modifications last more than two generations, since new epigenetic changes would be inherited by that point, as dictated by the life experiences of those later generations.

          Of course it is crucial, from an evolutionary perspective, that the (epi)genetic change be permanent. Otherwise, the statement that our “life experiences” change our DNA is obvious and trivial and not paradigm-shifting at all. Every person who wasn’t hiding in a cave for the last forty years knows that too much sun exposure puts one at increased risk for skin cancer, because of somatic mutations in the skin cells. However, these mutations are not hereditary and will not affect the evolutionary future of our species unless the DNA of the germline is permanently affected.

          This is the paradigm shift we wish to explore.

          If by that you mean that epigenetic control of brain plasticity is worth exploring, then you are certainly right and numerous researchers who are already exploring it will agree. I don’t see your article proposing any new line of inquiry in that area. Instead, you use a lot of vague, poorly defined or outright pseudoscientific terms to make claims like: self-directed evolution is the emerging paradigm or genetics has been gradually stepping into a new era of “self-directed biological transformation”. It is this kind of pseudoscientific hype that has been criticized here, not your interest in epigenetics.

          So, since I seem to have your attention for the moment, allow me to repeat the set of questions that I directed at you earlier, in hope that you will finally address them:

          Can you provide any kind of evidence that human thought can voluntarily influence gene expression, that this supposed effect is epigenetic, that it can be stably inherited and that it can be adaptive?

      • Rudy Tanzi
        Posted December 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

        Dear Dr. Berse,

        In those experiments, the mouse had the reaction of fear to a particular aroma owing to its linkage to a foot shock. In turn, this particular “fear”, a phobia, was transmitted to the offspring in the next generation. I have proposed that this is “self-directed” in the sense that the mouse experienced fear, developed a phobia as part of it’s own conscious experiences, and then passed the new trait on to the next generation. Now consider, if, somehow, that mouse could overcome that fear, e.g. as a human might be able to, and, consequently, the mouse did not pass on that phobia, would that not qualify in that specific case as “self-directed”? I am not saying a mouse could do this, but a human with some degree of freewill and choice..?

        So, this was what I trying to get at in the piece with Dr. Chopra. I was asking: if we can overcome our worst phobias and addictions, in a self-directed manner, might we then be empowered to avoid passing on those phobias and addictions to our offspring. This was the basis of the “big idea”. Maybe this was not clear in the piece. But, that was the main thinking behind it.

        Have you also taken a look at the data showing that daphnia can grow protective armor in hostile waters and this is transmitted to the next generation even in the absence of hostile waters? One must at least wonder how the simple emotion of “fear” leads to such profound genetic changes in both the mouse and daphnia studies. We simply do not know, but I was also proposing in the piece, that it would be very important to investigate this. That was my intention in the Linked In piece…that this area of study needs a lot more investigation moving forward.

        Thank you for listening and for engaging in this discussion.

        Rudy

        • wtf1962
          Posted December 23, 2013 at 4:22 am | Permalink

          So your version of consciousness isn’t a necessary part of your hypothesis?

        • Posted December 23, 2013 at 4:29 am | Permalink

          might we then be empowered to avoid passing on those phobias and addictions to our offspring

          I didn’t know that humans pass on phobias and addictions to their offspring.

          Or do you mean genetic tendencies for addiction behavior can be altered so that the offspring don’t receive those genes?

          And that Darwin would have written his book differently had he known this and that this kind of thing has occurred more frequently during over the last 3.4 billion years than natural selection, random mutation and genetic drift etc?

        • Posted December 23, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          Now consider, if, somehow, that mouse could overcome that fear, e.g. as a human might be able to, and, consequently, the mouse did not pass on that phobia, would that not qualify in that specific case as self-directed?

          There are a number of unwarranted leaps in that speculation. For starters, I am unaware of any evidence that mice overcoming their fear alters the epigenetic transmission of the fear. This would be easy to test; set up the experiment in such a way that the only way to get to food would be to cross the smelly pain barrier. And it is entirely possible — likely, even, I should hazard — that the epigenetic transmission will track the fear / pain response. Next, mouse models are notoriously poor models for humans, and I am unaware of any studies showing similar epigenetic generational transmission of fear in humans.

          …and, perhaps most significantly, I’m unfamiliar with the study in question, but there’re so many ways such a study could go worng, and the findings so unexpected and significant that we really need a lot of independent confirmation before leaping to the sorts of conclusions you yourself are wont to do.

          Last, none of this addresses Dr. Berse’s main point that epigenetic modifications that don’t survive into deep time aren’t relevant to Evolution. They can’t be, any more than hemline height fashions can. Just because DNA is being used doesn’t imbue the mechanism with special powers; what makes DNA special is that it, and it alone, is what survives into deep time. For anything to shape the origin of species, it, too, will need to somehow survive into deep time.

          Cheers,

          b&

  50. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 23, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks to those who replied to me last post.

    I will make these brief points in reply:

    1. The only genetic modifications that matter for a single generation are those that are inherited in that generation, itself. These include both long-term germline DNA mutations/variants and shorter term epigenetic modifications acquired during the lifetime of the parent (at least according to studies of mice and other lower organisms. As for the criticism that inherited epigenetic changes are “hemline fashions”, I would argue that it is only what the person is wearing now that matters for that person’s life right now. So, inherited epigenetic changes, even if short-lived (a few generations) matter just as much as longterm mutations for the specific generation at hand.

    2. In our “IDEA” piece on Linked In, I’ll say it again – we were obviously not writing a scientific paper. If you wish to read my science papers in actual peer-reviewed journals, please feel free- there are hundreds, particularly in the area of Alzheimer’s disease genetics and therapies. We were asked by LI to share an “idea” for the future. We shared the idea, best summarized in this sentence from our article: “The human genome is set to be the stage for future evolution that we ourselves direct, making choice an integral part of genetics.” The only data for this idea in humans has thus far, come from epidemiological studies of the famine, etc.; we still require hard core molecular genetic data. So, no, we do not yet have direct molecular evidence of humans changing their DNA epigenetically in response to life experience and perceptions accompanied by biochemical and molecular genetic reactions. We are only proposing this will be an important area of study in the future and would have profound implications on our own trans-generational evolution. With this idea we proposed a “consciousome” project aimed at understanding how our experiences and psychological and physiological reactions to those experiences affect our genomes, as well as those of the next generation. The preliminary data from current epigenetic studies of lower organisms suggests that this is a feasible and worthy of investigation in humans. Our piece was aimed at planting the idea and getting this line of investigation going.

    3. And, again, the LI piece is not a science article- obviously! Many scientists write non-scientific editorials, books, op-eds etc. We are allowed to do this. And, no statements were made in my article that we are already there. The points pertain to what may be possible in the future given the current epigenetic data. This is what we wrote:

    “So the next frontier will be to discover how deep and lasting such changes are, how much control we have over them individually, and how they can be passed on to future generations through so-called “soft inheritance,” in which the parents’ life experiences and behavior directly influence the genome of their offspring (transmitted via the epigenome, which controls how the activities of our genes are turned up and down).”

    THE NEXT FRONTIER…give it a chance, folks!!

    • gbjames
      Posted December 23, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      “It wasn’t a science article” is not much of a defense. You’ve made a point repeatedly of emphasizing your credentials? Why would you do that if you weren’t trying to use the patina of science to support your position? Why use sciency-sounding language to make outlandish statements about consciousness?

      How can you make statements like “Every day brings new evidence that the mind-body connection reaches right down to the activities of our genes.” and then turn around and say “I wasn’t making a scientific statement”?

      Yes, you are allowed to do this, at least in the legal sense. In the ethical sense, not so much.

    • Brett Williamson
      Posted December 23, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      Dr. Tanzi,

      How is it that you have i) vehemently defended your LI piece against the charge of pseudoscience, ii) accused those challenging your notions as failing to understand the science behind your Big Idea, iii) trotted out your academic standing and publishing record in Journals and now simply say the article wasn’t about science? By all your actions and words ( until this last comment) you have totally presented the LI Big Idea a factual science. Are you blind to the fact that those without science backgrounds on LI have responded with comments showing they are excited about this new science paradigm?

      Words of academics carry weight. I am curious as to why the caveats listed here haven’t yet been added as clearly on LinkedIn? Doesn’t the general public deserve this more moderate and tempered view of the original piece?

    • Posted December 23, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      I would argue that it is only what the person is wearing now that matters for that persons life right now.

      In a limited personal sense, that in which I would agree with you that we are the only ones qualified to define our own meanings in life, that is true.

      But the context of evolutionary biology is one of aggregate population changes over time. In that context, what happens to individuals in isolation is utterly irrelevant — just as a single drop of rain matters not one whit to the ocean it falls into.

      In our IDEA piece on Linked In, Ill say it again we were obviously not writing a scientific paper.

      And yet you were not presenting it as science fiction or fantasy, either, but as fact.

      There’s a world of difference between summarizing exciting new research results for a lay audience and wildly speculating on practical applications of said research — and that difference is the one between good and irresponsible journalism. As a medical doctor, I’m sure you’re familiar with findings that such-and-such a drug inhibited this-and-that action of so-and-so cancerous cells in lab mice, with the popular press picking it up and running with it as “NEW UNIVERSAL CURE FOR CANCER!” Your piece is in that spirit, and it’s not an healthy one.

      So the next frontier will be to discover how deep and lasting such changes are, how much control we have over them individually, and how they can be passed on to future generations through so-called soft inheritance, in which the parents life experiences and behavior directly influence the genome of their offspring (transmitted via the epigenome, which controls how the activities of our genes are turned up and down).

      THE NEXT FRONTIERgive it a chance, folks!!

      The problem is that, if anything like what you describe were in fact reality, we’d have seen independent evidence of such long ago. We can be absolutely certain that any such effects in humans are statistically insignificant at absolute most. There’ve been so may studies that would have picked up on such a phenomenon that there’s no way it could have been overlooked until now.

      Your hypothesis has been given a chance. It’s been given a chance for millennia, and always found wanting. Why should we give it any more chances?

      …and, what’s worse, is that Craig Venter is demonstrating how your most hyperbolic of ideas might actually come true — not through meditation or any such activity, but through direct intelligent manipulation of the genome.

      How on Earth could you hype up such weak tea as the studies you’ve been referring to and so utterly miss the actual realization of a dream even better than the one you’re peddling?

      Cheers,

      b&

    • Posted December 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      1. So your ideas have nothing to do with evolution after all. Why on earth did you even mention evolution in your article?

      And why did you say in promoting your book:
      “We believe that super brain is the next evolutionary leap for the human brain. The last leap was the neocortex…Now we can build on that. Choice is the key, because human beings are the only creatures who can choose to evolve”

      Your senior partner claims to be an “Evolutionary Leader” and has his own definition of the word evolution.

      http://www.evolutionaryleaders.net/leaders/dchopra

      Chopra’s audience would have understood you to be referring to this woo version of evolution. No wonder you seem a bit bashful and reticent defending it here.

      2. “So, no, we do not yet have direct molecular evidence of humans changing their DNA…”
      “not YET have”??? What on earth doe that mean? And isn’t it rather unethical to start selling techniques for doing just that without any evidence that it’s even possible? Did you tell your customers this?

      3. “the LI piece is not a science article”
      I think you should have told your senior partner that. Maybe he would not have so stridently challenged Prof. Coyne read it and cause you all this embarrassment and back-pedaling.

      “THE NEXT FRONTIER…give it a chance, folks!!”
      No commenters here are opposed to further research, merely to your presumptuous claims that you already know how the research will turn out.

  51. Rudy Tanzi
    Posted December 23, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I have repeatedly tried to make my points about the difference between a Linked In basically op-ed piece on an idea and an actual scientific article. Based on the few who continue to react so negatively to whatever I write on this website, it might be best for me finally sign off. I wish you all the best. Happy 2014.

    • gbjames
      Posted December 24, 2013 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      Goodbye for the third time. See you when you’re about to leave for the forth.

  52. Lazăr Lung
    Posted April 23, 2014 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    It is true that we can alter our DNA. For example, if we go to Chernobyl or Fukushima, get too many X-rays or hang out too much in UV light, our DNA will get altered as a result of our actions.

    We can probably also alter gene expression via epigenetics in similar way.

    None of this is revolutionary. Of course you can alter your DNA or gene expression by choice of environment. You can even take an educated guess as to the nature of the change (cancer from ionizing radiation, various predictable effects from variation in gene expression).

    But what you can do is not limitless. You can influence your DNA in some narrow, specific ways, based on the context you put the organism in, but you can’t do everything, and you certainly can’t direct it by “thought power” alone.

    Try to tell the people who were conceived in conditions similar to the Dutch famine of 1944 that they’re dying from early onset diabetes because of epigenetics, but that they can change that by having positive thoughts. Nope, that’s not how reality works.

    What these hacks do is claim they stumbled upon some revolutionary idea, when they in fact, haven’t. Then they sell this over-hyped nonsense for as much money gullible westerners are willing to give them.

    If you want to learn something about epigenetics, Robert Sapolsky’s Stanford lectures on Behavioral Biology is the way to go.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] article, and then in a separate post, with Dr Tanzi’s response to criticism. (The article was roundly criticized by Prof. Jerry Coyne. Tanzi threatened to sue Coyne for libel, and also pulled most of the typical woo tricks that I […]

  2. […] mentioned in the earlier post on this, Chopra and Tanzi were roundly criticized by biologist Jerry Coyne. In response, Tanzi and his Super Brain appeared in the comments on Coyne’s article to defend […]

  3. […] Chopra and Tanzi’s piece, “You will direct your own biology,” which I criticized here.  It’ about how you can change your genes and the course of human evolution simply […]

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