I got an email from one of the Deepakity’s assistants two nights ago, which said this:
Deepak wanted me to share this letter with you and wondered if you would consider signing it along with 1,000 others [sic] scientists.
Of course I knew, based on experience, that this was something I would probably refuse; but I did read it. Here is Deepak’s cover letter and then the “statement” we were asked to endorse are below. Before posting all of this, I asked and got permission from Chopra’s assistant, for which I’m grateful.
The cover letter from Chopra was also sent to several equesterian atheists and, I suppose, to others I don’t know.
General wording? I don’t think so. Here’s the statement we were asked to sign (my emphasis at end):
Science Must Face Reality: In Support of Consciousness
There’s a general feeling that science has advanced to the point that it can answer the two most important questions facing it. What is the universe made of? What is the biological basis of consciousness? If these two mysteries are finally solved, a true Theory of Everything cannot be far off. We are concerned, however, that the old scientific paradigm is not adequate to provide answers to either question. The old paradigm, under which we were trained, along with every working scientist, reduces difficult problems to smaller, more manageable parts. Experiments are conducted, data is collected, and findings are reached. In this way objective knowledge emerges that a consensus can accept, whether it concerns the behavior of moving bodies in Newton’s time or the existence of the Higgs boson in ours.
The mainstream view in science is that this general method of exploring Nature will continue to succeed, based on the enormous progress science has made in the past. We don’t share such confidence. There comes a time when old paradigms falter and fail, giving way to a completely new paradigm. This is the natural evolution of scientific investigation. We urge anyone interested in the advance of knowledge to recognize that the signs of a new paradigm emerging are unmistakable.
What forces such a radical change is reality itself, which science is obliged to follow. Reality has led us to the point where reductionism, a “bottom up” approach that seeks to build reality up from its smallest constituents, must give way to holism, a “top down” approach that accepts an undeniable fact: Reality is one thing. Up to now, reductionism has been successful in disguising the dualism that is threatening to become a fatal flaw. There is no credible bridge between classical and quantum physics, brain and mind, physiology and psychology. In effect, the march of science through theory and technology has yet to explain how atoms and molecules took the leap that produced human experience, our mental participation in the reality science is trying to explain. Science has relegated personal experience to the sidelines and at times even rejected that consciousness is a valid subject of study. The reason is obvious, because the scientific quest has been for objective findings, not subjective impressions. The split between objective and subjective lies at the bottom of every other duality. But without a top down, holistic framework, there will never be an adequate explanation of reality. The two big questions facing science (What is the universe made of? What is the biological basis of consciousness?) needs to be reframed. What’s at stake is actually “What is existence?” and “How is existence known?”
This reframing will strike the vast majority of scientists as metaphysics, in other words, not science. There is an implicit disdain for philosophy among even elite scientists, who are on public record calling philosophy useless, pointless, and an obstacle to the progress of science. But this viewpoint is the product of an old paradigm on the verge of being superseded. Many significant advances in quantum physics depended on thought experiments, and every science depends on hypotheses and models, which are mental activities.
At some point, a problem can approach the horizon where thought experiments, models, and even mathematics, the ultimate mental foundation of science, must confront the nature of experience. Until we understand the basis of consciousness, from which all experience arises (including the experience of doing science) there is no guarantee that how we perceive the universe matches reality. By taking consciousness for granted, or shunting it aside, the old paradigm assumed that perception
is an adequate match for reality–this despite the obvious fact that science distrusts the report of the five senses. A person sees the sun rise in the East and set in the West. Science investigates to discover if this report has any basis in fact.
What would a top down, holistic foundation for science look like? An answer is just now emerging; the new paradigm is emerging through the activity of many minds. We simply want to make a declaration of intent, pointing science away from its collision with reality. The future of a planet in danger depends upon seeing human experience in a new way, so that preservation replaces endless consumption, saving replaces bottomless spending, and caretaking replaces despoiling. The peril we face is entwined with science and technology, and it is widely expected that science and technology will rescue us.
But this will only happen, we believe, through a deeper, better understanding of consciousness, since after all, nothing is real unless we are conscious of it. The late physicist John Archibald Wheeler was among the first to point out that this is a participatory universe. Humans are embedded in the reality they seek to explain. The time is long past when science can afford to stand outside reality in search of perfect objectivity. As useful as that stance has been, a new stance is urgently needed.
I answered politely by email, but didn’t register my choice electronically. Can you guess my answer?
This is not a call for a serious new paradigm—at least, it suggests no fruitful directions of research—but simply an endorsement of Chopra’s metaphysical and woo-laden views. If reductionism won’t help us understand consciousness, what will? The “top down” approach is the name for something that starts with woo, and that simply won’t work.
Note, too, that the only “direction” of research suggested is through “the activity of many minds,” which I presume to be some kind of nebulous “quantum universal consciousness.” And there’s also a threat that if we don’t go in this direction, it’s all over for Earth. That’s rather presumptious, to say the least.
It’s clear from this letter that Chopra is asking a number of scientists to sign on to his call for a New Paradigm. He wants validation of his views—views that many of us have criticized, clearly upsetting him. He’ll get some endorsers, too, including his mate Rudy Tanzi, and maybe some others who are enamored or woo and suspicious of the reductionist approach to science—the only approach that really ever works for understanding biological systems. But I seriously doubt he’ll get any of the more skeptical neurosciences.
Signing this letter is like wearing a sign on your forehead that says, “I iz baffled. I can haz new paradime?”