Friday, February 16, 2007

Deepak Chopra gets stupid again

Deepak Chopra, after a long period of relative calm, has erupted again into another rant full of scientific ignorance in his new Huffington Post blog entry, "Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus (Part 1)."

Link:

Why Evolutionary Biology Embraces the Bogus (Part 1)


Mr. Chopra is upset over some pop science articles that have appeared in "the media" touting new explanations for things like altruism, generosity, and music. He doesn't like such complex matters being traced to the brain, which is dependent upon genes, and genes dependent upon that evil-ution.

Chopra read some articles called "Are You a Giving Person? Your Brain Tells Why" and "Music on the Brain: Why We Are Hard-Wired to Rock" and they have upset the poor little charlatan. He's horrified by their great air of confidence and he feels his own world view has atrophied and is endangered. He wants human behavior explained in terms of culture, human values, religion, and philosophy – not evolutionary psychology.

Since Mr. Chopra doesn't link the articles he mentions and a Google search doesn't bring them up I can only rely on similar articles I've read. For example, "How Altruistic Is Your Brain?" which is linked here:

"How Altruistic Is Your Brain?"

Another example would be "Altruism 'in-built' in humans" which is here:

"Altruism 'in-built' in humans"

Deepak found some claims in his articles to be "thoroughly bogus" in his view, saying they step over the boundary of "believable explanations." So, what doesn't Deepak believe?

Deepak thinks evolutionary biology and genetics cannot deal with the philosophical order of explanation. He doesn't think the articles he has read deal with the proper category of explanation. He writes; "Let's say a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants a prescription for Prozac. What made him depressed isn't the imbalance of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job." Actually, it's possibly both. The loss of his job affected an imbalance of serotonin which then caused depression. It's also possible it's just a chemical imbalance caused not by job loss but by a virus, a bad diet or any number of causes. Deepak simply presumes to know the cause is the guy losing his job.

In the case of losing his job, the Prozac might make him "happy" again, but he'll be a happy bum on Prozac -- if he can get the prescription that is.

As some commentary on Deepak's own blog already notes, Chopra mistakes the common meaning of depression for the clinical condition that will get you a prescription for Prozac. People who are a little down because of losing a job don't usually get prescriptions for Prozac from a reputable doctor. I looked up Prozac on Google and it is used for treating major clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, including panic associated with agoraphobia (a severe fear of being in crowds or public places) and under the brand name Sarafem, the active ingredient in Prozac is also prescribed for the treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

So, that guy who is feeling down about losing his job, well, he's going to have to go to the websites I went to and fake it to abuse Prozac because if his depression was caused just by losing his job he ain't going to get it if he's honest.

There's a reason evolution gave us "depression" and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better. And when I say "depression" here I don't mean the kind you need Prozac for. I mean the way you naturally would feel if you lost your job. Clinical depression is when the brain system goes wrong for chemical/biological reasons, as it too often does.

The philosophical order of explanation that evolutionary psychology deals with might identify a normal amount of sadness as a motivation to get to a better state, but there is in all probability no real evolutionary role for clinical depression. It is just the system going wrong. So, Deepak isn't even out of the starting gate when it comes to understanding evolutionary psychology, and then it gets worse.

Deepak claims, based on pop science articles he apparently doesn't understand, that science offers a "kind of wrong explanation all the time. It mistakes agency for cause." This, according to Deepak is because "the brain is serving as the agent of the mind, it isn't causing mind."

What Deepak is really talking about here is "souls," the "Thetan" in scientology, Deepak's own bogus ideas about "consciousness." It's the homunculus, the ghost in the machine.

This comes through only slightly when he offers an example of how explanations can be correctly arrived at:

"A car driven by a drunk driver swerves off the road in a blizzard. Several kinds of people show up at the scene, and each one is asked 'What caused this accident?' A car mechanic points to the steering wheel and the drive train, which turned the car off a straight line. A driving instructor says that the driver lacked the skill to negotiate a slippery road. A doctor says the driver's reflexes were impaired by alcohol. A psychologist says that the driver had a fight with his wife at a party and therefore drank too much out of anger. The driver himself says that he must have dozed off for a moment.

"It's obvious that all these answers fit the worldview of the person answering. They each occupy a different order of explanation. Theories power perceptions. But it's also obvious that the car mechanic is furthest from giving a cogent answer. By confining himself to the steering wheel and drive train, he can provide an explanation that is mechanically correct but totally wrong-headed. In our hyper-technical world today, we can add some experts at the accident scene who are wrong-headed in a more impressive way. A neurologist holds up an MRI of the driver's brain and locates impaired activity in the motor cortex. A cell biologist detects minute alterations in sugars and enzymes in the liver. A quantum physicist calculates the amplitude of the probability curve that collapsed to produce neurotransmitters in the synaptic gaps of the driver's cerebrum.

"Does the addition of ultra-specificity on any of these planes offer an answer better than the driver's 'I must have dozed off'? Actually, no."

And that is where Deepak is dead wrong. Everybody but the driver has a level of explanation that can change the results for the driver in the future.

The car mechanic might design cars that prevent drivers from going off the road:

http://tim.griffins.ca/writings/old/computers-in-car-safety.html

The driving instructor can teach the skills needed to negotiate a slippery road.

The doctor can design tests (which already exist) that help police get drivers impaired by alcohol off the road, help cure his alcoholism and other things.

The psychologist can help the driver resolve issues with his wife and teach the driver better ways to deal with his frustration than drinking too much out of anger.

The driver on the other hand can not keep himself from "dozing off for a moment" until he confronts why he did doze off in the first place. Does he even acknowledge to himself that he drank?

The car mechanic is not the furthest from giving a cogent answer. However, it is an answer that ignores the issue of the driver. This is not totally wrong-headed. However, it does represent a danger in the way our technology can remove our responsibility, but that's for another blog post.

The other explanations Deepak thinks "wrong headed" are: "A neurologist holds up an MRI of the driver's brain and locates impaired activity in the motor cortex" and "A cell biologist detects minute alterations in sugars and enzymes in the liver." These explanations have even more power to change our lives. Consider the "The Hedonistic Imperative":

http://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/tabconhi.htm

http://www.hedweb.com/hedethic/hedonist.htm#saving

You'll see a comment by "miken" in my comments section and he saw something I missed. I was baffled as to what the point of Deepak's example was about and miken noted that it seems to be an attempt to apply the old 'blind men and the elephant' allegory to describe science. It's even more bogus than I first thought! The blind men argued about whether the elephant was like a snake, a tree trunk or Deepak Chopra's ass, but none of the scientists, or rather the mechanic, the doctor and the psychologist would argue about it. They'd agree with each other that the causes advanced by the others were both valid and contributory.

Deepak says we must "intuit the correct order of explanation" before you can sensibly offer the correct answer. That has more to do with whom you're explaining things too and what you want the explanation to accomplish and it can be reasoned out rather than "intuited" by taking into account who you're explaining things to and why.

Deepak ends with:

"When a devout Christian asks God to heal her instead of going to the doctor, rationalists feel frustrated because in their eyes she is stubbornly relying on the wrong order of explanation (i.e., attributing disease to sin and cures to God's mercy), but they rarely see the same flaw in themselves."

Maybe the flaw here is in Deepak Chopra and not in the scientists, or even the pop science writers?

23 comments:

miken said...

Great analysis!

None of the parties in Chopra's fictitious example would have such a narrow view that they would not agree that the causes advanced by the others were both valid and contributory. It's an attempt to apply the old 'blind men and the elephant' allegory to describe science, and just another tired example of the post-modernist 'reality is in the eye of the beholder' nonsense. People, including scientists, don't think and act that way.

Will said...

Hi guys,
First of all, great analysis. Even though the anti-Deepak tone and insults dampens the impact of the logical analysis, I can see it is an intelligent response.

I think the problem is that the issue is individuated too frequently. So, in other words, I think we can say that "beauty is in the eye of the beholders" where we have a plurality.

Regards of what science has to say, reality for the human animal is always consensual (with only the number of "believers" varying, from one to many), and reality never stays the same (either in the mind of the individual or the perceiving consensuality of the group). I really don't think a blow-by-blow on that comment is required for an intelligent reader taking a moment to think.

I think Deepak may be making a huge mistake to pit his ideas against scientific thinking. I don't think they even address the same subject to be honest.

At the end of the day, regardless of the advances of science and the comforts of religion you have to ask yourself: am I doing a better job of being patient, calm, and withholding non-useful anger in my perceptions and reactions to the stimuli arranged by my brain?

If the answer is Yes, then who cares if its science, little green men, or whatever. Makes no difference; and if you think it does and you stick to it . . .well, that's fanaticism by any other name. Reproducibility of results and consenual perception ("hey, central heating is awesome", "sure is!")are not grounds for spending time dismantling world views anymore than Jesus died for our sins justifies someone knocking on my door trying to explain how I'm living my life incorrectly.

Incoherent Transmision over.

normdoering said...

miken said...
"It's an attempt to apply the old 'blind men and the elephant' allegory to describe science,..."

I missed that! You're right.

Deepak's metaphor doesn't even make sense unless it's a version of the blind men and the elephant because all those experts would agree.

They'd all agree except maybe the driver who is trying to lie his way out of prison or a hefty fine -- or is in denial if he thinks he just "dozed off."

The only thing they might do differently is offer their own specialist solutions.

I'm going to edit your observation in later -- here's your credit -- thanks.

Tea said...

Deepak ends with:

"When a devout Christian asks God to heal her instead of going to the doctor, rationalists feel frustrated because in their eyes she is stubbornly relying on the wrong order of explanation (i.e., attributing disease to sin and cures to God's mercy), but they rarely see the same flaw in themselves."

Actually, rationalists feel much more frustrated because devouts claim to rely on this order, but then run to the doctor as soon as they feel a bit sick. It's the inconsistency of their beliefs vs. their actions that really bothers me.

The Science Pundit said...

"It's an attempt to apply the old 'blind men and the elephant' allegory to describe science"

I actually find that metaphor very useful--even in science. Deepockets did however, completely misapply it for all the reasons milken stated.

"Even though the anti-Deepak tone and insults dampens the impact of the logical analysis"

Maybe so, but when someone consistantly posts nonsense, deconstructing it can get tiresome and lead to snippiness.

Psamathos said...

What made him depressed isn't the imbalance of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job.

Chopra obviously has no understanding of psychopathology, the diathesis-stress model in particular. It doesn't matter if it was his job, his girlfriend, or a stray gamma-ray burst. Whatever triggered his depression says nothing about the subsequent treatment methodology, and does not contradict the fact that psychopharmaceutical treatments work.

Andy said...

I had turned on my sneer and thought "What a Bozo!", but you have taken up the gauntlet and shown that Deepak's example doesn't prove what he thought it did. Way to go.

:-) mark said...

Good analysis, but I think you're a wrong when you say:

"There's a reason evolution gave us depression and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better."

Depression doesn't motivate; quite the opposite in fact. It causes the individual to withdraw from the source of stress. It's up to others to help the individual to get better. That's why depression is such dangerous illness.

normdoering said...

:-) mark said...

Good analysis, but I think you're a wrong when you say:

"There's a reason evolution gave us depression and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better."

Depression doesn't motivate; quite the opposite in fact. It causes the individual to withdraw from the source of stress. It's up to others to help the individual to get better. That's why depression is such dangerous illness.

normdoering said...

Ack! goofed.

Yes, clinical depression is not adaptive, but I think that low level sadness we sometimes call call depression is.

I'll have to edit again to make that clear.

Martin said...

After reading this i must conclude once again that evolutionists can´t argue philosophically, and that they are as blinded by belief as their religious opponents. I mean:

"There's a reason evolution gave us depression and sadness and pain – it's supposed to motivate you to do what you have to do to get back to a state where you feel better."

What excacly is the evidence of this? Am i right that the only reason to believe in this is that it is taken as a given due to the infallability of the evolution hypothesis?

And the comment about consciousness is also nonsense, very little can be said with security about the nature of consciousness and its connection to the body.

So why attack Chopra when he makes claims in areas that are far from proven to be the other way? Are you interested in the truth or just the dogma of evolutionary thinking?

AustinAtheist said...

I've just gotten word that Austin will be keepin' it even weirder because Chopra is coming to town. Any particular question you'd like me to confront him with? If so, I'll see what I can do.

normdoering said...

AustinAtheist asked:
"...Chopra is coming to town. Any particular question you'd like me to confront him with?"

Doctor Chopra, as a medical physician, how can you recommend what no other reputable doctor would -- and that is what you recommended in your Huffington Post blog where you suggested that someone feeling down about losing their job should get a prescription to Prozac. Prozac is for serious clinical depression, not feeling a little blue because you lost your job.

AustinAtheist said...

Excellent. I'm still waiting for what few readers I have to suggest some questions in the comments of my post. So yours will be on the top of my list. I'll do my best to get my hand up first when it comes to the inevitable Q&A session. Thanks.

Martin said...

erm...did you actually read Chpras post???. He´s not saying that someone losing their job should be given prozac. This is what he says:

"Now let's say that a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants a prescription for Prozac."

And btw. he is making an analogy, so the smaller factual details are not so important anyway.

normdoering said...

You lie through editing Martin, you chopped off an important chunk. He wrote this:
"Now let's say that a man loses his job, becomes depressed, and wants a prescription for Prozac. What made him depressed isn't the imbalance of serotonin in his brain but the loss of his job."

If he has an imbalance of serotonin he needs a drug like Prozac. That's what Prozac corrects. So, Deepak is saying loss of a job causes clinical depression.

I think that's wrong. What do you think Mr. Turnip?

http://normdoering.blogspot.com

Martin said...

hello norm...so you are calling me a liar, i guess that sais more about you than about me (who you do not know). And you are saying that the loss of ones job could NOT lead to clinical depression? Why not excactly?

And what relevance if any does this have to the analogy Chopra is making???

normdoering said...

"And you are saying that the loss of ones job could NOT lead to clinical depression? Why not excactly?"

No, I'm saying what Deepak said is wrong. Deepak didn't say "lead" he said "caused" and losing your job cannot cause clinical depression because there would have to be other factors involved - perhaps genetic - and we can know this because plenty of people lose their jobs and don't get clinically depressed.

You lied to yourself again by switching "cause" to "lead."

normdoering said...

Well he actually says "made him" - not "caused" which is worse.

normdoering said...

Go to my main page and look for this blog entry:
"Martin, you're a delusional idiot with the reading comprehension skills of a turnip."

FC said...

I see what you're doing here in Hell. Great work. Keep challenging us.

FC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Russell Blackford said...

I'm not sure I can follow the argument about Prozac. I have a friend (a medical specialist, but not a psychiatrist) who is now writing a (bioethics) doctoral thesis about the use of Prozac. From the discussions I've had with him and papers I've heard him read, I'm pretty sure that Prozac actually is prescribed in a lot of cases of relatively mild depression - though he argues that it shouldn't be. I'd defer to his knowledge a lot more than to a wikipedia article. Also, what Chopra said is very vague and open to interpretation.

That's all by the by, but the argument here seems to get bogged down on this issue.

The real point is just that normal methods of inquiry - with which science is continuous, though it is also far more precise and rigorous in its methods - have led us to a situation where it is pretty much irrational to deny that physical processes underlie such things as thought and affect. To the extent that Chopra wants to get mileage out of the popular resistance to this idea, yes go ahead and demolish him, but the Prozac thing really seems like a side issue to me.