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)."
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:
Another example would be "Altruism 'in-built' in humans" which is here:
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:
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 "The Hedonistic Imperative":
"The Hedonistic Imperative":
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?