Woo Woo is a Step Ahead of Bad Science

Rah, rah, Deepak Choprah, “King of Woo Woo” for taking on Skeptic Michael Shermer (former fundamentalist Christian) now the “King of Pooh Pooh”. Here’s the very latest volley in the ongoing war between religion and science…(a useless war since they actually coexist and overlap, ya know!)
By Deepak Chopra
Sunday December 27, 2009

It used to annoy me to be called the king of woo woo. For those who aren’t
familiar with the term, “woo woo” is a derogatory reference to almost any
form of unconventional thinking, aimed by professional skeptics who are
self-appointed vigilantes dedicated to the suppression of curiosity. I get
labeled much worse things as regularly as clockwork whenever I disagree with
big fry like Richard Dawkins or smaller fry like Michael Shermer, the
Scientific American columnist and editor of Skeptic magazine. The latest
barrage of name-calling occurred after the two of us had a spirited exchange
on Larry King Live last week <http://bit.ly/5AlD31>. Maybe you saw it. I was
the one rolling my eyes as Shermer spoke. Sorry about that, a spontaneous
reflex of the involuntary nervous system.

Afterwards, however, I had an unpredictable reaction. I realized that I
would much rather expound woo woo than the kind of bad science Shermer
stands behind. He has made skepticism his personal brand, more or less,
sitting by the side of the road to denigrate “those people who believe in
spirituality, ghosts, and so on,” as he says on a YouTube video. No matter
that this broad brush would tar not just the Pope, Mahatma Gandhi, St.
Teresa of Avila, Buddha, and countless scientists who happen to recognize a
reality that transcends space and time. All are deemed irrational by the
skeptical crowd. You would think that skeptics as a class have made
significant contributions to science or the quality of life in their own
right. Uh oh. No, they haven’t. Their principal job is to reinforce the
great ideas of yesterday while suppressing the great ideas of tomorrow.

Let me clear the slate with Shermer and forget the several times he has
wiggled out of a public debate he was supposedly eager to have with me. I
will ignore his recent blog in which his rebuttal of my position was
relegated to a long letter from someone who obviously didn’t possess English
as a first language (would Shermer like to write a defense of his position
in Hindi? It would read just as ludicrously if Hindi isn’t his first

With the slate clear, I’d like to see if Shermer will accept the offer to
debate me at length on such profound questions as the following:

  • Is there evidence for creativity and intelligence in the cosmos?
  • What is consciousness?
  • Do we have a core identity beyond our biology, mind, and ego?
  • Is there life after death? Does this identity outlive the molecules through which it expresses itself?

The rules will be simple. He can argue from any basis he chooses, and I will
confine myself entirely to science. For we have reached the state where
Shermer’s tired, out-of-date, utterly mediocre science is far in arrears of
the best, most open scientific thinkers — actually, we reached that point
sixty years ago when eminent physicists like Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli,
Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrodinger applied quantum theory to deep
spiritual questions. The arrogance of skeptics is both high-handed and
rusty. It is high-handed because they lump brilliant speculative thinkers
into one black box known as woo woo. It is rusty because Shermer doesn’t
even bother to keep up with the latest findings in neuroscience, medicine,
genetics, physics, and evolutionary biology. All of these fields have opened
fascinating new ground for speculation and imagination. But the king of
pooh-pooh is too busy chasing down imaginary woo woo.

Skeptics feel that they have won to the high ground in matters concerning
consciousness, mind, the origins of life, evolutionary theory, and brain
science. This is far from the case. What they cling to is nineteenth-
century materialism, packaged with a screeching hysteria about God and
religion that is so passé it has become quaint. To suggest that Darwinian
theory is incomplete and full of unproven hypotheses, causes Shermer, who
takes Darwin as purely as a fundamentalist takes scripture, to see God
everywhere in the enemy camp.

How silly. Shermer is a former Christian fundamentalist who is now a
fundamentalist about materialism; fundamentalists must have an absolute to
believe in. Thus he forces himself into a corner, declaring that all
spirituality is bogus, that the sense of self is an illusion, that the soul
is ipso facto a fraud, that mind has no existence except in the brain, that
intelligence emerged only when evolution, guided by random mutations,
developed the cerebral cortex, that nothing invisible can be real compared
to solid objects, and that any thought which ventures beyond the five senses
for evidence must be dismissed without question.

I won’t go into detail about the absurdity of such rigid thinking. However,
the impulse behind dogmatic materialism seems intended to flatten one’s
opponents so thoroughly that through scorn and arrogance they must admit
defeat, conceding that science is the complete refutation of all preceding
religion, spirituality, psychology, myth, and philosophy — in other words,
any mode of gaining knowledge that arch materialism doesn’t countenance.

I’ve baited this post with a few barbs to see if Shermer can be goaded into
an actual public debate. I have avoided his and his follower’s underhanded
methods, whereby an opponent is attacked ad hominem as an idiot, moron, and
other choice epithets that in his world are the mainstays of rational
argument. And the point of such a debate? To further public knowledge about
the actual frontiers of science, which has always depended on wonder, awe,
imagination, and speculation. Petty science of the Shermer brand scorns such
things, but the greatest discoveries have been anchored on them.

If you are tempted to think that I have taken the weaker side and that
materialism long ago won this debate, let me end with a piece of utterly
nonsensical woo woo:

“Nobody understands how decisions are made or how imagination is set free.
What consciousness consists of, or how it should be defined, is equally
puzzling. Despite the marvelous success of neuroscience in the past century,
we seem as far from understanding cognitive processes as we were a century

That isn’t a quote from “one of those people who believe in spirituality,
ghosts, and so on.” It’s from Sir John Maddox, former editor-in-chief of the
renowned scientific journal Nature, writing in 1999. I can’t wait for
Shermer to call him an idiot and a moron. Don’t worry, he won’t. He’ll find
an artful way of slithering to higher ground where all the other skeptics
are huddled.