Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I couldn't have said it better myself

So I won't.

Woo woo is a step ahead of (bad) science

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. . 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....

Click here for the full essay: An essay by Deepak Chopra, reported on www.beliefnet.com.


MTG C# Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MTG C# Guy said...

Never mind, I found the link: http://podcasts.cnn.net/cnn/big/podcasts/lkl/video/2009/12/22/lkl.life.death.cnn.m4v

Autumnforest said...

I have run into this my whole life from growing up in a famous haunted house to being a psychometrist. I am the most logic-minded person I know and I am also spiritual and psychically talented and seeking out haunted places to come to my own conclusions. It's hard to take either "side" seriously; the religious have a God to prove, the skeptics have their egos based on what they can weigh and measure right now. Those same religious types would forgo medicine for their beliefs and die of a treatable disease, the skeptics 200 years ago wouldn't have believed in bacteria causing illness. They're both not living in the "real" world. In the real world, we don't have all the answers and sometimes the most surprising and crazy things are found that defy any prior logic. We must be adaptable. I live in a logical world, but I know that it's also directed by that we have not yet "proven" by science. That's being ahead of your time, like folks who used to wash their hands before treating a patient long before microbes were discovered. Brilliant article, by the way.

Daniel Clay Russ said...

The mistake is believing that science and spirituality are mutually exclusive. Yes, spirituality is harder to recreate in a laboratory than say gravitation. But there is ample evidence that consciousness exist from laboratory experimentation not the least of which is the collapse of a wave function, the double slit experiment that shows an observer turns a potentiality wave into a photon. This e have known since the early 20th century.

Lawrence said...

whilst yes Chopra is right here and Shermer ridiculous as always, so what - Chopra is part of the New-Age fluffiness that Shermer and his ilk are reacting to.

Chopra is a caricature of the smug new-age know-it-all guru type who has made more than a little moolah with his lightweight new-age fodderol books and seminars and the rest. 'quantum healing' WTF?? "happy thoughts make for happy molecules"??

Chopra's writings and 'spiritual' talk are lightweight and safe, he wouldn't dare offend his crystal worshipping airhead acolytes channeling Rama and Sitting Bull in seances with anything threatening to their worldview. There's that bank account balance needs keeping an eye on. He is like the flip side of the CSICOP types. Yeah Shermer has thrown the baby out with the bathwater but that wouldn't be happening if Chopra and his ilk didn't encourage such an understandable reaction in the first place.

I wouldn't praise or turn a blind eye to a religious fanatic simply because he didn't share and actively opposed Shermer's materialist worldview, likewise I don't care for or endorse Chopra and others like him simply because he opposes Shermer's worldview. There's a reason why Shermer left the new-age scene in a hurry (yes he was once a part of it) and the Chopras of the world are part of the problem.

nycjeff said...

It seems odd to me that you would subject yourself to going on Larry King in the first place. Even more odd if you knew Shermer would be there.

muzuzuzus said...

Funny you should mention Richard Dawkins.
Some while ago I joined the Richard Dawkins forums. The experience has changed me for the better--let me explain:

Before joining and whilst, I had expounded much effort trying to reason with so-called skeptics, and/or atheist-metarialists. I must have seen this energy-sapping adventure as somehow meaningful

So I joined Dawkin's forums and eventually was ganged up on by two of his Rotweilers. Their manner, and language was disgusting. Yes I CAn swear with the best of them, but am adult enough to know not to when trying to have some kind of intelligent debate

So this is the Richard Dawkins Forums set up: The in-house skeptics, members and mods are allowed to insult, but if you tell them off--and you dont belong to their basic religion your the one warned and then suspended.

As simple as that, and so they keep it in the box.
As I say this was last straw that broke the camel's back---for the good, and I do not carte a jot for worrying what skeptics think anymore.


muzuzuzus said...

ALSO let me say how much I agree with Lawrence.
I had kind of glanced at the article and didn't realize it was Chopra who I also agree is very New Age fluff

The BESt expose of much of the so-called New Age , IMO, is by Monica Sjoo in her book Return of the Light/Dark Mother or New Age Amrmegeddon?

BUT of course there still is DEEP spiritual meaning, but there are people who exploit authenticity--and for that expose I appreciate skeptics help too ;)

David Bailey said...

I also tend to agree with Lawrence, except that I think the skeptics would still be active, even without the "New-Age fluffiness".

I wonder, Dean, what you think of Chopra?

Dean Radin said...

I like Chopra's work. I am in favor of inspirational, optimistic, and creative ideas.

Those who anxiously hurl epithets like "new agey" or "woo" at ideas that they don't happen to agree with have not paid enough attention to the history or sociology of science.

This does not mean I am in favor of pseudoscience.

Lawrence said...

To be blunt it is no secret that serious scholars of Oriental theology, philosophy and the history of Oriental religion and philosophy are dismissive of characters like Chopra. Chopra is no serious scholar with a deep grasp or understanding of Oriental philosphy and religion, and the history and evolution of religious movements and thought in the East (or West for that matter).

He is no Aurobindo, Vivekananda, S K Rao, Radhakrishnan, B Alan Wallace or D T Suzuki. That's precisely why he is so popular. He is the anti-scholar. I'm not being elitist, but what sells in the market-place is usually the dumbed-down easy to digest empty calorie candy floss. Chopra's success proves the truth of that.

One may object that Chopra doesn't pretend he is a scholar, ok but he does pretend a knowledge and insight in Oriental and mystical philosophy in general that his smugness and superficiality betrays he does not possess at all, never mind what he writes and prattles. Just because he hasn't bought dozens of Rolls-Royces like the late Osho and descended into his paranoia or have a fondness for beautiful teenage boys like Sai Baba, doesn't mean he is any more genuine than them. I'm not saying he is as bad as them, he isn't (that would take some doing) but he is just no more genuine than them. Given the terrible damage the guru scene has done in the West and to Westerners alone in the post-sixties social environment, this should give one pause when any slick smooth self-appointed guru-type comes along (whatever his background). Skepticism cuts every which way.

Personally I would rather have a meal with Shermer than Chopra any day. Chopra is simply insufferable.

David Bailey said...

Well, Dean, if you recommend Chopra's work, perhaps I should read more about his ideas.

MTG C# Guy said...

This is a link to Dr. Scott Mendelson's perspective (in part), commenting on this Larry King Live interview with the four attendees: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-mendelson-md/is-life-after-death-possi_b_403886.html

Note his comment: "The problem is HOW a disembodied mind would perceive these things." [emphasis added] Just because we don't understand the mechanics of HOW psychical perceptions--in life or in the afterlife--work doesn't mean that they don't, or can't. This is another, typical lame excuse to dismiss what could be indirect evidence of psi and/or survival.

MTG C# Guy said...

And here's a link to Michael Shermer's article about this Larry King Live interview: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-shermer/deepakese-the-woo-woo-mas_b_405114.html

Notice the "Woo-Woo Master" title! LOL

Jeff said...

You might like this article too:


Dean Radin said...

> I'm not being elitist, but what sells in the market-place is usually the dumbed-down easy to digest empty calorie candy floss. Chopra's success proves the truth of that.

Sounds elitist to me. Not everyone is capable of or interested in doing scholarly work. Indeed, most non-academics think that what scholars do is so abstract or divorced from reality that they are irrelevant, at best.

But this doesn't mean that those very same people aren't interested in these ideas. They are. And it takes a special talent to popularize scholarly material into a form that everyday people can grok. Chopra has this talent, and if he is successful because of it, I think that's great.

Also, have some gurus taken advantage of their disciples? Of course, just as leaders in any domain (from priests to senators) can be foiled because they're human.

But are they all like that? No. I know many such teachers who are superstars among their followers, but unknown to most, and what they bring is for the benefit of us all.

In general I think the influx of Eastern practices and philosophy into the West has been far more beneficial than damaging. The Western adoption of yoga and meditation are just two areas of very positive change.

Sante said...

Agree, Dean. And I am an elitist...

Theophrastus said...

Lawrence - you condemn Chopra in much the same way ill-informed skeptics condemn parapsychology - by throwing the kitchen sink at them and following it with all the furniture. You know the sort of stuff - if you mention parapsychology then shout about woo woo, ufo's, astrology, etc. etc.

I haven't read Chopra in any depth, but I bet he would be a very interesting man to have lunch with.

DT Suzuki, btw, said some rather dubious things about Zen and had an unpleasant undercurrent of nationalism in his writings. In general, I think your awe of religious scholars is misplaced.

Lawrence said...

Theophrastus, I'm not in awe of religous scholars, I do respect well researched scholarship though. I do get that most people don't, it explains a lot. If more people did care for scholarship, Osho and Sai Baba and other conmen would have had less victims. Whatever the faults of Suzuki, he was not guilty of prattling new-age fodderol, like Chopra.

You haven't read Chopra in depth, it's impossible to read him in depth, there is no depth there.

Chris said...

It always annoyed me how skeptics threw around the word "Woo" as if it were some kind of logical, objective statement. I ran across this last week when reading a post on the scepcop forums proclaiming the Skeptical investigations website to be a "woo woo" site simply because Rupert Sheldrake and Dean are mentioned on it. This irritated me because they offer nothing to back up their statement. I think that is the difference between scientists like Dean working in the field and the self-proclaimed skeptics, is that people like Dean and Rupert back up their claims, skeptics don’t.

Theophrastus said...

Unfortunately scholarship, like so much else, is subject to fads. This is particularly so with regard to western scholarship on eastern religions. When confronting something whose basic assumptions are different from our own, we tend to see either our needs or our fears reflected back to us. Western scholarly arguments about how to interpret nirvana are an excellent case in point. A lot of religious scholars would these days acknowledge this. That hasn't stopped them from themselves making high-handed judgments about who is or is not allowed to speak for a particular tradition. (And they would raise questions about many of the people on your list of those you deem acceptable, not least Suzuki.)

I don't know why you have such a bee in your bonnet about Chopra. You seem very certain that there's nothing there, yet I somehow doubt you've read him either.

Lawrence said...

Theophrastus actually I have read Chopra, that's precisely why I dismiss him.

Scholarship, if it is genuine scholarship is in principle anti-faddish. There is nothing faddish about the writings of SK Rao, Vivikenada and Sri Aurobindo - none of their output is easy to digest (which is why it is not faddish), and in fact their writings are predicated on centuries of earlier scholarship, the history of Oriental mysticism and philosophy and a deep analysis including comparative analysis and commentary of the defintive mystical and religious texts and practices of the East. It is anything but faddish unlike Chopra's prattle. That's why you don't tend to see their output in new-age bookstores, but you do see Deepak Chopra, Jane Roberts and Osho and Carlos Castaneda.

Chopra blabbers on about the "quantum mechanical body" which is classic new-age befuddlement and bamboozling newagespeak that doesn't actually mean anything. Really. However it is very faddish if nothing else. His one recent book is entitled "How to know God' which is the height of hubris. Nobody, unless they truly know themselves and thus arguably know God should have the temerity, the chutzpah to write a book with that kind of title. Chopra is no Buddha, not even close - so he should never sell a book with that kind of title, but if his goal is to sell lots of books, well then you can understand why that title was chosen. When it's a choice between humility and advertising strategies to boost the sales of his books, it's easy to see which wins out.

here is an interview with the guru http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi-times/Deepak-Chopra-The-spirit-of-a-survivor/articleshow/16589510.cms

Now here is a quote from Chopra from that interview, "I initiated the concept of mind-body medicine and was invited for lectures across Europe".

Yes really that is an accurate quote, check for yourselves if you don't believe me. Now if that is an accurate quote, well what can I say? Chopra initiated the concept of mind-body medicine?? yeah like Al Gore invented the internet. That claim is simply beyond chutzpah, it is pure nonsense. Talk about an ego that knows no bounds.

Chopra's books are bestsellers, the writings of real Hindu scholars not exactly at the top of amazon bestsellers. That's because the former is catering to the faddish new-age market, the latter not. So it goes.

Pikemann Urge said...

Unlike Chopra, I don't think for a second that skeptics somehow "supress" curiosity. Maybe in themselves, but no skeptic has ever told me to not do something. Shermer encourages people to find out for themselves (and in fact Shermer has dialogue with revisionist historians, and is not afraid of investigating taboo subjects).

In any case, I guess Chopra can give as good as he gets. :-/

Having said that, I do think skeptics have preconceived notions just as any group does. All social groups have their own locked-in ways of seeing reality. I respect their caution but don't always respect their conclusions.

And when you practice 'unofficial' skepticism, e.g. questioning HIV-AIDS (but please, let's not argue this here) that's not okay. The 'real' skeptics don't question that.

dd said...

Good blog~nice to meet u..................................................................

Energy said...

The problem I have with Chopra and others like him is they are creating an impression that it is plausible for the average person's mind to influence reality in a meaningful way.

Does this actually moves things forward? Perhaps it gives the promoters a sense of vindication when psychic research validates some small part of their claims.

However I suspect it would waste much time for those interested in exploring mind and its impact on reality.

I would recommend people look into something where they benefit regardless of the ability to be psychic, but are still connected to the common theme in most traditions of personal and psychic development.

This common theme is learning control of mental imagery. This is true from yoga to shamanism to Western esoteric practices.

Free samples of relaxation and shamanism-themed guided imagery can be found at:

You benefit by at least gaining increased relaxation and creativity and perhaps in the future you will have some psychic experiences.

Tor said...

Hi Dean,

This is an off topic question relating to the "Compassionate intention" study published in 2008.

I find this the most rigorous study ever done of this type. Having read the paper, there is one small issue that I have been thinking about that is described in the methods section. I quote:

To synchronize the sender and receiver physiological signals, at
the beginning of each stimulus epoch the computer switched the
video signal from the receiver’s chamber to the video monitor in
front of the sender and simultaneously sent onset marker signals to both the sender and receiver Biopac systems..

Is there any way in which these onset/offset marker signals can be detected by receivers? If not, I would think this study to be one of the few psi studies (or even studies in general involving humans) that is 100% bulletproof when it comes to methodology. That is applaudable!


Dean Radin said...

The TTL marker signals were converted into digital pulses and carried by fiber optics into the EM shielded room, then converted back into TTL within that room. So there is little chance that external EM pulses could have affected the "receivers."

But whether the conversion of the optical signal back into TTL might have affected the receivers is an interesting question. I strongly suspect the answer is no because the optical converter was on continuously, so there wouldn't have been any sudden current flow during the conversion, and the cable that carried the TTL signal to the physiological monitor was shielded to ground.

Also, even if they could have detected a change in the TTL marker, they wouldn't have known what those signals meant. Still, it is a valid and interesting question to see whether people unconsciously react to small changes in (shielded) DC voltage in the local environment. I'll try it and see what happens.

A future experiment I've had on the drawing board for some years would eliminate all marker signals by using GPS clocks to time-synchronize the experiment. If I can raise the funds I'll do that experiment, which among other things would allow sender and receiver to be anywhere on Earth that receives GPS signals.

Tor said...

Yes, that it would be interesting to find out if someone could react to low and shielded DC voltages, even though it sounds a bit unlikely to me. It would be interesting to hear of your results after you try it.

Btw, what about the Biopac-systems? Isn't there a switch going on/off inside them too, as they receive the marker signals? If so, wouldn't this be an additional source of a EM signal?

Time synchronizing is a good idea. That would certainly remove any possible artifacts from wiring in/out of the chamber, but the Biopac system would still need to register an on/offset, and thus potentially would create an artifact?

If such weak EM signals could influence the receivers, I don't think it would matter if they knew what they meant. I mean, unconsciously they could still react and a correlation would be created with the send epochs.

That being said, other studies seem to show effects that are displaced in time, or were the sender is deep below sea level, and thus lend support to the original hypothesis, not some EM artifacts.

Dean Radin said...

> Btw, what about the Biopac-systems? Isn't there a switch going on/off inside them too ...

The TTL input does flip a digital bit, but the EM caused by that flip would be minuscule. It's not as though a physical switch were thrown.

> Time synchronizing is a good idea. That would certainly remove any possible artifacts from wiring in/out of the chamber, but the Biopac system would still need to register an on/offset ...

No. After the recording session the marker recorded on the sender's Biopac would be used to locate the same time in the receiver's record.

Tor said...

Thanks for your replies Dean!

I hope this line of research continues to be explored. There are many exploratory question waiting to be answered. One is to find out the experimenters role (if any) in amplifying/inhibiting the original intention of the senders.
It is a tough nut to crack though, as all these retro-causal effects are at play too. As you have pointed out before, blinding those involved in experiments doesn't necessarily make psi blind.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

An interesting discussion in the comments. I share observations about my work and don't try to explain it with science. I can't, but I think you could. Cheers, Simon.

MTG C# Guy said...

How the mind can move objects

Dean Radin said...

Note that the link provided by MTG above is about a brain-computer interface, and not about psychokinesis.

MickyD said...


What do you think of this article from Wiseman? Is he just re-hashing old arguments or is it a good critique of psi research? It appears well reasoned I have to say.


Dean Radin said...

In that article, "Only seven of the thirty-eight studies had made it into the public domain... just over 70 percent (five out of seven) of the studies presented at conferences showing an overall significant result, versus just 15 percent (three out of twenty) of those that remained unreported."

By chance one would expect 5% of studies to be significant if the null hypothesis is the true state of affairs. In the example given both experimental subsets are above chance expectation. This is hardly a persuasive argument, in fact it argues against it! In any case, meta-analyses take the filedrawer effect into account. This is nothing new.

"Perhaps the most far-reaching version of this “get out of a null effect free” card involves an appeal to the “experimenter effect,” wherein any negative findings are attributed to the psi-inhibited nature of the parapsychologist running the study."

Experimenter effects are well known and accepted in psychological research. Why should we expect not to encounter the same effects in psi research? More to the point, several experiments conducted by Wiseman and Schlitz, conducted under identical conditions, have shown that she gets significant results and he does not. So if anyone were to accept the reality of psi-related experimenter effects, one would think it would be Wiseman.

Etc. In an upcoming book I have responded in more detail to this and to several other skeptical articles. When that book is published I'll let you know.

MickyD said...

Look forward to it Dean.

Pikemann Urge said...

I've been looking into psi for only a few months now. So maybe I'm being a bit harsh in how I see skeptical reporting: they make the same mistake that creationists do when attacking evolution theory. What is that mistake? They don't read the literature!

So many times you'll hear a creationist talk about the problems with the fossil record. All the while not understanding that biologists have moved beyond mere fossils.

This problem of ignorance, perhaps selective, seems to present itself with regards to psi.

I'm sure that Dean has already made this point in some form, but it's worth repeating. :-)

Dave Smith said...

"By chance one would expect 5% of studies to be significant if the null hypothesis is the true state of affairs. In the example given both experimental subsets are above chance expectation."

Indeed, and the percentage of successful studies out of the total that predicted above chance results was about 30%!

I wonder what the picture would be like if the Watt (2006) study was repeated with undergraduate projects that were investigating conventional psychological topics? Would we see similar rates of success/failure?

I remember doing my undergraduate final year project. Although I wasn't studying psychology at the time, I remember feeling very inexperienced at what I was doing. If I remember correctly, most of the projects carried by my student mates didn't work out very well either. One of the problems was the limited amount of time you were given to prepare and do the experiment. I'm sure that applies to most undergraduates, in the UK at least.

Theophrastus said...


We're never going to agree, I think, at least not on Chopra (although I suspect we have other things in common). I would ask this, though: is Billy Graham a less sincere Christian than Karl Barth because the former is a populariser while the latter is an abstruse theologian? Does Graham's popularity mean he is only in it for the money and the fame? I think these are unwarranted assumptions.

I would also like to recommend a book, if I may. It's called Grassroots Spirituality by Robert Forman, and it's a sympathetic investigation by a serious religious scholar of many of those things dismissively labelled 'new age'. He sees a sea-change in the religious and spiritual life of the US and probably the world that has gone largely unnoticed and unremarked. It contrasts with your views, but I think you would find it interesting.

Isaac said...

It is truly sad that these supposed skeptics would defer such derogatory comments to Chopra AND you. I mean, you do solid science and have produced results we can actually make sound speculations off, but Chopra pretends to know about Quantum Physics (he relates non-locality to a proof of god..). Sad. Oh well, a good way to satisfy your urge to be angry is to simply acknowledge the fact that whilst people like Randi are touting science, they have made 0 contributions to the advancement of it yet you have made several, and yet they continute to basket you with people like Chopra. Sickening.

Pikemann Urge said...

Isaac, I see where you're coming from. But I think you can relax.

Firstly, James Randi does not pretend to be a scientist and therefore it doesn't matter whether or not he contributes to science. I'd rather that Dean and his colleagues be challenged with harsh skepticism, even if it's overboard, than indifference or fawning acceptance. Dean may agree with me.

I think that the real issue is not Randi or Shermer or anyone else. The real issue is that skepticism is just like any other identity: there are preconceptions and dogmas unique to it (yes, science too, though usually minimized). I'm not saying that if you subscribe to Skeptic magazine that you're doing something wrong. It's just a fact of societies that they form their own doctrines and ways of seeing the world.

I'm sure you know what I'm getting at so I'll not let myself get into a sermon. :-)

(Interesting how 'Randi' and 'Radin' have the same letters!).