Deepak Chopra has moved into the domain of the brain… and it should come as no surprise that what he claims is not only laughably erroneous, but also deeply misleading and ignoring the vast amounts of data for the view he so eagerly wants to discard.
Why do I even bother? Because I care! I care that people are not misled by what I believe to be baloney!
I jotted a decent reply to Chopra’s recent text at Huff Post, but it was obviously too long for being a comment, so I’m posting it here, hoping that many of you will make it from my direct link at the HP site. Thanks for clicking.
- The starter dish fallacy: The brain does not “light up” – what you see is a statistical representation of the change in signal intensity that (for fMRI scans) represent changes in oxygenated blood, which is an indirect measure of brain activation. Dark regions are still active, but not particularly for the task we have chosen to focus on (or rather, the tasks that researchers have decided to compare). This is a non-trivial distinction, because the link suggested by Chopra to a radio tuning in is simply erroneous. See more below.
- The big leap of reason is the semantic trick of saying that neuroscientists (including myself) believe that the brain is in charge, and not you… I thought Chopra just agreed that neuroscientists believed that the brain IS you? Actually, most scientists I know believe that the brain and you are indeed the same! What happens in the brain is part of you as an organism, as a person, and often as a sentient being. The activation of hypothalamic nuclei can help control hunger, thermoregulation etc.; the response of the amygdala can help you become aware of specific events; the activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex does indeed reflect quite closely how much you enjoy reading this paragraph, the taste of that chocolate you’re having (lucky you) or the music you have playing in the background.
- The great news is: this takes NOTHING away from the wonderful richness of your conscious life! But we understand so much better now HOW it is that the mysterious wet matter of the brain can even produce such magic. And the best part is…no supernatural explanations are yet needed. No need to evoke additional dimensions, pseudoscientific explanations or altogether magical mental bypasses.
- “Brain activity isn’t the same as thinking, feeling, or seeing”. True enough as a general statement BUT brain activation in regions such as the amygdala, striatum, orbitofrontal cortex and insula ARE equated to emotional responses. Thinking…well that’s too mongrel a concept to start with so our ability to “think twice”, i.e. control our impulses, is well known to be closely related to activation in other brain regions, such as the anterior cingulate cortex and other parts of the prefrontal cortex. And hey, if you suffer a lesion to any of those regions, you DO lose your ability to respond emotionally, control your actions etc. SO instead of infusing wannabe scientific explanations, why not start with the obvious? The brain is the organ of thought and emotions. Just because we have not understand all of it in minute detail, this explanation exceeds and outperforms any other alternative explanation by zillions of miles!
- “No one has remotely shown how molecules acquire the qualities of the mind”… I don’t even know what that statement means. Obviously, nobody have ever proven the mind to exist outside the brain. Our best guess is…the mind and the brain is the same thing! I’ve seen far too many neurology patients (and psychiatric for that matter) to believe that the brain is not the culprit.
- “It is impossible to construct a theory of the mind based on material objects that somehow became conscious.” I love the “impossible” statement here. See, this argument goes straight in the face of your own claim: if you believe that there is an immaterial mind and a material brain, and there is no interaction between them, you’re in BIG trouble. Why do we talk about the brain at all, then? Why does a lesion to the brain in any way lead to a change in the mind? How can I physically simulate your brain using electrodes and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and make your hand move, make you partially blind for a split second, or alter your social decision? Your claims must be backed up with facts. Claims are not facts!
- Radio analogy: this is just a pretty darn good example that your choice of analogy is wrong, and not that there is anything wrong with how we view the brain!