Can’t let go off that Chopra – Dawkins debate, this particular part I stopped on yesterday is precious. The moderator, however, had to stop it and take control of the situation. Well, not really take control. To me it looks as if he was completely out of his depth. Just this one exclamation, “Extraordinario!”, made it look like we were witnessing a eureka moment instead of a nasty troll battle. “You cannot prove it very well” verdict delivered in broken English didn’t add gravitas to his interruption either, it sounded like an easy cop out for someone who stopped following the conversation ten minutes ago. Nevertheless, it was time to move on, and the next question was to the point.
“How come that we share the same scientific background and/but …” – I can’t make what he was saying. “Are there two types of science? Did he go to a wrong school?” he asked Dawkins of Chopra and then Chopra of Dawkins. It’s a legitimate question – both men claim to speak for science and yet their views are diametrically opposite. Dawkins answered first.
“My attitude to science is that we are fundamentally trying to understand how things work. Science is very difficult, it’s very difficult to understand how things work..” Then he listed a few well known problems, the “hard questions” about origin of life, origin of universe, consciousness etc. “Scientific work consists of explaining complicated things in terms of interactions of their parts or of simpler things..”, he said, and then again ridiculed Chopra’s approach of using highfalutin words that don’t mean anything. “We use simple words that actually have meaning,” he said. “We don’t invent super-arching entities which have no explanation in themselves. We don’t invoke ideas like ‘universe has consciousness’, ‘universe has awareness’, ‘atoms have awareness’. If we have a difficult problem like awareness we explain it in terms of the interactions between small parts working together in ways that scientists understand…”
Chopra again said that he won’t respond to ad hominem attacks. Freeman Dyson said it, and so did Schroedinger, Max Planck and other widely accepted authorities – he was talking about consciousness and the universe, and these people, Chopra said, were compelled to include consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality.
I don’t know what they said exactly. Freeman Dyson’s possible quote I gave yesterday, it’s open to interpretation. Schroedinger and others might have talked about consciousness, Schroedinger was very trippy this way, but science doesn’t remember him for this, nor does it remember Newton for alchemy. This is a phenomenon that deserves a deeper consideration – why does the science cherry picks ideas from scientists’ work? Why does it accept some of their theories as solid and reject others as totally absurd and not worthy of consideration? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that Newton’s classical mechanics make more sense than his Bible studies, and at the same time I would object to citing Newton and others like him as examples of atheists, or at least rational thinkers who had led us to atheism. They had no such intention at all.
“Consciousness is a white elephant in the room,” continued Chopra. “You require consciousness to come up with a theory, you require consciousness to design an experiment” and so on. “Science is the offspring of consciousness. It is a product of consciousness.” Powerful stuff, but hard to see what it actually means. This is what I don’t like about Chopra – he opens lots of doors but never bothers to check if they actually lead anywhere and he never bothers to close them. It’s as if saying “Look, there are so many open doors, you can go anywhere from here,” but in reality they are not really doors and there’s nothing behind them, just hopes.
Still, in Chopra’s words: “If you want to understand science in its totality you have to bring consciousness into the equation, because, as we currently practice science, it’s based on what we call a subject-object split. There’s an observer involved in the observation. Science doesn’t ask who the observer is. Who is the observing self? Where is the observing self? But in the absence of the observing self there wouldn’t be any observation and there wouldn’t be any science. The observing self cannot be glimpsed by science and scientific methodology because it happens to be the observer. The observer cannot be observed, and that’s where spirituality comes in – if you define spirituality as self-awareness. Only consciousness can know consciousness, only consciousness can explain consciousness, only consciousness can understand consciousness. Any scientific understanding of consciousness through looking at the brain is at best inferential. You’re looking at correlations of experience conscious-indconsiousness through objective means…” He lost me there, but it started so promising.
Of course we might not understand how our own brains work but we can look at other people’s brainwaves, observe which areas of their brains are active when they are thinking or doing something, or even meditating. We can try and understand the consciousness of others as they go about their lives in the role of the observers, if the “observer” part is so important to Chopra. We also do not trust our own judgement absolutely and require others to observe our observation – scientific method takes care of that. I don’t know why Dawkins didn’t capitalize on it.
The end of Chopra’s speech was better: “Science is incomplete as a way of understanding fundamental reality. It’s based on the fragmented view of the reality – subject-object split (applause). Nature is one. The universe includes observers, modes of observation, and objects that are observed.”
And then Chopra added yet another thought: “Science, because it’s fragmented…, is capable of creating diabolical technologies. Everything that is wrong today in the world – from global warming to biological warfare [etc etc] is because science has evolved without evolution of spirituality.” His time was up.
I love that last argument, but I don’t think that it’s “fragmented” nature of science that is responsible for this. It could be simple ignorance, it could be simple short-sightedness, it could be desire for quick profits, it could be Kali yuga, it could be any number of things. “Subject-object” split would probably be very far down on the list.
It doesn’t mean that Chopra’s distinction is unimportant, I just don’t think this was the best way to illustrate its relevance. What I [diabolically] think is that Chopra prepared this sentence in advance and inserted it here because it felt like there was a connection, but the connection is flimsy and it takes the discourse in a different direction.
“I shall not make and argument ad hominem, my argument is ad bullshitem,” Dawkins injected himself. He then reduced study of consciousness to study of nervous systems, possibly of computer systems when the AI becomes developed enough. A good argument that deserves consideration but Chopra shifted to something else entirely and I’m not really sure why.
Subject-object split is a complex topic that I don’t even begin to understand. I don’t think Chopra understands its implications either, and Dawkins can’t comprehend it at all. He still thinks of himself, or of science, as an independent observer, a subject, and the universe as the object. Chopra just explained it to him that we are not separate from the universe, that our consciousness is not an external phenomena to the universe, and the universe in a way dictates what we perceive and how we interpret it. The subject-object split is artificial. Our brains, the seat of our consciousness, according to Dawkins, are also brains of the universe, it worked very hard and very long to create them, especially if we accept Darwinism. Our brains work according to the laws of nature, laws of the universe, they are not objective in their awareness, observation, and the thought process.
I suppose this can be understood and explained in any number of ways, some more favourable to an atheistic POV then others, but Dawkins didn’t even try. What a pity.
Perhaps it was the universe’s way to show us that even people like Dawkins are only marionettes incapable of understanding any more than they have been programmed to. Maybe he could be upgraded to Atheism 2.0, maybe not. Maybe we need a better hardware to truly challenge Chopra here.
Wait a minute! Why would we want to challenge Chopra? What should be our position on these issues? Shouldn’t we actually support Chopra as he gradually bends the discussion towards transcendentalism? Well, I think he is doing it wrong and an atheist 2.0 could easily crush him here. If we subscribe to his arguments we’d be crushed, too, and we don’t want that. We have our own way of arguing these points and we should stick to the method demonstrated by Śrīla Prabhupāda. Sometimes Chopra’s thinking would align with ours and sometimes it won’t, we should not become dependent on him in any way.
Maybe it’s time to explain this debate from Kṛṣṇa conscious POV, but, I’m afraid, this time is not today.