On November 12 Steven Novella published a review of Deepak Chopra’s follow up article about what Chopra calls “The Rise and Fall of Militant Skepticism”. Novella characterized Chopra as “intellectually superficial and careless, more interested in propping up his particular brand of mysticism than genuinely engaging with his critics”. What would it take for a skeptic to be intellectually superficial and careless? I think committing the same kind of sophomoric logical fallacies he accuses of his opponent. So how does Novella fare?
Case in point. Novella accuses Chopra of building straw men while doing the precise thing himself. Chopra’s straw man supposedly involves the conflation of atheism and skepticism. But let’s look at what Chopra actually writes:
“As an agenda, however, the story of skepticism is quite different. The way that strident atheism has clothed itself in science seems convincing to people who are skeptical about God in the first place. But there’s no scientific basis for atheism, since God isn’t subject to experimentation. As the dust has settled, the agenda of militant skepticism has come to light – it’s basically another symptom of the blogosphere’s culture of personal attack, unfounded allegation, and a reckless disregard for the truth.”
Clearly Chopra is conflating nothing. He is simply talking about skepticism and atheism. Although he is arguing that atheism is a form of militant skepticism, he is not claiming they are the same thing. Both concepts do go hand in hand since every mainstream skeptic is also an unabashed atheist. If someone said that a deer was an animal, using Novella’s odd logic, they would be saying that deer is a synonym for animal. So, due to his confirmation bias, Novella has misinterpreted Chopra and attacked this misinterpretation. This is the very definition of a straw man. Novella commits the very fallacy he falsely claims his opponent has.
“None of this is news. The fate of militant skepticism, whatever it may be, will drift apart from the serious business of doing science. After all, no scientific discovery was ever made by negative thinking. There has to be an open-minded curiosity and a willingness to break new ground, while the militant skeptics represent the exact opposite: they are dedicated to the suppression of curiosity and protecting rigid boundaries of “real” science.”
Novella here again misinterprets what Chopra is saying by conflating “militant skepticism” with scientific skepticism. In effect, Novella substitutes one specific concept for another to build a straw man. Militant skepticism is a synonym of pathological skepticism. By that term Chopra clearly is referring to a tendency of such skeptics to reject certain ideas rather than taking an agnostic position as an actual science-based skeptic would do. Instead of dealing with Chopra’s actual criticisms of militant skepticism, Novella inanely lectures on what good skepticism is and which few mainstream skeptics, including Novella himself, actually consistently practice.
Novella then claims Chopra is expounding “quantum nonsense”. But in the contested text, what Chopra is referring to are the notions of the measurement problem in quantum physics, entanglement and the uncertainty principle. These are actual serious concepts in quantum mechanics, not “nonsense”. Contrary to Novella’s blustering unsupported pronouncements (bare assertion fallacies), Chopra makes no mistakes when talking about these principles. A science-based critical thinker should be supporting his statements with sound arguments not thoroughly unsupported pronouncements.
Chopra in pillar 4 states that it is assumed that the brain produces consciousness but that this has not been proven true. Despite Novella’s odd claim to the contrary, this is correct. In science, the term “prove” means to show unequivocally that something is true. It definitely has not been proven that the brain produces consciousness. Bizarrely, Novella seems to believe that because a hypothesis has evidence to support it, it is proven to be true. This ridiculous belief is a complete mischaracterization of one of the most fundamental principles of science. It shows that, if anyone, it is he who really has a pseudo-science outlook.
Novella’s bizarre evidence that the brain produces or causes the mind is that whenever the brain is altered physically the mind is also altered. But this only shows that the brain influences the mind not that the brain produces the mind. Chopra is criticizing the absurd belief that the mind magically arises from the brain out of nowhere not that brain function shapes the current state of awareness. As Chopra correctly states, the brain is made only of atoms and other particles. If these particles do not possess simple mental states then mental states magically arise out of nowhere when atoms interact in a particular manner. If instead, as Chopra alludes, these particles have primitive mental states; this suggests the Universe could have some kind of mental state. Novella proclaims that this notion has “far deeper and even fatal problems” but does not go into what they are. Perhaps this is because these problems are only imaginary and thus completely unsupportable by fact and rational argument.
Novella supports his belief that brain function is the mind by stating that every neuroscientist he’s talked to believes this notion. That is, he commits both the appeal to the masses and appeal to authority fallacies. My question to these neuroscientists is this: if the brain is just atoms and other particles wouldn’t this make these particles’ functions as the mind? Further, since these particles are only energy, wouldn’t this make energy functions as the mind? And finally, since the Universe is made only of energy too could not the Universe then also have some form of mind?
Novella falsely claims Chopra has built straw men while building them himself. Novella falsely accuses Chopra of conflating terms while doing this himself. Novella criticizes Chopra for not engaging his critics. Yet Novella and his merry band of sycophants do exactly the same. As just one example, no mainstream “skeptic” has ever been able to engage me regarding my simple argument as to how all mainstream skeptics are frauds when it comes to the issue of their unwavering belief in the official 9/11 myth. Is the rampant hypocrisy we see the result of willful blindness or just run of the mill self-delusion? You’ll have to decide that for yourself.
Michael Fullerton is a software designer based in Vernon BC Canada. His writing explores and exposes pathological skepticism and the corporate pseudo-science it tends to serve. He also has an intense interest in organizational psychopathy, or how psychopaths rise up in organizational structures of all kinds. As a pantheist he strives to be part of the movement to unify spirituality and science.