April 4, 2010

New Age Nonsense

The Nightline Face-Off: Does God Have a Future? From ABC Nightline: Sam Harris and Michael Shermer vs. Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston
Continuous Playlist [in 12 Parts]: via AtheistMedia, YouTube

My personal favorites are Parts 2 and 3, where Sam Harris and Michael Shermer take down Deepak Chopra from his self-assigned pedestal. Harris starts off with a flourish:

Harris: [T]he god that our neighbors believe in is essentially an invisible person. He is a creator deity who created the universe to have a relationship with one species of primates. Lucky us. And, he has got galaxy upon galaxy to attend to, but he's especially concerned with what we do, and he's especially concerned with what we do while naked. He almost certainly disapproves of homosexuality ...

And, it's precisely this sort of god, this sort of a scheme that you must believe in, if you are gonna have any kind of future in politics in this country, no matter what's your gifts. You could be an unprecedented genius. You could look like George Clooney, you could have a billion dollars and you could have the social skills of Oprah, and you are going nowhere in politics in this country, unless you believe in that sort of god...

Dan Harris [Moderator]: ... Deepak, what scientific proof or evidence that you can muster in support of your assertion that there is, for lack of a better term, a god or some sort of intelligence at the heart of the universe?

Chopra: ... Okay, what scientific proof... I think science is ... I am going to have to say that science is now in the process of overthrowing the climactic overthrow of the superstition of materialism. That everything that we call matter comes from something that is not material. That the essential nature of the physical world is that it is not physical. That the essential stuff of the universe is non-stuff. Call it what you will.

And, science also tells us ... Science also tells us that there's a field of non-locality where everything is correlated with everything else [watch Dan Harris' face] ... [to Shermer] your science is really frozen in the dungeons of conservatism and the dungeons of orthodoxy. Today science tells us that ... there is something called the observer effect, where intention orchestrates space-time events, which we then measure as movement in motion and energy and matter [watch Sam Harris' face].

... but one of the things we have to do today, my friends at Caltech ... That you have to stop being the Jihadists and the Vatican of conservative and orthodox science which is not relevant anymore.

Dan [smiling]: [Michael] Do you have anything in there that convinces you?

Shermer: Uh... You asked, Dan, what I meant by "woo woo". That's the very embodiment of "woo woo". He said... stringing together at a rapid patter, a bunch of scientific sounding words, sprinkled in with some spiritual new age words is... doesn't mean anything...

And, by the way scientists are not jihadists here. This is Caltech. We are not jihadists. That was really very unfair to all of you, very un-Deepak of you to say that.

Shermer really got Chopra's goat here, and he never recovered from it. Harris then turned the knife in:

Harris [addressing Chopra]: ... there is not a physicist sitting on this stage right now, okay. I would never be tempted to lecture a room full of thousand people at Caltech about Physics. I am not a physicist. You're not a physicist. And, and, and [he's struggling to remain polite] basically every sentence demonstrates that ... that you speak on the subject.

Then, this exchange between Harris and Chopra towards the end of the debate:

Chopra [visibly angry]: You are making that statement without qualifying it, without giving any proof of that. Give me some proof that what I am saying is what he [Michael Shermer] says is "woowoo" just because he can't understand it ... You know, every discipline has its own vocabulary.

Harris: Okay, if you are gonna say that non-locality is an operable principle in neuroscience, that is woowoo right now.

Chopra [louder]: It's not ... It's the principle in morphogenesis and differentiation, it's the principle in the workings of the pacemaker of your heart where a hundred pacemaker cells fire simultaneously ...[even louder] ... non-locally.

Harris: It's just not true ... sort of saying it louder and relentlessly is not going to make it true.

Watch the entire debate — if you can really call it one — it's worth every minute. To the best of my knowledge, the only thing that does a better job of exposing this New Age nonsense is the Seinfeld episode in which George, afraid of going through with a tonsillectomy, consults a holistic healer recommended by Kramer!

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