I have a great deal of interest in the subject of consciousness. It is a quality that is vastly important, but poorly understood. Many times I have stayed up late at night watching Youtube videos or reading web article on scientific theory and research into the subject. There will be a post about the subject eventually. But for right now, I'd like to talk about something else.
As I combed the web, it became apparent that pseudoscience had taken a liking to the subject of consciousness. Whereas science adhered to known biological and physical theories and adhered to the scientific method (propose theory, experiment to test theory), pseudoscience completely avoided any know scientific theories and lacks any supporting evidence, instead choosing to discuss the topic from a subjective view. I suppose the lack of understanding and formal theories around consciousness has made it a breeding ground for pseudoscience.
Go do a search for videos on "consciousness" and you will find many, many videos from this point of view. They're the ones with pretty graphics of space or nature rather than someone speaking in front of a classroom. One video in particular caught my eye, though. It's a clip from an episode of ABC's Face-Off of an exchange between Deepak Chopra and Sam Harris.
Deepak Chopra: "I believe that there is a transcendent core consciousness that is comprised of meanings, contexts, relationships, archetypal ideas that recycles itself."Sam Harris: "So it's in no sense a product of the brain."Chopra: "It's no sense a product of the brain and our whole endeavor in spiritual discipline is to go actually beyond that personal consciousness, that ego consciousness so we can identify with that transcendent reality which is the source of space, time, energy and anything else that exists."
Notice the vocabulary that Chopra uses. "Meanings", "contexts", "relationships". All very personal, subjective ideas. You can't measure them, and that works towards pseudoscience's advantage. You can't disprove that which can't be measured. Chopra then goes on to divorce the concept of consciousness entirely from any know theories of biology or physics and something presents something of an Assimilation Plot. Nowhere does he present a competent explanation for the spiritual consciousness, theories that could be tested. It works to pseudoscience to keep things vague, to keep them untestable.
And the last part of that exchange is perhaps the most interesting. Consciousness “is the source of space, time, energy and anything else that exists”. You can see more of this way of thinking at this article penned by Mr. Chopra: "Every quality in the outside world exists because you create the quality. Your brain is not the creator – it’s the interpreter and deliverer. The real creator is mind. It will likely take more to convince you that you are creating all of reality. We understand."
It is his theory that it is our consciousness that gives rise to reality. He’s not far off, but there’s a big distinction to make: It is our consciousness that gives rise our interpretation of reality. It’s actually pretty easy to test Mr. Chopra’s theory. Have you ever been wrong? Perhaps you sat on a chair expecting it hold your weight, but instead it collapsed. If your consciousness was truly giving rise to the physical universe, this would be impossible. In your mind, the chair would hold your weight, thus the reality created would be such. Even young children understand this. Just because you don’t understand fire, does not mean it will not burn you.
And Deepak Chopra is not the only one espousing this theory. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of The Landmark Forum. They are at worst an opportunistic pyramid scheme and at worse a cult. They too buy into the “reality as a creation of the mind” mythology: "We observe not so much the particulars of the realities we construct, but that it is human to construct such realities, and then forget that we are the ones who constructed them."
I think it’s more telling what they say latter on the page: "We explore choice as a profoundly human ability to create. When choice is understood and known in this way, what had previously seemed simply part of “the way things are” – inevitable or impervious to change – appears in a new light." And that’s really what is at the center of this pseudoscience mess: choice. What better carrot on a stick to those disenfranchised, depressed masses than choice. “You need not live life as a looser; you can choose a different reality.” Perhaps there’s even a little Social Darwinism in that thinking. “Your life is only bad because you are making that reality.”
But that’s not really true. Sure you can change your outlook on life, change your action in the world. It certainly doesn’t hurt to look at things from a new perspective. But no amount of belief will change your physical reality. You can not muster a home out of your consciousness, nor a happy family. Fire will always burn you. Belief alone will not make those things such. Sometime bad things happen for no reason. No one’s consciousness created it. Meaning can’t be found in everything. That is the nature of reality.
Perhaps it is a bit depressing to think in those terms. But you can still affect this world. You have agency as much as anyone else. However that doesn’t excuse pseudoscience from pushing a false hope that helps only swindler.
I think Mr. Harris phrased it best Mr. Chopra in that episode Face-Off:
Chopra: "You are so dismissive of subjective experience, which has given rise to poetry to music to art. I am saying that the whole universe is imbued with subjectivity"Harris: "There is nothing more important than subjectivity. It's all we could possibly care about. The changes in our conscious experience have some relation to the physical universe."Chopra: "Absolutely, they give rise to the physical universe."Harris: "That is a statement of metaphysics that is totally unjustified and could not possibly be justified".