Deepak Chopra, Cosmic Consciousness and Heisenberg Uncertainty

hei skeptics,

Yesterday I blogged to you about how physicists have discovered the Higgs Boson, after it being predicted 40 years ago. Today I am going to be blogging about a spiritual person abusing and misinterpreting the work of physicists to try to prove his particular ideology. Deepak Chopra has, for a long time, been trying to prove his western ideology that consciousness creates matter, and recently, I got into a bit of a twitter debate with him. I’m fairly sure I came out on top, with him resorting to ad hominem attacks and fallacious reasoning, but here i will post an elaborated explanation of my argument, as it is difficult with only 140 characters.

One of the main arguments Chopra uses which has some reasoning and comes from real science, is the idea of observation of quantum systems. His argument is as follows. If the act of observing quantum systems (wave function collapse) changes a system, then this means that the act of our consciousness observing something has an active effect, which shows that our universe is just created by our conscious, and that matter is an illusion, created by consciousness.

There is one problem with this argument (other than that conscious probably doesn’t exist), and it is his assumption that observation is the only way to cause wave function collapse. He is right, observation is enough to cause the collapse, but it is not the only way. What actually causes the collapse of wave functions is the interaction of particles.

What is important to know is that observation is itself an interaction, but not all interactions are observations. When an interaction occurs, a particle (usually a photon) bumps into another particle, and exerts a force on that particle, and then goes on its way. This force changes the way the particle acts. Now, that is an interaction. An observation is when this photon goes on and subsequently hits somebody’s retina or a sensor designed to detect photons. This is an observation. Observation requires interaction, but not visa-versa.

This interaction, which results in observation, is what makes the uncertainty principle an impossible nut to crack. This photon running into the particle always has an effect on it. And seeing that we cannot observe the particle any other way, we can never find out perfectly where it is and where it is going, but that’s another time.

Deepak Chopra then decided to call this an oxymoron, which is just ridiculous, and called me ‘a materialist kid’ and a ‘teenager’ as insults (ad hominem!!!), before insulting my spelling when my phone auto-corrected consciousness to conscience, and then refusing to debate me until I learnt to spell and use perfect grammar on a social networking site which has a rule of only 140 characters.

He threw many other arguments at me, which I will tackle at later dates, but this one was his most prominent argument, which is based on a false premise (he attacked me for accidentally spelling it premace while debating him) and has no real tangibility with quantum mechanics.

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Fallacy Frenzy: Moving the Goalposts

Hi there, follow skeptics,

I am going to continue my on-going run of logical fallacies. Today I am going to be talking about a very common logical fallacy, not only used in discussions involving skepticism, but in everyday life. It is the argument called ‘moving the goalposts’. It is essentially a dirty, intellectually dishonest tactic to ensure that your opposition never reaches the full set of criteria for approval. It is not technically a logical fallacy, because there is no fault in logic in this argument, but it is usually counted as a fallacy because it is a common tactic, and it is not a very honest one at that.

The basis of this debating tactic is that you can always ask for more and more proof of something, all the time knowing that you will always be able to ask for more proof without ever having to concede defeat. I will explain it using the evolution/creation argument because it is a very common use of this arguing tactic.
A creationist states to an evolution proponent that there is a big gap between whales and land mammals, which must be filled in order to prove evolution.
The evolution proponent then proceeds to go out and do all the work, and manages to find a transitional fossil between mammals and a whale.
The creationist then has two options, he can either ask for a transitional fossil between two different species, or he can ask for fossils between the whale and the whale-mammal hybrid, or between the whale-mammal hybrid and the mammal. (notice this is also a god of the gaps argument in this case, I will deal with that logical fallacy later)
This is a moving the goalposts fallacy. This process can continue on for ever, with the creationist just asking for more and more proof, and the evolutionist providing it, and then the creationist asking for more.
No matter how hard the evolutionist works and how much proof he finds, it will always be just below the creationists criteria.

Another common example of this argument tactic is used by proponents of god in general. However, despite being a moving the goalposts strategy, it works in reverse to the previous example. God is usually described as the gap in our knowledge about the universe. This has been the general theory of god since its beginning.
When it was not understood how lighting and thunder was made, god was accepted as the creator of this thunder. An atheist at the time would have said that lightning is natural, the normal response would be “prove it.” So the atheist goes out and proves that lightning does not need god to explain it away. The god-believer will then say, “god makes the planets go around.” The atheist goes out and proves that there is no need for god to explain the planets motions.

This process continues to the stage where god is just the so-called ‘writer-of-the-rulebook’, and he decided upon the physical laws, and now just sits back and watches the action unfold. According to god proponents, god still exists, so they are happy, despite the fact that god is being pushed into an ever smaller corner. This is also an example of moving the goalposts.

That’s all for today, I will leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russell, “Logical errors are, I think, of greater practical importance than many people believe; they enable their perpetrators to hold the comfortable opinion on every subject in turn.” Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logican, mathematician, historian and social critic of some note.