1. Russell says

    It boggles the mind that anyone sober could mistake such mush as being meaningful, much less profound.

  2. says

    Well, I’ll say this about it: when I was around ten, and realized that death was forever all the way to infinity, the thought scared the crap out of me. At some point, I thought of the analogy of a river forming little eddies here and there which come and go and remain part of the whole stream. It made me feel a little better; and given that all the little atoms of me remain to do something else, it’s not an entirely stupid thought. Scientifically, even. A little egg directs a bunch of atoms to become me for a while, and then they continue on their journey and form something else, having been still something else before they were me. Sort of cool.

    Having said that: D-Chop is a charlatan. A very rich one.

  3. Todd Adamson says

    Every time I read stuff like that, I get very sad. Why? Because somebody just passed around the bong, I didn’t get any.

  4. T. Bruce McNeely says

    I am Deepak Chopra – here comes the twist.
    I don’t exist!

    ..apologies to the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.

  5. JJWFromME says

    I never read Deepak Chopra, so I don’t know if what he’s saying has any merit. But the idea of no self is an old one in Indian metaphysics:

    Of course, I’m not silly enough to think anyone on this list is the least bit interested. It’s an open and shut case. It’s old, it has something to do with spirituality, so a priori on this site, it just deserves ridicule.

  6. Steve LaBonne says

    Well, JJW, it all depends on exactly what we’re talking about. It is in fact pretty likely that our sense of a unitary, consistent self is something of an illusion constructed by the brain. Woo-woo stuff about fragments of consciousness floating around the universe is quite another matter, though.

  7. Scott Simmons says

    If there is some reason that the idea that the ‘self’ does not exist is not deserving of ridicule (other than it being old and having something to do with spirituality), I’m sure we’d love to hear it.

    What chafes us rationalists most, I think, is that an idea that would invite ridicule from any thinking person if someone came up with it today, suddenly gains respectability when it turns out that someone else thought of it five thousand years ago. I’d love to know why that is …

  8. says

    All of Chopra’s Woo is taking old Indian mysticism, throwing in a touch of “Quantum Mechanics” (Which he clearly doesn’t understand in the least), and reselling it as something new and groundbreaking.

    Its all BS.

  9. David Livesay says

    And I thought that the Dalai Lama’s claim that one could be reincarnated as a computer to be odd.

    Me too. Why the hell would anyone want to be a computer???

  10. says

    You are a burp in the belch of the cosmic yap
    A fart in the middle of a deity’s nap
    A fleck of a smattering of atomic crap
    Don’t blame me, I blame Deepak


  11. says

    I thought that Deepak Chopra was mostly made of that water on “What the Bleep?” which freezes into different forms depending on what word you’re thinking about. Quantum Woo, dude!

  12. says

    It does sound as if what he said started out as the philosophical Buddhist concept of anatman, which I’ve always thought of as remarkably rationalistic for a religious metaphysical idea. As I understand it, it’s that there is no such thing as an individual soul apart from your memories and tendencies of personality, and those change: while you won’t be reincarnated in any literal sense, you’re not the same person today that you were a year ago either, so all that’s fundamentally different about dying is that there’s nobody afterward who remembers having been you, which is (so the argument goes) not enough to justify being so afraid of death.

    (Which is not to say that I necessarily accept the associated idea that you’ll be better off abandoning all your desires and attachments to the self. There are certain types of suffering you’ll avoid, yes, but there are compensations you’ll avoid as well. I guess this is why I am not a Buddhist.)

    But he’s expressing it in a pretty garbled manner, and that snake-oil quantum crap he slings around with it is infuriating.

  13. shiva says

    “Mysticism” and “spirituality” are not Indian terms i.e., they have no remote equivalent in Sanskrit or Tamizh the classical languages of India both of which have a very large collection of texts. These terms, among many others, have arisen from the experience of Western commentators as they have tried to mine the texts using a superficial medieval approach – which sadly has continued through the “enlightenment”. The so-called “self” in the Western parlance is again a thinly disguised “secular” version of the “soul”. Westen commentators over the last 400 years have simply superimposed these terms over what they see as analogs in Indian philosophy. Deepak Chopra isn’t steeped in the classical Indian philosophies and is not terribly expressive. And for the Daniel Dennet fans out here, why shd the idea of no-self be any stranger than the idea of “there’s nothing such as consciousness”?

    Scott Simmons, I am surprised ou call yourself a “rationalist” yet believe that there is something such as the “self”.

  14. JJWFromME says

    This sort of thing is bound to confuse the people on this site. Indian philosophy does not share western philosophy’s Greek roots. And much of it doesn’t have any roots in the European Enlightenment either (of course, earlier Indian philosophies wouldn’t). The European Enlightenment introduced a hard split between epistemology and soteriology which doesn’t exist for traditional Indian philosophy.

  15. George says

    Q: You have no fear of death.

    Chopra: No Sir! Why? Because I don’t exist in the first place!

    Q: But then… how… are… you… talking to me now…?

    Chopra: Through the magic of QUANTUM WOO!

  16. Steve LaBonne says

    Apparently JJW has never heard of the existence of thoroughly rationalist and sceptical schools of ancient Indian philosophy, the most famous of which is Carvaka. The idea of “Eastern” thought as exclusively “spiritual” is nothing more than a crude Western Orientalist stereotype.

  17. Baratos says

    Me too. Why the hell would anyone want to be a computer???

    People have to watch porn. In a vague way, computers experience it.

    Hmmmmmm….if computers experience porn…..and someone used me to watch gay midget porn……I REALLY dont want to come back as a computer.

  18. Don Price says

    Steely Dan’s skewering of mangled new-ageified pseudo-oriental woo applies nicely to Chopra and his adherents:

    Would you take me by the hand
    Would you take me by the hand
    Can you show me
    The shine of your Japan
    The sparkle of your china
    Can you show me…

  19. Chinchillazilla says

    Uh-oh: the rest of us also apparently don’t exist.

    If you realize right now that there’s no such thing as a person, you’ll be all set.

  20. mijnheer says

    I have no wish to defend Mr. Chopra, but I’m surprised that some self-proclaimed rationalists here believe in the quaint concept of the “self”. The self! Now there’s a spiritual/metaphysical notion — one that I thought the Buddha rationally disposed of 2500 years ago. At least Mr. Chopra, whatever his many faults and mumbo-jumbo talk, is smart enough to know there’s no self.

  21. says

    In my many discussions, poetry readings, meditations, political demonstrations, and the like with the poet Allen Ginsberg, we discussed Artificial Intelligence for half an hour to an hour, on the campus of University Of Massachusetts, Amherst, where I was earning or had just earned a M.S. for A.I. in 1975.

    He rephrased my argument in Tibetan Buddhist terms and declared:

    “How can you put a mind in a box, when there is no mind?”

    I had no answer to that. He left his Tibetan temple bell behind. Next time I saw, him, I gave him back his bell.

    I asked him then: “since you say that you’re not afraid of death, because in Buddhist doctrine the void after death is identical to the void before conception, what do you want your tombstone to read?”

    “My epitaph should read,” he said, “the smartest man in America.”

    An interesting answer for someone who denies the existence of mind. But an intelligent man nonetheless. One of many whom I miss.

    Better public speaker than Deepak Chopra, too.

  22. Numad says

    To clarify: I personally think that the Buddha’s description of the self is pretty realist in some aspects, but even if one takes it for granted, the Buddha’s “disposal” of the Self is merely a prescription.

    Rationally, since the Buddha says that the Self shouldn’t be held on to, it can’t be said that it’s been demonstrated that it doesn’t exist.

    In any case, there’s some middle ground between “the self doesn’t exist” and “the self is an immutable, indivisible thing”, middle ground that was explored since the Buddha’s time.

  23. shiva says

    Soteriology in the Greek means something very different from the meaning that has been tagged on to it in theology. You cannot discuss soteriology acros philosophies unless you assume all philosophies are about the same issues – most certainly an unwarranted and empty assumption. So the split in Western philosophy post-Enlightenment between epistemology and soteriology is simply a feature of itself. Philosphies not only differ from each other. But they also differ from each other in different ways. Two of the classical schools of Hindu philosophy are not at all concerned with ‘liberation’.

  24. Iain Walker says

    mijnheer (Message #28):

    I’m surprised that some self-proclaimed rationalists here believe in the quaint concept of the “self”. Now there’s a spiritual/metaphysical notion — one that I thought the Buddha rationally disposed of 2500 years ago.

    No more than David Hume managed to dispose of it 2250 years later.

    I’m not sure why you think that the idea that psychological states are, in fact, states of something, is quaint. The concept of the self is basically that of the subject of psychological properties, the thing to which beliefs, thoughts, emotions, behavioural dispositions etc can be attributed (i.e., the thing that believes, thinks, emotes, behaves, etc.). To use Dan Dennett’s terminology, one can characterise the self in perfectly meaningful terms as an intentional system, or a subject of intentional predicates. Nothing remotely spiritual about that. The real question is not whether such subjects exist, but what kind of thing they are – mysterious mental “substances” a la Descartes, or physical information-processing systems a la modern physicalist theories.

  25. says

    At least Mr. Chopra, whatever his many faults and mumbo-jumbo talk, is smart enough to know there’s no self.

    So, Chopra has been assimilated into the Borg Collective? Does this make him something like Locutus — you know, the “mouthpiece” for the Collective which speaks to humans to prepare them for assimilation?

    “I am Deepcutus of Woo. Skepticism is futile. . . .”

  26. JJWFromME says

    Shiva– Apropos to this context, my point was that the Enlightenment made certain choices about what were and were not respectable philosophical questions to ask. I think we’ve inherited that here in this culture.

    Back as an undergraduate, I stumbled on the writings of Nagarjuna, a 4th century Indian (do I call him a philosopher? theologian?–whoops, can’t. He doesn’t believe in a “theo” to begin with) so um, author, whose writings were very tightly reasoned and empirical. How come I’d never heard of him? It’s just that the conversations involved were distinct to what was going on in Indian intellectual life, and it was hard coming from a western perspective to pick up the thread and understand the various competing views he was dealing with.

    Anyway, again, it was very tightly reasoned and empirical. And for my undergraduate senior thesis, I got interested in figuring out how Nagarjuna could dialogue with western philosophers. Naively (I was an undergraduate) I thought I could even get A. J. Ayer to appreciate it, who happened to be teaching at my school that semester. My professor quickly lowered my expectations. There was no way that this could happen, she explained, because Nagarjuna’s work has to do with soteriology, and post-Enlightenment philosophy is just not interested in that.

    The most successful works that I read on Nagarjuna put him in the context of psychology, but he didn’t fit very well there either, because Nagarjuna’s work had to do with perceiving things as they were–it was epistemological.

    So I had only a foggy perspective on this Enlightenment predicament until I picked up Isaiah Berlin. His essay “The Divorce Between the Science and the Humanities” explains some things, and then there’s his famous essay, the “Counter Enlightenment.”

    It’s interesting that Berlin was mentioned in this Alternet post on Dawkins, although I think the blogger did a sloppy job of explaining Berlin, making him sound postmodern, which I don’t think he is.

    One more thing: it turns out that Isaiah Berlin and A. J. Ayer were good friends. Opposites attract?

  27. detler says

    Same old same old. As oithers have already said this is just warmed over eastern mysticism, which I find appealing as a personal creed but has no objective foundation and shouldn’t enter into a reality based discourse.

  28. Numad says


    “That’s exactly the kneejerk reaction I expected.”

    Interesting definition of kneejerk.

  29. JJWFromME says

    Well did either of you read any of that stuff? No. Are you interested? No. Did you bark out a categorical opinion anyway? Yes.

    Where I come from, that’s kneejerk.

  30. thwaite says

    Steve LaBonne noted The idea of “Eastern” thought as exclusively “spiritual” is nothing more than a crude Western Orientalist stereotype.

    –the long history of Indian (asian) atheism was discussed a bit last summer in an interview published in the Berkeley alumni magazine, between two Berkeley economists of Indian origins. They concede that India itelf bought into the stereotype of its spirituality:

    Pranab Bardhan (PB): Your book, The Argumentative Indian, challenges the rather naive interpretation of Indian culture in the West – that analytical reasoning is quintessentially Western, and that Indian culture is primarily concerned with spirituality and uncritical religious faith.

    Amartya Sen (AS): That interpretation of Indian culture and civilization has been dominant in the West’s relation with India. When the British were first establishing themselves in the 18th century, people like William Jones and others were quite interested in Indian mathematics and astronomy, and science generally. But by the time the empire settled down, James Mill – who was very proud of the fact that he wrote his history of India without going to India at all, and who also didn’t speak any Indian language – argued that if there was anything to Indian culture, it’s just kind of spiritual, religious stuff. Whereas Jones had discussed important astronomers and mathematicians in ancient India, like Aryabhata, who rejected the prevailing view of the sun going around the earth.

    PB: This is in the sixth century?

    AS: He was very late fifth century – his major book was completed in ad 499. He also discussed diurnal motion of the earth and why is it that objects don’t get thrown out into space.

    His students and followers, like Varahamihira and Brahmagupta, argued that every object attracted every other – early speculations on gravity. Making India the domain of religion played a part in the undermining of Indian culture. To some extent, India fell into the trap. Rather than contesting that there was quite a strong tradition of science, and also one of atheism and materialism (the earliest atheistic verses you see in the Rig Veda itself, which is around 1500 bc), they said, “Okay, the West is terrific in science, but we are very good in spirituality.” It’s something quite important to resist.

  31. shiva says

    There was no way that this could happen, she explained, because Nagarjuna’s work has to do with soteriology, and post-Enlightenment philosophy is just not interested in that. JJWFromME, you shd apply for a refund. Very sloppy thinking on th epart of your professor. It is bad enough to accept a mangled idea of soeriology. It is simply terrible applying that backwards to the philosophy of Nagaarjuna, at a time when the concept simply made no sense at all.

    thwaite, I am amused that you shd consider the opinions of two economists on matters of Indian philosophy, science, etc simply because they are from India. It is as absurd as consulting Milton Friedman or Stiglitz on the history of the idea of, say, liberty. They may have well read these texts among other things but that doesn’t make them an expert. Amartya Sen can read and understand Sanskrit, but he is no Sanskritist (as he loves to claim) and knows next to nothing of substance of Indian philosophy. It is simply not his area of expertise. If you want to learn about Indian philospohy from real philosophers you could start with Matilal, JN Mohanty, C. Ram-Prasad, Arindam Chakrabarti, Stephen Phillips, and Karl Potter. Amartya Sen is so clueless that he is simply repeating what is written in the popular press. Although you may not intend it, your quoting Amartya Sen and Pranab Bardhan to comment on Indian philosophy is almost like the classical quote mining by creationists.

  32. thwaite says

    Shiva, thank you for your list of recommended authors for Indian philosophy. I’m most definitely not expert here, and a quick google on e.g. Karl Potter highlights the complexities here. What’s your general expertise?

    As for economists and philosophers, well, in an old aphorism economics is called a branch of morality pretending to be a science, and in fact Adam Smith’s first title was A THEORY OF MORAL SENTIMENTS – this is what earned him his academic position. (The complementary aphorism, which I especially appreciate because I resemble this remark, is: “Ethology is a branch of empirical science pretending to have relevance to moral philosophy”.)

  33. JJWFromME says

    Your responses are just scripted. Barking? Please.

    No scripting here. What I’m arguing is that people on this site are on a hair trigger for this sort of thing. Maybe “barking” is too strong a word. But you guys do behave with a certain pack-like mentality sometimes. Like the Alternet blogger I linked to, I’m all for you guys going after new age quacks and fundamentalists. I just think it would be good for you folks to look more like the adults in the argument, instead of unreasonable ideologues. And scientism *is* an ideology. And ideologues tend to cause collateral damage on the way to their presumed utopias–see Isaiah Berlin.

    Very sloppy thinking on th epart of your professor. It is bad enough to accept a mangled idea of soeriology. It is simply terrible applying that backwards to the philosophy of Nagaarjuna, at a time when the concept simply made no sense at all.

    Well this is always the problem of translation, isn’t it? You have to use the language that you have to try to get a handle on something that was written a very long time ago. Sure, there was no such thing as psychology, soteriology, the English word “emptiness”, and all sorts of things in 4th century India, but these are all words that the Nagarjuna scholars I read used to describe and translate Madhyamika philosophy. I think this is reasonable, as long as the scholar makes it clear that they’re trying to explain things in a posthumous way. I suppose you could keep everything in Sanskrit, with no context for the modern reader, but that wouldn’t be helpful for us English speaking readers with western educations trying to understand it all.

    And I think it *is* helpful to point out that the object of Madhyamika is ‘liberation’, in accord with the Four Seals, and therefore is at least partly soteriological. I think if we went back in a time machine and asked Nagarjuna with a Sanskrit translator present, I think he’d agree. Of course, we have no time machine, so we can’t do that.

  34. Numad says


    I’m not interested in your insincere concern and self-fulfilling (barely) predictions.

  35. shiva says


    There is no alternative but to learn at least the basics of Sanskrit and understand it within its own context, in a “lift yourself up by your bootstraps” manner. The absurdity of appropriating Nagarjuna (and the many others whose works are attributed to him) can be appreciated when you accept one of the basics of his thinking – that there is no stage such as liberation (see I am using your word) since one already is. Check out C.Ram-Prasad’s latest volume “Eastern Philosophy” for a discussion of how later Indian and Chinese thinkers interpreted philosophical ideas within their respective contexts.


    I just know enough (very little) to know that I have about ten years of study ahead of me before I can make a significant contribution to Indian philosophy. Check out SN Balagangadhara’s “Heathen in his Blindness” on how ideas from one culture are misinterpreted when poured into the mould of another. In it you will see how Greek and Latin terms even can be misinterpreted.

  36. JJWFromME says

    Shiva–I guess I just have some faith in the ability to communicate, that the English language is worth something and can communicate meaning, even if I don’t know Sanskrit.

    If everyone was already liberated, then there would be no need to even study Madhyamika. Yes, in an ultimate sense, obscurations (klesas, etc.) don’t inherently exist. But we live in the relative world, and that’s the perspective we have, instictively. I don’t think Nagarjuna wanted to throw out the concept of a path–which I believe can correctly be understood as a soteriology.

    No doubt that ideas borrowed from other cultures can be misunderstood and misappropriated. We naturally project our notions of what we would like an idea to be, based on our own presumed cultural needs–which sometimes simply amounts to fantasy. We misread. It’s an interesting subject.

    But I’ll have to check out C.Ram-Prasad…

    Numad– I’m not being glib. I think there’s been a frightening degree of science abuse and non-empirical thought on the part of the crazies who have been in charge of our government, and who have tried to take control of our schools. I liked this Crooked Timber post on the subject:

    Quite rightly, people are fed up with this kind of thing. What I’m saying that the reaction to this stuff shouldn’t be scientism. There were more to Enlightenment principles than just science. At its best, there was tolerance and respect for well-thought-out opinions that differed from your own. If you go on a rampage against all opinions that don’t look like science, don’t you risk reinventing the paranoid style of American politics that got us into this mess in the first place?

  37. says

    Whatever Sen might know about classical Indian philosophy or not, he has published in philosophy, notably in philosophy of economics (gee, no surprise) and in ethics.

    Also, the view that there are non-religious philosophical traditions, including materialist ones, in India is quite clear even to a non-specialist like me.