Quantum is just a metaphor

Could Chopra be any more muddled? First he claims that “quantum” is just a metaphor, and then he accuses all those fundamentalist physicists of hijacking his word and using it wrongly.

Quantum physics is a very specific discipline that currently has no direct applicability to medicine — every time Chopra opens his mouth and uses the word inappropriately, he’s committing quackery.


  1. Zinc Avenger says

    You’re talking about quantum. He’s talking about quantum quantum. It’s different. It’s more quantum.

  2. Compuholic says

    Quantum physics is a very specific discipline that currently has no direct applicability to medicine

    I’m no physicist, but I was under the impression that quantum theory has direct applications in medicine (like MRT- and PET Scans). Not to mention the indirect applications through the use of computers which also require quantum physics. (e.g. for the design of the transistors)

  3. meeotch says

    It’s one of my biggest pet peeves in life when the people who coin a term hijack its meaning from those who weren’t using it.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Could Chopra be any more muddled?

    The more we know about how muddled Chopra is, the less we can know about what his muddled bullshit is supposed to mean. It has something to do with quantums, which are metaphors stolen by physicists.

  5. Irene Delse says

    How dare these arrogant physicists criticise alt-med quacks for hijacking one of physics’ own core concepts! What’s next, evolutionary biologists complaining about the creative interpretation of fossils by creationists?

  6. Emrysmyrddin says

    I follow @DBagChopra on Twitter – illustrating the trouble with Poes, it might as well be the real thing. Funny as quantum, though.

  7. krismaglione says

    Agreed. MRIs wouldn’t be possible without quantum mechanics. Nor laser surgery. Nor computer-assisted techniques, like CT scans, laproscopy, radio-transmitting endoscopic probes, … Quantum mechanics has had a huge, direct effect on modern medicine… just not remotely in the ways Chopra prates endlessly about.

  8. robb says

    what Comuholic said. there is quantum physics used indirectly in medicine, especially for imaging technologies. also, accelerators create radionuclides that can be used to destroy cancer cells. the accelerators can even be used to directly irradiate tumors.

  9. radpumpkin says

    Being a chemist, my experience with quantum mechanics has been limited solely to the interaction between light and those leptons orbiting the nucleus, but even this very basic level contains more craziness than Chopra here can spout. Once you understand the mechanism behind things like tunneling or electron exchange, you can’t help but laugh at such amateurish degrees of insanity. Oooh, you think conscious thought can magically heal you, and that those mean physicists have hijacked a word from you over century ago? Boring! Why don’t you take a look at…I dunno, those creation/destruction operators? Maybe you can come up with something more entertaining eventually…

  10. andyo says

    I don’t think by “directly” PZ meant that. Or else it would be obvious that not only in medicine, but also old boring mundane me using quantum mechanics “directly” on a daily basis.

  11. misanthroputz says

    #5 Cpmpuholic

    Actually Pet and MRT scans would also be considered an indirect uses of quantum physics in medical applications (it is only the designers of such tools that require knowledge of the physics behind their working) — the point PZ is making is that no doctor need know “directly” one wit of info about quantum physics in order to do their job well, even if some of their tools depends (seemingly) more heavily upon quantum effects than others.

    And, not to be argumentative but merely to clarify — to point out to say transistors are an indirect use of quantum physics is similar to saying every human being is an indirect user of quantum physics simply because each of us has chemical reactions in our bodies happening right now that depend upon known quantum effects. Quantum physics “indirectly” is part of everything that happens, so I don’t think your usage of “indirect” here is all that informative — in this sense everything we do is an “indirect application” of quantum physics.

  12. says

    Damned scientists, they think just because they have stuff that works that it’s so much better than mumbling “quantum” as a confusing metaphor. And scientists don’t know everything!

    Make that man a DI fellow.

    Gee, wasn’t there already a word for “quantum” leaps of mind, like Gestalt? But why would Chopra just use an accepted word in psychology/cog-sci, when he could take over a physics word that sounds rather wooish to a lot of naive folk?

    Cause he’s a creative quantum thinker.

    Glen Davidson

  13. angelvigo says

    Here we are in this particular thread talking about Chopra and quantum mechanics,and yet no one has posted a Futurama clip? For shame!

  14. says

    “We think that many times patients may feel healed, even though they may die from a disease, if they learn to go beyond their personal fear of death.”

    Because feeling healed is what medicine’s about, really. So many of medicine’s arrogant afficionados have hijacked the word to mean preventing death and stuff.

  15. shouldbeworking says

    Chopra is in a superposition of many quantum states: batshit insane, freaking stupid, fraudulent, hyper confused and bloody weird.

  16. says

    I always thought of a “quantum leap” in the mind as more of a “Eureka” moment.

    Eureka moments don’t seem to fit into the “discontinuity” category. It’s more of an example of broadly distributed, continuous processing power.

    Excerpt from “Eureka Hunt,” an article published by the New Yorker in July, 2008:

    …people who solved puzzles with insight activated a specific subset of cortical areas. Although the answer seemed to appear out of nowhere, the mind was carefully preparing itself for the breakthrough. …The scientists refer to this as the “preparatory phase,” since the brain is devoting its considerable computational power to the problem. The various sensory areas, like the visual cortex, go silent as the brain suppresses possible distractions.

    …What happens next is the “search phase,” as the brain starts looking for answers in all the relevant places. …”Almost all of the possibilities your brain comes up with are going to be wrong,” Jung-Beeman said. “And it’s up to the executive-control areas to keep on searching or, if necessary, change strategies and start searching somewhere else.” But sometimes, just when the brain is about to give up, an insight appears. “You’ll see people bolt up in their chair and their eyes go all wide, “ [a graduate student] said….The suddenness of the insight comes with a burst of brain activity. Three hundred milliseconds before a participant communicates the answer, the EEG registers a spike of gamma rhythm, which is the highest electrical frequency generated by the brain. Gamma rhythm is thought to come from the “binding” of neurons, as cells distributed across the cortex draw themselves together into a new network, which is then able to enter consciousness. It’s as if the insight had gone incandescent.

    …Jung-Beeman argues that insight requires the brain to make a set of distant and unprecedented connections. He cites studies showing that cells in the right hemisphere are more “broadly tuned” than cells in the left hemisphere, with longer branches and more dendritic spines. “what this means is that neurons in the right hemisphere are collecting information from a larger area of cortical space,” Jung-Beeman said. “They are less precise but better connected.” When the brain is searching for an insight, these are the cells that are most likely to produce it.

    …at first, the brain lavishes the scarce resource of attention on a single problem. But, once the brain is sufficiently focused, the cortex needs to relax in order to seek out the more remote association in the right hemisphere, which will provide the insight.

  17. Denephew Ogvorbis, OM says


    No. Quantumn is orange, yellow and red. ‘Specially ’round the Quantumnal Equine.

  18. says

    So if SOPA passed would Chopra be charged with copyright infringement for taking a word coined by a scientist and claiming credit for it? Or is it just another case of a religious fraud getting a religious exemption?

  19. Serendipitydawg (Physicists are such a pain sometimes) says

    Quantum was only used to describe the discrete nature of energy levels and its derivation from quantus is nothing more than an indication of quantity.

    I prefer this appropriation, at least it cleans dishes well.

    And thank you Og for Schroedinger’s Duck, that one gave me a hearty chuckle.

  20. Gregory Greenwood says

    These days, whenever I hear a huckster like Chopra utter the word ‘quantum’, I simply replace it in my mind with ‘abracadabra’. His blather doesn’t make any less sense with this simple word substitution – I wonder why that should be?

    Why, it is almost as if he uses the word without any inkling of its actual meaning, but that can’t be right. Afterall, he coined the precious term, and those sneaky little physicistsese stole it from him!

  21. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    And thank you Og for Schroedinger’s Duck, that one gave me a hearty chuckle.

    Excellent mental image. I think that explains my favourite joke –
    Q: what is the difference between a duck?
    A: one of its legs is both the same
    Obviously it’s a Schroedinger’s Duck.

  22. hkdharmon says

    There is a guy who teaches “Quantum Jujitsu” which means who-the-hell-knows. Jujitsu that works by small discrete movements over small distances instead of smooth continuous motions over long distances? It has become, in popular culture, one of those words that just means “somehow better than something else”. The BS in the martial arts is comparable to the BS in medical quackery. However, it is probably less dangerous to mankind.

  23. Moggie says

    Metaphor can be useful for communicating difficult concepts. If I’m trying to explain something unfamiliar to you, and I use as metaphor a concept you’re familiar with, that can help lead you to understanding. But if instead I choose my metaphor from an area of science which is notoriously hard to grasp, isn’t that pretty much an admission that I’m using it to obfuscate, not enlighten?

  24. Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc says

    @tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach
    Wow, that’s my #1 too. My friends wondered why I was rolling around the floor while reading a generally unfunny student RAG rag. More recently I’ve never been able to adequately describe it to various Slavic mates of mine, I swear that it’s a language thing. :-/

  25. billyjoe says

    I had to get to Moggie’s comment to get anything useful out of these comments. Quite right, you use objects of our everyday experience as analogies to try to explain difficult concepts. For example waves and particles to explain the various behaviours of electrons passing through double slits. You don’t use concepts no one understands to explain common everyday experiences.
    I do like the quantum duck though

  26. scienceavenger says

    I pray to the quantum gods that some future interviewer asks Mr. Ageless Body, Twisted Mind why he is aging the same as everyone else.

  27. Ernst Hot says

    Mike Haynes wrote:

    I think Julia Sweeney summed it up nicely in her “Letting Go of God” presentation.

    “Deepak Chopra is full of shit!”

    No, Deepak Chopra is full of Qrap!

  28. M Groesbeck says

    Once I finish my degree in one of the (very) few fields that actually involves both quantum mechanics and medicine, I’m going to have to take up public debate…”That’s Doctor knows-what-he’s-talking-about to you, faux-quantum-dude.”

  29. MMXI Vole says

    No. Quantumn is orange, yellow and red. ‘Specially ’round the Quantumnal Equine.

    Oh! Well, then, that’s a horse of a different color.

  30. catnip67 says

    Me thinks Deepak is suffering from quantum entanglement.

    And yes, this thread has elicited the most spontaneous expressions of quantum mirth in a long time

  31. Emrysmyrddin says

    @55Ha! If you build it, xie will come. I’m a fan. And a follower. Though definitely not a quantum. Probably.

  32. catnip67 says

    Deepak’s quantum duality. He is either talking or he is making sense. Both states cannot coexist.

  33. Lycanthrope says

    And +1 Internets to Kel.

    Wow, I thought surely you must be exaggerating, PZ, when you said he accused physicists of hijacking the word “quantum”. But no, he just flat-out said that. Wow. Chopra may be staggeringly ignorant, but you have to admire the sheer depth and breadth of his chutzpah.

  34. says

    Chopra may be staggeringly ignorant, but you have to admire the sheer depth and breadth of his chutzpah.

    Pet Peeve. Actually, no I don’t.

  35. says

    Question: While completely disregarding Chopra, is it possible for a person to alter his or her epigenome through a profound experience most people would say was religious? I saw a TED video with Dan Gilbert a few years ago where he said there was evidence that some things that we “make up” could cause a deep subconscious change.

  36. jeffra says

    Far be it for me to even sound like I’m defending Deepshite, but isn’t he claiming that scientists have “hijacked” the word “discontinuity“, not “quantum” as is being argued above?

    3:00 – 3:35

    A small point maybe, but…

  37. bcskeptic says

    Deepak Chopra is laughing his ass off all the way to the bank.

    Bullshit and lies = money.

    Truth and integrity = …truth and integrity!

    This “bullshit baffles brains” schisterism is going to keep on being used as long as the scientifically illiterate masses keep lapping it up and paying big bucks for it.

    Now, let me see if I can think of some sciency sounding words, and tie them all together in a babbling brook of nonsense, and mix it in with the word healing, maybe I could retire independently wealthy. I know, “healed by the exponential faraday rotated, mass-spectrometer-quark, light beam, calculus derivative”! You’ll be amazed at how it can make you feel younger, and more vibrant, and more in tune with your central limit theorem!

    Anyone have any better ideas?

  38. Hurin, Nattering Nabob of Negativism says

    So let me get this straight, he wanted a poetic comparison for consciousness, and that immediately led him to some of the most opaque and math laden ideas in science?

    What an obnoxious bullshitter this guy is.

  39. Hurin, Nattering Nabob of Negativism says

    Chopra may be staggeringly ignorant, but you have to admire the sheer depth and breadth of his chutzpah.

    Why would I admire people who shit on science by being deliberately dishonest about what it means?

    The ability to be assertive and confident while lying is a horrible thing to admire.

  40. anchor says

    “The afficianados in the world of quantum physics have somehow hijacked the word for their own use.”

    By the phrase “afficianodos in the world of quantum physics”, he’s either referring to the pseudo-scientific bullshit con-artists of which he is a member and prime exponent, OR he is referring to quantum physicists and is therefore a liar of exceptional proportions.

    Now, isn’t THAT an interesting…distinction?

    Might anyone wonder which one of these he might means? Not me. Either way, he’s still a dishonest schmuck.

  41. drbunsen le savant fou says

    Must say, RD is doing a sterling effort at keeping a straight face. You can almost not see the microtwitches.