Aurora last night masked by clouds. Saw plenty of bats. Here is a review of another article you might like to read.
Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, tried to take apart Deepak Chopra’s mystical nonsense at Big Questions Online.
Ordinarily, as the cliche goes, this would be like shootin’ fish in a barrel. Chopra, true to the nature of discrete mechanics, sprinkles the words “quantum” (i.e. “discrete), “non-local”, and “wave/particle duality” randomly like magical fairy dust throughout his writings, hoping the very bizarreness and unfamiliarity of modern physics will be enough to mystify and, thus, through his apparent but false facility with the words, be enough to convince uninformed readers that he should be appointed Official Demystifier.
But Shermer was loaded with blanks, and, as long as we’re dragging out the cliches, only manages to plug himself in the foot. Chopra’s meanderings into physics never quite reaches the level of gibberish—a claim I will, if there is sufficient demand, be happy to justify in the future. Yet Shermer—our real subject—only manages to make himself look goofy in the same way as his target.
In an attempt to summarize Roger Penrose’s theory of quantum consciousness, Shermer says,
Inside our neurons are tiny hollow microtubules that act like structural scaffolding. Penrose and Hameroff conjecture that something inside the microtubules may initiate a wave-function collapse that leads to the quantum coherence of atoms, causing neurotransmitters to be released into the synapses between neurons. This, in turn, triggers the neurons to fire in a uniform pattern, thereby creating thought and consciousness.
Our tautology for today: Penrose’s claim might be true, and again it might be false. But it is at least comprehensible, and open to verification. And, whatever other benefits it has, it is, at a minimum, intriguing.
Yet Shermer dismisses Penrose with a wave, troting out a musing from his pal, physicist Victor Stenger:
[F]or a system to be described in terms of quantum mechanics, its typical mass m, speed v, and distance d must be on the order of Planckâ€™s constant h. “If mvd is much greater than h, then the system probably can be treated classically,”…Stenger computed the mass of neural transmitter molecules and their speed across the distance of a synapse, and he concluded that both are about three orders of magnitude too large for quantum effects to be influential.
Evidently, Shermer missed Stenger’s use of the word “probably”, which means, of course, that sometimes systems larger than mvd must be treated using the math of quantum (i.e. discrete) mechanics. And anyway, the activity of our neurons should obviously be treated quantum mechanically, as everything should be, at base. The only question is to what level of approximation are we satisfied?
Shermer, and perhaps Stenger, dismiss Penrose too quickly, because they are anxious to toss out all attempts of explaining consciousness in terms of quantum mechanical effects. Their reasoning, I suppose, goes like this: if Chopra uses it, it must be false.
Shermer tries it more than once, too. He says, “But the world of subatomic particles has no correspondence with the world of Newtonian mechanics”, a statement as accurate and as useful as anything Chopra ever wrote.
But our man doesn’t only have trouble with physics—which is, let us admit, difficult—he’s not doing too well with logic, either.
At the beginning of his piece, he tells us that he is convinced that various arguments for God’s existence—the cosmological argument, the ontological argument, the argument from design, etc.—are “all reasons to believe in God only if you already believe.” He also says that these arguments have “been refuted over the ages by philosophers from David Hume to Daniel Dennett.”
“Refute” is a strong word, one of the best. It means to demonstrate logically that some idea or hypothesis is false. Merely casting suspicion on an argument is as far away from “refute” as Daniel Dennett is to sanity when that man proposes that parents who raise their children within a religious faith should be charged with child abuse.
It is false to claim that every argument for God’s existence has been refuted—Shermer’s statement is itself refuted by empirical observation. As is his own empirical so-called observation that arguments for God’s existence are only convincing “if you already believe.” We have the sworn testimony of history that contradicts directly that statement.
All Shermer has left is his opening joke—and his best argument—which I will leave for you to discover.