Pseudoscience

Are Gravitational Waves Red Herrings?

Pseudoscientists have been markedly emboldened in the past few decades. While in the past they timidly acknowledged science at the same time that they exploited its limitations to their own benefit, they are now brazenly attacking science … and they have found their popular media outlet through which to do it (see here and here for just two examples).

There is a good reason for this popularity of irrationality. The media are fond of selling information that is sensational, easy to absorb, and out-of-this-worldly. While it takes the momentous discovery of gravitational waves (GWs) to make it to the headlines, crackpots routinely appear on popular TV shows. And the fact that many scientists are joining the anti-science crowd is not helping the situation either.

We have now reached the point where top-tiered institutions of higher learning like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have academic programs devoted to alternative medicine and “research” in telekinesis, Reiki, Qi, homeopathy, touch therapy, and a host of other ideas proven to be scientifically baseless, technically useless, and occasionally dangerous. Furthermore, reputable publishers publish journals whose editors are pseudoscientists, and for which pseudoscientists “peer review” articles by other pseudoscientists.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Deepak Chopra and two other pseudoscientists label one of the two most important discoveries of the twenty-first century (the other being the discovery of the Higgs boson) “red herring.” They claim that “gravitational waves …  serve as a distraction from the unsolved mysteries that could actually shift the paradigm regarding how we see reality.” So over a thousand scientists spent close to a billion dollars and over twenty years of their lives to distract the public “from the unsolved mysteries” of science?

There is no period in the history of science in which mysteries were absent.

In fact, it is precisely the unsolved mysteries that drive science! And no one, not even pseudoscientists like Chopra, shouts about these mysteries louder than scientists themselves. The difference between the two groups is that scientists continue to push the new boundaries of the unknown even further, while pseudoscientists like Chopra and his collaborators on the Huffington Post article preach to the public to abandon science because of its present “unsolved mysteries.”

Pseudoscientists have been markedly emboldened in the past few decades. While in the past they timidly acknowledged science at the same time that they exploited its limitations to their own benefit, they are now brazenly attacking science … and they have found their popular media outlet through which to do it (see here and here for just two examples).

There is a good reason for this popularity of irrationality. The media are fond of selling information that is sensational, easy to absorb, and out-of-this-worldly. While it takes the momentous discovery of gravitational waves (GWs) to make it to the headlines, crackpots routinely appear on popular TV shows. And the fact that many scientists are joining the anti-science crowd is not helping the situation either.

We have now reached the point where top-tiered institutions of higher learning like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford have academic programs devoted to alternative medicine and “research” in telekinesis, Reiki, Qi, homeopathy, touch therapy, and a host of other ideas proven to be scientifically baseless, technically useless, and occasionally dangerous. Furthermore, reputable publishers publish journals whose editors are pseudoscientists, and for which pseudoscientists “peer review” articles by other pseudoscientists.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise that Deepak Chopra and two other pseudoscientists label one of the two most important discoveries of the twenty-first century (the other being the discovery of the Higgs boson) “red herring.” They claim that “gravitational waves …  serve as a distraction from the unsolved mysteries that could actually shift the paradigm regarding how we see reality.” So over a thousand scientists spent close to a billion dollars and over twenty years of their lives to distract the public “from the unsolved mysteries” of science?

There is no period in the history of science in which mysteries were absent.

In fact, it is precisely the unsolved mysteries that drive science! And no one, not even pseudoscientists like Chopra, shouts about these mysteries louder than scientists themselves. The difference between the two groups is that scientists continue to push the new boundaries of the unknown even further, while pseudoscientists like Chopra and his collaborators on the Huffington Post article preach to the public to abandon science because of its present “unsolved mysteries.”

The mystery of how objects — such as the planets — move was solved when Galileo and Newton discovered the laws of motion and the mathematical law of gravity. The mystery of how fire heats up objects and how it drives engines was solved by the discovery of the laws of thermodynamics. Science also proved that there is no need for a Zeus or an Indra (riding on a white elephant) to create lightning, because it showed that lightning was nothing but an electrical discharge between clouds and earth. Scientists disproved the eighteenth century pseudoscientists — who attributed magical power to magnets — by showing that magnetism is just a manifestation of electric currents. Later they also discovered that, under special circumstances, magnetism could produce electricity.

It appeared that electricity and magnetism were but different incarnations of one entity. However, this “unification” did not occur until 1865 when Maxwell mathematically showed that there was only one electromagnetism. He also showed that there ought to be electromagnetic waves (EMWs). These waves were artificially produced and detected for the first time in 1887.

Enter the professional great-great-grandfathers of Deepak Chopra, MD, Menas C. Kafatos, PhD, and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D:

Science has every right to boast of its achievements, but in many ways electromagnetic waves are irrelevant to the larger situation that present science finds itself in. They serve as a distraction from the unsolved mysteries that could actually shift the paradigm regarding how we see reality.

First, the confirmation of electromagnetic waves wasn’t a surprise or breakthrough in terms of understanding the universe. They fulfilled a prediction that was more than two decades old, and most physicists fully expected them to exist. The cosmos didn’t gain a new phenomenon.

Second, electromagnetic waves don’t imply anything for the atoms of chemistry. Science has been trying without success to join atomic theory, which very accurately describes the behavior of chemical reactions, with electromagnetism and mechanics, which accurately describe the bigger things around us. It’s remarkable that chemistry can explain chemical reactions and physics can explain everyday world of people and objects like trees, clouds, and mountains. The problem is that they don’t mesh. The two sciences are incompatible.

Living in 1887 and listening to these words you would have been convinced that indeed there was no solution to the incompleteness of science. Even scientists themselves could not imagine that chemistry and physics would someday be united. But united they became! It took almost fifty years for the unification to happen, not through a superstitious declaration such as “consciousness conceives, governs, constructs and manifests the world,” (see here, minute marks 1:15:33-1:15:39) but by scientifically investigating the “unsolved mysteries” present at the time: mystery of the glow of hot objects gave rise to the notion of quantum in 1900-1905; mystery of an atom that has a nucleus gave rise to the quantized orbits of the hydrogen atom in 1913; mystery of how atoms radiate led to the wave nature of particles and the quantum theory as we know it today in 1926. And this quantum theory unified physics and chemistry.

Quantum theory not only united physics and chemistry, but via a paradigm shift in biology — which used physics and chemistry techniques to discover the helical DNA — united all science. Chopra et al say that “until reality is united into one whole, science cannot justify its claim to understand nature.” There are two parts to this statement. The first part has been accomplished: reality, that is, everything including life, is the consequence of the spacial configuration of atoms (and subatomic particles) and their interactions.

If by the second part is meant “all of nature,” then science is the first to unclaim that claim. But if Chopra et al are trying to convey the message that science has no justification to claim that it understands nature enough to know how light and atoms interact to make the invention of lasers possible, enough to know how atoms interact among themselves to make the invention of transistors, microchips, and computers possible, and enough about the properties of EMWs to look at the cosmos through infrared, radio wave, x-ray, and gamma ray lenses and understand the universe in a way that was impossible prior the discovery of EMWs, then the second part of the statement is as meaningful as a burp after a course of tandoori chicken!

Like all pseudoscientists, Chopra et al resort to the age-old trick to discredit science: exploit all the known facts achieved by science until you get to its unknown frontier. Then disparage, trivialize, ridicule, and outright attack science for not having the answer. Chopra and his accomplices call GWs “red herring” based on their claim that present science cannot “read your mind” because the brain is totally dependent on quantum events taking place at the very most fundamental level of brain cells, and fMRI have zero capacity to penetrate into the quantum world. I ask these pseudoscientists: Who gave you the idea that brain consists of cells? Where did you learn about quantum physics and the fact that quantum events (may) take place inside the cells? Or the four-dimensional world, whose “image” is formed in the brain? And who invented fMRI that you proclaim utterly useless in the study of the brain? Did you get these ideas from Upanishads, Vedanta Sutra, Bhagavad-gita, Dharma Shastra, Upavedas, or perhaps from Tripitaka?

If not, then be professionally brave enough to admit that science has provided all of this knowledge to you.

So, yes Dr. Chopra et al, the formation of complex thought and the unification of gravity with quantum theory are “unsolved mysteries that could actually shift the paradigm regarding how we see reality.” However, you can bet your pseudoscientific consciousness that the paradigm shift will not be toward the superstition of ancient rishis, or a world view that your post-materialist friends are envisioning. The GWs may already have initiated a shift toward a scientific paradigm of the kind that gave you radio, television, computer, smart phone, and Skype, which you and your pseudoscientist colleagues exploit to disseminate anti-scientific poison!

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