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How a Sneeze Causes an Earthquake

Shiva 219x300 4854502In the previous three posts, I covered the essence of Quantum Healing, Chopra’s book on mind-body medicine. However, despite its name, thus far the book has not made any contact with the scientific theory that adorns its title. Granted that Chopra uses the word “quantum” a few times, but the use is as relevant to the content of the book as the clothing of a person is to his/her intelligence. Eventually, Chopra ventures into quantum theory, but as this final post on Quantum Healing shows, his is one of the most sophomorically absurd interpretations of the theory.

My sneeze causes an earthquake in Mexico City

Quantheal11 3344628On page 96 of Quantum Healing is a diagram shown on the right, and on page 97 another one shown on the left. Presumably, A is considered a cause and B Quantheal21 2179222an effect. The straight line of the first diagram expresses the “logical connection in the world of our senses.” If A and B are two billiard balls one hitting the other, so Chopra teaches us, the outcome is predictable. However, we cannot apply the same diagram if A is a thought and B is a neuro-peptide, because there is no straight-line connection between a nonmaterial thought and a material object, even one as small as a peptide molecule. Instead one has to draw a different diagram with a U-shaped detour in it:

 

The U shape shows that a process has to take place that is not above the line, in Newton’s rational, straight-line world. There is some hidden transformation happening that turns a thought into a molecule. The transformation doesn’t take any time and doesn’t happen in any place – it is carried out just by the presence of an impulse of the nervous system. …

The whole area below the line is not a region to be visited in space and time; it just stands for wherever it is you go when you turn thoughts into molecule. One could also think of it as the control room that correlates any mental impulse with the body.(pp.96-97)

This is one of those idiotic syllogisms so very common among the anti-science crowd. You can use this kind of reasoning to prove any preposterous statement. For example, I can claim that my sneeze can disrupt the molten lava under the earth’s crust. How? One of the molecules exhaled during my sneeze can penetrate the earth’s crust and shake the molten lava violently. There is no straight-line connection between a single sneeze molecule and the disturbance of the molten lava above the line. Therefore, I have to draw a U-shaped arrow to connect the sneeze molecule to the disturbance of the molten lava. Here is my reasoning:

The U shape shows that a process has to take place that is not above the line. There is some hidden transformation happening that turns a sneeze molecule into the violent motion of the molten lava. The transformation doesn’t take any time and doesn’t happen in any place. The whole area below the line just stands for wherever it is you go when you turn a sneeze molecule into a disturbance of the molten lava.

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What is the significance of these diagrams? The two diagrams are used to construct a third diagram shown above with the following explanation:

The mind and the body are both above the line. A is a mental event, or thought; all the other letters are physical processes that follow from A. … If you feel afraid (A), then the other letters stand for signals to your adrenal glands, the production of adrenaline, the pounding of your heart, elevated blood pressure, and so on. These are B, C, D, et cetera. All the physical changes that take place in the body can be connected in a logical chain of cause and effect, except for the space after A. This is the point where the transformation from thought to matter first occurs – and it must occur, or the rest of the events will not happen.

At some point in the lineup, there must be a detour. At that point the lineup breaks down, because mind does not touch matter above the table. If you want to lift your little finger (point A), a physiologist can trace the neurotransmitter (B) that activates an impulse that runs down the axon of the nerve (C), causing a muscle cell to respond (D), resulting in the lifting of your little finger (E). However, nothing a physiologist can describe will get him from A to B – it requires a detour.(p. 100)

The best way to illustrate the folly of the reasoning behind the U-shaped diagrams is perhaps to go back to the sneeze and the molten lava example and see how the same logic turns my sneeze into the cause of an earthquake in Mexico City and the collapse of a building! I reproduce the quote above verbatim, but change the physiological events to geological ones. Here is how it goes:

The molecule and the molten lava are both above the line. A is a microscopic particle; all the other letters are physical processes that follow from A.  … If you sneeze (A), then the other letters stand for the motion of the lava, the arrival of the seismic wave under the city, the displacement of the earth crust there, the collapse of a building, and so on. These are B, C, D, et cetera. All the physical changes that take place in the macroscopic world can be connected in a logical chain of cause and effect, except for the space after A. This is the point where the transformation from a microscopic sneeze molecule to a macroscopic motion first occurs – and it must occur, or the rest of the events will not happen.

At some point in the lineup, there must be a detour. At that point the lineup breaks down, because a sneeze molecule does not touch the molten lava above the table. A seismologist can trace the disturbance of the molten lava (B) that activates a seismic wave that runs to the fault under the city (C), causing a displacement of the earth crust there (D), resulting in the collapse of the building (E). However, nothing a seismologist can describe will get him from my sneeze A to B – it requires a detour.

Chopra’s quantum U-turns

“The same change from straight-line causes to U-shaped detours occurred when quantum physics was born. Although everything in nature once appeared to happen above the table, according to classic Newtonian theory … a few things could not be explained without a detour. The most obvious was light. … Light can behave like A, a wave, or B, a particle [which are connected by a U-shaped arrow]. These two are totally unalike in Newtonian physics, since waves are nonmaterial and particles are concrete. But light somehow can act like one or the other, depending on circumstances, and therefore it must have taken a detour under the line.

This quantum [of light] is a very strange particle, because it has no mass, but for our purposes, what makes it important is that in order for light wave to become a photon, it must take a detour beneath the table. In an unknown realm not covered by Newton’s laws, the transformation takes place.

… As with the neuro-peptides, the quantum allowed nature to become flexible enough to permit the inexplicable transformation of nonmatter into matter, time into space, mass into energy.”(pp. 97-99)

Thus, indeed, quantum theory becomes just a U-shaped detour from the Newtonian straight line! Physicists, who were used to drawing diagrams with straight arrows, invented quantum theory and introduced the U-shaped detour when they encountered “those few things that could not be explained” the straight-line way! This is a puerile oversimplification that could be intended only for toddlers! Quantum physics is a highly mathematical and universal theory, which was discovered over a period of about thirty years by some of the brilliant minds in history, and in no stage of the development of the theory was there a mention of a detour, U-shaped or otherwise!

To Chopra, a wave is conveniently nonmaterial. Waves used to heat and cook food in a microwave oven have no material existence! X-rays, which penetrate human flesh to scatter off bones and other hard objects inside the human body to convey crucial information to a physician, are figments of our imagination! Gamma rays, emitted by nuclear bombs that can devour hundreds of thousands of lives in an instant, are nonmaterial! These are all implications of the ludicrous idea that waves are nonmaterial. In reality, however,  all waves are as material as any form of matter we can think of. They move like matter, they carry energy and momentum like matter, and they interact with other particles of matter.

Waves and particles in the real quantum theory

Interference1 9875856One of the outstanding properties of waves – all waves, not just light – is interference. If you send a wave toward a blocking screen with two appropriately arranged holes (apertures) in it, the two holes can act as two sources whose waves combine to form an interference pattern. The picture on the right shows the interference of two sources of water waves located on the left of the picture. Note the “rays” coming out of these sources. These rays are regions of destructive interference where the waves from the two sources “destroy” each other resulting in a complete absence of wave along the rays.

If instead of water waves, you use light waves and capture – say on a photographic plate – the pattern emerging from the two sources and moving to the right, you get Twoholes 7882997something like the picture on the left. A picture similar to this led Thomas Young, the British physician/physicist to conclude in 1803 that light was a wave. Then came Einstein in 1905 and showed that light is composed of particles, photons. This complicated things, because our experience with particles is completely different. After all, if you set up two holes and send bullets through them and capture the bullets on a wooden screen, there would be only two regions of high concentration of bullets …  nothing even remotely resembling the interference pattern shown on the left!

So, how do photons behave? Do they create an interference pattern as they do when you send a lot of them at once in the form of a wave, or do they form an image consisting of two blobs as bullets do? The answer resides in the probabilistic nature of the quantum theory. The location on which a single photon lands on the photographic plate is completely random, but the probability of landing on that location is predicted by quantum theory. (For example, the theory predicts that there are certain regions on the photographic plate at which the probability is zero. Thus no photon will ever land there.) This is similar to a coin toss where we know that the probability is 50% for head ans 50% for tail, but we can’t predict which way the coin goes. What happens is that, although you can’t predict the location of each individual photon on the photographic plate, if you wait long enough, so that a large number of photons is collected by the photographic plate, the interference pattern – which is the pattern of probability predicted by the quantum theory – emerges. Again this similar to the outcome of coin tossing: If you toss a large number of coins, you’ll get almost half head and half tails.

The wave and the particle aspects of light are neither the cause nor the effect nor the “becoming” of one another, but are connected through the probabilistic nature of microscopic reality. They show up together: when seen individually, light consists of photons, but when an army of photons march through a measuring apparatus, they show wavelike properties. (See this for a discussion of the so-called double-slit experiment and how Gary Zukav, the famous mystic spiritualist, abuses that experiment to assign consciousness to photons.) To Chopra, probability and statistics, which are at the foundations of the quantum theory, have no meaning. The notion that a large collection of particles can exhibit a different characteristic from an individual particle seems to be foreign to him. Instead, he regards a wave as a nonmaterial entity that can somehow turn into a particle by taking a detour, while real physics tells us that photons and their wave properties are one and the same and no arrow (straight or detoured) is necessary to connect them.

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