Since I enjoyed A Brief History of Time and The Grand Design, Amazon recommended War of the Worldviews by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow. The title is an allusion to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, and this new book is billed as Science versus Spirituality. It is presented as a debate where each author presents his worldview on a particular topic.
Allow me to summarize each chapter by quoting or paraphrasing one and only one sentence.
Part 1: The War
- Spiritual - Deepak: "Just because religion didn't succeed [in describing the true nature of everything] doesn't mean that a new spirituality, based on consciousness, won't." [page 10]
- Scientific - Leonard: "Today science can answer many of the most fundamental questions of existence, but the answers of science don't come easily. [pages 11,18]
Part 2: Cosmos
How did the universe emerge?
- Leonard: "The real bang in the Big Bang was not the beginning of the universe, but the period of inflation... one that happened an instant after the universe began." [page 30]
- Deepak: Randomness could not have produced a universe characterized by consciousness, creativity, evolution, orderliness, and wholeness.
Is the cosmos conscious?
- Deepak: "Once you have embedded harmony and logic in the fabric of the cosmos [as evidenced by mathematics], you have a much harder time excluding consciousness." [page 42]
- Leonard: "[Scientists] do not banish love, truth, compassion, hope, morality, and beauty from [their] thinking, but they do banish them from their theories." [page 49]
Is the universe evolving?
- Deepak: Science is proof that we have taken conscious control of our own evolution, and in the words of English physicist, David Bohm: "In some sense man is a microcosm of the universe..."
- Leonard: Though Natural Selection makes evolution more than a random process, one cannot apply the concept to the universe as a whole because notions like heredity and gene pools of the more fit prevailing make no sense in that context.
What is the nature of time?
- Leonard: Time (one second equals 9,192,631,770 cycles of a cesium 133 atom) depends only on motion and gravity, and there are mathematical formulas to account for relevant factors.
- Deepak: Being conscious of time is personal and participatory, but our source is the realm of timelessness.
Is the universe alive?
- Deepak: The universe behaves much like an embryo with the ability to build itself, consisting of components that self-organize, with a network of processes that transform it, and a self-contained space that doesn't depend on an outside cause.
- Leonard: If it were discovered, instead of proposed, that the universe has consciousness, scientists would be all over it, but accepting metaphysical speculation as truth is dangerous.
Part 3: Life
What is life?
- Leonard: Although biologists don't agree on the best way to define life, imbuing life into atoms and molecules does not provide insight into homeostasis of an organism as a whole.
- Deepak: Life is the essence of existence, and despite objections from the scientific community, forces exist that don't register on scientific instruments, e.g., love or curiosity.
Is there design in the universe?
As the CEO of the design software company, I am guessing Carl Bass hopes the answer is yes. :-)
- Leonard: "To create or simply understand a mathematical theory, and then observe as even the most minuscule atoms or the largest and most distant stars act accordingly to physical laws embodied in those equations [is evidence that the universe has design but not necessarily was designed]." [page 108]
- Deepak: Much like the parts of a complex watch, the universe combines matter and energy to arrive at sudden leaps of pattern and form which is an indication of an invisible designer behind the scenes of a visible world.
What makes us human?
- Deepak: Our embrace of unpredictability and the richness of our experience account for why mankind is creative, capable of memory, and full of wishes and dreams.
- Leonard: "Our organization, far more complex than other animals,... into social networks is a distinguishing feature of our species." [pages 126,127]
How do genes work?
- Leonard: The traits we inherit are determined by the proteins our bodies produce, which are dictated by two recipes (one per parent) in our genes, but alas only 0.1 percent of our genes differentiate one person from another.
- Deepak: Genes are like rheostats, exhibiting a consciousness, such as keeping track of time to know when to initiate baby teeth, puberty, menstruation, male-pattern baldness, menopause, or even cancer.
Did Darwin go wrong?
- Deepak: Homo sapiens have evolved beyond survival of the fittest in that we raise food for each other and nurture our weak against the forces of Nature.
- Leonard: Cooperation among individuals is just natural selection operating on the level of the group instead of the individual.
Part 4: Mind and Brain
What is the connection between mind and brain?
- Leonard: "...every day more evidence emerges to support the idea that mental experiences like beauty, love, hope, and pain are produced by the physical brain... [to the extent that research subjects] can control the content on the image of a computer screen by simply thinking about the image they want to see." [page 181]
- Deepak: "Much like a piano can produce notes, but a mind must write the music, before a brain can register a thought, a mind must think it." [page 183]
Does the brain dictate behavior?
- Deepak: "One proof that the brain does not control the mind is that the brain lights up the same way when you remember a stress, like a bad auto accident or being fired from your job, as when you actually go through the stress." [page 191]
- Leonard: "We cannot transcend the workings of the physical brain" as evidenced by optical illusions, experiments on animals with oxytocin, observations of victims of brain damage, or recognized agreement that children are not adults due to not-yet-fully-developed prefrontal cortexes." [pages 199,203]
Is the brain like a computer?
- Leonard: "The human brain can do far more than simply apply a set of algorithms to data and produce output," such as altering its own programming or reacting to a changing environment, not just from sensory input, but from its own physical state. [page 215]
- Deepak: Even a computer that can play chess is an example of a self-contained logical system that cannot escape its basic assumptions, but the mind is unlimited, as evidenced by experiments in overcoming phantom-limb pain by tricking the mind.
Is the universe thinking through us?
- Deepak: All life in the universe is connected as minds are embodied, relational, dynamic, and regulating as part of a flow of energy.
- Leonard: "If by 'thinking' one means... computing, then yes the universe is thinking, because all objects follow mathematical laws and hence their behavior embodies the results of the computation dictated by those laws." [page 236]
Part 5: God
Is God an illusion?
- Deepak: The spiritual journey from normal to extraordinary does not require that nameless powers be ascribed to the face of God.
- Leonard: Using God as a psychological guide to help our spiritual side make sense of the universe is allowable as long as doing so is compatible with our observations of it.
What is the future of belief?
- Deepak: "Since God is ultimately tied into who we are and what life means... there will be a shift away from God as an external force to God as an inner experience." [page 260]
- Leonard: "The science of a future might produce a laser that teleports a synthetic lamb to Mars to feed robot astronauts, but there is no reason to think that that or any other spectacular feat would bolster the prestige of science at the expense of religious belief." [page 276]
Is there a fundamental reality?
- Leonard: "Science has taught us that other realities can exist and that if you look under the hood of everyday life, the workings of nature are very different from those we perceive with our senses." [page 284]
- Deepak: Reality is consciousness in that we SIFT (sensation, image, feeling, thought) through every second of our existence in the light of awareness that binds all human beings together.
- Leonard: "...science's ultimate triumph lies in the integrity of its methods, the openness of its point of view, [and] the eagerness of its embrace of the truth." [page 299]
- Deepak: Science should not be the enemy of mankind's inner journey because the world's great spiritual leaders were merely Einsteins of consciousness.
Who won the debate? Readers can decide. The truth is probably like the nature versus nurture question — who we are is the result of a little bit of both. I had a test question in high school once: "Define the universe. Give 3 examples."
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are alive in the lab.