Face-Off: How Do We Distinguish What Is True?
In this 11th part of an ABC News Face-Off debate, the third part of the question-and-answer session, Chopra gets questions about quantum mechanics and wishful thinking, and Sam Harris talks about the gods of Mount Olympus.
Double Question: 1-Could Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston confirm that the religion of the past was bad? 2-Deepak keeps up bringing quantum mechanics. If you want to do a quantum mechanics experiment, you need a high vacuum, really small structures and very precise conditions. I don’t see how a man sitting in a cave in the Himalayas could come up with that kind of a result or observation and contribute to that discussion.
Deepak Chopra: I think that the religious experience was extremely beautiful, but then it got organised and we went to war. Organized religion has done a lot of damage, but on the other hand it has also done a lot of humanitarian work.
[The second question remains unanswered]
Question: Is our existence an accident?
Michael Shermer: No. If it were truly just randomness, an accident and chance, we wouldn’t be here. There are self-organising emergent properties within the cosmos, of which evolution is one. The random mixing up of genes is accidental, but that’s not what evolution is. Evolution is to be seen in the selective process, the cumulative selection of successful that leads to complex organisms. We don’t have to use fuzzy language. It’s still part of science to say it’s self-organising and emergent and have a clear understanding of what that means.
Organised religion is a reality of today. What will happen to it in the future?
Michael Shermer: I don’t think it is going away anytime soon, but if we continue to expand the circle of sentiments, liberal democracies and market trade between people, the Internet enabling people to talk and exchange for free without centralised control is a good thing and if religions get out of the way and let us do that, they may just fall into disuse.
Moderator: Jean what do you think is the future of organised religion?
Jean Houston: I think that most organisations are falling apart. We are in the biggest time of deconstruction the world has ever seen and I think it’s going to go through a kind of morphing into a new way of being and doing and I would hope that there would be an undercurrent of an appreciation of a perennial and universal spirituality out of which these different ways and frames of seeing would then find [sigh] would find richer and deeper ways of relating to the meaning of it all and I think that as it’s no longer the man on the cross or the man under the tree or the man for that matter, you know, who is the vehicle through which the enlightenment and the epiphany occurs. What I would love to see a great generalisation of spiritual experience happening across the board and as people become move into the greatness of this experience I think that the nature of religion itself will change. I am looking for a democratisation of spiritual experience.
Question: From the perspective of a neuroscientist and given current knowledge about the hard-wiring of the brain and neurochemistry, don’t you feel that a belief in god is inevitable?
Sam Harris: [referring to himself] Apparently not. I have a sample of at least one.
Question: Don’t you feel that the belief in god will always be a majority and the belief that there is no god will always be a not-very-vocal minority?
Sam Harris: That’s an interestingly provincial point of view. We are in America, which is almost functionally a theocracy, but your question wouldn’t make sense in Europe since it is massively secular. In Denmark, for example, depending on how you ask the question, between 60% and 80% of people are atheists. They treat the god of Abraham the way we treat Zeus. Realize that those are really equivalent. We are in a shocking circumstance where most people in our society are really worried about the equivalent of the gods of Mount Olympus.
Question: I heard Deepak mentioning that there are deeper ways of knowing and I got the impression that this is based on intuition and the subjective, and I’d like to know if we don’t use the objective scientific method, how do we distinguish what is true from what we simply want to be true?
Deepak Chopra: I think science is based on a subject-object split. It does extremely well, but I am hoping that truth will be found when we develop a science of consciousness that goes beyond the object-subject split because nature is one.