Please read my story at the end of this blog that ties into Chopra and Mlodinow’s new book War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality – it’s surreal and makes you go, “Hmmmm.”
Is the universe conscious? What’s the connection between mind and brain? Does the brain dictate behavior? What is the nature of time? Wow! This is a book I’ve hoped would be written for a long time. Two “heavyweights” duke it out in War of the Worldviews: Science Vs. Spirituality. Deepak Chopra is in the spirituality corner and Leonard Mlodinow is in the science/materialism corner. If you haven’t run across Chopra, he’s an MD, written over 60 books on spirituality and related topics, noted presenter, and been interviewed on countless TV shows (e.g., Oprah). Leonard Mlodinow has a PhD in physics from UC Berkeley, is a theoretical physicist at Caltech, and is the author of several books, including one with Stephen Hawking.
I’ve always liked exploring these issues as I’m drawn to both science and spirituality. Although I knew of Chopra, I never saw him make a formal presentation or read any of his books until, a few years ago, I had the opportunity to see him present at a psychology conference. Although I was greatly impressed with his knowledge, intelligence, and oratory skills, I wished there had been a quantum physicist or other renowned scientist in the room to debate him on some of his assertions and views. As bright and knowledgeable as he is (and whether you disagree with his views on spirituality, there’s no denying that the guy is extremely bright and well-read), I know there are folks equally bright and knowledgeable who vehemently disagree with Chopra.
With this book, my wish has been granted! The book is organized so that both Mlodinow and Chopra get their turn answering a question like, “Is the universe conscious?” and they take turns as to who goes first on each topic. Also, they allow some space to respond to one another’s assertions. While the writing can get a little technical at times (actually, I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the authors), one can still get the gist of their arguments and each worldview gets strongly represented.
This book will probably not change your opinion if you are firmly in one camp or the other. In psychology, this is known as the “confirmation bias” – we tend to give greater weight to information that supports views we already hold and discount evidence that is contrary to what we already believe. Aside from the fact that this book probably won’t change established views, it is engaging, entertaining, and illuminating no matter on which side of the fence you stand. Try reading with a very open mind and just see if you can come to appreciate both sides better. Perhaps if we can all do that, we can all learn to become more accepting of one another.
I get the feeling that both Chopra and Mlodinow each completed the book scratching their heads at one another and thinking, “How does this man NOT get it?!?”. You can sense their frustration and, at times, exasperation with one another. But I think that’s what makes the book more fun and engaging – the men truly disagree with one another on a fundamental level.
What might have made this book even better is if both Chopra and Mlodinow had written an “afterwards” summarizing the areas in which they agree, disagree, and what they each learned from the other. Still, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in exploring questions about God, the Universe, and Everything. If you are in a book club or can get some of your friends to read it and discuss afterwards, you might have quite a lively, engaging exchange of ideas.
Now, as promised, I have to tell you this story that relates to War of the Worldviews that made me say, “Get OUT!” because I could hardly believe it happened.
I was listening to the audiobook as I was jogging around my neighborhood. It was dusk, about 65 degrees outside, and a perfect night to be outdoors in Austin, Texas. I was listening to this part in the book in which Mlodinow was responding to an analogy that Chopra had made about neurons in our brains being like musical notes and our conscious mind being like the piano that plays those musical notes. So, Chopra was asserting that the musical notes (neurons in our brain) cannot be brought to life without a piano (our conscious mind). In the words of Chopra, “You cannot play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ on a piano without a piano…But if somebody told you that the piano composed ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’ the statement would make no sense. ” Mlodinow takes issue with this analogy noting that, if someone told you that the song ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ was composed in an immaterial realm instead of by a person, that would make no sense either. At the heart of their disagreement represented in this ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ analogy is whether consciousness exists outside of the individual. Is there More?
So, as I’m listening to Mlodinow criticize Chopra’s ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ analogy and all its implications, I rounded a corner in my neighborhood. There, on this picture-perfect night, I saw a mother in the middle of the insulated street hitting a tennis ball with her 10-year-old daughter. Her son, who was about 13, was standing on the hood of an SUV playing his saxophone. This scene was unusual to begin with…but then I noticed the familiar tune the boy was playing on his sax. I took out my earbuds to take it all in. Sure enough, he was playing…on his sax…on the hood of an SUV…’Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ I’m NOT kidding. What are the odds?!? The timing, the message – what could all of this mean?
And what ARE the odds? The scientist and skeptic in me can quickly debunk how this is a form of confirmation bias and how most people listening to this particular audiobook while jogging didn’t have this same experience. Also, if you take all the people listening to audiobooks or podcasts while jogging (millions of people over a decade, lets say), there are bound to be many, many coincidences that occur. Is mine just one of those coincidences? Or did God, or some Cosmic Consciousness, decide It wanted to send me some message? Honestly, I’m not sure. But this I DO know: Life is full of beauty, wonder, and mystery. This is something we all should try to appreciate and embrace no matter what our worldview is. And, if we can all learn to do this, this can unify us with one another and make the world a better place for us all.