Smart, Loving Universe or Mechanistic Physical Laws?: Interview
In “War of the Worldviews: Science vs. Spirituality,” Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow consider life’s big questions.
For Mlodinow, the infinite universe is governed by strict laws of nature that we are discovering.
Chopra says the universe has its source in a loving God or infinite consciousness.
A professor at the California Institute of Technology, Mlodinow has written on subjects ranging from randomness to hyperspace, including two books co-authored with Stephen Hawking. He’s also done scripts for “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and designed award-winning high-tech games.
An Indian medical doctor, Chopra runs a healing center in Carlsbad, California, focusing on the mind-body connection and has written more than 60 books that have been translated into 85 languages.
Lundborg: Deepak, in positing a conscious, benevolent universe, how do you know that you’re not engaging in magical thinking?
Chopra: I have a brain inside my skull that only senses things like pH and electrolytes and body temperature and has no exposure to the external world, yet it gives me the experience of color and sound and touch -- that’s magical.
So all my thinking is magical.
Lundborg: Science confronts the magical differently?
Mlodinow: Today’s technology was magic yesterday. What science will be able to create in hundreds of years would appear magical to us, just like our technology would appear magical to those in the past.
Lundborg: You have totally different world views: Science says the universe is going to end in equilibrium, cold and dark, while spirituality says the universe is evolving into greater complexity. So which is it?
Chopra: There is an omnipresence and omnipotence and omniscience to the cosmos, and it is very ordered, intelligent, and creative.
We are actually an activity of the universe and the universe is becoming self-conscious through the human nervous system.
Lundborg: Leonard, you disagree?
Mlodinow: We look at what is, and when we look at nature we see there are certain laws that everything follows and those laws don’t include any kind of organizing principle or guiding force totaling creativity or imagination.
They’re purely mechanistic laws and the beauty of it is that wonderful conscious beings like us could appear based on those laws.
Lundborg: Where do you fundamentally agree?
Chopra: Where I fundamentally agree is that you can’t argue with scientific truth. But it’s only a partial truth because it’s all about what you observe there.
Science describes nature as it’s exposed to a human nervous system, to questions that human beings ask, and therefore ultimate truth remains elusive.
Mlodinow: I agree that the awesomeness of the universe drives you. If you’re a physicist, you’re looking at data concerning things like exploding stars and colliding black holes, and when you see the amazing power in the universe, it really is pretty mind boggling. Physicists are driven by a desire to understand it.
To me, there’s a separate ground for science and for spirituality or religion. What I do object to is when they say we can’t teach science in school. If you’ve got religious beliefs, that’s fine, but don’t go saying we have to change science.
At the very frontiers of science, there may be debates, but evolution is not one of them. Global warming is not one of them -- there are not two sides to these issues.
Lundborg: For you, Deepak, how does spirituality help?
Chopra: Science can give us better lives, okay, but science devoid of values will create nuclear weaponry, will destroy the planet, will cause global warming.
That, linked to very primitive identity, tribal identity, ethnic identity, fundamental religious identity, is everything that’s wrong with the world right now.
Spirituality provides some sense of connection to the cosmos. It’s the emergence of a morality that comes from that feeling of -- whether we call it platonic values, truth, goodness, beauty, harmony, love, compassion, joy, equanimity, peace of mind -- all of that is the essential religious experience.
Lundborg: Leonard’s mother said she couldn’t believe in God because of the Holocaust. Where does evil fit into these world views?
Chopra: Maximum diversity. The infinite contains everything; otherwise, it’s not infinite.
No child comes into the world evil, even Adolf Hitler. I think there was some abuse that happened in the very early stages of development that programmed the nervous system into that.
Mlodinow: I’m perturbed a little bit when I see people interviewed after a tragic event. They’ll say, “The tornado came and destroyed my house and killed my daughter, but at least God was watching over us so the rest of my kids survived.”
They’ll always take the death or the horrible thing as given. They credit God for what’s good.
When they get a horrible cancer, they thank God for healing it, but don’t blame God for giving them the cancer in the first place.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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