June 26, 2007

Deepak Chopra: The Master of Woo Has No Stress, Only a Complaint

Deepak Chopra, as everyone knows, has mastered stress and the nature of existence itself. Nonetheless, he finds himself with a complaint about skeptics who criticize his empty drivel:

Bad manners are the norm in the blogosphere, and no one who dips into that world should bring along a thin skin. Salt air stings but it's refreshing at the same time. There's a raffish lack of respectability to blogs, however, that drive away good people and good minds.... Skeptics include many well-mannered, intelligent, open-minded people and not just the yahoos one must plug one's ears against.

The obvious question is, of course, why someone who has transcended the limits of existence and has no fear even of death would himself feel the need to plug his ears against "yahoos" or council others to do the same.

Leaving aside this glaring instance of utter hypocrisy (what is a complaint if not a reaction to stress?), however, a more important question is what the role of skeptical thought and critical analysis is in the first place. Contrary to Chopra's pathetic newage, skepticism doesn't limit imagination in any way different from informing a six year old that there's no Santa Claus limits her from becoming a great sculptor. Skepticism, instead, deals precisely with peeling away emotion and self-delusion by applying knowledge that conforms with the real world in order to understand how the world works. In doing so, one discovers not only one's own nature (here defined as "what I'm doing" as opposed to "what I think I really am"), but one's capabilities and limitations. One is still free to imagine anything one likes and to write books about it or paint or whatever else one likes doing. It is one thing to imagine and quite another to believe that simply because one can imagine something that it is valid or that anyone else should be coaxed into agreement.

Critical thought leaves imagination quite intact; it merely allows one to separate imagination from reality. I can imagine myself soaring above the clouds without mechanical assistance all I like, but if I step out of the door of an airplane without it, all the positive thinking in the world isn't going to stop me from turning into a stain somewhere on the ground. It is precisely skepticism that prevents one from doing something stupid like this. It isn't imagination unaided that gives us our glimpses of reality, but imagination conditioned by skeptical inquiry.

A well-meaning buffoon whose sugar-coated but erroneous pronouncements are easily swallowed by the credulous does far more harm to the world than a jagged curmudgeon whose criticisms are correct but accepted only by a few who have the wherewithal to distinguish the message from the messenger. They rarely make as money, however.

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