Sunday, March 20, 2005

Deepak Chopra and the EPR experiment

The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment is often touted as an example of the bizarre nature of quantum mechanics: two elementary particles with complementary properties (spins of +1/2 and -1/2) are separated by an infinite distance (well, not really infinite, but infinite for all practical purposes). We do not know (in fact, neither do the particles themselves) which particle has which property, but only that if one particle is measured to have a spin of +1/2, the other one will be found to have the opposite spin (-1/2).

After this separation, we measure the spins of both the particles simultaneously and find that the spins are as expected. The only catch is, since the particles themselves don't 'know' what spin they have, how did they coordinate between themselves (at a rate faster than the speed of light) and decide which of the properties each will exhibit? This sort of communication is termed a 'nonlocal' connection.

Deepak Chopra really goes to town with this nonlocal connection in his book Synchrodestiny, employing it to 'explain' such phenomena as how the human body performs the various metabolic activities so that one can enjoy a jog at the beach, how cognition is effected by the "'phase and frequency locking in' of the firing patterns of individual neurons in different parts of the brain," and so on.

I stopped reading Synchrodestiny after about a hundred pages or so. The problem with these books which attempt to draw legitimacy from science [a plague on your house, Capra, for starting the whole thing ;-)] is that you already have to be a believer to get anything positive from them. If you read them with an open mind, you end up shaking your head in skepticism at sentences like these, which have to be taken on faith, since there is no way to prove or disprove them:
We are both local and nonlocal, an individual pattern emerging from nonlocal intelligence, which is also part of everyone and everything else ...The personal, local part of the soul exists at the quantum level.
It would be worthwhile to keep these things in mind when evaluating any New Age mind/body/spirituality theory:
  1. All our sensory experiences are electrical impulses carried by our nerve cells. If somebody claims to have experienced something 'special,' it simply means that the corresponding impulses were registered in his brain. Whether they came about because of a genuine experience or not is another story altogether.

  2. What we call our 'mind' could be nothing more than the epiphenomena associated with the functioning of our brain.
BTW, I am not claiming that all the unexplained phenomena are hoaxes; just that some of the explanations need to be taken with a grain of salt.