THE BLOG

Genes and Hornet's Nests

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET
  • Deepak Chopra CoAuthor, 'Super Genes​'; Founder, The Chopra Foundation

There were many vehement objectors to a recent post on 'The Trouble With Genes.' Tempers grow short in the blogosphere, but it's very healthy to have controversy over the materialistic worldview. I'd like to pursue that line of debate. Most objectors felt that if I could become acquainted with basic science, their uncritical belief in genetics would be validated. However, basic science depends on certain assumptions that may not be tenable. These include:

1. The brain is the source of mind. Mind can't exist outside the brain. Intelligence is the result of chemical reactions.

2. In an even broader sense, life is the result of chemical reactions.

3. Genes are fixed, deterministic agents that do not respond to the immediate environment, bodily functions, or thoughts.

4. A complete biochemical analysis of DNA will eventually answer all questions about life.

5. Intelligence outside the brain is paranormal tripe, to use one objector's colorful language.

As it happens, there is a huge, even overwhelming body of thought that is not in accord with these propositions. I can cite considerable evidence to counter each of these assumptions--please see the latest book, Life After Death, for extended discussion about how intelligence can be explained outside the brain--if there isn't mind separate from brain, the afterlife cannot exist.

Despite the vehement objectors, I still believe that geneticists are far from understanding how DNA replicates, because the word "how" connotes more than observing a molecular process of chemical binding. Most explanations of DNA--not just its ability to replicate but many other factors--are post facto. We observe the process, therefore we think we understand its purpose. This is like observing the brain of someone who is depressed without knowing that the person had a child die that day. We cannot explain grief as a brain function. It is a human response that uses a physical organ to mediate it, just as an artist uses his hand to mediate his artistic vision. A chemical analysis of Michelangelo's hands can't explain the Pieta.
Genetics presently is approaching a remarkable mechanical understanding of its subject without advancing very far into the mystery of human intelligence, life in its relation to mind, consciousness in relation to the brain, and other fundamental questions. In a materialistic worldview, brain equals mind. This is far out of the mainstream of world philosophy and religion, not to mention wisdom and common sense. Consciousness, in the great human tradition, is a primary fact of existence, not an epiphenomenon created by brain chemistry.

Finally, just to straighten out some minor points: my science was not derived from TIME magazine. It just happened that they ran a cover story that intrigued me. I am aware of the major trends in evolutionary biology, genetics, neuroscience, and gene-based therapies in medicine. Any readers who feel their confidence shaken by charges that I am trying to undermine science or using it as a stalking horse for a hidden agenda need not fear. I never once implied that genetic research should be stopped or slowed down. The warnings that I gave about the dangers of genetically engineered foods and gene-based medicine are well founded and widely discussed in the scientific community.

My only regret is that this fascinating topic of discussion should be vitiated by ill-tempered attacks and thoughtless accusations. My personal thanks to those who treated my post with respect and civility.

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