Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Chasing ghosts in the machine

Beyond the data

Going beyond the data takes one to the world of imagination and fiction. It is a place where kettles circle the sun, bunnies tell time, and assertions of a quantum consciousness all co-exist with equal pretensions to legitimacy.

For all the impressive intellectual energy invested in so many human world views, we need to remember they are mostly our own creations- they have not been proven to exist beyond our words. They are basically made up human constructs created in infinite combinations and forms designed to entertain, excite, or even organize.

Therefore the usefulness of these constructs may have a utility or value depending on a given culture, time period, or socio-cultural need. For example, medicine before the nineteenth century was a mess of competing schools of thought, each claiming real therapeutic action with no way to differentiate whether they were all right or if some worked better than others.

Only the advent of the scientific enlightenment- a successful system for evaluating reality- allowed for a method that dispassionately filtered out ineffectual or illusory therapies. The general effect was that many made up medical modalities were discarded to the fringe while others proved their mettle under the scrutiny of this system.

So it is this discussion turns to a familiar and recently re-emphasized claim by Deepak Chopra regarding his pet philosophical baby- quantum consciousness. Now, anybody is allowed to make anything up and there is nothing wrong with fantasy. Incredible tales have been woven at the fire side to pass the time. Indeed, there is much good to be said about this ancient human trait.

However, when these tales make claims regarding health care they are open to the same scrutiny and dispassionate analysis given to any other medical concept. If Deepak Chopra insists that a person can manifestly control "their" universe and that the mind- as an entity in of itself- has the power to mold the material universe, then it is up to him to demonstrate it with the data.

Poetry is a beautiful and important means of expression and may even have a place in offering therapeutic benefit in some cases. However, Chopra uses flowery words and meaningless statements to claim certain facts about the nature of the material world that have little basis on what is actually there. The problem though, is that from these very basic erroneous foundations he and many others imply- often quite blatantly and with confidant assurance- the existance of untenable medical philosophies and concurrently formulate model therapies based on them.

To date, all that is known regarding quantum physics reveals no evidence of macroscopic extra corporeal manifestations or of some ethereal essence through which the human mind can act. The observations noted at the level of the extremely small, the quantum, are extrapolated by these confused claims directly to the macroscopic world. Difficult to conceptualize phenomena that occur at the quantum level such as non-locality, superposition, and entanglement manifest their fascinating properties at the infinitely tiny plank dimension.

Many great physicists from Newton, Einstein, Bohr, and Wheeler to name but a few have made huge inroads towards understanding the continuum between these dimensions. De broglie, for example, discovered the sublime relationship between wave and particle like properties of matter and opened the door to understanding how these quantum actions, though not evident in our world, indeed provide the underpinning for this world.

The Standard Model is a breathtakingly accurate means for predicting the properties of the quantum world. It does not shed light on the type of quantum behavior Chopra claims our minds can initiate. It is true that at the level where observation ends and speculation begins, even physicists have taken stabs at conjecture.

Perhaps some of these ponderings might have some basis in truth, but for now, they are outside observation and are speculation; some more educated than others. Even these conjectures though fall into the realm of metaphysics and here we come head to head again with our previously mentioned flying kettles, time obsessed bunnies, and anything else that can not be evidenced in our observable world.

The demands and expectations of today’s medicine require more than world views reminiscent of nineteenth century “a priori” based theories. Medicine needs to follow the evidence and gracefully decline the mirage offered by illusory claims.

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