Is God An Illusion? The Great Debate Between Science and Spirituality – Deepak Chopra | Leonard Mlodinow

In the sixth chapter of the Chhandogya Upanishad, there comes a story of a student named Shvetketu who is enlightened by his father who is also a teacher using the analogy of a banyan fruit to explain to him his true nature. The student is told to break open the fruit and is asked – “What do you see Shvetketu?”

Shvetketu responds – “Tiny seeds!
Teacher – “Pick one and break it open, what do you see now?
Shvetketu – “Nothing, I see nothing now.

Here the Teacher explains to Shvetketu – “Be careful my son, what you see as nothing is everything! Now that which is that subtle essence, in it all that exists has its self. It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, O Svetaketu, art it.”

“स एष अणिमा ऐतदात्म्यम् इदं सर्वं तत सत्यं स आत्मा, तत्वमसि श्वेतकेतो… ” – Ch 6.Part 9. Chhandogya Upanishad

The incident narrated above arches over the quantum world that Science has come to realize. The thought of the emanation of infinite energy from an invisible mass, the conception of the origin of something out of nothing, or rather everything out of nothing are things that have come to be agreed upon in modern science. Science picks a bone with Spirituality when the latter claims to have discovered the truths of life and existence well before Science managed to come up with the evolution and the big bang theory. While Spirituality extols modern Science for its achievements of the external world, it also appeals to it to scratch on the surface and search inwards for things that have not been understood by Science yet where as Science retaliates to reinforce its stress on the physical world and delivers a counterpoint that it shall find the answers through the physical nature itself and would never look towards Spirituality even if no answers are waiting to be found out. This debate is the subject matter of this profoundly interesting book.

The book landed in my hands as a present from a dear friend Mr. Arunachalam Subramanian, an excellent writer, and speaker himself. This book had to wait for a good amount of time before I laid my eyes on it, and today I can’t thank him (my friend) enough. The book was devoured in no time once I pounced upon the first chapter. I couldn’t bat my eyelid from page one through to the end. Enticing, thoughtful, intellectually riveting would be my keywords to describe the book. Mr. Deepak Chopra is a renowned speaker, author and thinker on the spiritual side of the fence. He heads The Chopra Foundation (http://www.choprafoundation.org/). On the other side, there is Leonard Mlodinow who is an American Physicist, Writer and Screenwriter (Star Trek: The Next Generation and MacGyver) and has co-authored The Grand Design with Stephen Hawking. The book is an intelligent and responsive debate between the two who have started out with pronounced leanings towards Spirituality and Science respectively. On that note, the first meeting between the two is an interesting event in itself where Leonard was seated amongst the audience and had a question for Mr. Deepak Chopra who was part of a panel of a similar kind of debate. They have diametrically opposite world views and the discussion elucidates their positions.

The book starts with a wonderful dedication – “To all the sages and scientists who have expanded the human mind.” It sets the tone for the entire debate and makes it clear that the two protagonists are not out to kill each other. They present their side of the story on every topic that has been drawn into the discussion with analogies, studies, research work, and logic. The writers are at times on thin ice (when they don’t have sufficient proofs), sometimes remarkably clever, most of the times respectful and sometimes extremely irreverent in dealing the blows. The book is divided into five parts with The War(Perspectives), Cosmos, Life, Mind and Brain, and God as the subjects. Quoting from the Foreword should make my life easier in explaining the structure of the book – “This book covers eighteen topics in total, with essays from both authors. Each of us told his side of the story, one topic at a time, but whoever came second on any given topic did so with the other’s text in hand, feeling free to represent a rebuttal. Since rebuttals tend to persuade audience, we tried to be as fair as possible about who got that advantage.

By the time you finish reading this book, you will realize how true to their declaration they have been.
One question that caught my attention in the book – “Is the Universe conscious?” can very well sum up the entire debate. If Science accepts the existence of the consciousness of the Universe, or if Spirituality accepts the absence of it, the entire debate ends there as does the need of such a book. However such an admission would be to break the backbone of the particular world-view and would completely annihilate it. The other one would dictate the terms and times following such an admission. Deepak presents his case very tactfully and logically when he quotes one of the Mahavakyas in Indian philosphy – Aham Brahmasmi!. To quote from the book – “Aham Brahmasmi states something very basic: consciousness exists everywhere in Nature. If you reject this notion, the alternative is nearly absurd, because it turns consciousness into an accident, the chance result of DNA being boiled up in the chemical soup of the Earth’s oceans two billion years ago. Then, through a chain of equally haphazard events, human intelligence evolved in order to look out at the cosmos and say. “I am the only one who can think around here. Aren’t I lucky?…”
Leonard presents his case in an equally articulate way when he says – “I agree that mathematics is also about orderliness, balance, harmony, logic, and abstract beauty (though it is also about randomness and disorder). Scientists do not reject Deepak’s values. We do not banish love, truth, compassion, hope, morality, and beauty from our thinking, but we do banish them from our theories. Would Deepak prefer that our equations say that the sun gets a fuzzy feeling when a pretty comet flies past? Should physicists punctuate their mathematics with theorems about the emotional state of a nebula? Can we appeal to the creativity of the universe to prove the Big Bang? Subjectivity is an important part of human experience, but it doesn’t mean we incorporate love into our theory of the orbit of Mercury, or universal consciousness into our theory of the physical universe.

The crux of the matter is simple. A reading of this book makes it clear that there are people who are debating to make this world a better place. The book should not be misread as a debate between organized religion and science. The text is a wonderful scribbling of converging and diverging lines for Science and Spirituality on a blank yet dark and unknown sheet of paper that our universe is. This book helps to gain perspective on both the world views from people who know their subjects well. Such a debate, more often than not leaves the thinking part of you invigorated and the knower part of you enriched. Who wins the debate is for the readers to decide. For me, both reason and experience have their own place. Extraordinary minds on extraordinary subjects serve you an extremely delicious meal on the table of Bibliophilia.

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