You Are the Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why It Matters. By Deepak Chopra and Menas Kafatos. Harmony Books, New York, 2017. ISBN 978-0-307-88916-4. 288 pp. Hardcover, $16.37.
The authors of You Are the Universe are two highly qualified pseudoscientists well suited to write this title. Deepak Chopra, the guru of consciousness, needs no introduction. Menas Kafatos, however, may not be a household name. Despite being touted as a “highly respected physicist” by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, and a “quantum physics expert” by Leonard Mlodinow, a Caltech physics professor, Kafatos is neither. He is as much respected in the physics community as Chopra is in the medical community, and his only connection with quantum theory (QT) is its alleged mystical relation with consciousness. His lack of understanding of even the basics of QT shows up on page 116: “Electrons, at least for the lowest orbits, travel in a perfect circle around the nucleus of an atom.” Every physics sophomore learns that the idea of an orbit violates the uncertainty principle.
I am focusing on credentials because bragging about them is how pseudoscientists sell their groundless ideas to the unsuspecting public. Kafatos’s resume reveals his earlier expertise as computational physics with an emphasis in space science. But for almost three decades, his concentration has been on consciousness, the favorite topic of his mentor, Chopra, whose foundation awarded Kafatos the Spirit of Rustum Roy Award in 2011.
You Are the Universe is about the “conscious” universe. The narrative is presented with sophistic oratory—of the kind that convinces a jury of the innocence of a guilty suspect. Masterfully crafted scientifically inaccurate analogies are used to mislead the readers into thinking that they now finally understand QT. For example, on the creation and annihilation of virtual particle-antiparticle pairs in vacuum: “creating something out of nothing [such as creating a word and uttering it] is a human process” (35).
Quantum theory is the holy grail of pseudoscience thanks to the mystical ideas injected into it by some great physicists, including its founders, as well as John Wheeler and Freeman Dyson, whose ideas contribute to the book. They are Nobel-caliber physicists notorious for their mystical beliefs. At the annual meeting of the AAAS in 1980, Wheeler was placed on a program with three parapsychologists. Dyson was awarded the Templeton Prize in 2000. Wheeler believed that “observer” is a “participator” and the universe is brought into being by their participation. It is no exaggeration to say that You Are the Universe is an exposé of this single idea (pp. 3–4, 18–19, 69–70, 82–84, 109–112, 134–135, 144–47, 161–64). John Bell, an authority on QT who proved its nonlocality, strips quantum theory from mysticism:
The only “observer” … is the inanimate apparatus which amplifies microscopic events to macroscopic consequences. … Once the apparatus is in place and functioning untouched, it is a matter of complete indifference whether the experimenters stay around to watch, or delegate such “observing” to computers. (p. 170 of Speakable and Unspeakable in Quantum Mechanics)
Every chapter of You Are the Universe is headed by a question followed by a long discussion of (sometimes irrelevant) topics mostly from physics but also from neuroanatomy. The discussions are only a distraction from the age-old strategy of all pseudoscientists: to boast their authority and, using it, to inject their own unsubstantiated claims as answers to open questions in science.
The answer to every chapter heading boils down to two words: conscious universe.
“What Came Before the Big Bang?” The real answer requires the unification of general relativity (GR) and quantum theory, the most challenging problem in physics. This chapter contains an illustrative example of the authors’ disdain for science. Gravitational waves (GWs), predicted by GR and whose detection by three physicists won the 2017 Nobel Prize, “serve as a distraction from the unsolved mysteries [notably, consciousness]. … The confirmation wasn’t a … breakthrough in terms of understanding the universe. They fulfilled a prediction that was almost a century old” (17). In their HuffPost article, they use “red herrings” to describe gravitational waves. Physics has a lot of “red herrings.” Electromagnetic waves (EMWs) were discovered twenty-two years after Maxwell predicted them in 1865. Imagine what would have happened if physicists really believed that EMWs were “red herrings” in 1887: our entire high-tech gadgetry that has probed the heart of matter to the tiniest scale and has reached the edge of the universe 13.8 billion light-years away would have been impossible; not to mention the comfort with which we have been so inescapably accustomed.
“What Is the Universe Made Of?” Instead of talking about subatomic particles, the authors delve into another unsolved problem in physics related to the big bang: black holes. Wheeler’s participatory universe gives the answer: “looking at the whole universe, its stars and galaxies … actually transform[s] them” (112). So, you see, the universe is made by our mind.
“Is The Quantum World Linked to Everyday Life?” The authors provide another chapter on participatory interpretation of quantum theory with an obvious answer.
You Are the Universe is riddled with flawed information touted as science:
“Matter is constantly being transformed into energy and vice versa, as E=mc2 verified” (86). No; energy is a property of objects. No energy exists without some material object carrying it.
There is no such thing as the “quantum field” (40, 67, 78–80, 89, 100, 111, 222). Every fundamental particle has its own quantum field.
“… Quantum domain, and reality itself, has a psychological component” (92). No!
A “solid atom” (97) makes as much sense as “living in a brick.” Just as a living quarter needs thousands of bricks and other construction materials, a solid (or a liquid) requires countless number of atoms.
The “atom vanishes into the quantum vacuum” (98). This is a convenient untruth to justify the pseudoscientific equivalence of matter and spirit. The vanishing of atoms violates the undisputable principle of energy conservation.
It baffles the mind how a medical doctor and a computational physicist have been able to solve puzzles that more than 600 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, and physiology and medicine have been unable to solve in the past 117 years!