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From Chopra to Einstein

During his conversation, “The Future of Well Being” (13 November 2014, Congregation B’nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL), Deepak Chopra refuted what he defined as Einstein’s realism.  Indeed, Chopra stated that for Einstein, “…the universe exists independent of consciousness,” and this realism of Einstein’s is incorrect.  Instead, Chopra suggested that the universe does not exist independently of consciousness because of the inability to experience that consciousness when we no longer exist.  In other words, the universe’s existence is dependent on the conscious experience of it.  He went on to state, perhaps as further justification for his claim, that “...another name for consciousness is spirit or awareness.”

Accordingly, we suggest three immediate considerations regarding Chopra’s claims:

1) Einstein was not a realist.  In Einstein’s own words:

It appears to me that the ‘real’ is an intrinsically empty, meaningless category (pigeon hole), whose monstrous importance lies only in the fact that I can do certain things in it and not certain others. […] I concede that the natural sciences concern the ‘real,’ but I am still not a realist.”

–25 September 1917, Letter to Eduard Study in response to reading his defense of realism, Die realisticshce Weltansicht und die Lehre vom Raume (1914)

Though Chopra is not claiming Einstein to be a realist, his mention of “Einstein” and “realism” in the manner he does is distracting.  It detracts from the overall message of his conversation to begin in such a manner.  Like all great communicators, he has a responsibility to his audience to be as accurate as possible, especially with all details.

Understanding, this might be far too trivial to quibble over, I move on to the more salient consideration:

2) Regardless of Einstein’s own position on realism, Chopra’s claim (that the universe’s existence is dependent on the conscious experience of it) is itself problematic.  The object – the universe – exists independently of the subject and the subjective experience of that object.  For example, on a smaller scale, an author’s works – his writings, manuscripts, written thoughts and ideas – can be his legacy, surpassing him in time because they are memorialized on paper, in ‘black and white’.  Those works – the object – exist separately from the author’s or any other subject’s experience of them.

In the philosophical (specifically, hermeneutic) forum, this  continually resurfaces as the subject-object, phenomenological-metaphysical argument.  From Hegelian hermeneutics qua Redding, the metaphysical experience of the object as a ‘thing-in-itslef’ is so mediated through the subject’s phenomenological experience of it.  Regardless of the fact that it is not the object itself, but the subject’s phenomenological experience of the object that exists for the subject, the object exists nonetheless, metaphysically as an objective object.

If you disagree, think on this:

After a person passes, does not the ground (as an object) within which he is buried still exist?  If he is cremated, do not his ashes and the urn containing his ashes exist?  If not, then the world and by extension, the friends, family, and colleagues surpassing him at his funeral also do not exist.  To a greater extent, the world and all its inhabitants stopped existing after the very first human being passed away.

 Moving on to the greater consideration:

3) Though consciousness might be a state of awareness, it is not spirit.  Again, I defer to Hegel who stated it best:

The life of the ever-present Spirit is a cycle of stages, which, on the one hand, co-exist side by side, but, on the other hand, seem to be past.  The moment which Spirit seems to have left behind, it still possesses in the depth of its present.”

–Hegel, Reason in History

Historically, “spirit” takes on different meanings depending on the philosopher, writer, or religion.  Deceptively innocuous, it is a troublesome word with loaded connotations especially qua the ‘mind, body, soul’ triad.  To lump it in such an  indeterminate way with “consciousness” is again, distracting.

Finally, I would like to end on a point Chopra makes about happiness, specific to his proposed ‘happiness formula’.  During his conversation at Congregation B’nai Israel, he informed the audience that happiness is the sum of “S” (set point in the brain) plus “C” (conditions of living, i.e., financial) plus “V” (values and choices we make everyday for personal pleasure):

H = S + C + V

On this last factor – the “V” – he advised that man’s ultimate fulfillment is in helping others.  That ultimate fulfillment provides lasting happiness, over and above shopping, food, and other avenues of instant gratification.  Not only do I agree with this last point on others above the self, I would take it one step further in honor of Einstein:

The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self.”

–Einstein, Ideas and Opinions

Furthermore, I offer the following as final consideration regarding happiness (from my blog post of 10 June 2014 , “On Happiness“):

Some of the most brilliant philosophical minds from Aristotle to Shakyamuni Buddha propose the ultimate achievement of man is happiness.  With all due respect to them, I humbly, politely, and vehemently disagree.

Why limit man to such a fleeting goal?

On the nature of happiness propria, it is by its very essence a fleeting experience.  It can be sustained only within a finite period of time.  Furthermore, after happiness is achieved, what else is man to do if happiness is the end goal?  In other words, it is not happiness itself but what happiness brings us to accomplish that is the ultimate achievement.  So what does it bring us to accomplish?

I suggest the achievement of meaningful impact.

The space of happiness centers around ‘self’.  The space of meaningful impact focuses on ‘other’.  Between the choice of ‘self’ and ‘other’, it is the space of the latter that allows and enables a legacy of meaningful difference – the human imprint.

Over and above the sphere of the self is a world of infinite potentiality in the other where the true miracle occurs…

As a counter to Chopra’s “ultimate fulfillment“, I offer ‘ultimate freedom’ of and from the self through the individual’s realization of his infinite creative potentiality.

And so I ask of you, dear reader, as you enter 2015, what will be your ennobling legacy?