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NATURE VERSUS NURTURE

You can turn on healthy genes, turn off unhealthy ones

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You should embrace uncertainty. It's the only way to be creative, says Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra is known for theories that marry quantum mechanics with the healing of mind, body and spirit. A prolific writer, he recently wrote ‘Super Brain’ along with co-author Rudolph E Tanzi, a Nobel-nominated geneticist. He argues in the book that humans control their brains, and not the other way round. With recent scientific research to back his claim, Chopra, 66, says thinking influences behaviour, perception, relationships, social interactions and even physical well-being:

In your book, you say that the brain is not "hardwired" and its limitations are self-imposed. Where does that leave the 'nature versus nurture' debate?

What we are discovering is that your genes - my co-author is a geneticist and a neuroscientist - it turns out, are not deterministic. So this whole argument of nature versus nurture is a little bit flawed. A large percentage of your genes respond to your lifestyle. You can change the activity of your genes within four months and turn on what are healthy genes and turn off what are called unhealthy genes. Approximately 500 genes that influence everything, from inflammation to autoimmune illness to many age-related diseases, cardiovascular diseases, many types of cancer - not obviously all. This is all brand new information that wasn't available to us even five years ago. We didn't have the technology to study genes.

But you have argued the same in your earlier books. Were you seeking validation from modern science?


I have spoken about this intuitively for 30 years and I have also spoken about it through my experiences with my patients as a physician. But there was no real hard science until now.

Does that help?


It helps completely ... changing the way we look at the body and the brain. Even the way doctors are trained. I went to AIIMS - we see body as a structure, as a noun. While in fact it's a verb. That's a big thing to shift inside. In medical college, the first thing you learn is anatomy. So you come away with the idea that it's a structure. It's not, it's an activity. It changes with every experience.

Now that you have scientific research to back conclusions you arrived at 30 years ago, where does that leave all your debates with people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris?


I am glad you asked. I am now doing a book about Richard Dawkins. It's called The Dawkins Delusion. He has done a service actually, Dawkins. What he is pointing out is flaws of traditional religion. Where he has done a disservice is he has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. He, unfortunately - and this is surprising to me - does not understand consciousness. Yet there is one YouTube video where he does acknowledge that this is one area where science has not yet come to any conclusions. But it isn't just an area where science hasn't come to a conclusion, science is looking for a physicalist ontology that doesn't work. So it's time to call him out. And I am doing it with no malice, because in a way he has served by showing the irrelevance of religious ideology. But you can't throw out the understanding of consciousness with that. That's where he made a huge leap of ignorance, for lack of a better word.

You appear to put a considerable premium on uncertainty. Why?


Because the fundamental nature of the universe is uncertain. Without uncertainty there is no creativity.

Should one be at peace with uncertainty or look for answers?


You should embrace uncertainty. It's the only way to be creative.

But if a scientist were to embrace uncertainty, there wouldn't have been the kind of research that has now backed your claims.


Science is a creative endeavour. Science is done through a loop of theory and experiment. Where do we make theory? In our consciousness. Where do we design experiments? In our consciousness. Where do we make observations? In our consciousness. And if you are denying the primacy of consciousness you are denying the primacy of the basis on which science is built. In fact, there is a theorem in mathematics called Gdle's theorem, named after a German mathematician. If we have a series of theorems and you have axioms in the theorems, you will always find one axiom that is not supported by the previous axiom. If a mathematician accepts that, then he or she can proceed with his algorithm. But if they don't, that's the end of the algorithm. Which means even mathematics is punctuated by unpredictable principles, not logically explained by previous ones. And that has led a lot of mathematicians and scientists to propose, since nature seems to be mathematical at its very fundamental level, that nature has to be creative in order to conform to Gdle's theorem. And even evolution has to be creative. This is so totally in contradiction to the traditional scientific belief that everything is predictable. That's old science. New science even says that at the most fundamental level, even nature works through creativity, not mechanistically. And if there is creativity in nature there must be consciousness in nature.

Coming back to Super Brain, if one can be one's own healer, how does that make business sense for someone like you?


I don't think in those terms. I have always thought in terms of what is valid. Over the years I have found validation for some of those ideas. And I found some of those ideas to not be relevant. For example, when I started out I was very influenced by traditional systems of ayurveda. And I realised that a lot of principles in ayurveda are not relevant to our contemporary understanding of science. Yet, some are. So I am happy to revise anything that I held to be true 20 years ago. On the other hand, it is very gratifying to find scientists who are willing to collaborate and say we need to explore this new way of looking at science. Science based on physicalist ontology, is outmoded.

The awareness of control over your brain and the way it can alter the world around you - would that not push a person deeper into an existential crisis?


Only if you get bamboozled by your personal identity. It does take free will to a whole new level, but it also shifts your identity from your personality to the more fundamental domain of existence that is totally impersonal. And that is an existential crisis, which is a spiritual crisis.

What do you do then?


You detach from your personal identity, ultimately.

But I can't help being aware of the fact that I control everything.


But the "I" that controls is not a person. The "I" that controls is a possibility field that we share. And that's the ultimate spiritual experience, to detach yourself from the body and the physical world. And understand that in the realm of space-time and causality, there is impermanence. So one can extend the process, one can improve the quality of your existence. But if you do not accept the fundamental idea that which is born has to die, then you are going to be in trouble. You get passionate about living in the moment, passionate about improving the quality of your life, your relationships, your environment and you also detach from the banal and the mundane and the trivial that basically rule our melodramatic world. So it's a deeper identity that you seek when you understand consciousness. In order to do that, you do undergo a crisis called the "Dark Night of the Soul".

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