Deepak Chopra is no stranger to science. He has followed it, questioned it and even taken it on in heated debates. He also co-authored a book with prominent physicist Leonard Mlodinow titled, “War of the Worldviews: Where Science and Spiritualty Meet – And Do Not,” and he represented spirituality while Mlodinow represented science.
Science has evolved over the last 100 years, and most scientists are realists who believe the universe is all material. Albert Einstein was one of them, but there are still important questions about the universe science and the realist perspective cannot answer.
Chopra took the stage to kick off a weekend workshop at The Omega Institute in Rhineback, N.Y. this past June where he discussed “the future of wellbeing,” explaining how science views the world and what is missing from their view. He also shared new research he spearheaded, looking at how meditation effects overall wellness, including telomeres that keep the ends of our DNA chromosomes from fraying – something that is linked to aging, cancer and more.
“The two most important questions in science today – and the most open or unanswered – are ‘What is the universe made of?’ and ‘What is the biological basis of consciousness?’” Chopra told the audience. “Science has no good theory for either of those questions.”
Science can’t answer what the universe is made of because it’s invisible, says Chopra. But it generates infinite energy, galaxies, stars, planets and human life. As for the biological basis of consciousness, science refers to it as the “hard problem.” It understands that when we have an experience, something happens in the brain because it lights up on a scan, but can’t explain the cause behind it?
“Think of a beautiful sunset on the ocean,” he told the audience. “Are you having an experience? Can you see a picture? Well, where is that picture? If I go into your brain, do you think I’ll se the picture of a sunset? Where was that picture before I asked you to think of it? Did the brain activity cause the picture or was the picture causing the brain activity? Or was there something else causing the brain activity AND the picture?”
Science does not understand how we product thought, where the thought comes from before we have it, or where it disappears to after we have it. They just know what part of the brain lights up on a scan, he explains.
“When you don’t get an answer to a question that everybody is asking in the whole scientific world, then maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, are we asking the right questions?” Chopra said. “What is the universe made of? Maybe the universe is not made of anything. We are asking, what is the biological basis of consciousness, but maybe there is no biological basis of consciousness. Maybe consciousness is all there is. Maybe consciousness creates all experience, including the experience of a body and a mind.”
Chopra explained we can be sure of two things:
1. There is existence. Something does exist, and we call it the universe. What is it made up of, we don’t know, he said. But we call it the universe, and it exists, and we are all part of it.
2. There is awareness of existence. If there wasn’t awareness of existence, then we would not realize we indeed exist.
“The two go along with each other,” he explained. “Maybe they are the same thing. Maybe awareness of existence is existence.”
Meditation Improves Aging and Wellness, Study Shows
Chopra joined with 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn, who co-discovered telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere (located at the end of the human DNA chromosome, holding it together) to study the effect meditation has on the telomeres. The results will be published soon, he said at the workshop.
“If you want to create a new way of thinking, you have to do science the way science is doing it,” he said. “This is one of the best controlled studies that has ever been done.”
Telomeres are often compared to the plastic tips on shoelaces because they keep the chromosomes from fraying and sticking to one another, which would destroy or scramble the genetic information. Each time one of our human cells divide, the telomeres get shorter, and when they become too short, the cell can no longer divide and it becomes inactive or dies. This has been associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death.
The new study pulled 30 women who were new to meditation and attending The Chopra Center Seduction of the Spirit meditation retreat, and 30 women who were simply vacationing at the La Costa Resort and Spa where the retreat was being held. There were also 30 who were already experienced meditators. The resort group engaged in leisure activities, typical exercise, and a daily class on healthy living (including sleep, stress management and nutrition), while the retreat group practiced a mantra meditation, body and breath awareness and self reflection. Both groups ate an ayurvedic diet for lunch and dinner.
The researchers looked at EEG’s, blood pressure, blood tests, and more, including measuring telomeres, and after four days, those in the retreat group saw a 40 percent increase in telomeres, said Chopra. The research also showed meditation changes gene expression.
“We studied effects of cellular aging, the brain and the nervous system and gene expression networks,” he noted. “We measured everything we could measure, including response to stress, defense response, and acute inflammatory response. Everything moved in the direction of increased wellness at the cellular level, including cellular biology of aging, and everything moved away from inflammation.”
Other results for the retreat group include:
— Genes that regulate heart health in a positive direction were enriched 17 times in only four days, as were the genes that regulate homeostasis (keeping things stable and constant). This includes enrichment of genes regulating neurotransmitters, levels for heart contraction, heart rate, blood pressure, hormone levels and more.
— Networks of genes involved in self-regulation were activated improving overall wellness and decreasing risks of inflammation related disease disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Cardiovascular Disease, etc.
— A shift in a person’s identity from me to we in the direction of oneness
— Shift in emotions in the direction of love, compassion, joy and equanimity
— An immediate change in blood pressure, heart health and brain waves in the direction of wellbeing
“The question of science – ‘what is the biological basis of consciousness?’ – is the wrong question,” said Chopra. “Biology is an expression of consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t exist in space and time. It’s transcendent, and your soul is part of that. It’s aware, self-knowing, self-organizing and self-regulating. Consciousness as the ground of existence – that is the solution to the hard problem in science.”