New Age Quackery?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi visits the Maharishi University of Management in 1979.

The New Age movement is a range of spiritual beliefs and superstitions.  Quite often practitioners take a pinch of science and concoct a pseudoscience of fantastical absurdity.  Sadly, practitioners often include one time scientists.

Such characters have abandoned the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses in favour of quasi religious dogma and ranting mumbo jumbo.  They borrow catch phrases from quantum mechanics or cosmology and twist them into farcical support for their own deluded and untestable product.

You come across New Agers everywhere and I suspect they consist of the gullible on the one hand and salesmen on the other.  Of course it is always possible that the salesman is a true believer in his own magic but one has to assume that this may be the exception?

John_Hagelin By niceowl - Flickr, CC BY 2.0
John_Hagelin By niceowl – Flickr, CC BY 2.0

I was watching a video supposedly on consciousness – a lecture given by a man billed as a leading physicist – John Hagelin.  I enjoyed his lucid explanation of physics for the non-scientist but began smelling a rat when he started to compare string theory to meditative trance.  One apparently represents the most basic level of nature and the other (he said) the mind; and apparently they are equivalent.  The guy sounded rather eccentric and on further investigation it turned out he was deeply involved in Transcendental Meditation.

According to Wikipedia:

In his book, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and The Search for Unity In Physical Law (2007), the physicist Peter Woit wrote that identification of a unified field of consciousness with a unified field of superstring theory was wishful thinking, and that “virtually every theoretical physicist in the world rejects all of this as nonsense and the work of a crackpot”.

But there again maybe Mr Hagelin (a) is correct and / or (b) firmly believes and practices what he preaches.

Deepak Chopra By lifescript - CC BY 2.0
Deepak Chopra By lifescript – CC BY 2.0

Deepak Chopra was once a qualified medical doctor but decided instead to push new age videos, books and pseudo religious jargon.  Worthy scientist Richard Dawkins has said that Chopra uses “quantum jargon as plausible-sounding hocus pocus”.  He is placed by oncologist David Gorski among the “quacks”, “cranks” and “purveyors of woo”, and described as “arrogantly obstinate”.

Discussing this with a rational, well educated and pleasant electro mechanical engineer this morning brought forth a different view.  My friend believes that there is a place for New Age “belief” because of the paucity of what is on offer elsewhere from medicine or traditional religion. In his view, such quackery makes a lot of people happy and is therefore excusable and beneficial. If I understood him correctly.

So I guess the argument is that New Age quackery is a harmless placebo which can actually make some people’s lives better. And if it does improves live then I am glad of that. Personally it irritates me to death (as do its awful salesmen) but in a vale of tears perhaps any handkerchief ought to be welcomed.




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