The article cited above starts off by asking us to consider the profundity of two statements, one from Deepak Chopra and the other from a computer program that generates fake quotes using real words spit out by Deepak in the past. The random quote generator may produce gobbledygook, but it at least utilizes correct grammar and syntax to humorous effect. The point the author is getting to is derived from a series of studies about identifying people with faulty nonsense detectors. But the author, Tania Lombrozo, has a problem: she doesn’t differentiate between language and content and so, to her, Deepak Chopra is nonsensical on the basis of his poetic verbiage. A closer look reveals that sense lies beneath his obscure language. Here are the quotes:
Actual Statement Made By Deepak Chopra: “We are not an emergent property of a mechanical universe but the seasonal activity of a living cosmos.”
Statement From Random Deepak Generator: “Hidden meaning transforms unparalleled abstract beauty.”
What Deepak is saying is that we are not a cog in a mechanical universe but an organism blooming within a living cosmos. In other-other words, we’re not robots, we’re alive. And the universe is also alive. Everything’s a living, breathing interconnected ecology.
What the random statement generator is saying is nonsense.
The question of profundity should be about the content, not the delivery. Is the content deep? Is it profound? Not in this day and age where quantum physics tells us that the universe is less mechanical and more oatmeal.
But there’s another question that must be asked: Is Deepak trying to be profound? Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s Tweeting out a reminder to his readers that everything is alive and interconnected, it’s all got purpose, you’re not a piece of code in the matrix, a dead husk of a thing going through the motions. Maybe he’s motivating depressed people to get through their workday. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.
The problem with identifying spiritual nonsense lies in the fact that profound truth claims often spill out in flowery riddle-language. Real insights do that because the brain claws at similes and metaphors to better and better hone in on what it is trying to articulate from “beyond” itself. And then, of course, there are stark riddles like Zen koans that have meaning wrapped inside obscure language you’re supposed to sit with until their meanings come clear and you are transformed in that moment of clarity. Con artists use these facts to their advantage to say gobbledygook all the time because there is, indeed, a wealth of people with zero BS detection skills who will nod along hearing what they want to hear.
It’s all well and good to pick on New Agers about this because they are not enfranchised with a unified political voice. Try writing this article about fundamentalist Christians. Or Jews. Or Muslims. Or anyone who is purchasing a Fitbit right now, that miracle drug the TV told them to ask their doctor about, or voting for Donald Trump. How is it that we’re a nation eating and breathing poison instead of food and air? How did we get suckered into that? More often than not New Agers won’t support poisons the way the majority of us do. Which broken idiot detector would you rather most of us have–the one killing us for some psychopathic business man’s vision, or the one that doesn’t know what modus ponens means?
No, Deepak Chopra is not all that deep by my standards. But he doesn’t have to be. I’m not his audience. Neither is Tania Lombrozo, obviously. If they find his words to hold profound knowledge, it’s (perhaps) based on where they are in life, not (necessarily) on how dimwitted they are. Maybe they are at least intelligent enough to read his language if not deep enough to get that his content is often shallow. That appears to be one step beyond Tania Lombrozo’s and like-minded critics’s capacity.