Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




thoughts on new article from Steve Pavlina

I've found Steve Pavlina's articles over at dexterity.com often make for inspiring reading, especially at those times when my motivation is flagging a bit. (Fortunately now is not one of them.) Anyway, he's got a new one out now: From Slump to Supercharged:

  http://www.dexterity.com/articles/from-slump-to-supercharged.htm

I think there's a great deal of truth in what he says about fear and overcoming it by convincing oneself that one's true self is invincible. That said, I was more than a bit baffled by this claim:

"If you're a very logical, scientific, and/or skeptical person, then you might want to read up on mind-body research and quantum physics. If you're never studied these fields in any depth, you're in for a shock that will likely turn your belief system upside down and bring you closer to the empowering beliefs discussed above. You may currently hold the belief that thought is the epiphenomenon of matter. That is to say, you are fundamentally a physical being in a physical universe, and your physical brain gives rise to your mind and your thoughts; your mind is merely a consequence of the inner workings of your physical brain. Even though this belief probably seems logical based on what your physical senses tell you, the physical evidence that we know today just doesn't support it. What the evidence suggests is that it's far more likely that you are fundamentally a mental or spiritual being (i.e. a non-physical being of thought and energy), and your physical body and brain are the epiphenomena of your thoughts. So instead of being a body with a mind, you're fundamentally a mind with a body. And what's even more interesting - your mind is probably immortal and will continue to exist after your physical body goes kaput."

Now, I studied cognitive psychology and I'm fairly well read on things scientific (though I'm certainly no expert on, e.g., quantum mechanics), but my initial reaction to this might charitably be summed up as "WTF?" But in the interest of being open-minded and acknowledging that I certainly don't know everything, I'll suspend my judgment for a bit.

Pavlina goes on to suggest, "If you want to read up on this, some eye opening books include Ageless Body, Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra, Infinite Mind by Valerie Hunt, Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins, and Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse."

I'm wondering if any JoSers have read these books and can comment on whether they're actually illuminating, are a complete waste of time, or something in between. I'm not as interested as much in debating the physical-vs-mental issue (philosophers and scientists have debated these kind of things for millennia, and I feel confident predicting we won't achieve any breakthroughs here on this forum) as just knowing what people in this group think about the references Pavlina cites.

/skeptical but wary of being dismissive

John C.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Well...just judging by the firt two authors recommended I'd say let that part sail on by.

Steve Barbour
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Ahhh, I wasn't familiar with the authors, but reading some of the writeups on Amazon is puttings things into perspective a bit...

John C.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

John,

There's two types of "quantum physics" out there.

First, there's the kind where you need to know a bit of trigonometry and perhaps calculus for the wave function. You study it and do experiments to convince yourself it is true.

The second type is "new age" quantum physics. There's no math or science involved. It involves reading summaries of quantum physics findings culled from the popular press like Science and Discover, being inspired by the general concepts, and then reworking them into a philosophical/quasi-religious framework. There are several books that follow from this -- The Tao of Physics is one of the early ones, but all the books you mention are offshoots of it. The ideas are just as interesting as quantum phisycs itself, but to my knowledge, Platonic-like thought experiments are as far as it ges from the evidence side and the conclusions have as much real science behind them as the Greeks belief that the sun orbited the earth.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

This guy's obviously never played Doom. Whenever I go around a corner and one of them fireball slinging bear things is standing there I wet myself. Hate it.

Life's much more relaxing.

Thom Lawrence
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Agree with Dennis.

Also, it seems to me what we believe is important.  Wouldn't knowingly believing a lie lead to unexpected cognitive dissonance down the road? :-)  There is an interesting article on the ethics of our belief at http://ajburger.homestead.com/files/book.htm
(part one, "The Duty of Inquiry").

I agree with much of what Steve is saying about procrastination/inaction coming from fear, but it seems to me that there are preferable ways of addressing that fear.

For those who believe, Paul addressed this in his letter to the Roman Christians (8.31-39) as did John in his first letter (4.18-19).

Scot
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Steve makes some very good points.

Fear is the little mind killer - from Dune
Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to pain -Yoda

It's a common archetype, with good reason.

Fear, by it's nature is invisble. It causes us to ignore what we fear and, thus the fear itself. So it's a bit of a puppet master.

Some fear is healthy (fear of jumping off a skyscraper), but unconscious fear is a problem. I think it leads to all sorts of counterproductive coping behavior: escapism in TV, drinking, video games, etc.


FEARLESS WITHOUT RESORTING THE SPIRIT?
His thesis that realizing your safe is a good one. However, I think he's gone off the deep end  by relying on a "spirit" concept to get to "safety".  You can more simply (try to) realize that you can handle just about anything happening to you. It's a less airtight a case for fearlessness than is spirituality but I think it's more attainable.

All that said, Chopra has some very intersting things to say about biology, spirtuality and quantum physics.


STEVE'S AN INTERSTING CHARACTER
Steve's a very interesting character. He writes some amzingling insightful articles. Read up on his bio on his website.  He graduated from college in, if I recall correctly, 18 months while still maintaining a "life" and, at one point, a full time job.


He's a pretty high performer.  I feel like a slacker compared to his background.  (But then I feel that way compared to Philo too). It's amazes me that my company does as well as it does since I feel so much less accomplished.

Mr. Analogy
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

I haven't read any Chopra, but I have studied quantum mechanics, and not just a little.  I have also studied a bit of philosophy.

Quantum mechanics itself does not say anything at all about spirit or soul or anything like that.  It's a tool, nothing more or less, and it works extremely well in describing and predicting physical systems.  (Sadly, the math rapidly becomes intractable for any system of much complexity, and much work is done getting usable approximations rather than exact results.)

The reason that a lot of philosophical writing has emerged around it is that the verifiable results predicted by quantum mechanics are very much counterintuitive.  There is some effort required in making oneself accept something so foreign - but one's acceptance or denial or the truth does not change the truth itself.  Quantum mechanics just works.

Humans live in the realm of very large numbers, where most quantum effects are negligible.  Imagine rolling ten million dice - the odds are very very high that you'll get a sum total around thirty-five million.  It's a bell curve with a very sharp peak.  Now imagine rolling just one die - it has a flat "curve" to it.  Our experience is used to the near certainty of the sharp peak, averaging out the effects of many separate flat "curves".  (Incidentally, ten million dice may make a nice sharp peak, but that's a miniscule number compared to the number of dice you'd need to simulate a visible object.)

Philosophy is not required to use quantum mechanics any more than it is to microwave popcorn or browse the web.  It's a great form of mental masturbation, and if it helps you to accept the fact that quantum mechanics works, or if it gives you a positive outlook on life, more power to you.

(P.S.  I picked microwaves and web browsing because both do in fact rely on quantum effects to work.)

Aaron F Stanton
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

This is the article in which Steve jumped the shark.

Fonzie
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The bit in Steve's article about how physical evidence suggests that the physical world is epiphenomenal should have tipped you off, though. If you think about it, it's not possible for physical evidence to discredit itself. If it's not the real thing, why would you take it seriously?

However, it *is* worth pointing out that we don't actually experience the physical universe, we just use it to explain our experience, which is a funny old jumble of dreams, projections and fantasies. From that perspective, it looks a bit different. It's pointless to claim that we "are" a mind with a body (rather than v.v.) but that's certainly how we actually experience it. From the POV of experience, our body is just a particular set of experiences.

New Agers tend to be quite keen on giving up fear. What few of them seem to mention is that you can only give up fear if you give up hope too. Otherwise as soon as you start hoping, you become afraid of the opposite. This is not an easy thing to do, young Jedi. But it can certainly be quite liberating, judging by reports.

PS The Tao of Physics may have inspired 1000 bits of New Age dross, but its author (Fritjof Capra) probably knows more about physics then anyone posting on *this* board!

Dave Hallett
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Just because the concepts developed by the "New Age" "quantum physics" have little to do with the mathematics and rigorous science of the real physics, it doesn't mean that they are not valuable in themselves, as, say, a philosophical tool. That is actually what is annoying me about geeks who dismiss it. Yes, Godel did not prove, say, things about human discourse, but nobody really suggests it. His theorem is one thing; the "popular" idea of it that gives you a different way of thinking is quite another.

GG
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

As far as physics knowledge goes, I'll certainly grant that Capra's PhD in theoretical physics trumps my Bachelor's in physics (minors in math and philosophy) and PhD in quantum chemistry.

Also, I would certainly say that philosophy can be very useful in many ways.  It's just not necessary to even consider it in order to use quantum mechanics.  It's bothersome to me when I see people ascribing deep philosophical meaning to any scientific concept that they do not fully grasp.

One example of this (diverging from q.m. here a bit) is how some people try to claim that the second law of thermodynamics is proof of creationism over evolution.  They claim that since the amount of disorder in the universe is always increasing, it is therefore impossible for a subset of the universe to evolve to a more organized state.  This is simply not true.

Giving quantum mechanics spiritual meaning is potentially dangerous.  Mapping one set of concepts onto another is risky, because manipulating the symbols one is more familiar with (spirituality for most people) can lead to faulty conclusions regarding the other concept set.

Aaron F Stanton
Wednesday, May 19, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home