War of the Worldviews by Deepak Chopra and Leonard Mlodinow

Disclaimer: I read the first few chapters and the last couple chapters. There may have been magic in the middle that I missed, but I wasn’t convinced enough of the possibility to spend the time finding out.

Perhaps if I’d paid more attention to the word “war” in the title I wouldn’t have bothered picking this book up. What caught my fancy was the idea of a conversation between a modern spiritualist a physicist, with them both attempting to find commonality in their beliefs and worldview. Had they been able to work together to create a synthesis of their knowledge, I think they could have come up with something fascinating. Instead the book follows a debate format with each taking turns to express their own opinions on the topic, largely ignoring the other except for the occasional pot shot.

Both Deepak and Leonard are excellent writers and do a beautiful job of teaching the fundamentals of their worldview. They both use some lovely metaphors and relate charming stories to express their points.

Deepak on why an impersonal god shouldn’t be threatening to people who believe in a personal god:

Think of somebody you love. Now think of love itself. The person you love puts a face on love, but love existed before they were born and will exist after they die. This is the same difference between a personal and impersonal god.

Leonard relating a friends response to why she felt that rationality and belief aren’t at odds:

Belief too can be a working hypothesis. I once asked a friend whose rationality I respected why she believes in both god and an immortal soul when there is no evidence for either. I expected her to disagree about the absence of evidence, but she didn’t. Do your beliefs have to be consistent, she asked? Can you enjoy a film even if you are at a loss to describe its merits? Can it speak truth to you even if it is not a cinematic masterpiece? Why is it wrong to believe in a higher power even if you don’t have proof? Then she told me of a book published in German, a collection of people about to be executed for helping Jews survive during World War II. All were written by people either deeply involved in their faith or by children. There was only one exception, she said—a nineteen year old secular man who got involved in the resistance movement as a sort if adventure. His letters were different than all the others, she said. He was the only one who feared death.

Unfortunately it more often reads like this.

Deepak …

Science is fully armed, while a new spirituality divorced from religious dogma, is a fledgeling. I’d suggest that the war doesn’t need to be fought anymore, because it’s already over. Hidebound science is ready to topple, making way for a new paradigm where consciousness takes centre stage.

Leonard …

When I talk to other scientists about the possibility of identifying a phenomena that pokes a hole in our current theories, the most common response I hear is a desire for such an anomaly to occur. For while metaphysics is fixed and guided by personal belief and wish fulfilment, science progress and is inspired by the excitement of discovery.

is disappoint. Science is a set of tools which can be used to investigate and build models of the objective reality of the universe we live in. Spirituality is a set of practices which can be used to empirically explore an individuals subjective reality. Both are valid, useful tools which have contributed a wealth of knowledge and skill to humanity.

What is interesting to me, and more than a little tragic, is that I think they are both making the same mistake. Each is confusing the theory vs practice, or perhaps the possibilities vs the implementation of science and spirituality. Deepak attacks the institution of science and points out it’s many flaws. Leonard attacks the institution of religion, barely even addressing the Godless spirituality which Deepak is speaking of.

Both claim that their worldview includes the option for the others viewpoint to be an important and cherished part of the whole, but they both use the language of debate, a language which has the necessity of a winner and loser at the core of its practice. Truly this was a “War of the Worldviews” and sadly there are no winners in war.

I’ll leave you with this, my favourite quote from what I read:

“Reality is modest, it won’t be seen naked.”

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