Friday, May 15, 2009

Francis Wheen: Wrong on mumbo jumbo meditation

Five or six years ago, Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions had a giggle at the influence of the new age industry and its mystical ideas and practices. He was particularly scornful of the Hollywood "self-help guru" Deepak Chopra and the $20m he earns pa peddling spiritual advice to the likes of Demi Moore and Bill Clinton. Once a respectable "Harvard-trained endocrinologist", Chopra lost his way - as Wheen saw it - when he turned to transcendental meditation (among other things) in the early 80s: mumbo jumbo silliness had turned the head of an enlightened scientist - what a waste!

But a new study on meditation by researchers from Yale, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, may even cause Wheen to think again. They have discovered that meditation increases grey matter in the brain (related to "sensory, auditory, visual and internal perception, such as heart rate or breathing") and that "regular meditation practice may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex," reports Science Daily (click here).

I trust Wheen will include this research should his know-all book ever be updated.


Francis Wheen said...

You naughty little minx. I've read the Science Daily report and it doesn't mention TM (or Deepak Chopra) once. All it says is that a bit of meditation - lower-case m - is good for you, which nobody can deny. Does it advise people to hand over their money to Chopra or the late Maharishi? No. It merely advises us to exercise our brains, which was precisely what I advocated in my book.
All you need to "slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex" is to solve the Times crossword every day and peruse M. Arcati's synapse-stiffening blog twice a week. That's my recipe for not going gaga.
Fondest salutations,
Francis Wheen

Anonymous said...

It's odd that Wheen should charecterise Deepak Chopra as having "lost his way" by jumping into bed with Oprah and Hollywood especially if it earns him $20M a year !. I'd say he found his way !.

Madame Arcati said...

Dearest Francis,

I am of course hopelessly infatuated with you and love your writing - it's just I think you're a little too fixated on the material world. How cruel is fate (or, if you prefer, the chance collision of love and reality) to inflict on me a remote romance of unrequitedness.

It is perfectly true that the Science Daily report mentions neither TM nor Chopra. It didn't have to. What I did was to take the essential message of your book (you made no distinction between different types of meditation in your diverting book, so far as I recall) and contrasted it with the new science wisdom. Mumbo Jumbo does not take any prisoners in its war against new age practices and ideas: no exceptions are allowed. It is therefore quite proper that I draw the attention of your many fans to this new advance in our understanding.

I am delighted that you concede that some lower case m meditation might be good for one: could it be that Francis Wheen (for it is he) allows an exception in his case for the Enlightenment? Well, we'll have to see.

Your suggestion that a perusal of Madame Arcati may be likened to the attempted solving of the Times crossword puzzle is an insult hard to forgive. Despite that, you're forgiven. x

Anonymous said...

Our bodies have proven to behave that way: after kidney or liver transplant, donor and recipient's organs both grow to double the size within weeks to compensate for the fact that there is only one (or half, in the case of the liver), our muscles grow with exercise, our vision improves with the right exercises, etc. Why wouldn't the most sophisticated organ in our bodies grow and enhance function with practice? Call it meditation or study (math, memorization of rhymes, music, puzzles, whatever).

Although I'm all for New Age, a strong believer of the power of Raja Yoga and I get me plenty of those books, I'm no fan of Chopra's and I agree that quite a few of these "gurus" are nothing but opportunists with a gift for speaking eloquently; but there are plenty of those that sit on the opposite band (like Wheen, probably? know nothing of him) trying to make their point. I just have a problem with anyone who tries hard to force me into not keeping and open mind (please restrain from answering with the stupid joke of brains falling out, thank you) as if everything to know is already told and discovered.

It is up to each of us to make up our minds as to what path is the one to enlightenment and not let anyone decide for us what is "THE truth". oxox

Anonymous said...

A glass of claret does it for me.

Anonymous said...

I love the way you post these "spiritual" postings between the porn and cock. Anyone would think you're trying to lead your flock astray, Madame.

Anonymous said...

How do you know that's Francis Wheen?

Hollywood Twitter type said...

Much of what Chopra says makes a lot of sense. Not everyone is blessed with a great education and bags of confidence. If the self-help industry thrives it's because there's a need, and I don't see any real evidence of damage. Even Nancy's astrologer wasn't wrong. And who's going to argue with all those success stories we call Hollywood?

Anonymous said...

H Twitter: "If the self-help industry thrives it's because there's a need,..."

... and whatever works for each of us to progress in our goals is the right way. I have found jewels of wisdom in farce little stories not intended to "enlighten" anyone that have helped me more than many of the books from best selling New Age authors. The key is to keep looking and not let anyone tell you you're a fool for "clicking" with the author of, say Chicken Soup for the Soul or whatever, if that works for you. Wisdom can come from the strangest sources if your eyes are open. ox