Deepak Chopra
6 min readJan 15, 2024


Is Your Brain an Illusion?

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP

When told about the ancient Indian concept of Maya, which holds that the world is an illusion, most people both East and West shrug off the notion. If they ponder Maya at all, they relegate it to metaphysics, which is just as easy to disregard. But a century after the quantum revolution in physics, Maya is more relevant than ever, because its meaning pertains to something as intimate to us as our brain.

The mystery of the human brain is easily summarized: How does a watery mass of organic chemicals manage to think? I think there is an answer, which is given in my new book, Quantum Body. For a very long time, the mystery got no further than a famous quip: “What is mind? No matter. What is matter, never mind.” The quip refers to the impossibility of connecting the physical world with the non-physical domain of consciousness.

You are conscious, of which there is no doubt. Chemicals aren’t conscious, which is equally undeniable. The gap between these two statements is unbridgeable — until you consider the quantum. In the earliest days of the quantum revolution around 1900, a number of the theory’s greatest proponents traced consciousness to the quantum field. In a simple way, the quantum field provides the source for everything.

That it is the source of space, time, matter, and energy was posited then and holds true now. But “everything” must include the mind, and that was the rub. The mind isn’t quantum. No amount of data, measurement, and experimentation at the quantum level — or anywhere else — can explain what an experience is. The color of a rose expressed in wavelengths of light has nothing to do with seeing it as red.

The same is true of all five senses. Current research has traced smell, vision, and touch to quantum processes — your retina, for example, can register a single photon, the quantum particle associated with light. But photons are invisible. They become bright only through our perception.

To a neuroscientist, this fact solves the riddle of mind and brain. The brain allows us to see, and to perform every other mental process. Unfortunately, this is where Maya throws a monkey wrench into the machinery. There is no light in the brain, no brightness, no pictures, or anything but the firing of faint electrical charges and the exchange of ionized chemicals in the visual cortex.

Take away the light, brightness, and images, and the experience of seeing is gone. It stands to reason that your brain doesn’t see, and once this point is conceded, it is the opening edge of the wedge. If the brain doesn’t see, then it doesn’t possess any of the five senses. If that’s true, then the brain has no experience — and yet you do.

Maya exposes the fallacy that the brain is the same as the mind. Neuroscience would adamantly deny this, because the entire basis of brain science for 99% of neuroscientists, is that brain = mind. We are living in the golden age of fMRI and other brain imaging that can view brain activity as it occurs. Imaging has become so sophisticated that patterns of neural activity will soon be precise enough, we are told, that they can be linked to individual thoughts.

That seems to support the assumption that brain = mind, but it doesn’t. Imagine that a player piano, which plays music without a pianist, fell into the midst of a Stone Age tribe in New Guinea. They could be excused for believing that the piano understands music and is responsible for composing it (old-fashioned player pianos used paper rolls with inserted holes that triggered the instrument’s mechanism; modern ones operate electronically).

For all of its sophistication, neuroscience falls for the same illusion. It believes that the brain, since it has the machinery corresponding to thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images, must be composing our experience. The difference from a Stone Age tribe in New Guinea is that the player piano can be understood by unraveling its mechanics — the brain can’t.

But Maya and the quantum revolution have deeper ties. The elementary particles that constitute the first stage of creation aren’t like ordinary physical “things.” This was made clear by the great physicist Werner Heisenberg when he declared, “The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”

Here is the vital link between mind and matter: both originate as possibilities, not things or facts. The next thought you have and the next word you utter exist beforehand only as possibilities. Therefore, you think and speak at that level all the time. The same holds true for an experience. You experience everything in the “real” world with all of its sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes, but that is pure illusion.

Experience begins in no specific location because the quantum field has no location in time and space. Your senses are quantum once you understand where they originate, not in the illusory physical world. Therefore, your brain, being a ting, is also illusory. Maya and quantum mechanics agree on this point.

Very quickly modern physics moved away from a theory of mind and set its course for physical experimentation, like all the other sciences. But this decision doesn’t invalidate Heisenberg’s insight. But where does this insight actually get you? Medicine needs to address maladies of the brain that correspond to depression, anxiety, and psychosis, not to mention brain tumors and other physical disorders. It seems pointless to say that medicine is being fooled by an illusion.

The reason it matters was summarized by another great quantum pioneer, Erwin Schrödinger, who was a great student of Vedic philosophy and particularly of its main documents, known as the Upanishads. “The Upanishads are the most comprehensive philosophical treatise ever written by man. They are based on an ancient idea, as old as Indian thought itself, that the most profound reality is One and that this One is identical with our own Self.”

In those words is the reason why the meeting up of Maya and the quantum field matters so much. It brings us close to understanding wholeness (the One) and seeing that wholeness is our basic nature. We are not body, mind, and spirit as if these are separate compartments. We do not have to achieve wholeness, because we are whole to begin with. The seamless joining of mind and brain is the answer, not the riddle. Once we start with wholeness as the most basic fact of existence, many old riddles are solved, and we can begin to live the mystery rather than be baffled by it.

DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 91st book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life explores and reinterprets the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that the practice of meditation can bring. Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution for the last thirty years. His latest book, Quantum Body co-authored with physicist Jack Tuszynski, Ph.D., and endocrinologist Brian Fertig, M.D. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”