Flying yogis and other scientific theories

Posted in Society at 17:07 by RjZ

Does this look like flying to you?
Disinfotainment: BlogTV: Men Are From Mars, Maharishi Is From Uranus

John Hagelin teaches at the Maharishi University of Management (MUM) where that clip was taken an he really is a scientist. He recieved his Ph.D. from Harvard and has published papers on supersymmetry (part of string theory) and grand unification theory in peer reviewed journals. But he hasn’t done anything like that lately. His last paper was in 1994. Since then he has been working on linking particle physics to transcendental meditation and he’s run for president three times. For his research efforts he received an Ig Nobel prize for improbable research for “achievements” that “cannot, or should not, be reproduced.”

In ‘prize-winning’ study he gathered 4000 yogis to meditate in Washington DC. He claimed that this would reduce crime. When statistics actually showed that crime actually rose by 18%, he stated that this is less than it would have risen had they not meditated. Whew, glad they were there.

MUM was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who brought us transcendental meditation, and has such famous adherents as the Beatles, Howard Stern and Heather Graham. You can’t really complain about their stated goals of world peace, but it’s fairly easy to question their efficacy. The flying yogis in the linked video above are from the MUM school and an example of a keystone claim of the benefits of meditation (although they now say it’s really just an excercise.)

Dr. Hagelin is also prominently featured in movies such as “What the BLEEP do we know?” and their new follow up “The Secret”. He tells us, “The Secret” is that when we think negative thoughts we attract negative consequences. When we think postive thoughts we attract positive consequences. That’s fascinating. I don’t know, it might even be true. Do you suppose that this was part of Dr. Hagelin’s research at Harvard? When he starts going on about these ideas is he still speaking as a Harvard educated physicist?

I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.

—Richard Feynman (I also mentioned this quote here.)

Hagelin is not the only physicist in either of these films. He’s joined by Dr. Fred Alan Wolf, a former professor of Physics at UCSD. Wolf’s too busy authoring books with shaky explanations of quantum mechanics these days to do any publishable scientific work, but once he’s earned those credentials, no matter what he speaks about just must be true.

Even if these guys weren’t so easy to question, their presence alone hardly strengthens the claims of these movies and other pseudo-scientists. Since the makers of “What the BLEEP…” are using a connection to science as a support for their claims it seems reasonable that they must appeal to the general scientific consensus. If two scientists believe that thoughts are magnetic frequencies (what does that mean?), then we must ask what other scientists believe. Was the scientific community able to verify these claims? Has this claim stood up to the rigors of the time-tested scientific method? Hint: no.

Science can’t explain everything, so even if their claims are not supported, that doesn’t make them false., but it is deceitful to claim through association with a couple of scientists that the whole of science supports their view. Actually, it’s scandalous shame to abuse the public’s lack of expertise in the complex field of quantum mechanics to support completely unrelated claims. Doing so carries real consequences as it weakens the our understanding of scientific understanding and of the boundaries of science itself. It lends people to question well supported theories such as evolution. We’ve seen how much time is wasted once the public starts doubting that.

Science is conservative. It is difficult to build consensus for new theories among stodgy old professors emotionally attached to their pet ideas. Scientists are human. They’re attached to ideas and banish others for non-scientific reasons. One has to wonder how progress is ever made. Pseudo-scientists are fond of pointing to historical instances where new ideas were rejected by the majority only to win out in the end. In doing so they naturally expect us to believe that their theory is one of those and not one of the countless failed ideas like so many airplanes in old films showing man’s failed attempts at flight.

In spite of this conservative bent, science has somehow created advances from medicine to space travel, many of which we enjoy every day. So, conservative or not, I think there might be something to this whole scientific method thing. The Yogic flying, meanwhile, looks like a lot of jumping around to me.


  1. Aaron said,

    October 25, 2006 at 20:36

    The Ig Nobel prizes was a great link. I always wondered why woodpeckers don’t get headaches. What I love is that they actually present their theses.

    Even though the they are very similar, I think “the secret” was made by a different production company hoping to cash in on the interest. That they have to use the same physicists shows how few there are willing to support such things I suppose.

  2. dwgoebel said,

    October 26, 2006 at 11:45

    I have seen this on television before. I am so amazed at the many levels of intelligence in this world. I have been able to self induce a form of vertigo since I was a teen. I believe that’s what this man is experiencing, not flying. Education does not equal intelligence. It’s my opinion that this guy is a crackpot, high education or not.

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