A podcast called “Life, The Universe and Everything Else,” a program put on by the Winnipeg Skeptics association, has turned its sights on Thrive. I spent the morning listening to the podcast, and I recommend it very highly. You can play it from your computer here. The host of the show is Gem Newman (founder of Winnipeg Skeptics, computer science expert), and the guests include Gary Barbon, Mark Forkheim, Robert Shindler, Richelle McCullough and Greg Christiansen. You can see information on who these people are, and what their backgrounds are, here.
The Winnipeg Skeptics are a group of skeptics and critical thinkers who apply fact, logic and critical thinking to wild claims made on the Internet. Just as this blog has done since the beginning, the Skeptics have exhaustively examined Thrive and their review is, needless to say, highly negative. While they find some things to praise in the film, they are extremely critical of the film’s shoddy research, its trafficking in bizarre and divisive conspiracy theories, its promotion of far right-wing Libertarian propaganda, and its reductive and harmful worldview that obscures real problems of income inequality, political corruption and environmental degradation.
Thrive Debunked is mentioned prominently in the episode and I’m proud to say this site was used as a significant source to fact-check and analyze the film. You’ll see links to various articles here on the blog page discussing the episode.
At one point, Mr. Newman reads verbatim from the statement made by John Robbins repudiating Thrive and criticizing its conspiracy worldview—a statement published on this blog with Mr. Robbins’s permission.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, very little on the podcast will be news to you. But it is noteworthy that whenever anyone approaches Thrive with a desire to check its facts and think through its conclusions, they invariably conclude that it is faulty, false and dangerous. We can therefore add the Winnipeg Skeptics’ review to the lengthening list of similar reviews catalogued on this site, such as JREF’s, Transition Culture’s and the Praxis Institute’s.
Do give the podcast a listen. It’s very well-done.
One of the people whose views the Thrive movie showcases is a man named Nassim Haramein. A caption on the screen identifies Mr. Haramein as “Cosmologist, Inventor.” Beginning at 12:23 in the film, excerpts of interviews with Haramein begin and continue for almost the next ten minutes. Mr. Haramein opines on questions of astronomy and ancient history. Even before Thrive, Mr. Haramein was well-known in New Age circles. This article will evaluate what Mr. Haramein claims in Thrive, and also try to answer the question, who is he?
What Does Nassim Haramein Claim in Thrive?
In his first appearance in Thrive at 12:23, Nassim Haramein appears in the context of the discussion about the “torus” design which Thrive creator Foster Gamble believes is the key to free energy. Mr. Haramein refers to “big arms of galaxies spinning around” and a claim is made at 12:34 that the galactic halo is shaped like a torus. A little later, at 16:12, Mr. Haramein appears again, talking about the Osirian Temple in Abydos, Egypt. This discussion occurs in the context of the “Flower of Life” design that Foster Gamble asserts is of extraterrestrial origin. At 16:32 of the film, Mr. Haramein states that the Flower of Life at the Osirian Temple is “burned into the atomic structure of the rock in some extraordinary way.” No backup is given for this claim at all. In fact, this claim is false. It is the only factual claim that I know of, to date, which the Thrive creators have retracted.
Mr. Haramein continues to appear sporadically over the next few minutes. He appears again at 18:20 talking about the Forbidden City in China, “where the sun gods reside.” Later still, at 20:10, Mr. Haramein again refers to “sun gods” from Egyptian, Incan and Mayan culture who supposedly came to earth and taught ancient peoples engineering, writing and science. This is clearly an assertion that “ancient astronauts” are supposedly responsible for great feats by ancient civilizations, who were mistaken by these civilizations for “sun gods.”
At 21:25, Foster Gamble states that “Nassim has impressive evidence to back up his theories.” He does not state what this “impressive evidence” actually is.
Is Nassim Haramein Right About the Things He Says in Thrive?
Not very much of the time. A lot of what Mr. Nassim states in Thrive is simply false. On this blog we have already debunked much of the material he presents. For example, we’ve already noted that his claim about the “Flower of Life” in the Osirian Temple is incorrect. It is not “burned into the atomic structure of the rock.” In this article, which debunks the idea of “ancient astronauts,” I explain at length how and why Mr. Haramein’s assertions about ancient civilizations and ancient history are wrong. For instance, the Egyptian and Mayan “sun gods” had nothing to do with science or engineering. A case can be made that the Incan “sun god” did supposedly teach some knowledge to the Incas, but the context in which Mr. Haramein employs this idea—supposedly to illustrate that “ancient astronauts” exist—is totally incorrect. There is not a single piece of evidence anywhere in the world indicating that aliens visited ancient civilizations thousands or hundreds of years ago. The only basis for the “ancient astronaut” claims is the supposition that particular structures, such as pyramids, were beyond the capability of ancient peoples to construct, and therefore they must have been built by aliens. As I explained in the article debunking ancient astronauts, that supposition is totally unsupportable. Furthermore, he’s also wrong about the Forbidden City being “where the sun gods reside.” The Forbidden City, built in Beijing in the early 1400s, was where the terrestrial emperor resided, not the “sun gods.”
Who is Nassim Haramein?
The subject that concerns the bulk of Mr. Haramein’s testimony in Thrive is ancient astronauts. He is clearly identified with that theory. In fact, while this article was being written, in late February 2012 yet another YouTube video popped up of Mr. Haramein claiming that certain archaeological artifacts “prove” ancient astronauts existed. These claims are no different than the basic gist of his claims in Thrive. All proceed from an assumption that “ancient peoples couldn’t possibly have created this!” because whatever is being examined is judged from the standpoint of modern technological and scientific understanding.
However closely he’s associated with ancient astronauts in Thrive, this theory is not Mr. Haramein’s main claim to fame. Who is he, then and what his he known for?
According to the bio that appears on his own site—for the Resonance Project—Nassim Haramein was born in Switzerland in 1962 and began developing, at the age of nine, a “hyperdimensional theory of matter and energy.” His bio goes on to state:
“Haramein has spent most of his life researching the fundamental geometry of hyperspace, studying a variety of fields from theoretical physics, cosmology, quantum mechanics, biology and chemistry to anthropology and ancient civilizations. Combining this knowledge with a keen observation of the behavior of nature, he discovered a specific geometric array that he found to be fundamental to creation and from which the foundation for his Unified Field Theory emerged.”
Mr. Haramein often gives lectures at conferences, and you can see many of his talks on YouTube. The topic he lectures on most often is something called the “Schwarzschild Proton,” which we’ll get to in a minute. I find it interesting that neither the Thrive movie nor Haramein’s own website list any degrees or credentials. That is noteworthy, because people who do have degrees or credentials and who are interviewed in Thrive are usually presented with a title card on-screen that lists what their credentials are—example, “Dr. Jack Kasher, Ph.D.—Professor Emeritus of Physics, University of Nebraska” (31:01). I have also not been able to locate a C.V. (curriculum vitae), sort of an academic résumé, for Mr. Haramein. If anyone is aware that he has advanced degrees in physics or other relevant fields, please pass on the information to me and I will gladly add that to this blog.
What Is the “Schwarzchild Proton” Claim?
This blog has already debunked what Mr. Haramein claims in Thrive, both in this article and the previous articles. Let’s move on to some of the other claims he makes other than the ones in the film. Although the focus of this blog is on the film, Mr. Haramein’s other claims are relevant to judging his overall credibility as a source on matters of science and ancient history.
The “Schwarzschild Proton” theory states that a proton is really a miniature black hole. I am not trained in physics, but what I do know of it, this assertion is completely outside the realm of science as we understand it. Needless to say, the scientific community is not impressed by the “Schwarzschild Proton.” In fact, it’s very difficult to get a scientist to spend their time debunking it. Nevertheless, there are scientific opinions about Mr. Haramein’s theories. Here’s one, a fairly high profile blog called “Up,” which ran several articles about Mr. Haramein and his various theories. The creator of this blog, Bob (also known as Bob-a-Thon), had this to say about Mr. Haramein and his paper:
“(a) His overall argument is circular, which means it shows nothing. A hypothesis is presented that a proton might be considered as if it were a black hole, and his first conclusion, after a few pages of equations, is that the forces between them would be very strong, like the forces in a nucleus. But this goes without saying! If you pretend that something is as heavy as a thing can be, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that the forces would be as strong as a force can be. There’s no significance in this whatsoever.
(b) His theory implies that the nucleus of a single atom of hydrogen has a mass of nearly a billion tons. This does seem a bit silly – but theoretical physicists do hypothesise apparently silly things sometimes, so that’s not a deal-breaker. For obvious reasons, though, you need a very convincing reason to do something like that, including an explanation as to why we never measure this huge mass when we weigh hydrogen (or anything else), and none is given.
c) The paper, while using some scientific terms, is presented at a very basic level. This could be considered a plus – all scientists would agree that there’s nothing better than a simple theory, if it works. But Nassim is merely playing with equations from student textbooks (these are the only references cited in the paper), things that have been explored thoroughly for decades, and he’s using them in a pretty simplistic way. It’s unlikely that he’ll find anything that hasn’t been found before by doing this. What he has found is some values for things that look suspiciously like what he knew when he started. This is often what happens when you go around in a circle.
It’s a bit of a joke to claim that anything profound can come from this kind of thing. But again, it looks cool, and it’s clearly enough to impress a lot of his followers.”
Bob went on to post a lengthy scientific debunking of the Schwarzschild Proton theory. You can find it here. I won’t reproduce it here because it’s full of a lot of very specific scientific jargon and equations that I don’t think I need to show here so long as it’s available at the link. Suffice it to say that Bob’s blog makes a strong argument that Mr. Haramein’s theory does not have any validity when judged against actual provable science.
Bob’s conclusion, at the end of that article, was the following:
“Haramein claims to be doing serious science. He claims to have unified the forces of nature, and to have created a unified field theory. He claims to be able to point out where all ‘the other physicists’ are going wrong. He claims, moreover, that his paper, The Schwarzschild Proton, has won serious academic acclaim. All of these are patently false.
The only sensible conclusion from looking at this example of his work is that he is utterly incompetent as a physicist – even with the help of his hired academics, whose “advice and careful reading of the manuscript” didn’t reveal any of the myriad of nonsensical implications that a little exploration should have found.
He knows that taking on the air of authority of a research physicist will give weight to his outlandish ideas, many of which are in the language of physics. And he knows that this will bring him followers and cash. Indeed it does.”
It appears likely from this analysis that Mr. Haramein’s claims are not supportable by science. I say it appears likely because I’m not a trained scientist. While I suspect that Bob is a trained and credentialed scientist, we do not know this for certain. Therefore, I’ll state that if someone with at least a Ph.D. in physics is willing to come forward and state (1) that Bob’s debunking of Mr. Haramein’s Schwarzschild Proton theory is fundamentally flawed, and (2) that Mr. Haramein’s theory is correct or at least reasonably arguable in good faith, I will retract this article and issue a high-profile correction.
Good luck. I’ve been searching for a physicist who will comment on Mr. Haramein’s theories on the record since Thrive came out. No one will touch it. It’s that bad.
Here’s what other scientists are willing to say, however. On the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast of January 12, 2011, linked here, Dr. Phil Plait had this to say about a video he saw of Mr. Haramein expounding various astronomical theories (the relevant part starts about 50 minutes in):
“It’s hard to actually describe or understand a place to start or find any sort of grip on the amount of weirdness that this video has in it. I mean, he just says stuff and it doesn’t matter what he’s saying, he just says it. He’s talking about watching Shoemaker Levy 9, the comet, hitting Jupiter back in ’94, and he says, “the community said that comet might not be visible from the earth.” No, actually most astronomers thought it would, and there were a few who said it might not, but we weren’t sure, but that’s how science works…His whole thing, watching this, he’s talking about the tetrahedron dictating the energy about to happen inside Jupiter, and I’m thinking tetrahedrons, certain specific latitudes, he’s talking about Hoagland! And five seconds later “this is the theory of consultant to NASA, Richard C. Hoagland!”…This is so bad it’s not even wrong…You can watch this guy giving talks about pyramids and Egyptians and he just says stuff…it’s made-up silliness.”
Richard C. Hoagland is an infamous pseudoscience purveyor and conspiracy theorist. He’s most famous for expounding the ridiculous Face on Mars theory from the ‘80s. Any mention of Hoagland as a credible source should set off alarm bells.
Need more to convince you that Mr. Haramein’s theories are not good science? Check some physicists kibbutzing about him over at Reddit. Here are some of the comments:
“For some reason I was browsing /r/psychonaut and I saw a video posted of this guy, Nassim Haramein, lecturing about “sacred geometry and unified field theory”. After about 5 seconds you see he’s just making it up as he goes along, misunderstanding even the most basic principles of physics and math(s). He basically just tells people into that whole “new age” thing exactly what they want to hear. This pseudoscientist is either deliberately misleading the public, extremely deluded or mentally ill in some way.”
“We can, but on the other hand we could do physics instead. Nevertheless, I took the liberty of correcting one of your hecklers.”
“You’re probably right… I’m not sure why it bugs me so much. I guess I just think it’s sad that the people who are enjoying his talks are showing an interest in physics and not being told anything that resembles real physics.”
What Does Mr. Haramein Say In Response?
Bob’s “Up” blog engendered a response from Mr. Haramein himself. Here it is. Please go to the link for the full text, as it’s very lengthy. Here are a few excerpts:
“I typically avoid wasting my time participating in these so-called debunking sessions. However, as I can see that the gentleman has invested substantial efforts in this particular example, and because it is such a prime and typical expression of the reactionary tendencies defending against all odds the status quo and proclaiming it as “the truth”, I feel obligated to reply.
I actually don’t believe in mediocre minds, as I consider that everyone is born brilliant but that certain life experiences and difficulties can reduce one’s capacity to access deeper levels of awareness that are necessary for creative and fundamental reflection. Here the inhibitors are constraints resulting from a style of education in which what is taught is proclaimed as the truth and the only truth, and where students are discouraged and severely reprimanded if they tend to wander in the awful world of untruth as predetermined by the Obvious Truth Holder…
[H]istory speaks for itself as any new significant changes that were brought to the scientific community were typically largely resisted, ridiculed and then eventually accepted. As Schopenhauer said, ‘All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’”
Much of the rest of the response is very technical, and those issues, while quite relevant, are beyond the scope of this blog. Nevertheless, Bob responded to the response. Needless to say he wasn’t too impressed:
“So, what to make of all this. To summarise, his rhetoric is great! The bits of physics he’s thrown in look really impressive! If the aim is to wow the fans and seal their contempt for me, he’s done an excellent job.
But has he actually addressed the criticisms that I’ve raised? Surely, somewhere in all that work, he must have? Help me out here if you think I’m missing something, but I really don’t think he has. I’ll illustrate some of the ways he’s misused physics in his defence later on.
If you disagree – if you can find any single point in there that convinces you that any of my criticisms of his physics aren’t completely valid – then I’d really love to hear from you. It would be great if we could keep it to the physics. I know it won’t happen, but it would be great if it did.
Meanwhile, as you can see for yourself, he has had fun doing what he does best – inventing things to entertain his fans, and telling them what they want to hear. He presents this new, conveniently fictionalised version of me to his followers as “an important study for anyone who is interested in my work.”…
The back-and-forth between Bob and Mr. Haramein is actually quite interesting. Because I can only present the smallest snippets of it here, I strongly recommend that anyone interested in evaluating Mr. Haramein’s grasp of physics (or ancient history, for that matter) look at the entire exchange. Looking at this material certainly led me to a a conclusion regarding the level of credibility to which Mr. Haramein is entitled.
A Related Issue: Academia, Credentials, and the Value of Experts.
A key theme that you should see emerging from this analysis is that Mr. Haramein does not and cannot back up any of the major assertions he makes with any evidence or argumentation that passes muster among professionals in the fields he opines on—physics and ancient history. If you read Mr. Haramein’s responses to Bob’s critique, you’ll see a lot of references to Einstein and how Einstein was not (supposedly) a “mainstream” physicist, coupled with philosophical statements about how closed-minded and corrupt the institutions of mainstream learning are. Indeed, from what I’ve observed in my research for this article, this is the primary line of defense when Mr. Haramein is attacked: claim that Einstein (or someone else who is well-respected but has an unorthodox background) had radical ideas too, and suggest that because he was vindicated, Mr. Haramein’s unorthodox ideas are worthy of the same level of credulity and acceptance that we today give the theories of Einstein and Copernicus.
I’ve encountered this line of argumentation many, many times before. In fact, it’s a trope used almost universally by believers in fringe phenomena such as pseudoscience, pseudohistory, and conspiracy theories. I wrote an article about this about 18 months ago on my other blog, specifically in the context of conspiracy theorists, and explaining why their views on academics and experts are wrong. The same principle goes here. People who accept fringe beliefs exhibit a curious form of bipolar behavior when it comes to experts. On the one hand, they really wish that some credentialed experts would agree with them so it would lend credence to their pet theories. Simultaneously, because they can’t get any credentialed experts to agree with them, they’re forced to explain why this is by claiming that credentialed experts are worthless and that the institutions they come from are closed to any new ideas or new knowledge.
The problem with this argument, however, is that it presumes the legitimacy of credentialed experts and institutional knowledge—academia and peer-review, if you will—is essentially arbitrary and has little to do with the substantive content of their fields. Followers of pseudoscience, pseudohistory and conspiracy theories think that academia and institutional knowledge is a sort of old boy’s club, where a cap and gown and a secret handshake get you “in the club,” and only knowledge that originates from within “the club” is taken seriously. The reality is very different.
You do not have to be a credentialed expert with a Ph.D. in physics to come up with a revolutionary new idea that totally redefines scientific truth. You could be a plumber and still come up with a revolutionary new idea that totally redefines scientific truth. However, whether you are a Ph.D. physicist or a plumber, the validity of your idea must be still be provable using the scientific method.
You do not have to possess a Ph.D. in archeology to come up with a bold new theory that explains the workings of ancient civilizations. You could work at Subway and still come up with a revolutionary theory that redefines ancient history as we know it. However, whether you are a Ph.D. archaeologist or a Subway sandwich maker, the validity of your idea must still be provable with evidence and the methods of archaeological research and historical analysis.
This is what Mr. Haramein doesn’t seem to understand. The reason his theories don’t have any credibility is not because he is not a credentialed expert doing research at a traditional institution. The reason his theories don’t have any credibility is because they’re not verifiable or supportable according to the methods of physics, astronomy and ancient history. It’s the methods that matter. Scientific inquiry and historical analysis have been built up over centuries, even millennia. Democritus was doing science in Thrace in the 4th century B.C., and Thucydides was researching history at about the same time. Guess what? The methods that Democritus used all those centuries ago are still sound by today’s scientific standards (though of course technology is much different), and the methods that Thucydides used to describe the Peloponnesian War are still recognized as hallmarks of historical scholarship today. This is not to say that science or history haven’t advanced since the time of the ancient Greeks; clearly they have. But our process of asking questions and seeking answers, of judging hypothesis based on verifiable facts, and of testing the evidence for its reliability are remarkably similar to the processes that experts have been using for centuries to get at the truth of various problems.
Want to know something else? The “scientific heretics” that fringe believers like to trot out on cue—Galileo, Copernicus, Einstein, etc.—could prove their unorthodox theories by using those same processes. Galileo was persecuted by religious authorities, but he could still prove that Jupiter had moons; Copernicus’s books were banned by political authorities, but his mathematics still proved that a heliocentric solar system was the truth. Einstein wasn’t even much of a heretic at all. After all, he won a Nobel Prize. They don’t give Nobel Prizes to people who don’t use the scientific method or whose discoveries can’t be verified by it.
Through his rhetoric about institutional knowledge and credentialism, Mr. Haramein and his supporters seem to want you to jump to the conclusion that he’s a bold innovator and a brave defender of scientific truth in the face of unreasonable conformity. But the real bold innovators and brave defenders of scientific truth, like Galileo and Copernicus, could prove their theories using scientific methods and reasoning, and thats why their ideas are accepted today as truth. By contrast, Mr. Haramein seems to want to skip the part where his theories are actually proven using the methods and reasoning that experts have been using for centuries to determine what’s true and what’s not. Unfortunately, science and history don’t work that way.
During his brief appearance in Thrive, Nassim Haramein makes a number of statements and invites a number of inferences. He makes statements about the “Flower of Life” design which are incorrect. He makes statements about ancient gods and the history of ancient peoples which are incorrect. He invites the conclusion that aliens came to Earth long ago to help civilizations build various things, a conclusion which is unsupportable.
Outside the movie Thrive, Mr. Haramein is known for making similar wild claims, which are similarly incorrect. His “Schwarzschild Proton” theory is absolutely unsupported given physical science as we know it today. Real scientists consistently deride his methodology as flawed and his arguments as totally unpersuasive. His response to these criticisms, which is to dismiss the value of expert opinion or institutional knowledge, is similarly unpersuasive.
The rational viewer of Thrive, when confronted with these facts, should not only be extremely skeptical of the assertions Mr. Haramein makes in the film, but should also wonder why the makers of the film did not conduct better research, and consult more reliable sources, about the matters Mr. Haramein discusses.
[photo by Ray Flowers]
Debunking and fact-checking of claims in the Thrive movie are already bearing fruit. One of the outrageous claims made in the film is where Nassim Haramein says, at 16:32 of the film, that the “Flower of Life” design at the Osirian Temple in Abydos, Egypt is “burned into the atomic structure of the rock in some extraordinary way!” Neither Haramein nor anyone else provides a single shred of substantiation for this claim.
In context, the “Flower of Life” design is cited by Thrive maker Foster Gamble as being related to the “torus” design that he believes is a signal from extraterrestrials on how to tap free unlimited energy. The claim about the Osirian Temple design is intended to bolster the (false) idea that aliens came to Earth in ancient times and gave this design to various cultures. A debunking of the “Flower of Life” section appears in Part I of the debunking of the full-length film.
Now the Thrive makers have publicly admitted that the claim about the Flower of Life being “burned into the atomic structure of the rock” is false. Recently the “Fact Check” section on the Thrive website was changed to read thusly:
“Since the completion and launch of THRIVE: What On Earth Will it Take?, we have received new information that the Flower of Life symbol at Abydos is believed by some experts to be inscribed with Ochre stain, which might date it instead to the 1st century AD. It was clearly meant to stand the test of time and to do further testing would require chipping the stone which is currently not allowed. So it remains an open mystery. Nassim Haramein’s original reference was a statement by Greg Braden in his book, Awakening to Zero Point, where on page 135, he writes:
“These beautiful geometric codes have not been etched, painted or carved into the hard rose-granite walls – they are literally “flash-burned” into the stone through a process that is not understood today.”
It doesn’t remain an “open mystery” at all. There is absolutely no evidence that the design was “flash-burned” into the stone (whatever that means). The only basis for that claim is the statement in Braden’s book, but note that Haramein even got that wrong: Braden’s statement, at least as quoted by Thrive on the website, makes no reference to the atomic structure. Haramein just made that up.
So, the Thrive makers are already beginning to retreat from their claims. Note also that Haramein’s defense of the false claim is that he was simply quoting another totally unsourced statement, which he got wrong. Greg Braden is a prolific New Age author who likes to make broad sweeping statements about spirituality and consciousness, and has opined before on ancient astronaut theories. I found a review of Awakening to Zero Point on Amazon (here is the link) which has this to say about that book:
This book is full of much speculation and doubtful “facts” that are supposed, somehow, to be linked. I find it less convincing than most other reviewers. The book starts with a series of “Wow!” events that are implied (without evidence), to be connected. Included are: the end of the cold war, increased numbers of earthquakes, climate change, new viruses, increases in the number of alien sightings and crop circles, and unspecified “studies” and “evidence” that someone other than the Egyptians built the pyramids…
Sounds like the usual Thrive material: pseudoscience, unsourced claims, bad history, New Age woo and crankery being passed off as serious research.
Nevertheless, it’s significant that the Thrive makers backed down on this point. I am curious to see what other retractions they will (or will not) make over the coming months.
Thanks to “Sequoia” in the comments on a previous post for bringing the retraction to our attention.