In a few articles on this site (and also in one on my other blog) I make an argument that the movie Thrive is largely a religious document. It is a statement of faith by Foster Gamble, and a plea to its viewers to adopt the same religious faith, which is a synthesis of New Age concepts, conspiracy theories and far right-wing Libetarian political ideology. Thanks to a recent article in the Journal of Contemporary Religion, not only does this idea have academic support, but the faith that Thrive advances now has a name: “conspirituality.”
In January 2011, two authors—David Voas, a professor at the University of Manchester, and Charlotte Ward, an independent researcher in the field of alternative spirituality—published an article called “The Emergence of Conspirituality” in the peer-reviewed Journal of Contemporary Religion. (The cite is Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 26, No. 1, January 2011, 103-121. The abstract for the article is here but unless you have access to an academic database, you will have to pay to download the full article. If you want to see it for free, I suggest you visit a library that has a subscription to JSTOR or another academic database—it’s well worth your time). Although the article—which I only just recently became aware of—was published eleven months before Thrive’s release, I think it is extremely apposite to the film. In fact, if the article had been published after the film’s release, I have no doubt it would have been discussed as a case study of conspirituality.
The Ward/Voas article was peer-reviewed. That means that knowledgeable researchers in the field of contemporary and comparative religion reviewed drafts of it—their identities not known to the authors—and provided critical comments. Peer review is not infallible, but it is the hallmark of academia and it’s what separates publications like academic journals apart from other publications where material may or may not be independently checked. Most major trade magazines and reputable newspapers employ fact checkers, but academic journals operate on a strict system of review. It’s worth noting that virtually none of the “sources” that Foster Gamble and Thrive rely upon are peer-reviewed—such as the now-infamous BLTResearch.com, which is the film’s go-to source on crop circles.
What is “Conspirituality”?
The authors of the article have coined a new word—“conspirituality”—to describe what they see as a recently-emerging religion that melds New Age sensibilities and conspiracy theories. The best way to explain it is to quote from the article itself:
“We argue that conspirituality is a politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age:
(1) A secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order (Fenster).
(2) Humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness, or awareness, so solutions to (1) lie in acting in accordance with an awakened ‘new paradigm’ worldview.
Conspirituality is a web movement with diffuse leadership and constantly shifting areas of interest.”
In order to understand what this means, you need to understand how the authors define both “New Age” and “conspiracy theory.” Here’s what they say on that:
“[New Age] groups embrace the idea of a person as an integrated whole, with mind, body, and spirit subject to a common set of principles. The second ideology is conspiracy theory. Here one finds a denial of contingency, the discovery of patterns in events that might otherwise seem to be random, and the attribution of agency to hidden forces.”
The article goes on to explain that the central feature of New Age thinking is this idea of “new paradigm” or “new consciousness.” Many, many examples of this belief can be found in many places, and especially on the Internet, from which most of the authors’ examples were drawn. A frequent theme in New Age milieu is the idea that there is a massive shift taking place, or about to take place, in human consciousness. A good example of this type of message is what some people are saying about the “2012” prophecies. While some people literally do believe that the supposed “end” of the Mayan long-count calendar in December 2012 will mean the end of the world, in New Age circles it’s much more common for people to predict some sort of massive consciousness shift. Whitley Strieber, a noted New Age author (and conspiracy theorist) who is most famous for his claims of having been abducted by aliens, makes this sort of argument here.
As for conspiracy theory, well, that’s easy. If you read this blog or have seen Thrive, you know exactly what this means: bizarre, unsupportable and factually bankrupt assertions like the Illuminati or the “Global Domination Agenda,” “false flag” attacks, suppression of free energy, etc. The authors make the interesting point that the conspiracy theorist underground is overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male, and usually politically conservative. I’ll return to that point in a little while.
As for how New Age and conspiracy theories go together, I’m going to quote something I published a few months ago. I had an email correspondence with a British academic back in January where he talked about exactly this phenomenon. Here is what he had to say (it’s quoted in this article):
“I suspect that what’s going on is that New Age, now entering its third generation, has developed a theodicy. Now, this is a theological term, but it essentially means an explanation of the existence of evil – why bad things happen to good people. For some of those in the New Age milieu – Foster Gamble, David Icke, Whitley Strieber, Duncan Rhodes and others, all incidentally in middle age and with a long term involvement in the New Age milieu – an explanation is needed as to why, if we’ve entered the Age of Aquarius, is the world less peaceful, equal and progressive than ever? Conspiracy theories offer such a theodicy – the New Age hasn’t happened because evil people prevented it from happening.”
What is an Example of “Conspirituality” In Practice?
One very prominent example cited in the Ward/Voas article is another buzzword that has appeared occasionally on Thrive Debunked: the Zeitgeist Movement. In case you don’t know, the Zeitgeist Movement is an Internet-based organization—many call it a cult, and that term is apposite—which sprang out of the fanbase for the 2007 Internet conspiracy theory film Zeitgeist: The Movie, and which proposes that the world be remade with something called a “Resource Based Economy,” which is basically late-stage Communism with robots and computers standing in for the dictatorship of the proletariat. By melding conspiracy theories (including “9/11 was an inside job” theories, which were the film’s major selling points) with this sort of new consciousness argument, Zeitgeist’s leader, Peter Joseph Merola, minted one of the most paradigm examples of a conspirituality religious organization. Here’s what the authors say about that:
“The second [example of conspirituality] is weighted towards conspiracy theory. It was taken from the Zeitgeist Movement, a web site promoting global activism connected to Zeitgeist the Movie, a 2007 web movie. Zeitgeist alleges, among other things, that organised religion is about social control and that 9/11 was an inside job. The producers claim that the movie has been viewed 100 million times.
[quoted from the Zeitgeist Movement Facebook page:]
The elite power systems are little affected in the long run by traditional protest and political movements. We must move beyond these ‘establishment rebellions’ and work with a tool much more powerful: We will stop supporting the system, while constantly advocating knowledge, peace, unity and compassion. We cannot ‘‘fight the system’’. Hate, anger and the ‘war’ mentality are failed means for change, for they perpetuate the same tools the corrupt, established power systems use to maintain control to begin with. [. . .]
[Ward/Voas comment:] This could be called a ‘spiritual’ awakening.”
What Does This Have To Do With Thrive?
In a word: everything.
Thrive is an even more obvious and clear graft between New Age ideas and conspiracy theory ideology, which according to Ward and Voas is the definition of conspirituality. This is the point I made in my other blog’s article on how the conspiracy theory world has been changing—and in that article I made the point, several times in fact, that Zeitgeist and the Zeitgeist Movement are the progenitors of Thrive, and most likely the example Foster Gamble was trying to follow. But, just to line up a few factors that I think demonstrate that Thrive exemplifies the Ward/Voas concept of conspirituality, let’s look at this:
- Thrive telegraphs its New Age associations, and tries to sell itself to a New Age audience, early in the film by heavy use of New Age concepts such as crop circles, ancient aliens and UFO contact.
- One of Thrive’s central messages is that humanity must have some sort of “paradigm shift” if we are to break out of these horrible conspiracies that Foster Gamble says we suffer from.
- Thrive’s promotional poster features an image of a woman removing a blindfold. The whole theme of “waking up” surrounds promotion of the film. Additionally, many Thrive supporters who have commented on this blog have advised me to “wake up” or employed similar language to urge me to change my thinking regarding the film.
- Thrive pretends to impart to its audience hidden knowledge or forbidden knowledge that “they” don’t want you to know.
- Thrive regards factual support of its conclusions as largely unnecessary. By looking at the ridiculous “Fact Check” section of the Thrive website, one sees right away that any factual support for the movie’s assertions is perfunctory, poorly-researched and shoddily done. The message is that it’s faith and belief, rather than facts and evidence, that make the difference between swallowing Thrive’s message and rejecting it.
- The middle section of the film churns as many conspiracy theories as it possibly can, as fast as it can, and with as few facts cluttering the presentation as possible. It is obvious that this section of the film was built as a sort of “big umbrella” to welcome into the Thrive milieu as many conspiracy theorists as possible by appealing to a very wide range of disparate (and often mutually exclusive) theories.
- The final section of Thrive purports to offer “solutions” to the problems it identifies. Its solutions either consist of ending the conspiracies, or implementing far right-wing Libertarian political ideology such as abolishing taxes, abolishing education, etc.
- Thrive and its milieu exist mostly on the Internet. Like the Zeitgeist Movement, to the extent there even is a “Thrive Movement,” it is almost totally web-based. As the article makes clear, the Internet is overwhelmingly the main channel for proselytizing the conspirituality religion.
If the Zeitgeist Movement is a paradigm example of an organization offering a conspirituality religious message, I can see little doubt that Thrive would also qualify. The British researcher I talked to put it in very stark terms. Thrive asks the question, “Why hasn’t this New Age consciousness shift occurred?” and then answers it by pointing a finger at the Rothschilds, Rockefellers and “bankers” and says, “It hasn’t happened because they prevented it.”
An Interesting Angle: Foster & Kimberly Gamble and the Gender Issue.
The Ward/Voas article makes a very interesting point about the gender dynamic within the emerging religion of conspirituality. I hope they won’t mind if I quote them again, because they say it better than I could:
“Notwithstanding these shared principles, there is a wide gulf between the ordinary understandings of conspiracy theory and the [New Age] milieu. The former is male-dominated, often conservative, generally pessimistic, and typically concerned with current affairs. The latter is predominantly female, liberal, self-consciously optimistic, and largely focused on the self and personal relationships. It is therefore far from obvious how a confluence of these two streams could be produced.”
I argue that the husband and wife team of Foster and Kimberly Gamble represents a living example of the union between these previously incompatible belief systems. Foster Gamble, obviously male, seems to be very conservative politically; he believes, for example, that taxation is theft (a classic Libertarian idea) and in Thrive he even denounces the very idea of democracy as a form of tyranny and oppression. [Note: in this discussion I am not conflating political conservatism with support of the mainstream Republican Party in the U.S. I am not alleging that Mr. Gamble is a Republican, just that he espouses at least some politically conservative ideas. They’re not the same thing, though they overlap to some degree]. Clearly Mr. Gamble is concerned with current affairs, and his outlook is relentlessly pessimistic, at least regarding the current state of the world. Kimberly Gamble, by contrast, is shown in Thrive as more of a touchy-feely figure. Her subjects of discussion regard holistic healing, health issues, etc. Also note that in the film Mrs. Gamble generally appears in a much more optimistic-looking setting (a home-like room drenched with light) whereas Foster Gamble usually appears, through bluescreen effects, to be hovering in a dark space.
I believe the husband-and-wife presentation of Thrive was carefully calculated to appeal to both sides of the conspirituality coin. A male figure who speaks well and appears friendly gives the message about evil conspiracies, then recommends the implementation of far right-wing Libertarian political ideology as a potential solution. A female figure, conveying a softer tone, speaks of personal issues and seems well-connected to the New Age milieu. Her message, even more than Mr. Gamble’s, seems to hinge upon belief and faith rather than fact and evidence.
Even beyond the gender dynamic, I believe there is also a generational dynamic. Foster Gamble is in his 50s. He claims in at least one interview to have learned about the principles of conspiracy thinking from his son, who must be in his 20s or 30s. That demographic—white males in their 20s and 30s, or even teens—are the key consumers of conspiracy theory material, which can be witnessed by noting that the overwhelming majority of members of the conspiracy-minded Zeitgeist Movement fall into this category. Foster and Kimberly Gamble may be positioning themselves as sort of a “mother and father” team, administering their philosophy to a global family of New Agers and conspiracy theorists.
If Thrive is an exemplar of a conspirituality religious text, what does this mean for the future? How do those of us who still live in the rational world deal with the emergence of conspirituality?
I don’t know the answer to this. I find it interesting that academics are now beginning to study the phenomena that we (those of us who debunk conspiracy theories) have been noting for the past few years, the trend of groups and individuals, like Foster Gamble or Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph, to use conspiracy theories as a marketing tool to gain adherents to a political, social or religious philosophy. That’s the change I wrote about in my article in February. Does this development make movies like Thrive more or less dangerous, divisive, harmful and irresponsible?
I think it might depend on how conspirituality continues to develop. If it becomes very clear to most people that what Thrive espouses is a religious belief system, people and society at large may come to accept it on those terms, which is fine. Some Christians believe the world was created in six 24-hour days, about 6,000 years ago; many Mormons believe that Joseph Smith actually found golden plates and that a civilization called the Nephites lived in what is now the western U.S. These are accepted as religious beliefs. If adherents of conspirituality believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that aliens create crop circles, I suppose it’s not so bad so long as people realize that these are religious beliefs, which exist in the realm of unfalsifiable phenomenon—faith, essentially—and do not rise to the level of empirical matters that must be proven by actual facts and evidence.
On the other hand, if adherents of conspirituality reject the conclusion that what they’re espousing are religious beliefs, and continue to insist that the things they believe are true as a matter of objective fact—and demand that society act on those matters as if they were fact—I could see this becoming a major societal problem in the decades to come. As a practical matter I don’t them agreeing passively that what they’re peddling is a religion. Believers in the Zeitgeist Movement, to use that as an example again, emphatically reject any suggestion that the organization they follow is a cult or some sort of quasi-religious belief system; they insist it’s based on fact, and they usually insist that the conspiracy theories upon which their movement is based are also facts.
Conversely, the vast majority of Thrive fans who have posted comments critical of this blog seem to believe, for whatever bizarre reason, that the assertions contained in the movie are factual, though I admit that many of them seem more interested in arguing the efficacy of the film’s or the filmmakers’ proposed solutions—the spiritual meat of conspirituality, in a sense—more than the facts. (This is why I get so many comments to the effect of, “Well, what are you doing to save the world?” or “Why don’t you do something more productive with your time?”) As I pointed out in my February article, the arena in which traditional fact-based debunkers have been battling conspiracy theorists over the past few years is rapidly shrinking—largely because conspiracy theorists have come to care less and less about, and swayed less and less by, matters of fact and evidence. It’s the faith and the beliefs that are important to them, not the facts. That’s a world I would rather not live in, but unfortunately I think that’s the world we’re headed for.
The main point of this article is this: I hypothesized some time ago that Thrive is essentially a religious text, proffering beliefs that are probably more correctly classified as tenets of faith rather than matters of fact, and I believe the Journal of Contemporary Religion article lends support to this hypothesis. Furthermore, the Ward/Voas article gives us a name for this emerging religion—conspirituality—and begins to lay an analytical framework for us to understand it.
Boiled down to its core essence, it’s a rather simple equation. New Age beliefs plus conspiracy theories equals conspirituality, a religious belief, and the Internet is conspirituality’s church. I think everyone who sees Thrive should be aware that, when they hear Mr. Gamble’s soothing voice and watch pretty CGI images of glowing purple space donuts, they may well be taking part in a sort of high-tech mass—an initiation rite into a new religious belief system. This system is not an organized church in any traditional sense, but I think the signs are becoming ever more clear that it is a religion, or starting to become one. Where this belief system will take its adherents in the future, no one yet knows.
The big news in Thrive-land this week is that the movie is now free. Originally released on the Internet on November 11 of last year—a date that supposedly has some kind of cosmological significance in New Age circles—the film was initially available only as a download for $5, although it was ripped to various torrent sites and even YouTube within hours after its release. Now it seems that Foster Gamble and Clear Compass Media don’t care if you pay for the movie anymore. You can now download the film from the Thrive website for free. We can speculate as to the motives for taking this new approach to the movie, but up until now there certainly have been those—even people highly complimentary of the film—who criticized the fact that you had to pay to see it. This move is likely to silence those critics.
Yesterday, coinciding with the release of Thrive free, I noted a sudden and dramatic upswell in page views here on the Thrive Debunked blog, which is now more popular than it ever was. Each of the last two days has been a record-breaker for page views. As people discover the film, in many cases they discover the debunking at the same time. One of the most common ways people come to this blog is by clicking from various forums, some conspiracy-related, others not, where a link has been posted. In almost all cases the paradigm is the same. A user on a forum will make a topic to the effect of, “Hey, have you seen this movie Thrive?” Usually the user posting the topic will be complimentary toward the film. Within a few replies someone will take a different view of the movie, and they’ll very often provide a link to this blog. I’ve seen forums from Germany, Romania, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Australia and Israel where this blog has been mentioned and discussed. This tells me that Thrive Debunked is doing exactly what I hoped it would do: it’s serving as a powerful counterpoint to make people think about the issues before blindly accepting the spurious claims in Thrive as gospel truth.
Because we now suddenly have many more readers thanks to the free release of the film, I thought I would provide a fresh welcome to those who are discovering Thrive Debunked for the first time. This blog has now been around for about five months. There’s a lot of material here and a lot of discussion especially in the comments. Here, therefore, is a quick guide to what parts of the film have been debunked, what remains to be done, and where you might be able to find answers to some of the most common questions about the movie and its claims.
Full Debunking of Thrive, Part I. This article, by our contributor SlayerX3, is the first of three to try to go through Thrive very quickly, tackling many of its claims in sequence. Not every claim in the first third of the film is dealt with here, but you’ll find comments on the film’s intro, the “torus” shape with which Foster Gamble is so entranced, the “Flower of Life” claims (which are dealt with in much greater detail in other articles), the supposed 64 energy units, Steven Greer and his UFO claims, more UFO material from Edgar Dean Mitchell, Clifford Stone, Harry Allen Jordan, Dwynne Anderson and John Callahan; and finishing up with crop circles. All of these subjects are roundly debunked.
Full Debunking of Thrive, Part II. SlayerX3’s second outing, this one at the middle section of the film. Here you’ll find debunkings of the UFO and energy claims of James Gilliland and Daniel Sheehan; the movie’s nonsensical distortions of the work of Nikola Tesla; free energy suppression; Adam Trombly (himself the subject of two additional articles), John Bedini and John Hutchinson, who all claim to have invented “free energy” machines; and Eugene Mallove, who was not killed (as the movie claims) because of his work on cold fusion.
Full Debunking of Thrive, Part III. The third in the full debunking series by SlayerX3 debunks the following: oil and energy empires; Foster Gamble’s misstatements about the Green Revolution; loss of biodiversity and environmental harm; Vandana Shiva; free trade agreements and globalism; a fake quote from Henry Kissinger; NEA and the Rockefellers; John Taylor Gatto; Deepak Chopra; alt-med quackery from R. Royal Raymond Fife, Rene Cassie, and Max Gerson; and the controversial Hoxsey Therapy.
Debunkings of Specific Topics and People
Crop Circles—Debunked! This article demonstrates how and why we can be sure that crop circles are not created by extraterrestrials, are not mysterious or unexplainable, and certainly are not messages from aliens telling us how to turn spinning electric donuts into “free energy” machines. In terms of page views, this is one of the most popular articles on the blog and seems especially offensive to fans of Thrive. It was the response to this article that began to convince me that the target audience of Thrive is the New Age religious crowd. For some reason I do not understand, the notion that crop circles are not extraterrestrial in origin is deeply offensive to many people in the New Age milieu. This article has surpassed the David Icke exposé as the single most controversial piece we’ve ever done on this blog.
Thrive Makers Back Down on “Flower of Life” Claim: This article details an extremely rare event—a factual correction by the Thrive makers. In this case they admitted that the claim, made in the movie by Nassim Haramein, that the “Flower of Life” design at the Osirian Temple in Abydos, Egypt is somehow “burned into the rock at the atomic level,” is in fact false. Nevertheless, despite this retraction, many Thrive fans continue to believe that the “Flower of Life” was put there by aliens and not by crafty Egyptian artisans.
Who Is Nassim Haramein? This article is a profile of Nassim Haramein, the person who makes the “Flower of Life” claim and most of the “ancient astronauts” claims in the film. As this article shows, Mr. Haramein has a history of making pseudoscientific and pseudohistorical claims that are met with extreme skepticism by members of the legitimate scientific community. An example of such a claim is his inventive “Schwarzschild Proton” theory, which postulates that every atom is a mini-black hole, despite the fact that this theory flies in the face of established physics. Yet, according to many Thrive fans in the comments, Mr. Haramein is a scientific visionary right up there with Galileo, Copernicus and Einstein. I’m not ready to book my plane tickets to Oslo for Mr. Haramein’s Nobel Prize acceptance ceremony quite yet.
Ancient Astronauts—Debunked! This article takes apart the ridiculous notion that Egyptians, Mayans and Incas were too stupid, backwards and ignorant to have created great works of ancient engineering, which Thrive claims must have been built by aliens instead. As you’ll see in the article, this idea rests awkwardly on a single untenable assumption that manages to offend historical fact, scientific reality and cultural sensitivity all at the same time. If there’s an old paperback copy of Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods on your bookshelf, you need to read this article.
Who Is Adam Trombly? This article must be read in conjunction with Exclusive: Allegations About Adam Trombly Present Potential Credibility Crisis for Thrive. The first article, the earliest person profile on the blog, began our descent into the Adam Trombly saga. Adam Trombly claims to have invented a “free energy” machine that will solve all the world’s energy problems. As you’ll see in the second article, another inventor, David Farnsworth, came forward in March 2012 and claimed that the machine shown in the movie and identified as Trombly’s was actually invented by him (Farnsworth), and that it can’t do what Thrive claims it can do. I don’t know what the absolute truth is here. Despite a lengthy back-and-forth between Mr. Farnsworth and Mr. Trombly, as well as additional comments from Mr. Trombly’s daughter and Foster Gamble himself, the two questions I have about the machine—(1) did Adam Trombly really build it? and (2) can it do what Thrive says it can do?—remain unanswered.
Global Domination Agenda—Debunked! This is my personal favorite of all the articles on this blog. In it I debunk the idea that the Illuminati or New World Order, which Foster Gamble calls the “Global Domination Agenda,” actually exists and is trying to control the world. In fact it does not exist, but the article attempts to explain why believers in this bizarre conspiracy theory are not only utterly convinced that it does exist, but why everything they see and hear seems to confirm their belief. Hint: it’s a self-reinforcing delusion that is specifically designed to be impervious to anything in the way of reason or evidence. My one regret about this article is that its length probably scares away most casual readers, but you can’t really describe the issues involved in Illuminati/New World Order conspiracy theories without using a lot of words.
False Flag Attacks—Debunked! This article attacks a small section of the film where Foster Gamble is guilty of serious historical distortions, especially regarding the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that was a prominent milestone on the U.S. road to involvement in the Vietnam War. In the article I explain why Gulf of Tonkin was not a “false flag” attack, how and why conspiracy theorists get the whole idea of “false flag” attacks totally wrong, and why, contrary to what the film asserts, belief in the bizarre and ridiculous “9/11 was an inside job” theory is in fact declining rather than increasing. Hint: it’s declining because the idea that “9/11 was an inside job” is a bunch of crap, and the vast majority of the American public knows it’s a bunch of crap. Nevertheless, the true believers have chosen to go down with the sinking ship on this one; devotees of conspiracy theories are ferociously resistant to the reality that fewer people believe 9/11 conspiracy theories now than at any time since the disaster itself.
Who Is David Icke? Formerly the most controversial piece on this site–until surpassed by the crop circles article–this article profiles British conspiracy theorist David Icke, who, if Thrive had a conventional cast list, would probably get top billing as the star of the film. Mr. Icke believes that the world is secretly run by an evil race of reptilian shape-shifting aliens. “But wait!” you protest, “he doesn’t say that in Thrive!” This article explains why, and it also explains why Mr. Icke’s reptilian shape-shifting alien theories are especially dangerous and offensive.
Thrive’s Philosophy, Purpose and Broader Context
Should We Give Thrive a Pass on its Facts, And Instead Praise its “Message?” This article answers many of the objections Thrive fans have to why I don’t just go quietly into the sunset. Although the point of the movie seems to be to establish conspiracy theories as a theodicy for New Age belief systems (see the article for an explanation of what that means), it does still purport to be a documentary, and as such it has a duty to present the facts responsibly.
Progressive Think Tank Slams Thrive’s Political Agenda. This article could also go into the feedback/response section, but I put it here because it’s a good exposure of the neo-libertarian, pro-Ron Paul political subtext of the film, which many viewers who don’t follow politics may miss entirely. Much of this article is my critique of a progressive reviewer’s take on the film, and my thoughts on how conspiracy theories, such as those advanced by Thrive, are increasingly becoming intertwined with libertarian political ideology. The progressive reviewer herself chimed in in the comments section, as well as an especially shrill Ron Paul supporter.
A Post at the Sister Blog: Thrive Demonstrates How the Conspiracy World is Changing. This is a portal to an article I posted on my other blog, which is not specifically limited to Thrive, dealing with how the world of conspiracy theories is changing in the wake of the ignominious death of the “9/11 Truth Movement.” The article mentions Thrive as an example of how conspiracy theories are increasingly being deployed either as recruiting tools for particular groups or as marketing angles for ideological, political and even religious belief systems.
Reception and Reaction to the Film
JREF Reviews Thrive! This article, fairly short, showcases a review the film received from a writer for the James Randi Educational Foundation, a group devoted to skepticism and busting woo beliefs. Needless to say, the Randi folks didn’t exactly have Thrive on their best-films-of-2011 list.
Another Negative Review of Thrive Hits the Nail on the Head. This article presents the thoughts of a noted UK environmentalist blogger and activist on Thrive. Predictably, he savaged it, and many of the arguments he made against the film echo criticisms that had already been made on this blog. Be sure to see the comments on this one, where the UK blogger himself chimes in, and gets some heavy flak from outraged Thrive fans.
Thrive—A Flop? This article is somewhat outdated. Thrive seems to have become much more popular recently, but in December there were some indications that it had peaked. Nevertheless, there is still some topical material here, such as the controversy among conspiracy theorists as to whether the film is “disinformation” and especially whether its promotional poster contains “Illuminati symbolism.” It astonishes me that anyone could be so loony as to think that, but conspiracy theorists never cease to amaze me with what they’ll be willing to swallow.
Just for Fun
Poll: Is the Creator of This Blog a “Paid Disinformation Agent?” This article is a specific response to those readers (you know who you are) who insist that no one in their right mind could ever criticize the shining truth of Thrive, and therefore anyone who does so must be an agent provocateur paid by _________ (fill in the blank—the government, the Rockefellers, the oil industry, or whoever you most love to hate). In the poll at the end of the article you get the chance to vote on whether I am really a “paid disinformation agent,” but be careful—I might be logging your IP and telling the Illuminati death squads exactly where to find you!
Debunkings We Have Not Done Yet
This site is not yet complete. There are several topics I’d still like to tackle at some point, but, as I do have a job, a life, loved ones etc., I can’t spend all my time working on this blog (contrary to what some people think). While I can’t guarantee I’ll get to all of these topics, here are some topics I’d like to cover in the future.
- Claims regarding fractional banking and the Federal Reserve. There is a lot of demand for a debunking of Thrive’s views on this topic, but as anything to do with banking bores me silly, it’s not a topic I relish taking on. However, SlayerX3 is reportedly working on an article along these lines. I think it will be a crucial addition to the site.
- UFOs. Thrive traffics in so much UFO folklore and apocrypha that it seems incomplete for a site devoted to debunking it to not have an article specifically devoted to UFO claims.
- Global warming denial. Thrive doesn’t hit it that hard, but I observe from other sources (interviews, etc.) that there are some indications that Foster Gamble is a global warming denier. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that many conspiracy theorists deny the proven scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change, so it’s relevant enough to be included here. This is a topic I know much about and have written about before on other blogs. As it’s not a huge part of Thrive, it’s a lower priority, but I do hope to get to it.
- Other claims regarding free energy. This is a very rich topic and I’ve learned a great deal about it in the past five months. Lately with the Trombly-Farnsworth debate we’ve focused a lot on energy claims, so the time is not right to do another article on it quite yet. However, it may be coming in the future.
Contrary to what it may seem like at first glance, I don’t dislike Thrive fans. I want to reach them and get them to expand their thinking. My whole point here is to educate people and get them to ask for evidence before accepting someone’s word for anything. In that spirit, I welcome all the new Thrive viewers who will be attracted to the movie now that it’s free. Read the articles, join the discussion, and understand what this movie is about, why it exists and what it’s telling the world. I already feel that this blog has been phenomenally successful, and I look forward to the discussions to come.
I posted an article today at my other much more long-established (and less well known) blog, the Muertos Blog, entitled The Conspiracy World is Changing: Are You Ready For It? Follow that link to read it in full. I decided to post it there because the subject matter of that article goes well beyond Thrive, thus exceeding the scope of this blog; however, as Thrive and its place in the seedy world of conspiracy theories are an important example of the effect I want to discuss in that article, I thought I would do a quick post here mentioning it and directing interested readers to it.
My main argument in that article is stated thusly:
“The best and most concise way I can put it is this: conspiracy theorists do not want, today in 2012, what they used to want ten, five or even three years ago. The endgame for them—the “finish line,” if you will—is no longer to convince significant numbers of people in the mainstream that Conspiracy Theory X or Y is factually true. Nowadays, conspiracy theories are being used as a vehicle to advance other ideas, usually a set of ideological or even religious principles. The factual veracity of conspiracy material is no longer as important as it once was. Consequently, debunkers of conspiracy theories—who are focused on what is factual, rational and supportable in objective terms—are going to find themselves increasingly outclassed in this new environment.”
I believe Thrive demonstrates this effect in a very profound way. We are now moving toward a world in which the factual veracity of conspiracy theories is being questioned less and less often, as believers in conspiracies are herded with increasing fervor toward predetermined, pre-packaged ideological conclusions. The article over at the Muertos Blog goes into great detail about how we got there (hint: Zeitgeist was the unwitting trailblazer), and most of the Thrive material is at the end. I stress that context is important, which is why I strongly suggest reading the full article, but here is an excerpt of my discussion on Thrive and what this blog has taught me about conspiracy thinking as it exists today:
“I’ve already noticed this trend on the Thrive Debunked blog. Although the majority of people who post comments on the blog are Thrive fans who are angry that anyone would criticize the movie, a surprisingly few number of them seem to be angry because they think the facts are something different than what I demonstrate they are. Indeed, most of them seem to be angry because they say that by criticizingThrive I’m preventing the world from becoming a better place by not acceptingThrive and its messages as true. This is why so many comments take a tack similar to, “you’re missing the point” or “the movie isn’t meant to be debunked.” When the movie is attacked, its fans instinctively leap to the defense of its ideology, whereas leaping to the defense of its facts seems to be a secondary consideration.”
For those who may be interested in a wider view of how Thrive fits into a broader context of conspiracy thinking and New Age belief systems, I hope this article gives you some food for thought. As always, thanks for reading.
As stated here, the purpose of this blog is to bring to light the many errors, distortions, and inaccuracies contained in the conspiracy theory documentary Thrive. My objections to Thrive are primarily fact-based. It presents many claims as fact which are simply untrue: for example, that crop circles are of extraterrestrial origin, that Adam Trombly has invented a working “free energy” device, and that an insular group of conspirators control the world. These things are not true, and many other claims the movie makes aren’t true either.
A common thread in many of the comments I’ve received on this blog, however, has been to take me to task for focusing on the factual veracity of claims made in Thrive. According to certain commenters, the factual accuracy of the film and its claims aren’t the point, and instead of debunking them, I should be praising what some people view as the movie’s “positive message.” This article will evaluate that assertion critically, or at least as critically as an essentially faith-based proposition can be evaluated.
Should we give Thrive a pass on its purported facts, or some of its purported facts, in favor of praising either its overall “message” or the good intentions of its creators, such as Foster Gamble? I would clearly answer no to this question, but it’s equally clear that many fans of the film would unhesitatingly answer yes. This difference in approach illustrates some interesting things about the movie itself and the audience at which it is aimed.
Do Facts Matter?
On the face of it this question seems silly. Of course they do. Facts always matter. Without ascertaining what’s fact and what’s not, the world is unnavigable. However, it appears that, when one delves into the strange New Age netherworld of the sorts of subjects covered in Thrive—UFOs, magical energy devices, ancient astronauts, and conspiracy theories—facts become a whole lot less important, at least to the people who believe in these things.
Let’s take, for example, Adam Trombly’s “free energy” machine. An early article on this blog presented the facts that, not only is there no evidence that Trombly’s machine works, but the principle by which it supposedly operates violates the laws of physics. In the comments on that and other pages, however, some defenders of Thrive don’t seem to be very troubled by this. Believers in “free energy” devices, when confronted with facts demonstrating that a particular machine has not been proven to work, will often start arguing about possibilities and potentials of unlimited energy devices, sometimes citing examples of other particular machines—whose operations have not been proven either. You can see examples of this sort of argumentation in the comments to that page. To them, therefore, what seems to be important is that a person believes in the possibility of “free energy.” When you come at it from that tack, whether Trombly’s specific machine does or does not work suddenly recedes in importance. The factual question of whether it does or doesn’t work is no longer the key issue you’re arguing about.
But what does this say about Thrive? It seems safe to conclude that Foster Gamble believes strongly in “free energy” devices, and promoting that belief to the public seems to be one of the key objectives of Thrive. One would assume, therefore, that Adam Trombly and his device are, if not the best and most compelling example of “free energy” devices that Gamble could find, at least a representative example. Even if Gamble, in preparation for making the movie, interviewed 50 inventors of so-called “free energy” devices and only Trombly was willing to sign up to appear on camera, it wouldn’t make sense that Gamble would put him in the movie if his specific device wasn’t capable of illustrating the point Gamble wants to make about “free energy.” Seen in that light, isn’t the failure of Trombly’s case to persuade us that “free energy” devices are real extremely damaging to Gamble’s argument in general?
Don’t misunderstand what I’m arguing here. One failed example is not an excuse to trash an entire idea. If you can show me a working example of a “free energy” device whose operation is clearly and publicly verified by reputable scientific sources—a “free energy” device whose operation and functioning are unmistakable, explainable by science and capable of being reproduced—I will concede that “free energy” exists, and the fact that Trombly failed to build such a device is irrelevant. But what I am saying is that if Trombly is the best example of this phenomenon that Thrive can offer us, and that example fails to make its case, doesn’t that diminish the ability of the movie Thrive to persuade us that its arguments are credible?
Again, just to be clear: the point I’m making is that, by using Adam Trombly as a (presumably) representative example of “free energy,” Thrive turns out to be not very persuasive that “free energy” exists. This may be just because Trombly is a bad example, in which case the makers of Thrive chose him poorly; or it may be because there’s nothing to “free energy” to begin with, in which case the makers of Thrive are asserting something they either know is false or ought to know if they had done proper research into the matter. Either way it seems inescapable that Thrive’s competence and credibility as a source diminishes as soon as you realize that the claims the movie makes about Trombly and his machine don’t pan out.
To at least some defenders of the movie, however, this analysis doesn’t follow at all. To them it doesn’t really matter whether Trombly is a good example or a bad one—they wish to believe that “free energy” exists, and the fact that the specific inventor showcased in Thrive has not created a working “free energy” machine is not permitted to impeach this conclusion. This is purely faith-based, result-driven reasoning.
I’m using the Trombly case as an example here, but it is by no means the only example. It would be one thing if it was the only unpersuasive example. But it isn’t. If you pile the numerous errors, distortions and unwarranted conclusions in Thrive atop one another, it quickly becomes clear that the movie as a whole has an extremely serious problem with basic factual credibility on multiple levels.
Should We Cherry-Pick the Claims in Thrive, Believe Some and Leave Others Alone?
Another thread that comes through in some of the pro-Thrive comments suggests that viewers are approaching it as a sort of cafeteria smorgasbord where you’re expected to take one or more claims it makes at face value while dismissing, or ignoring, others. The movie offers so many conspiracy theories and New Age perspectives, changing gears so rapidly, that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The problem is compounded when one looks at the Thrive Movement website, especially its section on the “Global Domination Agenda,” and sees links to a bunch of other conspiracy theories that the movie didn’t have time to cover, as well as mentions of conspiracy theorists, like Alex Jones, who themselves espouse particular conspiracy theories not specifically mentioned in the film. It’s difficult to accept that anybody could believe the literal truth of all of the conspiracy theories mentioned in Thrive or referenced, directly or indirectly, on the website, but, as I have long experience dealing with conspiracy theorists, I know that it is (unfortunately) possible, perhaps even likely.
A good example of the “cherry-picking” approach concerns David Icke. As most people familiar with the conspiracy underground know, Icke, perhaps the most well-known conspiracy theorist in the world, is instantly identified with his bizarre theories that the world is secretly run by evil reptilian shape-shifting aliens. These theories are science-fiction redresses of the old anti-Semitic “Jewish world conspiracy” theories that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with aliens standing in for Jews. Icke appears in Thrive—in fact, although he isn’t interviewed until later in the movie, his face flashes on screen within the first seven minutes of the film—but does not talk about reptilian aliens on-screen. One of my strongest objections to Thrive is that Icke is involved in it and quoted as a reliable source about anything, even though he doesn’t push his reptilian alien crap in this specific film. Pro-Thrive readers of this blog have taken me to task for this. According to them, I’m supposed to overlook the fact that Icke believes in reptilian shape-shifting aliens and instead focus on positive things he says in Thrive. (Like what? The false claims of a “Global Domination Agenda”?)
I remain unconvinced that Foster Gamble put Icke on-screen just because he had something supposedly worthwhile to say that is unconnected to his reptilian alien delusions, as some Thrive fans have asserted. For one thing, Icke’s entire worldview stems from this delusion. If you read his writings it’s difficult to find anything he talks about that isn’t connected in some way to his elaborate sci-fi conspiracy mythology. For another thing, David Icke’s associations are so toxic that there’s no chance anyone who is not already predisposed to accept, or at least consider, Icke’s ideology could overlook them. The fact that David Icke appears in this movie at all is a not-very-subtle bid to market Thrive and its conclusions to Icke’s core audience, whom Gamble is obviously interested in reaching. Thus, don’t tell me that the fact that Icke believes in evil reptilians from outer space is somehow irrelevant to what he’s doing in this movie. Whether Foster Gamble himself believes in evil reptilians from outer space is not the point—he probably doesn’t (I certainly hope he doesn’t!)—but if you want to reach conspiracy theorists who dwell at that advanced level of fantasy, you can do no better than to utilize David Icke as a mouthpiece.
Again, as with the Trombly issue, if Icke was the only unreliable or questionable source in the movie, it might be easier to look past his presence and simply chalk up Gamble’s invitation for Icke to appear as a fluke in the “bad call, Ripley!” category. But in Thrive you don’t just get David Icke. You get Nassim Haramein, touted as a reliable source on ancient history but who plays fast and loose with the facts; you get Steven Greer, whose claim to fame is pushing the-gubbermint-is-covering-up-UFOs conspiracy theories; you get Edgar Mitchell, a former astronaut known for making outlandish conspiracy-oriented claims that NASA has officially denied; you get Deepak Chopra, well-known in New Age and alt-med circles; the list goes on and on. Inviting people to your movie to espouse controversial opinions is fine, and I have no problem with that. But these people are asserting as matters of fact many things which are demonstrably false. Everyone has a right to their own opinion. But nobody has a right to their own facts.
Okay. So Foster Gamble is wrong about crop circles, free energy, the Global Domination Agenda, the Rockefellers, alt-med cures, Nicola Tesla, UFO suppression, alien astronauts, and countless other things. One can certainly argue that he made a couple of poor decisions, credibility-wise, by giving the floor to Adam Trombly, whose claims cannot be verified, and David Icke, whose claims are something out of bad science fiction. Should Mr. Gamble’s good intentions in making Thrive insulate him from criticism on these points?
I’m sure Foster Gamble is a nice guy. On-screen he comes across as extremely personable. Before he made this movie he was widely associated with a campaign to ban (or reduce) industrial pesticide spraying—which I regard as a good cause and effort well spent. I’m quite sure he honestly wants to see the world improve and to see people lead better lives. I’m also quite sure he works very hard and puts a lot of effort into activities that he believes advances these goals.
Here’s the thing: so do I. However, I do not hear defenders of the Thrive movie arguing that my good intentions should insulate me from criticism for doing what I do on this blog.
Indeed, who doesn’t have good intentions? Who honestly doesn’t think the world can and should be improved, that people should live longer and more fulfilling lives, and that social justice should prevail? It’s not as if it’s so unusual to find a person as well-intentioned as Foster Gamble that a person with such intentions suddenly becomes immune from criticism on the basis of factual inaccuracies or logic errors, especially in a media piece that is, as Thrive purports to be, a documentary supposedly telling the truth about “how things really are.”
Personally, I devote a great deal of money and time to volunteer and charity activities. I believe strongly, for instance, in providing better access to education, especially higher education. I’m out there working on my ideas to “save the world” just as hard as Foster Gamble is working on his. What sort of special privileges or immunities do I believe this entitles me to? Absolutely none at all.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: peoples’ ideas for improving the world can, and usually do, conflict with one another. I believe that conspiracy theories impair peoples’ ability to think rationally and thus participate meaningfully in public discourse. Therefore, refuting conspiracy theories and promoting the facts is something I feel is a strong social good. I would venture to say Foster Gamble would disagree. He seems to believe that promoting conspiracy theories is a social good, or otherwise he wouldn’t have made Thrive in the first place. I do not question Gamble’s good intentions. But it’s a simple fact that Gamble’s activities in promoting conspiracy theories directly conflict with my own efforts to refute them. He has money to burn and an audience of millions, so he’ll probably make a lot more headway on his goal that I will on mine, but that doesn’t change that I think Foster Gamble is wrong. Am I not allowed to assert that view because I also believe that, however wrong he is, he at least is acting out of good intentions and pure motives?
What Is the “Point” of Thrive, Anyway?
Here we get to the real issue: why was Thrive created, what is its ultimate “message,” and who is it aimed at?
When I first began this blog I was reluctant to speculate too much as to Foster Gamble and the other makers’ motives in creating the movie, because those motives are extremely unclear. After studying the film and reaction to it for the past two and a half months, however, I believe we can make a reasonable hypothesis as to why this film was created and what it’s ultimately trying to say.
I’ve recently had a fascinating conversation over email with an academic, who happens to be an expert on conspiracy theories and New Age mythology. This person, whose credentials are impressive, is not a “debunker” as I am—he studies the phenomenon of conspiracy theories and why people believe them, whereas my study of them (and I do not study them in an academic realm) focuses on ascertaining their factual veracity. After my conversation with this person regarding Thrive, which helped me to see the larger context in which the movie operates, I think I understand the point of the film much better than I did in November. This topic is worth expanding upon and will probably be the subject of a self-contained article.
The upshot of my conversation with the expert was that Thrive was created as a means to explain, at least partially, the failure of New Age concepts—which have been around and popular since at least the ‘70s—to result in the transformative change that many New Age believers insisted would flow from the implementation of their ideas. Here is what he had to say on the subject (he asked that his identifying information not be disclosed on this blog, but he gave me permission to post his words):
“I suspect that what’s going on is that New Age, now entering its third generation, has developed a theodicy. Now, this is a theological term, but it essentially means an explanation of the existence of evil – why bad things happen to good people. For some of those in the New Age milieu – Foster Gamble, David Icke, Whitley Strieber, Duncan Rhodes and others, all incidentally in middle age and with a long term involvement in the New Age milieu – an explanation is needed as to why, if we’ve entered the Age of Aquarius, is the world less peaceful, equal and progressive than ever? Conspiracy theories offer such a theodicy – the New Age hasn’t happened because evil people prevented it from happening.”
Once you start to consider Thrive from this angle, everything falls into place. It suddenly makes sense why Thrive carefully strokes the various tropes of New Age belief systems: UFOs, ancient astronauts, alt-med miracle cures, benevolent aliens and magical free energy machines. It also makes sense why, once the movie has proclaimed its sympathy with these themes, it turns on a fire hose of conspiracy craziness, theory after theory thrown willy-nilly at the audience in an attempt to make one or more of them stick. The movie’s point, therefore, is this: “The reason that our New Age beliefs haven’t transformed the world is because the evil conspirators are thwarting us.”
This also explains why Thrive’s supporters aren’t generally swayed by factual arguments or applications of logic and critical thinking. The point is not to establish literal, verifiable truth (though the film seems, on the surface, to want to do this as well). The point is to validate an essentially spiritual belief system. At its core, then, seen from this angle, Thrive is basically a religious text. A Thrive supporter is no more likely to abandon his support for the film, when presented evidence that crop circles are terrestrial in origin or the Global Domination Agenda does not exist, than a Mormon is to leave the Church of Latter-Day Saints when told that there is no archaeological evidence that the Nephites and Lamanites actually existed.
That Thrive supporters take the movie this way—whether they are consciously aware of it or not—is borne out by comments like this one, which seems to equate criticism of the movie with some sort of assault on the primacy of the human spirit:
“Thrive is not out to get anyone other than the people that Gamble feels are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in today. I believe that all Thrive is trying to do is show people the power they have, which to me is amazing because all I see everywhere are reminders of how I need to better myself or change who I am because its not good enough. I don’t feel the need to back up any claims with links or anything of that nature because you can’t cite the claim I have which is this; Every human being has the capability of being amazing no matter what but there are people who try very hard to keep us unaware of this….I just love the movie Thrive because it gives me hope. All I want is for as many people to be inspired by this movie the way I was because it is too hard for me to see and hear about so many people living with so little while we enjoy the benefits of their destruction.”
So Thrive, then, is probably intended to be accepted on spiritual and philosophical terms—not factual ones.
That means that unless I’m ready to give battle on the supposed spiritual basis of Thrive, I need to delete this blog immediately, right? Not quite.
There’s Just One Problem…Thrive Purports to be a Documentary.
Unfortunately Thrive doesn’t wear its intentions on its sleeve. On the face of it, it appears to be a documentary—a movie intended to state what the facts actually are. The fact that I had to talk to an academic expert on conspiracy theories and New Age beliefs to realize that it is not really a documentary demonstrates this. It also leaves the movie and its makes with the same fundamental problem that drew me to begin debunking it in the first place: the things that it says are facts are not, in fact, true.
Appreciating the New Age context in which many supporters of Thrive perceive the movie is one thing. However, it doesn’t change that the movie is still out there claiming to be a documentary and telling people that the Rockefellers control their food supply and that evil oil companies are suppressing extraterrestrial technology. So long as statements of fantasy such as these are continued to be passed off as objective fact, attacking Thrive on the basis of its factual accuracy is, in my view, entirely fair game. To argue otherwise is to argue, effectively, either that (i) facts don’t matter; (ii) Foster Gamble’s good intentions in making the film should immunize him from criticism about its assertions; or (iii) that the purported “goodness” of the movie’s overall message outweighs the transgressions it makes against the truth. This article, I feel, has already effectively refuted (i) and (ii). Point (iii) makes me uneasy because it’s essentially an “ends justify the means” argument, which is always dangerous.
Regardless of whether Foster Gamble would himself agree that the purported factual assertions in the movie should be taken with a “grain of salt”—and it would be very problematic if he did state that unequivocally—there’s no question that some people out there do believe everything Thrive says. I can state that, between comments received on this blog and replies directed to me on Twitter, I have, since beginning this blog, seen an example of an assertion of the direct factual accuracy of every major claim made in the film. Granted, this is spread among many different commenters, but if each individual claim in the movie is believed to be literal fact by at least one person, that still adds up to a lot of people believing in a lot of untrue claims. This is the problem with movies that play fast and loose with the facts masquerading as documentaries. It’s deceptive. If you’re trying to tell people the way things really are, here on Earth in our real world, by doing so you owe at least a moral duty to tell these things accurately, and that means doing diligent research to make sure the claims you want to make are really true. Given the ease with which I and the other contributors to this blog have debunked many of its claims, I’m left with serious doubts that Mr. Gamble and the others responsible for Thrive have done the research they should have done before passing off these claims as true.
Should we give Thrive a pass on its facts and instead praise its motives or its message? So long as its makers offer it as a factual documentary, no, we shouldn’t. It’s just that simple.
One of the key claims in the Thrive movie, and in fact a major assumption on which the movie is based, is the idea of “ancient astronauts”—the supposition that extraterrestrial beings came to Earth in the early history of the human race and imparted knowledge to humans. As with most other claims and basic assumptions in Thrive, the idea of ancient astronauts is unsupported by facts and contrary to logic and critical reasoning. It is purely a faith-based proposition, and this article will explain why.
What Are “Ancient Astronauts” And What Does Thrive Claim About Them?
The idea of ancient astronauts is very popular in New Age circles. The basic idea is that supposedly aliens visited Earth thousands of years ago and gave humans knowledge that they wouldn’t otherwise have had. Thrive argues that part of this knowledge was the “torus” shape that Foster Gamble asserts is some sort of pattern for unlimited, free energy. This pattern is supposedly observable in the “Flower of Life” and virtually anything else in ancient or early modern art or architecture that involves 64 circles or really 64 of anything.
Much of the first quarter of Thrive either deals with ancient astronauts explicitly or implicitly. At 20:25 of the film, for instance, there is the explicit claim that alien intelligences were visiting Earth in UFOs in ancient times. Prior to that, however, there are various claims made, such as those by Nassim Haramein, of things that are supposedly of extraterrestrial origin, “proving” the ancient astronaut theory correct. At 20:10 in the film, Mr. Haramein states that the Egyptians, Incas and Mayans all talk about “sun gods” who come to Earth and teach them engineering, writing and all of their science. Evidently we (the human race) are supposed to get back to our extraterrestrial roots and discover the “gift” of free unlimited energy that these aliens supposedly gave us thousands of years ago.
What Is The Evidence That Thrive Relies On To Claim Ancient Astronauts Are Real?
The answer to this question is simple: none whatsoever. All of the claims made in Thrive about ancient astronauts are based on the same basic assumption: that ancient peoples couldn’t possibly have built this or that structure, or known about this concept or that concept, and therefore this “proves” that they must have been given these ideas by a superior intelligence.
That’s it. That’s all the Thrive movie has to support its claims about ancient astronauts. No evidence at all. Just an assumption followed by a supposition, neither of which are logically or factually supportable.
Example: at 18:45 of the film, Foster Gamble, finishing up his talk about the 64-circled “Flower of Life” design, says, “Is it a coincidence that this design appears on two different continents?” We have already seen on this blog that the Thrive movie’s claims about the “Flower of Life” being “burned into the structure of the rock” are false, and that the makers have acknowledged that they are false. Later, trying to link the number 64 with recent discoveries about human DNA, Gamble says of ancient peoples (at 20:02), “But how on earth did they know about it?”
This assumption is nothing less than a frontal assault on human intelligence. Mr. Gamble and Mr. Haramein are suggesting that ancient peoples were so stupid, simple-minded and helpless that they couldn’t have come up with anything worthwhile unless that knowledge was given to them by aliens.
There is also another incorrect assumption lying behind this one: that knowledge of science and technology in the modern world is always a perfectly linear expansion, that nothing that has ever been known or discovered in human history has ever been lost or forgotten, and that modern understandings of science and engineering are the sina qua non of intelligence. That is to say, if we can’t explain how the Egyptians built a pyramid in terms roughly analogous to understanding of the processes of building the Empire State Building, this precludes the possibility that the pyramids could have been built by humans.
Although it appeals to an extraterrestrial designer rather than a divine one, ancient astronaut theories are similar in reasoning (or lack thereof) to young-earth creationism and “Intelligent Design.” Right away this should tell you that ancient astronauts are not a rational explanation for the concepts or creations of ancient peoples.
Where Do Modern “Ancient Astronaut” Theories Come From?
Ancient astronauts, as the idea is commonly understood in the circles of New Age believers that are evidently Thrive’s target audience, burst into popular culture in 1968 with a pseudoscientific book called Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken, which is still in print 44 years later. This virtually fact-free book argues that ancient structures such as Stonehenge and the Nazca Lines are too advanced to have been built by ancient peoples, and thus must have been constructed by aliens. Probably the best debunking of von Däniken is this article written by John T. Omohundro way back in 1976 which takes apart both von Däniken’s supposed “evidence” and his faulty reasoning. A more concise criticism can be found on the Skeptic Dictionary page on von Däniken, which states:
“[M]ost of von Däniken’s evidence is in the form of specious and fallacious arguments. His data consists mainly of archaeological sites and ancient myths. He begins with the ancient astronaut assumption and then forces all data to fit the idea. For example, in Nazca, Peru, he explains giant animal drawings in the desert as an ancient alien airport. The likelihood that these drawings related to the natives’ religion or science is not considered. He also frequently reverts to false dilemma reasoning of the following type: ‘Either this data is to be explained by assuming these primitive idiots did this themselves or we must accept the more plausible notion that they got help from extremely advanced peoples who must have come from other planets where such technologies as anti-gravity devices had been invented.’”
These ideas weren’t new even in 1968. This article mentions some of the progenitors of the ancient astronaut theory, and also debunks some other examples from Chariots of the Gods?. But in New Age circles—people who want to believe spiritual “alternative explanations” for things rather than accept factual and rational explanations—von Däniken has been a hero for nearly half a century. Unfortunately, woo beliefs tend to be much more popular than dry facts of history and archaeology.
But Isn’t It True We Don’t Know How The Pyramids (Or Other Ancient Structures) Were Built?
Yes, in some cases it is true. But why does this lead to a binary choice—that if we can’t explain it, we must conclude that it was done by aliens? There is, in fact, another and much more likely possibility: that the ancient peoples did it themselves using means and procedures whose exact natures are no longer extant in the historical record.
Also, do not confuse “we don’t know how they were built” with “the building of these structures is impossible given what we know about physics and engineering.” Believers in ancient astronaut theories constantly confuse these two conclusions. We do not know how the pyramids were built, but the construction of them by human hands is certainly not impossible. Skeptic Dictionary puts it this way:
“We still wonder how the ancient Egyptians raised giant obelisks in the desert and how stone age men and women moved huge cut stones and placed them in position in dolmens and passage graves. We are amazed by the giant carved heads on Easter Island and wonder why they were done, who did them, and why they abandoned the place. We may someday have the answers to our questions, but they are most likely to come from scientific investigation not pseudoscientific speculation. For example, observing contemporary stone age peoples in Papua New Guinea, where huge stones are still found on top of tombs, has taught us how the ancients may have accomplished the same thing with little more than ropes of organic material, wooden levers and shovels, a little ingenuity and a good deal of human strength.”
What we lack is not an understanding of the scientific possibility of building these structures, but the historical records of the processes used to build them. For example, it is clearly not impossible for human beings to haul massive stones, such as those used to build the pyramids at Giza, many miles from a quarry to a construction site. We do it today with trucks and cranes, but many, many historical records exist of it being done in structures all over the world in the days before trucks and cranes. Therefore, we know it is possible. But with the pyramids, the historical record of how they were built has been lost. Did they use pulleys? Ramps? Did they haul the stones on donkeys? Did they use teams of slaves? We don’t know, but the fact that we don’t know doesn’t mean that any or all of these techniques were not or could not have been used.
See the difference? We don’t know how they were built is not the same as we believe that the building of these structures is impossible according to our understanding of science and engineering. Those are two very different concepts, but New Age believers conflate them constantly, and this conflation is the basis for ancient astronaut claims.
But What About Ancient Peoples’ Mythology About Sun Gods Who Taught Them Everything? Isn’t That Evidence of Alien Visitation?
A key part of ancient astronaut bunk is to warp and distort ancient peoples’ mythology and religious beliefs to try to claim that they really were talking about aliens and UFOs. Von Däniken does this in Chariots of the Gods? and Nassim Haramein does exactly the same thing at 20:10 of Thrive. Mr. Haramein claims that Egyptians, Mayas and Incas all had “sun gods” that supposedly taught them science and engineering. This claim is false at least with respect to the Egyptians and Mayas.
The ancient Egyptian sun god was called Ra. I looked up Ra in my Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, by Arthur Cotterell & Rachel Storm, and while I found a very detailed article on Ra’s role as the daily-reborn sun god of Egypt, there was not a single word referring to him teaching science and technology to the Egyptians. You can browse some online resources about Ra (such as this one) and you will also see that there is no mention of Ra’s relationship to science and technology. I read quite a lot about Egyptian mythology in my early years, and I don’t recall ever hearing this. If anyone more versed in Egyptian mythology than I am can correct me if this is a misconception, I invite them to do so—but please come armed with a direct quotation from a reliable source before commenting.
Mayan mythology and religion is extraordinarily complex. In researching this article, as near as I can tell the Mayan sun god was called Kinich Ahau, and he was primarily associated with music and poetry—not science and engineering. Clearly there is no mention of this god, at least in the materials I could find, “teaching” ancient peoples how to build anything. Again, if anyone who knows Mayan mythology wishes to dispute this characterization, I’ll do an update to this blog with a correction—but again, come armed with direct quotations from reliable sources.
I have a friend who is very much into Mayan culture, and who just got back from an archaeological dig in Guatemala. (His blog is here). I asked him about the sun god stuff. His answer: it’s garbage. Mr. Haramein appears to be mistaken.
He does have a point, however, when it comes to the Incan sun god. That god was called Inti and was the most important god in the Incan pantheon. This site refers to legends that Inti “taught civilization” to Manco Cápac, the mythological founder of the Incan civilization. Presumably the teaching of “civilization” involves science and engineering.
But before you conclude that this is “evidence” that the Incas learned everything they knew from little green men from the Pleiades, let’s step back a moment. Mr. Haramein made the claim that all three civilizations had sun gods who taught them about science and technology. The facts show that only one of them had a belief similar to that. Mr. Haramein was also proven incorrect about the “Flower of Life” at the Temple of Abydos. Clearly, when it comes to making assertions about ancient history, he doesn’t seem to be correct very much of the time.
Even beyond the issue of Mr. Haramein’s credibility, however, think of something more basic: if these ancient peoples were visited by extraterrestrials, why would formulations of myths and religious stories be their primary means of recording this extraordinary event? These ancient peoples did write down their history. Take the Mayans, for instance. In addition to recording their mythology, they recorded the genealogies of their kings and historical events that occurred in their countries. You can see a translation of a Mayan codex, called Popul Vuh, which does exactly that, here. Why would these peoples have not recorded what actually happened?
That dovetails with my next point.
If Ancient Astronauts Helped Ancient Peoples Build Things in the Distant Past, How Come They Haven’t Helped Us Build Anything in Recorded History?
This is a question I’ve never heard a believer in ancient astronauts even attempt to answer. If aliens helped Egyptians build the pyramids thousands of years ago, how come they didn’t help us build, say, the Hoover Dam in the 1920s? Why do all these supposed alien interventions lie in periods of the past for which historical records are sketchy or nonexistent?
Let’s take another example of an awesome and mysterious structure, every bit as amazing as the pyramids: the cathedral of Hagia Sofia (St. Sofia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople, now called Istanbul.
This, one of the largest and grandest cathedrals in the world, survived many earthquakes over the centuries that turned most other structures to rubble. For many years modern scientists and engineers had no idea how or why the builders of St. Sofia were able to “earthquake-proof” the building. Then, in 2002, the answer was discovered: the Byzantines who built St. Sofia in the 530’s A.D. invented earthquake-proof cement 1300 years before anyone else had thought of it.
Before 2002, then, St. Sofia was in precisely the same category as the Egyptian pyramids or the Nazca lines: “We have no idea how they did it!” Yet I am unaware of a single instance in which New Agers have alleged that aliens helped build St. Sofia.
Why not? The answer is very simple. St. Sofia was built in recorded history. There are lots of written records relating to its construction in 532 A.D. We even know the names of the architects: Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. In short, we know that aliens weren’t involved in building St. Sofia because none of the historical records relating to the construction of the cathedral mention them.
This fact is proof positive of how and why the “We have no idea how they did it, so it must be aliens” reasoning is inherently faulty. We know for a fact that humans built St. Sofia without help from Antares or Alpha Centauri. There was something about how they built it that we did not know, at least until 2002, and that something was a marvel comparable only to modern techniques of modern earthquake-proof construction. Yet no one could take seriously the claim that because this marvel existed, it somehow “proved” that aliens must have been involved in its construction.
This means that the only candidates for alien construction projects are those for which we don’t already have detailed records of their construction. If, for example, a stone tablet was discovered in Egypt tomorrow with a complete record of how the Great Pyramid was constructed, and archaeologists verified the tablet as genuine, the Great Pyramid would suddenly be off the New Agers’ list of “proof” items for alien astronauts. This shows that alien astronaut claims can only thrive (pardon the expression) where there is no direct evidence to refute them. This is a classic telltale sign of faulty reasoning.
Aren’t You Being Unfair And Closed-Minded By Refusing To Accept The Possibility That Aliens May Have Interacted With Humans In The Past? I Mean, You Should Be Open To All Possibilities, Right?
Many defenders of Thrive who have come to this blog to comment have taken me to task for denouncing this or that possibility involving woo subjects like UFOs or crop circles, or conspiracy theories like the “Global Domination Agenda,” as if I am somehow being unfair and closing the door on potential understanding by insisting on verifiable facts and logical reasoning. This criticism totally misses the point and again reinforces the faith-based belief system of Thrive’s target audience.
Personally, I would be delighted if historical or archaeological evidence of extraterrestrial visitation came to light. It would undoubtedly be the greatest discovery in the history of the human race. I personally do think it is likely that there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. However, this supposition—and it is no more than a supposition—does not justify a belief that these extraterrestrial beings are visiting Earth in UFOs, because there is no credible evidence that this is in fact happening. Not only is there no credible evidence of extraterrestrial visitation in modern times, but the supposed “evidence” for extraterrestrial visitation in the past is even thinner.
Why, if aliens visited humans in the past, should the evidence of these visitations be so oblique and attenuated? If it really happened, shouldn’t it be unmistakable? Again—why didn’t Cheops, the builder of the Great Pyramid, erect a stone tablet stating, “I just want to leave this stone behind to thank Zorky and Bloopblop from the planet Galinka for all their help in building my wonderful pyramid”? If it really happened, wouldn’t there be ample evidence of it? And in the absence of such convincing evidence, is it really that unreasonable to conclude that it did not happen?
I believe in the human race, the intelligence of the human species, and the boundless ingenuity of humanity. I seem to believe in these things more than Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do. I believe that a bunch of very intelligent men and women, born in Egypt thousands of years ago, were clever enough to figure out a way to build the Great Pyramid, and if we modern peoples could see how they did it, we would be extremely surprised and intrigued by their ingenuity. Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe that Egyptians were smart enough to do this; they’d rather believe that these people were pathetic and helpless and could only have done what they did if aliens helped them.
I believe that artists, engineers and artisans across many different cultures, in many different countries, in many different eras, were smart enough to come up with the idea of a flower-like design with 64 interlocking circles independently of each other. This is not a “coincidence.” Is it really that hard? Is it so far beyond the realm of possibility that one ancient person in Egypt came up with a 64-circle flower design and thought, “Gee, that’s pretty—I think I’ll paint it on the wall,” and then someone else in China hundreds of years later had the same idea and also thought it was pretty? Why does this stretch any sort of credulity to believe this?
But Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe this. They believe people in Egypt and China—civilizations that gave us paper and fireworks, had running water in their houses, and explored much of the ancient world—were too stupid to do this without the help of aliens.
I believe that a couple of ordinary yahoos from rural England, with no advanced training in engineering or mathematics, working with boards, measuring tapes and other simple tools, can and regularly do create magnificent, geometrically perfect crop circles on a regular basis. In fact, I can prove that they do. But Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not believe this. They believe people are too stupid to figure out how to flatten some wheat stalks and throw some magnetized particles around to fool the gullible.
Most sadly—and here is the real tragedy of Thrive—Foster Gamble and Nassim Haramein do not seem to believe in the capacity and ingenuity of the human species to improve its present condition. They don’t think we can end global warming, clean up the environment or improve the quality of life for many of the world’s people on our own, the same way we have solved many other problems, by using science and reason and calling upon the infinite creativity of the human spirit. No—the whole point of Thrive is that we, the human race, are too stupid and corrupt to do these things, and we must instead rely on magical technology supposedly given to us by extraterrestrials in order to solve these problems.
That’s their message. Humanity is doomed, and we always have been. Hell, according to Gamble and Haramein, as well as some commenters on this blog, we’re too stupid to figure out how to build crop circles correctly! But that doesn’t matter. Aliens will sail down from the skies to our rescue. As long as we don’t let those evil Rockefellers and the Federal Reserve take over.
Seen in this light, Thrive’s dogged insistence on the alien astronaut hypothesis is not only silly and illogical—it is downright insulting.
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