Robert Todd Carroll
Ramtha (a.k.a. J.Z. Knight)
Ramtha is a 35,000 year-old spirit-warrior who appeared in J.Z. Knight’s kitchen in Tacoma, Washington in 1977. Knight claims that she is Ramtha’s channel. She also owns the copyright to Ramtha and conducts sessions in which she pretends to go into a trance and speaks Hollywood’s version of Elizabethan English in a guttural, husky voice. She has thousands of followers and has made millions of dollars performing as Ramtha at seminars ($1,000 a crack) and at her Ramtha School of Enlightenment, and from the sales of tapes, books, and accessories (Clark and Gallo 1993). She must have hypnotic powers. Searching for self-fulfillment, otherwise normal people obey her command to spend hours blindfolded in a cold, muddy, doorless maze. In the dark, they seek what Ramtha calls the ‘void at the center.’
Knight says she used to be “spiritually restless,” but not any more. Ramtha from Atlantis via Lemuria has enlightened her. He first appeared to her, she says, while she was in business school having extraordinary experiences with UFOs. She must have a great rapport with her spirit companion, since he shows up whenever she needs him to put on a performance. It is not clear why Ramtha would choose Knight, but it is very clear why Knight would choose Ramtha: fame and fortune, or simple delusion.
Knight claims to believe that she's lived many lives. If so, one wonders what she needs Ramtha for: she's been there, done that, herself, in past lives. She ought to be able to speak for herself after so many reincarnations.
Knight claims that spirit or consciousness can "design thoughts" which can be "absorbed" by the brain and constructed "holographically". These thoughts can affect your life. If this means what I think it means, then Knight has taken the notion of proving the obvious to new heights: she has discovered that one's thoughts can affect one's life.
Knight not only has rewritten the book on neurology, she has also rewritten the book on archaeology and history. The world was not at all like the scholars of the world say it was 35,000 years ago. We were not primitive hunters and gatherers who liked to paint in caves. No, there were very advanced civilizations around then. It doesn't matter that there is no evidence for this, because Knight has rewritten the book of evidence as well. Evidence is what appears to you, even in visions and hallucinations and delusions. Evidence is anything you feel like making up. So, when you are told that Ramtha came first from Lemuria in the Pacific Ocean, do not seek out scholars to help you understand that ancient civilization because the scholars of the world do not believe Lemuria existed except as a fantasy. When you are told that the Lemurians were a great civilization from the time of the dinosaurs, do not expect to be burdened with evidence. There isn't any evidence. The only mammals around at the time of the dinosaurs were primitive and non-hominid, very much like lemurs. Maybe the Lemurians were really lemurs. No, the Lemurians came from "beyond the North star," according to Knight, which may explain why all humans ever since have looked to the sky with longing.
But as cool as Lemuria was, it could not compare with its counterpart in the Atlantic Ocean. Knight's story of Ramtha in Atlantis is too bizarre to retell. Let's just say that Ramtha was a warrior who appeared to Edgar Cayce and leave it at that. Her story is appealing to those who are not comfortable in today's world. The past must have been better. It must have been safer then, and people must have been nobler. This message is especially appealing to people who feel like misfits.
Ramtha, like Christ, ascended into heaven, after his many conquests, including the conquest of himself. He said he'd be back and he kept his promise by coming to Knight in 1977 while she was in her pyramidiot phase. She put a toy pyramid on her head and lo and behold if that wasn't a signal for Ramtha to return to the land of the living dead:
Apparently, the first rule of the wise is: beware the ditch of limitation. Knight's husband-to-be must have fallen into the ditch. He was there at the time Ramtha first invaded his girlfriend's body, but he was so busy lining up pyramids with a compass that he didn't see Ramtha. He did feel The Enlightened One's magnetic charm, however; for, according to Knight (and who wouldn't believe her?), the compass needle was spinning around madly and they saw "ionization" in the kitchen air.
Ramtha then became Knight's personal tutor for two years, teaching her everything from theology to quantum mechanics. He taught her how to have out-of-body experiences. The experience was so extraordinary she had to dig very deep for a metaphor to try to convey the bliss she felt: "I felt like....like a fish in the ocean."
Her big break came when her son, Brandy, developed "an allergic reaction to life." He had to have a few shots but he was allergic to the allergy shots. Fortunately, "the Ram" (as Knight calls her spirit invader) came to the rescue and taught her therapeutic touch. She healed Brandy with prayer and her touch "in less than a minute," greatly reducing her medical bills. She had performed a miracle and now nothing would stop her from entering the public arena.
Ramtha the feminist
Perhaps the reason J.Z. Knight is so successful in getting followers and students is that Ramtha is a feminist. (Although, the fact that Knight is quite attractive herself might have something to do with her success.) He recognized that if he appeared in his own masculine body, he would perpetuate the myth that God is male and further contribute to the eternal abuse of women.
This feminization of God must be pleasing to people who are tired of masculine divinities. According to Knight, Ramtha will help people master their humanity and “open our minds to new frontiers of potential.”
Clark, Nancy, and Nick Gallo. "Do You Believe in Magic - New Light on the New Age," Family Circle, Feb. 23, 1993, p. 99. According to Clark and Gallo, an estimated 3,000 people are enrolled in Knight's school, with as many as 1,500 living in the Tacoma area. Five years later she is still going strong.
Melton, J. Gordon. Finding Enlightenment. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. 1998.
Ramtha’s School of Quantum Flapdoodle
A review of What the #$*! Do We Know? A film by William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente, starring Marlee Matlin.
By John Olmsted
What do you get when you combine bits of quantum physics, brain science and the channeled prophecies of a 35,000 year old god/warrior named Ramtha? The film, What the #$*! Do We Know?, is a fantasy docudrama cult hit that has found national distribution and is playing to full houses across the country.
The film is the latest effort by religious, mystical, and New Age gurus such as Deepak Chopra [Deepak Chopra is investigated in Vol 6 #2 of SKEPTIC magazine.] to cloak their views in the mantel of science. Physicist Victor Stenger coined the term “Quantum metaphysics” where “today’s cosmic mind has been repackaged by an appeal to twentieth century science for its authority.” The cosmic mind in this case is that of J. Z. Knight, who claims to channel a 35,000-year old god/warrior named Ramtha. Because Ramtha instructed her to demand a packet of gold from all who seek his wisdom, she has reaped millions over the past quarter century. The films’ producers, writers, directors, and a number of the stars are members of her Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Washington.
Quantum physics and neuroscience are complex and controversial topics. The film discusses them in twenty-second sound bites mixed with cutting edge graphics. The effect is a blend of riveted attention and confusion that puts the critical mind to sleep, softening up the viewer to ideas that begin with human potential and end with walking on water.
The film opens with writer Fred Alan Wolfe imploring us to “Get into the mystery!” We just have to decide “How far down the rabbit hole do we want to go?” The central premise of the film is that there is no objective reality. The world is nothing more than observer effects. Amit Goswami, an emeritus professor of physics from the University of Oregon, states: “The material world around us is nothing but possible movements of consciousness. I am choosing moment by moment my experience. Heisenberg said atoms are not things, only tendencies.” Other speakers describe matter as “like a thought, concentrated bits of information.”
With a bit of candor Wolfe states that quantum physics is “subject to a range of debatable hypotheses.” At the center of the debate is how to interpret the fact that at the subatomic level the act of observing electrons has an effect on their properties. Some forms of measurement pick up wave-like effects while others pick up particle effects. If the form of observation has such an effect on reality can we say there is an objective reality at all? In the famous debates between Einstein and Niels Bohr over the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum effects, Einstein was never won over to the notion of the absence of objective reality, stating: “I think that a particle must have a separate reality independent of the measurement. That is, an electron has spin, location and so forth even when it is not being measured. I like to think the moon is still there even if I am not looking at it looking at it.”
The idea that consciousness creates reality is at the core of most religions. Objective reality is the unfolding of the spiritual world on the plane of physical existence. In the past it was consciousness of god or gods doing their work on earth in a rich variety of religious mythology. In New Age interpretations you are the god of your own individual world.
Additional bits and pieces of quantum theory are presented in the film, including: superposition theories, direction of time, Boehm’s implicate order, information theory, and others. Most viewers have no time, let alone the science background knowledge, to evaluate the validity of such claims. Quantum theory is used to punctuate religious and political sound bites, such as this one from psychologist Jeffrey Satinover: “Materialism strips people of responsibility, quantum physics puts it squarely in your lap.”
Along with talking heads and computer graphics is a loose drama of a woman in the midst of depression played by actress Marlee Matlin. She’s a photographer who hates herself, gains no pleasure from the world, and seems to be having trouble with her medications.
A chiropractor named Joe Dispenza diagnoses her problems with Ramtha’s version of neuroscience. Dispenza notes that in brain imaging parts of the visual cortex light up during both mental imagery tasks and visual perception. From this he draws the absurd conclusion that we don’t know the difference between what is real and what we imagine. Many different mental functions share cortical areas to carry out the complexity of their tasks. Thought and speech both utilize language areas of the brain. Visions during dreaming that use the visual cortex get reality tested upon waking. There are people who have great difficulty seeing the difference between the real and the imagined. They are suffering from psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, or they have ingested large amounts of drugs or alcohol. If Dispenza is right that we live in an imagined world not grounded in reality, testing his theory on your drive home would lead to a carnage of competing versions of where the road begins and ends.
Matlin’s depression raises problems with the New Age myth that the mind is a like a big department store where we are free to choose any thought or feeling we want. Why would we choose to be depressed? Why don’t we just snap out of it and think happier thoughts?
A major finding of neuroscience is that the conscious “free” mind arises out of powerful unconscious processes. Joseph Ledoux at New York University has shown that the limbic system produces a fear response before we are even aware of seeing the frightful image, like a snake in the grass. Patterns of emotional and cognitive responses to the world are laid down in a complex dialectic of inherited biology, early childhood experiences, and current functioning in the world. How this all produces consciousness is one of the most challenging questions facing brain scientists. The late Francis Crick spent thirty years on the question.
Dispenza tells us that the answer is quite simple. Since we can’t stop feeling and thinking, and an addiction is “something we cannot stop,” then bad thoughts are just a problem of addiction. All we need is Ramtha’s recovery program.
Noted cellular researcher Candice Pert appears for a valuable discussion of hormones, peptides, and neurotransmitters in the brain. Since discovering opiate receptors she has since drifted into New Age nonsense. If cells are over stimulated by neurotransmitters they adjust though a process called down regulation. Dispenza tells us that this is the cause of lifelong problems, since the down regulation is passed on in cell division. In a forum on the film this past spring, I had to point out to him that brain cells, unlike other cells in the body, do not divide.
Addictive processes and habits of thought and feeling are both carried out by chemical signaling between neurons. The major difference is that in addiction reward circuits in the brain are hijacked and distorted by rapid elevation of chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins due to drugs injected into the body. There is growing evidence that genes play a role in determining a person’s vulnerability to addiction.
Matlin lifts out of her depression after many drinks and a romantic encounter at a Polish wedding-perhaps the mind really is influenced by the body and the power of interpersonal relations. During her hangover the next morning she is lifted into a state of bliss when reminded of the power of thought as shown by the work of Masaru Emoto.
Emoto claims to have proven that thoughts are so powerful they can change the structure of water. His “experiments” consist of taping written words to glasses of water. The next day beautiful crystals appear on jars with words like “love.” We are not told that these are actually ice crystals. In his book, Messages from Water, Emoto claims that water can understand every language in the world, and all their emotional and metaphoric nuances, by picking up on the linguistic vibrations. Water tells us that classical music is good and heavy metal is bad. Water can educate us as to whether religious and political figures are good or bad people. Water is so perceptive that, when played a recording of Elvis singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” the water crystal split into two crystals in sympathy.
Another “proof” of the power of thought presented in the film is the so-called “Maharishi Effect.” In 1993, 4,000 meditators gathered in Washington, D.C. under the direction of physicist John Hagelin. Hagelin predicted in advance that the meditations would drive down the violent crime rate in the city by 25 percent that summer. Despite the fact that the murder rate actually rose, Hagelin announced a year later that his analysis proved that the violent crime rate fell just as he had predicted. In his recent book he states that the meditators “function essentially as a ‘washing machine’ for the entire society.”
As with Emoto’s work, there has been no replication by other scientists, no control groups, and no publications in reputable peer reviewed scientific journals to confirm the Maharishi Effect.
The end of the film meanders into speculation about god. Knight tells us that Ramtha has arrived to free you from the gods who determine good and evil and punish you in the process. You can have it anyway you want. You are god. You can return to those wonderful days of childhood when the world really seemed centered around you and was created by your fantasies.
In April of this year I invited one of the film’s directors, William Arntz, along with one of his science consultants, Joe Dispenza, to Portland State University. To put the question of free will and responsibility to the test I put up a photo of a child with Downs Syndrome. I asked if this child was free to create any reality he wanted. Was this child responsible for his condition, I queried? Arnzt responded that in fact he is to blame for his disorder--he is paying for transgressions in a previous life. This is the same doctrine of reincarnation and karma that justified the caste system in India. The same logic blames the patient for their cancer.
What begins as promises of freedom of thought soon evolves into demands for correct thought and behavior. As Satinover says in the film: “People ought to be instructed to make different choices.” The source of the correct ideas is the prophet. The promised payoff for adherence to the dogma is freedom from the fears of death, disease, and misery. The fact that these are deep fears that we are all vulnerable to, sets the stage for rampant exploitation and abuse by charlatans and cults. As J. Z. Knight asks, “Have you ever stopped for a moment to look at yourself through the eyes of the ultimate observer?”
About the reviewer: John Olmsted MA, Med. is an adjunct instructor in psychology at Portland State University in Portland Oregon where he teaches a course in paranormal psychology. He is mental health therapist specializing in issues of learning, attention and the brain. firstname.lastname@example.org
Another reviewer, Johann Hari, had this to say about What the Bleep Do We Know?:
The global understanding of science is being slowly contaminated.
If you want an example of this new pseudo-science, check out the dismal, brain-rotting new movie What the Bleep Do We Know? which arrives fresh from sleeper-success in the States. Marlee Matlin plays a woman who is having a strange day; she meets a boy who is capable of bizarre physical tricks, and he asks her, 'How far down the rabbit-hole do you want to go?'
The film claims to be a serious study of the philosophical implications of quantum physics, and Matlin's story is intercut with interviews from people who seem to be scientists. At first, they simply point out some of the extraordinary things that have emerged from the study of matter at a quantum (sub-molecular) level. But gradually the film begins to stir in unscientific (and absurd) extrapolations from quantum physics. The movie's 'scientists' begin to claim that discoveries in quantum physics provide proof for a whole range of fantastical New Age claims. They say you can walk on water if only 'you believe it with every fibre of your being'.
The real scientist Richard Dawkins summarises the film's assumptions: 'Quantum physics is deeply mysterious and incomprehensible. Eastern spirituality is deeply mysterious and incomprehensible. Therefore they must be saying the same thing.' Sadly, Dawkins' reaction is an exception; many newspapers have lauded the film as a 'brilliant scientific study'.
Okay, so it's a dumb movie, you might think, but what harm does it do? On its own, very little. But What the Bleep ... bears all the hallmarks of the new pseudo-sciences. One typical tactic is to take a gap in scientific evidence and fill it with faith-based claims. For example, geologists have discovered a gap in the fossil record which makes it hard to explain how evolution worked at certain periods. The neo-creationists seize on this and claim it as 'proof' that evolution didn't happen at all. (Incredibly, over 40 per cent of Americans believe them). The New Agers do the same with the gaps in quantum physics.
The Independent, May 25, 2005
Robert Todd Carroll