Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carl Sagan on 'Ramtha': things we would like Ramtha to tell us!

"J.Z.Knight of the State of Washington claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old somebody called 'Ramtha'. He speaks English very well, using Knight's tongue, lips and vocal cords, producing what sounds to me like an accent from the Indian Raj. Since most people know how to talk, and many - from children or professional actors - have a repertoire of voices at their command, the simplest hypothesis is that Ms Knight makes 'Ramtha' speak all by herself, and that she has no contact with disembodied entities from the Pleistocene Ice Age. If there's evidence to the contrary, I'd love to hear it. It would be considerably more impressive if Ramtha could speak all by himself, without the assistance of Ms Knight's mouth. Failing that, how might we test the claim? (The actress Shirley Maclaine attests that Ramtha was her brother in Atlantis, but that's another story.)

"Suppose Ramtha were available for questioning. Could we verify whether he is who he says he is? How does he know that he lived 35,000 years ago, even approximately? What calendar does he employ? Who is keeping track of the intervening millenia? Thirty-five thousand plus or minus what? Either Ramtha really is 35,000 years old, or he's a phoney and he'll (or rather she'll) slip up.

"Where did Ramtha live? (I know he speaks English with an Indian accent, but where 35,000 years ago did they do that?) What was the climate? What did Ramtha eat? (Archaeologists know something about what people ate back then.) What were the indigenous languages and social structure? Who else did Ramtha live with - wife, wives, children, grandchildren? What was the life cycle, the infant mortality rate, the life expectancy? Did they have birth control? What clothes did they wear? How were the clothes manufactured? What were the most dangerous predators? Hunting and fishing implements and strategies? Weapons? Endemic sexism? Xenophobia and ethnocentrism? And if Ramtha came from the 'high civilisation' of Atlantis, where are the linguistic, technological, historical and other details? What was their writing like? Tell us. Instead, all we are offered are banal homilies."

- Carl Sagan, Ch. 12 ("The Fine Art of Baloney Detection"), The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (pp. 191-2).

And re "chaos magic": How does its celebrated and much-quoted dictum, "Nothing is true; everything is permitted" differ so much from the wildly irresponsible assertion of Adolf Hitler: "A new era of the magical explanation of the world is rising, an explanation based on will rather than knowledge. There is no truth, in either the moral or the scientific sense"? (ibid., quoted on p. 249).

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