Dispatches From Another Universe – the Breatharians

Every now and then my wandering on the web turns up a world view that is so far from reality it’s… well… breathtaking.

Take the Breatharians for example.

This page looks like yet another attempt to skim some cash from the gullible, in this case by the aptly named Wiley Brooks. The page that describes his “Immortality Workshop” reads like a clumsy spoof:

The workshop includes a visit to Earth Prime in the 5th Dimension in your physical body if you are ready.
The cost is $1,000,000.00 USD
The process starts with a $10,000 USD deposit by BANK WIRE TRANFER.
No Refunds

But no, a few Google searches turned up a legion of followers who believe that their Fearless Leader really can live without food and absorb energy from the sun like a solar panel. Apparently this is more an example of Poe’s Law than a deliberate scam.

What’s going on here?  Can these people really be occupying the same universe that I am? What is driving them to cling to such a Bizzaro World view?

It’s not as though it’s hard to test these claims. Just stick them in a room with no food, no water, all the sunlight they want and start the stopwatch. In fact, this is exactly what happened in the case of one of our local exponents when 60 Minutes asked her to demonstrate her abilities. To no one’s surprise she was almost dead from dehydration in 48 hours.

You would think that would be the end of it, but of course that’s not the way the world works. She’s still at it ten years later despite the fact that more than one of her followers have died from these bizarre practices.

To quote Carl Sagan, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence“. Unfortunately the press, with its constant craving for new fodder, is less than skeptical when a catchy item like this comes along, and before you know it the fruitcakes have some free credibility – “as seen on Today Tonight!!!.

Take this poor soul for example. His story was splashed across the headlines last year when a “Facilitated Communicator” claimed she’d broken through his comatose state and could communicate with him via a keyboard. This kind of communication was discredited years ago but somehow she was given the benefit of the doubt. Eventually they called in the big guns:

“I believe that he is sentient. They’ve shown that with MRI scans,” said James Randi, a prominent skeptic who during the 1990s investigated the use of facilitated communication for autistic children. But in the video, “You see this woman who’s not only holding his hand, but what she’s doing is directing his fingers and looking directly at the keyboard. She’s pressing down on the keyboard, pressing messages for him. He has nothing to do with it.”

Well, no shit.

The story went cold when somebody thought to ask him some questions without the “facilitator” in the room. Yes, that’s right; it was a worldwide news story before someone actually though to do that. Too late anyway. The press had already moved on to the next piece of credulous fluff, and the more interesting story – the possibility that this man was conscious – was trampled in the rush.

It would be nice to think that these kind of fantasies would never get traction because people would ask the obvious questions. It seems that once you decide to dispense with reason life gets a lot simpler and the Dunning Kruger effect kicks in: the less you know, the more likely you are to exclaim that you do, and the less likely you are to listen to evidence to the contrary.

I fear The Endarkenment is upon us.

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