Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quantum leap

As another rather misguided example of targeted advertising, yesterday my Facebook page had an ad on it for something called Quantum Jumping.  Amused and a little intrigued, I clicked the link.  If you're curious enough to take a look for yourself, it brought me here.

I snooped about in the site for a while, and then, as with my post yesterday on James van Praagh, I did a little background research.  First, here are the claims:

"Since the 1920s, quantum physicists have been trying to make sense of an uncomfortable and startling fact -- that an infinite number of alternate universes exist.  Leading scientists like Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, and Neil Turok, all of whom are responsible for life-changing breakthroughs in the field of quantum physics, have all suggested the existence of multiple universes...  This jaw-dropping discovery was first made when, trying to pinpoint the exact location of an atomic particle, physicists found it was virtually impossible.  It had no single location. In other words, atomic particles have the ability to simultaneously exist in more than one place at a time.  The only explanation for this is that particles don’t only exist in our universe -- They can spark into existence in an infinite number of parallel universes as well.  And although these particles come to being and change in synchronicity, they are all slightly different...  Drawing on the above-mentioned scientific theory and merging it with 59 years of study into mysticism and the human mind, Burt Goldman has come to one shocking conclusion: In these alternate universes, alternate versions of you are living out their lives."

To make a long, drawn-out explanation a little shorter, Goldman claims that through his training course (downloadable for $97, or DVDs starting at $197) you can mentally slide into these alternate universes, meet alternate versions of yourself, and learn from them.  It is how, he explains, he learned how to paint, to write, and (presumably) to market a serious bill of goods to the gullible.

I spend enough time on this blog hacking at odd claims of the paranormal that I hesitate to hack very hard at this one.  I'll only note some of the more obvious features:  (1) While the Many-Worlds interpretation of quantum physics is intriguing, and has been the subject of thousands of plot twists on Star Trek alone, it has never been demonstrated experimentally.  Most physicists believe that even if this interpretation is correct, those theoretical alternate universes are "closed off" to us permanently after the event that caused the split, and therefore such experimental verification is impossible by definition.  Thus, this model remains an interesting, but untestable, idea.  (2)  Namedropping, and using quotes from such luminaries as Hawking, Kaku, Max Planck, and Nikola Tesla, is both unfair to those quoted (who, I suspect, would laugh Goldman's ideas out of the room) and is also Appeal to Authority in its worst form.  (3)  I find it interesting that he claims that you can learn from your alternate selves, because in some universe you are a published author, a rock star, a Nobel-prize-winning scientist.  Just given the law of averages, wouldn't you also expect that it's a 50-50 chance that in any given alternate universe, you'd be instead a bum, a felon, or dead?  Although, to be fair, I'd guess that you'd learn something from meeting those alternate selves, too.  It's like James Randi's criticism of mediums; that all of the dead relatives these people contact seem to have ended up in heaven.  Never once does a medium say to the subject, "Um, bad news... Great-Uncle George ended up in hell.  He's sort of, um, unavailable at the moment."

However, I'd like to look more closely at something I saw on another website, one critical of Goldman and his claims.  The post by the critic launched something of a comment-war between people who agreed with the skeptic, and those who thought Goldman's ideas were reasonable.  The most interesting comment, I think, was the following:

"Why are you bashing Quantum Jumping?  Maybe he's wrong about how it works, but who cares, as long as it does work?  If it can make someone's life better, then there's nothing wrong with what he's doing."

It probably goes without saying that I disagree with this (but I'm going to say it, anyhow).  The main point is that Goldman's claim states that other selves in other universes actually, honestly, truly exist, and he is actually, honestly, truly going to put you into direct contact with them.  Despite the testimonials, there is no evidence that this claim has any merit whatsoever.  So if his technique is really a visualization/actualization method -- the same as many others available out there -- then he should market it as such, and drop all of the nonsense about quantum physics and alternate universes.  Of course, he won't do that; mentioning Hawking and Kaku and the rest gives him credibility, and (most importantly) it sells DVDs.

Now, if you buy it, and it improves your life, allows you to accomplish things you otherwise would not have been able to do, then I'm glad for you.  But the fact remains that Goldman is lying.  And honestly, if you accomplished wonderful things using his program, I strongly suspect you would have been able to do them equally well without it.

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is that telling the truth matters.  The world is what it is, and scientists and other skeptics are trying their best to elucidate how it works.  When a huckster like Goldman comes along, and tries to convince you otherwise -- and makes lots of money at your expense in the process -- it is simple dishonesty, and is no more to be respected than were the peddlers of miraculous tonics in the 19th century.  Like those tonics, Quantum Jumping is so much snake oil -- and as usual, caveat emptor.

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