At the end of January, our friend Graham Hancock appeared on the Bulletproof radio podcast, but I wasn’t aware of this until an excerpt from it was posted to Audio Burst this week and ended up getting shared on Facebook. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that there are too many podcasts and radio shows to keep up with. Bulletproof seems to be a bit of an odd duck, in that its primary business is selling diet guides, coffee, and health supplements but it augments this business with a New Age lifestyle brand. Its podcast has played host to medical quacks, diet gurus, and media personalities like NatGeo Brain Games host Jason Silva. Into this stew of holistic health claims and pseudoscientific mysticism, Graham Hancock arrived to discuss ancient mysteries. This is important mostly for revealing that Hancock has not quite outgrown the more ridiculous end of the pseudoscience he once promoted in Fingerprints of the Gods and intentionally downplayed in Magicians of the Gods.
The warrant for Hancock’s appearance is his advocacy of psychedelic drugs, which Bulletproof podcast host Dave Asprey, who is interested in altered states of consciousness because of their New Age mystical implications (he has used the same drugs as Hancock), but that is not really my area of concern. Nor am I interested in Hancock’s claims that MK ULTRA (yes, that again) was a failure because the “planet” speaks to us through hallucinogens and thus undermines conservative power structures that don’t harmonize with the earth.
Instead I’d like to focus on Hancock’s discussion of archaeology and history, right after I note that Hancock confesses to meeting with space aliens while taking drugs, presumably referring to his encounters with supposed interdimensional beings, since he later says he thinks aliens are from another dimension. Anyway, he begins with his usual upset about the education system, which he again feels has a death grip on the portrayal of history and thus on the minds of impressionable youths. He seems to have unresolved trauma from high school:
I think that the point here is that history is a story. It’s a narrative, which is being told to us, and that sole possession of that narrative has been handed over to a professional class, the historians and the archaeologists. They effectively have a grip on the story of our past, and they deliver it to us through the schools and through the universities, and it’s what we are taught is the fact about our past, but we should never forget that it isn’t a fact. It’s a story.
Notice that Hancock intentionally conflates facts and evidence with the interpretation of that evidence. Clearly, he has never taken a course in historiography—something offered at every university with a history program—but notice the emphasis on the university system and on the teaching profession as a source of special scorn. Perhaps the situation is different in Britain, but most people in the U.S. receive their history lessons from television and the internet, especially since all but the most basic historical narratives were long ago removed from many secondary schools’ curriculums, replaced with more nebulous “social studies,” nor is any detailed study of history required of university students.
Here in New York State, for example, a student attending a public university must complete seven of ten areas of General Education to earn a degree. Three of those areas are American History, Western Civilization, and Other World Civilizations. Depending on their choices, this might involve as little as four credits in history, or none at all since the State University of New York has approved courses in subjects like architecture or women in art to meet these requirements. Requirements vary greatly among private schools.
So why is Hancock so concerned about historians? He says that the narratives historians tell result in “mind control”: “If you’ve got a grip on history, if you’re controlling history and how history is taught, then that gives you amazing power in the present as well.” He believes this is an outgrowth of the Catholic Church’s pioneering work in exercising intellectual “control” over what people think. Why competing institutions, and those opposed to the Church, went along with it I can’t imagine, but for Hancock all current holders of power are trying to deny the everyman the ability to think for himself. He said that “there is a control structure and a power structure in our society, which is vested in keeping us asleep.”
In other words, like others who are discontented with modern society, Hancock perceives education as a battleground for instilling ideology and thus reinforcing social control. His mirror image, Mary Lou Bruner of Texas, believes the same thing. That’s why the creationist who believes Pres. Obama was a gay prostitute, is now a leading candidate for the Texas Board of Education. She promises to rewrite the textbooks, too, because she worries that history and science might encourage students to abandon evangelical Christianity and conservatism. Hancock wants to rewrite the textbooks to promote New Age neo-paganism and a libertarian-inflected social liberalism, or what he calls “progress.”
Hancock, though, doesn’t see much progress in his own work. He’s still using nineteenth century ideas to support his claims. Take this recapitulation of a Victorian claim about the Great Pyramid:
Here’s the math. If you take the height of the Great Pyramid and multiply it be 43,200, which is not a random number […] If you take the height and multiply it by 43,200, you get the polar radius of the earth. If you measure the base perimeter of the great pyramid and multiply it by 43,200, you get the equatorial circumference of the earth. The Great Pyramid, whether by accident or by design, encodes the dimensions of our planet through those long, dark ages, in the Middle Ages and so on, when we didn’t even know we lived on a planet, let alone its dimensions, those dimensions were always there, encoded on a scale of 1 to 43,200 in the Great Pyramid.
This is only approximately true. The height of the pyramid was likely 146.5 meters when complete, which would yield 6,328,800 meters, or 6,327.8 km. The earth’s polar radius is 6,356 km. The number is close but not identical. The perimeter of the Great Pyramid similarly yields a figure that is off by several hundred miles. It’s the kind of thing that makes it seem more like a coincidence than a planned event. Given the malleability of Hancock’s precessional numbers—virtually any multiple of 12 or 72—and the variability of the Earth’s measurements due to its oblate spheroid shape, the measurements were bound to be close enough to something significant.
While these claims originate in nineteenth century pyramidology, particularly Charles Piazzi Smyth’s mystical accounts of the Great Pyramid, Hancock also continues to make use of medieval Islamic pyramid lore, which he now falsely claims to be ancient:
There are specific ancient traditions relating to Giza, which tell us that it was created as a repository from knowledge from before the flood. When they refer to the flood, I can't help thinking of meltwater pulse 1A that happened 11,600 years ago with a massive meltdown of the icecaps and the comet impacts and the rising of sea level.
The trouble is that those “ancient traditions” are known only from medieval texts, and these in turn were based on Late Antique Christian works, particularly those of Annianus and Panodorus. What’s interesting—and not known to Hancock—is that the oldest surviving version, preserved in later quotations from the work of Abu Ma’shar, the ninth-century astrologer, specify that the knowledge from before the Flood was preserved in the temples of Egypt, not the pyramids, something that only entered a bit later, when the Pyramids had become identified with the Pillars of Wisdom from Enochian lore.
Finally, I have no idea what to make of Hancock’s remarks that he speculates that our DNA has been coded with hidden messages or pre-programmed by interdimensional beings to help us have mystical visions while high on drugs. “Such ideas, in my view, are worth exploring,” he said, though conceding that such seeming possibilities might really be nothing more than being high on drugs and seeing things that aren’t there.
Hancock unintentionally gave us insight into himself when he imagined he was describing mainstream science: “The staying power of bad ideas is really quite astonishing, and this is to do with psychological factors. As human beings, we get invested in particular areas of thought.”
I'm an author and editor who has published on a range of topics, including archaeology, science, and horror fiction. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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