A good journalist lets readers know about potential conflicts of interest. Even though this isn’t something I like talking about, I need to touch on a potential bias I have in reviewing Ancient Aliens S05E05 “The Einstein Factor.”
In this episode, the program informs viewers that human genius is attributable to alien intervention. I do not wish to come across as conceited, but I am one of those people who fall into the 99.9th percentile on standardized intelligence tests. I was a National Merit Scholar, finished in the 99.9th percentile on the SAT, was salutatorian of my high school class, and graduated at the top of my college class. I was repeatedly offered membership in MENSA (to which I always said I had no interest in paying to tell people I’m smart), and on standardized IQ tests (which I don’t put a lot of stock in, given their Western biases) I consistently score north of 165. This isn’t bragging—millions of people around the world have equal or better results—but (not that I compare myself to Einstein in any way) it does mean that I find it personally insulting to be told that all of this is the result of aliens tampering with my DNA. I imagine that would surprise my mother, too.
So, let’s begin.
We’re back to the brown title card today, so last week’s blue one was apparently an anomaly. Could it be aliens?
The program begins by discussing the observations that helped confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the program works to establish Einstein as a genius who revolutionized our understanding of the universe. We hear Giorgio Tsoukalos’s thoughts about what relativity was really about. Sadly, this does not include an understanding of what relativity really means. So far as the show is concerned, it’s just a mystical bit of mumbo-jumbo that’s all science-y and therefore equivalent to the magic wielded by the gods.
A biographical sketch of Einstein follows, with the implication that Einstein’s inability to find a job after graduating with a physics degree suggests that his genius was not yet present. This leads the narrator to tell us that just before Einstein proposed relativity, he communicated with a “realm” beyond the human. The show suggests that Einstein's thought experiments—thinking about things really hard and trying to imagine the results of theoretical concepts—are equivalent to “altered states of consciousness” (meditation) and therefore evidence that he was really receiving psychic messages from aliens who live in another dimension. Let’s all repeat together: Imagination is not something that comes from aliens. We all, as humans, have imagination.
Ironically, we are then asked to perform a thought experiment to understand how revolutionary Einstein’s theories were. No, the show fails to understand this is irony.
David Childress tells us that Einstein had a “different kind of a brain” that was “wired in a different way than normal human beings.” Jason Martell tells us that Einstein did such proofs-positive of alien communication as “sitting in a chair for hours on end” thinking about things. Since Martell cannot imagine why anyone would think things through logically from beginning to end, he concludes that Einstein was “tapping into some advanced field of knowledge,” which he calls “technology.” The late Philip Coppens concurs, claiming that all geniuses channel their information from another dimension. Giorgio Tsoukalos suggests that “all the knowledge” in the universe lives in a metaphysical world that geniuses can access like radios, channeling information without having to understand it or having any responsibility for their own thoughts. While I am more than willing to agree that Giorgio Tsoukalos believes that he is incapable of original thought, I am less willing to allow for that possibility among all humans.
We visit prepared slides of slices of Einstein’s brain at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia for no particular purpose other than morbidity and to learn that Einstein’s brain suffered no neurodegeneration and was relatively healthy for a man of his age. This, of course, means that the aliens were involved since the show considers this “unique,” misunderstanding the limits of the original study of Einstein’s brain, which failed to control for neurological diseases and compared his brain to a sample of just 11 men, which is too small to make sweeping generalizations. The show fails to understand most of the research it describes, suggesting Einstein had a unique parietal lobe (involved in mathematical reasoning) because it was 15 percent wider than normal; however, the original study makes no claim that this is “unique,” nor that size is directly correlated to ability. The claim that Einstein had more glial cells than other men is similarly based on the same study of just 11 men, and the author of study admitted that the difference was not statistically significant, except in the parietal lobe.
From this limited information, it is impossible to conclude that Einstein’s brain was a radio transmitter for aliens from another dimension, but the show goes for it anyway.
“How could one person, in one year, create and write such important papers?” David Childress asks. “And his own colleagues had no ideas what he was talking about. The way Einstein thought was completely different than people before him.”
Childress relies on the false syllogism “I don’t know; therefore, aliens.” Again, I’m willing to spot him his genuine belief that he himself is incapable of original thought, but humans invent new things every day, which must keep the aliens busy handing out such plums as the ideas for telegraphs, vaccines, personal computing, and Old Brooklyn Lanterns.
Jason Martell wonders if Einstein was “evolving faster,” an impossibility given that individuals do not evolve (we are not Lamarckians) but rather populations evolve as the genome shifts across the population over time. So, Martell asks, could extraterrestrials have given him a gene transplant? Doc Barham, a California-based "transformation expert" and hypnotherapist of whom I have never heard, states boldly that any time you find a genius in human history, you must ask “is it possible that they are a little more than human?”
From here we move outward to look at other geniuses in history and wonder whether they were also receiving messages from the aliens’ other dimension. The first of these is Socrates, who displayed such tell-tale signs of alien communication as “thinking.” Not just regular thinking, of course, deep thought that lasted several hours—a sheer impossibility for a regular human like Philip Coppens or Giorgio Tsoukalos! Coppens is correct that Socrates did claim to receive instructions from a daemon, or spirit, as is recorded by Xenophon (Memorable Thoughts of Socrates 1.1), but Socrates would be the first to tell you that taking this literally as an alien transmitting to his brain is a fool’s errand. Even Xenophon noted that it was no different than all the hundreds of others of his time who claimed to receive messages from the gods in everything from oracles to drug-based hallucinations.
We then get the greatest hits of Western artists who attributed their masterworks to divine inspiration, suggesting that such things were alien messages from other worlds. Then we hear about Nicola Tesla (again!), who visualized inventions in his head before he built them. I can personally attest that this is not as difficult as the ancient astronaut people imagine. Tesla apparently believed in aliens, and we are intended to take this as proof that aliens exist because Tesla believed in them; yet unicorns and demons do not exist despite the vast numbers who once believed (and still believe) in them.
Next, the show talks about Srinivasa Ramanujan, an Indian mathematician with no formal training, who created some creative mathematical formulae that have yet to be completely evaluated by mainstream mathematics. Because he claimed that he received inspiration from his family’s patron god, he must therefore have received his math from the aliens—who did an incomplete job of it, I guess, since some of his proofs proved false, though most were correct.
From here we look at Hindu mythology—or what the show claims is Hindu myth—by having hypno-coach Doc Bartham tell us about the “Akashic Record,” the metaphysical realm of all knowledge, a library of all possible information. This is a complete lie since it is not ancient but was invented around 1900 by Theosophy, extrapolating from Hinduism’s Samkhya philosophy, which postulated a realm of pure consciousness akin to Plato’s metaphysical realm of pure form. Rudolph Steiner, originally of Theosophy but later of anthroposophy, wrote the book on it, The Akashic Records, in 1902 and claimed these records gave him insight into life in Lemuria, a continent that simply does not and could not exist. Let me repeat: The Akashic Record did not exist before Theosophy invented it almost entirely out of whole cloth. Philip Coppens and Jason Martell also seem confused about the fact that these records are completely not real, and they speculate about these records ridiculously. I refuse to dignify the show’s attempts to link Einstein to the Akashic Record via quantum entanglement. The realm is a Victorian fraud and therefore no explanation is needed.
This fake metaphysical realm gives us warrant for assuming that there is a reality behind remote viewing, which Jason Martell tells us must be real because the government spent money on it. Insert your own government waste joke here. Martell thinks that our very atoms deliver knowledge from across the universe because all atoms and elements are “the same” across the universe. Whatever. This is quantum entanglement (which operates only at the quantum level) extrapolated without warrant to the macro level.
A jarring and abrupt transition leads us to discussions of time travel and parallel universes, based on Einstein’s relativity, which, while interesting on their own merits, have nothing to do with ancient aliens. Wormholes are suggested as a way to “establish contact with extraterrestrials,” which makes me wonder what the hell the show has been about for the past five seasons. Wasn’t the whole point to prove we already were in contact with extraterrestrials?
The narrator then speculates that Einstein secretly invented relativity to meet aliens. Philip Coppens reminds us that great ideas and inventions are not the result of hard work but rather direct communication from a “realm” that downloads information from the sky. Sorry, Philip; inspiration, as Thomas Edison said, is but 1% of the equation; there is intensely hard work and great labor involved in discovering new things, as anyone who has discovered something new can attest. Just because Jason Martell, David Childress, and Giorgio Tsoukalos have no interest in hard work or deep thought doesn’t mean no one on earth is capable of it.
If there was ever a moment that demonstrates clearly the real damage Ancient Aliens does, it was this. The program brazenly told its viewers, among whom are many young people, that they will never make great discoveries, that hard work doesn’t matter, that they should simply sit back passively and accept whatever crumbs of knowledge “the aliens” choose to give them. Human ingenuity is a lie; we are mere marionettes dancing to an alien drum.
I watched this show on DVR, so I wasn’t looking at the clock. I kept thinking it was going to end, but then they continued repeating the same two thoughts again and again and again, and I wondered if they were ever going to admit they did not have enough speculation to fill the hour and would just bring this sad mess to a close. Finally, after repeating for heaven knows how many times that “ancient astronaut theorists” don’t believe it’s possible to have original thoughts (and we all know their plagiarized, recycled books clearly demonstrate that), the show finally just stops.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.