As is usual this season, a roundtable of talking heads offer some light happy talk surrounding recycled segments from past episodes. They posit that the Biblical notion that God spoke to create the world makes sound an important part of … what, exactly? Somehow they seem to mean both science and theology at the same time. The first segment is about the word “Om,” which repeats material from an earlier episode. Chladni plate patterns are introduced as though they were mystical or had some sort of cosmological meaning beyond the interaction of sound and matter. They allege that Hindu temples reflect the same patterns, though geometric patterns are, well, geometric. Randomly, they start talking about vimanas, flying chariots of Indo-European heritage that were much later imagined as airplanes. We hear that the patterns are a secret code, like a locked “PDF file” (their words), that can somehow be read to give schematics for operating a spaceship. They don’t actually read them, of course, but are sure someone could with the right alien help.
The next segment discusses the physics of sound waves and their ability to seemingly defy gravity. The panel asserts that sound waves were used by the ancients to levitate stones, something that would be prima facie impossible without technology that would make the building of rough piles of stone irrelevant. Tsoukalos cites a medieval story that Merlin used magic to move Stonehenge to England as proof. They then discuss the medieval story of how the pyramids were built. They falsely claim that the Arabs alleged that the stones were levitated with sound after a visit from the Guardians of the Sky. This is false. The story, given in the Akhbar al-zaman, states that a magic spell on papyrus was laid on the block which could then be pushed and would slide amazingly far. Not the same. They attribute the story to al-Mas’udi, but he didn’t write it. They give the wrong author because Erich von Däniken accepted a nineteenth-century error in Col. Vyse’s Operations (1838), already known to be wrong by the end of the nineteenth century. Al-Mas’udi actually wrote this about the building of the pyramids, quoting a local expert: “They built the pyramids by stacking layers in degrees, like a staircase; then they polished them, scraping them from top to bottom. This was the process of a people who combined strength and admirable patience with a religious respect for their kings.”
The next segment describes destructive sounds from the Bible, such as the trumpets that bring down Jericho’s walls. Tsoukalos calls magical spells the “voice commands” for some Siri- or Alexa-style alien assistant, but the various other panelists seem confused about whether they are talking about using your voice to issue orders to machines or whether sonic energy is vibrating destructive waves or whether sound waves are used to encode messages to or from aliens. It’s all kind of mixed together and not clearly presented. Because it is all mixed up, the show can elide the use of acoustics in religious architecture to enhance music and meditation into any or all of the above without the need for evidence. They’ve covered this before.
After another break, we’re still on religious use of sound, this time for inducing trance states. The show alleges that going into a trance connects people to space aliens who are also gods, or something like that. It gets us back to the weird Ancient Aliens idea that aliens and gods are interchangeable and that to meet an entity from another planet is to experience spiritual ecstasy. I keep thinking of that sketch from SNL where Ryan Gosling has a spiritual, ethereal abduction and Kate McKinnon decidedly did not. It’s silly to imagine that a biological being from another planet has divine power, and equally silly to try to imagine that we need to rewrite spirituality as physical and material in order to give it the gloss of science and justify faith in the face of doubt.
A laughable segment follows alleging that the CIA achieved remarkably accurate results with its Project Stargate remote viewing project. Sure they did. There is no scientific evidence that remote viewing has any greater accuracy than random chance.
After another break, the show repeats (whether literally recycled or just reusing the same material with new footage, I didn’t care enough to check) a profile of Pythagoras, to whom is attributed the musical scale. The music of the spheres is discussed, but the show falsely alleges that Pythagoras described the heliocentric solar system as governed by ratios of vibration. He was describing the apparent motion of the planets in a geocentric system. Admitting that makes the “hidden, secret knowledge of the ancients” a lot less impressive.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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