Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

David Lynch and Vedic “Science”

I was recently offered a free ticket to see David Lynch give a talk at Emerson College. The talk was titled “Consciousness, Creativity, and the Brain”. I didn’t know why a movie director would have any particular insights on these subjects but I decided that at the least it would be amusing.

The talk was held in a huge and beautiful theater in downtown Boston, ornate with two large balconies and, from where I was sitting at least, largely full. We were all handed free DVDs on the way in as well as “more information” forms with beautiful typography. The form were headed “The David Lynch Educational Foundation For Consciousness-Raising Education And World Peace”. (The “And World Peace” seems like it should be a joke.) The dean of the college introduced the event by droning on about how great Emerson College was. I tuned out but the people I went with told me he gave the standard distancing-himself-from-the-event speech, something about how they provided a range of voices to encourage the students (profound voice:) “to quest, and to question”.

Then the president of the David Lynch Foundation came up and introduced David Lynch, who apparently didn’t have a talk prepared and just took some questions from the audience. I suspect some of the questions were plants, because they sounded so suspiciously knowledgeable about meditation, but maybe all the local meditators were attracted to the event.

In photographs, Lynch looks like an old British dude who would have a deep and thoughtful voice. Instead, his voice is high and squeaky and sort of gimmicky-sounding, which also made it hard to take him seriously. He finished up and the Foundation president came back to introduce Dr. John Haeglin, who he presented as one of the leading physicists of our day. And where does this great mind work? The Maharishi University of Management, although the announcer cleverly pronounced this so it sounded like “Murshy University”, which is more plausible as an actual school. The Maharishi University of Management (MUM), however, is a phony organization set up the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who claims that he can fly. (The Maharishi, you may recall, also seduced The Beatles. Their later disappointment was the source of the song “Sexy Sadie”, which was originally titled “Maharishi”.)

Haeglin is the Maharishi’s main man in the US, running for president on the Maharishi’s political party (the Natural Law Party), which almost received federal funds from Perot’s Reform Party, although it narrowly lost to Pat Buchanan. (I had my Sidekick with me, so I looked all this up on the Web while I was listening.) Haeglin had a tricky job ahead of him. He had to explain to the audience that practicing the Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation (TM) would send out a magical field that would make everybody nearby happy and peaceful. But he also had to do so in such a way that this audience of college kids, didn’t just break out laughing. The answer: science.

Haeglin gave some reasonably-accurate descriptions of recent innovations in Physics, noting that reductionism had caused us to realize that the superficial diversity asked an underlying uniformity of, he claimed, vibrating strings (string theory) that connect all of us together. Now Haeglin thinks that TM will cause happy feelings to be transmitted through the strings into nearby people. But even this seems too absurd, so he changes tacks and tries to explain it in a common sense way. ‘If everybody is fearful and scared,’ he says, ‘you can sort of feel it in the air and you start to be scared. But if everyone is happy, then it’s just the opposite. TM works in the same way — it puts happiness in the air.’ He never directly connected this to his comments about string theory and I didn’t really see it until I reflected on it later.

Haeglin has done several “scientific” tests, claiming that a group of meditators can lower the crime rate, although when actual scientists checked some of his numbers, they found he had fabricated the crime rate statistics. And David Lynch explained that the goal of his foundation is to raise $7 billion so they can provide Transcendental Meditation in every school. (The David Lynch Foundation’s website claims that TM can cure classroom stress, clinical depression, learning disorders, high blood pressure, and academic underachievement — oh, right, and cause world peace.

Then he introduced a Dr. Fred Travis, also from MUM, who proceeded to do an EEG of some kid’s brain right on stage. He showed some diagrams of the brain, insisting it had a “CEO” which told the rest of it what to do. Normally, he said, the brain’s pieces all scurry about doing whatever they feel like. But Transcendental Meditation strengthens your CEO so he can get all the pieces of the brain working together, doing whatever the CEO wants them to do. He demonstrated this by showing the boy’s brainwaves normally: all over the place, doing different things. Then he asked the boy to meditate and zoomed in on two brain waves, which started moving in tandem. What this has to do with anything remains a mystery to me.

Then Lynch came out and took some more questions. Nobody called him on this nonsense (I was tempted to, but didn’t). But you can — Lynch is going on a 20 city tour of universities to spread this nonsense. The entire event was taped so it could be webcast from his website.

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October 5, 2005


That’s pretty amazing. I wish he’d come here so I could get a good laugh, but it looks like his final East Coast stop was at Brown.

In my experience this silliness is typical of everyone who gives talks on college campuses. In the style of best-seller-list books they only have one interesting idea — which is of course presented in the books they brought with them to sell and not in their talk. They’ll dance around this idea a bunch and then answer some stupid questions with predictable answers.

Or if you’re from Scaled Composites you’ll use your talk to make fun of NASA.

posted by Jeremiah Rogers on October 5, 2005 #

I had some friends swear by the movie “What the @#%@#% Is Going on Here,” which talked about much of the same kinds of things.

After the feel-good vibe wore off, I decided to Google-check a bunch of the information… and found the same kinds of things you did about TM, etc.

Science, always getting in the way of fell-good, peace-loving gurus the world-over.

posted by Shanti on October 6, 2005 #

Its rather disgusting how ignorant you are about most of the subjects you speak of. Do your research.

posted by on October 19, 2005 #

Your rant is amazing. You want us to take you seriously, but (a) you mispelled Hagelin’s name; (b) you ignore Hagelin’s credentials (Harvard PhD); (c) you call MUM a “phony organization”, ignoring it’s full accreditation; (d) you needed somebody else to tell you what the presenter said.

Which part of you brain was engaged?

posted by Eddie on November 2, 2005 #

Watching this Lynch event was one of the most delightful experiences I can remember. I think this was because what was being conveyed was both a sense of profound knowledge and great joy, which we rarely see today. It only COMES OFF as corny because that’s how we are able to see it at first. Then it hits you that they’re just talking about reality: ostentatious and sometimes funny reality.

I think the connection between the science of the TM technique and physics was not made in detail. But to me it’s obvious. It seems to me the connection is this: our entire beings, flesh and nervous systems are grounded in their infinite origins in the Universe. Its nature is our nature, physically and metaphorically. This Universe is finally being understood scientificaly as it has been mystically throughout history; as a unified field, “superficially diverse and fundamentally unified.” This physical truth is engaged when the mind is in its natural state. All of the universe is experienced in the consciousness of the individual. Techniques like TM allow the mind to be both awake and in deep rest, allowing the individual a more clear and lucid mind for experience.

The UC Irvine crowd was great; sceptical but open. We saw different presentations. I think your response is natural but may be unduely dismissive. I remember great insights from Lynch’s responses, and won’t forget them for some time.


posted by on November 6, 2005 #

I’d like to provide a contrasting perspective on the presentation that took place at UC Irvine:

This event was simulcast at Portland State University where I watched in a darkened auditorium as part of a crowd of about 250 people. Many of the people there assumed that Lynch would be speaking in person and, indeed, much of the advance publicity implied that he would be. Because I was a little skeptical about Lynch making a low profile appearance in Portland (not a typical stop on most speaking tours) I had done a little background research into what might be expected at this event.

I should mention that parts of “What the Bleep!?” were filmed in Portland and the film did extremely well here though it did ignite a small controversy in local media in regards to the validity of the science and philosophy presented in the film (TM vs. Humanism.) It is possible that many of the people in the audience were fully aware of what the presentation would entail.

Still, in that darkened theater, watching the Irvine presentation on three very large screens, the overwhelming reaction was one of skepticism and disbelief. This reaction most frequently took the form of uproars of laughter. There was a pretty steady stream of people leaving the auditorium from the very beginning of the event.

Plenty of awkward, and in some cases embarrassing, statements were made by Lynch, the other speakers and the Irvine audience members and I did scribble down some of the most bizarre and callous of these comments but, honestly, they are not worth passing along.

Basically, the evening was an embarrassment to the human condition. It was an insult to science, spirituality and popular culture. I’ve wondered for some time why minor cults don’t seem to happen as often in American culture as often as they do in Europe and Asia. Perhaps this group is providing an equation that others can take advantage of: Token Celebrity + Misplaced Optimism + Pseudo-Science = Big Bucks. Then again, they may have borrowed that formula from Scientology.

posted by MatthewY on November 6, 2005 #

If TM will change the world and Hagelin and Lynch’s ultimate quest is world peace, then why aren’t they on tour teaching TM to the masses? And then, why does it cost around $1000 to be taught the TM technique? Hypocricy much?!

posted by allipie on November 8, 2005 #

“If TM will change the world and Hagelin and Lynch’s ultimate quest is world peace, then why aren’t they on tour teaching TM to the masses? And then, why does it cost around $1000 to be taught the TM technique? Hypocricy much?!”

That IS what they are doing, and the David Lynch foundation is there so you DONT have to pay. GOOGLE!

posted by on November 10, 2005 #

Hagelin was a researcher at CERN, a recipient of the Kilby award http://www.kilby.org/kl_past_laureates.html an author of more than a dozen influential papers in particle physics and co-author of one the most frequently referenced papers in string theory: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?num=100&hl=en&lr=&q=js+hagelin&btnG=Search

Of course this does not give him automatic authority or credibility outside his field of expertise, but it at least earns him my respect to hear him out and give him the benefit of the doubt, especially if I don’t fully understand what he is talking about.

posted by on November 13, 2005 #

By the way, if I were you I would be more careful before shooting from the hip in posting statements that ANYONE has “fabricated statistics”, let alone a respected scientist who has had his methodologies critically peer reviewed and then published in reputable science journals, and has had his data - in this case crime statistics - independently audited and validated by top city officials, you really should learn more what you are talking about. Not only is it sloppy, it is also uncool and potentially libelous.

And just for the record, no one “found” that any statistics were fabricated for that study or any of the 13 independent studies associating the reduction of violent crime statistics and hospital admissions with large groups of people practicing TM meditation in the immediate geographic region. These findings, while very unusual, have been peer-reviewed and published in reputable science journals over a 10+ year period.

posted by on November 13, 2005 #

I watched his lecture at www.davidlynchfoundation.org/tour/index.html It seems that the audience really enjoyed it!

It is normal that you agree or disagree with what was said, but if you think David’s experience is BS and your expertise is greater than Hagelin’s… boy, what a vanity! Please list your arguments, I am eager to hear all sides. However, I don’t accept just some superficial criticising with no real arguments. Your text might be good for a cheap rap song but not for a serious discussion…

posted by tiger on November 14, 2005 #

I can tell you from my over thirty years of practicing TM, I have slowed my aging process dramaticaly, and in one particular meditation went to an amazingly blissful place inside myself (I would theorise that was perceiving my own soul, something that is within us all, just rarely contacted consciously). Personaly I have never liked much of what is put out there as truth at Maharishi International University. Not to say that there isn’t truth in it, I beleive there is alot of truth, but as with all human attempts to organise and teach, some of it sucks. But, as I realised way back when I began meditating, we sure need to do better as humans on this planet. This is one of the few ways that you can take your own power into your hands to help bring about the improvements in human intelligence that will be required to bring us into the future without making a total mess of our earth. Change must come one way or another, by making a wreck out of the earth, or possibly, there does exist a soul within us, a spiritual basis for all of life that we can align more with to attain a more harmonious experience here. TM is very easy to do, it makes sense to me that it does allow you to tap into the depths of the human soul, it changes a large number of things for the better. The alternative is going forward like a bunch of ca ca heads along the road to who knows where. It has been obvious for a long time that nuclear technology will be completely out of the bag soon. We will need some miracles to keep this from getting very ugly. It makes sense to me that the “miracles” will have to come if they do from more people living truly good energy. If you sit in a group of people doing TM, it is not much of a stretch to see what is created as “good energy”. You’d have to be there, it’s simple…

posted by mr practical on December 11, 2005 #

I saw the show at USC. I thought it was great. I was in a seat that didn’t allow me to ask questions, or I would have.

Personally, I like to drink my own morning urine each day, then do TM-it’s helped me in all sorts of ways. Lynch’s presentation didn’t do TM justice. I thought it was a poor science presentation. too bad.

posted by on January 6, 2006 #

Did anyone hear about the murder at Maharishi University of Managment. How does this happen in the presence of enlightenment? The only thing TM does is allows the “Movement” to control your mind and rob you of your critical thinking ability (and hard earned cash). If you get to know any TMers you’ll soon realize they worship Maharishi as a God and blindly babble whatever mishmash of New Age jabber is fed to them.

The celebs and scientists are used as tools to fool innocent sincere people. They are the worst kind of evil.

posted by Leviticus Dei on January 11, 2006 #

Filmaker David Lynch will be having a special weekend event at Maharishi International University in Iowa on how meditation has influenced his career. (www.lynchweekend.com)

All are invited…

posted by Steven Yellin on February 7, 2006 #

I know you are all skeptics here. I do not know anything about TM. But, a good book on where science and religion can postively meet is “The Universe in Single Atom”

posted by Natkeeran on December 15, 2006 #

I think what they are doing is great, but it seems they are exaggerating a bit. It will be better if they just tell us about the things as they are; as they are written in the Vedas.

And also, the murder happened at the school seems an example of their exaggeration. Actually, i also do not understand why it should have happened in a so-called peaceful place. Or was it just an unlucky occasion?

posted by on February 23, 2007 #

I practice Meditation. I feel more connected to my existence.I feel David lynch is doing revolutionary work. The science is in the being. It cannot be graphed or plotted. Thats why it is revolutionary. Results are important, but its about the students living in a more connected way to themselves.This is also the reason our world is sick. We are not connected to ourselves. Meditation helps connect you to the source of everything. Those who are naysayers are not being genuine. Meditation is primal and real. It makes no difference who turns you on about meditation. Study in this area will only promote an individual mind and a connected spirit. All religions have words for meditation(prayer)It is an old study not to be feared or ignored. Whatever scene is happening around TM makes no difference in regard to personal study.

posted by juleswells on August 20, 2007 #

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