Angels and Demons - Feeding our love of conspiracies

Tomorrow Angels and Demons comes to theaters across the country. One in a long series of movies that profits from the idea that underneath our regular, ordinary world, there are powerful forces controlling the scenes. I understand the appeal of these movies, it's an entertaining concept. A fictional conspiracy engages your intellect, creates a mystery, makes you think about the world and who is in control. But we have to remember when we see these films that these are works of fiction for entertainment. The Illuminati are not real, this sadly ludicrous belief still persists for some people but fortunately for most of us has become a joke. The Priory of Sion was conclusively demonstrated to be a hoax decades ago. These groups are, of course, not real because such conspiratorial groups and actions could never be kept secret or hidden in the real world.

The reality of conspiracy theories is very different. These don't represent any kind of healthy thought process at all. They require one to reach a conclusion, then ignore any information that contradicts it. They attempt to explain, but only create more questions. I like to say they are non-parsimonious. And worse, rather than make people think, they tend only to enforce bigotry and ideology. It is the intellectual equivalent of self-lobotomy.

Films often seem to reinforce non-skeptical thought. We like to be entertained, or scared, or shocked. Hence, every time someone is introduced as an atheist or "skeptic" in a film they're inevitably exposed to ghosts, or aliens, or whatever unlikely boogeyman serves the script. The skeptic never turns out to be right, as they are in real life. What would be the fun in that? Every movie would turn into an episode of Scooby Doo. It was just old man Withers with a flashlight after all, and a multi-million dollar CGI budget.

So the question is, do films like these make the situation worse? Do they encourage conspiratorial thought or are they recognized by film goers appropriately as entertainment?

I suspect that to some degree our fascination with, and desire to be entertained by conspiracies is encouraged by these films, but for most of us, seeing 1408 or the X-files is just entertainment and that's OK. I read Angels and Demons and I gotta tell you, it's a pretty silly, unbelievable book. But that never precludes it from being a good movie.

If instead you want to spend this weekend watching an entertaining movie that deals with conspiracies in a realistic way, those exist too. I can highly recommend Burn After Reading which is the antidote to government conspiracy theories. In a hysterical way it mocks how little we are in control of anything. Or if you like the murder-mystery types, try Blood Simple. Really, anything by Joel and Ethan Coen will be highly entertaining while keeping your skeptic's circuits sharp. Any other skeptical suggestions for entertainment? Leave them in the comments.

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I really enjoyed The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. I wouldn't want to give away the conclusion, but I will say that the series ends on a delightfully skeptical note. It is also very silly but at least in this case that's intentional.

Aw, someone beat me to Robert Anton Wilson! Shea wrote some of the plot elements, but Illuminatus is mostly Wilson's brainchild (try his Schroedinger's Cat trilogy too; and Masks of the Illuminati, where Albert Einstein and James Joyce team up to fight a cult conspiracy.). Wilson, in interviews, was a well-spoken skeptic and agnostic.
I did read about 300 pages of Angels & Demons, but quit after so much nonsense. Brown actually ends his chapters with ditties like 'but it was too late...' and his main character can't seem to decide if CERN is a satanic cult or not.
Focault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco is the only other truely amazing conspiracy novel I can think of right now. A very quiet and extremely paranoid book; great fun, in other words.

OMG! They've gotten to you, too! They're everywhere! (fnord) They're coming (fnord) to take us all to (fnord) reeducation camps! The truth is out there! (Way, way out there!)


By LanceR, JSG (not verified) on 14 May 2009 #permalink

Blood Simple is one of my all-time favorite movies. For something that does a good job of creating a sense of paranoia along with the suspense, I would suggest The Conversation. A movie that develops a great feeling of paranoia but is otherwise pretty goofy is Pi.

Though it's surely not to everyone's taste, I enjoyed Weirdsville.

It surprised me a few times by presenting seemingly "supernatural" things (a Satanic cult features prominently in the plot), then dismissing any supernatural explanations quite succinctly, and perhaps even derisively.

It was as reality-based as a movie that also features a gang of vigilante midgets who attack Moonies while dressed in medieval garb could possibly be.

Part of the allure of conspiracy theories is that there ARE groups conspiring in the real world. Some are relatively more effective (various mob groups, certain lobbying activities, etc.) than others (street gangs, 3rd grade homeroom class w/ spitballs), but the common thread is that they're doing "something bad" to benefit themselves and you don't get to know what it is because no one 'on the inside' is going to tell you what's going on.

For a skeptic, a lack of information demands a measured response, carefully fact checking and correlating in a logical and rational manner. For others, gaps in information are meant to be filled in by the imagination. And there begins the self-inflicted harm, because I can imagine some pretty frightful stuff. Did you know the monster in my closet has 5 arms and 20 eyeballs? o_O BOO!

At the same time, it's hard not to feel some compassion for conspiracy theorists precisely because there are actual conspiracies (even if not the particular ones they believe in) and it can be emotionally comforting to believe your suffering was caused by dark forces allied against you ("I'm a victim AND a target!"). It's just a shame they're willing to spout crazy to tap into that comfort and validation. Suffering can be hard to cope with intellectually.

In any event, my county is welcome to raise my property taxes to pay for basic logic classes starting at the early elementary school level. Not every journey ends at a point predicted by logic and reasoning, but you're really screwed if your journey doesn't even start at one.

Hail Eris

By Erisian23 (not verified) on 14 May 2009 #permalink

It's been ages since I read it, but...


I'm pretty sure the point at the end was that it wasn't a conspiracy, just a lone nut trying to use the conspiracy theory as an alibi.

Perhaps. Conspiracy in law simply means that there is secret cooperation to commit a criminal act.

I see a bit of that around.

Criminals I guess always act alone....


Beware the fallacy of insufficient cynicism.

"If you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together."
When the group of fellow-travelers is headed toward a socially destructive destination, and they'd prefer that others not know it, that's called a conspiracy.

It'd be foolish, to dismiss the possibility out of hand regardless of circumstance.

Just to clear the usual confusion on this issue. There is a difference between conspiracies - like the criminal conspiracy of the mob, or the more banal things like collusion or price fixing - and conspiracy theories which sound like the crap that comes out of agent Mulder's mouth. The point is the classic "conspiracy theory" is non-parsimonious. It's a disjointed way to connect disparate data in a way that satisfies one ideological expectations or prejudice. It creates more questions than it answers, and it ignores data which suggest more banal, uninteresting explanations.

So yes, criminals act together, but when one presents their activities it's not a "conspiracy theory" which in the modern parlance of our world usually refers to the bizarre fantasies of morons.

I do get your points about actual conspiracies vs. non-parsimonious thought patterns and we're in agreement there. My comment was really keying off your observation:

>> These don't represent any kind of healthy thought process at all.

I tend to model the spread of ideas after viruses, transmitting from host to host (and since Oprah has "contact" with so many people... Scary.). I just don't think we've sufficiently inoculated a lot of really good people against these "mental viruses." I believe we have an excellent opportunity in the public school system to provide more of the basic tools needed to protect oneself from many types of irrational thinking.

Of course, one of the downsides to the public school route is they often manage to turn "studying" into a bad word, and yet when new ideas or information arrives, it's precisely that - an attitude of study that is most helpful in protecting oneself. Having failed to provide some very important and fundamental methods of critical thinking, it seems unsurprising we end up living in the majority's demon haunted world.

So we definitely agree it's not healthy too, but I go further to say "therefore many people are actually unhealthy." To the extent we can do so without smashing individual liberties, we should try to help them heal. And for those who are not yet "infected", we likely agree that prevention is the best first option.

Interestingly enough (to me), that's also an important part of why I enjoy visiting the Denialism blog for a tune-up - it helps me keep my own engine running healthier and cleaner. So please allow me to say g'night with: thank you for all your good work (and your co-conspirators as well ;-).

By Erisian23 (not verified) on 14 May 2009 #permalink

Mark, this review (h/t Hot Topic) by Johann Hari of Voodoo Histories, a new book by David Aaronovitch, may be of interest, as may the book itself (which I haven't seen or otherwise heard about):

"[Aaronovitch] argues that we keep returning so obsessively to conspiracy theories because they are, paradoxically, reassuring. 'Paranoia', he writes, 'is actually the sticking plaster we fix to an altogether more painful wound': the knowledge that life is chaotic and random and nobody is in charge."

I've certainly had this same general thought regarding global warming denialism, but likely there's some value in a broader discussion.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 15 May 2009 #permalink

the knowledge that life is chaotic and random and nobody is in charge."

This is what Joel and Ethan Coen tend to make movies about. It's why Burn After Reading should be shown in civics class.

Scooby Doo kept annoying me, for it's frequent use of one explanation - any ghosts or other supernatural creepness would likely be exposed as the work of a hidden projector. Though I clearly saw the ghosts appearing away from a surface, and interacting with the other characters who seemed unable to recognise them as projections. Even at that age, I knew that projectors *don't work like that!*

Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 is an interesting look at conspiracies. A recurring theme in Pynchon's work is the idea that conspiracies need to be manufactured to cover the uncomfortable realities or to fill in areas of uncertainty. Plus, there's a character named "Genghis Cohen," which is pretty awesome.

Angels & Demons: The science revealed by U of A physicist

By Brian Murphy
May 14, 2009 - Edmonton-Roger Moore says Tom Hanks needn't have worried. "The antimatter bomb plot in Angels and Demons is pure science fiction."
Moore, the University of Alberta physicist (not the actor), has some issues with Hanks' new Hollywood film, Angels and Demons. Moore has a personal connection with the movie that includes a plot by bad guys to break into CERN and steal half a gram of antimatter to blow up Rome.
Moore also works at CERN, the huge, underground atom smashing complex in Switzerland, and admits there is some truth to the Angels and Demons script: Moore says, yes, antimatter, the elusive, volatile energy source, exists at CERN. He also says that if evildoers produced a half a gram of antimatter and mixed it with the same amount of matter, the explosion would equal kilotons of TNT.

Big ifs

But Moore wants to separate Hollywood fiction from physics facts because, he says, there are lots of "big ifs" in the movie. One of the "ifs" concerns the amount of antimatter the movie bad guys snatch from CERN.
Matter and antimatter have been around since the Big Bang, the surge of energy that created the universe. So it's plain to see, antimatter can pack a punch. But it's not easy to create antimatter. You need a particle accelerator like CERN's that can send electrons crashing into atoms at near the speed of light.

Physicists at CERN can do that, but does anyone have the time to make the half gram of antimatter the thieves make off with in the movie? "It would take roughly 10 million years to make 0.5 grams of antimatter," said Moore.

Time is definitely a problem and so is storage. How would the forces of evil get the antimatter from CERN to Rome? "You just can't keep antimatter in a bottle," said Moore. "A bottle is made of matter - matter and antimatter, together they go boom!"

Moore certainly isn't worried that the exciting storytelling in Angels & Demons could ever become reality. "CERN is an international organization, all the research is published in open science journals," said Moore. "Even if somebody there wanted to make an antimatter bomb, it's just not practical."

Presenting the facts

Moore and three colleagues from the U of A make up an international team of physicists who want to inform people, not frighten them. Moore says the scientists at CERN want to learn how the universe was created. They want to know what there was before the big bang, before there was a universe.

"Last fall, it was the black hole scare. People worried our particle accelerator would swallow the world," said Moore. "Now we've got Angels & Demons and an antimatter bomb. We just want people to know it's not a real concern."

When I saw The Da Vinci Code, at the psychological moment when Tom Hanks says to Audrey Tatou, "You are the only living descendant of Jesus Christ!" the entire theatre burst out laughing. It was quite possibly the worst movie I've ever seen.

Mark's point about conspiracies just adds another reason to RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY from the sequel. â¼
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Who is Switzerland's king?
In: Switzerland [Edit categories]


Who is Switzerland's King? Or for that matter Israel's or Europe's King and what about Tarpon Spring's King? There is one claimant to those coveted thrones!

He is American by birth. His American name is John Christian Saxer Jr. His Swiss name is Johann Christian Von Sax the second. He lives in Florida and regards the throne of England as a fake pretender to the true throne; only the Stuarts of the true King's property.

He is Great unto his own deeds. He has a patent on a pyramid healing bed chamber issued by the U.S.A. that borders on a perpetual motion machine. He calls it the \"Phoenix Dream Chamber\" featuring a Quartz Crystal Capstone of clear perfect quality and credits sleeping in it to have produced his great insight. He has located the capstone of the Great Pyramid at Giza through math analysis. He has been given credit for decoding the only symbol (the BOSS)inside the Great pyramid by John Gangstead author of \"Signs in the Sun\" a book about the Great Pyramid's math.

He has discovered over a thousand giant ancient holey stone "ark anchors" on the west central coast of Florida. This proves that Atlantis was on the Gulf of Mexico as the inland sea of Atlantis with New Port Ritchie as the entrance port with the carvings of Atlas and Hesperos the first wife on an "anchor type" Stone. He has located the Greek Garden of the three Hesperides at Tarpon Springs by the overhead view of the ancient river system revealing the portrait of Poseidon and the marriage of Atlas to Hesperos, and the dragon shaped river that is the serpent of Eden trailing off of the rear end of Atlas which signifying evolution stage from primate to human. Euphrates means the dragon shaped river in Greek or Atlantian. That river according to ancient texts had mounds as does the Anclote where as the present day Euphrates does not! This means that this Garden was the original and and perhaps the only ancient Garden of Eden. He has been featured in many T.V., news and magazine articles about this non-theory reality in his efforts to educate our society to the apparent truths of the Greek Mythology.

He is the first proponent of the Earth-Flip Theory where as the Earth can and has flipped in the past causing the last biblical flood of Noah and over flowing of Atlantis as the ocean waters spilled out over the continents as they slipped underneath and later returned to ocean basins thus reversing our magnetic orientation at the same time and from where the sun rises and sets. No other explanation for the world flood exists! Ask yourself: \"would the Earth flipping cause any problems?\" (Mathew 24 Stars falling from the sky?).

He is also the one of the first proponents of a duel sun solar system based on the procession of the equinoxes and a counter weight, a "Dark Star" to balance the action of that wobble. And also a visiting planet, Nibiru or wormwood that elliptically orbits between the two suns through our immediate solar system in a 3200 yr cycle. Saxer expounded on that and on the missing capstone at the Ancient Astronaut Convention in 1978 in Chicago. The leader of that convention Eric von Danikin was rather put off by this relative youngster, Saxer at 28yrs. old to have shown the entire group of 300 there at that meeting that another leader in mankind's evolution had emerged with obvious data indicating he was right. Saxer was rewarded by getting his membership to the Ancient Astronaut Society revoked by Von Danikin with the declaration that "you will never speak at one of my conventions again!" Than later in 1992 the Jet Propulsion Lab astrophysicist speaker at that same convention declared that they had located a "Brown Dwarf" in our solar system. They only had looked where Saxer had pointed. That same speaker when Saxer initially spoke to him about the possibility of a "Dark Star" said "absolutely not such an item in our solar system!". Mr. Saxer had given a lesson in common sense astrophysics! The only good thing about that guy is he later corrected himself! One can only wonder what von Danikin will say when he realizes he kicked out of his little club the one who would become future King of his residing country. Perhaps one of his ancient gods will rescue him in one of those chariots of theirs before the King declares eminent domain on his estates.

Von Sax has corrected our history when none of the learned men and women of this society could do so. This is extremely pitiful of all our authoritarian intellectuals who have let us down universally when the given facts were always available to each of us..oh wait righteous subjects; big Al Einstein was also a proponent of earth flip theory as recently brought to the attention of von Sax on \"coast to coast A.M.with George Noori\". It's great to be on a par with that guy! Einstein not George
Mr. von Sax is also progenitor and a believer in the rather controversial theory that the Father of Jesus was indeed Zacharias, the High Priest of the temple and the uncle of Mary. This would mean that John the Baptist was also actually half brother to Jesus, and Mary was cousin to John. This allowed passing on the line of David and Judah as father to son through artificial insemination (immaculate conception) so as to provide as potent blood possible of the Davidic Priest-King gene to provide as strong an opposition and resistance to the Roman occupation rule at that time. This secrecy the led to the virgin birth of God pretext that has confused all Christian faiths ever since( Hebrews 5 & 6). This is the only way Joseph could have accepted the pregnancy! Joseph was the protector of the coming messiah: the Anointed King of Israel. Also as Messiah Priest -King of Israel he would have been required to produces an Heir to the Anointed Throne as soon as possible given the Roman occupation again. Could John the beloved of the Apocalypse be the First Born Child of Jesus? Again secrecy had to be used to keep him safe. How else was that boy able to revealate.. He lived the longest of the apostles and saw the most!. Again none of the religious scholars have even proposed any thing close to the correct sequence of events! Maybe the X- Nazi pope will X COMMUNICATE von Sax for giving out too much truth. And then what? Will the pontificator get a pike in the posterior by one of the Kings Loyal Swiss Guard?

His Royal Swiss claim rests on his family line as it goes back to the Old Confederacy of the Swiss when his ancestors in a 200 year feud (Werdenbergfeud) managed by seven generations of von Sax family patriarchs; men named Casper, Johann, Heinrich, Johann Peter, Wilhelm, Johann Ulrich and Matthias. They were acknowledged as Princes of the Empire.

It started when Albert the 1st of Austria a Hapsburg in 1278A.D. became Emperor as he did steal the Gold of Solomon, and the rightful future King-Priest from Kyburg castle an early Swiss \"von Sax\" (of the STONE) property where it was stored and brought it to Austria. He was a nephew to the real owners, at Kyburgs Castle. Albert the 1st was not entitled to it as were the the Exilarchs; meaning monarchs in exile. Albert Hapsburg's despicable act of course started the Swiss War for Independence.

Years earlier The Knights Templars were the Army of the Lord founded by St. Bernard in the middle 11th century and continually under the control of the Von Sax Family at Mesocco! In 1213 treacherous acts of treason by King Philip of France and the Pope to steal their gold made the Templar King retreat to their Swiss Celtic Haven, Rhatia (founded by Keltus son of the Spartan Royalty).

The "STONE OF DESTINY "sometimes called "lia fail" is also known by another title in latin, SAXum Fatali. This stone was taken by St. Columbo an Irish monk, with equal royal rank, away from the Scottish King as punishment for evil he had done. He the traveled to Europe along with Holy Gallus his brother and his 12 man entourage carrying it . This stone as it is said throughout history has crowned 100 Scottish and Irish Kings over 1000 years from 500 B.C. to 560 A.D. as they sat upon it. St. Columbo prophesied that when this stone reappears that all mankind will hear it shout out the name of the true King whose right it is to claim his inheritance. The Scots and English have fought and crowned over a door step stone, the false stone for 1,500 years while the real stone ended up in St. Gallen, Switzerland in the hands of the descendants of Holy Gallus at their castle. That stone altar is from the time of Jacob at Pineal where he wrestled an Angel-God to test him, happens at this point in time to have on it the name of your true King: Johann von Sax and an engraving of the pouncing young lion of Zion of Judah representing David's anointing as he in one move killed Goliath and that allowed the Anointed Army of the Most High God to kill10,000 scattering Philistines. Von Sax family keeps it safe for it is an Altar Stone to Sacrifice to God Almighty in thanksgiving for all we have in life.

The 1499A.D. Emperor Sigismund's large Austrian army and the Swabian Knight army were defeated by "Ulrich the peasant" von Sax with 200 great-grandsons of the Templars in uniform along with the peasant Swiss army. At that time the records of the Swiss were systematically destroyed to hide this information by Sigismund in order to eliminate the true Kings claim to the Davidic Throne as Priest-King, a continuous line of more than 3,000 years at that time. Sigismund, the Holy Roman Emperor out of obvious jealousy for the title of Exilarch; which his cousin Ulrich actually was, had almost all records of this family obliterated and claimed the title Priest-King. Sigismund was not happy with only being Emperor. This is an example of righteousness facing evil tyranny head on. Apparently this accomplishment of winning independence for the Swiss put a price on Ulrich's head and the family went into hiding with their royal secret! Lands and property had to be abandoned to keep the Holy Royal Davidic Line intact! Yet through the magic and power of the Internet some, enough have survived, making the "E paper"trail easier to follow.

Yet the Swiss union survived and became a freemen democratic nation at tremendous costs to the von Sax family and their heirs. One third of Switzerland belonged to the von Sax from marriages and acquisitions, starting from before the 9th century through Charlemagne's Father's thankfulness toward the Exilarchs of Narbonne and Septamania, earlier von Sax Ancestors who fought against the Moors named Bin Sacco or Zacco the Victor meaning from Isaac's Son; who is Jacob (Israel). Great Swiss Houses,Toggenburger, Zahringer, Kyburg, Belmont and Rhaitia were all von Sax holdings well earned; as well as MESOCCO the Swiss National Monument to their independence. From 1240 through 1499 A.D. von Sax's ruled as Priest-Kings. Then Sigismund's actions left the present blood royal king without castles, gold, and position. Sad to see the Swiss with all that money and how quickly they forget whose family got them there! How quickly the world forgot who established the first modern democracy that lead to French, German and eventually the United States freedom nations. George Washington was the Ulrich von Sax of America, not the reverse. How quickly they forgot who wrote Swiss common law, law that is still relevant today.

It's hard to see in the famous \"Oath of Rhutli\"1296 the Swiss declaration of Independence from Hapsburg tyranny where freemen steal property from other freemen; especially the one man that was responsible for the hard fought freedom, Ulrich the Great Priest-King von Sax. We all owe him the biggest debt of gratitude for how we live now each and every one of us.! January 1st of every free modern democratic nation should be set aside as (Ulrich) von Sax day!

The von Sax family clearly goes back to Charlemagne and as such Von Sax claims that THRONE AS WELL in Aachen. Get ready Switzerland and the European Union for He aims to RULE. He is the Exilarch of the Jewish line of David and His records show this. He is worried about the present course of human affairs because he feels the leadership out of greed and ignorance has lost is control over the ships of state and the welfare of mankind! He loves and cares for his subjects and plans to restore righteousness and truth to all mankind by His rightful monarchy. There are no other claimants because no-one can. Saxer's grandparents Johann Ulrich and Mary Marie came to America in 1911 to protect their future family. The Swiss sister to Johann sold off the last reacquired von Sax property as the Nazi party came to power in1936, fearing their persecution as always the Royal Davidic line has endured. Johann the grandfather had three sons the Second son John married Madelyn Maria Teresa Davis a Welsh princess.( suspected of being Davidic line as yet untraceable)
"The Stone which the builders rejected has become head of the corner: this is the LORD'S doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!" is a quote out of the bible.

Johann Christian Von Sax has been quoted as saying: \"Let the righteous stand with him. Let evil men fall! Let their family members and close associates police the corrupted ones even unto death for the sake of all mankind: this must be done.\"
"Ask not what the King can do for you, for he already has; rather ask what you may do for your fellow servants of the KINGDOM"

You will enjoy his press releases on Ponce de Leon as well. The lost colony of 200 Spanish was recently located by your King of History and archaeology. "Johann the Great" has finished the work of "Alexander the Great", to locate Atlantian Eden!

Johann von Sax may be goggled; John Saxer, ark anchors, Tarpon Springs, and as of yet no web home site. However please use this address (E MAIL) media inquiries only.

By John Saxer (not verified) on 02 Jun 2009 #permalink

And the Lifetime Achievement Award for Sheer Insanity goes to... John Saxer! Everyone give him a hand!


By LanceR, JSG (not verified) on 02 Jun 2009 #permalink

It's not real, is it? It's a randomly generated spam posting that just happens to look like it might make sense, isn't it? Sort of like setting so many chimps at type writers and they bang out Shakespeare's complete works, right?

I highly recommend Episode 148 of South Park, which takes on 9/11 conspiracies, until Kyle eventually discovers that the government NEEDS you to believe it has the power to pull off a conspiracy, so that you won't realize it's completely ineffective. Brilliant. (You can get full episodes at This one's worth 20 minutes.)

By benandcoopersdad (not verified) on 03 Jun 2009 #permalink