A few days ago, I mentioned my enduring fondness for crackpot conspiracy theories. I have also mentioned my fascination with fringe pseudoscience, fringe history, fringe archeology, and wacko academic pursuits. The weirder and more outlandish the better! I’m truly fascinated by this stuff. The pathology of incredible beliefs, the seductive notion that there’s a hidden truth that could make sense of the world…
Back in the day, I was also an avid fan of the X-Files. (Although, just for the record, I knew it was fiction. I have never believed the show was secretly priming the American people for major revelations about the truth behind UFOs. Nor did I ever view it as a documentary. I just feel the need to make that clear.)
All of which means that I was absolutely powerless when I stumbled across Nick Cook’s mind-shattering book, The Hunt for Zero Point: Inside the Classified World of Antigravity Technology.
(Below the cut: this baby will Flip. Your. Wig. But only keep reading if you’re positive that you’ll be comfortable living THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS.)
Why was this book written for me? Because it touches on the military industrial complex, military cabals, World War II, Nazis, time travel, UFOs, fringe physics, superconductivity, and government coverups. Not to mention (tangentially, if you happen to know some backstory) ESP, remote viewing, and Uri Freakin’ Geller.
Did I mention that it’s supposedly nonfiction? And that it’s written by a military-affairs journalist for Jane’s Defense Weekly?
Oh, man… Was I ever in hog heaven when I found this book.
So the author, Nick Cook, was for a long time an aviation editor at Jane’s, which is the premiere publication that covers international military affairs and weapons development. Prior to that he was a journalist. And, to his credit, I think he really does try to approach this huge story with the same journalistic rigor that he might have applied to a story about mysterious holes in the Pentagon budget. (Actually, the book touches on a couple of those, too.) But there’s a point in the book where—it seems to me, as a layreader—the author loses his objectivity just a little bit, and starts to sound more and more credulous as the rabbithole gets curioser and curioser. He also makes a terrible, jaw-droppingly poorly researched choice when he rounds up a science advisor to help him understand some of the physics claims behind this story. But I get ahead of myself.
The book is written around a fascinating premise. If somebody turned this into a movie, I would be there on opening day.
Cook noticed* that back in the mid-1950s, most of the major US and Canadian aerospace companies of the time spoke openly about their work on “G-engines”, going so far as to state in their advertising and PR material that they were on the verge of cracking antigravity technology. Soon, within a few years, they claimed, jet engines and rockets would be antiquainted vestiges of the postwar years. Martin Aircraft (of later Martin-Marietta fame, and still later of Lockheed Martin fame), Bell Aircraft (later of Bell Aerospace fame), and Lear were just some of the companies throwing millions and millions of dollars at this problem. Lawrence Bell, founder of the eponymous company, said around 1956: “We’re already working on nuclear fuels and equipment to cancel out gravity.” The VP in charge of the “G-project” at another company claimed that cracking the antigravity problem would be achieved in about the same time the Manhattan Project produced the first atomic weapon. Sperry-Rand and General Electric were also in on the game.
And then, by ’57, all talk of G-engines and antigravity disappeared permanently. According to Cook, if you ask around, nobody will ever admit there had even been such talk. Ever. He tried to interview George Trimble, that VP in charge of the G-project. Even though that work had been over 40 years in the past, Trimble canceled the interview when he learned Cook was digging into antigravity research.
Dun dun dun.
One could argue that they dropped the AG stuff like a hot potato once they realized it was a dead end, and that they’d thrown millions of dollars down a well, and that they’d hyped this avenue of research to the sky, and that, in short, they were going to look like idiots to the shareholders. Or…maybe that’s just what they want us to think. Maybe the work went underground at that point. Maybe it went deep black.
And it takes off from there. Cook’s investigation takes him through the weird wonderland of T. Townsend Brown (a favorite of the contemporary antigravity crowd), Evgeny Podkletnov and his spinning superconductors, top-secret Nazi weapons development during World War II, Viktor Schauberger’s Bell (a favorite of the Nazi UFO crowd), Operation Paperclip, and, eventually, the stealth bomber. (How does that thing really fly, anyway?) Along the way, he discovers that all post-Paperclip documents pertaining to the former head of SS weapons development, Hans Kammler, have mysteriously disappeared from the US Archives.
Dun dun dun.
True or not, it’s a massively entertaining story. This interview in the Atlantic, dated from around the release of the book, gives a good overview of the investigation, and Cook’s approach to it.
But along the way, Cook delves into some of the theoretical speculation about how antigravity technology would work, and how such a technology would be powered. But, as he’s very open about admitting throughout the book, he doesn’t have a physics background and thus can’t evaluate the scientific merits of some of the claims that he encounters. So when talk turns to zero point energy, he turns to an expert for help.
And this is where his journalistic credibility shatters. Why? Because Cook’s chosen expert on the fields of antigravity and zero point energy was one Hal Puthoff. Cook went to him because Puthoff is the founder of an outfit called the Institute of Advanced Studies in Austin, Texas, where he has been doing gravity and zero-point research for a number of years.
But having read a little book called Mindreach (entirely for amusement but not without a growing sense of outrage) I knew the name Harold Puthoff from a very different corner of his résumé.
This was the same Hal Puthoff who, working with Russell Targ at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s, wrote a couple of papers for Nature claiming to have irrefutably proven the existence of ESP by testing Uri Gellar under laboratory conditions. The same Hal Puthoff who, working with Russell Targ at the SRI, was completely hoodwinked by Gellar, and later James Randi. The same Hal Puthoff who, working with Russell Targ at the SRI, wrote an entire book about their supposedly rigorous and scientific examination of remote viewing. The same Hal Puthoff who ran a remote viewing program for the US intelligence community for over a decade. And the same Hal Puthoff who, in the early 1970s, was an OT VII within the Church of Scientology, and who openly claimed to have developed his own remote viewing abilities.
To his credit, Cook did at least uncover Puthoff’s connection to remote viewing, and even noticed that it wasn’t listed on Puthoff’s CV. But he didn’t investigate Puthoff deeply enough. What Cook missed, and this was a huge oversight, was the fact that Puthoff’s adventures with “strange science” didn’t merely give him an outsider’s perspective on potential paradigm shifts. It completely and irrevocably destroyed his scientific credibility.
Let me say that again. Mindreach is the book that Puthoff and Targ wrote in the 1970s to describe what they claimed was their rigorous, purely scientific investigation of remote viewing and other “psychic phenomena”. I read it carefully. And you know what? If Puthoff and Targ had been my graduate students, and they had brought this work to me, I would have failed them. I would have rejected their research as unsuitable for a degree and sent them back to the drawing board. It’s glaringly obvious in the book that their methodology was shoddy, error-prone, systematically unsound, susceptible to human bias, and generally unbecoming of two scientists who spend a great deal of time trumpeting their credentials. (And shame on Nature for ever publishing that Uri Gellar paper in the first place.)
But this is the guy that Cook trusted to vet some of the more, um, exotic claims in the book.
What a shame. Because, like I said, it’s a very entertaining story otherwise. Even if it reads like a World War II/SF/conspiracy thriller. Or especially because of that. Nazi UFOs! Secret Air Force antigravity technology! Einstein! Time travel! The stealth bomber! What’s not to love?
(*Actually, he was led to notice this via the intervention of an anonymous source. Cue creepy music in 3, 2, 1…)