Larry King: Curing Cancer with Consciousness

When coverage of science goes from ignorant to dangerous

In the late 1970s, after putting a homemade pyramid on her head, Judy Zebra Knight (neé Judith Darlene Hampton) says Ramtha—a 35,000-year-old warrior who supposedly led an army against the inhabitants of the mythical kingdom of Atlantis—appeared before her and said that he had returned to spread his wisdom using Knight as his human vessel.

Such bouts of wisdom, imparted to Knight’s followers as she “channeled” the warrior spirit—for a substantial fee, of course—included a recommendation to invest in Knight’s fail-proof, Ramtha-backed, Arabian horse-breeding venture (which failed). Knight’s spiritual and publishing business ventures, however, including Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment and the sale of all things Ramtha under the umbrella of JZK Inc., have been glamorous financial successes.

Quack, snake-oil saleswoman, or profiteering prophet—you can call Knight many things, but what you can’t call her is an expert on the science of human consciousness or a medical expert in the field of addiction.

So it was shocking that Larry King and his producers decided to have Knight on as a guest for the August 2 airing of Larry King Live on CNN, on the subject of the science of consciousness, the brain, and addiction. What followed ranged from scientifically suspect to outright dangerous. Here’s an example of an early exchange between host and guest:

KING: Isn’t depression, though—if we can overcome that, of the mind, isn’t it a disease?

KNIGHT: Well, all disease is from an attitude that pushes the button genetically that begins to create those proteins inside of ourselves that are mutated. Depression really, at the root of it, is that if our brain is hardwired like this and we have no neuroplasticity—and that neuroplasticity means that thought can travel to other regions of our brain to where we analyze it and we get greater insight. A person that has depression does not allow the—their brain does not allow the thought to go any further. So it’s in a cycle of thinking emotion, thinking emotion, thinking emotion.

This is a gobbledygook of scientific terms like neuroplasticity (used improperly), and nonsense. The suggestion that all disease is a result of psychological triggers goes beyond negligent. It falls into the same category of thinking that posits people get sick because they are psychologically or intellectually feebleminded.

If that were the extent of the missteps in King’s show, perhaps we could grumble a bit and move on. But things got worse as King’s other guests arrived.

One, Will Arntz, a co-producer of the pseudoscience film What The Bleep Do We Know, is, as it turns out, also a student of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment.

Dr. Candace Pert, a celebrated neuroscientist, could have helped anchor the show in reality—until you realize that she’s been pushing the new-age line recently, and also appeared in What The Bleep Do We Know, saying she believes that Native Americans were unable to see Columbus’s ships because the ships were so different from anything the Native Americans had ever experienced before.

And then there was Dr. Fred Alan Wolf—another What The Bleep Do We Know talking head—a.k.a. “Dr. Quantum,” the UCLA-trained physicist with a penchant for taking basic quantum physics concepts, merging them with a blurry dose of metaphysics, and presenting this quantum mysticism as science.

Here’s King and Dr. Wolf confusing the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the collapse of quantum wave states and observation, clinical psychology, and metaphysics:

WOLF: The question really is, what do you think you are? Who do you think you are? And can you change who the observer is that you think you are? And the whole idea is—quantum physics says that the observer affects reality. Therefore, if you can change how you go about observing what you call life, you can change the reality that you’re living in, and that is where it comes from. 

KING: All right. Give me a simple example. Give me a situation. 

WOLF: Let’s say that right now you’re sitting and you’re saying, “Oh, I’m so depressed. I feel so bad. I feel terrible.”

I tell people, just do one simple thing. It’s very simple. Ask yourself this question: “Who is feeling depressed?” But don’t answer the question. Just posing the question without answering it changes the chemistry inside the body, and just by asking, you can begin to lift yourself from that depression.

You’ve got to keep doing it for a while because it isn’t like automatic pilot. It’s not like, throw a switch. You’ve got to keep doing it, and after a while you begin to realize that the person who is saying “I am depressed” is not you.

There are snippets of truth throughout most of what King covered with his guests, but that’s what makes all the pseudoscience so much more damaging and misleading. The technical jargon and the insertion of ideas from quantum physics—a field with which it is particularly easy to mesmerize the science-phobic masses—are classic new-age tools for making gibberish sound like truth. (See Dennis Overbye’s Q&A follow-up to his critique of What The Bleep Do We Know at The New York Times.)

In a particularly egregious exchange, King asks Knight, in his mock-serious rhetorical style, “What about a factor you can’t control, like a disease? Cancer. You can’t control cancer.” Knight’s response is horrifying:

I disagree with that because I believe that the ability of the brain and our ability to access it properly to produce the mind that essentially—the concept mind over matter, that we produce a powerful mind. We can cure our own cancer.

I mean, the whole act of the placebo act—you have to take all these placebos in a drug test because if you believe it cures you, it will. And it’s the same concept.

We have an amazing untapped ability inside of us, and as Dean Radin said here, that we create, even affect external activity, the external reality. We affect the physical reality as well. We affect—our body, our DNA hears everything we think. Our DNA is based upon our thought patterns in general. But we evolve them; we change the disease.

The placebo effect is real and documentable. As is the concept that one’s attitude when facing disease can have some impact the efficacy of treatment—to an extent and in certain circumstances. But that’s it. Someone with cancer can’t simply cure his disease with his mind. Suggesting otherwise, while passing oneself off as an expert, is hugely problematic. It’s misleading, and for individuals who make medical decisions based on such bunk information, the consequences could be fatal.

Instead of following up on Knight’s comment, King veered away to another guest and another topic. This was typical throughout the program.

It’s bad enough to have someone like Knight come on your show to talk as an expert about science and health. But then to not challenge such absurd and potentially dangerous assertions is a serious disservice to his audience. King and his staff should be ashamed; the medical, scientific, and journalistic worlds should be outraged.

Russ Juskalian is a contributor to The Observatory and a freelance writer.