The stigma attached to ignorance is, often and ironically, a result of that condition manifesting itself. It is ignorant to think that a lack of knowledge is all bad. Recognizing the shortcoming and the subsequent desire learn more is what drives progress.
The blogger Skeptophilia wrote, “Ignorance is the inevitable condition if you study anything scientific. Scientists are always pushing the edges of our knowledge, which means they have to be keenly aware of the fact that there are a lot of questions for which we simply don’t have answers.” He also quoted Neil Tyson, who noted that scientists “are always back at the drawing board. If not, they’re not making discoveries and they’re not doing science.”
So this thirst for more knowledge is good, and without it I would not have a word processor to write this, nor even a quill and ink. What’s bad is when a lack of knowledge is filled in with whatever wild conjecture one finds most attractive.
This faux knowledge is often bolstered with a dismissive attitude toward intellectualism. Creationists, alternative medics, anti-vaxxers, and ancient alien aficionados are fond of declaring, “Scientists have no answer for this,” or “Science has been wrong many times before.” They then segue into a fabricated explanation that involves no testing, peer review, clinical trials, or laboratory studies. They conclude with a begging-the-question position that God/aliens did it, that jasmine and sage can combine to cure rosacea, that insulin causes diabetes, or some similar stance with no scientific backing.
Consider some creative interpretations of the pineal gland’s function. Within our lifetimes, this organ has from being considered a vestigial trait to one that physiologists have a rudimentary understanding of. They now know the gland produces melatonin, which helps regulate our circadian rhythm. But scientists are unsure precisely how it manages this and don’t know if it has still other uses.
To the rescue comes Dr. Google. Here, persons who purport to tolerate no gap in human knowledge will turn around and accept assertions that the gland serves as a soul repository, a spiritual antenna, or conduit to a mystical plane. Most popular is the idea that the pineal gland is the gateway to the Third Eye.
Similar to halfhearted conspiracy theorists who portray themselves as broadminded chaps only interested in considering various viewpoints, persons who view the pineal gland in esoteric terms pose a series of questions ostensibly meant to be stoking curiosity, but which really insinuate that “they” are hiding something, whether “they” refers to Illuminati agents or scientists.
Skeptophilia cites a few examples of these questions, such as, “Is the pineal gland the evolutionary remnant of a literal third mammalian eye that moved into the center of the brain and changed functions from gathering light to entraining rhythms in accordance with information gathered by the retina?” Skeptophilia provided what I imagine would be an unsatisfying answer to the questioner: “No. No vertebrate has three eyes.”
Another query was, “Is there a connection between the spiritual promise of the pineal gland, which is shaped like a pine cone, and the Pigna, the colossal bronze pine cone statue of ancient Rome which now sits in a courtyard in the Vatican?” Yes, the connection is that both are the result as painting with the broadest brush possible in order to fill a gaping hole with the vague idea that all can be wonderful and magical if one embraces the poorly-explained notion of a Third Eye.
One final question: “Why is the pineal gland the only organ in the human body that calcifies and solidifies with age and why is it that pineal gland decalcification results in a heightened spiritual experience?”
Again, Skeptophilia: “Your pineal gland is not the only structure in your bodies that calcifies with age. Your cartilage does the same.” Further, “heightened spiritual experience” is not a testable condition and its existence is being asserted without satisfying the requisite protocols.
Meanwhile, the Gaia website combines science and poppycock in one paragraph without acknowledging the abrupt transition: “The pineal gland is a pea-sized gland shaped like a pine cone and located in the vertebrate brain near the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. Also known as the Third Eye, it is a revered tool of seers and mystics and considered to be the organ of supreme universal connection.”
Gaia also plays to the appeal to antiquity fallacy, claiming the notion of a Third Eye appeared in “every ancient culture,” though it only specifies the ones New Agers hold in highest esteem, those in Egypt and India. Specifically, it cites Hinduism’s anja chakra and the Eye of Horus, which had its heyday during the time of the pharaohs.
The ajna chakra does bear some similarity to the Third Eye concept of modern times, but the Eye of Horus was seen as a symbol of protection, power, and health. Its only resemblance to the Third Eye is that both involve peepers. The supposed connection is fabricated so as to appeal to New Agers.
Speaking of which, Gaia explains that, “Developing the Third Eye is the doorway to telepathy, clairvoyance, lucid dreaming, and astral projection. A blocked Third Eye leads to confusion, uncertainty, cynicism, jealousy and pessimism. The calcification of the pineal gland is common if the Third Eye is not being used or as a result of diets rich in fluoride and calcium. Radiation from cell phone use and electric and magnetic fields may have negative impacts on the pineal gland as well.”
These claims are high on extravagance, low on evidence. And while believing that opening the Third Eye will be a magical mystery tour, Gaia does extend a branch to the more conspiratorial minded of its followers. It suggests that fluoridated water and USDA encouragement to get adequate calcium may be ruses to blind the Third Eye.
Also urging caution is an online entity going by the moniker Tapoos. He, she, or it warns that opening the Third Eye will cause senses to become enhanced and that this can be undesirable. It could make tastes more bitter, high-pitched sounds more jarring, and chapped skin more sensitive. Another danger is that the experience could be so wonderful that it will cause the subject to ignore suddenly humdrum stuff like relationships, bills, and community service.
Tips on how to open the third eye are quite varied, which is typical of unscientific gobbledygook. Some involve understood activities, such as meditation, dancing, chanting, yoga, and prayer. Others suggestions are puzzling, such as “cultivate silence,” “hone intuition,” “nurture creativity”, and “become grounded.” These unspecified tasks take an unclear concept like Third Eye and make it ever more muddled.
A vegan diet is another alleged way to pry open this portal. But I have been vegan at various points and my excess consumption of tomatoes and avocadoes led to no heightened state of awareness, nor did it grant me new insights. It either didn’t work or I was born with my Third Eye already open.
For those who do risk the opening, Tapoos writes that it may “introduce you to a whole new world filled with amazing experiences. This new awakening can guide you on the path of consciousness not only about this world but the spiritual realm as well. The pineal gland isn’t some imaginary, magical eye that is going to appear on your forehead. You can think of it as a meta organ that is naturally present in all human beings. This meta organ includes your mind and all of your other senses working together simultaneously to become a single, supreme organ.”
This passage refers to a legitimate biological entity, plus throws in words like gland and organ, but mixes this with decidedly unscientific notions such as supreme organ and the gland being the “seed of the soul.”
Besides there being roughly similar ideas in Hinduism, the concept is found in some Taoist schools and occasionally in neo-gnostic Christian offshoots which consider the Third Eye the means by which Revelation seers were given their visions.
There is also a tangential Tibetan Buddhist connection. The Third Eye idea was championed by a man identifying himself as Lama Lobsang Rampa. But Heinrich Harrer hired a private investigator who learned Rampa was really an Irish plumber named Cyril Hoskin. Upon being busted, Hoskin spun the greatest religious yarn since Joseph Smith.
In that instance, Smith was claiming to be translating inscriptions of golden plates to Martin Harris. Harris’ wife got ahold of the first 116 pages and challenged Smith that if he had translated the golden tablets once, he could do it again. Smith then received a warning from that God not to retranslate these pages because Satan had Earthly minions who would alter the pilfered manuscript, then use the inconsistencies between the two versions to discredit the developing Book of Mormon.
In the more recent case, Hoskin conceded that he was indeed an Irish plumber, but that the spirit of a Tibetan lama had leased space in his soul long enough to pen religious tracts. However many eyes I have, they were all rolling upon hearing that explanation.