In 1988, a hoax created quite a stir in Australia. A man named Luis Alvarez claimed that after a motorcycle accident, he was able to channel an ancient person into his consciousness and allow this individual to speak through him. Carlos, as he called himself, had the wisdom of the ages it appeared, speaking in generalities about truths that are common among people, he quickly developed a following in Australia, including members of the press who helped promote his little budding religion.
What was interesting about this hoax, is that it was the brainchild of skeptic James Randi with the objective of showing just how gullible and susceptible people are to a hoax of this nature. Discussing the charlatans out there that would prey upon us, Sagan made some rather prophetic observations back in 1996.
“Most of these figures are only after your money. That’s the good news. But what worries me is that a Carlos will come along with bigger fish to fry- attractive, commanding, patriotic, exuding leadership. All of us long for a competent, uncorrupt, charismatic leader. We will leap at the opportunity to support, to believe, to feel good. Most reporters, editors and producers-swept up with the rest of us- will shy away from real skeptical scrutiny. He won’t be selling you prayers or crystals or tears. Perhaps he’ll be selling you a war, or a scapegoat, or a much more all-encompassing bundle of beliefs than Carlos’s. Whatever it is, it will be accompanied by warnings about the dangers of skepticism.”
To paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, “where have you gone, Carl Sagan, our nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you……