Sunday, August 4, 2013

#652: Werner Erhard

A.k.a. Jack Paul Rosenberg (real name)

The Erhard Seminars Training or “est” was a pretty popular affair in the 1970s and 80s (it might still exist – offshoots such as the Landmark forum at least do). In the seminars participants payed quite a lot of money to be abused and subjected to woo, pseudo-existentialism, meditation, sleep deprivation, and brainwashing, all for the purpose of increasing Werner Erhard’s personal wealth but officially for the purpose of “getting it” (a comprehensive discussion is here). What you were supposed to “get” is still a little unclear, for it was framed in incoherent gibberish and psychobabble that est initiates claimed were “intensely” meaningful (because of sleep deprivation, presumably), but at least the participants were supposed to speak enthusiastically about it afterwards and recruit new participants (and obtain “awareness”). The est babble was based on a combination of Mind Dynamics, Scientology (though even scientologists denounced Erhard – ok, so they claimed infringement of copyright rather than calling bullshit), Zen, Gestalt psychology, Heidegger, Dale Carnegie, motivational books, Psycho-Cybernetics and various precursors of The Secret.

Mind Dynamics, by the way, was the focus of Erhard’s precursor to est, and involved a method by which Erhard claimed to be able to teach clairvoyance, ESP, mind reading, and similar bullshit.

A side project, The Hunger Project, was supposed to end world hunger by effectuating a global shift in consciousness and attitude by getting people to “rethink their position” on world hunger (without actually doing anything).

Erhard had profound influence over a lot of people, and is praised by the usual suspects such as John Denver, Buckminster Fuller, and Yoko Ono.

Diagnosis: I am rather uncertain whether Erhard is a loon or not. Certainly the teachings are looney gibberish, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the guy who, you know, does this for a living is a loon. A comprehensive Encyclopedia of loons nevertheless requires an entry under “Werner Erhard”.


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    1. "now acknowledged by many of the finest academic institutions worldwide"

      What does that even mean? It is not endorsement by academic *institutions* that determine the scientific status of hypotheses. Perhaps you could provide some examples of what you are thinking of? The link you supply doesn't provide much by way of scientific grounding of Erhard's nebulous mixture of new age banter and pseudo-philosophy with scientific terminology.

      Whatever Erhard's advice on leadership techniques, his work is suffused with pseudo-science and woo - most of it is fluff that is too metaphorical and vague to be testable, but the underlying ideas on how the mind works are often demonstrably wrong. That's what qualifies him as a loon.

      I am not sure you understand the purpose of the post either. The post provides plenty of material to "fuel the debate" - through the links. This purports to be an Encyclopedia, and the purpose of an Encyclopedia is not to do original research but to direct readers to trustworthy sources. Those links provide the more detailed discussions of Erhard's claims.

    2. GD, from my perspective, what you are expressing is all fine and good as an opinion you hold about some guy, who, it appears you really *\don't know from Adam.

      But beyond that, I would say it is only YOU that is displaying the "pseudo-science", "woo" and "fluff" and "demonstrably" "untestable" metaphoricalness and vagueness here.

      Correct me if I am wrong but you appear to be simply repeating hearsay you may have read (and blindly bought into) on the unmoderated internet.

  4. Werner Erhard's groundbreaking work with transformation, now acknowledged by many of the finest academic institutions worldwide, should of course be subject to rigorous scrunity.

    The author of this piece, Ryan Lake, however provides nothing substantive to fuel this debate other than his own unexperienced, bloated, ill-informed opinion.

    For a more rigorous insight into Werner Erhard's work, visit

  5. "A side project, The Hunger Project, was supposed to end world hunger by effectuating a global shift in consciousness and attitude by getting people to “rethink their position” on world hunger (without doing anything other than sending Erhard money)."

    You just have no clue what you are talking about. Werner Erhard never received a penny for the Hunger Project. Where do you get your information from????????? Wow. This whole page is clueless.

    While Werner Erhard is not involved with the current Hunger Project, if you or anyone are interested at how the Hunger Project started, I recommend reading the paper written to introduce The Hunger Project in 1977.

    "The End of Starvation: Creating an Idea Whose Time Has Come"
    by Werner Erhard, 1977

    1. Constructive criticism is always welcome, and I realize I have no evidence to back up the "send Erhard money" claim, so I deleted it.

      What I am even more grateful for, however, is the link. I have rarely read a more vapid example of pseudo-philosophical bullshit than that one, and I recommend anyone who doubts that Erhard is a loon to read it. This is fluffy self-help babble couched in New Age garment and (deliberately?) misunderstood Philosophy 101 material as fluffy and silly as it comes.

    2. Yes, you do see it exactly that way, there is no doubt of that.

    3. BTW "(without actually doing anything)" is just more inaccurate nonsense which you have no evidence to back that up either.

      The Hunger Project describes itself as "a global movement with a vision and commitment to end hunger by organising the necessary leadership, training, and education"

      In 1977 the Hunger Project was not about sending food and $ to hungry people. There were already lots of agencies doing that at that time. The Hunger Project took on something it viewed was missing at that time.

      One thing that agencies that sent $ and food to third world communities learned was that said 3rd world communities became dependent on the celebrities and agencies that raised $ for them each year and said 3rd world communities were left complacent and in worse shape than before they received aid.

      The gaols of the Hunger Project are in line with the most advanced thinking on the topic of ending hunger. The Hunger Project's founders John Denver, Werner Erhard and Robert W Fuller, were, in my opinion, ahead of their time.

      As for your passion for putting down Werner Erhard, a little garden variety case of tall poppy syndrome?

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  7. Everything you have said also could be said about the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology, sociology, economics, ontology or theories of ANYTHING as well as all brain science all philosophy and all religion. Which of these academic disciplines and ideas does not sound like incoherent gibberish and psychobabble to a person who is not actively involved or immersed in the application or exploration of them? Werner Erhard is in excellent company of people and ideas you appear to be threatened by.

    And what is the difference between something that is philosophical and "pseudo-philosophical"? What is the difference between existentialism and "pseudo-existentialism"? Is the one that you like and that you have chosen to buy into the REAL one and one that you don't like and have not bought into the "pseudo" one?

    And where did you get your PhD in "brainwashing" to call anything "brainwashing" or know anything about "brainwashing"? Internet educated experts with their own blog page are many these days.

  8. Thanks for repeating all the tired misrepresentations of the work of Werner Erhard. I have known Mr. Erhard for many years. He is a man of absolute integrity who has made an outstanding contribution to people's lives over a period of 42 years.

    His programs are not about any philosophy but about a personal experience of who you really are and overcoming the barriers to full self-expression.

    The only confrontational aspect of the programs is you confronting you, looking deeply at your life and experiencing what works and what doesn't work in your life. The programs created by Werner Erhard have been the most valuable courses I have done in my life and that includes university on every level.

    It is so easy to stand above the battle and call other people names, yet the bottom line is that, not having taken any of the courses, you basically don’t know what you are talking about.