The Force Skeptics Page

by
Roger M. Wilcox
Last modified on 1-December-2004


"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid."
— Han Solo, outspoken skeptic of the Force


The Jedi Knights are known for their supposed ability to perform "miracles."  They can influence others' thoughts with a wave of their hand, use a slender light saber to deflect blaster bolts with their eyes closed, jump great heights in full gravity, move objects without touching them, see into the future, and do many other things that normal people can't.  Or so they claim.  They attribute these "powers" to an energy field they call the Force.

The Force supposedly cannot be detected by any device that has yet been built anywhere in the Galaxy.  Furthermore, the only people who can detect the Force are those few "gifted" individuals who are "sensitive" to it.  Aptitude with the Force is supposed to correlate with the concentration in ones cells of midichlorians (the organelles that evolved symbiotically from purple bacteria to provide chemical energy to cells through glucose combustion) — yet, many people with high midichlorian counts show no indication of having "powers" until the Order of the Jedi gets hold of them and "trains" them.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you have been bamboozled.  The Force is a fiction that exists only in the minds of deluded Jedi practitioners.  The so-called "Jedi Powers" are nothing more than cheap stage-magic tricks that anyone can learn and which violate no known laws of physics.  The Masters of the Jedi Order are charlatans, preying upon your gullibility and demanding your blind respect in return.

The Jedi Religion

The Jedi religion teaches all of its practitioners that the Force is real.  They are encouraged, repeatedly, to "feel" the Force "flowing" through them.  Belief in the Force is an absolute requirement for all Jedi — Jedi must never, ever question the Force's existence.  Indeed, no recorded account exists of any Jedi — not even a newly-minted Padawan apprentice — questioning the existence of the Force.

Jedi "Master" Yoda, who can't even put together an English sentence correctly.
The highest-ranking members of the Jedi Order are called Jedi "Masters"; Yoda is the most well-known, and the most notorious, of these Jedi Masters.  His followers treat him with the highest, unquestioning reverence, gobbling up his homespun wisdom as though it were manna from heaven.  He and other Jedi Masters are, for all practical purposes, living messiahs, religious leaders that can quell the hearts of their agitated flock or drive them into an impassioned frenzy capable of tearing apart an Empire.

It cannot be overemphasized that this Cult of Personality expects blind obedience and unquestioning faith from its adherents.  The fact that these fanatics are seen by outsiders as the "protectors of peace and justice throughout the Galaxy" makes them particularly dangerous.  Thus far, the thousand-generation-old Order of the Jedi has not abused this trust, but all it would take would be one power-mad Jedi Master with the desire to lead his followers in a bloody coup, and this "benevolent" Order could turn into a gang of holy "crusaders" overnight.

Of more pressing interest, however, is the fact that the Jedi religion is supposed to be a religion.  It is not a science.  The true nature of the Force is supposed to have evaded scientific scrutiny for the last thousand generations.  If this were truly the case, though, we should expect the Force to behave like the "Holy Spirit" or the "soul" from the more ancient religions: i.e. as something that's not only completely undetectable, but which doesn't influence the physical universe in any way.  But the Jedi claim otherwise.  They claim miraculous powers that do affect the physical universe.

And there, scientific scrutiny is appropriate, despite the Jedi's whining protests to the contrary.

It behooves us, then, to scrutinize the various powers claimed by Jedi practitioners, and to see if there isn't a more mundane explanation for these so-called powers that doesn't require ad-hoc hypotheses like "the Force" to understand them.  I shall now do just this, by addressing the claims and showing the flaws in each of the claimed Jedi powers, one at a time.

Influencing the "Weak Minded"

This simple power is one of the easiest to amuse crowds with.  A typical use of this power might go something like this:

Victim: Let me see your identification.
Jedi: [waving one hand] You don't need to see his identification.
Victim: We don't need to see his identification.
At the outset, this power seems quite remarkable: A disagreeable passerby can be made to bend to your will, simply by waving your hand — assuming you also know how to "use the Force" properly.  However, this power has failed to stand up to controlled tests.  Every single public demonstration of this power has involved the Jedi selecting the victim himself from out of a crowd.  We have no reason not to suspect that the victim might be a "plant", someone to whom the Jedi has paid a few Imperial Credits and who has agreed to act like the Jedi's "spell" was working.

Han Solo, champion of reason.  He's flown from one side of this Galaxy to the other.  He's seen a lot of strange stuff, but he's never seen anything to make him believe there's one all-powerful force controlling everything.  There's no mystical energy field that controls his destiny.  It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.
Certainly, there have been notorious cases where this so-called power has failed, such as in the Qui-Gong/Watto incident on Tatooine during the first Naboo conflict.  Jedi are quick to explain that this power only works on the "weak minded," thus giving themselves the ultimate escape hatch: every time a Jedi gets caught using this power and having it fail, he can always claim that the victim wasn't "weak minded."

Has anyone ever tested the mental "weakness" of any of these victims immediately after the Jedi put on such a show?  No.  How does one make an objective test for whether someone is "weak minded" or not?  Every such test that has been attempted, and which has shown a "weak minded" person who is immune to a Jedi's mind-influencing power or a "strong minded" person whom the Jedi have successfully victimized, has been dismissed by the Jedi as "biased" or "inaccurate" or "based on an incorrect model of mental strength."  Yet the Jedi themselves are conspicuously silent on what qualities make someone "weak minded" or not — except, of course, that everyone who falls for the Jedi's mind-influencing power is retroactively deemed to be "weak minded."  How convenient for the Jedi.

One reasonable-sounding hypothesis that has been proposed for this Jedi power is that, either naturally or with some artificial help, Jedi produce some kind of pheromone that makes anyone who inhales it particularly susceptible to suggestion.  The waving of the Jedi's hand would help to waft this pheromone through the air.  It's an interesting hypothesis, and one that bears greater investigation.  It is especially suspicious that the Jedi forbid, and deliberately confiscate, any chemical-sensing apparatus brought in to one of their shows, with the claim that such devices cause "a disturbance in the Force."

Seeing the future

The Jedi's claim that they can see the future is by far the most ludicrous of their claims.  Jedi are quick to point out that their view of the future is merely of a "possible" future, not of a definite future, and that in fact the very act of knowing the possible future may cause them to change it.  Furthermore, the predictions of the future are always extremely vague.  When asked direct questions about the future, Jedi Master Yoda has given notoriously evasive answers, such as:

"Difficult to see.  Always in motion the future is."
Or:
"Clouded this boy's future is."
Tell me, Jedi: How is this "power" any more useful than the ability that any ordinary, non-Force-using person has to make forecasts of future events based on what he knows about the present?  Your batting average isn't any higher than that of the average population.  What does that say about your future-seeing "power"?

Telekinesis

Lifting small rocks and stacking them one on top of the other while standing on your head, hurling military 'droids across the room, summoning your light saber to your side, making a chance cube land on blue — are these really impressive feats of mind-over-matter, or just common stage trickery?

Repulsor-lift technology has become surprisingly cheap and compact.  Common out-of-work stage magicians, performing on the streetcorners of Coruscant for hand-outs, have been known to employ miniature repulsorlifts hidden under their robes and cloaks to make objects appear to levitate.  The Jedi claim to be "above" the need for such trickery, and I'm sure many of the more sincere padawans actually believe in the telekinetic powers of their masters.  But has anyone ever checked?  Has anyone ever searched a Jedi for hidden repulsorlifts?  No.  Anyone who's gotten close enough to perform such a search has gotten his hand chopped off with a light saber.

Jedi "Peace and Justice" — cutting off the hands of their detractors

The resemblance between Jedi telekinetic "powers" and common repulsorlift parlor tricks is remarkable.  Jedi claim that the size of an object is irrelevant to their telekinetic powers, and that any object, no matter how large, can be lifted with the help of the Force.  Yet, wonder of wonders, almost all demonstrations of Jedi telekinetic power have been on small objects like light sabers and milk crates and small rocks — all of which are within the weight capacity of a cheap miniature repulsorlift.

The one exception to this has been Yoda's demonstration of lifting an entire X-Wing fighter out of a swamp on Dagobah.  An X-Wing fighter is certainly too heavy for a miniature repulsorlift to carry.  But Yoda is known for his smooth-talking wiles, and it would be a grave mistake to assume that someone as crafty as this notorious Jedi Master didn't have a trick or two up his short sleeve.  What trick did he pull?  Well, isn't it obvious?  An X-Wing fighter has its own built-in repulsor lifts!  These built-in repulsors are what allow the X-Wing to hover-taxi into position for takeoff.  (Military footage of the initial stages of the assault on the first Death Star at Yavin show this "repulsorlift taxiing" repeatedly.)  Yoda's message of the Force isn't for the educated critic, it's for the gullible layman who may be ignorant of the fact that X-Wing fighers have their own high-powered repulsorlifts.  While Yoda was standing on the shore and stretching out one hand toward the X-Wing fighter, his other hand (which the casual viewer would have been too distracted to notice) was thumbing a remote-control device that turned the fighter's repulsorlifts on.  Voilá!  A "miracle"!

Speaking from beyond the grave

Some Jedi Masters — and even a few Jedi apprentices — have reported hearing the voices of dead Jedi Masters giving them advice.  Luke Skywalker, the hero of the Battle of Yavin, claimed to have heard the voice of recently-departed Jedi master Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi during his stressful attack run on the Death Star.  Later, while near death on the frozen wastes of Hoth, he thought he saw Kenobi standing there in the snow telling him to go to Dagobah and study under Yoda.

Needless to say, Jedi practitioners assert that only a Jedi can talk to a dead Jedi.  Yet, common folk report hearing the voices and seeing the shadowy forms of their dearly departed quite frequently.  Jedi assert that these visions, when experienced by non-Jedi, are nothing more than waking dreams combined with wishful thinking.

But why should we believe that a Jedi's communion with the dead is the genuine article, while a non-Jedi's communion with the dead is an hallucination?  What makes the Jedi's experience any more credible than the non-Jedi's?  Nothing.  This is just one more example of the Jedi Order claiming the inherent superiority of its members.  Remember, ladies and gentlemen, these are the people to whom you have entrusted the guardianship of peace and justice in the Galaxy!

Deflecting blaster bolts with a light saber, with your eyes closed

Interposing the slender beam of a light saber between yourself and an equally-narrow bolt from a blaster is a remarkable feat.  It hearkens back to the days of the four-color comics, when Wonder Woman deflected bullets (high-speed metallic projectiles fired from a slugthrower) with only her two indestructable bracelets and her Amazonian reflexes.  Jedi attribute this skill to the Force, which supposedly lets them see where the blaster bolts will be an instant into the future, and which also supposedly "controls their actions but also obeys their commands."

Jedi train for years with their light sabers.  By the time a member of the Order attains the rank of Jedi Knight, he will handle his light saber so naturally that the weapon is essentially an extension of his own body.  To one so well-trained, blocking an incoming blaster bolt — which, as we all know from watching films of blaster bolts, actually moves more slowly than a bullet — would be like blocking a well-thrown pebble with ones own arm.  It's a remarkable feat, but it would not require any special sensitivity to the Force.  Non-Jedi who, according to the Jedi Order, have no aptitude whatsoever with the Force, have been known to pick up the blaster-bolt-deflection skill with sufficient training and motivation.

In an effort to "prove" to the non-believers that the Force is responsible for their ability to deflect blaster bolts, Jedi have been known to put on shows where they place small levitating "Remotes" in the air near them and wear helmets with opaque blast shields covering their eyes.  They then set these Remotes to fire blaster bolts at them at seemingly random intervals and from seemingly random directions, with the power setting low enough that a stray bolt will only sting them a little if they fail to deflect it.  They then proceed to intercept blaster bolts from these Remotes with a skill that makes the onlooker believe that they can almost see the Remotes without their eyes.

But good against Remotes is one thing.  Good against the living?  That's something else.  If the Jedi ability to "see" the Remote with their eyes covered and only the Force to guide them is so central to the Jedi's repertoire, then why do Jedi engaged in combat against opponents with real blasters always deflect the bolts with their eyes open?

The answer is, Remotes aren't completely random.  With enough experience, a person can get used to the patterns used by blaster-firing Remotes sufficiently that he can anticipate where it will go and when it will shoot next.  He might not even be aware that he has memorized this pattern, and will be pleasantly surprised to discover that he has placed his light saber in just the right location to deflect the next blaster bolt based on instinct alone.  He might even attribute this mysterious reflex to the Force, thus reinforcing his belief in something that isn't there.

Furthermore, a Remote makes a distinctive hissing sound as it scuttles through the air, allowing a blind person to hear where it is and when it moves.  This, too, will help give the Jedi with his eyes covered enough of a clue to be able to deflect the bolts fired by the Remote.  No precognition or other mysterious "outside help" is required.  The Force need exist nowhere outside the Jedi's own imagination for his blaster-bolt-deflecting skill to work.

Great vertical leaps

Even in full gravity, Jedi have been observed jumping upward as high as 30 feet.  An impressive feat, to be sure — until you remember that these same people usually perform demonstrations of telekinesis during the same show.  The same repulsorlift hidden in the Jedi's robes, which can levitate a rock or an R2 unit, can also nullify the weight of the person holding the repulsorlift.  A Jedi who turned such a repulsorlift on himself for a fraction of a second, while jumping with his normal leg muscles, would easily perform a "super leap."

"Dark" Jedi powers

According to the Jedi Order, a few Jedi have "turned to the Dark Side."  These "Dark Jedi" or "Sith" supposedly use the Force for evil.  Personally, I suspect that the label "Dark Jedi" is being applied to former members of the Jedi order who have done one of two things:

  1. Quit the Jedi Order so that they could bamboozle people with their charlatanry without the Order getting their "cut", or
  2. Threatened to go public with the fact that the Jedi Order is a sham, thereby forcing the Jedi to declare them to be "evil" and conveniently hack them down in a light saber battle before the Order's gimmicks and tricks can be exposed.
Obviously, those "Dark Jedi" who fall into the second category have been silenced, so we'll never get to hear their side of the story.  I suppose some living Jedi could always use his speak-with-a-dead-Jedi powers to communicate with him ;-) , but of course I'd never believe a word of such a "channeling."

The Dark Jedi who fall into the first category, however, typically change their names to something that begins with "Darth," perhaps as a catchy stage name.  They've gone on record as having "powers" equal to those of a "true" Jedi Knight, plus a couple of powers of their own that they use to spice up their repertoire of parlor tricks.

Thus far, two Dark Jedi powers have come to light (so to speak) which merit attention:

  1. Telekinetic choking, and
  2. Purple lightning bolts that come from their fingertips.
The first of these two Dark Jedi powers, telekinetic choking, was practiced most extensively by Anakin Skywalker (more popularly known by his stage name of Darth Vader).  While on board the first Death Star, Anakin held up two of his fingers in front of his face in the classic "I am crushing your head, crush crush crush!" manner of Kids in the Hall, and his victim, Admiral Motti, suddenly found his airway so constricted that he couldn't breathe.  Later, on board an Imperial Super Star Destroyer, he caused two of his admirals to die, or at least pass out, from lack of oxygen without even having to raise his fingers — one of whom he was merely watching on his video monitor!

Anakin "Darth Vader" Skywalker, we must remember, was a very charismatic figure.  Imperial troops were terrified of him, and knew of his reputation with the Dark Side of the Force.  In the presence of such imposing figures, people have been known to fly into hysterics or faint when the charismatic person convinces them to do so.  The "telekinetic" choking that Darth Vader's victims experienced was nothing more than Voodoo!  They believed they were being choked, so they really did choke, even to the point of passing out.  Admiral Motti was more skeptical than the rest ("Don't try and frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader!"), which was why Vader had to deliberately raise his fingers and make the choking gesture with him.  The other two admirals were already True Believers, and only needed a threatening look from the so-called "Dark Lord of the Sith" to convince them that their tracheae were obstructed.

The second of the two Dark Jedi powers, shooting purple lightning bolts from ones fingertips, was practiced most extensively by Emperor Palpatine.  (It is sad that the leader of the entire Empire was such a fervent believer in the non-existent Force; such beliefs within the Old Republic's leadership have always eroded the Separation of Church and State whenever they reared their ugly heads.)  Palpatine shot such lightning bolts from his fingertips at another Jedi, Luke Skywalker, during the siege on the second Death Star.  The young Jedi Knight may have been taught how to parry blaster bolts with his light saber, but Jedi "Master" Yoda had failed to instruct him in how to parry lightning bolts.  The electric jolts nearly killed him.

Electrostatic discharges, in the form or purple lightning bolts, are a common feature of some power generation systems.  The twin engines on podracers, for example, shoot purple lightning bolts between each other to keep themselves synchronized and to supplement each others' power sources.  If a Jedi Knight can keep a repulsorlift hidden in his long robes for the purpose of performing tricks of telekinesis, there's no reason why a Dark Jedi like Palpatine couldn't also keep an electrostatic discharge generator hidden in his robes for the purpose of putting on a deadly purple light show.  If the electrodes are positioned correctly, he could make the corona discharge appear to come right out of the tips of his fingers.

Conclusion

Despite their claims of great powers, the members of the Jedi Order can do nothing that can't be accomplished by common stage magicians using mundane props.  Darth Vader's sad devotion to that ancient religion did not help him conjure up the stolen data tapes, or give him clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fortress.  The existence of the Force has never been objectively demonstrated and, conveniently enough for the Jedi, supposedly "cannot" be objectively demonstrated.  One simply is expected to "believe."

Count me among the likes of Han Solo, Admiral Motti, and the other brave skeptics that aren't convinced by handwaving and impressive-sounding words.  The Jedi are the ones claiming that the Force is "real."  It is up to the Jedi to provide the double-blind trials, the controlled experiments, the conclusive evidence that their extraordinary claims have any merit whatsoever.


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