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The Human Design System

Donate A mishmash of eastern mysticism masquerades as psychometry.  

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Consumer Ripoffs, Fads

Skeptoid Podcast #770
March 9, 2021
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The Human Design System

Today we're going to seek out guidance in the form of a blueprint we can follow to tell us everything we need to know about ourselves to live our best lives. At least, that's a promise of Human Design — part horoscope, part fortune cookie, and part yoga. Human Design borrows from just about anything and everything in the New Age movement that's trendy and that sells well; and the result is a blueprint for living that's guaranteed to spread like wildfire through fashionable suburban populations.

In a nutshell, Human Design is yet another of the countless versions of numerology, this one invented in 1987 by Canadian Alan Krakower, a psychedelic enthusiast, while he was in Spain. Krakower described a trip that lasted eight days and nights, while in a room with his dog Barley Baker on the island of Ibiza. He described his trip as a visitation by a high intelligence that he called The Voice, who spent that week imparting to him all of the knowledge that constitutes Human Design. (If this isn't a compelling foundation for a method of life guidance, I don't know what is.)

Krakower began writing self-published books describing his method, inexplicably using the pseudonym Ra Uru Hu. This may have been an effort to lend his writing credibility among its potential customer base; after all, the modern western esotericism movement had been sweeping the United States for more than 20 years, as it continues to today. Western esotericism, by that time thoroughly rebranded as the New Age movement, is a counterculture trend that commercializes a rejection of rationalism and science in favor of abbreviated, caricatured versions of various ancient eastern mysticism traditions. In a spot-on example of this, Krakower (publishing and selling as Ra Uru Hu) stated that his Human Design system is a combination of the I Ching, chakras, astrology, Kabbalah, and of course, quantum physics — added later after Deepak Chopra made misuse of the term a cornerstone of the New Age industry.

This characterization is hard to defend. Although Krakower's Human Design books and materials are filled with symbols and fonts and art that are reminiscent of the eastern systems, and his writings include abridgments of many of their basic tenets, I found no connection between his numerology and any of the many others out there. And there's certainly nothing anywhere to be found within Human Design that indicates an adept would be able to pass a first year college quiz on quantum mechanics.

The fundamental of Human Design is a chart called the Rave BodyGraph, which you can create for yourself for the cost of an email address to receive the chart. You input your name, birth date and time (to the nearest one minute), and time zone of your birth. I invented a fictional person and played with all the variables to create lots of such charts, and found that only the birth date and time and time zone make any difference. From these numbers, a chart is returned with dozens of apparently random numbers: thirteen each in two columns marked with astrology-style symbols, and the rest scatted over the silhouette of a human body overlaid with a diagram of squares and triangles interconnected with all kinds of lines. Then at the bottom are nine terms describing this person. My fictional person is a "Manifesting Generator" type, with an "Open and Enveloping" aura, whose strategy is to "Wait to Respond", with "Emotional - Solar Plexus" authority, a profile of "1-3 Investigator/Martyr", a "Split Definition", a "not-self" of "frustration", a signature of "Satisfaction", and finally whose incarnation cross is "Right Angle Cross of Contagion 2". Human Design is incisive enough, and foolproof enough, that it could divine all of these metrics about a person who never existed. For $55 you can then purchase a 50-page PDF that explains what all these terms mean.

According to one certified Human Design consultant's web page, there are more than two billion possible Rave BodyGraphs. If that's true (something I can't verify), then considering that in the past 100 years there have only been 52 million minutes in which a person could have been born — and even when you multiple that by 24 time zones you only get 1.3 billion — I'd say whatever algorithm Krakower contrived to convert your birthday numbers into all these other numbers and odd terms was very nicely done.

So moving on from this, the temptation is to put Human Design to the test. Let's look up the research and see how accurate it is at predicting your personality traits and aptitudes, to see how successfully Krakower cracked the code of human psychology and psychometry while lying spaced out on the floor of his island apartment. However, it should come as no surprise that no meaningful scientific testing has ever been done. Years ago when we did Skeptoid episode #173 on astrology, we found that there had been some 300 studies done of astrology, and the result was (unsurprisingly) that it was no more accurate than random chance at anything. But in that case, astrology horoscopes made specific, falsifiable claims that could be tested. And there are twelve signs of the zodiac, not two billion. Human Design is essentially untestable. It lacks any theoretical basis and any set of falsifiable predictions that can be tested. Instead, it gives a vast ocean of vague word-salad musings that (as you've seen) don't appear to have any meaning that correlates to real psychology. So I don't expect to see anyone invest money in conducting controlled studies of Human Design, and even less so given that it's so far out on the fringe of New Age.

However, that fringe status may change. According to Google Trends, Human Design enjoyed a lackluster back seat in relative obscurity until about 2011. That was when Krakower passed away, and company operations fell into the hands of other people. The popularity of Human Design — at least in online searches, which is what Google Trends measures — grew slowly until around 2017 when it really started to curve upwards. By now "Human Design" as an Internet search term is on a sharp upward trend. So if you hadn't heard of it before today, it's likely you will soon.

Human Design's primary business entity today is the International Human Design School, a strip mall storefront in Carlsbad, California. It's essentially an online store selling self-published books and PDF documents written by Krakower (always under his mystical-sounding nom-de-plume) and others, many selling for hundreds of dollars. They also offer a corporate version under the name BG5 Business Institute with some collections of PDFs costing thousands of dollars — all for recycled New Age divination. One of their sources of income appears to be the sale of courses intended to make you a certified Human Design consultant. Certified by who? By themselves, of course, so it's essentially meaningless. But it's easy to find a large number of such consultants offering their expensive services on the Internet. Why? What is it that makes such an overtly silly product attract actual consumer demand?

A very important clue to this is found on the websites of all of these consultants, with whom you can book sessions costing — once again — hundreds of dollars. Nearly all lead with what appears to be their BodyGraph profile: a "3/5 Cross of Contagion and Emotional Advisor", a "Quad Left 6/3 Projector with Splenic Authority", a "6/2 Splenic Projector and Non-Specific Manifestor" — one site even shows Carl Sagan's profile, possibly to deceive you into thinking he endorsed it; he's a "4/6 Opportunistic / Role Model". This emphasis on named, bite-sized profile types is suggestive of Myers-Briggs style personality typing. And right there is our best illustration of the appeal of such systems.

The Myers-Briggs system, which we covered thoroughly in episode #221, is another similar, completely unscientific, and inaccurate way of grouping people into hypothetical clumps — in reality, people do not separate neatly into such groups. As each named type is assigned a whole variety of horoscope-style aptitudes and traits, believers in the system receive what they can regard as a blueprint for living — a phrase I saw time and time again on Human Design consultant websites. People are seeking an easy, paint-by-the-numbers guide to life — the proverbial miraculously easy solution to difficult problems. But since science does not support the existence of any such miracle blueprint, systems like Human Design adorn their teachings instead with the language of eastern mysticism — a practice which is the foundation of modern western esotericism.

The whole thing of western esotericism is not strictly about believing whatever's old; it's not just about discarding everything we're able to learn today through science and study and instead accepting only what was believed about the human body back in the centuries when little useful or true information was understood. That's a big part of it, to be sure; but notice that New Agers don't believe everything from those days. For example, compare these two concepts of the human body: first, the four bodily humors (which nobody believes in today); and second, qi (widely believed today). Why do New Agers reject one archaic concept and yet passionately embrace another? It's because they tend to dismiss physical claims and espouse metaphysical claims. It's just like the archaic physical claim that the moon is made of cheese (nobody believes that) compared to the archaic metaphysical claim that the moon has some spiritual power (which remains today a foundation of astrology). Physical claims are dismissed; metaphysical claims are embraced. It's not about old vs. new, or even eastern vs. western. It's about physical vs. spiritual; or, more precisely, real vs. aspirational.

And it is this aspirational aspect that, at the end of the day, is the beginning and the end of belief in Human Design and all the countless other systems like it. It is the promise of a superpower-like insight into oneself. It's someone telling us what to do who always knows everything and always knows us better than we know ourselves (which is an overt promise of Human Design). Whether you're a hobo or Mark Cuban, every one of us who draws breath sometimes questions our own life choices and yearns for a crystal ball. If I had done this instead of that, would I be happier? More successful? Is there anything I should be doing differently? How do I weigh this choice against that choice? We've been doubting ourselves ever since the dawn of our species, and so ever since then, we've hopefully devised systems of divination into whose hands we could put our weightiest decisions. And so we have always had necromancers, clairvoyants, mediums, astrologers, and certified Human Design consultants, all happy to sell you magical divination for a price. And we probably always will.


By Brian Dunning

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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "The Human Design System." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 9 Mar 2021. Web. 18 Jun 2021. <https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4770>

 

References & Further Reading

Carroll, R. "The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter." The Skeptic's Dictionary. 1 Mar. 2012, Volume 11, Number 3.

Eklund, E. "Human Design for the Skeptic." Personal blog. Emma Ecklund, 22 Aug. 2020. Web. 1 Mar. 2021. <https://www.emma-eklund.com/home/human-design-for-the-skeptic>

Goop. "Human Design: Were We Coded at Birth?" Goop.com. Goop, Inc., 4 Oct. 2017. Web. 1 Mar. 2021. <https://goop.com/wellness/mindfulness/human-design-were-we-coded-at-birth/>

Ra Uru Hu. Human Design: The Definitive Book of Human Design, The Science of Differentiation. Carlsbad: HDC Publishing, 2011.

Tolboll, M. "A Critique of the Human Design System." Personal blog. Morten Tolboll, 25 May 2014. Web. 4 Mar. 2021. <https://mortentolboll.weebly.com/a-critique-of-the-human-design-system.html>

Yang, S. "Forget Astrology — You'll Be Talking about Human Design Next." The/Thirty. Clique Brands Inc, 20 Nov. 2020. Web. 1 Mar. 2021. <https://thethirty.whowhatwear.com/what-is-human-design>

 

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