While riding the school bus one sun-dappled morning, a boy named Foster Gamble—heir to the bountiful Procter and Gamble fortune—had a strange vision that would permanently alter the course of his life. In the glare of the sun, Mr. Gamble, who was then 14, claims he spotted a whirlpool pattern that he would eventually determine to be the “torus,” an energy vortex that he believes could be the key to understanding the universe.
“I just knew that the flow of energy I was seeing was the same in the atom, as in our entire solar system,” the steely-eyed Mr. Gamble declares in his feature-length documentary Thrive: What on Earth Will It Take?, which debuted online to much skepticism and some derision in late 2011. “I felt deeply that I too was somehow made of that pattern. This vision was what originally got me into science.”
Since that fateful day, Mr. Gamble, now 64, has dedicated his life to educating others about what he calls “The Code,” a universal pattern that serves as a template for a new free energy model—one that he thinks is being actively repressed by people at the highest echelons of power. “Free energy” is amply provided by the environment at no cost, and can encompass conventional sources like solar and wind, as well as more unconventional ones. The “code” is a torus, a shape that is described by cosmologist Arthur M. Young, one of Mr. Gamble’s former mentors, as “a vortex which has two directions of rotation, horizontal and vertical.”
It sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel, with a little Stephen Hawking thrown in. But some free energy enthusiasts, whose work exists primarily on the fringes of conventional science, have also embraced the concept of the torus. “There’s a lot to that,” noted Sterling Allan, a biochemist and founder of the New Energy Congress, who keeps in contact with Mr. Gamble and his wife Kimberly. He writes a free energy news website, PES Wiki, that draws 1 million visits a month. “There’s definitely something to that shape. I see them all the time in these technologies where people are claiming working devices [that function off of free energy]—a lot of the technologies go back to the torus.”
“The world just didn’t make sense to me,” Mr. Gamble told Betabeat recently by phone from his house in Santa Cruz, Calif. His odd childhood vision sent him on a quest to better understand the world by “following the money,” weaving together his scientific research about the torus with theories about the Global Dominant Agenda—a mass conspiracy perpetrated by the elites in power, intended to oppress the disenfranchised.
It’s a curious occupation for someone who grew up among the power elite, a scion of one of America’s most prominent dynasties. After attending elite private schools around the Cincinnati area, Mr. Gamble boarded at the Choate School in Wallington, Conn., where he was a three-sport athlete and president of the student body. From there, he attended Princeton, where he played varsity ice hockey and was a member of The Ivy Club, an elite organization that counts U.S. presidents as alumni and that F. Scott Fitzgerald once called “detached and breathlessly aristocratic.”
Still, Mr. Gamble wanted something different for himself than the easy life of luxury he had been born into. After graduating, he spent decades interviewing sources and poring over financial documents in 12 sectors, including arts, media, governance and science. What he discovered was shocking: that the torus is the secret to an abundance of energy, that it is embedded in crop circles and used by aliens to travel through galaxies, and that a complex political conspiracy is keeping free energy technology out of the hands of average Americans.
“We were very careful in Thrive to distinguish between fact and our own speculation,” Kimberly Carter Gamble, Mr. Gamble’s wife of five years, told Betabeat. “As far as the E.T. stuff, we said neither of us has ever had direct contact, so we don’t know it, but the evidence that we found leads us to believe that there is contact. I can vouch for an energy technology that produces more energy than it takes in.”
The second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy cannot remain perpetually in motion in a closed system, doesn’t apply to the torus, Mr. Gamble argues on the Thrive blog, because “a torus is not a closed or isolated system.” This means that the torus is the key to developing free energy devices that could help wean the world off of oil, coal and other destructive energy addictions.
Mr. Gamble has funded two inventors—“One more substantially over the years,” Ms. Gamble told us—and while she declined to name them, she insisted she has personally seen free energy technologies at work. “Having witnessed and experienced the energy in the labs, seeing that myself … once you have a personal experience, whether or not it’s of popular belief becomes much less relevant,” she said.
Tanned, blond and still athletic, Mr. Gamble, the great-great-grandson of Procter & Gamble founder James Gamble, grew up swaddled in privilege, brushing elbows with the very people whom he now believes are trying to suppress his discoveries.
“The fact that I hung around with a lot of movers and shakers a lot of my life has helped people to stop and listen and say, ‘Maybe this isn’t just some guy who read some internet articles, but maybe he’s been up close to some of this stuff,’” he admitted. “On the other hand, there are people who are suspicious of anyone associated with money.”
When he graduated from Princeton, Mr. Gamble inherited a considerable sum from his grandparents, a portion of which he later decided to use to make Thrive. “I had been a filmmaker in college, but I didn’t have anything that I thought was important enough to make films about,” he recalled. “I wanted to find a reasonable explanation to what’s really going on in the world and what we can do about it—then I’ll make a feature film.”
Screened approximately 15,000 times, viewed 7 million times online and translated into 19 different languages, Thrive, which Mr. Gamble created with his wife, an activist and former journalist for Newsweek International, is the culmination of that dream. But the controversial ideas presented in the film have been disputed by a fair number of detractors. In April 2012, 10 of the people interviewed for the film—including author and diet advocate John Robbins, self-help guru Deepak Chopra and public radio host Amy Goodman—signed an open letter disavowing it.
“We are dismayed that our participation is being used to give credibility to ideas and agendas that we see as dangerously misguided,” they wrote. “We stand by what each of us said when we were interviewed. But we have grave disagreements with some of the film’s content and feel the need to make this public statement to avoid the appearance that our presence in the film constitutes any kind of endorsement.”
One of the Gambles’ potently controversial moves was the decision to include David Icke as a source in the film. Mr. Icke is a notorious conspiracy theorist, widely discredited for his belief that the most powerful people in the world, including George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, are members of a reptilian alien species. Some observers have also detected a strain of anti-Semitism in his theories.
Mr. Icke does not discuss these ideas in Thrive, but his appearance in the film was a point of contention for many of the interviewees and detractors. “Most people who are concerned about David Icke haven’t been any deeper into his work than Wikipedia,” Mr. Gamble said, sounding slightly exasperated. “It’s important to hear him more as a reporter, and then it’s important to stop and just consider. For me, the most important word in learning is ‘maybe.’ Instead of going, ‘Oh, that’s ridiculous; oh, I’m not going to believe in anything he says.’”
Mr. Icke’s fellow interviewees don’t appear to see it that way. “I was interviewed for a very different film, at least as it was presented to me by Foster Gamble, and would not have consented had I known the thrust and content of the movie,” environmentalist Paul Hawken told us. “My interview was done several years before the release of the movie.
“I think they are nice people,” he said of the Gambles. “I just don’t agree.”
An historian based on the West Coast even launched a blog called Thrive Debunked, dedicated to systematically refuting every claim made in in the film. A die-hard “skeptic,” the author of the blog—who goes by the online handle Muertos and asked to remain anonymous for this article—has been working on disproving conspiracy theories since 9/11 truthers began cropping up online.
“Thrive is a bizarre mixture of New Age ideas and conspiracy theories,” Muertos said. “Nowadays, conspiracy theories are being used as a marketing tool to push other ideas. Thrive is a perfect example. Conspiracy theories are the ‘hook’ to encourage belief in New Age spiritual ideas and libertarian political philosophy.”
The Gambles deny that the film is a tool for promoting libertarianism. Rather, Ms. Gamble insists that Thrive is about transcending “the political polarity that the country and world is stuck in.”
“The most dangerous belief system on the planet is the belief that the state itself is dedicated to and effective at solving our major problems,” Mr. Gamble elaborated. “Because any government is based on taking your tax money and doing what they want with it, and that, to me, is not only not a basis for a sustainable thriving culture, but it’s actually the seed of tyranny which always leads, sooner or later, to some sort of fascist state.”
Mr. Gamble said his family largely supports his chosen path, however unconventional it may seem. “My family has not been involved in the running of Procter and Gamble for several generations,” he noted, “and for the most part, I find that my family members have been trying to do very responsible, productive things.” His sister Kendra famously donated her $10 million inheritance to a spiritual group called Miracle of Love, which has been identified by some as a cult. Mr. Gamble said Thrive has no associations with Miracle of Love.
Mr. Gamble’s wife, Kimberly, who recently turned 60, is honey-sweet and well-spoken. She attended UC Berkeley in the ’60s and later worked as an advocate for homeless teens. Thrive dissidents might be confused as to how someone so deeply thoughtful could be ensnared in a web of such controversial theories. But Ms. Gamble, too, sees Thrive as the culmination of much of her life’s work, and her hopefulness can be infectious.
“In taking a decade to research, I came away feeling more empowered and hopeful as a result, because I found out that it wasn’t just random, that the failure of human systems is not random,” Ms. Gamble said. “It’s not just that we’re incapable of thriving, it’s that there’s actually a force in the way of it. And it’s a knowable force—people actually have the information and the tools and the resilience and the capacity and the spirit to transcend that force and work ourselves into a world where everyone has a chance to thrive.”
At their core, the Gambles both draw from an endless reservoir of optimism, an old-school American can-do attitude perhaps passed through the Gamble family gene pool. The Thrive website is littered with concrete solutions for tackling the problems outlined in the film, including comprehensive guides for beginning a local action group. To date, 282 groups have registered worldwide.
Ms. Gamble’s brother, an Academy Award-winning filmmaker who works with Steven Spielberg, gave her a sliver of prescient advice prior to the film’s release: “I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “Whatever happens, it won’t be what you expect.” That certainly turned out to be true, she said.
“People warned me before the film came out that if you’re not taking flak, you’re not over the target,” Mr. Gamble added. “People are simply uncomfortable with new information that may seem threatening.”
Of course, there’s more to it than that. The main reason for the negative reaction, he said, “is that there are people who are paid to sit at banks of computers, find anything on the internet seeming to challenge the structure of the powers that be, and try to dismantle its credibility.”
A version of this article appeared on A1 of the New York Observer the week of October 1, 2012.