Friday, July 29, 2005

What the bleep do I know? What the bleep do you know?

I read about a movie on video that just came out on an online forum called 'What the Bleep Do We Know?'. It sounded really interesting to me because it's about a topic that I find fascinating: quantum physics. Moreover, I heard that its thrust leads towards philosophical and spiritual ideas. I've been intrigued by the concept of quantum physics ever since I heard about it for just that reason. It seems that the more we try to understand the natural world, the more we realize we don't know. And many of the new discoveries and theories point towards what can easily be described as a spiritual reality. Scientists have found that the sub-atomic world have very different rules than what physics has said since Newton. Quantum physics is full of paradoxes, anomalies, enigmas, and every other synonym for weirdness that there is. So to explain why, scientists have come up with some theories, and they are really out there from a modernist, materialists viewpoint. But they are right at home in the worldview of people who embrace the idea of a spiritual reality.

One thing this movie really drove home for me is the fact that as a lay person with no inclination towards math, physics, etc., my opinions about the subject are going to very much be shaped by those who present the topic. But in this case, the film makers were so over the top in their desire to push a particular worldview that it was embarrassingly obvious. Let me first establish that this is not a normal movie. It's part documentary, part science lecture, part humorous/thought provoking fiction; and it's all spliced together in the most entertaining way possible. They have about a dozen talking heads with a very wide variety of credentials who say 5 to 20 second snippets of info/opinion, and cuts back and forth to a semi-narrative about a deaf photographer who is apparently having a series of epiphanies, then a nervous breakdown that leads to new age enlightenment where she learns to love herself and finds happiness. Her path through the story is structured around the way the ideas of the film makers are laid out. They start with some woefully anorexic explanations of what quantum theory is. But they leave out quite a few really important things. (For example there is no mention of the theoretical Higgs boson particles that would unify a lot of the disparate theories within the field.) They do let some of the interviewees confess that the whole field is a bunch of educated guesses, and that it's built on layer upon layer of supposition and assumption.

Then they go into biochemistry, and talking about addiction. That seemed a bit odd to me. But as the film progressed I realized it was because they had really wanted to make a point that really has nothing to do with quantum physics. Quantum physics is just a tool they are using to promote a new age philosophy. And what a tool it is! They said over and over, "Quantum physics shows us…" It reminds me of the turn of the last century when electricity was the new mysterious frontier of science. And it was used buy snake-oil salesmen as a tool to sell all sorts of fraudulent things like cures for mental disorders. The way this movie is put together leads the viewer from one supposition to the next in such an insubstantial, fast paced manner that when it reached its destination I was almost laughing at it's ostentatious ludicrousness. Once most of the talking heads said – with their own spin – that there is no right or wrong, that we are all God, and that established religions are the cause of most of humanity's suffering, it's hard to give any credibility to the film as a learning tool. Even if you agree with those claims, you have to admit that a film that is ostensibly about science but leads to a didactic philosophical message is dubious, if not downright sinister.

Add to that some completely unnecessary bad language, a few brief sex scenes and other vulgarities and you have a real loser of a film. Not to mention the fact that one of the interviewees says his interview snippets were taken completely out of context and made to look like he was agreeing with the main thrust of the film.

It's a real shame that the first big, popular exposure that quantum physics is getting is this propaganda piece of crap. It would be fine if it was marketed as a new age apologetic, but it's not. I'd love to see a real, non-biased, film about the subject that shows a true cross section of scientists in the field, nixes the chiropractors and channeled-spirits-of-the-dead (Yes, one of the main interviewees claims to be the mouthpiece of "Ramtha" an ancient warrior spirit), and lets viewers draw their own conclusions, but I guess I'll have to wait.

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