Sunday, October 31, 2004

What the #$*! Were They Thinking?

Okay people.

There is a film making its way around the country right now called What the #$*! Do We Know (more commonly referred to as What the Bleep Do We Know), which is getting some unusual attention and press time. It is a "documentary" which combines talking-head interviews of "scientists" with Errol-Morris-Style narrative sequences featuring Marlee Matlin as the subject whose life is impacted by the various things the "scientists" are talking about. I read a couple of reviews about it in the past few months, and decided not to see it. However, because a friend of mine told me he'd "heard good things about it," I decided against my better judgment to see it today, if only to have a basis from which to proceed in the inevitable conversations that will spring from it later (this is, after all, Hollywood).

Its basic gist seems to be (and trust me: "seems to be" is a generous choice of words) that because the theory of quantum mechanics suggests that there is no objective universe (the first of many incorrect assertions made in the film), and that reality is epistemologically determined entirely by the act of observing (the second of those many incorrect assertions), we can therefore assume that we can not only affect the universe around us by observing it, but we can in fact definitively transform the physical nature of that universe by simply thinking about it.

Uh huh.

What the film doesn't tell you is that it was both funded by and directed by adherents to the Ramtha School of Enlightenment in Washington state. The Ramtha School was founded by a woman named JZ Knight, who derives her teachings by channeling a 35,000 year old warrior spirit from Atlantis named Ramtha. For those of you genuinely interested in the Ramtha School of thought (and who wouldn't be?), you can find out more about them here.

Please check out the site, and be sure to click on the link at the bottom where you can purchase "Elfin Magical Capes." As Legolas says, you can never have too many.

What the film also chooses not to tell you is that the "scientists" interviewed for the film are all adherents to a variety of ideas similar to those propagated by the Ramtha School. Not included in the film, of course, are representatives of the much wider scientific community, proponents of the view that these guys don't know what the bleep they're talking about.

The one exception to this is David Albert, a professor of physics at Columbia University, who was apparently "outraged at the final product" of the film, which he says wildly mischaracterized the on-camera discussion he had with the filmmakers. According to Albert, he "spent nearly four hours patiently explaining to the filmmakers why quantum mechanics has nothing to do with consciousness or spirituality, only to see his statements edited and cut to the point where it appears as though he and the spirit warrior are speaking with one voice."

If you still don't believe me, and before you run out and try to convert your Toyota hatchback into a stack of gold bars by thinking about it hard enough, check out for yourself what "real" scientists are saying about the film. A nice succint example is found in an article from the Christian Science Monitor, here.

On the other hand, if you still don't believe those "close-minded" scientists with all their silly "evidence" and stuff, and want to hear a little more from one of the filmmakers themselves regarding what the bleep they were thinking in making the film, you can look at this inevitably softball interview with Will Arntz on CNNfn.

Just remember when you're watching it that this is the same guy who said that the reason a kid with Down Syndrome couldn't "think" his way out of his physical predicament is because (get this:) he is being punished for transgressions he made in a previous life. So much for changing our world by thinking about it.

By seeing the film today, I have already acted contrary to my usual "Occam's Razor" approach to determining which ideas warrant my consideration, given the limited amount of time I have on this earth. I therefore won't go on at greater length about the reasons the film is both silly (to those with critical minds) and potentially dangerous (to those without them). That's already been done to great effect elsewhere, and there is a pretty good review of the entire film here for those who aren't asleep yet.

However, I should note that one good thing did come out of the viewing: I was reminded yet again that, to paraphrase Jefferson, the price of knowledge is eternal vigilance.

Think smart, people.