Movies: What the Bleep Do We Know?

After hearing a story about it on NPR, I was curious about the film What the Bleep Do We Know? I never got around to seeing in the theater (it may never have come to Grand Rapids), but as it happens my sister bought it for me for my birthday.

So I watched it and overall I enjoyed it. It hit some topics that interest me such as quantum mechanics and biology as well as religion and spirituality. This is okay as one of my favorite professors in seminary had two doctorates, one in physics (dissertation on cosmic dust) and one in theology (dissertation on the Desert Fathers). Most of his theology classes included an interesting conversation between science and religion–more interesting, I might add, than the question of evolution vs. seven day creation argument which is endlessly rehashed everywhere.

The film is a combination of story and documentary illustrating its points with events in the life of the protagonist. The story moves forward with experts in science, medicine, and religion interrupting the scene to lecture. These people aren’t part of the story, but excerpts of interviews with them appear throughout the movie.

The animations that illustrate science are generally pretty good and often funny. They’re worth watching.

So that’s the good part of the movie. It tries to engage a person on the topic of what quantum mechanics and current science of the brain say about reality and it does it well. I enjoyed watching it and found myself thinking about it later.

And that brings us to the bad points of the movie. It does a good job of communicating and once you’re done watching it, you know what it’s trying to say. The trouble is, what happens if you disagree with what it’s trying to say, and, feel like the movie makers are arranging the science to support their views of spirituality?

A major point of the movie is that the way you think about your world has effects on your brain, keeping certain connections between neurons and letting the connection between other ideas drift away. Thus, you can potentially change yourself to a degree.

That’s true–even inspiring–if you feel that your life needs changing.

The trouble is that the film goes further than that, seeming to claim that your thoughts can affect reality. It cites a study that indicated that thoughts affect the shape of a water molecule. In addition, one of the interviewed experts claimed that a group of people meditating affected the homicide rate in Washington D.C.. Other bits of the movie seem to imply that you can mold reality itself to your liking.

That’s not something I can accept without a lot more evidence than this movie provides. Can the cited studies findings be reproduced? When scientists look at them, do they think that the research says what the movie implies it says? You don’t get any of that. You just get the claims. Believe them (or not) as you will.

The movie seems to jump from evidence to claims that sound good on the surface, but might not be true. For example, even if you can somehow affect the crystalization of a water molecule with your mind, you can’t necessarily affect anything else at all.

This brings us to the experts used. Most of them look pretty good. In fact pretty much all of them appear to be capable, intelligent people–even the wackier ones. For example, the expert who claimed that meditation lowered D.C.’s crime rate appears to be a decent physicist. On the other hand, he works for the Maharishi University of Management and was the Natural Law party’s candidate for president at one point. In short, he’s into Transcendental Meditation. Bearing in mind that they argue that meditation is the cure for all social ills, I take his assertion with the same grain of salt I use when Microsoft comes out with a study showing Linux to be inferior to Microsoft Windows Server 2003. I just don’t believe that he can be objective on this issue.

Similarly, I also have huge reservations about including Ramtha in the film. Ramtha is a spirit “channeled” by a woman named J. Z. Knight. J. Z. Knight appears throughout the movie just like the various physicists and doctors, commenting on reality in an odd accent. Though they don’t mention it in the movie, Ramtha ruled Atlantis at one point, making that accent an Atlantean accent. Personally, I see no reason to believe that Ramtha exists. As such, I question the judgement of anyone who regards J. Z. Knight to be an expert in anything other than marketing.

The bottom line? Watch the film, it is entertaining. Most of the experts actually seem to be experts on the topics that they are talking about and even Ramtha will at least keep your attention. If you’re looking for spiritual guidence or trying to understand the sociology or pschology of belief, however, look elsewhere,

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