` As it was, if I had actually taken the time to read something about quantum physics that was not written by a New-Ager, I would have learned (for example) that quantum theory does not suggest that particles only exist when you look at or bump into them:
` This is actually a misinterpretation of the principle that one cannot detect one single particle when it's by itself! Therefore, you must trigger an interaction with a probe - namely, another particle! This process of whacking particles together is (confusingly to laymen) referred to as 'observation'. It is then obvious how this concept can be warped and misconstrued by New-Agers to mean that "stuff doesn't exist unless you are observing it with your own senses!"
` Obviously, since the matter you sense around yourself is made up of particles interacting with other particles - thereby 'revealing' themselves - whether or not you are looking at them has no bearing on their existence outside of our reach.
` Since my New-Age days, I have finally managed to understand that there's a difference between quantum physics and various New Age misconceptions, so, when I saw Bleep, I wound up half-heartedly writing a somewhat incoherant rant-review (Who the [bleep] MADE this movie?) consisting of notes I had hastily written down while I was watching it.
` Of course, I really wish I had bothered to do this more justice by adding my additional insights and research onto these notes and organize them into a coherant format. Thankfully, I have discovered that other people have already done that themselves, and I'd like to show you their work!
` David Lemen, for one, wrote a short post called What the Bleep Were They Thinking?, the first bit of which was also my own initial impression of the film:
Jen and I went to see What The Bleep Do We Know!? tonight with our friends.... Unfortunately, it had almost nothing to do with quantum physics --except that they used those words a lot while talking about a whole bunch of other stuff, like emotions, psychology, spirituality, aging, and sex. It was a total bait-and-switch. The only thing about the movie that had any redeeming value is that it had Marlee Matlin in it, and I think she's great.` So, what's up with this movie? Who made it? And why are New-Agers distorting quantum physics so badly? Eight years ago, I would have been highly offended if anyone even suggested that my New-Age heroes were doing such a horrible thing. Alas, what the [bleep] did I know about quantum physics? Nobody told me the real scoop, all I knew was the New Age translation of it!
` In other words, these people are interpreting quantum theory much differently than the way it actually works in real life, and the filmmakers in particular have a very good reason for doing this. So, before I go on to even more about their distortions of quantum physics, I shall start out with a simplified critique by Skeptico, who wrote a post also entitled; What the Bleep Were They Thinking?
The “science”` This particular interpretation comes from what they believe to be a channelled spirit - prominently featured in the film - which he gets to later.
The premise of the film is that quantum mechanics proves a conscious observer is necessary to create reality. The conclusion is we literally create reality with our thoughts.
Unfortunately the theory of quantum mechanics does not say this. The film makers are confusing the theory of quantum mechanics with an interpretation of quantum mechanics.
` Importantly, Skeptico notes that David Albert, the quantum physics consultant featured in the film, was quoted in a Salon article called "Bleep of Faith":
I was edited in such a way as to completely suppress my actual views about the matters the movie discusses. I am, indeed, profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness. Moreover, I explained all that, at great length, on camera, to the producers of the film ... Had I known that I would have been so radically misrepresented in the movie, I would certainly not have agreed to be filmed.` That is exactly what I had imagined had happened! Why would someone in the know support these lunatics? Just look at their 'evidence' for consciousness creating reality:
The first was the claim that when Columbus arrived in the West Indies, the natives were literally unable to see his ships. Why? Because they had never seen ships before, so ships did not exist in their reality.` Uhhhh, no. Actually, what happened is that the violent crime rate had gone up! But he says it really did go down because this was significantly less than the rate he believed it would rise to. Even more, he claimed it had dropped 18% (in the movie it was exaggerated to 25%). Sorry, pal, it doesn't work that way.
I had to rewind the film to make sure I hadn’t missed the part where they said this was just a fable. [And one that doesn't seem to exist outside the cult, at that.] But they were stating it as fact....
...The second example was of the supposed “Maharishi Effect.” John Hagelin of the Maharishi University, described how in 1993, violent crime in Washington D.C. was reduced over a two month period, by 4000 people practicing transcendental meditation (TM).
...It was discovered later that all the members of the “independent scientific review board” that scrutinized the project were followers of the Maharishi. The study was pseudoscience: no double blinding, the reviewers were not independent, and the experiment has never been independently replicated.` Indeed it would, but people like him seem to abhor double-blind testing. And then, the very thing I had been wondering while I was watching the film:
...The third example was the work of Masura Emoto, who tapes words to bottles of water. The water is chilled and forms into crystals descriptive of the words used. For example, if the word “love” is taped to a bottle, beautiful crystals form; if the words “you make me sick” are used, ugly images appear.
...What the film makers didn’t say is that Emoto knows the word used, and looks for a crystal that matches that word (biased data selection). To demonstrate a real effect, Emoto would need to be blind to the word used. James Randi has said that if Emoto could perform this experiment double-blinded, it would qualify for the million dollar prize.
...One thing that puzzled me was who were all the talking heads? I recognized a couple, but who was the bizarre guy who claimed he creates his day just by thinking about it, and who was the heavy-set blonde woman in the boxy red suit making the weird pronouncements in a funny accent?` Oh yes, who was she? At the end, it was thoroughly revealed:
Ramtha - Master Teacher – Ramtha School of Enlightenment - Channeled by JZ Knight` So, Skeptico did a little digging - this should sum it up:
They are stating as a fact, that one of the people you have been listening to for the previous 90 minutes, a main authority for the information being presented, is a 35,000 year old warrior spirit from Atlantis, being channeled by this Tacoma housewife turned cult leader. The woman pictured is JZ Knight, but you are not listening to JZ Knight. You are literally listening to Ramtha.
...Knight claims that she is Ramtha’s channel. She also owns the copyright to Ramtha and conducts sessions in which she pretends to go into a trance and speaks Hollywood’s version of Elizabethan English in a guttural, husky voice. She has thousands of followers and has made millions of dollars performing as Ramtha at seminars ($1,000 a crack) and at her Ramtha School of Enlightenment, and from the sales of tapes, books, and accessories (Clark and Gallo 1993). She must have hypnotic powers. Searching for self-fulfillment, otherwise normal people obey her command to spend hours blindfolded in a cold, muddy, doorless maze.` If that isn't the most typical cult/spiritually-oriented scam! It's no different from the well-exposed Peter Popoff and his magical, short-wave earpiece, or the harassment- and blackmail-filled world of Scientology, or any number of others:
` When you give them money, they impress you with their magic tricks and insidious teachings (which you cannot obtain without paying!), you think something amazing has happened, you think they're great, they suck your bank account dry, ad nauseum.
` So, put on a good enough show and you'll make tons of money! Typical, typical, typical! (And here's a good link if ya wanna know what the [bleep] is going on with Ramtha!) Skeptico's conclusion?
Upon further investigation I find the films’ producers, writers, directors, and a number of the featured “experts” are members of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment. The film is a propaganda piece for a cult.` A high-brow Ramtha infomercial? I should have known!! Typical, typical.... So:
What the (Bleep) Were They Thinking?` No kidding. I also found an article about this at Popular Science called 'Cult Science' by Gregory Mone. Concerning physics philosopher David Albert (the only one who is clearly almost a 'real scientist'), it reports that:
I can answer that now. They were thinking that if they made a film using the word “quantum” a lot, plus plenty of feel-good drivel they would (a) make a ton of money (not that they are short of the stuff), and (b) gain more recruits to their loony-tunes cult. This is probably one of the few things they got right.
He says that he spent 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. “I was taken,” Albert admits. “I was really gullible, but I learned my lesson.” Yet the real shame with this film is that it plays on people’s fascination with science while distorting and misrepresenting that science.
` So yes, what about that? I also found the transcripts of an interview in The Stranger about Albert and his involvement with What the Bleep and its sequel, Down the Rabbit Hole. He makes a couple of important points:
1) The film neglects to make any mention whatever of the fact that there has been a growing consensus among serious investigators of the foundations of Quantum Mechanics for 30 or 40 years now that this crisis of mechanism has PASSED, that we now see a way OUT of it, that (in so far as we can tell at present) the original, mechanistic, scientific project is very much alive and well. ... All of my numerous attempts to explain to the producers how we have now found our way OUT of that crisis were cut out of the final versions of both movies.` So, in what ways, specifically, are they wrongly interpreting quantum mechanics? I found that the article, What the Bleep are they on about? by Bernie Hobbs should give one a fairly good idea:
2) Both of these films are wildly wrong about what a collapse of the project of mechanism (if such a collapse had indeed occurred, which it did not!) would have MEANT. Both of these films are wildly wrong (that is) about where a collapse of the project of mechanism (if such a collapse had indeed occurred, which it did not) would have LEFT us.
` The film makers are apparently convinced that such a collapse would straightforwardly resuscitate the old metaphysics of God and spirit and so fourth, but they offer no reasons whatsoever for thinking that, and I cannot imagine what such a reason might be.
What the Bleep Do We Know draws heavily on the role of the observer in quantum physics. Unfortunately, it also completely misunderstands it.
The Bleep in a Nutshell:
- Quantum physics tells us that reality isn't fixed - subatomic particles only come into existence when they are observed
- Our mind has enormous potential, but we only use a small part of it for conscious thought, and we miss a lot of what's going on around us
so, in a leap of creatively edited logic
- If your mind is the "observer" that quantum physics talks about, you should be able to choose which of the many possible realities around you comes into existence - you can create your own reality, and probably come off anti-anxiety medication to boot.
It sounds reasonable, and familiar. We're always being told we don't use our brain to its full capacity. And any Cognitive Behavioural Therapist can help us to change the way we see things by changing our thought patterns.
There's just this little matter of the science being a bit... bleep.
` And, as I'm sure will interest many, Hobbs' article provides a whole list of blatant quantum physics misunderstandings in the film compared to the real thing, starting with what Amit Gotswami says about the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:
` "Since it can only calculate probabilities, consciousness must choose what happens and what does not." Say what? Where did he get that idea from? Apparently, he doesn't know what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle is about:
...Heisenberg basically says you can't get a really accurate fix on both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle - say an electron - at the same time. You can be accurate in one or the other, but not in both. (It's all to do with photons of light from your measuring instrument hitting the poor electron and knocking it for six). It's actually the machine that's the observer, not the human who's jotting down results.` In other words, we're so clumsy at measuring these itty-bitty particles that we interfere with their behavior so that we can only take one type of measurement at a time. That's all it means! It has nothing to do with consciousness or people making things happen!
` Then, according to Jeff Satinover, quantum physics says reality doesn't exist unless you are looking at it. As I have mentioned earlier, that's a total misrepresentation. To further clarify:
` What quantum theory states is that protons, neutrons and electrons are not measurable (and thus available for study) unless they are interacting with one another. In other words, you cannot measure a subatomic particle unless you use one as a measuring probe for another. That's why particle accelerators are so important. Therefore...
...it certainly doesn't depend on an observer to make this happen. As long as a sub-atomic particle is interacting with another sub-atomic particle, they'll both exist regardless of where you are or what you're doing. (Physicists should take part of the blame for this confusion. When they use the word 'observe', they actually mean 'interact with', not look at or think about.)` And just because particles appear and disappear, that doesn't mean that they must exist all the time and therefore have to go to an alternate universe like Fred Alan Wolf claims they must:
` You see, according to quantum theory, subatomic particles are fluctuations of energy - it is as if the energy is tying itself into a knot and then untying it. The particles don't go anywhere, they just 'untie' themselves when they are converted into other forms of matter.
` Then, Joe Dispenza (the chiropractor who says he creates his day) claims that since your brain lights up in one place when it sees something and then does the same thing when it is remembering, it cannot tell the difference between seeing and remembering. Oh, come on! If that were true and our brain responded the same way to both phenomena, don't you think that we would believe that things we are only remembering are really happening to us?
` The brain is not so simple...
Given a few contextual clues, like whether the eyelids are open or shut, it can work out whether it's seeing something or remembering it. And there's the matter of scale - the brain lights up in scans much more brightly when you're seeing something than when you're reminiscing.` Yeah, I noticed that while watching the film that they conspicuously left that last detail out. Skipping on, Hobbs gets to Hagelin's experiment:
...He announced in 1994 (one year after the study) that violent crime had decreased 18%. You might think that meant there were 18% fewer violent crimes than in the previous year, but the decrease was actually relative to his predicted increase based on some fancy statistical footwork. Regular indicators of violent crime told a different story - the number of murders actually went up.` And, as for Emoto:
The meditation may not have helped the victims of violent crime, but it did win Hagelin the 1994 Ig Nobel Peace Prize.
If you wanted to study the impact of spoken, drawn or written sentiments on the formation of crystals in freezing water, you'd have to do a slightly more rigorous study. For starters you'd have to take a lot of samples from different parts of each ice specimen. And you'd do the study without knowing what had been 'said' to the water specimens, so your subjective opinions wouldn't colour the results.` By now, I should hope that it is abundantly clear that these people are just spouting distortions and that their allegations about quantum physics supporting their beliefs don't even make sense to begin with.
` And that it's all about the Ramtha-channeling charlatan making money. If you've had your fill of this, I'm glad I could be useful.
` On the other hand, if you'd like to do some more reading, CSI's (f) Eric Scerri did a nice review. Here's part of it:
Filmed largely in Portland, the movie is a hodgepodge of all kinds of crackpot nonsense dressed up as modern science. The film oscillates between interviews with a number of so-called experts (especially in physics) and a rather flimsy storyline....` Typical, typical, cults flaunting their (alleged) celebrity members! And hey, I never thought of this before:
An examination of the film's pedigree helps explain its peculiar approach. The three directors are students of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment in Yelm, Washington, which is run by New Age channeller J.Z. Knight. ... Ramtha's followers are said to include many people from the entertainment industry, such as actors Linda Evans, Don Johnson, Shirley MacLaine, and Richard Chamberlain. Knight herself appears in the film as one of the talking heads, and even holds forth on the subject of quantum mechanics.
Knight, who's been channeling her prehistoric alter ego since the 1970s, is paid as much as $1,500 by those who attend retreats held at her school.
The fact that the science is being distorted and sensationalized here is not at all surprising. What puzzles me the most is that by making quantum mechanics the heart of the movie, the filmmakers have fallen prey to a crude form of reductionism which is usually regarded as the enemy of New Age ways of thinking.` In other words, according to this viewpoint, if you want to understand what is going on in the minds of people, studying chemical reactions is not how to understand it (which is true). Instead, go to a level many times further removed from mental phenomena and study quantum physics! Riiiight.
` By focusing so much on basic physics, the filmmakers do not seem to realize that they are shooting themselves in the foot. One moment they talk about all kinds of emergent phenomena, such as global consciousness, that go far beyond the reductionist worldview. The next moment they seem to suggest that the physics of fundamental particles explains human behavior!
` Even if we grant that quantum mechanics tells us that particles can be at two places at once - which, of course, it does not - how can one then assume that such bizarre effects work their way right up to macroscopic dimensions with no attenuation in order to determine human behavior?
` As many scientists and philosophers now realize, even if matter is fundamentally governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, this does not entitle us to suppose that chemical and biological phenomena will follow those same forms of behavior. This is to say nothing of even larger leaps such as the question of whether human behavior is dictated by the laws of physics.
` Oh, and how can I forget? There's also a very good review from eSkeptic, which I highly recommend. As it is, I shall reproduce a bit here:
Ramtha’s School of Quantum Flapdoodle
a film review by John Olmsted
...The film is the latest effort by religious, mystical, and New Age gurus such as Deepak Chopra to cloak their views in the mantel of science. Physicist Victor Stenger coined the term “Quantum metaphysics” where “today’s cosmic mind has been repackaged by an appeal to twentieth century science for its authority.”
` Oh, gosh! I remember Deepak! How I used to think he was some kind of authority! I even bought one of his books... blech!
Quantum physics and neuroscience are complex and controversial topics. The film discusses them in twenty-second sound bites mixed with cutting edge graphics. The effect is a blend of riveted attention and confusion that puts the critical mind to sleep, softening up the viewer to ideas that begin with human potential and end with walking on water.
...The central premise of the film is that there is no objective reality. The world is nothing more than observer effects. ...In New Age interpretations you are the god of your own individual world.
` How I used to believe that! I would try telling people about it, and how it wasn't a popular idea because most scientists were too 'close-minded', and would feel very hurt or would knowingly laugh at them when they rolled their eyes at me! I just smiled knowingly and said; "You'll see."
Additional bits and pieces of quantum theory are presented in the film, including: superposition theories, direction of time, Boehm’s implicate order, information theory, and others. Most viewers have no time, let alone the science background knowledge, to evaluate the validity of such claims.
Quantum theory is used to punctuate religious and political sound bites, such as this one from psychologist Jeffrey Satinov: “Materialism strips people of responsibility, quantum physics puts it squarely in your lap.”
` ...A chiropractor named Joe Dispenza diagnoses her problems with Ramtha’s version of neuroscience. Dispenza notes that in brain imaging parts of the visual cortex light up during both mental imagery tasks and visual perception. From this he draws the absurd conclusion that we don’t know the difference between what is real and what we imagine.
` Many different mental functions share cortical areas to carry out the complexity of their tasks. Thought and speech both utilize language areas of the brain. Visions during dreaming that use the visual cortex get reality tested upon waking.
` There are people who have great difficulty seeing the difference between the real and the imagined. They are suffering from psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, or they have ingested large amounts of drugs or alcohol.
` If Dispenza is right that we live in an imagined world not grounded in reality, testing his theory on your drive home would lead to a carnage of competing versions of where the road begins and ends.
...A major finding of neuroscience is that the conscious “free” mind arises out of powerful unconscious processes. Joseph Ledoux at New York University has shown that the limbic system produces a fear response before we are even aware of seeing the frightful image, like a snake in the grass.
` Patterns of emotional and cognitive responses to the world are laid down in a complex dialectic of inherited biology, early childhood experiences, and current functioning in the world. How this all produces consciousness is one of the most challenging questions facing brain scientists. The late Francis Crick spent thirty years on the question.
` Here we go!
Dispenza tells us that the answer is quite simple. Since we can’t stop feeling and thinking, and an addiction is “something we cannot stop,” then bad thoughts are just a problem of addiction. All we need is Ramtha’s recovery program.
` Noted cellular researcher Candice Pert appears for a valuable discussion of hormones, peptides, and neurotransmitters in the brain. Since discovering opiate receptors she has since drifted into New Age nonsense.
` If cells are over stimulated by neurotransmitters they adjust though a process called down regulation. Dispenza tells us that this is the cause of lifelong problems, since the down regulation is passed on in cell division.
` In a forum on the film this past spring, I had to point out to him that brain cells, unlike other cells in the body, do not divide.
` Hello? I could tell him that!
...Emoto claims to have proven that thoughts are so powerful they can change the structure of water. His “experiments” consist of taping written words to glasses of water. The next day beautiful crystals appear on jars with words like “love.” We are not told that these are actually ice crystals.` Whoa! I always assumed the water crystals were supposed to be ice, because that's what happens with water when it freezes - apparently, he was implying that liquid water forms crystals!
In his book, Messages from Water, Emoto claims that water can understand every language in the world, and all their emotional and metaphoric nuances, by picking up on the linguistic vibrations. Water tells us that classical music is good and heavy metal is bad. Water can educate us as to whether religious and political figures are good or bad people....` It's. Bleeping. Water. Two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom. Of course, I used to believe that particles were conscious, but then I started reading about the differences between science and the pseudosciences, and slowly began to understand how I was being fooled.
Another “proof” of the power of thought presented in the film is the so-called “Maharishi Effect.” ... Despite the fact that the murder rate actually rose, Hagelin announced a year later that his analysis proved that the violent crime rate fell just as he had predicted. In his recent book he states that the meditators “function essentially as a ‘washing machine’ for the entire society.”
As with Emoto’s work, there has been no replication by other scientists, no control groups, and no publications in reputable peer reviewed scientific journals to confirm the Maharishi Effect. The end of the film meanders into speculation about god. Knight tells us that Ramtha has arrived to free you from the gods who determine good and evil and punish you in the process....
` No thank you.
In April of this year I invited one of the film’s directors, William Arntz, along with one of his science consultants, Joe Dispenza, to Portland State University. To put the question of free will and responsibility to the test I put up a photo of a child with Downs Syndrome. I asked if this child was free to create any reality he wanted. Was this child responsible for his condition, I queried?
` Arnzt responded that in fact he is to blame for his disorder—he is paying for transgressions in a previous life. This is the same doctrine of reincarnation and karma that justified the caste system in India. The same logic blames the patient for their cancer.
What begins as promises of freedom of thought soon evolves into demands for correct thought and behavior. As Satinov says in the film: “People ought to be instructed to make different choices.” The source of the correct ideas is the prophet. The promised payoff for adherence to the dogma is freedom from the fears of death, disease, and misery. The fact that these are deep fears that we are all vulnerable to, sets the stage for rampant exploitation and abuse by charlatans and cults.
` ...And of course, as roughly three-quarters of Americans also have trouble with understanding this concept, I doubt I would have found someone who could explain what was going wrong there. Doubly so on people who could explain real quantum physics.
` Thank you, Chet Raymo and other critical thinkers! You've empowered a cute little smart person like me to be determined to become one of the greatest mad scientists ever! ...Is that good news? Indeed, the reason I was a week late in finishing this post probably has the most to do with the fact that I just started college!
` Ph.D, here I come!