Thursday, April 21, 2005

They Don't Know "Bleep"

A friend of mine asked me to review a film that's recently been released on DVD. It's called What the "Bleep" Do We Know?, and my friend was hoping for a review that would explain the popularity of the film and debunk the physics.

Unfortunately, I have next to zero understanding of the popularity of this film, which is a new-age infomercial for self-help thinly disguised as science.

The film is basically a documentary that features a number of talking heads ("experts"). This by itself would be rather boring, so the filmmakers have interspersed a narrative that stars Marlee Matlin as Amanda, a photographer who is (surprise) deaf and carries a train-load of emotional baggage from her break-up with her filandering husband. There are also a lot of computer graphics thrown to illustrate the "scientific" points and personify biochemical concepts ("emotional neuropeptides") used to explain "addictions."

The style of the film alone I found extremely annoying. The use of computer graphics was heavy-handed and annoying: far too jerky and the transitions between shots were jarring. The main character was unsympathetic, and I didn't believe the resolution in which she sheds her baggage by achieving the Enlightenment of "The Greatest Love of All" as Whitney Houston sang of "learning to love yourself."

Ramtha, Demon-ladyOn the philosophical plane, it was very evident to me that the "experts" talk of addictions was more about themselves than anyone else; most of them act like compulsive weirdos. About half-way through the film, I had the distinct impression that the large blonde woman identified as "Ramtha" must be possessed. The speakers' credentials were only revealed at the end, and she was labelled as "Ramtha, Master Teacher- Ramtha School of Enlightenment, channeled by J.Z. Knight". I don't understand what that means, but the Wikipedia article on the film explains:

Knight was born Judith Darlene Hampton in Roswell, N.M. The spirit, Ramtha, who she claims to channel, is "a 35,000 year-old warrior spirit from the lost continent of Atlantis and one of the Ascended Masters." (Knight speaks with an accent because English is not Ramtha's first language.)
Weird, or what? Significantly, the article also notes that the three filmmakers are students of her School of Enlightenment, a fact conveniently omitted from the film. (The IMDB review mentions some unsavory history of expert "Miceal Ledwith" too; perhaps it suffices to note that he is a former priest.)

The moral of the story seems to be that real love (of another) is unfulfilling and happiness requires worshipping yourself as god.

My theory is that the appeal comes from people's desire to have their self-indulgence justified by something that has the appearance of intellectual sanction; if it's a "scientific seal of approval," even better.

The science itself was pretty thread-bare. It's hard to know where to begin. It doesn't exactly take a Ph.D. to realize that a phrase like "water is the most receptive of the four elements" is not very scientific. A more main-stream fallacy the film voices is that "the universe is mostly empty," which is to claim that subatomic particles, like electrons and protons, are minuscule next to the vast "empty spaces" between them. It's sad, but scientists make stupid metaphysical claims (i.e., about being) like this all the time. They naively disregard the electrical force fields binding the particles as legitimate constituents of matter. Supposedly even subatomic particles will eventually be described as force fields, so by this reasoning even speaking about the particles as "something" is stupid.

Another scientistic assertion in the film is that "quantum mechanics allows for the intangible phenomenon of freedom to be woven into reality." This claim is so common that even otherwise very level-headed physicists fall into it. I hope to write on this more in future, but in a nutshell, the basic mistake is to equate the randomness of quantum mechanics with freedom of will.

Chance is the intersection of two otherwise unrelated lines of causality, as Aristotle says. To invoke chance is not to explain this intersection, and not to say it is uncaused, but merely to say that we don't know the cause.

Free will, on the other hand, means that the agent moves himself and is not determined by anything external. Free will is undeniable: to assert that human will is unfree is to undermine the truth value of that very statement.

Consider receiving a message that a terrorist has attached a bomb to your car's ignition. Consider what difference it would make if you were to discover the source of the message to be one of these:

  1. a random number generator,
  2. a trustworthy person forced at gunpoint to send you that message, or
  3. a dependable person under no compulsion

Which would you trust?

2 comments:

Abe said...

They can sell it, but if its not bought it becomes void.

Lawrence Gage said...

The Skeptico review debunks the film's "science."

Thanks to AmbivaBlog.