What The Bleep Don’t You Know?

The times they are a-changin’.

This post seems to be older than 18 years—a long time on the internet. It might be outdated.

I started watching What the Bleep Do We Know!? and only got about half-way through it before I decided that this was utter crap and not worth watching anymore. My initial reaction was this, “Cool graphics and….nothing.” That was it. They had some cool graphics. My overall gripe with the movie is that they try to make Quantum Physics seem like an exact science when it really isn’t. Wikipedia has some great notes about the controversial nature of the movie:

The filmmakers assembled a panel favorable to their views to make their point (see below). Through creative editing, voice-overs, and special effects, points are raised, discussed, and illustrated in ways designed to inform as well as entertain. Critics have voiced concerns that the film is disingenuous and that it selectively presents information, while not presenting contradictory information.

The film presents scientific experts to support the film’s underlying philosophy, but, by and large, the scientists have previously been involved in promoting similar ideas. Arguably, their presence in the film represents the filmmaker’s efforts to find scientists sympathetic to the film’s ideas. Given the selection process, the scientists do not represent the general scientific community’s views.

Throughout the movie, they failed to show the credentials of any of the persons speaking. This was very troublesome to me and before I stopped watching, I skipped to the end to see if they would identify who was speaking. Fortunately they did. I laughed when they showed the credentials for Ramtha, Master Teacher – Ramtha School of Enlightenment, Channeled by JZ Knight. When I first saw Ramtha in the movie, something didn’t feel right (If you’ve read Blink: Talk about thin-slicing).

JZ Knight/Ramtha appears frequently in the film. In the film, she appears to be a scientist or spiritual teacher of some kind. By the end of the film, during the credits, she is identified as the spirit “Ramtha” who is being “channeled” by “JZ Knight.” The three people who wrote, directed, and produced the movie are students of Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment. 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.)

Many of the persons in the movie don’t even have the proper credentials to speaking on Quantum Mechanics in the way that they do. They are like me, arm chair enthusiasts that would jump at the chance to express their views without any formal education. There were really only three or so people who had the proper background (at least in my mind) to give an accurate testament of Quantum Mechanics. And then I read about Dr. Albert:

Dr. David Albert, a philosopher of physics and professor at Columbia University, speaks frequently throughout the movie. While it may appear as though he supports the ideas that are presented in the movie, according to a Popular Science article, he is “outraged at the final product.” [4] The article states that Dr. Albert granted the filmmakers a near-four hour interview, which was then edited and incorporated into the film in such a way that misrepresented his views that quantum mechanics is not related to consciousness or spirituality. In the article, Dr. Albert also expresses his feelings of gullibility after having been “taken” by the filmmakers.

Wow. “But what about the studies?” you say. Wikipedia’s got that covered too:

Transcendental Meditation study

As described in the film, the study involved using 5,000 people in June and July of 1993 to do Transcendental Meditation (TM) to reduce violent crime in Washington, DC (which has one of the highest per-capita homicide rates in the US). By counting the number of Homicides, Rapes, and Assaults (HRA), the study came to the conclusion TM reduced crime rates by 18%. Based on the numbers reported in their own study, the HRA crime rate was about 30% higher in 1993 than the average crime rate between 1988-1992. The HRA crime rate showed a decline around the middle of the two month period where TM was practiced and remained relatively low (by 1993 standards) for several months afterward, though the decline was small enough that the reduced HRA crime rate was still about 10-15% higher than average at that time of year. There was no reduction in the homicide rate during the period of the study. Whether this means that TM caused a drop in that year’s unusually high HRA rate, or whether the HRA rate naturally dropped closer to its more typical frequency is the issue.

Water Crystals

Masaru Emoto’s work (The Hidden Messages in Water) plays a prominent role in a scene set in a subway tunnel, where the main character happens upon a presentation of displays showing images of water crystals. In the movie, “before” and “after” photographs of water are presented as evidence that specific words written on pieces of paper and affixed to different containers of water have the power to transform the water into beautiful crystalline shapes. Examples include “You make me sick”, “Love and Gratitude”, and “Merci”. The procedure followed by Emoto can be found at this site. In the movie, it is claimed that “non-physical events” of “mental stimuli” are the cause of this transformation, but skeptics have pointed out that the “after” photographs are microscopic images of the water after being frozen (aka snowflakes) – a step not disclosed in the movie.

Additional problems arise when it becomes clear that Emoto’s work is more artistic than scientific. For example, Emoto never submitted his work for peer review, and he did not utilise double blind methodology. If this had been the case, the individual providing the specimen (i.e., the person who selected the water sample, poured it into the container, labeled the container with a message, and froze it) would need to be a different person than the individual who later received the ice for analysis and photography. This second individual would also need to be unaware of what each specimen had been labelled. If the same person performed all of these tasks, this individual could easily select sections of the frozen water that matched what they wanted to see, perhaps unconsciously (a phenomenon otherwise known as confirmation bias). In other words, if the individual wanted to demonstrate that happy words produced aesthetically pleasing shapes, they only needed to find a section of the ice which was aesthetically pleasing. Conversely, if they wanted to demonstrate that angry words created aesthetically displeasing crystals, they again just needed to search until they found a section that did not look as good. Emoto also claims that polluted water does not crystallize. Depending on the properties of the pollutant, heavily polluted water will still form crystals, though the crystals may contain more crystallographic defects than pure water would. These changes in the way the crystals form can be readily explained using basic chemistry and physics.

Emoto essentially appears to have arbitrarily decided what constitutes a “brilliant crystal” and an “incomplete crystal”, but in a movie claiming a scientific base grounded in quantum mechanics, a quantification of what defines such crystals is required.

So yea. Crap. Complete and utter crap. If you really want to learn about Quantum Mechanics I would check out Elegant Universe. It started as a book and then PBS made a mini-series based on it. Granted, it’s not perfect. But I think it does a hell of a better job that What the Bleep. I should also note that it’s actually more about String Theory than it is Quantum Mechanics. However, it does an excellent job of explaining Newtonian Law and Quantum Mechanics before it delves into String Theory. And you really do need to know about NL and QM before you can even begin to understand ST. I have a copy of the book if anyone cares to read it. I would also suggest reading A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking…perhaps the smartest person in the world.

I’m still fuming about how much utter crap the movie is. Hopefully what I’ve wrote makes some sense. I’ll try to add some more of my own notes later.