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What the bleep do we know?

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What the bleep do we know? claims to offer new insight and so-called scientific discoveries of other dimensions and a new take on what we call reality.

However, many in the scientific community consider the film to be grossly inaccurate and riddled with new-age pseudo-scientific propaganda. Many of the scientists who participated in interviews for the production later recalled in horror as their quotes were taken way out of context and used to promote the supernatural, spiritual, self-promoting ramblings of a group of so-called "gurus" looking to sell books, movies and cultivate a following at their new age ranch.

The movie is extremely slick and well-produced. Unfortunately it uses the impressive production values to trick the viewer into thinking its claims are more important, better documented, more realistic, and more legitimate than they are in reality. If you strip away the fancy editing, impressive sound effects and the interviews taken out of context you end up with another self-absorbed egotist using a few hollywood actors to promote themselves and their completely un-proven, layperson claims about the nature of the universe. In typical God of the gaps fashion, the movie tries to use renown scientists' acknowledgment of unknown areas of science to inject their own ridiculous, unproven, paranormal claims.

Here's an official synopsis:

"WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW?!" is a radical departure from convention. It demands a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed, not even dreamed of since Copernicus. It's a documentary. It's a story. It's mind-blowing special effects. This film plunges you into a world where quantum uncertainty is demonstrated - where neurological processes, and perceptual shifts are engaged and lived by its protagonist - where everything is alive, and reality is changed by every thought.

Here's a review posted at skeptico[1]:

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. This is an explanation to help understand what might be going on, but it is not part of the theory because it is not falsifiable: it cannot be tested in such a way that, if it were false, it would fail the test (without falsifying the whole of quantum mechanics, and therefore all the other interpretations too).

To falsify this interpretation you would have to see what would happen without a conscious observer monitoring the experiment. But that’s Catch-22: you need a conscious observer monitoring the experiment to see what happens. You can’t look at the experiment without looking at it so no one can ever know if this interpretation is true. Even if it were true, extrapolating to “we literally create reality by out thoughts” is applying reductionism to an absurd level.

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to because David Albert, the professor from the Columbia University physics department who was featured in the film, is quoted in Salon.com saying:

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.

The ironic thing is that the film makers tell us quantum mechanics is oh-so-mysterious and can’t be explained - and then they explain it. I am reminded of Richard Feynman’s famous quote, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics". These film makers think they understand quantum mechanics. They don’t, but that doesn’t stop them from making a film explaining it. But it’s just a consciousness-of-the-gaps explanation: we can’t explain it so it must be consciousness.

Any one of the many interpretations could be correct. Or none of them might be correct, and the correct explanation is something not yet thought of. Quantum mechanics is not telling us this is the way the universe necessarily is.

Baaaad examples

So they have the theory wrong, but they must have some good examples, right? Wrong. They have three bad examples. Appallingly bad, actually.

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.

I had to rewind the film to make sure I hadn’t missed the part where they said this was just a fable. But they were stating it as fact. This idea is just too dumb to be considered seriously. Even if true, how could anyone verify it? I have searched the web for the source of this story to no avail, and conclude the film makers just made it up.

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).

There were many problems with this experiment. One was that the murder rate rose during the period in question. Another was that Hagelin’s report stated violent crime had been reduced by 18% (in the film he says 25%), but reduced compared with what? How did he know what the crime rate would have been without the 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. Hagelin deservedly won an IgNobel Prize in 1994 for this outstanding piece of work.

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. (He has never applied.) Such a protocol would show there is no correlation between the words taped to a bottle and the crystals formed within. These experiments have not been performed to a scientific protocol and have never been independently replicated.

Pert scam

The next segment was about neuro-peptides, how they are created in the brain, and regulate other cells in the body. This was presented as another example of how the human brain (consciousness), creates reality. None of this would be new to anyone who has read Candace Pert’s “Molecules of Emotion”. Pert is a talented scientist who went woo woo many years ago for reasons I don’t have time to go into here. (Edited to add: see my May 2005 review of Molecules of Emotion.) Suffice to say she has made many dubious claims, including this in the film:

Each cell has a consciousness, particularly if we define consciousness as the point of view of an observer.

I think what she saying is that when one cell interacts with another, it fulfills the role of the “observer” in quantum mechanics. Well OK, but by that definition my toaster is conscious. It’s such a general definition of consciousness as to be meaningless: consciousness has to include some degree of self-awareness. There is no evidence I’ve heard of that individual cells are conscious.

This was followed by someone claiming he literally creates his day with his thoughts, plus some feel-good drivel about god and self that almost put me to sleep. At the end, the main character in the film throws away her prescription meds because, since she creates her own reality, she doesn’t need them. (Don’t try this at home.) And that was it.


Channel No. 5

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? Normally in a documentary, the experts are introduced when they first appear. But here they introduced them after the end of the film. I was amused to see the guy who creates his own day, was a chiropractor. But when I found out the identity of the blonde woman, my eyes nearly popped out. I figured you wouldn’t believe me if I just told you, so I took a screenshot of it:

In case you can’t read the text, it says:


Master Teacher – Ramtha School of Enlightenment

Channeled by JZ Knight

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. There were people who saw this film and didn’t say, “That’s just a woman putting on a funny accent”. Scary, huh?

At this point the film lost any remaining pretence of being based on any kind of science or facts.

I did a little digging on Ramtha:

Ramtha is a 35,000 year-old spirit-warrior who appeared in J.Z. Knight’s kitchen in Tacoma, Washington in 1977. 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.

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.

What the (Bleep) Were They Thinking?

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.

Here are some other reviews:

This movie is a perfect example of what Nobel Prize Winner Murray Gell-Mann calls "Quantum Flapdoodle", i.e. an attempt to use Quantum Theory to support a metaphysical, even mystical, view of the world. This is often the result of confusing Quantum Theory with the interpretation of Quantum Theory. The premise of the movie seems to be to prove that we create our own reality through the observation of it. What follows is a lengthy pseudo-scientific explanation of specific elements of Quantum Theory placed in a light that supports a distorted mystical view.

One of the first and most glaringly aggravating points about this movie is the editing. Many of the physicists in this movie were filmed for hours explaining Quantum Theory and the mechanics behind it, but only select pieces of the footage were used out of context to make it seem as if these experts were supporting a mystical world view, when in fact they almost universally scoff at it. Coupled with that is the fact that many of these "experts" actually have no physics credentials, Quantum or otherwise.

But what about the science, you ask. Unfortunately, the science in this movie is abysmal. First, as mentioned before, they confuse the theory with the interpretation. This is simply because they advocate the "observation is reality" idea, which isn't part of the theory. For a theory to be considered scientifically valid, it must be provable or disprovable. Observation creating reality cannot be disproved simply because it would require an observer to validate, which would then invalidate the "theory". So from the beginning we have a faulty basis for science.

Following that, the movie then cites its "proof", which is also scientifically invalid. The first was the popular fable that when Columbus arrived in North America that the natives could see "the ripples in the water" but couldn't see the ships. Nowhere in the movie does it state that this is a fable... its actually presented as literal fact (though I should note it isn't implicitly stated in the film that this is a fact, it is certainly implied). This example fails to hold up to scientific standards for various reasons. First, its hearsay. There aren't any written records or verifiable evidence supporting the story. Its a legend, pure and simple, and as such proves nothing. Second, it fails entertain the more logical reasons, such as the ripples appearing in the water before the ships had actually arrived, a distinctly logical conclusion.

The second example illustrated the "Maharisi Effect". For those unfamiliar with the experiment, in 1993 four-thousand people practiced trancsendental meditation in an attempt to lower the crime rate in Washington DC. After the "experiment", the data was analyzed, tweaked and otherwise manipulated to reveal, amazingly, that violent crime was down 18% (though the film claims 25). This was viewed as proof of the power of group meditation and positive thinking. Sadly, this example also fails to satisfy the rigorous criteria of science. First, there was no control group, and as such no way of knowing what the crime rate would have been without the meditation. This implies that the lowered crime rate could be the result of several, unrelated factors. Also, the crime rate was only 18% lower than what was predicted by analysis of previous criminal trends in the area. Violent crime increased from the previous year, just not as much as was expected by experts. Second, the murder rate during this time actually increased, so while violent crime as a whole increased less than was predicted, more murders were being commited during this time than were predicted. Thirdly, the panel who reviewed the data created by this experiment were followers of the Maharisi and could not be counted as impartial, non-biased observers.

The third piece of "proof" supplied is Dr. Emoto's famous Water Tests in which he tapes words to containers of water and freezes them into crystals that, supposedly, create beautiful images when nice words like "love" and "thank you" are taped to them and horrible, ugly images when mean words like "I hate you" and "I want to kill you" are used. These words were tried in several languages and sometimes images are used as well. Unfortunately, Dr. Emoto's amazing work has never been independently recreated in a scientific setting. In fact, the James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a $1,000,000 prize to Dr. Emoto if his data can pass a double blind test, a prize which he has refused to even attempt to claim.

After this there is a long discussion about cellular peptides and how these are responsible for all observation, emotion and, in essence, reality. This was the only part of the movie that had some sound basis in reality and could be backed up with science. It is 100% true that the chemical processes in our brains can vastly effect how we view reality, which is the basis of psychiatric pharmocology. The movie then moves on to use this as proof of the power of positive thinking, i.e. "Our brains control how we view reality so we don't need mind-altering medications to be happy!" Yay! Except when there's something wrong with our brain and those chemicals are out of balance. I'd like to see somebody tell Charles Manson that all his insanity could be cured by the power of positive thinking!

The final straw that breaks this movie's proverbial back is the inclusion of Ramtha, the 35,000 year old Atlantian warrior spirit brought to us courtesy of a Tacoma housewife named JZ Knight (his "channel" in New Age circles). In a thick, Hollywood-esque Eastern European accent, Ramtha tells us about the wonders of Quantum Physics and how it is the first science to even come close to explaining magic and miracles. Okay... I don't even know where to begin with this. First of all, if this is a movie about science, why are they including the claims of a New Age cult leader who can't be verified one way or another. Also, what are this person's credentials. If its just JZ Knight pretending to be some ancient Atlantian, does she have a Quantum Physics background? Second, if she IS some ancient Atlantian warrior, what are HIS Quantum Physics credentials (which could be easily verified with a series of Doctorate level tests)?

Of course, her/his authority is never questioned, and there's a reason. It took a little digging to find, but the vast majority of the people involved in making this film are followers of Ramtha. When this came to light, I was flabbergasted. The fact that most of the movies views fall right in line with her group's New Age philosophy puts an entirely new spin on the movie. Suddenly this looks like nothing but one, big recruitment piece for Ramtha.

I gave this movie one star because it does one good thing: It gets people thinking about Quantum Physics and reality. Some people who see this movie might be interested to dig deeper into the actual science and check out John Gribbin's excellent series of books about Quantum Physics for the layman. I recommend "In Search of Schrondinger's Cat" most highly.

As Richard Feynman said, "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics", and that sums up the major problem with this movie. It provides a view of quantum mechanics that is absurdly simple and abysmally unscientific. The beauty of particle physics is magical in and of itself, it doesn't need to be married to philosophy and New Age metaphysics to be amazing.

I just recently viewed "What the Bleep" after hearing about the positive response it has generated from much of its audiences. I was interested to see what questions are posed and how they are answered. The film does advocate a certain view of the world and of ourselves. To my disappointment, it dodged the most important questions a worldview must answer - the "why" questions most of us have (why are we here, what is our purpse, etc.)

After viewing it I began to research much of what was shown in the film. After doing so, I believe it to be pseudo-science selectively presented to persuade the viewer to consider the spiritual beliefs of those who follow Ramtha, a purported 35,000 year old warrior from Atlantis.

The filmmakers would have you take them at face value - neutral parties who are simply on the journey to know more about ourselves and the world around us. It is all about possibilities they say. The film is a clever editing job, with comments interspersed from Ramtha (aka JZ Knight,Judith Darlene Hampton), and several of his (or her?)appointed teachers. Be prepared for several creepy, spacey gazes from Ramtha. None of these teachers were identified as such during the film. One is left to wonder why(see below for an idea).

The film's explanation of quantum physics is very narrow, and many of the experts give an agenda-laced explanation of quantum physics. I cannot find anyone respected in the field who is standing behind this film. If you are swept up in the film's seductive notion that we create reality, and think that it is based on science, you are likely to buy into many of the other claims in the film. The filmakers see no problem with their approach to avoiding background information about some of their experts, claiming "it's about the message, not the messenger."

Here are some interesting things I researched or observed:

1. In addition to the films three directors, there were actors and others involved in the production who are long time students of Ramthas' School of enlightenment.

2. A disproportionate amount of time was given in voice and film to Ramtha, Dr. Joe Dispenza, and Miceal Ledwith.

3. Dr. Joe Dispenza and Miceal Ledwith are both long time students and "appointed teachers at Ramthas' school of enlightenment (RSE).

4. Dr Joe Dispenza (the one who creates his day) has gone to court and testified that his teacher (ramtha) has told him that terrible times are coming and that he needs to protect his family. He also invested over $10,000.00 in an infamous scam that infected RSE and was touted by Ramtha as a vehicle to gain fabulous wealth and many of the schools membership lost substantial sums of money. Some lost their entire life savings. This is the person who teaches the brain science in RSE.

5. Miceal Ledwith a clergyman with a rather dubious past (a quick internet search will explain why) He is the one chosen by the film makers to be the theological spokesman. Why? He is also the theologian in residence of RSE. He has been marketing several products within the school and its followers. I suppose that could not have been done to easily in the Catholic church.

6. The following persons in the film have all spoken at RSE and sold books there: Fred Allen Wolf, Dr. Candice Pert, Amit Gotswami, John Haglin, Joe Dispenza, and Miceal Ledwith. This is not disclosed by the filmakers.

7. One of the scientists who was in the film and had never appeared at the school is Dr. David Albert, Professor and Director of Philosophical Physics at Columbia university. He has stated in several venues that his views were totally misrepresented in the film. He claims that in over 5 hours of interviews he explained to the filmmakers why their concept of how Quantum Physics works has virtually no support in the scientific community. None of those comments are in the film. He even called in to a radio program the director was on to discuss this and was cut off.

8. To date, the filmakers cannot offer a source for the information which lead to the story about the natives not being able to see the ships of Columbus originated from. There appears to be no evidence to support this claim. In addition, the film mentioned "clipper ships" which were not even in existence at that time. Perhaps that is why they couldn't see them.

9. John Haglin does not mention that he organized the experiment in D.C. with 4000 meditators. He also states that violent crime declined as he predicted beforehand. Official stats say it rose!

10. As for Emoto's water experiment, there has been no replication by other scientists, no control groups, and no publications in reputable peer reviewed scientific journals to confirm his findings.

11. One of the film's directors, William Arntz, along with one of his science consultants, Joe Dispenza, was invited to a forum at Portland State University. To put the question of free will and responsibility to the test a professor put up a photo of a child with Downs Syndrome. The professor asked if this child was free to create any reality he wanted. Was this child responsible for his condition, he queried? Arnzt responded that in fact the child is to blame for his own disorder--he is paying for transgressions in a previous life. A similar worldview is responsible for the persecution of the millions of Dalits in India.

I want others who see the film to consider these facts, as it seems to me that the filmakers ommitted a lot of relevant information and misrepresented the views of experts not tied to the RSE. Don't take my word for it. Do your own research and decide for yourself! The film is a slick package of ideas. Investigate those ideas if you desire, but the know about the messenger. The filmakers have said again and again that the message, and not its messengers are important. Is it not important to consider the motivations of the messenger? Despite my negative comments, I don't have anything personal against the filmakers. Obviously I disagree with their worldview and their attempt to hijack science and merge it with Eastern mysticism, but I hope they one day find that which they are seeking.

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