Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review of 'What the Bleep do we Know?' DVD starring Marlee Matlin

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It is important to have a good, coherent negative review of this work to place in juxtaposition to the glowing positive reviews. Clearly this controversial 2004 movie is a 'love it or hate it' sort of affair with very little middle ground. (Just look at the hugely bimodal distribution, with lots of 1 star and lots of 5 star ratings on Amazon.)

Its subject: exploring the link between cutting edge physics (quantum mechanics in particular) and spirituality.  It begins with some very well-done tutorials about the physics but then leaps across a perilous abyss to claim some ground on the spiritual side.  This leap is taken without carefully identifying the middle ground between the two.

But there *is* middle ground. The amazing spooky world of quantum mechanics has so much richness of interpretation that scientists in the field are still arguing over it.  A recent Scientific American article (June 2013, pp. 47-51) highlights four different interpretations that could be called ‘world-views’ because they are so basic to the meaning of reality itself.  The concluding two sentences of this article are real eye-openers, quoting:  “As [Christopher A.] Fuchs [formerly of Bell Labs, Murray Hill, N.J.] puts it, ‘With every measurement set by an experimenter’s free will, the world is shaped just a little as it participates in a kind of moment of birth.’ In this way we become active contributors to the ongoing creation of the universe.”

This movie provides a service to the lay public in that it engages them in the world of science. If a few of these people become scientists rather than metaphysical practitioners, then we're all better off for it. If the language of quantum mechanics enters the public lexicon, it opens doors. Is a little knowledge a dangerous thing? Perhaps for some hapless individuals, but for society, no, because the consensus tends to be self-correcting. We continuously emerge from a little knowledge and achieve more. A thousand years in the future everything we know now will fill a thimble in comparison to the ocean of wisdom since achieved.

There is plenty of reason to suspect that effects like universal quantum entanglement (everything started at the big bang, so everything is still connected in terms of its quantum field), can play a role in consciousness. The example I like to use is in the form of a set of questions: How many electrons does it take to fire a neuron in the brain? What causes an 'inspiration' in the conscious mind? Can a single electron circulating at just the right location in my mind, quantum entangled with one in yours, trigger a pattern in my cerebral cortex when you have a certain thought that triggers a similar pattern in your cerebral cortex?

This movie raises many such questions and then leaps into bold answers that have little rational justification or reproducible evidential support. But that doesn't deny the existence of the spooky quantum effects, nor should it undermine the value of posing these deep questions before a curious, inquisitive public.

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