As a Christmas gift, I was given a DVD of a movie called “What the Bleep Do We know!?” I had never heard of the film. On the cover it said, “Science and spirituality come together in this mind-bending trip down the rabbit hole.” On the back cover, it mentioned “quantum physics”, and had a picture of an archetypal mad scientist. I assumed that it was a documentary on quantum mechanics, something we might see on PBS. On the surface, the actual movie does look like that. It is a mixture of interviews with “experts” and a fictional narrative centered around a female photographer whose life is filled with alienating jobs and frustrating personal conflicts; in other words, someone just like all of us—presumably, that is. If you did not catch onto the subtext of this film, you might assume that there is no difference between this film and what we see on PBS, but it is actually a propaganda film for a religious sect.
The first quarter of the film was filled with scientific tidbits which were arranged in such a way that I knew the filmmakers were getting ready to make their big point. About a half way into the film, I began to understand what it was. Their ultimate point is that it is possible, and OK, to create your own reality in any way you want by using positive thinking, or by using self-affirmation. The reason why quantum mechanics comes into this is because it scientifically vindicates that view, or so the filmmakers and the various “experts” in the film assume. In other words, quantum mechanics is used to boost the confidence of the self-affirmers that what they are doing is perfectly justifiable, because science proves it.
By the end of it, I was convinced that there was a religious sect behind this film. So, I researched on the web and confirmed it. This is a film made by three first-time directors, William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, and Mark Vicente, who are also devotees of a sect called Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment (RSE). It wasn’t easy to find this, even though it should have been on the DVD itself.
Self-affirmation at the expense of others
One of the physicists interviewed in the film, David Albert, a professor at the Columbia University physics department, said the following after the release of the film:
“I don’t think it’s quite right to say I was ‘tricked’ into appearing, but it is certainly the case that 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.”
In response to this, the filmmakers said in their: “Open Letter to the U.S. Media”
“From more than 60 hours of video interviews, we selected approximately 60 minutes to represent the view we wanted to express. As filmmakers, that is our artistic and creative right. Not all the scientists agree with each other, but they all were very clear about our editorial rights and signed releases allowing us to use any of the recorded material in our film.”
Is “artistic and creative right” a right to distort the realities of others, a right to misrepresent the expressions of others to serve your own agenda? As long as someone signs a release, artists are absolved of any responsibility for accuracy of his views, or consideration for his feelings? Is that what “artistic and creative right” is? For those who create their own realities without any regard for those of others, this apparently is the case.
This is what troubles me about self-affirmation and “positive thinking.” Self-affirmers utterly disregard the effect of their self-affirmation on others. Their positive experience is achieved at the expense of others, in this case Professor Albert, in order for the filmmakers to create positive realities for themselves.
Another good example of how self-affirmers negatively influence others is vividly described by Robert Trivers in his analysis of the crash of Air Florida flight 90. The pilot repeatedly ignored the signs of problems, distorting the reality to his own liking through self-deception, which eventually resulted in the fatal disaster.
In the film, the archetypal mad scientist, William Tiller, Ph.D., says: “Are people affecting the world of reality that they see? You betcha they are.” Isn’t this the very reason why we need to be open to both negative and positive thinking? So that we don’t make our own reality positive at the expense of making the realities of others negative?
Aside from misrepresenting Professor Albert for their own positive realities, the filmmakers repeatedly contradicted themselves to craft their own realities. They use logic and science whenever they are convenient for them, and dismiss them if they aren’t.
In response to the negative reviews of their film in the media, they said, “They all seem characterized by an intellectual smugness and superiority.” This is exactly what the movie itself tried to pull off. They knowingly bombarded the average audience with scientific concepts, facts, and lingoes for the purpose of selling their agenda, exploiting the fact that they would not fully understand them. When speaking to others who are less intelligent than they are, they employ “smugness and superiority,” but when dealing with others who are more intelligent than they are, they criticize them for doing the same.
In the same open letter, the filmmakers said, “The thing about close-minded people is that they often try to convince everyone else to think like they do — so they can feel better about their own limited and sometimes rotten choices.”
This is exactly what they do. They are using science as a tool to convince others of the way they think. Those who practice self-affirmation and positive thinking accept only positive thoughts, and reject any negative ones. If anyone is “closed-minded” self-affirmative thinkers certainly are. They are open only to positive thoughts, thus closing themselves to half of the potentials of thoughts.
I must agree that we can create our own realities. These filmmakers are in fact the proof of it. They would never stop their self-affirmation, because they cannot afford to stop it. As soon as they stop, their positive realities will come crashing down on them. They live in their own realities and they will never come out of it no matter what anyone says. If they were capable of handling both positive and negative thinking, self-affirmation would not be necessary. They would have no need to create their own realities. If they can enjoy their realities as they are, there would be no urge or desire to “control” their realities. Their desire to control comes from their fundamental distrust for themselves and the reality. They feel that if they don’t control it, the reality will slide downward by default. They assume that life is naturally negative, unless you intervene and control it.
Dr. Joseph Dispenza, D.C. says in the film: “So my definition really means that if you can’t control your emotional state, you must be addicted to it.”
The idea of “control” only comes in when there is a possibility of going out of control. For instance, we don’t talk about controlling our desire to eat carrots; because most of us never lose control of our desire to eat carrots. That possibility does not exist in us. There are those who have to control everything (those who have so-called “addictive personality”), and there are those who do not have to control anything. Sense of being in control is an addiction in itself. Dr. Dispenza simply assumes that everyone has to control everything like he does. He is projecting his own addictive personality on everyone, assuming that it is the norm.
People are obviously miserable and desperate, if a movie like this can become popular enough to make money. The success of this film is not a validation of its truthfulness; rather it is a proof of how desperate people are to be free of their own sufferings. As long as the film offers them any momentary hope, they’ll take it, truthful or deceptive. The popularity only proves how deeply in despair people are.
Use of science to justify political, religious, and philosophical views
Use of science to justify religious, political, or philosophical views, is nothing new; Hitler used Social Darwinism to justify his racism. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with the idea of using science to explain mysterious or even “spiritual” phenomena. It only becomes a problem when it is used to serve an agenda. As Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states, the observer can never be independent of the observed. This means that even if the observer has no agenda, he would influence the outcome of the observed. Imagine if he does have an agenda; there is no telling how distorted the observation can become. At that point, the use of science becomes pointless, because it defeats the fundamental premise of science as the objective arbiter of truth.
Regardless of what we personally think science is, socially it is a tool used to arrive at indisputable truths. That is, we are drawn to science because it is presumably indisputable, which has the effect of stabilizing otherwise chaotic life we live. It is therefore tempting for any religious leaders to use science as a tool to convince others that their religious views are indisputably correct. This is a form of fascism. Science is often misused to convince others on the issues where the act of convincing is unnecessary or irrelevant. If you think, for instance, that the Bible is the ultimate truth, you can talk about it, but there is no need for you to coerce others into believing the same by providing scientific proofs. The same goes for any atheists who try to use science to disprove the existence of god. Science is simply irrelevant in this.
The filmmakers purport to present one of many ways of looking at the world, but if so, why use science which is a tool for arriving at indisputable truths? The fact that they use science to back up their claims is clearly an attempt to convince others that there is no other legitimate ways to look at the world. In the fictional part of the film, good behaviors and bad behaviors are scientifically explained in a black-and-white manner. The viewers who do not know any better, are forced to accept the filmmakers’ ideas of good and bad because they are presumably scientific.
What most religious fanatics share in common is their determination to come up with answers even when there is no sufficient evidence or knowledge. These filmmakers and many of these “experts” in the film, simply assume that quantum mechanics is the ultimate truth. They are not satisfied with leaving quantum mechanics as a collection of hypotheses. They have to jump the gun and decide that it is the truth, and go on to live their own lives and influence those of others, based on these mere hypotheses.
One of the prominent speakers of the film, John Hagelin, Ph.D., who is a “public policy expert” and was also a presidential candidate in 1992 and 1996, says:
“Every age, every generation has its built-in assumptions—That the world is flat or that the world is round, et cetera. There are hundreds of hidden assumptions, things we take for granted, that may or may not be true. Of course, in the vast majority of cases, historically, these things aren’t true. So presumably, if history is any guide, much about what we take for granted about the world simply isn’t true. But we’re lock into these precepts without even knowing it oftentimes. That’s a paradigm.”
He then should accept that he may also be acting on mere assumptions. What if his assumptions are wrong? Why apply science to politics, if in the vast majority of cases they are wrong? Why should the rest of us suffer the consequences of his wrong assumptions? If history is any guide, haven’t we already learned the danger of basing social policies on scientific hypotheses, like Hitler using Social Darwinism to justify racism? These religious/spiritual fanatics learn that the same particle can be in two difference places at the same time, and they can’t simply leave it at that. They have to attribute some sort of magical or spiritual meaning to that fact, and act on it.
The semantics of the “I”, or “the observer”
Many of the arguments presented in the film are simply matters of semantics. What “reality” is, depends on how we define what “I” is. As the definition of the “I” shifts in various contexts, so does the definition of “reality.” Here are two examples from the film:
“We know what an observer does from a point of view of quantum Physics, but we don’t know who or what the observer actually is. Doesn’t mean we haven’t tried to find an answer. We’ve looked. We’ve gone inside of your head. We’ve gone into every orifice you have to find something called an observer. And, there’s nobody home. There’s nobody in the brain. ... There’s nobody there called an observer. And yet, we all have this experience of being something called an observer observing the world out there.”
—Fred Alan Wolf, Ph.D.
“In my modeling, the observer is the spirit inside the four-layer biobodysuit. And so, it’s like the ghost in the machine. It is the consciousness that’s driving the vehicle and it is observing the surround.”
—William Tiller, Ph.D.
They assume that the “I” or “the observer” has a tangible and unchanging definition. Since the word itself does not change, they assume that there must be a definition that never changes regardless of the context in which it is used. So they scientifically go look for it. They are just being fooled by the language.
Dr. Tiller defines the observer as “the spirit.” This is a common definition of it, especially in the West. They split themselves into spirit and body, and identify themselves with the former. However, Dr. Tiller didn’t solve anything; all he did was to substitute the word “observer” with “spirit”. What is the spirit? Had I grown up in a body of a blonde bombshell, would that “spirit” have been the same thing that it is now? If I were born in Russia speaking Russian, would that “spirit” have been the same thing? What if I were born 200 years ago? Even if there is something in common with these different versions of my “spirit”, how can we define it? This will only necessitate us to split our “spirit” further into this common part and the varying parts. In this manner, the splitting of ourselves never ends.
What is the point of trying to come up with a tangible definition of this “observer”? There is no such thing, and that precisely is the problem. It is because they try to force themselves to come up with such a definition that they create unnecessary problems for themselves. It is only because Dr. Wolf tries to tangibly define an “observer” that he is confronted with a conundrum of the experience of being an observer. It is only because he expects the observer to be a tangible, unchanging object that he expects reality to be a tangible unchanging entity also. And, consequently he is shocked and puzzled by the implication of quantum mechanics. There is no surprise or “mystery” there if he didn’t assume such a thing.
Amit Goswami, Ph.D. says in the film:
“When we think of things, then we make the reality more concrete than it is and that’s why we become stuck. We become stuck in the sameness of reality. Because if reality is concrete, obviously, I am insignificant. I cannot really change it. But if reality is my possibility—possibility of consciousness itself—then immediately comes the question of how can I change it? How can I make it better? How can I make it happier? You see how we are extending the image of ourselves? In the old thinking, I cannot change anything because I don’t have any role at all in reality.”
This problem only arises because he assumes that the split between the “I” and “the reality” is real, because he does not realize that the split is an artificial construct created by our language. It is because he splits himself apart from the reality that he is confronted with the problem of not being able to control the reality. By splitting the two, he is also creating “the controller” and “the controlled”, which in turn necessitates the act of controlling. If the split did not exist, questions such as “How can I make it happier?” would not come into your head.
Dr. Candace Pert says in the film: “the culture is in the wrong paradigm and not appreciating the power of thought.” I would argue the exact opposite. All these unnecessary sufferings are in fact the results of overrating our thought. The “paradigm” of regarding our thought as superior to our bodies has always existed in the Western history. Dr. Pert is only preaching to do more of the same. These unnecessary sufferings exist because we forever divide ourselves; from the reality, from other people, from our bodies, from different parts of our spirits, etc.. That is what our thought does. Thought is a process of dividing. There is nothing wrong with thought itself. The problem arises only when we identify ourselves with our thought.
Watching this film disturbed me. “What the Bleep” is not a solution to our problem; rather it is a symptom of it. It pretends to solve problems for others when in fact it only perpetuates them by encouraging people to censor or “bleep” out negative realities. No matter what their egos choose to see or not to see, their conscience with its own reality will always haunt them.