Hopefully More Than This or Why the Movies May Not the Best Place to Learn About Science
There is a new movie out generating all sorts of buzz, but unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. The film is entitled: “What the Bleep Do We Know?” and stars Marlee Matlan as Amanda, a photographer who is depressed and searching for the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
The movie is not a traditional drama, however. Rather, it mixes dramatic storyline and documentary style interviews to reveal – wait for it – the very nature of reality. This revelation comes complete with numerous trendy and obligatory references to quantum mechanics (short note to those selling the latest in New Age flakiness — always use quantum mechanics to justify whatever nonsense you are selling because it makes you look so very cutting edge).
Movie ticket prices are high these days but even I would spend ten dollars to find out the nature of reality. It seems like a bargain. I should call all those scientist types at CERN and Fermilab and tell them to shut down operations, pocket the millions they are spending to run all those particle physics experiments and just go to their local theatre to get the answers they are looking for. How could they say no, especially when the documentary components of the movie features interviews with such leading thinkers in the field as the mystic Ramtha?
Ramtha is actually J. Z. Knight, who claims to be the channel of Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old spirit warrior goddess (from Atlantis no less) that evidently appeared in Ms. Knight’s kitchen back in 1977. J. Z. Knight has been channeling Ramtha ever since and apparently doing well with it conducting seminars and the like for the Hollywood crowd (who else would pay for this?) at a reported $1,000 a pop. Of course, other ‘leading thinkers’ are presented in the documentary portions of the movie as well, however, most of them have much less than Ramtha’s 35,000 years of experience.
Not that it matters much as the film is basically a propaganda piece for J. Z. Knight’s Ramtha School of Enlightenment. The film’s producers, writers and director are members of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment as are most of the actors. If the movie convinces you to seek out some Ramtha based enlightenment, be advised that it doesn’t come cheap, as the goddess Ramtha instructed Ms. Knight to demand a “packet of gold” from all seeking her wisdom.
“What the Bleep Do We Know?” is by most accounts, an entertaining movie — well produced with inspiring special effects. Of course, that is the secret to good propaganda. You must make it entertaining if you are going to get people to buy into the silliness. It is, nonetheless, important to remember that this movie is nothing more than a self serving promotional piece on Knight’s take on the nature of reality. Well, all the take on reality as possible, when delivered by someone who does not appear to be completely in touch with it.
Normally, this is nothing to get overly concerned about. True, the movie claims to present a version of reality incorporating the latest scientific thinking on quantum mechanics rather than a version of reality based on the latest thinking of a 35,000 warrior goddess from Atlantis with an appetite for appearing uninvited in people’s kitchens. But really, who is going to believe any of this stuff?
The Herald Movie Review
Well, apparently, Katherine Monk of the Calgary Herald. In her movie review entitled “Science makes film fascinating” (Calgary Herald, Friday October 22, 2004). Katherine spends little time talking about the movie as a piece of entertainment and dedicates virtually the entire review to making supporting comments about the science involved. I don’t know what qualifies Katherine for this task, so far as I can tell, she makes her living writing about movies, not conducting research into quantum mechanics. Maybe quantum electrodynamics was part of her journalism class.
Nevertheless, Katherine’s review contains all sorts of declarations concerning the latest scientific findings and all of them complete nonsense. Take the following quotes from the review:
“According to scientific evidence, different words changed the appearance of water at a microscopic level”
“The word love turned water into an elegant crystalline form. The word hate made it look like warts. Hard to believe . . . but Dr. Emoto’s experiment has been replicated”
“. . . if we follow the line of reasoning, that means our entire essence, comprised mostly of water, is subject to more forces than we can possibly imagine.”
“It is important to note the scientific, and very sobering, wealth of data to support this arbitrary view of experience.”
Notice that all of these statements make explicit declarations concerning the truth of things presented in the movie. For example, Katherine doesn’t say: “The movie claims that the latest scientific evidence indicates that different words can change the appearance of water.” She says that the latest scientific evidence indicates that words do indeed change the appearance of water. How does she know this? Did she check the latest scientific findings?
Did Katherine Monk actually verify the truth of any of the statements made in her review? Had she independently checked out or verified the claims she was making or was she in fact, simply repeating claims made in the movie and passing them off as scientific findings?
I phoned the Herald to talk to Katherine and ended up communicating to her by e-mail. She seemed nice and expressed an interest in answering my questions. Well, right up until the time she knew what the questions were. Since then she has not responded to any of my repeated requests for information.
It is beginning to look like Katherine did not check any of her various claims at all. It looks as though she was simply passing off the claims made in the movie as accepted scientific findings. Had she bothered to do some checking, she may have discovered that:
- Words do not change the appearance of water at a microscopic level. Now, I don’t blame someone from Vancouver (or from southern California for that matter) for not knowing this, but out here in Calgary, we know that love does not give water an elegant crystalline form — temperature does. We call it snow.
- Dr. Emoto’s (don’t you just love the name?) experiment has not been independently replicated by scientists nor have results from of Dr. Emoto’s experiments ever been published in a respected scientific journal.
- It doesn’t matter a wit if our essence is composed mostly of water, the number of forces known to exist so far total to four — I don’t know about Katherine, but I can imagine four pretty well.
- There is no wealth of scientific data to support “this arbitrary view of experience.” There is of course lots of data and ideas concerning quantum mechanics, much of it strange and counterintuitive. However, these don’t necessarily translate into the notions of reality as preached by a 35,000 year old warrior goddess from Atlantis – or even Katherine Monk.
It strikes me, and I could be wrong about this, that movie reviewers should review movies — tell us about the entertainment value and how good the acting was, that sort of thing. I think the lectures on quantum mechanics should be left to people who know a little something about it. A little fact checking wouldn’t hurt either.
Katherine ends her review by stating that: “those with a larger and deeper understanding of physics will no doubt be frustrated by the film’s elementary school approach.” Well I don’t know. Do they teach Ramtha Enlightenment in elementary school?
Science in Calgary High Schools
No, but as it turns out, they teach it in high school. No sooner had I started out writing this piece than an interesting story was broadcast on CBC radio. It turns out that science teachers in Calgary, with the support of Ernest Manning High School Principal, Dr. Matt Christison, and the Calgary Board of Education, are actually using “What the Bleep Do We Know?” as part of science education. According to the CBC news report, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” has become an “unofficial piece of the science curriculum” in Calgary.
Dr. Christinson justifies this on the basis that kids today have different ‘learning styles’. Not everyone, according to the good doctor, learns the same way. For some, reading the textbook just isn’t as “meaningful” as going to the movies. Mr. Ron Licht, a science teacher also highlighted in the news story, is quoted as saying “I don’t use the textbook” because it is so “breathtakingly dull”.
I get it. The challenges of teaching science are now sufficient to have science teachers quit teaching science altogether and go straight to 35,000 year old Ramtha Enlightenment on the basis that Ramtha makes better movies than scientists make textbooks. Perhaps this is a new wave in science education where we no longer care what kids learn just as long as they learn something — any nonsense will do.
The mind boggles. Why, I want to know, didn’t my high school biology teacher take us to see “Godzilla versus Mothra”? And while I am on about this, why didn’t my physics teacher take me on a field trip to watch “Amazon Women on Mars” or is Amazon Women biology and Godzilla physics? Anyway, the point is, while I was watching Will Robinson and the rest of his family get Lost in Space, was I really doing my homework and if so, how do I get my detention time back? (I should probably talk to Ramtha about that one. Anyone still around after 35,000 years must know something about getting time back.)
Let’s face it; science teachers in my day were a backwards lot with no appreciation of the pedagogical methods that could be used to reach children. So backward, they thought that science class should talk about, well, science. Thank Ramtha there is none of that science nonsense going on at Ernest Manning High School.
Now I am going to stick my neck out here and make another suggestion, along the same lines I made about movie reviewers. Again, I am no expert in teaching methods, but maybe, just maybe, it is the teachers job to make the science described in those dry and boring textbooks interesting. That might be what they are getting paid for, as opposed to going to movies where the warrior goddesses from Atlantis preach interpretations of quantum mechanics. In other words, perhaps science teachers in Calgary should try teaching some science. Just a thought.
Perhaps this is part of all that ‘dumbing-down’ I have been reading about. If it is, then we are definitely on the right track as using this movie to teach science is as dumb as it gets. I understand, however, that those attending the movie had to write an essay on what they learned from the experience. We can only hope that the kids in these classes are little wiser and more insightful than their teachers and escape from this having learned that sometimes, teachers have no clue of what the hell they are talking about. (I wonder what kind of grade that essay would earn?)
This would be a good thing to learn about teachers — even those claiming 35,000 years of experience.
Okay, the show is over. Time to get back to reality.
OOOPS: A What the Bleep Do We Know Update (Feb 15, 2005)
Well, it looks like I spoke too soon. I stated in this column that: “‘What the Bleep Do We Know?’ is by most accounts, an entertaining movie — well produced with inspiring special effects.” I guess not. Since I wrote this, some better known movie reviewers have painted a different picture.
Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post seemed to be summing up the consensus when he wrote, “Part talking head documentary, part live-action narrative featurette and part goofy animation fails on all three levels . . . stiffly written, badly acted , choppily edited, and awkwardly redundant . ” (Quoted by Benjamin Radford at www.radfordreviews.com) Roger Ebert, of thumbs up or down fame said, “I knew there had to be something fishy when the expert who made the most sense was channeling a 35,000 year-old seer from Atlantis.” No news on when such common sense will be rubbing off on local reviewers such as Katherine Monk.
UPDATE: What the Bleep do We Know Wins Coveted Pigasus Award
UPDATE: What the Bleep Do We Know 2. A new review by Katherine Monk