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The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Although I hated What the #$*! Do We Know?, (“#$*!” is pronounced “Bleep”) I’ll admit up-front that watching it inspired a strong, gut-level reaction against the movie. A more measured, level-headed critique might be possible from another source, so take this opinion in that context.

The Watchtower for New Age Mysticism

What the Bleep fails to mention that Ramtha is a 35,000-year-old spirit warrior
What the Bleep fails to mention that Ramtha is a 35,000-year-old spirit warrior

What the #$*! Do We Know? sells itself as the merging of science and mysticism. As an avid science-reading layperson, I kept waiting for the introduction of some interesting scientific principle from which to start. But as soon as one talking head would mention Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, or the fact that waves are particles, Bleep would cut to another authority making some unrelated mystical point.

After several minutes of this, I assumed I was merely watching the overview, and that the movie would settle down and begin to make its point, showing how the scientific statements led philosophers to their own mystical conclusions. But no link is ever made. Instead of using logic, the filmmakers hope their audience will make mental leaps of faith.

For those who hold a religious belief (perhaps I should say “spiritual belief” since nobody in this film likes organized religion) that there is a cosmic connection between subatomic physics and “god,” this film is a comforting sermon. For anyone with a different belief, it’s mumbo-jumbo. For the undecided, it is a colorful brochure, a Watchtower for new-age mysticism.

Skepticism 101

Claims to the contrary aside, there is very little science in Bleep. It’s interesting to note that none of its subjects are introduced. They are presented as authorities, but we don’t know who they are. Only after the credits begin to roll are the names of these experts revealed. A little post-movie search on their authority and reputation revealed many “experts” whose work has been called into serious question by scientists and skeptics.

One is Ramtha, a 35,000 year old spirit warrior who speaks through the blond-haired, modern-day channeler who goes on-camera (the movie doesn’t tell you this about her, it simply presents her on-screen as an authority; I read about her warrior priestess persona on a skeptic’s dictionary web site). One physicist who has done respected work on string theory has lately become an advocate of the magical powers of Transcendental Meditation and “yogic flying,” which his colleagues believe could have calmed the world down after September 11, if only they could raise a billion dollars. Another PhD physicist has been criticized for being too willing, without enough scientific rigor, to make a mental leap from quantum uncertainty to a god-like “observer” who consciously decides how every roll of the dice will come out. Another says people could literally walk on water if only they could think positively enough.

While it never actually asserts “this is true,” the movie also strongly suggests that water molecules in one “study” by Japanese photographer Masaru Emoto were able to read Japanese script and rearrange themselves according to the words written on their containers.

An Exercise in Torture

As someone who has lived through cult-like religious indoctrination, soul thankfully intact, I can say that sitting through What the Bleep is an exercise in torture, particularly with a humorless, credulous audience who has nothing but dirty looks for “closed minded” skeptics such as myself.

I actually know several people who could probably enjoy this film, some who are believers, others who are spiritually curious.

But my own opinion is that Bleep is a misleading, irresponsible movie that tries to dress up superstition as science.