What the Bleep Do We Know!?
|What the Bleep Do We Know!?|
|Directed by||William Arntz|
|Written by||William Arntz|
|Produced by||William Arntz|
|Edited by||Jonathan Shaw|
|Music by||Christopher Franke|
Lord of the Wind
|Distributed by||Roadside Attractions, Samuel Goldwyn Films|
|Box office||$16 million|
What the Bleep Do We Know!? (stylized as What tнē #$*! D̄ө ωΣ (k)πow!? and What the #$*! Do We Know!?) is a 2004 American pseudo-scientific film that posits a spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness. The plot follows the fictional story of a photographer, using documentary-style interviews and computer-animated graphics, as she encounters emotional and existential obstacles in her life and begins to consider the idea that individual and group consciousness can influence the material world. Her experiences are offered by the filmmakers to illustrate the film's scientifically-unsupported thesis about quantum physics and consciousness.
Bleep was conceived and its production funded by William Arntz, who co-directed the film along with Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente; all three were students of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. A moderately low-budget independent film, it was promoted using viral marketing methods and opened in art-house theaters in the western United States, winning several independent film awards before being picked up by a major distributor and eventually grossing over $10 million. The 2004 theatrical release was succeeded by a substantially changed, extended home media version in 2006.
The film has been described as an example of quantum mysticism, and has been criticized for both misrepresenting science and containing pseudoscience. While many of its interviewees and subjects are professional scientists in the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology, one of them has noted that the film quotes him out of context.
Filmed in Portland, Oregon, What the Bleep Do We Know!? presents a viewpoint of the physical universe and human life within it, with connections to neuroscience and quantum physics. Some ideas discussed in the film are:
- That the universe is best seen as constructed from thoughts and ideas rather than from matter.
- That "empty space" is not empty.
- That matter is not solid, and electrons are able to pop in and out of existence without it being known where they disappear to.
- That beliefs about who one is and what is real are a direct cause of oneself and of one's own realities.
- That peptides produced by the brain can cause a bodily reaction to emotion.
In the documentary segments of the film, interviewees discuss the roots and meaning of Amanda's experiences. The comments focus primarily on a single theme: "We create our own reality." The director, William Arntz, has described What the Bleep as a film for the "metaphysical left".
- Marlee Matlin as Amanda
- Elaine Hendrix as Jennifer
- Barry Newman as Frank
- Robert Bailey Jr. as Reggie
- John Ross Bowie as Elliot
- Armin Shimerman as Man
- Robert Blanche as Bob
- Larry Brandenburg as Bruno
- Patti B. Collins as Mother of the Bride
Work was split between Toronto-based Mr. X Inc., Lost Boys Studios in Vancouver, and Atomic Visual Effects in Cape Town, South Africa. The visual-effects team, led by Evan Jacobs, worked closely with the other film-makers to create visual metaphors that would capture the essence of the film's technical subjects with attention to aesthetic detail.
Lacking the funding and resources of the typical Hollywood film, the filmmakers relied on "guerrilla marketing" first to get the film into theaters, and then to attract audiences. This has led to accusations, both formal and informal, directed towards the film's proponents, of spamming online message boards and forums with many thinly veiled promotional posts. Initially, the film was released in only two theaters: one in Yelm, Washington (the home of the producers, which is also the home of Ramtha), and the other the Bagdad Theater in Portland, Oregon, where it was filmed. Within several weeks, the film had appeared in a dozen or more theaters (mostly in the western United States), and within six months it had made its way into 200 theaters across the US.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences, a New Age research organization that "explores phenomena that do not necessarily fit conventional scientific models", has supported What the Bleep Do We Know!? and published a study guide.
According to Publishers Weekly, the film was one of the sleeper hits of 2004, as "word-of-mouth and strategic marketing kept it in theaters for an entire year." The article states that the domestic gross exceeded $10 million, described as not bad for a low-budget documentary, and that the DVD release attained even more significant success with over a million units shipped in the first six months following its release in March 2005. Foreign gross added another $5 million for a worldwide gross of nearly $16 million.
In the Publishers Weekly article, publicist Linda Rienecker of New Page Books says that she sees the film's success as part of a wider phenomenon, stating "A large part of the population is seeking spiritual connections, and they have the whole world to choose from now". Author Barrie Dolnick adds that "people don't want to learn how to do one thing. They'll take a little bit of Buddhism, a little bit of veganism, a little bit of astrology... They're coming into the marketplace hungry for direction, but they don't want some person who claims to have all the answers. They want suggestions, not formulas." The same article quotes Bill Pfau, Advertising Manager of Inner Traditions, as saying "More and more ideas from the New Age community have become accepted into the mainstream."
Film critics offered mixed reviews as seen on the film review website Rotten Tomatoes, where it scored a "Rotten" 34% score with an average score of 4.6/10, based on 77 reviews. In his review of the film, Dave Kehr of the New York Times described the "transition from quantum mechanics to cognitive therapy" as "plausible", but stated also that "the subsequent leap—from cognitive therapy into large, hazy spiritual beliefs—isn't as effectively executed. Suddenly people who were talking about subatomic particles are alluding to alternate universes and cosmic forces, all of which can be harnessed in the interest of making Ms. Matlin's character feel better about her thighs."
New Age community reaction
What the Bleep Do We Know!? has been described as "a kind of New Age answer to The Passion of the Christ and other films that adhere to traditional religious teachings." It offers alternative spirituality views characteristic of New Age philosophy, including critiques of the competing claims of stewardship among traditional religions [viz., institutional Judaism, Christianity, and Islam] of universally recognized and accepted moral values.
Scientists who have reviewed What the Bleep Do We Know!? have described distinct assertions made in the film as pseudoscience. Lisa Randall refers to the film as "the bane of scientists". Amongst the assertions in the film that have been challenged are that water molecules can be influenced by thought (as popularized by Masaru Emoto), that meditation can reduce violent crime rates of a city, and that quantum physics implies that "consciousness is the ground of all being." The film was also discussed in a letter published in Physics Today that challenges how physics is taught, saying teaching fails to "expose the mysteries physics has encountered [and] reveal the limits of our understanding". In the letter, the authors write: "the movie illustrates the uncertainty principle with a bouncing basketball being in several places at once. There's nothing wrong with that. It's recognized as pedagogical exaggeration. But the movie gradually moves to quantum 'insights' that lead a woman to toss away her antidepressant medication, to the quantum channeling of Ramtha, the 35,000-year-old Lemurian warrior, and on to even greater nonsense." It went on to say that "Most laypeople cannot tell where the quantum physics ends and the quantum nonsense begins, and many are susceptible to being misguided," and that "a physics student may be unable to convincingly confront unjustified extrapolations of quantum mechanics," a shortcoming which the authors attribute to the current teaching of quantum mechanics, in which "we tacitly deny the mysteries physics has encountered".
Richard Dawkins stated that "the authors seem undecided whether their theme is quantum theory or consciousness. Both are indeed mysterious, and their genuine mystery needs none of the hype with which this film relentlessly and noisily belabours us", concluding that the film is "tosh". Professor Clive Greated wrote that "thinking on neurology and addiction are covered in some detail but, unfortunately, early references in the film to quantum physics are not followed through, leading to a confused message". Despite his caveats, he recommends that people see the film, stating: "I hope it develops into a cult movie in the UK as it has in the US. Science and engineering are important for our future, and anything that engages the public can only be a good thing." Simon Singh called it pseudoscience and said the suggestion "that if observing water changes its molecular structure, and if we are 90% water, then by observing ourselves we can change at a fundamental level via the laws of quantum physics" was "ridiculous balderdash". According to João Magueijo, professor in theoretical physics at Imperial College, the film deliberately misquotes science. The American Chemical Society's review criticizes the film as a "pseudoscientific docudrama", saying "Among the more outlandish assertions are that people can travel backward in time, and that matter is actually thought."
Bernie Hobbs, a science writer with ABC Science Online, explains why the film is incorrect about quantum physics and reality: "The observer effect of quantum physics isn't about people or reality. It comes from the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and it's about the limitations of trying to measure the position and momentum of subatomic particles... this only applies to sub-atomic particles—a rock doesn't need you to bump into it to exist. It's there. The sub-atomic particles that make up the atoms that make up the rock are there too." Hobbs also discusses Hagelin's experiment with Transcendental Meditation and the Washington DC rate of violent crime, saying that "the number of murders actually went up". Hobbs further disputed the film's use of the ten percent of the brain myth.
David Albert, a philosopher of physics who appears in the film, has accused the filmmakers of selectively editing his interview to make it appear that he endorses the film's thesis that quantum mechanics is linked with consciousness. He says he is "profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness".
In the film, during a discussion of the influence of experience on perception, Candace Pert notes a story, which she says she believes is true, of Native Americans being unable to see Columbus's ships because they were outside their experience. According to an article in Fortean Times by David Hambling, the origins of this story likely involved the voyages of Captain James Cook, not Columbus, and an account related by Robert Hughes which said Cook's ships were "...complex and unfamiliar as to defy the natives' understanding". Hambling says it is likely that both the Hughes account and the story told by Pert were exaggerations of the records left by Captain Cook and the botanist Joseph Banks.
Skeptic James Randi described the film as "a fantasy docudrama" and "[a] rampant example of abuse by charlatans and cults". Eric Scerri in a review for Committee for Skeptical Inquiry dismisses it as "a hodgepodge of all kinds of crackpot nonsense," where "science [is] distorted and sensationalized". A BBC reviewer described it as "a documentary aimed at the totally gullible".
According to Margaret Wertheim, "History abounds with religious enthusiasts who have read spiritual portent into the arrangement of the planets, the vacuum of space, electromagnetic waves and the big bang. But no scientific discovery has proved so ripe for spiritual projection as the theories of quantum physics, replete with their quixotic qualities of uncertainty, simultaneity and parallelism." Wertheim continues that the film "abandons itself entirely to the ecstasies of quantum mysticism, finding in this aleatory description of nature the key to spiritual transformation. As one of the film's characters gushes early in the proceedings, 'The moment we acknowledge the quantum self, we say that somebody has become enlightened'. A moment in which 'the mathematical formalisms of quantum mechanics [...] are stripped of all empirical content and reduced to a set of syrupy nostrums'."
Book adaptation and sequel film
In mid-2005, the filmmakers worked with HCI Books to expand on the film's themes in a book titled What the Bleep Do We Know!?—Discovering the Endless Possibilities of Your Everyday Reality. HCI president Peter Vegso stated that in regard to this book, "What the Bleep is the quantum leap in the New Age world," and "by marrying science and spirituality, it is the foundation of future thought."
On August 1, 2006 What the Bleep! Down the Rabbit Hole - Quantum Edition multi-disc DVD set was released, containing two extended versions of What the Bleep Do We Know!?, with over 15 hours of material on three double-sided DVDs.
The film features interview segments of:
- Dean Radin, Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, California and proponent of paranormal phenomena.
- John Hagelin of Maharishi University of Management, director of MUM's Institute for Science, Technology, and Public Policy, and three-time presidential candidate of the Transcendental Meditation-linked Natural Law Party.
- Stuart Hameroff, anesthesiologist, author, and associate director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, who developed with Roger Penrose a quantum hypothesis of consciousness in the books The Emperor's New Mind, and Shadows of the Mind.
- JZ Knight, a spiritual teacher who is identified in interview segments as the spirit "Ramtha" that Knight claims to channel.
- Andrew B. Newberg, assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, and physician in nuclear medicine, who coauthored the book Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science & the Biology of Belief (ISBN 0-345-44034-X)
- Candace Pert, a neuroscientist, who discovered the cellular bonding site for endorphins in the brain, and in 1997 wrote the book Molecules of Emotion (ISBN 0684831872)
- Fred Alan Wolf, independent physicist, author of Taking the Quantum Leap, winner of the 1982 National Book Award in science, and featured in the documentary film Spirit Space. Wolf has taught at San Diego State University, the University of Paris, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of London, and Birkbeck College, London.
- David Albert, philosopher of physics and professor at Columbia University, author of Quantum Mechanics and Experience, who according to a Popular Science article was "outraged at the final product" of his interview which he felt misrepresented his views about quantum mechanics and consciousness.
- Micheál Ledwith, author and former professor of theology at St. Patrick's College, Maynooth;
- Daniel Monti, physician and director of the Mind-Body Medicine Program at Thomas Jefferson University;
- Jeffrey Satinover, psychiatrist, author and professor;
- William Tiller, Professor Emeritus of Material Science and Engineering at Stanford University;
- Joe Dispenza, former Ramtha School of Enlightenment teacher, Chiropractor.
- Ashland Independent Film Festival – Best Documentary
- DCIFF – DC Independent Film Festival – Grand Jury Documentary Award
- Maui Film Festival – Audience Choice Award – Best Hybrid Documentary
- Sedona International Film Festival – Audience Choice Award, Most Thought-Provoking Film
- Pigasus Award – an annual tongue-in-cheek award, this particular award's category was #3: "to the media outlet that reported as factual the most outrageous supernatural, paranormal or occult claims".
- Mind-body problem
- Hard problem of consciousness
- Law of attraction
- List of films featuring the deaf and hard of hearing
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- "Cinefex article detailing the visual effects for the film". Archived from the original on 2007-08-04.
- Ron Hogan (2005-09-05). "New Age: What the Bleep? Categories conflate, confound, connect". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on 11 August 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
- "Our power is in our ability to decide - Can you?". Ideas Coaching. Archived from the original on 27 May 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2007.
- Institute of Noetic Sciences. What the Bleep Do We Know!? Study Guide
- Box office results from Box Office Mojo retrieved August 3, 2010
- What the Bleep Do We Know? Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes
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- "The minds boggle". The Guardian Unlimited
- Randall, Lisa (2011-09-20). Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (1st ed.). New York: Ecco. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-06-172372-8.
- Wilson, Elizabeth (2005-01-13). "What the Bleep Do We Know?!". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2007-12-19.
- What the Bleep are they On About?! Australian Broadcasting Corporation
- 2004 Pigasus awards James Randi Educational Foundation
- Review by Eric Scerri of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
- Review at BBC Movies
- Margaret Wertheim, "Quantum Mysticism". Archived from the original on March 16, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-09., LA Weekly, June 10, 2004. Accessed 2010-07-21.
- Mone, Gregory (October 2004). "Cult Science Dressing Up Mysticism as Quantum Physics". Popular Science. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- "the new age spiritualist and the old school scholars". washington post. 1997-03-08.
- "Third Annual Awards - 2004 Films". Ashland Independent Film Festival. ashlandfilm.org. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
- "DC Independent Film Festival". DC Independent Film Festival. dciff.org. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
- Baccil, Pat (2004-08-11). "What the... Bleep.... Do We Know the Docu Drama". Press XTVWorld. press.xtvworld.com. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
- Patchen, Nancy (2004-10-17). "What the 'Bleep' Do We Know?". Boloji. boloji.com. Retrieved 2010-07-21.
- Bruce, Alexandra (2005). Beyond the Bleep: The Definitive Unauthorized Guide to What the Bleep Do We Know!?. New York: The Disinformation Company. ISBN 978-1-932857-22-1. OCLC 427510693.