I didn't get much out of What the Bleep Do We Know.
I vacillate between being very inclined to and very repelled by abstract
contemplation of life's "deep" questions. Sometimes I think the main reason I'm
buddhist is that buddhism treats these questions as perfectly ordinary. It
doesn't shroud them in mysticism or promise an end to life's problems if we can
realize their answers. We encounter them as part of our normal life, and we
should engage them accordingly.
Seen from this perspective, What the Bleep Do We Know takes an unfortunate
approach. The film has a glossy, slick, phony feel. There are sparkling halos
of light, and anthropomorphized cartoon incarnations of metaphysical ideas that
remind me of nothing so much as soap suds in a cleanser commercial. I've seen
very similar graphics in Scientology books. They foreground the film's
condescension to the viewer. Remember those eighth-grade science movies, which
were obligated to use amateur visual effects to hold the attention of their
It is an awkward mix of documentary and narrative story, connecting the lessons
of quantum physics to the human condition, and neither one comes off very
well. I'm certain that I would be much happier if it were only a documentary,
with the "storyline" removed. Next to the didactic and overly excited
commentary of scientists and mystics, the storyline comes across as childish
The gap between the significance of what the scientists say and their nonverbal
expressions leads me to believe that this movie suffered from serious editing
problems. Important parts were probably cut. I believe that these people have
important and interesting things to say; but presenting only their enthusiastic
conclusions --- mostly repetitions of vocabulary-induced variations on "it's
all in your head" --- without giving some time to the warrants behind them, was
I take issue with "it's all in your head". I don't understand the drive to
emphasize the binary mind and body opposition. If it is true that our thoughts
can actually influence the reality around us, isn't it reasonable to first
explore the theory that this is because mind and physical reality are
constructed of the same stuff, rather than leap to the conclusion that the mind
must be made of some higher-order material?
I also take issue with it for social reasons. The problem is essentially "easy
for you to say", and it tends to arise whenever someone elevates the importance
of the mind over the body. The film focuses on an ultra-narrow slice of
people. In the story, the main character is a deaf photographer who finds
herself in many socially awkward situations. The pronouncements of the
scientists and mystics are universal, generalized to all humans, to "us". But
who is the "us"? It appears to be people who have time for existential angst,
who are not facing challenges to their actual physical survival.
How would the movie have been different if the protagonist had been a
money-poor, single, deaf mother trying to put some food on the table for her
children using government assistance and a part-time job? Doesn't this
challenge the "in the morning I spend a few minutes visualizing, creating my
day, communing with the universe" approach?
I don't mean to disparage it if it works for you; but there were no
acknowledgments of limitations on applicability in the movie, and to present
itself in a way that pretends to apply to all humans is irresponsible, and
somewhat typical of capitalist spirituality.
This particular ninety minutes would have been better spent re-reading my
epistemology textbooks, or The Mind's I,
just meditating, or helping out at a shelter. I would have learned much more,
about the same topics.
(After writing this, I read Wesley Morris's review in the Boston Globe. Maybe I should have read that review before watching the movie.)