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What the Bleep [05 Nov 2005|09:44pm]
[ mood | Irritable ]

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 distracted audience?

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 allegory.

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 an error.

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.)

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