Same "science", different movie
What the Bleep Do We Know draws heavily on the role of the observer in quantum physics. Unfortunately, it also completely misunderstands it.
The Bleep in a Nutshell:
Quantum physics tells us that reality isn't fixed - subatomic particles only come into existence when they are observed
Our mind has enormous potential, but we only use a small part of it for conscious thought, and we miss a lot of what's going on around us
so, in a leap of creatively edited logic
If your mind is the "observer" that quantum physics talks about, you should be able to choose which of the many possible realities around you comes into existence - you can create your own reality, and probably come off anti-anxiety medication to boot.
It sounds reasonable, and familiar. We're always being told we don't use our brain to its full capacity. And any Cognitive Behavioural Therapist can help us to change the way we see things by changing our thought patterns.
There's just this little matter of the science being a bit... bleep.
Where the Bleep they're Wrong about Quantum Physics & Reality
The quantum world is intriguing, but unless you're a particle physicist it's got very little to do with the world's reality.
The Effect of the Observer
"Quantum physics calculates only possibilities... Who/what chooses among these possibilities to bring the actual event of experience? Consciousness must be involved. The observer can’t be ignored." Amit Goswami (PhD) in What the Bleep Do We Know?
Not exactly, Amit. 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. Gripping stuff, but nothing to do with our daily lives.
Heisenberg basically says you can't get a really accurate fix on both the position and the momentum of a subatomic particle - say an electron - at the same time. You can be accurate in one or the other, but not in both. (It's all to do with photons of light from your measuring instrument hitting the poor electron and knocking it for six). It's actually the machine that's the observer, not the human who's jotting down results.
Particles Popping Into & Out of Existence
"Physical reality is absolutely rock solid, yet it only comes into existence when it bumps up against another piece of physical reality - like us, or a rock." Dr. Jeffrey Satinover (psychiatrist, PhD candidate in physics), in What the Bleep Do We Know?
The bits and pieces of matter that make up sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons) don't exist in any handy, measurable way unless they're interacting with one another. Once they do bump into each other they form their regular little selves.
But 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.
And it certainly doesn't depend on an observer to make this happen. As long as a sub-atomic particle is interacting with another sub-atomic particle, they'll both exist regardless of where you are or what you're doing. (Physicists should take part of the blame for this confusion. When they use the word 'observe', they actually mean 'interact with', not look at or think about.)
"Particles appear and disappear - where do they go when they're not here? One possible answer: they go to an alternative universe where people are asking the same question: 'where'd they go?'" Fred Alan Wolf, PhD in What the Bleep Do We Know?
They don't go anywhere, Fred. Quantum physics doesn't need them to. Particles are fluctuations - the rules of physics say it's perfectly fine for them to exist at some time and/or place and to be non-existent at another time and/or place.
Where The Bleep They're Wrong About Our Minds Perceiving Reality
"Your mind can't tell the difference between what it sees and what it remembers" Dr Joseph Dispenza (Chiropractor ) in What the Bleep Do We Know?
Dr Dispenza claims (correctly) in the movie that brain scans - PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and Functional MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - show that the same part of your brain lights up whether you're looking at something or just remembering it. But it's quite a leap to say the brain doesn't know the difference between vision and memory.
The brain wasn't born yesterday. Given a few contextual clues, like whether the eyelids are open or shut, it can work out whether it's seeing something or remembering it. And there's the matter of scale - the brain lights up in scans much more brightly when you're seeing something than when you're reminiscing.
"Our brain receives 400 billion bits/second of information, but we're only aware of 2000 bits/second. Reality is happening in our brain all the time - we're receiving it but it's not being integrated." Andrew B Newberg, (MD, Radiologist), in What the Bleep Do We Know?
The figures are a bit rubbery, but the idea that we're only 'aware' of a fraction of our brain's activity is both correct and a huge relief.
What could be worse than being aware of every tiny detail that your brain handles - from phosphate levels to heart rate and hair growth. It'd be like being the CEO of a massive company and having to listen to what every single employee was doing every minute of every day. Staff meetings are tedious enough - give me a conscious mind with a decent filter device any day.
The only problem with Andrew Newberg's statement is that it suggests our subconscious brains are doing really interesting stuff and we're somehow missing out; if only we could harness that other zillion gigabits or so we'd be masters of our destinies. If it's true, no one's been able to measure it or see the effects.
"We only see what we believe is possible -Native American Indians on Caribbean Islands couldn't see Columbus's ships [sitting on the horizon] because they were beyond their knowledge" Dr. Candace Pert (former scientist, current new-age guru) in What the Bleep Do We Know?It's hard to say where Candace Pert got the low-down on what the Native American Indians did or didn't see when Columbus and the gang hit the horizon. Columbus certainly didn't speak the language, and the locals didn't keep written records. Only the Shaman knows, and we're about 500 years too late to ask him.
But she is right about us not seeing things in front of our eyes if we're not looking for them. A classic experiment on visual processing involves asking people to watch a video of 6 people passing a basketball, and press a button every time a particular team has possession. Invariably only about half the people tested ever notice a woman in a gorilla suit walking across the middle of the screen during the game. We're such a shallow people.
Where The Bleep They're Wrong About our Minds Affecting Reality:
The movie gives two examples of experiments which have shown the power of the mind affecting reality. Neither of them convincingly achieve this.
The Effect of Meditation on Violent Crime in Washington, DC.
John Hagelin, PhD, describes a study he did in Washington in 1992. 4000 volunteers regularly meditated to achieve a 25% drop in violent crime by the end of summer. He claims the drop was achieved.
But Hagelin's use of the term "achieved" for the drop in crime is a bit strong. He announced in 1994 (one year after the study) that violent crime had decreased 18%. You might think that meant there were 18% fewer violent crimes than in the previous year, but the decrease was actually relative to his predicted increase based on some fancy statistical footwork. Regular indicators of violent crime told a different story - the number of murders actually went up.
The meditation may not have helped the victims of violent crime, but it did win Hagelin the 1994 Ig Nobel Peace Prize.
The power of thoughts on water
"If thoughts can do that to water, imagine what our thoughts can do to us" observed a fan of Dr Masaru Emoto in the movie.
Dr Emoto takes photos of crystals formed in freezing water. According to his books, water exposed to loving words shows brilliant and attractive patterns, while water exposed to negative thoughts forms incomplete patterns. These photos may well be art - they're sure as hell not science.
If you wanted to study the impact of spoken, drawn or written sentiments on the formation of crystals in freezing water, you'd have to do a slightly more rigorous study. For starters you'd have to take a lot of samples from different parts of each ice specimen. And you'd do the study without knowing what had been 'said' to the water specimens, so your subjective opinions wouldn't colour the results.
Magician and skeptic James Randi, famous for debunking performers like Uri Geller, has offered his standard prize of $1 million cash money to Dr Emoto if he can get the same results when doing the water study this way. To date, Dr Emoto has not taken up the challenge. He has however just released his third book of pretty crystal pictures.