Metaphysics, Micro Worlds & Quantum Quackery
Take one part quantum physics, one part neuroscience, and blend well with the teachings of a 35,000-year-old warrior-god, and what do you have? The 2004 cult film, What the Bleep Do We Know?
Bleep is a docudrama about "Amanda," a photographer whose life is becoming unhinged. At every turn, she finds herself plunged deeper into existential crisis, wondering, "Who am I?" and "What is real?" Through a parade of interviews with physicists, psychologists, and New Age luminaries, we learn that quantum physics (of all things) holds the key to Amanda's dilemma. How so? Because the wrecking ball of modern science has shattered the "illusion" of objective reality.
After a barrage of 20-second sound bites, the deep secret unveiled by quantum physics is revealed: we each have the power to create our own reality by the boundless capacity of thought. As one of the film's featured physicists intones, "What makes up things are not more things, but thoughts and information." Once Amanda wraps her mind around this revelation, she re-enters the world with poise and purpose as she begins to "create" her life through the power of [cough!] positive thinking.
It should be noted that the directors of Bleep and several of the authorities interviewed in it are connected with Ramtha's School of Enlightenment (RSE). The school is headed by J. Z. Knight, an attractive 73-year-old woman who claims to be the channel of Ramtha,1 an ancient warrior-deity whose central message is, "You are God." Hence, near the end of the film, Knight, in lockstep with her spirit-counselor, informs the viewer, "I do not call you good or bad; I call you God."
West Meets East
Like Star Wars, The Matrix, and a host of other popular films, Bleep promotes the spiritualization of science based on a pantheistic interpretation of modern physics. In film and print, Western science is being hijacked to make the tenets of Eastern philosophy—personal truth, mystical experiences, subjective history, and the God within—credible. For instance, in his book, God at the Speed of Light, physician-turned-writer T. Lee Baumann uses the mantle of science to support various pantheistic theories. For example, he references the quantum phenomenon of wave-particle duality to argue that light consciously alters its behavior in response to its environment.2 Then there are physicist Fritjof Capra and writer Gary Zukav, who, perhaps, have done more than anyone else to popularize transcendental science by "showing" how Eastern mysticism anticipated and is confirmed by modern physics.
While it can be tempting to blame this quantum quackery on New Age charlatans, these concepts are rooted in consensus science and in the philosophical musings of highly respected physicists like Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Richard Feynman, and David Bohm. All the same, the end product is not physics but metaphysics—a metaphysics in which the concept of reality is based on the extrapolation of quantum systems in the micro-world all the way up to cosmic systems in the macro-world.
The Roots of Quantum Metaphysics
In the macro-world, the world of everyday experience, things occupy definite positions in space and time; they possess the physical properties of size, shape, color, texture, mass, and velocity and are subject to the law of cause-and-effect: a pot boils when heated, a soccer ball moves when kicked, an eardrum vibrates when a cymbal crashes.
However, in the quantum world of the very small, things aren't quite so precise. When we drill down to take a peek into the substructure of nature, what we find are not discrete, orderly, and well-delineated particles, but a microcosm of wraithlike objects: electrons, neutrinos, muons, and the like, represented by mathematical wave functions defining the probabilities of properties that are actualized upon observation. In fact, according to the leading theory of quantum mechanics, the Copenhagen Interpretation, a particle can only be said to exist after it is observed by the collapse of its wave function. In a way, the particle is created by the observer in his act of observing!3
Added to that, Special Relativity, summarized by Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2, which revealed that matter is nothing but materialized energy,4 fueled the notion that there is "no there there." Indeed, Niels Bohr once remarked, "There is no quantum world."5 What he meant is that there is nothing in deep nature that we normally associate with reality—that is, with objective, distinguishable, and indivisible particles operating according to fixed, orderly principles. Instead, there is the quantum potential: an all-pervasive something energizing nature's substructure in the form of quantum fields.
What's more, the strength of this something is colossal. As physicist David Bohm once noted, "If one computes the amount of energy that would be in one cubic centimeter of space . . . it turns out to be very far beyond the total energy of all the matter in the known universe."6
Accordingly, many theorists began to conceptualize elementary particles, like quarks and electrons, not as separate and distinct entities, but as localized excitations of infinitely extended quantum fields, upending traditional notions of space and time and things-in-themselves. As particle physicist John Wheeler told colleague Richard Feynman, "I know why all electrons have the same charge and the same mass . . . because they are all the same electron!"7
Observer-dependent reality, ubiquitous fields, and cosmic interconnectedness and wholeness "confirm" what the ancient mystics were saying all along: "all is one," and all distinctions are illusionary. As science writer Gary Zukav argues, the new science has awakened our understanding of the "powers of the mind to mold 'reality,' rather than the other way around. In this sense the philosophy of physics is becoming indistinguishable from the philosophy of Buddhism."8
In the movie The Matrix (1999), the protagonist experiences an awakening while watching a boy mystic bend a spoon by telekinesis. Noticing the man's obvious confusion, the boy tells him, "There is no spoon!" Now "woke," the protagonist realizes that the world is an illusion and the mind is the Creator. Check.
In Bleep, we are introduced to a collection of water-photos that are claimed to record the response of the molecular structure of water to human thought. For instance, images of intricate, symmetrical water crystals are claimed to have been created by thoughts of "peace" and "angel," while images containing crude, irregular patterns were created by thoughts of "fool" and "Satan." And given that water makes up over 70 percent of the human body, thought must be the causative agent of health and well-being, as well.
Suspended in Midair
Despite being hitched to the wagon of consensus science, the notion that the otherworldly behavior of muons and mesons "scales up" to the macro-world of roaches and rockets is without empirical evidence. Regardless of what one might think about mind-constructed reality, a shard of glass will cut your foot, a hot iron will burn your hand, and a poor diet will lead to poor health. Real-life experience has taught us to watch where we step, to be careful of what we touch, and to monitor what we eat. That's because objective reality in the macrocosm is a fact.
At the same time, irregularity, capriciousness, and subjectivity in the quantum world are also real. But that is exactly what we would expect of a creation by a supernatural agent not bound by the laws of nature. As C. S. Lewis wrote over 50 years ago, "If the movements of the individual units [of nature] are events 'on their own', events which do not interlock with all other events, then these movements are not a part of Nature."9
Consequently, the real lesson from quantum physics is not that nature (or human thought) is omnipotent, but that there is something not quite natural about the "natural" world—something unbounded by space and time, and yet able to penetrate space-time to shape it and sustain it. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, the identity of that "something" is unveiled through the most startling proclamation in all of history—the simple self-introduction of he who told a desert refugee, "I AM!" Within those three English letters are embedded all the attributes of omnipresence and omnipotence. Nevertheless, belief in the limitless power of the human mind to create reality has become deeply entrenched in some people.
In a meeting with Bleep director William Arntz, psychologist John Olmsted pulled out a picture of a child with Down syndrome and asked if the child had the freedom to create a different reality for himself. Arntz responded by saying that the child was paying for transgressions in an earlier life.10
Did you catch that? In his inability to reject the illimitable power of human thought, Arntz blamed transgression for the maladies of individuals. But if "all is one" and all differences are illusion, what is an individual, and what is a transgression? For that matter, if "all is one" what, or who, is being transgressed? The very notion of transgression requires that there be a distinction between the offenders and the offended. When combined with the concept of recompense, transgression also requires an objective standard to which individuals are held accountable. This standard must distinguish between conduct that is right and conduct that is wrong.
William Arntz's response rips open the wizard's curtain ofquantum quackery. Behind that veil is a skeptic, Joy Davidman once said, whose despair is so deep that "rather than face his own sins [he] will even doubt his own reality."11 Notwithstanding asseverations of that quackery by shaman and scientist, the cure for our existential angst comes not by creating reality with our minds, but by submitting our minds, bodies, and souls to the reality of the Creator.
1. See Ramtha's School of Enlightenment's website: ramtha.com.
2. T. Lee Baumann, God at the Speed of Light: The Melding of Science and Spirituality (A.R.E. Press, 2002).
3. Theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss grants as much, but "only for very specially prepared systems that are isolated from the rest of the world, completely." See Alan Boyle, "How to spot quantum quackery," NBC News (Sept. 20, 2010): nbcnews.com/sciencemain/how-spot-quantum-quackery-6C10403763.
4. T. Lee Baumann goes so far as to suggest that because light in the form of electromagnetic radiation makes up all of matter, God and light must be one.
5. Aage Petersen, "The Philosophy of Niels Bohr," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 19 (1963): tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00963402.1963.11454520.
6. David Bohm, Quantum Theory (Dover Publications, 1951), 191.
7. Richard Feynman, Nobel Lecture (Dec. 11, 1965): nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1965/feynman/lecture.
8. Gary Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters (William Morrow & Co., 1979), 280.
9. C. S. Lewis, Miracles (Macmillan, 1947), 112.
10. Drew Dyck, "What the Bleep Do We Know," Christian Research Institute (June 10, 2009): equip.org/article/what-the-bleep-do-we-know.
11. Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain (Westminster Press Philadelphia, 1953), 108.