About a year and a half ago I wrote here about going to see the movie What the Bleep Do We Know?, a rather spectacularly stupid and lunatic film which extensively misuses quantum mechanics. This weekend, a sequel called What the BLEEP – Down the Rabbit Hole opened here in New York, and I figured I owed it to my readers to check out the this new movie.
There were two good things about it. First of all it was advertised as being 2 hours and 34 minutes long, but ended about 15 minutes earlier than I expected (I kept checking my watch…). Secondly, I don’t have to write a lot about it and can just refer you to the posting about the first film since a large part of it is exactly the same.
The whole plot involving Marlee Matlin appears to be exactly the same footage. It was pretty painful to have to watch this again, although I am kind of fond of the wedding party/orgy scene. The “scientists” involved were essentially the same group of crackpots as in the first film. It looked like the interviews in this version were mostly outtakes from the first version, with some additions. Among the physicists, about the only non-crackpot was Columbia philosopher of science David Albert. He was said to have objected to the editing of the first version, which made it appear that he agreed with the nutty ideas about quantum mechanics of the filmmakers. In this version, he is saying perfectly sensible technical things about quantum mechanics, but they’re embedded in the middle of the nuttiness about QM promoted by the filmmakers (the usual: entanglement=we are all connected, superposition=anything you want to be true is true).
The new material includes interviews with a crackpot parapsychologist (Dean Radin, from the “Institute of Noetic Sciences”), and a crackpot journalist (Lynne McTaggart). It also includes some new animations featuring a cartoon character (Captain Quantum or some such). The first of these starts off with a not-bad depiction of the two-slit experiment before getting silly. The second is tacked on near the end and brings in a new exciting idea that wasn’t in the first film: Extra Dimensions! Captain Quantum liberates some poor fellow cartoon character who is trapped in 2d due to her fearfulness, bringing her to enlightenment by showing her that there is a third dimension. There’s mercifully little about string theory, mostly John Hagelin going on about how the superstring field is the field of consciousness.
If you feel the need to know more about this for some odd reason, there’s a web-site, and a bunch of reviews of the film: a credulous one from Seattle, and more sensible ones from Portland (“feels like a lame, double-dipping cash-grab”), and Arizona (“They should market What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole like a breakfast cereal – ’50 percent more nuts.’”).
Update: Since the Sunday New York Times Book Review now every week has something about string theory, I guess I better mention today’s edition, maybe just by quoting from one review, by Dick Teresi about The Fated Sky: Astrology in History, a history of astrology by Benson Bobrick.
Shortly into my marriage (about six hours) my wife purchased a white-noise generator to counteract my night terrors… Recently, it has begun dispensing orders: “Kill, kill your publisher.”
The mathematician Michael Sutherland diagnosed my condition. “It’s called apophenia,” he said. In statistics, apophenia is a “Type 1 error,” a false alarm, the experience of seeing patterns in meaningless data. I must have caught it from the theorists I interview.
In the early 20th century, experimenters demonstrated that randomness rules… Yet today superstring theorists insist they will reconcile the lumpy, acausal quantum world with the smooth determinism of relativity…
So when the playful and innovative historian Benson Bobrick writes in “The Fated Sky” that 30-40 percent of the American public believes in astrology, I am shocked. Why so few, given the raging apophenia among our scientific elite? Astrology, the belief that human lives are ruled by the stars and planets, is no nuttier than current cosmological models, which feature an “anthropic principle,” giving our puny, three-pound brains a central role in the universe…
Traditional astrologers, like string theorists and cosmologists today, were often wonderful mathematicians…
Modern man can choose from a veritable smorgasbord of Type 1 errors: string theory, neo-Darwinism, cosmology, economics, God. Astrology is as good as any, and Bobrick demonstrates that it has a rich, colorful past to draw upon. As for me, I answer to a higher authority. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go kill, kill my publisher.
Teresi’s take on modern physics is much sillier than John Horgan’s. Maybe the next few weeks letters columns will have letters pointing this out.