What the Bleep Do We Know?

Last night I went to see a movie which was advertised as being about quantum physics, called “What the Bleep Do We Know?”. I was expecting something pretty dumb, but am always interested to see what people think about quantum mechanics. The film surpassed all expectations; it was certainly the stupidest thing I can remember seeing in a movie theater, and that’s saying quite a lot (I see a lot of movies…).

There was some sort of plot involving a woman photographer (played by Marlee Matlin), who wanders around and has anxiety attacks. Interspersed with the plot were interviews with various supposed scientists with something to say about quantum physics, consciousness, God, etc. On the whole they were a bunch of complete flakes, although one of them (David Albert) is a philosopher of science here at Columbia. Evidently Albert claims he was taken advantage of, that his interview was heavily edited to misrepresent his views.

The general idea was that since quantum mechanics supposedly says that there isn’t one reality, but an infinite number of possibilities, one just has to be enlightened to an awareness of this, and then you can make whatever you want happen. Somehow the main character of the movie was learning these amazing facts about quantum physics, and this then helps her deal with her anxiety attacks, bad body image and sex addiction (the film really goes off the rails in a bizarre scene where she is the photographer at a wedding party that turns into a grotesque kind of orgy).

The film has a web-site, and there is a long article in Salon explaining that the whole thing is really the production of a cult based in the Pacific Northwest that believes that a woman named JZ Knight is able to channel a 35,000 year old mystic named Ramtha. She does play a large role in the movie and you can read all about her nonsense here.

The whole thing is really moronic beyond belief. One of the scientists interviewed is John Hagelin who, besides being part of the TM cult surrounding Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party, and “Minister of Science and Technology of the Global Country of World Peace” is a rather prominent particle theorist. Prominent if you go by citations that is. His 73 papers are mostly about supersymmetric GUTs and considered quite respectable, with a total of over 5000 citations, including 641 citations for one of them alone.

Hagelin was a grad student at Harvard when I was an undergrad and I met him when we were in the same quantum field theory class. A roommate of mine was interested in TM and I think it was he who introduced us. I remember Hagelin wanting to discuss how quantum field theory could explain how TM’ers were able to levitate, something about how they did this by changing the position of the pole in the propagator. The fact that someone who spouts such utter nonsense can get a Ph.D. from Harvard and be one of the most widely cited authors on supersymmetric models is pretty remarkable.

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21 Responses to What the Bleep Do We Know?

  1. Fabio says:

    Of Hagelin’s thousands of citations, how many are from the Ellis/Nanopoulous et al paper mill?

  2. diggingdeeper says:

    Hope you don’t mind me butting in, just thought you might like to see these facts which are so far undisputed about the film.

    1. In addition to the films three directors, there were actors and others involved in the production who are long time “students” of Ramthas’ School of enlightenment.

    2. A disproportionate amount of time was given in voice and film to Ramtha, Dr. Joe dispenza, and Miceal Ledwith.

    3. Dr Joe Dispenza and Miceal Ledwith are both long time students and “appointed teachers at Ramthas’ school of enlightenment (RSE)

    4. Dr Joe Dispenza (the one who creates his day) has gone to court and testified that his teacher (ramtha) has told him that terrible times are coming and that he needs to protect his family. He also invested over $10,000.00 in an infamous scam that infected RSE and was touted by Ramtha as a vehicle to gain fabulous wealth and many of the schools membership lost substantial sums of money. Some lost their entire life savings.
    This is the person who teaches the brain science in RSE.

    5.Miceal Ledwith a clergyman with a rather dubious past (see http://unison.ie/irish_independent/stories.php3?ca=36&si=770458&issue_id=7565) is the one chosen by the film makers to be the theological spokesman. He is also the theologian in residence of RSE.
    He also has been marketing several products within the school and its followers. Guess that could not have been done to easily in the Catholic church.

    6. The following persons in the film have all spoken at RSE and sold books there.

    Fred Allen Wolf
    Dr Candice Pert
    Amit Gotswami
    John Haglin
    Joe Dispenza
    Miceal Ledwith
    and of course the big guy himself, Ramtha

    7. One of the scientists who was in the film and had never appeared at the school is Dr David Albert Professor and Director of Philosophical Physics at Columbia university.
    He has stated in several venues that his views were totally misrepresented in the film. He claims that in over 5 hours of interviews he explained to the film makers why their concept of how Quantum Physics works has virtually no support in the scientific community.
    He even called in to a radio program the director was on to discuss this and was cut off. The host of the show said this was done because it was “negative”
    so much for no good or bad, that is unless it is convienent.

    8. To date, there has been no response as to where the information which lead to the story about the indians not being able to see the ships of Columbus originated from. There appears to be no evidence to support this claim. In addition, the film mentioned “clipper ships” which were not even in existence at that time. Perhaps that is why they couldn’t see them.

    There were many more, but I will leave them for others. If anyone has any information to refute any of the facts laid out here, I will be more then willing to retract them.

    They are relevant because of the deliberateness on the part of the film makers to keep certain facts unknown (ironically, it is I making the unknown know) and misrepresent others.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am glad that someone else thought that that movie was a bunch of garbage. I had it recommended to me by no less than three people. Everyone said that “you have to see this movie!” So I did. It was really hard to sit through. It was the biggest bunch of garbage that I had ever seen. Blech.

    I guess the difference between me and those other people is that I actually have some grasp on the concepts that the movie was trying to talk about. Never mind that the movie didn’t even have a plot.

  4. Peter says:

    Hi Lubos,

    For many years in the early-mid-eighties, the Maharishi was pushing N=8 supergravity as the unified field theory, I remember a colorful poster explaining how it agreed exactly with his philosophy that many people posted on their walls. At some point I guess he updated it to string field theory and the version you provided a link for.

    It’s true that Hagelin stopped doing physics in the mid-nineties to concentrate on his other nonsense, but I can vouch for the fact that as early as 1978-9 he was heavily involved in TM and thought it had a lot to do with QFT. By 1984 he had moved to Maharishi University and started building up the physics department there. In the late eighties I remember seeing Maharishi University preprints, perhaps about flipped SU(5). The main weird thing about them was they were printed on pink paper instead of white.

  5. Lubo Motl says:

    John Hagelin was obviously a good phenomenologists. Unfortunately he’s written no papers after 1995, see


    Well, people are able to undergo various transformations.

    I want to mention another point – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Right after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 (the collapse of the Czechoslovak communism), many new spiritual and other directions were trying to find their ways to the new free countries.

    A group of 3 Indian people claiming to be direct disciples of Maharishi Mahesh-Yogi visited our high school. They were spreading their methods of meditation – but that was not the main thing that impressed me. They were showing us the pictures of the waves converging to a point – a meditation trick – and this picture had a caption explaining that “the unified field theory has already been found”. I was really impressed – and although it sounded totally crazy, the “Einsteinian language” that their brochures were using had nearly convinced me that they really know something about fundamental physics. 😉

    It evaporated in a couple of weeks…

    The web makes all such things available today, so I can give you a Google link to a page about Maharishis’ unified field theory,


  6. Sol. you refer to the offspring of hep-ph/9803315. It was an interesting idea aiming to solve the hierachy problem, as announced.

    On the other hand, one finds 3+1, or more concretely inverse square law, to be mathematically peculiar when it refers to gravity, ie when mass is the source of the force. Check my single page unpublishable http://dftuz.unizar.es/~rivero/research/simple.pdf

  7. JC says:


    It was amusing when John Hagelin tried to run for US president representing the “Natural Law” party during the 1990’s. A lot of the propaganda from them was hilarious, especially whenever candidates attempted to hold public speeches and performing demonstrations of “yogic flying”.

    If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was something straight out of a “Cheech and Chong” movie.

  8. sol says:

    Opinions on:

    Short Range Tests of Newton’s Inverse-Square Law

    Gia Dvali

    Nima Arkani-Hamed

    Sava Dimopoulos

  9. Peter says:

    Hi Matt,

    No, that wasn’t intended specifically as an attack on supersymmetric models; the fact that Hagelin worked on them isn’t an argument for or against them. And while I don’t think supersymmetric GUTs are anywhere near as promising as many people seem to think, they are a much saner idea than many that dominate research these days (take the Landscape, please…).

    But whenever one is dealing with highly speculative ideas that have no connection with experiment, there’s a danger of becoming delusional and thinking that you’re doing real science when you’re not. People tend to believe that the fact that a certain kind of research is pursued by sizable numbers of people with very good credentials is enough to mean it must be good research. I think it’s a good idea for people to consider the example of Hagelin: he’s completely delusional and has zero common sense, but able to function at a high level in the particle theory community. One should take seriously the danger that he’s not the only one deluding himself.

  10. sd says:

    Matt, what is so nutty about Serge Lang’s ideas about HIV and AIDS? He points out that Gallo et al anounced that AIDS is caused by HIV at a press conference, without there being a single paper published in a scientific journal substantiating this. Isn’t Lang’s viewpoint in line with the sort of criticism that string theory receives at this web site?

  11. Matt says:

    Is that last line — “The fact that someone who spouts such utter nonsense can get a Ph.D. from Harvard and be one of the most widely cited authors on supersymmetric models is pretty remarkable” — some sort of strange attack on SUSY models? Isn’t that a bit like attacking algebra because of Serge Lang’s nutty ideas about HIV and AIDS?

    Hagelin might be crazy, but some of those papers are co-written by John Ellis and other respectable people. I’m not personally familiar with any of Hagelin’s work but I’m sure there’s some good physics in there.

  12. sol says:

    It took a while, but the comparison finally came through on the association of strings, as a quantum mechanical perspective, and the relationship to that movie.

    From my perspective, once you had identtified Smolin’s position( I gave this in previous post[Posted by sol at September 25, 2004 04:18 PM] ), then you would know he holds Einsteins, in relation to the Solvay meetings, and strings have modified what Bohr and Schrodinger were doing in developing QM.

    Yet, the battle still ranges, and we now know where we can class the distinctions of LQG and String theorists?

  13. “Extreme quantum mechanics” could be the name of the speciality of SF writer (and physicist) Greg Egan. I suggest to read him if you want to know how QM is perceived in the SF community.

  14. sol says:


    It took a while, but the comparison finally came through on the association of strings, as a quantum mechanical perspective, and the relationship to that movie.

    It’s okay to be cynical:)

    I mean listen, you have very reputable individuals who believe in validation, as experimental proof. Who believe, in all kinds of things(God maybe?). That would be, very hard to quantify:)

    Yet, they just do.

  15. Cosma says:

    I’ve not seen the movie, and don’t intend to, but David Albert’s book on Quantum Mechanics and Experience is one of the best things I’ve read on the interpretation of QM. If he says he’s being misrepresented, I quite believe him.

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