April 2nd, 2005

chi3

Howard Hughes thinks better of it.

In her poem, "With Mercy for the Greedy," Anne Sexton wrote, Need is not quite belief.

For many, many years, that was as close as I came to having a motto. On more than one panel, at more than one con, I quoted it when asked about my personal beliefs regarding the supernatural and religion. In more than one interview, I quoted it. It gave me an odd, cold comfort for many years. And I would have done well not to have allowed myself to drift from the sense of it. But I have drifted, these last two or three years. Because this journal is public, it's not the place to get into all the whys and wherefores, because they are mostly very private things.

But I do have to say something, as I come suddenly back to myself.

Need is not quite belief.

Four days ago, in my entry for Tuesday, March 29th, I praised What the [Bleep] Do We Know !? I called it a "wonderful, brilliant film." I've spent the last four days thinking of little else. But my thoughts became increasingly doubtful, as the film began to unravel in my mind. The last couple of years have done much to try and drive the skeptic from me — or, rather, my response to the last couple of years has been the Easy Way Out, a gradual relinquishing of my skepticism, though it has guided me well for most of my life. Because I needed to believe. And this need has made me weak. And it has made me often not see obvious holes in ridiculous arguments, preposterous claims, wishful thinking. This past September, I approcahed writings on chaos magick in the hope that it might offer a rational solution to my need to believe, only to discover the worst sort of mish-mash of illogical thought. Still, I allowed myself to replace Need is not quite belief with Nothing is true. Everything is possible. Even after my disillusionment with CM, even after I'd come to fully understand that it is most emphatically not a marriage of science and magick, that it is only a new superstition latching onto disciplines it doesn't seem to truly understand, I still needed to believe. I still allowed need to become just cause for belief.

Yeah, cut to the chase.

My comments regarding What the [Bleep] Do We Know !? were not made by the person I am, but by the person who I've been trying to become, despite my deeper knowledge that there is more wisdom in Anne Sexton's statement, Need is not quite belief., than in all the circular logic ever uttered. As I've investigated various claims made in the film, and the structure of the film itself, a number of things have come to light. They have not so much caused me "to see the light," as forced me to acknowledge that I was seeing the light all along, but had my hands clasped firmly across my eyes. Consider the following:

1. The "experiments" of Dr. Masaru Emoto, which state that water is sympathetic to positive thoughts, music, etc, as well as to negative emotions, and that its reactions, an "imprinting," can be observed and photographed, are central to the film's thesis. Yet Dr. Emoto's experiments are the worst sort of pseudoscience, and an examination of his results, published in his book Messages of Water will reveal very little of the scientific method. The film does not actually examine his experiments and how they were conducted or whether or not they have been successfully replicated, it merely states his purported discoveries.

2. Likewise, the claim that a mass meditation exercise led to a drop in crime in Washington D.C. during the summer of 1993 is made in the film, serving as its second instance of the mind having an extraordinary effect upon reality. However, the results claimed by the filmmakers cannot be substantiated. It is true that thousands of followers of the vedic "science" of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi did in fact come to Washington that summer, and they did meditate, but that's as far as it goes. By some accounts, the crime rate actually rose that summer and, regardless, in no way would the parameters of this exercise, lacking any sort of control and failing to account for innumerable variables, have qualified as a scientific experiment.

3. A central element of the film's "fictional" narrative is Marlee Matlin's character's encounter with a 15th-Century American Indian shaman, as we are told an apocryphal story about how Native Americans were unable to see Columbus' ships as they sailed nearer, because they had no conception of a sailing ship. Setting aside for the moment the fact that we are all perfectly capable of seeing things we've never encountered before, and I have no reason to suspect that Native Americans were handicapped in this regard, there appears to be no historical evidence to back up this claim. It should also been noted that though the film describes Columbus' ships as "clipper ships," such ships had not yet been invented, My own hasty research seems to indicate that the first clippers were built in the 1840s, about three hundred and fifty years after Columbus' first voyage to the New World.

4. The role of J. Z. Knight, the spiritualist who has long claimed to channel a 35,000-year-old Atlantean warrior named Ramtha, and who has made a lot of money doing so, was considerably greater than we are led to believe by her interview segments in the film. Joe Dispenza, the chiropractor who speaks in the film of creating his day is a devoted Ramtha follower, as is the former Catholic priest, Michael Ledwith. As are all three of the filmmakers. The film never discloses this information. I strongly suspect that the film's financial backer is also a student of Knight's, though I've yet to find direct evidence of this.

5. What is, for me, the most damning bit of all is the fact that Dr. David Albert, one of the physicists interviewed in the film, has gone to lengths to distance himself from the project. The following quote is from the Popular Science website (www.popsci.com): One of the few legitimate academics in the film, David Albert, a philosopher of physics at Columbia University, is outraged at the final product. He says that he spent four hours patiently explaining to the filmmakers why quantum mechanics has nothing to do with consciousness or spirituality, only to see his statements edited and cut to the point where it appears as though he and the spirit warrior [Ramtha] are speaking with one voice. “I was taken,” Albert admits. “I was really gullible, but I learned my lesson.”

I could go on, because there are plenty of other problems, but I won't. These five points are enough to force me to retract my earlier comments about the film. Indeed, I feel I should apologize, especially if my own need to believe has led anyone to rent the movie. If I had been looking at this film with the critical eye that it and all other claims of the extraordinary warrant instead of coming to it with a desire to be convinced of something that would make me feel better about my place in the cosmos, I would never have written those things I wrote. In short, I frelling know better.

It's true that quantum physics is revealing amazing, weird, revolutionary things about the universe, about time, and the nature of reality. But this film is only peripherally concerned with that science, misusing it in an attempt to bolster fantastic paranormal/religious convictions, in exactly the same way that, say, creationists have often misinterpreted thermodynamics as evidence of Divine Creation.

I'm deleting my earlier comments on the film.

More later...
  • Current Music
    VNV Nation, "Kingdom"
Shaw

various and sundry

I will now tell you something true, or, rather, something factual. As I was going over my notes on Emoto's water "experiments" as described in What the [Bleep] Do We Know !?, Kathryn came running into the house, into my office, rather excited. "It's snowing," she said breathlessly. I glanced out the window and saw that, indeed, large white particles were falling from the sky. This was not just a few white flakes, but a heavy shower. And there was then, no fooling, a chill along my spine. I got up and went to the front porch. I saw that the snow had changed over to sleet, apparently, and I raised my arms into it and said, "And now it's going to stop." And it did, completely, within seconds. I looked up at the sky and saw that a small black cloud was passing on eastward, the cloud that had obviously produced the icefall. I felt deeply, physically, ill, and went back to my office, reading over what I'd written about Emoto's photographs immediately before Kathryn entered my office.

Sounds pretty creepy, doesn't it? I said something like, "Well, the universe is going to have to do more than that to get my attention." I was litearlly shaking at that point. But I finished my entry on the film. And I allowed the initial weirdness of the event to percolate in my mind, looking at it not as someone who needs to believe, but as rationally as I could. Did my actions regarding the film and Emoto's ice crystals cause an alteration in the universe, some manipulation of the quantum foam meant to impress something upon me? No. I was writing about ice and bad science, and ice fell from the sky. This is well within the bounds of Jungian synchronicity, but there's nothing genuinely mystical about it. Even Jung would have not said that a causual connection existed here. It was a coincidence, albiet a meaningful coincidence, at least meaningful to me. It was somewhat significantly less so to Spooky, who was surprised at my physical reaction. It would mean nothing at all to Jennifer.

Our weather has been very unstable since yesterday. Cold air coming down from the northwest to collide with warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. Whether it was hail or sleet, what fell from the sky was a perfectly natural, probably inevitable consequence of climate. It would have happened even if I'd been writing about kangaroos or the French Revolution, and it would have seemed a little odd, because the weather's been mostly warm until today, but it would have not been that meaningful coincidence. It would have just been a mild oddness. It was improbable that I would be writing what I was when it happened, but improbable things happen with great regularity. Improbable doesn't mean impossible, it only means "less likely than statistically more probable things."

I put it out of my mind and went back to work. But I thought I'd write the whole thing down here. It's an example of me almost misinterpreting a perfectly natural event in a way where I become the agent responsible for that event, which would, of course, have made me a pretty important person. It makes us feel good to think such things, no matter how outlandish they might be.

Anyway...

My thanks to Chris Walsh for this article on the connection between the Ramtha cult and What the [Bleep] Do We Know !?. If the whole Ramtha thing is a mystery to you, have a look at this.

Also, it's worth noting, at least to me it's worth noting, that one of the men interviwed in the film, a psychologist and physicist named Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, is also the author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth and " supports reparative therapy for homosexuality."

There's something I want to stress. More than anything, I am criticizing this film for lying, for misleading, for manipulating, for promoting mysticism as science. At this point, it's impossible for me to deny that the makers of What the [Bleep] Do We Know !? have done these things, and that they've probably done them knowingly, regardless of whether or not some parts of the film might be worthy of consideration on some level. They might have done otherwise. They might have communicated the wonders of quantum mechanics without lying to us. But, personally, I don't think that was ever their goal.

If I had enough Twinkies, I could rule the world...
  • Current Music
    Spooky crunching a protein bar, not a Twinkie