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What the #$*! Do We Know?

I don’t remember where I saw the preview. However, about 6 months ago I do remember hearing about the movie What the #$*! Do We Know? and thought it would be something to see when it came out. As luck would have it, I was looking up the showtimes for Primer and saw that What the #%*! Do We Know? was starting in 15 minutes. So, I threw on some clothes and drove down to the theatre.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I sat down. I knew I had heard about it before; that it dealt with the combination of science (mostly quantum mechanics, with a little bit of neurophysiology thrown in) and philosophy.

Possible Spoilers Ahead

I found myself alternating between appreciating some of the thoughts which were being presented on screen and being disappointed at the glitzy way they was being presented. I’ve read A LOT about quantum mechanics and string theory (in fact, I just finished the book “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene) and went in expecting to see those ideas used to explain philosophical ideas. What I ended up seeing was a bunch of people (their credentials were not shared with the audience until the end of the film) asking a bunch of philosophical questions and making some questionable extensions of quantum mechanics to provide a bit of force behind their beliefs of the answers. Interspersed with the interview segments was a dramatization by the deaf actress Marlee Matlin of many of the more difficult concepts (both philosophical and scientific) in the film. All of this was topped off which some extensive special effects and a “loud” soundtrack - neither of which really helped explain the story in my opinion.

It isn’t to say it was all bad - I really don’t want to come off this way. I did appreciate hearing some of their theories, although I worry that many members of the audience (especially those without a background in the science presented) would take away that the science backed up the philosophical thinking 100%. The thoughts presented were interesting nonetheless - the idea that we can change ourselves and the universe around us by the power of our thoughts. There were a number of “proofs” presented, a few of which I filed away for later research:

  • Natives, upon Columbus’s first visit, couldn’t see the clipper ships located off the island. The film says this was because they had no frame of reference for which to comprehend such a ship existing. Accordingly, a native shaman could see the flat areas out in the ocean; after several days of concentration, he finally saw the ships. He then told his fellow tribesman about the ships, and since he was a trusted source, the tribesman could now see the ships as well.
  • Supposedly, there was a summer back in the 1990’s where a 1000 people came to Washington D.C. to meditate with the hope of lowering the murder rate by 25%.
  • A Japanese scientist took water, labeled the containers with words like “Thank you”, “Love” and “I will kill you” and left them on display overnight. Later, he froze the samples and compared the crystals which were produced in the frozen water. He found “beauty” in the positive-labelled water.
  • A few of the philosophers postulated that aging was nothing more than the result of addictions in your body creating cells which were missing particular cellular receptors. Some of the science behind this assertion I was unfamiliar with, but plan on following up on to see if I can come to the same conclusions.

At the end of the film, we’re finally given the credentials of the people who have been philosophizing for the past hour and a half. This was important, in my opinion, so we could concentrate on the message rather than the messengers. But without knowing the credentials of the speakers, it was impossible for us to judge the relative strength of their positions since there was little evidence forthcoming from any of them.

This movie is still worthy of reflection, regardless of the presentation of the ideas contained within it. I look forward to others seeing it and sharing their thoughts - as well as seeing it again myself when it comes out on DVD and I’ve had time to reflect and research some of the information used as its basis.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 31, 2004 8:58 PM in Movies and Play and Reflections.

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