In philosophical circles, the materialism/ idealism debate has been raging since at least Plato (idealist) and Aristotle (materialist). Is there a world out there, independent of our awareness of it, or do our minds create our realities, organize the inherent flux of existence into categories and ideas? Asked how he would disprove the theory that matter doesn't exist, Samuel Johnson famously struck his foot against a large stone and said, 'I refute it thus.' But we all know it isn't that simple. And it got even harder with the discovery of quantum physics, which sees that large stone not as a mass of solid material but as a distributed set of mathematical possibilities. In scientific circles, the materialists are on the run these days.
At least, that's what you might infer from What the Bleep Do We Know?, a curious little movie that explores the implications of quantum physics for human development. Combining a talking-heads documentary with a dramatized narrative and a fair amount of computerized animation,What the Bleep Do We Know? wants to be a head trip ' Alice in Wonderland for the digitized generation. It's designed to expand our consciousness, set us free in a field of quanta, where anything's possible. And it's often enjoyable, in a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy kind of way. But it's also junky, giving up philosophic rigor for New Age musings about our place in the cosmos. Why are we here? Where is here? When is the future? What's for supper?
The dramatized narrative stars Marlee Matlin as a photographer who, because her life has fallen apart, is given a glimpse into a world beyond the one where people let you down and you're stuck shooting weddings and the very thought of your philandering husband gives you a migraine. Maybe this isn't the only reality. Maybe there are infinite realities and we can move among them, choosing the one we like best. Or something like that. There isn't much plot, and what little there is keeps getting interrupted by the talking heads, who run the gamut from David Albert, a physics professor at Columbia, to Ramtha, a 'mystic, philosopher, master teacher and hierophant,' channeled by a woman named JZ Knight. Albert has subsequently disavowed the movie.
I can see why. The directors (William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente) do a kind of intellectual bait-and-switch, luring us with quantum physics, then unveiling the be-allyou- can-be psychobabble. That's quite a leap ' a quantum leap, if you will ' and the filmmakers don't even begin to make the case for it. But maybe they don't have to. Maybe it all makes perfect sense in one of those other realities. Not knowing string theory from string cheese, I preferred the bait part of the movie, which is like Quantum Physics for Dummies. There's just something so amusing about the idea that not only is God playing dice, the dice don't really exist. Let me put it another way: Not only is the truth not out there, 'out there' isn't out there. And that's the truth.