What the Bleep Do We Know?! (Not Much, Apparently)

The ideas of inhabiting other lives, altering reality, and consciousness in What the Bleep Do We Know?! are dualistic, dogmatic, and pseudoscientific. They badly need logical proof and material evidence, along with a much less unbiased presentation.
The movie first plunged into junk thought when it proposed that consciousness is a “ghost in the machine.” This dualist view of the mind has been thoroughly debunked many times. The concept of an effect that has no effects is never to be taken seriously because there are no rational means to assert it. If something has no effects, it cannot be detected. The claim that consciousness is a private affair that is caused by physical processes, but causes nothing in turn is completely indefensible because the mere detection of consciousness would go against this definition. The detection would be at least one effect caused by consciousness, which by definition cannot occur.

With the definition of consciousness as a “ghost in the machine,” no one could ever detect that there is consciousness in individual cells (there isn’t), which, according to the movie, are the “smallest units of consciousness.” First of all, consciousness is just as real as the idea of a center of gravity – it is a theorist’s fiction or abstraction which is operationally valid. There are not any real units of consciousness because it is not made of parts – it is an idea that describes a process. Many of terms humans use to describe consciousness will be seen as deeply flawed as the life sciences continue to develop. Individual cells themselves are not conscious, or self-aware. The only cells that can produce consciousness are neural cells, and only when these are aggregated. The part of the nervous system that contains the informational processing architecture of human consciousness is the brain. So, if one wanted to designate a “unit of consciousness,” it would be the brain.

Along with the recognizing the neural correlates of consciousness, the movie must also come to terms with the possibility that humans may be able to create machines that have an interesting amount of consciousness, and that passed the Turing Test. This accomplishment would validate the functionalist view of consciousness, and would mean that the definition of the “smallest of unit of consciousness” would have to be somehow expanded or modified. Human engineering could even grant machines free will as a function of increasing computing power.

Aside from bogus ideas about consciousness, a quantum mechanical justification of human free will is presented. The movie tried to demonstrate that humans could tap into the quantum world by using their emotions and concentration. For example, it deceptively showed how a water molecule changed appearance due to a person’s emotions. When a person is happy, the molecule looks pleasing to eye. The opposite is the case for anger. How convenient that molecules obey human norms of aesthetics! However, quantum mechanics does neither justifies human free will in any relevant way, nor can humans affect the appearance of molecules with their thoughts. Rather, the quantum world is too small, and operates on such different laws that mere human thought cannot affect it. Electrons can pop in and out of existence. Their velocity and position cannot be known simultaneously, and uncertainty increases in one of these aspects as precision is gained in another (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). The eminent physicist Richard P. Feynman once said “nature herself does not know what she is going to do next.” Now, how can one reasonably claim humans can consciously manipulate quantum particles when one of the most intriguing questions philosophers and scientists have yet to answer is: does the “I” really influences the workings of the brain in a top-down fashion, or is the “I” a convenient fiction at the mercy of whatever brain chemistry happens to be occurring at a given time? To describe issues and conditions of human free will in terms of quantum physics is futile and premature. To attempt that would be as impractical and meaningless as giving an account of a football game by recording all of its atomic interactions.

The quantum mechanical justification for free will is typical of New Age doctrine, and so is the suggestion that one needs to be a dualist or mystic to live a fulfilling life. Contrary to what the movie suggests, a materialistic, scientifically-justifiable worldview can give humans much more meaning and inspiration than any mystical, dualist, New Age mumbo-jumbo. There is enough wonder in Nature already. Why spoil it by claiming that their was some sort of mind underlying the design and course of Nature? The appreciation of human life and Nature does not need to be polluted by mysticism, debunked ideas about reality, New Age dogma, and obscurantist pseudoscience.

Additionally, the presentation of the evidence concerning the proposed ideas is blatantly skewed. A scientific and skeptical voice clearly is not present in the movie. Many of the interviews with highly-trained scientists were cut and spliced to support whatever dogma the movie producers wanted to make. This infuriated some of the scientists when they saw the final product. Also, the inclusion of a “channeler” as a primary source is a fatal blow to the credibility of the movie. The violations of intellectual honesty are inexcusable and insurmountable obstacles to taking this movie seriously. The ideas in this movie should not be given credence, much less contemplated with a straight face.

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~ by jsacc001 on December 4, 2008.

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