Paul M. Helfrich

Explore the Cutting Edge of Science, Art & Spirit

What tнe #$*! Dө ωΣ (k)πow!?

October 2004

In a year that saw Mel Gibson’s orthodox remake of The Passion rake in hundreds of millions of dollars, What the Bleep? is unusual because films that seriously explore science and spirituality are rarely a financial success. According to Elaine Dutka of the LA Times, What the Bleep?, produced for $5 million, has grossed over $4.4 million since its February premiere, and stands to gross between $15-30 million through advertising to niche audiences such as “yoga studios; health food stores; and members of Cultural Creatives, an international group devoted to self-actualization, as well as the Unity Church and the Church of Religious Science.”

There are other unusual features to this film besides its marketing. It used three directors – William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vincente – along with a format more often found in documentary style on PBS, or the Discovery and Learning Channels. There are 14 “experts” – a Greek chorus of talking heads in fields ranging from physics, to theology, neurochemistry, molecular biology, anesthesiology, and metaphysics – who comment on the storyline.

The film’s main character, Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, experiences a day in her life as a photographer. She contends with everyday relationship issues with her roommate, estranged husband, lecherous boss, and on-location clients. Around this action is an ongoing narrative by the experts who paint a postmodern tapestry that weaves through various theories about human behavior, its motivations, and causes.

Through an integral lens, the film’s center of gravity hovers primarily around the GREEN, postmodern worldview. But the quantum science, of necessity watered down for general public consumption, is hardly new. In fact, its roots are almost a hundred years old. So the claims of quantum science being the “new paradigm” lean more toward what Ken Wilber calls “boomeritis”: the latest “new paradigm” who’s promise is nothing short of radically changing the entire world, when upon closer inspection, it inevitably falls short. Put another way, while quantum insights transcend and include those of the preceding ORANGE, modern Newtonian worldview, they still don’t include a viable theory of consciousness. Thus, quantum mystics often reduce consciousness to objects, neuro-chemicals, or counter-intuitive quantum processes “out there.”

Which brings us to the weakest part of the film, namely its handling of consciousness. It treats the observer effect in a way that confuses the spectrum of consciousness – body to mind to soul to spirit – and reduces God to body/mind alone. In other words, there is a common misconception that the observer effect, through what Seth calls the outer ego, is ontologically the same thing as causal consciousness. This gets expressed in boomeritis-tinged beliefs that my ego alone creates all of my reality, and therefore my ego must be equal to God.

While there are thoughtful inclusions soul and spirit, the film’s expert narrative muddies more than clarifies just what consciousness is, and how it is causal. In the end, there is simply a type of subtle reductionism, to use Wilber’s term, in which the film’s quantum mystics simply reduce consciousness into waves, particles, strings, holograms, neuropeptides, or some other object or process created by the outer ego’s observations. Again, God gets reduced to outer ego.

This is what the YELLOW, integral worldview attempts to unify through a more comprehensive map that includes the full spectrum of consciousness, along with the four basic “dimensions of being” – individual, collective, objective, and subjective perspectives. When all of these factors are simultaneously considered, the result is a more complete, and more holistic roadmap of the psyche and physical world.

This is what What the Bleep?’s “new paradigm” lacks. Consciousness gets reduced to objective things and processes, or sometimes the reverse, the objective world gets reduced to pure subjectivity or outer ego. The integral worldview suggests that we need to consider objective, subjective, individual, and collective aspects of being, and not reduce any of them to the others. In other words, these four dimensions of being are very important if we’re to get a wider view – not a complete view, just wider view, not “the new paradigm,” just a wider paradigm.

To its credit, the film manages to touch upon three of those four dimensions, but leaves out collective exteriors in any detailed fashion – how systems, organizations, societies, and planets function. Also, the collective interiors (morals and intersubjectivity) are barely touched upon, leaving the main focus upon individual outer and inner experience. Nothing wrong with that, you say? It scales up to the collective, right? Perhaps, but when this film asserts to present “the new paradigm,” particularly that quantum physics explains mysticism and consciousness, then this film falls short.

What the Bleep?’s strength is that it presents important postmodern breakthroughs of quantum science, molecular biology, and theology. We don’t wish to marginalize them, just point out their incomplete treatment. Even though they’ve been available for decades in academia, they have not entered popular culture in any significant fashion. Thus, the film provides some valid and important, if partial, insights into the complexities of reality creation. For example, neurobiology is presented as a fascinating field that reveals how sensitive the physical structures of the body/mind are to emotions, thoughts, and the search for meaning along with more traditional exterior factors like the environment, germs, DNA, and cosmic radiation. It also includes entertaining computer animations that show how the brain works at the molecular level, and the impact of sugars, hormones, and drugs on neurons and other cells in the body.

My favorite expert was Amit Goswami, a quantum physicist with an interest in Vedanta. I wish more of his views had been included. He invoked Jane Roberts’s famous “you create your own reality” mantra, but again, it was edited in such a way as to be lost in the quantum observer’s role, which came off as being limited to the outer ego.

In spite of these omissions What the Bleep? is a breakthrough film because audiences are exposed to multiple perspectives that acknowledge how relative things really are, and that there are always more questions than answers, and current mainstream paradigms are still woefully incomplete. It even includes J.Z. Knight, who channels a toned-down Ramtha, though no attempt is made to explain the channeling phenomenon whatsoever. It seems like we’re still “in the closet” as far as that goes! All the audience sees is an attractive woman speaking with great passion. It’s only at the end that explanatory titles identify our experts and we find out that it was Ramtha speaking and that Knight is head of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment.

Still, Knight’s inclusion is another small step in terms of legitimizing the channeling phenomenon. It is significant that Ramtha/Knight shares the spotlight with the rest of the experts. Interestingly, Ramtha/Knight was the subject of a study (funded by Knight) and presented at a conference held in Yelm, WA in early 1997. According to the Beyond the Ordinary website:

“A team of highly qualified psychologists, headed by Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., of Saybrook Institute Graduate School, studied Ms. Knight and her school for a year, and conducted a battery of psychological and physiological tests with highly sensitive equipment. They concluded that the readings taken of Ms Knight’s autonomic nervous system responses were so dramatic that the scientists categorically ruled out any possibility of conscious fakery, schizophrenia or multiple personality disorders.”

However, Krippner and colleagues still can’t offer any viable theories of personality or consciousness to explain the Ramtha phenomenon. This means there is still a lot of work to be done. According to Steve Diamond,

“While it’s their collective, learned opinion that Knight is not faking it, that she’s not having multiple personality disorder, and that psychological and biofeedback tests demonstrated dramatic changes when Knight was hooked up to scientific instrumentation, the scholars still can’t definitively conclude what to make of it all. ‘We know something’s going on here,’ one of the scholars tells me during a coffee break, ‘we just can’t say, at this point, specifically what it is’.”

The inclusion of Ramtha/Knight into this film, like all the other experts, puts their integrity on the line. Knight has a controversial past to contend with, one that includes horse trading schemes, an apocalyptic, anti-government phase, a trademark on Ramtha so no one else has the legal right to channel him, and more. Given her colorful and public background, her inclusion in the movie does little to shed light on the channeling phenomenon. This is a missed opportunity.

We have to acknowledge that channeling, in terms of mainstream understanding, is still dismissed and relegated to the closet of New Age woo-woo. Thus, Knight’s role in this film leaves it open to further criticism. For example, the following is from film critic Roger Ebert’s October 2004 Answer Man column:

“Q. While the film What the #$*! Do We Know!? parades itself as a tell-all about quantum physics, it turns out that it’s actually a 111-minute infomercial for … that’s right, the Ramtha School of Enlightenment. In fact, the three filmmakers, William Arntz, Betsy Chasse and Mark Vicente, are all devotees of Ramtha.

“There’s little to no accurate science in the film, and, as a physicist pointed out recently in your Answer Man column, the individuals who are quoted are pretty far from qualified experts on the field of quantum mechanics. Case in point: One of the persons expounding on causality and quantum physics (Dispenza) is a chiropractor. The film’s sole purpose appears to be to promote the ideology of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment. A quick browse through their Web site will clearly demonstrate that the film’s pseudoscientific nonsense comes straight from the teachings of the RSE.

“Rubin Safaya, Edina, Minn.

“A. Several other readers also unmasked the documentary as a hoax. I knew there had to be something fishy when the expert who made the most sense was channeling a 35,000-year-old seer from Atlantis.”

Furthermore, just because a group of parapsychologists concludes that something authentic is going on with Knight, and there’s no reason to doubt that there isn’t, it still doesn’t help us interpret what Ramtha has to say, or apply it to everyday life, though the film tries. If Knight claims a 35,000 year-old seer from Atlantis is speaking through her, that should also be made clear and up front, not hidden until the credits roll.

Over all, What the Bleep? is a worthwhile view. There is a four-hour video version due out in 2005 that includes more scientific data and interviews. Though this will not likely solve the consciousness problem, it may pave the way for additional niche projects. Hollywood is about entertainment, not education. So let’s give due credit to all the folks who made this movie possible. Who knows, if there’s a trend to further legitimize the channeling phenomenon, maybe a Dreamworks or Lucas film version of Jane Roberts’ Oversoul Seven trilogy could be on the horizon? On the education side, perhaps additional funding for scientific research into the channeling phenomenon will be inspired? One can always dream.

(For more information on the developmental color schemes for worldviews, see: Integral Conscious Creation: Emerging New Worldviews)

© 2004 Paul M. Helfrich, All Rights Reserved.

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I am currently the Pedagogical Coordinator and Music Teacher for Grades 1-4 at the Westside Waldorf School in Pacific Palisades, CA for the 2023-2024 academic year.

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