|Gorillas in the Midst: Perceptual Conformity
In honor of JP
What the #$*! D? wS (k)pow!? (2004)
Marlee Matlin plays an anxiety-ridden photographer, Amanda, who wanders about pondering quantum physics. What brilliant acting: we became anxious just watching her as we too wondered about quantum physicsespecially if the scientific version of it had anything to do with the movie. Okay, we normally like to stick to pretty mundane stuff like Newtonian mechanics, Maxwellian electromagnetism, principles of engineering, simple logic, verifiable history, statistical data, and verifiable observations, so, what the bleep do we have to say about a New Age "quantum mechanics" propaganda film? Well, it turns out, a lot.
Let's start with verifiable history. In the movie, neuroscientist and pharmacologist Candace Pert tells a wonderful fable about Native Americans not being able to see Columbus's ships when they were offshore. According to Pert, "We only see what we believe is possible. We match patterns that already exist within ourselves through conditioning." Supposedly, these seafaring Native Americans couldn't see the ships because the sailing-ship pattern didn't match the Native Americans' dugout-canoe pattern. On the other hand, neither Columbus nor any of his men could see the shorethat is until 2:00 am on the day they went ashore.1
According to the movie, the local shaman went to the water's edge day after day and could see ripples in the water made by the ships but not the ships themselves. He was troubled by this and after days of staring, finally saw the ships (maybe because it was the morning they arrived). Of course, no one else in the tribe could "see" the ships until he did.
The story is a bit sketchy since it's over 500 years old and the Native Americans involved never had a written language. Okay, they could have passed the tale along through oral traditions, but their people and culture were decimated by disease, slavery, intermarriage, and overall mistreatment shortly after the Spaniards arrived. The Native Americans could have related the story to the Spaniards who, of course, were humanitarians and would have wanted to preserve all things Native American; except, there was a language barrier. Yet, somehow, through it all, the tale survived.
The fable is reminiscent of the P-59's saga: the story of the first military jet aircraft to fly in the United Statesan aircraft that apparently no one could see. The date was 1942; the location was Muroc Army Air Field (today Edwards Air Force Base). Whenever it was on the ground, the P-59 was fitted with a fake propeller for the sake of secrecy. Unfortunately for secrecy, at the local watering hole, test pilots mixed with P-38 pilots stationed nearby. After slugging down a few drinks, the test pilots bragged about flying a propellerless aircraft and were immediately labeled as liars by the P-38 crowdfighting words for sure. Subsequently, test-pilot Jack Woolams decided to put them in their place, not with his fists but with something far more effective. 2
He rented a gorilla suit and took off wearing it along with a big cigar protruding from his mouth and a derby hat on his head. Once airborne, he found a lone P-38 pilot, pulled alongside, giving the P-38 pilot a clear view of the jet and gorilla suit, then waved, much to the shock of his intended target. The next day when queried at the local watering hole, not a single P-38 pilot had seen an "escaped gorilla" or knew anything about it. The explanation: why of course, it must be that P-38 pilots could only see what they believed was possible. Yeah, right. Apparently, the P-38 pilots never again questioned the possibility of propellerless aircraft, let alone the honesty of test pilots.
Although the events are not even a century old, already there are more than one version of the Jack Woolams tale. All are slightly different. One version relates that there were multiple sightings of the gorilla-piloted jet and that the base psychiatrist talked several P-38 pilots out of believing what they saw.3 Who knows? The fact is, that even if someone sees and believes a phenomenon, it doesn't mean they will honestly talk about it. And if they do, it doesn't mean that the details will be perfectly remembered in the historical recordespecially if there isn't one.
If we weren't fully convinced of the fallibility of our sensory perceptions, chiropractor Joe Dispenza pipes in to tell us that brain scans show the same area lighting up when we actually look at something as when we close our eyes and remember it, therefore the brain can't tell the difference. Eyes open, eyes closed, no way to tell the difference, and to think, all this time we thought we could, particularly while driving.
What about other observations like the claims of Dr. Masaru Emoto who was cited in the movie for his photographs of "water"? According to the movie Emoto set out containers of water with various labels"love and appreciation", "You Make Me Sick, I Will Kill You", etc.affixed to them, then photographed their structure through a microscope the following day. The photos revealed structures amazingly related to the labels. For example, "love and appreciation" had a beautiful snowflake form while "You Make Me Sick, I Will Kill You" had an ugly disjointed appearance.
Although not discussed in the movie, the photos were actually made of frozen water drops 4. Also not discussed were Emoto's "experiments" with names like "Adolf Hitler" and "Mother Teresa" as well as labels with the same term in different languages. Emoto's "Adolf Hitler" ice picture looks like a messed up drawing of the globe, representing global conquest. The "Mother Teresa" photo is more pleasing, but a bit lopsided. "Thank you" in English and its translation "Arigato" in Japanese both look snowflake-like but slightly different. How exciting: according to Emoto's body of work, water apparently not only knows about humanity's current events and history but how to read in just about every human language. Gosh, why do we humans waste so much time in school?
The movie says humans are "90% water"it's actually more like 75% waterand if a label can alter water just imagine what it can do to people! At one point Amanda starts drawing little hearts all over her skin and becomes almost giddy with self love in the process. Imagine what this could do for the tattoo industry. Just think of all the other possibilities: We could put messages like, "sober up and get a job", on liquor bottles and turn drunks into upstanding citizens. We could engrave, "love thy neighbor" onto the grips of handguns and lower the homicide rate. How about writing, "remain seated and be nice" on airliner seat-cushions; it would eliminate hijacking. Emoto's data certainly explains the behavior of students who prepare for tests by writing information on their arms and hands. It's not cheating, it's educating their internal waters.
To our knowledge, Emoto's claims have never been independently tested by a reputable group nor been subjected to double blind testing: the standard procedure for eliminating experimenter bias. Double blind tests aside, there's not even an indication that any of the data points have been repeated. There's also no evidence that the results are uniform within the same water drop. It's unclear whether the photographed crystals were the only structure present or were part of some larger pattern. The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a $1,000,000 prize to Dr. Emoto if his data can pass a double blind test.5 Alas, the mere thought of an evil the size of a million bucks would probably taint even the purest of water. If only we could be so tainted.
Then there's statistical data, a specialty of John Hagelin who triumphantly proclaimed that 4000 participants at the Maharishi University of Management had lowered the crime rate in Washington DC from June 7 to July 30, 1993 using meditation. (The movie claimed by 25%.) Never mind that the violent crime rate in Washington DC was higher in 1993 than any of the previous 30 years. Never mind that starting in 1994 the crime rate declined every single year until it was 49% lower by the year 2000. 6 Maybe the DC police took up meditation. In 1994 Hagelin received an Ig Nobel Peace Prize, the absolute pinnacle for "achievements that cannot, or should not, be reproduced", such as pseudoscience.
In a couple of places, "Morpheus junior" shows up on the basketball court to instruct Amanda on the nature of reality by asking profound questions like, "How far down the rabbit hole do you wanna go?" At one point he tells her that an object like a basketball could never actually touch her. Okay, on the atomic level we agree, but then he explains it by saying that when the surface of the ball and the surface it bounces against get close, the "electrons build up a charge and push the other electrons away before they touch". Maybe it's asking too much to suppose a kid would know about electric fields or Coulomb's law, but it would have made us feel better if he had at least known that the charge on an electron is constant. It does not "build up".
For amazement effect, "Morpheus junior" also explains that ordinary matter is mostly composed of empty space. Okay, we agree and are amazed every time we think about it. Physics is indeed an amazing subject. The empty space concept is not, however, some esoteric tenent of quantum mechanics that isn't presented until grad school. Rutherford established the concept in 1911 with his now famous experiments in which he bombarded gold foil with alpha particles. The empty space concept is commonly encountered in well-taught high school physics classes. Unfortunately, less than a third of the high school students in the United States even take physics and not all the classes offered are well taught.
The highlight of the movie has to be the repeated appearances by that world-renowned quantum physics wizard JZ Knight, or should we say Ramtha®, the 35,000-year-old spirit warrior from Atlantis and Lemuria, who is channeled through her. Knight was born in Roswell, New Mexico and should speak with a fairly standard American accent. In the movie, however, her speech sounds like the Hollywood version of an Eastern European accentevidently a genuine Atlantian accent. It must be Ramtha® talkingwow.
He enlightens us by saying that "we have great technology from anti-gravity magnets [wow again] and magnetic fields of zero point energy". Zero point energy is "the irreducible minimum energy possessed by a substance at absolute zero temperature."7 The term comes from quantum mechanics and, without getting into all the details, indicates that even if a substance were cooled to absolute zero the electrons in it would have a minimal but non-zero velocity. So, in a sense one can say that we reside in a sea of energy.
However, it's not necessary to resort to quantum mechanics to understand that we reside in a sea of energy. Ordinary thermodynamics tells us that materials such as water contain a lot of thermal energy. If the water has a mass of 1.0 kg and is at room temperature, say 75°F (24°C) about 100,000 J of heat have to be removed just to cool it to 32°F (0°C). An additional 334,000 J have to be removed to freeze the water. To lower the temperature of ice from 32°F (0°C) to near absolute zero -460°F (-273°C), we must remove about 571,000 J. This gives a total heat removal of a little over a million joules of energy or about the amount of kinetic energy contained in 2080 .45 cal handgun bullets.
We can justifiably claim that a kilogram of water at room temperature contains about a million joules of thermal energy, relative to a kilogram of water at absolute zero. So how much of this thermal energy in the room-temperature water is recoverable for doing useful work on Earth, like say running an air conditioner? Roughly none. Why? The energy has a high entropy; in other words, it is in a dispersed rather than concentrated form. By analogy, water in a container is similar to energy in concentrated form. Spill the water on the floor and it becomes dispersed. Although some can be recovered and put back in the container, realistically much of the spilt water can never be recovered. Likewise, under the best of conditionshigh temperaturesonly a small portion of thermal energy can ever be recovered in the concentrated form of mechanical energy required for doing useful work.
The kinetic energy of the 2080 bullets described above is already in a highly concentrated form and can easily be converted to heat merely by shooting the bullets into a large sand bag. But once the conversion is made, the heat cannot, for all practical purposes, be converted back to kinetic energy. The energy is all still in existence but has become too dispersed to recover.
Disappointed with the restrictions imposed by ordinary thermodynamics, New Agers have jumped on the idea of zero point energy (ZPE) as a possible source of "free" energy. They say things like, "We want to let the general public know that [Zero Point Energy] is an active field and good progress is made towards validating this technology . . . ."8 But wait a minute, the words "progress is made towards validating" mean Zero Point Energy is not a technology but an idea or concept. Much that has been written on New Agetype internet sites about ZPE make it sound like a perpetual motion schemea possibility prohibited by the second law of thermodynamics.
So what does Ramtha® mean when he talks about "magnetic fields of zero point energy" being a great technology? Who knows, but it certainly sounds like a reference to perpetual motion schemeshow enlightening. Of course, if true, we'd likely have to throw out thermodynamics and everything that rests on its foundations: namely most of modern science. But, yippy-ki-yay, it'd be a ride. Ramtha®'s conclusion: since we already have all this great technology, all we're really lacking to make life wonderful is an improved concept of God, and he goes on to give us one.
Ramtha® 10 continues by telling us that quantum physics is "the closest science has ever come to explaining Jesus's interpretation[(?) Here the accent got a little thick.] that the mustard seed was larger than the kingdom of heaven." Is he referring to:
Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you."
Mark 4:31-32 where Jesus says, "[The Kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown in the earth, though it is less than all the seeds that are on the earth yet when it is sown, grows up, and becomes greater than all the herbs, and puts out great branches, so that the birds of the sky can lodge under its shadow."
Or, Luke 13:19 where Jesus says, "[The Kingdom of God] is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and put in his own garden. It grew, and became a large tree, and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches."
Strangely, none of these11 sound like Jesus was implying that the entire kingdom of heaven is smaller than a mustard seed or that his words require quantum physics for an explanation. They're parables, designed to be understood by illiterate people living in a time when the term physics didn't even exist.
Most of the philosophical or scientific types participating in the movie seem satisfied with its content. This includes Ramtha® and one of his followers, chiropractor Joe Dispenza, along with one of Ramtha®'s employees Dr. Miceal Ledwith12, formerly a Professor of Systematic Theology in Ireland. Apparently the writers and directorsall Ramtha® studentsare also happy. Yet, According to an October 2004 article in Popular Science one of the movie's featured experts:
David Albert, a philosopher of physics at Columbia University, is outraged at the final product..."I was taken," Albert admits. "I was really gullible, but I learned my lesson." Yet the real shame with this film is that it plays on people's fascination with science while distorting and misrepresenting that science.13
Dr Albert's views are essentially the exact opposite of those represented in the movie. He granted a four hour interview which was creatively edited. Albert describes it in an excellent Salon.com article14 as follows:
I was edited in such a way as to completely suppress my actual views about the matters the movie discusses. I am, indeed, profoundly unsympathetic to attempts at linking quantum mechanics with consciousness. Moreover, I explained all that, at great length, on camera, to the producers of the film ... Had I known that I would have been so radically misrepresented in the movie, I would certainly not have agreed to be filmed.
If you want an honest, scientifically-correct understanding of quantum physics you're not going to get it from this propaganda piece. On the other hand, if you want exceptional acting, scintillating dialog, insightful characterization, and a spell-binding plot, then, of course the film is just the ticketat least, somewhere in a parallel universe . . .
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ALSO SEE Lighter Side and Ol' George
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