What the #$*! Do We Know!?


Last year I was telling my roommate at the time my reasoning for thinking that I am immortal. She thought I was crazy and rightly so. Anyhow, this year she saw What the Bleep Do We Know!? and said that the people in the film sounded like me. So I went to see it a few nights ago, and kept in mind that the film was produced by a cult.

The good news is that I didn’t feel the film was total garbage unlike some people. pfloide, mynatt, and I once saw a Scientology recruitment film, and What the Bleep Do We Know!? was not nearly as bad; however it is quite a poor film and I don’t really recommend seeing it.

I don’t really think any of the people in the film are particularly crazy, since many are putting forward views that I once held. There is one exception. The blond lady with the scary lips, Judy "JZ" Knight, is totally crazy. You can safely ignore everything she says, and fortunately this is easy to do. I believe she is the founder if Ramtha’s school of enlightenment (cult).

The film began by giving a poor, but not terrible, presentation of a philosophy of free will based on quantum mechanics that, until recently, I subscribed to. Then the film made some highly dubious claims about cellular biology. The final part either made some highly dubious claims about psychology, or attempted to explain that humans are Pavlovian machines and if you want to be happy you need to condition yourself to be happy. The film seemed to try to tie together our Pavlovian behaviour with the free will quantum mechanics thing, but I don’t think there is much of a relationship between the two.

I will focus on the quantum mechanics. The argument the film is trying to put forth is something like the following. After Newtonian mechanics, everything was deterministic. People were just mechanical devices, like clocks, moving according to laws of physics, and nothing could alter what they were going to do.

Then came quantum mechanics, and its (seeming) random behaviour. Suddenly there was a way in for free will. If you want free will in your theory, then perhaps the mind influences the random quantum events in your brain, and therefore controls your body. Further, since there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about your brain, or your body, or the rest of the world (it is all carbon, etc.) then perhaps your mind not only influences your brain, but the rest of the world too.

I used to entertain this sort of reasoning, but I no longer do. At the end of the movie they suggest that you try this yourself, and I agree. You should try this yourself, and I already have. First you will need a handful of quantum randomness. Then you can try out the retropsychokinesis experiments online yourself. I’ve spent some time with the clock experiment. If I recall correctly, I was quite poor at making the clock advance. I was so bad that the clock mostly ran backwards. As I recall, it often ran backwards far enough to be statistically significant.

My next attempt and using my will to influence quantum events was using Hot Bits to generate numbers for the lottery; to this day I am, unfortunately, not particularly wealthy.

Finally pfloide once gave a argument as to why will could not influence quantum randomness. Unfortunately I forget the argument, but I recall it being very compelling.

So now I don’t believe in free will. quale seems to have some understanding of free will that says that even deterministic machines can make choices. He is probably right, although I’ve never understood his point of view.

Another tangential point that was briefly mentioned in the film is that the laws of physics are symmetric (reversible?) with respect to time, so how is it that we remember the past but not the future. This has always bothered me a lot. The best explanation that I have seen is probably Wolfram’s discussion of the second law of thermodynamics. I haven’t given the topic enough though yet, and it is one of the problems in physics that bothers me the most.


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Russell O’Connor: contact me