Wednesday, March 29, 2006


I'm not sure which reality I'm typing this in, but whichever one of the infinite choices of realities it is, I seem to have chosen one in which I am sort of blown away by the concepts presented in "What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?," a film released in 2004, but that I'm just now getting around to.

From a purely filmic standpoint, it's not a very good movie. It's a collection of interviews with physicists and doctors and philosophers (plus one chiropractor and one channeler), interspersed with a goofy story in which Marlee Matlin is an unhappy photographer who ultimately discovers the power within. But the rest is so mind-bogglingly fascinating, that I will forgive its dramatic/theatrical shortcomings.

The interviewees are compelling and almost unfailingly brilliant and/or wise. They got me to understand what the big deal is about quantum physics. The ability of particles to be in more than one place at the same time always stopped me cold. I just couldn't get my mind around it. Now I can. A little. Given the title of the film, I think that's the idea - to realize how little we know.

When we look out at the universe, it's mostly invisible to us. Only 4% of the matter and energy in the universe can be perceived. Science estimate about 22% is dark matter, which Wikipedia defines as "hypothetical matter particles, of unknown composition, that do not emit or reflect enough electromagnetic radiation to be detected directly, but whose presence can be inferred from gravitational effects on visible matter such as stars and galaxies." The remaining 74% is dark energy, even weirder stuff than dark matter. And dark matter is pretty weird. So there could be a lot going on out there that we don't know about.

If you look inside, into cells and atoms, you ultimately get to the smallest stuff we can find: quanta. And quanta abide by rules that seem strange to us. Sometimes they are there, sometimes they're not. Where are they when they're not? One scientist postulates there may be a parallel universe in which scientists there are puzzling about what happens to their quanta when they're HERE. Quanta are as far as we can see at the moment.

From the scientific observation of particles, these scientists and thinkers discuss all sorts of implications for our existence and our potential as conscious beings. Exploring brain chemistry, they look at how the mind works - and what it's capable of. From there they discuss a very interesting question: can the way we think affect our reality? Obviously, it can: if I think I'm going to reach over and grab that last satsuma mandarin orange and peel it, I can make it happen. (In fact, I just did.) Can it make bigger changes? The film highlights a Japanese researcher who caused some very interesting things to happen with water molecules, apparently solely through thought and intention.

I will admit to being troubled by the inclusion of JZ Knight, a woman who channels Ramtha, a supposed 35,000 year old consciousness that has transcended time. I'm just INTENSELY skeptical. However, as one of the scientists says near the beginning of the film, assumptions about what is or isn't possible change constantly. When you get down to the deepest layers (we can find) of the physical universe (our friend the quanta) the same rules don't apply. And maybe, because of that, thought CAN alter reality. I've had several strange instances of synchronicity. The one that came to me while watching this film was a time I was driving in San Rafael with a friend who loves cars, especially classic sports cars. I was telling him that a few months earlier I had seen a beautiful example of a Shelby Cobra. "It wasn't a reproduction," I told him. "It was vintage. And in excellent condition. I wish you could have seen it."

Less than two minutes later, we turned a corner -- and the very same Shelby Cobra was in the lane next to us. I hadn't seen the car on any other day, and I haven't seen it since that day almost a decade ago. It could just be randomness - or it could be something else. I don't know. But as one of the scientists said: "The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."

A fascinating film. Rent it.

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