So the other day, a friend was telling me that science has proved that anyone can do anything. He'd seen a documentary, you see, and read some books where eminent scientists were saying that quantum theory had proved that our ability to walk on water was merely an imagined limitation. Schrodinger's Cat and all that.
I thought this was weird. I asked for the names of the scientists involved and whether the studies had been peer reviewed.
My friend was kind of shaky on the details, but lent me a book by one of the guys quoted in the film.
A bit of judicious Googling later, I had found out his "documentary" was 2004 movie What the Bleep do we know? This is an apparently slicky produced, convincing movie that was funded by a devotee of a mystic named JZ Knight, who makes her living channelling a spirit named Ramtha*
Of the scientists quoted in the movie, the most reliable-sounding is Columbia University Philosophy Profesor Dave Alpert who writes actual peer-reviewed papers. But it turns out that he gave a four-hour interview about how wrong the filmmakers were about everything, which the filmmakers edited down to make it appear that Alpert agreed with them.
There's a truly amusing Salon article on the controversy called "Bleep" of Faith
I don't know about y'all, but I blame Michael Moore.
Ok, not really, but it does disturb me that the slicky-produced documentary that lies through editing is so prevalent these days. How easy that medium makes it to present one side of the story, edited to look seamless, while leaving out such inconvenient concepts as peer review and fact checking.
Indeed, the Wikipedia article debunks the science in the movie thusly:
Most importantly, a most essential point about quantum mechanics is bypassed in this movie. Quantum mechanics deals with small systems, and quantum effects (especially Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle) are applicable only to matter on the scale of the de Broglie Wavelength. The movie exploits these effects by falsely implying that they (especially a wavefunction associated with an object and probability calculations concerning this object) are applicable to everyday objects, e.g. basketballs, humans, or fountains.
As the purported experts speak throughout the movie, they make several references to concepts, ideas, and alleged facts about quantum physics and other specific items. However, few of the scientists involved are actually professional physicists doing research in quantum mechanics, and one of those that do do such research, David Albert, has complained that his views were deliberately misrepresented.
The movie also fails to explain precisely how the theory of quantum mechanics actually proves any of the mystical or religious teachings found in the film. Statements from physicists are made which are then intercut with statements from medical doctors, people who have created their own religion, and others. No logical argument connecting the findings of quantum mechanics with the movie's core message is offered.
Most of the film's claims about quantum mechanics are wildly inconsistent with what physicists have discovered from quantum mechanics. The idea that the measurement (observing capacities) of conscious observers creates reality is implied to be a widely held position in the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics. However, the movie's interpretation of this position is far from what most physicists actually believe.
Some of the film's experts, particularly Amit Goswami, repeatedly refer to the process of measurement and observation in quantum mechanics and speculate about the relation between consciousness and the material world. They claim, for example, that human beings have the capability to create their own reality; Dr. Miceal Ledwith even asserts that human beings have the capability of walking on water. Evidence is not offered.
In contrast, physicists do not believe this ability to freely choose the future to be true in anything other than a metaphorical sense. The facts of measurement and observation are far more prosaic. Specifically, if a system is in a state described by a wave function, the measurement process affects the state in a non-deterministic, but statistically predictable way. In particular, after a measurement is applied, the state description by a single wave function may be destroyed, being replaced by a statistical ensemble of wave functions. The nature of measurement operations in quantum physics can be described using various mathematical formalisms such as the relative state formulation or its equivalent form the many-worlds interpretation. Noted physicists such as David Deutsch do take this interpretation quite literally.
Critical thinking grows more important every day.
*Incidentally, JZ Knight has been sued for telling people with AIDS to abandon their medications and be cured by her. I hate that. Why do fake mystics have to go there? Can't they steal people's money any other way without killing them?