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Einstein Year - a year celebrating physics - What the Bleep do we Know?
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What the Bleep do we Know?

'What the Bleep do we Know?' is a new film that uses Quantum Physics to explain spirituality. In America it is now the third highest-grossing documentary ever, and Madonna has called it "incredibly thought-provoking and inspiring". Meanwhile the film has been widely criticised for mixing established scientific theory with mysticism and speculation.

If you're intrigued by 'What the Bleep..' you can read reviews in The Guardian and New Scientist, and  if you want to get the facts straight about Quantum Physics check out the New Scientist Instant Expert Guide to Quantum Physics.

Last week the Science Media Centre asked a group of scientists for their comments on the film, which you can read below. There were an interesting range of views.

Raj Persaud, Gresham Professor for Public Understanding of Pyschiatry and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital, said:

“I thought that the film made a lot of statements about quantum physics, but also on neurobiology, the brain and the mind. Most of these statements are gross distortions of recent scientific findings. For example, there was a claim that the latest brain scanning research suggests the brain could not distinguish between reality, memory or imagination and this is simply not true.

“There is also a scene at the end where the heroine of the film throws away her medication as a solution to medical problems. This seems a dangerous suggestion by the filmmakers given that the only alternatives they offered appeared to be the idea if you want something badly enough you can make it happen.”

Dr Simon Singh, Science Author, Journalist and Broadcaster, said:

"It is the third highest grossing documentary ever and it claims to be about quantum physics, but in fact it makes gross distortions that would make any self-respecting scientist squirm. For example, the film states that experiments imply that labelling a bottle of water with words like 'love' or 'hate' can change its molecular structure. Indeed, the film suggests that quantum physics can explain why this is the case. Apparently quantum physics can also be exploited to bring about world peace through meditation. Having spent the last fifteen years making documentaries and writing about science, I care hugely about the accurate and honest portrayal of science."

Dr Paul Stephenson, Department of Physics, University of Surrey, said:
“The film is quite a lot of fun, but it is a mix of believable and unbelievable science and it would be easy for someone to pick up the wrong ideas. One of the central ideas of the film is that consciousness can control matter, but if this were true then we could all make our lottery numbers come up.

“Quantum physics is the weirdest part of physics, if not the whole of science. In fact there is enough weirdness in quantum physics to make a whole film. However, it is a minor victory that quantum science has been portrayed in a film at all.”

Dr Tim Evans, Theoretical Physics, Imperial College, said:
“I think this film is dangerous because it exploits people’s genuine desire to understand the big questions – like why we are here – then gives the answers the veneer of science.  My worry is that my friends – who are all very intelligent people but not scientifically trained – will not know where the good science ends and the speculation begins – that’s the insidious side.”

Dr Jim Al-Khalili, Department of Physics, University of Surrey, said:
 “Some of the science is good but some is new-age clap trap.  But I welcome it and I don’t think that getting the science wrong on quantum physics has the same kind of societal implications that films on climate change or GM may have. In fact, I think any film which opens up debates about quantum physics and encourages people to ask more questions is good news.”

Reverend Professor Tony Bell, Department of Plasma Physics, Imperial College, said:
“I’m not worried about it discrediting science but was worried about it undermining religion – it smacked of the Creationist debate.  It takes a credible nugget and turns it into something incredible.”

Last modified 2005-05-26 05:07 PM