I believe in science. I do not rely on the fuzzy feelings of my heart or the experiences of my friends and colleagues to tell me what is true. I believe in double-blind testing, sampling error, and control groups. Peer-reviewed journals turn me on. So when I was sitting around a table with two -- let's call them "metaphysically-minded" -- friends who were extolling to me the values of The Secret (the power of positive thinking) and the like, I was understandably skeptical. Based on my scientific interests, they suggested I see the movie What The Bleep Do We Know because it was a bunch of "scientists" talking about everything we don't know, the universal questions.
Well, I saw the movie. And I have a universal question: what the bleep is wrong with everyone?
As is finely reported in this Salon article, the "documentary" is a loosely disguised propaganda film for the Ramtha School of Enlightenment, a fringe-y New Age group. Their "scientists" go unnamed and are in fact disciples of Ramtha, real scientists whose views are misrepresented, professors at highly suspect schools, and, of course, a middle-age woman channeling a 35,000-year-old warrior-spirit from the lost city of Atlantis. The "evidence" they cite has critical omissions, highly biased data collectors, and "independent" review boards comprised only of people sharing similar New Age views.
I don't care so much that this movie is propaganda and pretends to be otherwise. What does bother me is that it expounds decidedly unscientific principles under the veneer of science -- and that this doesn't seem to bother anyone else. Science is supposed to be a higher standard, an ideal of truth and rigor to strive for even if we cannot achieve it. But when I brought the facts, the real story behind What The Bleep to the friends who recommended it to me -- and anyone else who would listen to me on the subject -- the reaction was the same: "Interesting. But it's just like everything else -- 99 percent spin."
The cynicism of our culture runs deep. Fox News, the punditocracy, the politicization of the executive branch, Jayson Blair, blogs, balkanized media have all created an environment in which we trust nothing that is presented to us. We see a film whose ideas are attractive to us like What the Bleep but whose methods would make a Fox News producer cry foul -- we're willing to ignore it because, after all, it's just a few feet further into the abyss of falsehood that we've been falling into anyway.
All of which, in my mind, goes a ways towards explaining the un- and pseudo-scientific thinking that seems to be on the rise in our culture. If we can't trust studies, documentaries, talking heads, newspapers, the only thing we have left is our own experiences. Once upon a time, media of communication were tools to raise our eyes up from our individual experiences and focus on the larger concerns of a nation, a city, a cause. Now, all they do is leave us disgusted, pointing our eyes back down. It's no wonder we don't know any better.