Monday, October 18, 2004

"How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?"

It's appropriate that the title of What the #$*! Do We Know!? (AKA 'What the bleep do we know?') is a question, because the film is more about stirring up a tasty goulash of provocative questions than it is about providing any sort of concrete answers. It has been criticized by a number of scientific and religious authorities. And it is one of the few times I can remember a movie audience applauding during the closing credits.

I went to see this movie last night simply because I saw the title on Fandango, clicked through to a description, and decided it sounded interesting. I had no agenda going in. Coming out, I'm not sure. I can say for sure that it's been quite a while since a movie made me think this much.

The film is an effort to relate quantum physics, spiritual mysticism and elements of post-modern thought into a coherent worldview that rejects the idea of objective reality and instead emphasizes the power of thought to influence reality. All this is done through a narrative storyline featuring Marlee Matlin as a neurotic photographer in Portland, Oregon, a bunch of truly phenomenal computer graphics, and a series of talking heads -- everyone from physics professors to "Ramtha," a 35,000 year old prophet allegedly being channeled by a psychic.

In clicking around the Web, I've seen it described as "The Matrix without the robots and computers." I've seen it described as a promotional flick for a new-age cult. I've seen it described as pseudoscientific bunk. In this public radio program, the director shrugs off criticism. He was trying to make people ask questions, he says. That people have a strong reaction to it shows that it worked. The show also features a skeptic of the film and a physicist interviewed in the film, and the two go several rounds about whether the scientific claims hold up. One of the folks on this show said something along the lines of "skepticism is important -- no one should accept ideas blindly without questioning them. But at the same time, skepticism only maintains the status quo. It takes leaps of imagination to move forward."

Interestingly, the idea that advanced physics may provide a theoretical framework for spirituality also popped up in Angels & Demons, a Dan Brown paperback I recently picked up while stranded at National Airport. As a novel, I thought this book wasn't that great (it read like a rough draft for his later and more well known The Da Vinci Code). But one of the premises of the book is that the Vatican had been secretly supporting quantum physics research at CERN because it offered the possibility of resolving conflicts between science and religion. Remarkably similar to the science-spirituality connections hinted at by "What the bleep."

One of the scientists interviewed in the film tells a story about how when the American Indians who first saw Columbus' ships come over the horizon, they literally did not see ships. Instead they saw a large wave in the ocean. They had never seen large ships, so their worldview did not permit such a thing to exist. It was only after a spiritual leader spent several days staring at the sea that he perceived that these were ships bearing people. At this point he passed on this knowledge, and the worldview of the community changed.

Whether or not this story is apocryphal, it effectively encapsulates the concept behind this film -- that the way we perceive the world is rooted in our preconceptions, and that a total paradigm shift is necessary to truly understand human consciousness. Furthermore, advanced science can be integrated with traditional religion to create a new unified worldview.

I honestly don't know what to make of all this, but it already inspired me to spend several hours online reading about physics and mysticism. Fascinating stuff whether or not you buy into film.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Mouse Hunt

The cat cornered yet another mouse, and this time I got to watch the process. I first became aware that something was afoot when I heard a crash in the dining room followed by a squeak and some scuffling. My cat then tore into the office making strange noises and with something hanging out of her mouth. It was yet another mouse.

Here's the thing. Being felis domesticus of the well-fed, 21st century persuasion, my cat apparently views mice not as food, but as self-propelled playthings. So rather than delivering the death blow, she would periodically let the mouse go and then chase it again. This went on long enough to do several complete circuits of the office and dining room while I devised a gameplan to end the carnage.

My eventual plan involved putting on shoes (I had been lazing around barefoot), donning a pair of work gloves, and grabbing my trusty 5-gallon orange Home Depot bucket. I then joined the chase around the dining room. Eventually the cat cornered the mouse near the curtains, after several false starts, I manged to shake the mouse into the bucket from the bottom of the drapes where it had taken refuge. (The cat, not realizing what had happened, is still skulking around the drapes waiting for the mouse to re-emerge.)

The mouse seemed remarkably calm once it got into the bucket. I think it realized it had been given a reprieve from hours of torture by Goldie the Cat. I walked it to the vacant lot across the street and released it, hoping that maybe it won't feel like crossing the street to come back.