During a promotional interview for the creationist propaganda piece Expelled, Ben Stein asserted that "science leads to killing people." In the new film The Happening, by contrast, toxins released by plants cause people to off themselves in any number of stomach-turning ways, but the M. Night Shyamalan film might have more in common with Expelled than can be surmised from the previews.
There's a bit of discussion about some statements that actor Mark Wahlberg makes at the beginning of the film (Marky Mark plays a science teacher) having to do with evolution. The case the some anti-evolution commentary was slipped into the movie seems a little tenuous (I haven't seen it, so I have no idea of what is actually said) but it is clear that there is an anti-science theme running through The Happening. While frustratingly vague, a Scientific American interview with Shyamalan reveals that the director was very much concerned with the "limits of science.";
The thing is, we have only our own invented categories in which to judge things. This thing that we're looking at, which of our eight categories (or however many) does it fit in? The things that don't quite fit in, we shove into something. We're inventing those categories; it's very limited. Psychologically, if you're looking for something in your data, you'll see it. If you're doing an experiment and you're looking for patterns, and you go: "Oh, there it is! I see it!" In that same way, if you're going, "There's always an explanation that we have already at our fingertips," you're going to find some way to put it in there.
But there's so much unexplained stuff. I don't quite understand the scientific explanation of the placebo effect. What is the core of that? The fact that the placebo effect exists is a fact, but what is it? We have no idea. I love that. I even love that with regard to the home-court advantage in sports. What is that? It's connected to a belief system. Both things, the placebo and the home-court effect, are a belief system that we can turn thought into actual biological function. In and of itself, that's something that science says is not possible. But you can document it.
It seems to me that Shyamalan is picking out examples that support his own nebulous spiritual views but doing little to actually find anything out about the evidence he presents. I'm no medical expert, but from what I have been able to learn the placebo effect offers up some interesting questions but is not entirely inexplicable, either. Mechanisms have proposed for it, and while the picture is not entirely clear it is apparent that our psychology and social context can affect physiology. (Jonah has a little more on this topic at the Frontal Cortex.) Shyamalan, seeing an opportunity, gives this basic fact an air of mysticism by saying that it is a "belief system that can turn thought into biological function," claiming that the placebo effect runs counter to science. Such a statement is absurd, especially during a time when there is greater interest in the evolution of religion and the physiological effects that belief can have on people. There are still many questions (there always are), but I suspect that Shyamalan never read Darwin's famous quote "It is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."
A little further on, responding to a statement about randomness and quantum mechanics, Shyamalan says "At the end of the day, things can't be random." Why the idea of randomness is anathema to Shyamalan, I don't know, but he seems to have been heavily influenced by his own interpretation of the recent biography of Einstein by Walter Isaacson. Like many other people who steamroll over the nuances of Einstein's thoughts on religion Shyamalan sees Einstein's life as a conversion story, a young atheist ultimately becoming a "man of faith." This makes it sound as if Einstein had some kind of evangelical conversion; it truth nothing of the sort happened. Building on that, "randomness" is seen as disorderly and chaotic, out of line with spiritual notions of the universe, therefore making randomness unimportant or illusory to those who see it as a threat. (It seems that Einstein's status as an iconic scientific figure has led many people to try and bring him in line with Christianity; if Einstein believed in God then whoever doesn't must be pretty dumb! Being that Einstein's thoughts on religion do not fit into the culture war model of conservative Christianity vs. liberal atheism, his statements are often taken out of context in support of views he did not have. In terms of religion, it is abundantly clear that he did not believe in a personal deity and showed a fair bit of disdain for organized religion.)
Indeed, it is clear from the Scientific American interview that Shyamalan is comfortable taking his plot points from science but he doesn't care much for actually understanding it as a way of learning about the natural world. To him, science is little more than an arbitrary system of categories of our own creation, seeing what we want to see in the data. Shyamalan doesn't seem to want to apply this type of reasoning to his own views, though, and so he feels free to make pronouncements about science so that his beliefs (whatever they are) can remain intact.
If Shyamalan really does have a problem with evolution (and "randomness") it is very strange that his killer trees would have had to evolve the toxins that are causing so many deaths (unless, of course, an "intelligent designer" or time-traveling aliens provided a deus ex machina explanation). He apparently did a minimum of research to see if his scenario had some modicum of plausibility, picking examples from the natural world to set the scene for his macabre gore-fest, yet by his own statements all this information is only scientists shoving information into narrow categories and have no real bearing on reality. The man is clearly conflicted and on shaky ground, comfortable enough to borrow from science when it suits him but generally distrustful of science in general. I previously had little interest in seeing the film and now I am even less inclined to do so; I'm not going to pay $10 to see Shyamalan's cobbled-together version of spirituality and science.
[As an end note, I also find it strange that Shyamalan and Wahlberg give the appearance of being super-concerned with spirituality but helped create a movie that is generally regarded as unflinchingly gory and disgusting. Was Wahlberg thinking about Jesus on the set while Shyamalan was preparing to film the scene where someone gets run over by a lawnmower? Or when children get shot in the head on screen?]
I don't really care about Shyamalan's twisted views about science (except that I cringed during Walberg's "world's worst science teacher" little speech). His own interpretation of his own movies doesn't have more value than mine.
By the way: a form of intelligent design allowing plants to kill people in an almost unescapable way? Is it really consistent with a benevolent G... err, Designer?
A little further on, responding to a statement about randomness and quantum mechanics, Shyamalan says "At the end of the day, things can't be random."
Monte Carlo has been making a fortune off men like Shyamalan.
I wanna see people run over by large lawn mowers and fall from buildings!
I guess when it comes down to it, I don't honestly expect sound science from blockbuster movies. No matter how many technical experts are brought in to consult, a lot of stuff is probably not going to make it into the movie, which is going to result in a hodge-podge. Am I not expecting enough from my movies? Should I demand my money back for years of being entertained without sound science? Oh noes! YMMV.
I don't quite understand the scientific explanation of the placebo effect. What is the core of that? The fact that the placebo effect exists is a fact, but what is it? We have no idea.
It befits a man of Shyamalan's mighty ego that he can change from "I don't understand..." to "Nobody understands..." in just four short sentences. After all, if Superbrain Shyamalan can't get his head round it, what hope do the poor schmoes who are merely studying it have?
I'm for recognizing the non-overlapping magisterium of science and entertainment. Entertainment can do its thing without having to conform too closely to science. Science does its work unmolested by idiot actors and directors. Sham-alot violates that separation when he babbles about things he knows next to nothing about. (I haven't seen the movie but my decision to go or not will be separate from vapid things the director said.)
By the way, isn't Scientific American a little at fault here for giving the man a soapbox?
Good post! I was also bemused listening to the interview on Sci Am. Almost felt like the interviewer was praying (secularly, of course) that Shyamalan didn't go off the deep end and start talking about crop circles or something like that. I agree that Sci Am has some questions to answer for broadcasting that interview.
While I agree science and entertainment never really fit together harmoniously, as they serve different masters/purposes and have different goals, I think you all need to step back, pull that board out from you *$%! and realize you don't know everything there is to be known and science may never know everything there is. Though I am not advocating a refusal to push forward in science, but to believe the contrary, that is that science already has at its disposal all it needs to know and may not be subject to major revolutionary ideas in the future, is a failure to learn from the past. Indeed, you do the same thing you accuse others of doing - being closed minded or subject ot ones own ego and blinded by ones own worldview. No great scientific realization to date has been widely accepted when first discovered and indeed has been met with disdain and ridicule by those in power - whether that happens to have been the church, a government or the church of the "scientific community at large". The scientific fad or as they call it the general scientific consensus today becomes the unspoken-of mistakes of the past foolish generations and based upon their then accepted world views of which we have become more enlightened (though in todays more fast paced information age, many of those from the past generations who made those unspoken-of mistakes are now leading advocates for the current more enlightened general scientific consensus or "fad"). It's basic human nature of course. Something anyone who argues well we know more today and therefor there can be no more surprises to come should be reminded of. I don't necessarily agree with M. Night's perspective or his worldview and will not defend his movie, but I would argue perhaps you take him to to far an extreme, perhaps all he was saying in those few scenes was that part of the scientific process is to question and realize not all may be what we think it is. Uhm besides, just a 15 years ago or so weren't we suppose to be heading into a severe ice aget that would threaten human kind? Neuton's laws became the arbiter of all that is "science", then Einstein's laws, quantum physics, now dark matter? odd uhm... today's unlikely theories are tomorrows facts. Today's facts are tomorrows tyranical mantras. Careful, as they say, those who live in glass houses....
Charly; I think you misread this post to an extent. I am not saying that we presently have all the answers or will be able to come up with conclusive answers to every question we can think to ask. Nor am I saying that we have such a firm handle on the natural world that our ideas won't change; such a view is manifestly false. What I am saying is that M. Night seems to be putting up a barrier to scientific investigation, pointing to what he perceives as gaps without investigating them himself.
He is not proposing some "radical" scientific view but failing to understand that science can at least begin to probe questions about how our psychology influences our physiology and how random events influence the universe. That is what I object to. He is comfortable with his beliefs and waves away anything that seems to contradict them.
You accuse me of being close-minded but you don't qualify that statement. Close-minded about what? The notion that just because there is still scientific work to be done that there is some supernatural aspect to the universe that gives the illusion of randomness when everything is really ordered? If that is the case then, yes, I am close minded because I think such a view is manifestly false.
I would suggest that you carefully read M. Night's words again; he is not appealing the fascination of the unknown in the universe. What he's saying is that there are definite boundaries which science cannot cross, specifically dealing with randomness and belief, and I think that he's absolutely wrong to make such pronouncements (especially when they are rooted in his own belief system).
Well I agree with you when you state "science can at least begin to probe questions about how our psychology influences our physiology and how random events influence the universe." and I agree that perhaps M. Night seems in his own words (though I cannot say if we are taking it out of context without asking him directly on point) to be "putting up a barrier to scientific investigation, pointing to what he perceives as gaps without investigating them himself". I would suggest that you are being slightly "Close-minded" about "The notion that just because there is still scientific work to be done that there is some supernatural aspect to the universe that gives the illusion of randomness when everything is really ordered? If that is the case then, yes, I am close minded because I think such a view is manifestly false." And though of course I could be wrong perhaps I might agree that there may be barriers or "boundaries which science cannot cross, specifically dealing with randomness and belief". I don't disagree that M. Night may be proposing such based upon his own personal belief system. But objectively I believe it is very reasonable to accept that science may ultimately have limits to what it can understand. We already seem to accept that to a certain extent when science discusses pre-big bang existence or what exists if anything on "the other side or inside" of black holes - at least what might be beyond teh information event horizon, just by way of example. I point your direction to a recent article that may interest you on quantum mechanics. I would suggest your worldview is a "classical" one which quatum mechics is just beginning to challenge. By "classical" I refer to the article for definition. I will post excerpts for you that I believe are a good synopsis of the article. Excerpts from an article THE REALITY TESTS - A team of physicists in Vienna has devised experiments that may answer one of the enduring riddles of science: Do we create the world just by looking at it? by Joshua Roebke Posted June 4, 2008 11:10 AM from http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2008/06/the_reality_tests_1.php.
"To Be Some physicists still find quantum mechanics unpalatable, if not unbelievable, because of what it implies about the world beyond our senses. The theory's mathematics is simple enough to be taught to undergraduates, but the physical implications of that mathematics give rise to deep philosophical questions that remain unresolved. Quantum mechanics fundamentally concerns the way in which we observers connect to the universe we observe. The theory implies that when we measure particles and atoms, at least one of two long-held physical principles is untenable: Distant events do not affect one other, and properties we wish to observe exist before our measurements. One of these, locality or realism, must be fundamentally incorrect.
For more than 70 years, innumerable physicists have tried to disentangle the meaning of quantum mechanics through debate.
In Vienna experiments are testing whether quantum mechanics permits a fundamental physical reality. A new way of understanding an already powerful theory is beginning to take shape, one that could change the way we understand the world around us. Do we create what we observe through the act of our observations?
Most of us would agree that there exists a world outside our minds. At the classical level of our perceptions, this belief is almost certainly correct. If your couch is blue, you will observe it as such whether drunk, in high spirits, or depressed; the color is surely independent of the majority of your mental states. If you discovered your couch were suddenly red, you could be sure there was a cause. The classical world is real, and not only in your head.
And since its inception more than 80 years ago, quantum mechanics has possibly weathered more scrutiny than any theory ever devised. Quantum mechanics appears correct, and now Zeilinger and his group have started experimenting with what the theory means.
None of us perceives the world as it exists fundamentally. We do not observe the tiniest bits of matter, nor the forces that move them, individually through our senses. We evolved to experience the world in bulk, our faculties registering the net effect of trillions upon trillions of particles or atoms moving in concert. We are crude measurers. So divorced are we from the activity beneath our experience that physicists became relatively assured of the existence of atoms only about a century ago.
Physicists attribute a fundamental reality to what they do not directly perceive. Particles and atoms have observable effects that are well described by theories like quantum mechanics. Single atoms have been "seen" in measurements and presumably exist whether or not we observe them individually. The properties that define particlesmass, spin, etc.are also thought to exist before we measure them. In physics this is how reality is defined; particles and atoms have measurable properties that exist prior to measurement.
The following year, in 1927, Heisenberg discovered the uncertainty principle, which placed a fundamental limit on certain measurements. Pairs of specific quantities are incompatible observables; momentum and position, energy and time, and other measurable pairs cannot be known together with absolute accuracy. Measuring one restricts knowledge of the other. With this quantum mechanics had become a full theory. But what physicists ended up with was a world divided. There was an inherent distinction between atoms unseen and their collective motion we witness with our eyesthe quantum versus the classical.
With eerie precision, the results of Gröblacher's weekend experiments had followed the curve predicted by quantum mechanics. The data defied the predictions of Leggett's model by three orders of magnitude. Though they could never observe it, the polarizations truly did not exist before being measured.
In essence we do create the classical world we perceive, and as Brukner said, "There could be other classical worlds completely different from ours." To repeat a famous dictum, "All information is physical." How we get information from our world depends on how it is encoded. Quantum mechanics encodes information, and how we obtain this through measurement is how we study and construct our world."
The experiments seem to indicate the principles are more than just rhetorical but are practical and real. You might believe - oh well that's just theory wihtout practical effect on good old science but read the article closely the blue couch in your front room may not be as blue as you think or as much of a couch as you perceive it to be. I agree - science needs and should keep on plugging away, but I htin kthings suggest the unknown will always seem to plague it. The number of questions we anwers wil lcontiue to be diminished by the number of more questions that arise.
Interesting discussion in the article and with you - thanks. Your critiques of M. Night may be on point, but just a thought to be aware of what the old adage says, "be careful what you wish for".
Oh and sorry for the typos! Thats me placing the benefits of a speedy reply above accurate review for spelling. I hop eyou can deal with the lack of the latter at little expense of understanding what is attempting to be commmunicated.
Just so its clear for the record of the debate... I don't really consider myself to have a "pony in this show". I am not a "creationist" in the sense most commonly used today -like a born again christian or other more fundamental religionist, arguing that a divine creator has created and controls the physical world and all that modern science tells us of the physical world is a lie or should somehow submit to those particular religious beliefs. What I do have in the argument as far as any type of bias is that those who perceive themselves as higher and mightier than others because of their worldview would discount others beliefs as manifestly or obviously fictitious or baseless. Looking in the backyard of others you might see all their dirty laundry, when they or others could look in one's own backyard and point out some dirty laundry or trash as well. Easy on the perjoratives and name calling is a tenet I try to abide by.
I have seen the movie and I do disagree with some, if not many, of its premises, etc. and don't think it was a particularly great piece of movie making per se. I do see many other movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" for one example and see very little disgust by those in the scientific community at the lack of scientific validity in that movie and I wonder why? Perrhaps it's because they wish to promote a particular worldview and like the message the movie sends, so they shelve their capacities for reason and logic and scientific consistency for the sake of political expediency and then take out those capacities and try to attack others in other films. The seeming hypocracy is what gets me I guess.
Let me be clear I am not saying this about yourself. But the idea that certain statements made should be automatically discounted merely because the person saying them happens to have a more extreme agenda does not necessarily mean the particular statement is wrong. Pointing out the bias of a person making a statement to attack their credibility is a tactic commonly used in debates I understand this and accept it. The problem then is when the other persons says see I am right beyond reproach because they are wrong in their extreme viewpoint. Well no that's not correct - neither
(1) is the person pointing out the extreme bias of the other right
(2) is the statement made necessarily wrong, aside from the weakened credibility of the person making the statement.
It would be more valuable to have more focus on pointing out logically or informationally why the statement made is wrong as to then conedemning the entire debate simply because the person who made it has extreme views many won't accept. After all its not like M. Night is asking us to vote for him as President or scientific leader or something. He simply made a movie - a piece of entertainment based upon some loose pseudo-science.
Perhaps, I'd be more interested in how the statement used in the movie and how the science behind it is wrong in others opinions than in attacking creationism, just as an example.
And for everyone's sake, as I am sure you'll be glad to know, I will limit any possible future response(s) of mine to no more than 5 words from now on. I so affirm!
Actually, I think "The Day After Tomorrow" was panned by the scientific community. As well it should have been. If it has Roland Emmerich's name attached to it, that's a warning label.
Charly said: "He simply made a movie - a piece of entertainment based upon some loose pseudo-science."
Understatement and overstatement, 1) Shyamalan hasn't made a piece of 'entertainment' in years 2) yes, pseudo-science.
...and not to offer any offense to you Charly but a statement you made early on disturbed me a bit.."While I agree science and entertainment never really fit together harmoniously, as they serve different masters/purposes and have different goals, I think you all need to step back, pull that board out from you *$%! and realize you don't know everything there is to be known and science may never know everything there is." First I find it funny you use the term 'master', and second nobody to my knowledge on this blog or any other you may have trolled ever claim to know everything there is to know even about a specific topic...part of being a scientist is always being a student (i.e. always learning and perhaps finding out something you thought you knew was wrong)...and there is nothing wrong with constantly learning. It may be easier to simply say something along the lines of "God did it!" [I know you haven't made that kind of statement] and leave it at that, but that is unimaginative and just dishonest. That is my two cents...
1st - I don't believe "God did it".
Trolling = perjorative? I don't/didn't "troll"
I used the term purpose too, in conjunction with master, as in what one's purpose it dictates how one usually acts.
One can use a term allegorically I hope. (sorry I know it's over 5 words sorry, still teh purpose is to make my responses shorter.
as for the idea that I troll the internet looking for scientists to slay on behalf of M. Night or some christian fundamentlist belief system, it's just false. I came upon your blog in a brief search of anything to do with any possible actual science behind the movie that might in fact exist, if any, and was hoping for some discussion along those lines as I just saw teh movie the other night. I don't agree with M. Night in that I believe usually, though maybe not always, science will be able to provide theories and "answers" for things if not posit questions and learn. I would be interested in such theories, and resulting answers. Also any responses to the new experiments on the Heisenberg principle and quantum mechanics I just found in the same search.
Perhaps I was a bit too heavy handed and extreme when I said those reponses to M. Night should admit they "don't know everything" as you are right it was never said we know everything. But I have indicated I do not attack the vaildity of science or the scientific processes and the need to continue to learn, I am all for that. My heavy handedness was in response to the ancrimony being developed, to tone it down a bit and perhaps try in some way to balance out the discussion a bit.
as for using the term entertainment and M. Nights movie. I used the term in a categorical sense, generally movies are deemed as intended for such a purpose, esp those of this particular genre. I didn't mean to insinuate that I thought his movie was greatly entertaining.
"To him, science is little more than an arbitrary system of categories of our own creation, seeing what we want to see in the data. Shyamalan doesn't seem to want to apply this type of reasoning to his own views, though, and so he feels free to make pronouncements about science so that his beliefs (whatever they are) can remain intact.
If Shyamalan really does have a problem with evolution (and "randomness") it is very strange that his killer trees would have had to evolve the toxins that are causing so many deaths"
I agree with this assesment of the movie but that's why I am not sure you can say the movie was intended only as a piece of propoganda. In addition, from the "story line" we see how it is that some scientists were able to learn so quickly what was going on and make in the end a dire prediction as a result. His own "story line" contradicts some of the statements made by Marky Mark Wahlberg's character in the open scenes. That is why I am not sure one should take the movie as purely a piece of propoganda. Fine, so he makes some sort of anti-science statements at the start, with some psuedo science to try to back it up but I think those few minutes get lost in the long "story line" later on - not very effective for propoganda. If science is only what he states it is then how could they learn.
The truly big message if one could find one from the movie would seem to be "people = bad" because we don't respect nature enough and don't act in harmony with it enough. Thus, the plants react extremely negatively and lash out against us when they perceive they have been pushed by us to the brink.