Everything is interconnected. Modern society puts too much emphasis on money. Yogurt is conscious. Random number generators around the world respond to major events like 9/11.
These are some of the things that the "I Am" movie taught me. (Click on that link to watch the trailer, which captures the essence of "I Am" nicely.) OK, I have no problem with the first two messages. Interconnectedness is indeed how reality operates.
And film creator Tom Shadyac uses his own life experience to persuasively argue that buying lots of stuff doesn't buy meaning or satisfaction (Shadyac made Jim Carrey a star by directing him in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and other movies).
But I left the Salem Cinema theatre, where I saw "I Am" with four other members of our monthly Salon discussion group, feeling that the movie was way more believable than "The Secret" and "What the Bleep Do We Know?," yet still had too many annoying unscientific scenes.
I don't understand why creative types like Shadyac can't embrace emotion and reason in a roughly equal measure. He clearly is highly intelligent, thoughtful, and committed to understanding the world as it really is.
When "I Am" focused on our connections with the natural world and other people, I felt uplifted. Also, more than a little guilty. Seeing film footage of segregation protesters risking their lives in the American south during the '60s made me realize that my efforts to improve things here on Earth are half-hearted by comparison.
Shadyac focused on two questions in his movie: What's wrong with the world? What can we do about it? These are great questions. I just wish that Shadyac hadn't been content with such a mish-mash of answers from various "great thinkers."
Roger Ebert's review reflected my own reaction to the movie:
The thing is, he [Shadyac] doesn't ask enough. He is not a skeptic. He asks his two questions and mashes together the answers with a lot of fancy editing of butterflies, sunsets, flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of wild animals and Petri dishes filled with yogurt. From his tour emerges one conclusion: Everything is connected. Our minds, our bodies, our planet, our universe. This happens (you can see this coming) at the quantum level.
Another thing he learns is that money is the root of all evil. Like the fish, birds, animals and untouched tribes, we have evolved to cooperate and arrive at consensus. By competing to enrich ourselves, we create bad vibes. Give Shadyac credit: He sells his Pasadena mansion, starts teaching college and moves into a mobile home (in Malibu, it's true). Now he offers us this hopeful if somewhat undigested cut of his findings, in a film as watchable as a really good TV commercial, and just as deep.
One of the people I saw "I Am" with is a computer science professor at Willamette University. When the movie was over I was curious to learn what she thought about it. Her first comment: "How could computerized random number generators be affected by people's emotions about the 9/11 attacks? The random numbers are generated by algorithms."
She was referring to scenes in the movie that describe findings of the Global Consciousness Project. (Though the project web site is hosted by Princeton University, the project doesn't have any connection with Princeton, being an effort of the Institute of Noetic Sciences.)
Previously I'd heard that random number generators around the world became slightly non-random around the time of the 9/11 attacks, the Indonesian tsunami, and other events that shook up the consciousness of massive numbers of people.
I was skeptical about this when I first learned of the supposed finding. I still am. Wikipedia has a good summary of scientific criticism toward what the Global Consciousness Project claims to have found.
My main problem with New Age'y stuff like this isn't that people are exploring possible mysterious links between human consciousness and "non-local" events where mind seemingly couldn't affect matter.
That's fine. But scientific research involves more than just collecting reams of data that correlate two or more factors, such as the behavior of random number generators and traumatic world events.
There needs to be at least a modicum of hypothesizing happening also. Why and how could there be a connection between what transpires in millions of human minds and the mechanical software/hardware of computers?
Here's an article, "Mind Over Matter," about the random number generator research. It quotes Roger Nelson, director of the Global Consciousness Project. (The "eggs" are small random number generators.)
Roger Nelson describes the experiment as "an important insight into human behaviour on a large scale" which potentially "might help us consider a more credible, co-operative future than we are (now) able to imagine".
Yet he also concedes that the data, so far, is not solid enough for global consciousness to be said to exist at all. It is not possible, for example, to look at the data and predict with any accuracy what (if anything) the eggs may be responding to, although some of the results do raise interesting questions.
So at the time the story was written, 2007, there wasn't enough evidence to support a claim that global consciousness exists. Yet the movie "I Am," released in 2011 and obviously made prior, glowingly asserts that the random number generators proved that human emotions can affect inanimate matter.
I just wish that Shadyac had limited himself to the virtually unarguable aspects of his well-made movie, which I enjoyed a lot and was inspired by. Yes, we all need to ponder what's wrong with the world and how we can make it better.
However, there's no need to posit unproven supernatural phenomena. What's wrong with simply being human, and acting compassionately toward other people, animals, the Earth, and ourselves?