1.jpg“The Living Matrix” (TLM) is a new documentary about a variety of “energy-based” alternative medicines. It’s directed in the style of “What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?” (2004) and “The Secret” (2006) with tight cuts of commentary from about a dozen experts. There are several testimonials from individuals who were healed (or healed themselves) without relying on traditional western medicine. The movie has had a variety of showings around the world and is now available on DVD. I saw a recent screening of the film at the end of the ISSSEEM conference and purchased the DVD.

While the experts are speaking, the “voice” of TLM is really the director and the editor: what questions are asked and what edited parts of the experts’ responses are used. TLM experts criticize a reductionist approach to understanding the world, but this film itself is fundamentally reductionist: pulling small parts of separate conversations and reassembling them outside of their original context. DVDs provide a means to archive massive amounts of low-resolution video; I would really like to have access to the original interview footage.

Preface: How Skeptics Think

There are a variety of scientific claims made in the film. These claims may be backed up with research, but no references to published papers are provided (other than listing the books that the various experts have published). I attempt to stay current on a broad spectrum of scientific topics; when I see some new claim with no references, I tend to dismiss it. The website would be an ideal place for links to the scientific research, but the producers haven’t created this reference.

Why would a skeptic care? Because the documentary repeatedly claimed it was discussing was scientific theories. There are certain rules that one must follow for that claim to be legitimate. If someone is not going through this process—or reporting on a group of scientists who did—what they are doing is speculating or making conjectures. It’s not that one is good and the other is bad, but there is mischief in failing to distinguish between the two.

This kind of movie is not the best way to learn science. Watching tightly-cut commentary from a variety of experts overloads rational thought; viewing nonstop causes more of an emotional response rather than a rational one. Frequently pausing the movie and researching the science (or lack of science) behind the claims causes the movie to play very differently.

Isaac Newton and Whole Systems

TLM expert Lynne McTaggart, author of “The Field”, comments that the work of Newton and Descartes first “ripped us out of the fabric of our universe” and “created a clockwork model where mind is separate from body and that we are separate from each other.” I’ve heard similar commentary from a variety of new-age thinkers, but they rarely if ever note that Chaos Theory in the 1980s irrevocably smashed Newton’s Clockwork Universe.

TLM expert Bruce Lipton, PhD, says, “[…] that’s the newtonian perspective that says to focus on the matter; don’t pay attention to the rest of the stuff.” The astronomical three body problem—studied extensively by Newton—is the quintessence of independence and interdependence of objects. There is no cause or effect; it’s about the momentum and the gravitational fields of the three items interacting with each other.

A restricted case of the three body problem easily demonstrates chaotic movement. As Professor Steven Strogatz notes in his 2003 book “Sync”, even our own solar system’s orbital mechanics are chaotic: in the time frame of about five million years, the location of the planets becomes unpredictable. Sir James Lighthill’s “The recently recognized failure or predictability in Newtonian mechanics” (1986) summarizes chaos theory’s predictability limits in a short but wonderfully-written paper. This document is not freely available online, but it’s worth a trip to a University library to pick up a copy.

Physician Stephen Levin, who is not in this movie, lectures that the physical structures of the human body are non-Newtonian. In a variety of papers and lectures, he demonstrates that a “levers and hinges” model is fundamentally insufficient to describe the posture and movement of the human body. Thomas Myers (also not in this movie) has created a mapping of lines of musculoskeletal tension in his groundbreaking text “Anatomy Trains” (a 20-page summary is available free from his website). Professor Donald Ingber (also not in the movie) studies the use of these tensegrity structures at a cellular level; his paper “The Architecture of Life” appeared in the January 1998 edition of Scientific American Magazine.

Levin, Myers, and Ingber each credit visionary Buckminster Fuller for his whole-system means of thinking about natural structures. Their biological models are based on tensegrity, a kind of structure that was invented in the 1940s by Kenneth Snelson. Fuller’s comments on Snelson’s invention are particularly enlightening:

“724.34 The tensegrity system is synergetic—a behavior of the whole unpredicted by the behavior of the parts. Old stone-age columns and lintels are energetic and only interact locally with whole buildings. The whole tensegrity-icosahedron system, when loaded oppositely at two diametric points, contracts symmetrically, and because it contracts symmetrically, its parts get symmetrically closer to one another; therefore, gravity increases as of the second power, and the whole system gets uniformly stronger. This is the way atoms behave.”

Fuller’s definition of synergetics is also quite instructive:

“200.06 Synergetics shows how we may measure our experiences geometrically and topologically and how we may employ geometry and topology to coordinate all information regarding our experiences, both metaphysical and physical. Information can be either conceptually metaphysical or quantitatively special case physical experiencing, or it can be both.”

TLM expert Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, notes: “[The current biological model] tries to treat the organism as a machine that works simply in terms of physics and chemistry.” However, the “machine” of our musculoskeletal structure described by Levin, Myers, and Ingber is unlike any manmade mechanism. It’s loosely coupled and contains no levers, gears, or any of the six simple machines. Just like our solar system, Newton’s “clockwork” model has been irrevocably smashed for the physics of our musculoskeletal and cellular structures.

Science does indeed embrace a whole-system perspective. Buckminster Fuller’s words are the antithesis of reductionist thinking. Every part matters, and the interactions between the parts are just as important as the parts themselves. Levin, Myers, and Ingber have brilliantly applied Fuller’s and Snelson’s work to living structure. Their work is inspiring and is a fount of great thinking for anyone who takes the time to contemplate their writings.

Chaos Theory

Chaos theory was pioneered the 1960s by late MIT meteorology professor Edward Lorenz. Fellow MIT professor Kerry Emanuel commented on his lifetime accomplishment:

“By showing that certain deterministic systems have formal predictability limits, Ed put the last nail in the coffin of the Cartesian universe and fomented what some have called the third scientific revolution of the 20th century, following on the heels of relativity and quantum physics.”

TLM criticizes Newton’s “clockwork universe”, but fails to recognize that science has indeed moved on from that eighteenth century model. Claiming that science still uses Newton’s clockwork models to understand the human body is an outdated straw man argument. It’s a disservice to science—and to viewers of this film—to perpetuate this disinformation. Science encourages whole-system thinking; coordination and synchronization of loosely-coupled structure is a fundamental principle of chaos theory.

Quantum Physics

McTaggart speaks briefly about the quantum physics zero point field, where virtual particles are created, exist for a short amount of time and are then annihilated. She talks about the virtual particles created:

“[…] that little individual exchange isn’t much energy. It’s about half a watt’s worth. But when you multiply all of the subatomic particles doing this energy exchange across all things in all the universe, you come up with this unfathomable amount of energy all happening out there in empty space. Like some supercharged backdrop.”

This was one of those points that raised my eyebrows. Do physicists really view bits of the quantum vacuum as tiny little batteries (or capacitors) that one could somehow “supercharge” something en masse? Have any physicists published theories about this? I found none online. If there are no theories, what’s the point? For me, the whole discussion of the Zero Point Field was basically a distraction.

The Placebo Effect

TLM expert Bruce Lipton, PhD, notes,

“Science has recognized that at least one third of all healings—including drugs, and surgery, and other allopathic interventions—one third of all healings has nothing to do with the process but has to do with the placebo effect.”

More discussion follows. At a later point in the documentary, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, PhD, describes a story where an irregularity on his kidney was apparently healed by a remote healer thousands of miles away. I wondered if Mitchell had considered the possibility that his healings may have instead been accomplished with the placebo effect.

The possibility that placebo may be responsible for any of the healings was never discussed in the movie.


TLM expert professor Fritz-Albert Popp, PhD, studies light emissions from living tissues. The narrator comments on his work: “Professor Popp theorizes that these bio-photon emissions may be controlling our body’s metabolism.” What was his theory? How has it been tested? What were the results? Where were they published? I followed from the movie website’s link to Popp’s site, but found no papers about bio-photon emissions controlling metabolism.

SyncBook.jpgTLM expert Dietmar Cimbal, DVM speculates that there is seemingly an external force that is causing the “instantaneous” changes in direction of a flock of birds or a school of fish. This science article from the New York Times offers a simpler explanation. This article from the March 2009 edition of Audubon Magazine provides more information about how individual birds can coordinate direction shifts. The phenomenon of synchronizing behavior of groups of animals is discussed extensively in Strogatz’s book “Sync: How Order Emerges From Chaos In the Universe, Nature, and Daily Life”, one of our leading scientists on chaos theory. Strogatz has also published papers about the synchronization of the pacemaking nerves in the heart.

TLM expert Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, comments on Morphogenetic fields : “This field is now a crucial concept in developmental biology. You can’t really understand how organisms develop without it.” The narrator describes the issue: how do the cells in the developing embryo know how they should specialize—what kind of cell each of them should become? This 2006 paper suggests a far simpler mechanism: the mechanical structure and strains of the developing embryo is used to indicate to the cells how to specialize. I am not implying that this theory is correct, but there are indeed alternative explanations to Sheldrake’s fields.

TLM expert Lynne McTaggart comments, “Many scientists who are on the frontier theorize and have demonstrated that we’re an information system, and it’s not entirely localized in our body. That we’re accessing information from The Field all the time.” What scientists? What theories? How did they test their theories, and where did they publish their results? If the scientists weren’t doing all these things, then they weren’t actually scientifically theorizing.

The movie concludes with TLM expert Peter Fraser saying, “[…] but I think now we have a viable scientific theory for how the body stores and accesses information. So we do have a medical revolution on our hands.” Again: What is the theory? Where has it been published? What does it predict? How have those predictions been tested, and what were the results? If there is a viable scientific theory, then those questions would have already been answered.

If the moviemakers want to discuss scientific theories in The Living Matrix, they need to provide references to those theories! This is simple to do: you provide references to peer-reviewed papers on the specific research. It is the responsibility of the filmmakers to clearly distinguish between scientific theories and pseudoscientific speculation. This could be done on the film’s website, but there’s currently no information about which theories are actually scientific. Calling something a “viable scientific theory” that has never gone through the rigors of the scientific method is a major disservice to the public.

The Good Stuff

I’m inspired by all the healing stories in this movie. Lynne McTaggart’s recommendation to believe in whatever kind of health/healing modality you are using is excellent advice. It’s possible to believe in something without completely understanding how it works. This is probably the case with almost any kind of healing: Marilyn Mandala Schlitz, PhD, notes that we still do not completely understand how healing works for things like small cuts or wounds.

Unfortunately, there were no details about the science of what we do know—stuff that James Oschman, PhD, is very familiar with. His text “Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis” is a no-nonsense text about the mechanics of healing. Readers will learn about a variety of tools used by the body to see what’s injured and heal it: magnetic fields, electrical potentials of microvolts in the body, etc.


The central theme of the movie is the existence of a quantum “field” that provides a variety of functions: information storage, cosmic connection, energy, embryonic development, regulation of metabolic functions, etc. The “field” spans the cosmos and connects us with everything. While most of the experts speak with certainty of the existence of this “field”—claiming that it is a “viable scientific theory”—no scientific theory is ever provided. The razzle dazzle chain of conjectures breaks down when you pause the DVD, repeatedly, and investigate the various claims being made.

Incorrect stereotypes of Newtonian physics are perpetuated, and chaos theory is ignored. Almost a century of whole-system engineering and its great spokesman, Buckmister Fuller, are never ever mentioned.

Individuals seeking a source that would show the science behind alternative health/healing technologies will be disappointed by this film. If anyone is seeking this, I recommend they purchase Oschman’s book “Energy Medicine: The Scientific Basis” as a starting point.