Review of Fritjof Capra's Film MindWalk
By Mark A. Schroll, Ph.D.


If you only have time to see one film this year, I highly recommend renting the film MindWalk (1991a) and watching it with a friend or small group of friends. I likewise recommend setting aside a minimum of one hour after watching this film to discuss it, as its message is relevant to the theme of this issue of Rhine Online, as well as the concerns we encounter everyday in our lives. One concern that often seems highly abstract is the worldview that has shaped the direction of humankind's cultural evolution throughout the last 300 years—emerging in the late 16th, early 17th century—that continues to influence our lives today, which has come to be referred to as the modern age or modernity. A complete account of this process of cultural evolution exceeds the scope and intention of this review. 1 More appropriately, modernity's historical development can be summarized (according to Donald Rothberg) as a movement that originated in Western Europe and later in North America:
Associated with the development of the empirical sciences, capitalism and industrialism, political democracies and individualism, and large-scale disengagement from religiously based cultural traditions (the process of 'secularization') (Rothberg: 106, 1993).
Taking a moment to contemplate the influence modernity has had upon our daily lives, we can, on the one hand, proclaim its benefits. It has been extraordinarily successful toward providing a technological bounty of labor saving devices, which have increased the production of manufactured goods and agricultural products; in addition, it has granted to its beneficiaries increasing amounts of leisure time, whose consumer markets have supported the research and development of space-age technology. But, on the other hand, there is the existential reality of modernity's dark side: toxic residue, the colonial genocide of indigenous cultures, massive debt from weapons research that has all but bankrupt the former USSR, whose affect within the USA has resulted in a bloated military infrastructure that gave the illusion of economic growth by providing jobs, as it simultaneously continued to increase the national debt; add to this the phenomena of urban sprawl and inner city crime that have transformed the USA into a war zone.

Le Mont-Saint MichelIt is this stark realization of a world at risk that has prompted philosophers, like Rothberg, to suggest that humankind's cultural evolution has reached a "crisis of modernity." Indeed, the existence of all natural systems--soil, plants, animals, human communities--are all precariously balanced on the political, economic and individual choices that each of us needs to make in the next 20 years to create a sustainable society; choices in technology, agriculture, and our consumer buying habits that will create a sustainable relationship with the nonhuman world. A relationship where the needs of the present generation does not deprive the quality of life of future generations; where renewable sources of energy and building materials can eventually meet the needs of industry and the lives of every person. This vision of a sustainable society is the message that Fritjof Capra has put forth in Mindwalk (1991a), a film based on his book The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture (1982).

The film is set on the islet of Mont St. Michel, a medieval island that spears up out of the English Channel a mile off the Normandy coast of France, fog-shrouded and swept by rapid tides, the islet is a single mass of granite, 165 feet tall and only 3,000 feet around. By the 10th century A.D. the islet has become known as a holy place, and pilgrims from France, England, Ireland and Italy were making their way to Mont St. Michel in search of enlightenment and spiritual renewal. 2

A millennium later, in the closing years of the 20th century, this setting becomes the location of a fictional conversation between two men and a woman. A United States senator (played by Sam Waterston) who has just failed to be elected president. Depressed with politics and the business of fund raising necessary for his next campaign, he calls up his old poet-philosopher friend (played by John Heard), who is now living in France. Heard, always making jokes and reciting poetry, invites Waterston to leave Washington temporarily (calling it a "hall of mirrors for narcissists") and spend some time with him. Taking a drive in the French countryside they end up at Mont. St Michel.

There they meet a woman physicist (played by Liv Ullman), who is on an indefinite sabbatical. She had been working on the development of an x-ray laser that she hoped could be used to view cells holographically. Unknown to her until the completion of her project, this laser was to be used as a component in the USA's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) or Star Wars program. As a brief aside, this was the bargaining chip that Ronald Reagan used in his negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev while working out the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) 1; agreeing the USA would not develop this nuclear missile defense system. START 1 was signed on July 31, 1991. Getting back to our review of MindWalk, upon learning that her discovery was going to be used as a weapon, without even considering the medical applications, she responded by losing faith and trust in the system, resigned her research commission, and moved to France to think about the ethical responsibility of the scientist.

Mindwalk is a film that will stimulate your intellect to begin contemplating the influence of mechanistic thinking on EuroAmerican science, patriarchy's relationship to the arms race and the importance of ecopsychology as a means toward the development of a postmodern science; whose emphasis is on humankind's individuation and psychic integration with ourselves, society, all natural systems (our earth/body) and the evolutionary unfolding of the cosmos, uniting this process with a common past, present and future. This vision of a postmodern science has grown from transpersonal ecology 3, ecopsychology 4, the systems theory of biology 5, astronomical evidence that the universe is expanding 6, and quantum theory's rediscovery of holism 7, suggesting that the essence of humankind's right relationship to our earth/body is the need to recognize and remember our co-evolutionary symbiotic orientation with nature.

On April 20, 1986, I had a brief conversation with Capra when he lectured in Lincoln, Nebraska on “A New Vision—A New Universe.” I had previously attended a two-day conference at the Harvard Science Center, September 29-30, 1994, where David Bohm spoke. This meeting with Capra provided the opportunity to discuss the similarities and respective differences in Capra's "S-Matrix theory" and Bohm's concept of the "implicate order." Capra agreed that his “S-Matrix theory” (developed with UC Berkeley physicist Geoffrey F. Chew) was a special case or sub-set concern within Bohm's much broader concept of the “implicate order.” I also signed Capra's mailing list that notified me about MindWalk, purchasing a copy when it was released in the fall of 1991. Since then I have shown MindWalk to over 650 people at various conferences and private gatherings. Continues on Page 8
Rhine Online: Psi-News Magazine Previous | Page 7 | Next

Volume 3, Issue 1, 2011