The Crow's Dream

Philosophy, geekery, and the meaning if life, and what I read this week…

The Secret

with 6 comments

I am out of touch with the world of Oprah and most of TV in general, but when something is big enough to make it to the show, it eventually gets to me. The Secret is one of those things. As a skeptic and someone who’s been bamboozled by the kind of wishful thinking presented by the books, I feel like it is my duty to have a field day with the idea.

I am not really offended by positive thinking. If you want to think your way though life, be my guest, but when someone claims that the magnetic field around your body has the power to alter the structure of the universe by altering it’s vibrations, well, lets just say that I am forced to smile and shake my head–unless I’m reading an issue of Dr. Strange.

What frightens me is that people look at this stuff as if though it was scientific. It is not. It has nothing to do with science or with the way in which the universe works. However, I think that the philosophical implications of this kind of garbage are even worse.

According to this book, human mystery is caused by negativity. People who suffer do so because they do not have the appropriate psychic tools to think their way out of poverty. Forget about having been born in a third world country ravaged by war! You just need to think good thoughts, and everything will be fine. Thus, people who suffer really need no humanitarian aid, but a book.

There is one thing that humans can never satisfy, and that is their own desires. There is no such thing as satisfying your ego. You’ll always want more. This world is plagued by people wanting more, and we are using it up. Happiness does not lay in visualizing yourself in to “harmony with your desires.” I actually believe that that way sadness lays, because human wants are bottomless. Not bad, just bottomless. If you love books, you’ll never have enough of them. You do not have enough time to read all you want to, but so what? You just do your best. You could try to vibrate in harmony with the universe to “create” more reading time, or you could learn to read faster.

This video is a great example of logic going wrong in the face of a bad claim.

Plus this guy makes truly beautiful stuff. I’d pay for it, but not because he visualized me, but because he put a video of something that interest me online. He took action. “The Secret” has nothing to do with his success. His talent did it. Give yourself some credit man! Market your stuff. We geeks love castles. I have never visualized my way to the top of my half.com account, but I know that I sell more books when I offer lower prices than my competitors.

One of the most fantastic developments in cognitive science is behavioral cognitive therapy. This is a way of thinking about the world which help us to deal with our stress and anxiety effectively without having to resort to wishful thinking. Some people claim that even visualization helps, but not in the way this ludicrous book claims it does. Your thoughts do not vibrate with the universe. This is not a “quantum physics” thing. Just because quantum physics are weird, it doesn’t mean that there is supernatural magic in them.

Why does every New Ager make bogus claims about quantum physics anyway?

There are enough positive results associated with positive thinking to confuse people. The brain is a complex feedback mechanism that regulates our moods based on the information we add to it. Given enough motivation, our levels of “happy brain drugs” go up and we feel like we are vibrating with the universe. If you’ve ever had an amazing dream, then you know what I am talking about. You wake up feeling great and in love with the Universe, just to realize that you really don’t own every comic book ever published. Some times, you wake up to realize that your wife isn’t cheating on you with Derek Kirk Kim, and you breathe a sigh of relief (don’t get any ideas, Mr. Same Difference, just because you write her favorite comic, it doesn’t mean that she loves you, you do rock though). In any case, in both instances something that your mind concocted made you feel something that wasn’t there. The mood may affect the way you go though your day, but it has nothing to do with the conditions of the day itself. It is good to be positive if you had a good dream, but don’t expect that it has anything to do with the astral plane.

There is a very insidious outcome from this kind of wishful thinking. Having been involved in the New Age (no longer), I’ve seen people fall in to deep depressions when they fail to manifest “their reality.” I’ve seen “teachers” claim that people with problems should be visualizing something better for themselves. The feedback mechanism in the brain feels worse whenever it doesn’t get what it thought it was going to get. Even worse, this kind of thinking is the same that took place during the plague years in Europe. People really believed that God was mad at them, and instead of looking for a solution to their problems, they hid in churches and talked to the air. We are doing the same, but this time we have no excuse. We have the tools to understand the Universe and to find solutions to our problems. Having the right mental attitude is only the first step to deal with the world. The rest has to do with understanding it. With seeing the way things really are. We are not getting any closer to doing that by reading cleverly marketed fantasy books.

Check out this article in Skeptic Magazine. They’re more technical than me. Oh, and while you are at it, check skepticality out. Great podcast!

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Written by Hector

March 17, 2007 at 4:25 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Nice article…I must say that you have a way with words and sarcasm. Truly LOL. Clever and witty as you might be,, I must confess… although I am not a “believer”, I do find the logic quite positive.

    The whole concept of thinking positive and making a conscious effort to do so is not bad. This idea came to me 4 years ago. I was negative and always judged and criticized others. Making me a pompous ass. I felt ashamed and disgusted with myself… So I made an effort to release negativity and bring forth a change. To make this short(because it is too long already). If The secret makes people believe in themselves and brings some sort of hope and positivity to their lives, Why the hell not? Let them believe and hopefully with an effort, It brings happiness.

    And you are right…If someone does make an effort to live The Secret…most likely they are making a larger effort to achieving success.

    enreal

    March 18, 2007 at 2:40 am

  2. Thanks for the post. I appreciate your opinions, and I’m flattered by your comment about my writing skills! 🙂

    My beef with books like “the secret” is that they are not based on reality. I truly believe in positive thinking. Reframing our lives in terms of reality and a positive slant is a great thing, but ascribing non existent properties to the world is bound to fail. When people tried to heal the plague by praying, and by burning suspected witches they failed. Washing their hands and keeping rats out would have been more prudent, even if killing witches makes you feel good. The didn’t know better, but we do.

    In the case of “the Secret” the authors want to heal human suffering, but their view of its causes is wrong, and their healing method is simply not true. Its not science. The “if it works for you” approach is flawed in its conception because false things do not work. They may console us, but I can tell you that the human brain is to big to interact with quantum reality. Yet it is an amazing and incredibly beautifully complex thing. Science, and imagination, and regulation, to me, are very good ways to put it to use. I worry that by believing in pseudo scientific bunk, we may be impoverishing our potentialities.

    Again, thank you for the post, and I hope that you’ll keep reading. 🙂

    Hector

    March 18, 2007 at 3:45 am

  3. “Why does every New Ager make bogus claims about quantum physics anyway?”

    Because it’s way above the pay grade of most people.

    The vast, vast majority of people with college degrees and even advanced degrees (JD PhD DVM MD DO) have no clue about anything related to quantum. Unless you go to grad school for chemistry or physics, you don’t take a quantum class. The New Agers you mention are just using something people associate with intelligence above their plane of existence.

    I, too, wrote on The Secret.

    newhoosier

    March 21, 2007 at 5:16 pm

  4. Awesome! I loved your post on the secret. It made me laugh until milk spilled out of my nose–I was visualizing it at the time. As the man said, “if you think you understand quantum physics, you do not understand quantum physics.” Another annoying movie like “The Secret” was “What the Bleep!?”

    Your blog is awesome, by the way!

    Hector

    March 21, 2007 at 5:55 pm

  5. Now that’s a funny mental image!

    Thanks for the compliment.

    newhoosier

    March 21, 2007 at 7:55 pm

  6. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in that last post. You have a talent for making a hard subject clear to others. I enjoy reading the posts from a guy who has the same flair for explaining things.

    law of attraction

    December 27, 2007 at 3:05 am


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