The Secret’s Out

In a discussion group I’m in, we’ve been discussing the controversial book/film “The Secret.” The gist of the “secret” is the “law of attraction“–the idea that we can shape reality by purposefully focusing our thoughts. When the topic was initially brought up, there were very differing opinions about it. I hadn’t heard of it so I decided to watch some of the film. My impression was less than favorable, and more than a little painful. The film’s rhetoric seemed to be laced with logical fallacies and scientific inaccuracies. I also had major problems with it from a religious point of view. So I decided to put together a concise list of problems (along with the very few points on which I agreed with them), and I’m posting them here to see if anyone else wishes to contribute or (even better) come to the film’s defense.

Admirable Qualities

  • power of “positive thinking”
  • value of gratitude
  • virtue of not dwelling in misery and depression
  • optimism and forward-thinking
  • inspirational stories
  • motivation for self-improvement

Fallacies

  • neither correlation nor chronological incidence implies causation (cum hoc and post hoc)
  • appeal to authority (famous historical figures and interviewees)
  • argument from ignorance (“do you know how electricity works?”)
  • appeal to secrecy and intrigue (“the Secret was supressed”)
  • “wishful thinking” fallacy
  • blaming the victim
  • reliance on dubious analogies
  • hasty generalization and overwhelming exceptions

Scientific Problems

  • inappropriate use of scientific term “law”
  • insufficient presentation of quantum physical basis
  • lack of peer-reviewed scientific publications
  • anecdotal evidence
  • selection bias in evidence (self-reported positive results)
  • reliance on undefined terms like “feeling” and “emotion”
  • ill-defined requirements for success (ie. “recieve”) create an “easy out” for failure explanation
  • lack of robust falsifiability and testability

Misc. Problems

  • infomercial (“get-rich-quick”) & extreme self-help qualities (“if it seems too good to be true…”)
  • reliance on confirmation bias (interpretation of new information in a way that confirms preconceptions and avoids contradictions)
  • application of Occam’s Razor: simpler explanations exist
  • historical conspiracy theory: how many would have to know and remain silent?
  • men as gods/creators (ie. serpent in Eden)
  • appeal to greed
  • offer of panacea (all-encompassing cure)
  • gnosticism and “learned elite”
  • sources (“The Science of Getting Rich” and New Thought movement)
  • proposed as “theory of everything”

Conclusion

  • some value as self-help, but ultimately pseudoscience and selfishness

Some comments from a Christian perspective (although somewhat lame)

  • http://www.listenuptv.com/programs/070422thesecret.shtml
  • http://www.theevident.com/
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2 Responses to The Secret’s Out

  1. Tim Disney says:

    Sorry, I don’t think I can come to the defense of this trash. I watched the first 20min of it on YouTube and became more and more angry with each passing minute. As you point out it is a pseudoscience, but I think it’s a dangerous strain because it encourages people to change their live based on its teachings. And while thinking “happy” thoughts may not be necessarily bad, what happens when they don’t get the health and wealth they were promised? I was really scared when one scene depicted a person standing outside a lottery building, the message clear: “think” positive and you will win the lotto. Gah!

    I also really hated the way they portrayed “the secret” as being part of a grand cover up. While that may make it more interesting, a “conspiracy theory” should set off the warning signals. The world is generally far less complicated than the conspiracy theorist would have us believe.

    I also think one of the “quantum physicists” interviewed was on “What the Bleep Do We Know!”, another pseudoscience piece of garbage. While I don’t want to fall into the fallacy of “guilt by association”, I would like to point out that both these film’s grasp of how quantum physics relates to the “real” (aka macro) world is tenuous at best.

  2. Tim Disney says:

    Oh, another problem. What about the Jews during the Holocaust? Or people in Darfur, Katrina…pick your crisis. Were they all just not thinking enough positive thoughts? “The Secret” seems to imply that they got what was their “cosmic due” for having negative emotion.

    I don’t like that idea very much.

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