I wasn’t going to bother with this, but numerous people have emailed me to ask when I’m going to review The Secret, and as it seems to be everywhere I decided I should give it a look.
I’m not going to watch the entire movie, though. As I wrote here, I’ve seen enough to get an idea if something is worth bothering with before I even start. And I don’t have to read every book or watch every film someone tells me about if I don’t think the book or film’s premise makes sense. However, I found the first 20 minutes online for free (I’m definitely not paying to see this film), and I’m basing this review on that initial 20 minute segment. If you think I’ve missed some crucial part of the film by only seeing 20 minutes, you can tell me what I missed, in the comments.
So, what is the big Secret?
The Secret is what they call the Law Of Attraction – the idea that you become or attract what you think about the most. Or as one person expressed it:
“Thoughts become things.”
This is presented as a literal truth – a law just like the laws of gravitation. And it is stated that this:
“Always works every time”
Note: always. And every time. No exceptions. It’s a Law, you see.
Examples are given. A man is shown worrying about being late, and so he gets stuck in a traffic jam. Another man is shown locking up his bicycle, presumably because he is worried about it being stolen; he returns later to find it has been stolen. The absurdity of these examples should be obvious. Are we supposed to believe the traffic jam wouldn’t have happened if it were not for this one guy worrying about being late? And what about the other people in the traffic jam? Were they all thinking negative thoughts about being late? Were there no positive-minded people in the area, thinking about being on time? And if there were, doesn’t that debunk the “always works every time” mantra? And what about the guy getting his bike stolen? Are we to assume that if another guy had left an identical unlocked bike at the same location, the bike thief would still have stolen the locked bike of the person worried about theft? Has anyone done a controlled study on this? (Hey, these were the examples used in the film – don’t blame me if they make no sense.)
As with What The Bleep, it is implied that there is science behind these revelations. For example, there was this from the self-proclaimed "visionary" Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith:
"It has been proven scientifically now that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought."
Really? Proven by which scientists? And written up where? Because I couldn’t find it.
Not a Law
Of course, the basic flaw in all this is that the Law Of Attraction is not a Law like the Law Of Gravitation that they compare it to. Newton’s Law’s can be demonstrated by anyone – drop an object and its acceleration will be exactly as the Law predicts. And this really does “always work every time” – that’s why it’s a Law. The “Law Of Attraction” as they call it just doesn’t work that way. Although having a positive attitude, being confident, believing in your own success etc is a definite advantage, and should be encouraged, having positive thoughts will not send out magic brainwave frequencies that change reality around you. This brainwave “magnetic signature” as one person called it, never goes out, any time. Not in the real world.
As with What the Bleep, you should watch out for equivocation. Expect believers to point out that being positive, confident etc will make people react more positively towards you, will tend to make you more successful etc. And it will. But they are equivocating about a lesser version of The Secret – a lesser version that does not support the “thoughts become things” and “it always works every time” woo version.
The film featured some of the same luminaries as in What the Bleep. I noticed John Hagelin and Fred Alan Wolf. And the “you literally create your day with your thoughts” nonsense is pretty much the same as What The Bleep was trying to sell. It wasn’t in the first 20 minutes, but I’m sure that before the end, quantum mechanics would have been evoked to justify all the mystical conclusions. Unfortunately, Quantum Mechanics, and even the Copenhagen Interpretation, does not say this is the way the universe works.
And that’s no secret.
Mike’s Weekly Skeptic Rant has an amusing review.
Karin Klein in the LA Times - another amusing review.
The Skeptic’s Dictionary on the law of attraction.
The Secret of Delusion from The Second Sight.
Newsweek article Decoding “The Secret”.
Skeptico's follow-up post Feb 23, 2007 - The “Law” of Attraction (Not).
Skeptico's follow-up post Feb 24, 2007 - Law of Attraction not working for Joe Vitale.
Salon on Oprah's ugly secret .
The Secret of The Secret - A cult self-help DVD fleeces the credulous from ReasonOnline.
The Onion gets it right as usual.
The Village Voice on Shopping with The Secret.
Oprah's 'Secret' Could Be Your Downfall from AlterNet.
The Wrath of the Secretrons from the Skeptical Inquirer.
The Secret of The Secret's Success, by Steve Salerno in The American Spectator.
Think Negative! Oprah, it's time to come clean about The Secret.