Monthly Archives: February 2008

Finally a post on “The Secret”

First, let me explain the “Law of Attraction” (and why Oprah is to blame). Without this basic premise, the entire argument put forth by “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne cannot be understood. Bear with me.

The “Law of Attraction”
The “Law of Attraction (LoT) has been around for a while now, as far back as the beginnings of the philosophy of Hinduism. The law is simple “like attracts like”. Hmmm, you’re thinking, but I thought that opposites attract according to atomic theory, magnetism, and everything else ever. Well you’re wrong, like attracts like…apparently. And LoT’s based on the laws of quantum physics [oooooohhh aaaaaahhh] so it can’t possibly be wrong. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

Essentially, the soul attracts the things it wants, but also the things that it fears. Buh? Put another way, good things will happen to you if you think happy thoughts and bad things will happen to you if you think unhappy thoughts. Also, you won’t be able to fly to Neverland. After thinking your happy thoughts, you have to feel and behave as if you already have the thing you desire (well, if we could do that, isn’t that just as good as having it? never mind). Finally, you have to be open to receiving the thing for which you are asking.

Wow! So I just have to think about something and I’ll get it as long as I want it bad enough and can convince myself that I already have it and then be open to having it which, let’s face it, if I wanted it in the first place I probably am! Cool! Well everything is wrapped up in a neat little package. Life is wonderful. I don’t even have to do anything, I just have to think. Why make an effort to do things to make my life better and happier (like go to school and get an education, make friends with people who don’t suck, marry a person that isn’t mean to me, and so on) when I can just think about them and they’ll happen for me? That way, nothing I do is as a result of my hard work and effort, it’s all a result of how positive my attitude was. That seems fair.

Oh but, what’s that? Bad things happen to me because of the bad thoughts I had? Everything bad in my life is my fault? I’m a miserable person because my thoughts weren’t happy enough? Well that’s depressing. So, I guess if I didn’t think positively enough about beating my cancer, I deserve to die. I guess I should have gone ahead with that chemo treatment after all…

Well, the ugly side of the entire argument of LoT rears its ugly head. What Oprah fails to emphasize on her little gravy train of nonsense in promoting that all you have to do is think happy and you’ll be happy, is that if you are not happy enough, bad things will happen to you because your negativity is attracting negativity…you know, because according to the quantum physics upon which Lot is based, like attracts like.

So all of you depressed people out there? It’s your fault. That car crash you were in that killed your child in the backseat? You’re fault – I guess you should have been happier that day, would have saved you some trouble. That toe you stubbed? Too negative! The genocide in Darfur? Well, those people must just have a really lousy attitude. The Holocaust? The Jews just couldn’t have wanted enough to be happy. Raped? Well, I guess you you were just asking for it with that “I’m afraid of the dark when I’m alone” attitude of yours.

OK, so I think we’ve established that “The Secret” is not the awesome wonderful feel-good philosophy that everyone thinks it is. What about the claims that it is based on quantum physics?

Quantum = true?
Why is it that when someone is trying to promote nonsense, they immediately go to the “well it’s all quantum physics, you see” explanation? Because no one who is not a quantum physicist really understands what quantum physics is. The promoters of nonsense are counting on that fact. They know we don’t understand quantum physics and, if we try to look it up, we’ll just get confused by the explanation. Quantum physics is nice a catch-all explanation for almost any piece of nonsense you’d like to try on today. Can’t think of a mechanism for your particular brand of nonsense? No problem! Just say it’s quantum physics, dust off your hands, and pat yourself on the back for a day of hard work. Reward yourself with a cookie. Because no ordinary person on this planet will be able to contradict you and the real quantum physicists are busy trying to come up with a unified theory of everything to bother with your nonsensical ramblings. So congratulations, you’ve just come up with a “scientific explanation” for LoT, making it sound all nice and legitimate.

Furthermore, what does “like attracts like” even mean? We should all be gay couples to be happy? Magnets have been lying to us for centuries? Considering it’s the mind we’re using to manipulate things, we have to assume that there is some unseen force that we are supposedly exuding out from us to produce the desired effects. What is this force? How does an unseen ethereal force act on matter (people and things) to produce desired effects? How can such a force be tested? If the force cannot be tested, is the theory then unfalsifiable and therefore not scientific? Thus, isn’t quantum mechanics, a testable science, not an appropriate explanation for LoT? How can this be applied to LoT, which cannot be measured? How can Rhonda Byrne, who is not a quantum physicist, presume that quantum theory explains LoT without having consulted quantum physicists and having them help to explain the mechanism of LoT on her DVD?

Why is Oprah to blame?
Because the DVD for “The Secret” was quietly selling copies via various means (bookstores, the internets, etc) until one day Oprah decided to endorse it on her show. Since first introducing “The Secret” on her show, Oprah has featured the subject numerous times with the author/producer helping her do so. Because Oprah has some sort of hypnotic power over all women in North America, women in particular then went out in droves to waste 20 bucks on a DVD that essentially re-explains the power of positive thinking, like every other self-help book ever, in a sexy DVD format. When Oprah could be using her power for good (for example, the promotion of education and science in women across American – particularly African American women), she uses it for evil (for example, the promotion of nonsense that keeps women in the stone ages believing in pseudoscience and superstition).

Oh but she gives away free cars, so I guess that’s OK.

So let’s summarize
We’ve got greed, blaming the victim, a quantum “explanation”, laziness, Oprah thinks it’s cool, ancient “wisdom”, irresponsible health claims, it’s not free, and more.

Let’s put “The Secret” to bed, folks. And never wake it up again. It’s garbage. Please don’t waste your money. And the next time Oprah says something is cool, take a second to Google it and save yourself some of your hard-earned, middle-class money.

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Medicine vs. "Medicine"

It seems like “thousands of years ago” and “Chinese” are the only magic words necessary to make Western yuppies believe in anything. We are so intelligent that we can convince ourselves to believe in anything that we think of as “natural” – how could something natural hurt me? We are so intelligent that we can easily convince ourselves, with very clearly developed “logic”, to be afraid of technology (incidentally, the very technology that has helped us become so very intelligent in the first place) – technology is a construct of humans, we never had these problems before big bad technology came along.

Well isn’t that a pickle.

Consider:

  • My baby had a vaccine and now he/she has autism.
  • My baby has an ultrasound and now he/she has cerebral palsy.
  • I had a cold and took an herbal supplement instead of Advil Cold & Sinus and now I feel better.

vs.

  • My baby had a vaccine and nothing happened. All the children around him/her at school, in addition to him/herself, are now benefiting from that decision.
  • My baby had an ultrasound and nothing happened. My baby was born healthy and we caught a potentially fatal, yet treatable, birth defect early enough to fix it and allow my baby to live a long life without constant medical intervention.
  • I had a cold and took nothing (or I took something to relieve my symptoms) and my cold went away in the 4-5 days that colds always go away on their own anyway.

The second explanations are much more boring, aren’t they? That’s probably why no one thinks about them. No one cares when something doesn’t happen – a non-event is not news. But occasionally shit happens and humans, as pattern seekers, are more than happy to see a causal explanation for the events.

Every time we go out in public we are benefiting from the “Western” practice of vaccination by not catching a fatal, incurable disease. Because we are exposed to so-called “Western medicine” on a daily basis , we are more likely to experience that 1-2% of the time when something, unfortunately, goes wrong. We are not exposed to Chinese medicine nearly as much so when we are exposed to it, it is often in conjunction with “Western medicine”, and thus gets all the credit and none of the blame. After all, if something goes wrong, one can still blame the Western treatment component, but for every success there is ancient Chinese “secrets” to get all of the glory. Even though what is really going on is that our “Western” treatment has simply worked in the way in which it was designed, and the “natural” treatment was just there looking pretty.

Well that hardly seems fair.

This branch of “medicine” even has its own abbreviation: TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). Actually it has 2: TCM and TOM (Traditional Oriental Medicine) Having a abbreviations makes it real right? Certainly nothing that is stupid and harmful would have an abbreviation… (*cough* ID = Intelligent Design *cough*). OK, maybe my theory needs improvement. Here’s a website that explains these medicines. And I’m not going to trick you and send you to some “anti-TCM” site, no this is a site run by believers in TCM – I don’t need anyone else to make it sound ridiculous, they do just fine on their own.

In fact, here is another website where “western” doctors are chastised for finding the actual cause of a person’s disease (in order to ensure that they are providing the correct treatment), for examples Parkinson’s, as if that is a character flaw and TCM practitioners are praised for attributing hand tremors to “wind blowing around the acupuncture channels”. Then they seek to determine the cause like deficiency of blood (??), high fever (couldn’t you tell that anyway?), poor body fluids, or bad Qi. So in both cases we have a diagnosis and a determination of the cause. How then is TCM any different from “Western” medicine except that TCM’s explanations are wrong and not at all demonstrable in any anatomical or physiological way?

I’ll tell you how. TCM is inherently damaging. Oh sure, some of it can cause harmful side effects, but others do nothing. Exactly. They do nothing. Many practitioners and promoters of this nonsense will have us believe that Western medicine isn’t to be trusted, preventing otherwise curable people from seeking treatment before it’s too late, preventing mothers and fathers from vaccinating their children, preventing people from seeking prenatal care, preventing people from saving 10-15 bucks on a bottle of Echinacea, and so on. They will have us believe that their medicine is capable of curing anything, ignoring the fact that there is no one treatment that cures everything – that is why we have medicine! to determine what treatment is appropriate for the person.

TCM claims to be holistic by treating the whole person and accuses Western medicine of simply diagnosing and moving on. Well I ask, how is lumping every disease into acupuncture (cancer, asthma, common cold, etc.) more holistic than providing customized medical care based on the individual person’s needs, like Western medicine does?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

And men say we complain too much about sexism…

Before I delve into “The Secret” I thought I’d post about a recent news item that’s cropped up a few times in my daily internet rummagings. One representation of the story can be found here.

Suffice it to say that, recently, some journals have been testing out double-blind peer reviews for publishing, because someone noticed that journals with double-blind methods had a higher percentage of female authors represented in the research than non-double-blind journals. Some journals have tried the double-blind method and found that, shortly after, the number of female authors being published suddenly increased. Note that they ruled out an increase of females in the field.

Maybe more females bothered to submit because they thought they had a better chance? That’s possible, but it’s a more complicated explanation than that perhaps there was just some simple, run-of-the-mill sexism going on – whether on purpose or not – considering the history of apparent sexism in other areas of science (grants, evaluations, credit for work, etc).

Haven’t we moved away from this “boys club” nonsense yet? Sadly we haven’t. Tsk tsk, scientists. If I can’t trust you, who can I trust? :(

Oprah still peddling “The Secret”

I was dismayed to see on today’s Oprah that she’s still – STILL – peddling “The Secret”. I am busy this week so check back later for a post about “The Secret” and why it’s garbage and destroys the brains of women everywhere.