The Speculist: The Secret Tested


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The Secret Tested

As of this morning, The Secret is the #2 ranked book on, lagging behind only the new Harry Potter. As featured recently on Oprah and spoofed even more recently on SNL, The Secret purports to reveal the long-guarded principle that lies behind all human achievement. The publisher's blurb puts it this way:

Fragments of a Great Secret have been found in the oral traditions, in literature, in religions and philosophies throughout the centuries. For the first time, all the pieces of The Secret come together in an incredible revelation that will be life-transforming for all who experience it.

In this book, you'll learn how to use The Secret in every aspect of your life -- money, health, relationships, happiness, and in every interaction you have in the world. You'll begin to understand the hidden, untapped power that's within you, and this revelation can bring joy to every aspect of your life.

The Secret contains wisdom from modern-day teachers -- men and women who have used it to achieve health, wealth, and happiness. By applying the knowledge of The Secret, they bring to light compelling stories of eradicating disease, acquiring massive wealth, overcoming obstacles, and achieving what many would regard as impossible.

Cool! Now who wouldn't want to know that secret? Having seen the DVD version a while back, I can tell you what The Secret is. It's something the author refers to as "The Law of Attraction," the idea that thoughts become reality. So basically, if we want a certain thing to happen, we need to focus our attention on that thing, affirm its happening, visualize its happening, be very positive, eliminate negative thoughts, and voila! We get that thing we're focused on, whatever is is, ultimately because its our thoughts that control the universe.

Now the trouble with something the like the Law of Attraction is not that it would be hard to prove that it exists -- that would actually be a pretty straightforward exercise, as I'll explore later. Somehow, the burden of proof gets turned around on these things, and it is quickly asserted that you can't prove that there is no Law of Attraction. After all, any anecdotal evidence of focusing on an outcome that never shows up will merely be taken as a lack of commitment, focus, or positive attitude on the part of the individual trying to apply the law.

On its own, the Law of Attraction is probably not a bad idea and it almost certainly works up to a point. Putting aside just for a moment the question of whether our thoughts control reality, I don't see how it could possibly hurt to affirm, visualize, and spend a lot of time thinking about whatever it is you are trying to get done in this world. Ought to help, really.

But when you throw in that part about thoughts controlling the universe, it becomes a problem. There is some highly controversial scientific research which suggests that thought can affect physical outcomes to an extremely limited extent. And there are some ideas that get batted around in quantum mechanics which suggest an important, if not essential, role for conscious observers. But there's nothing coming close to scientific evidence supporting the Law of Attraction.

So what to do?

It occurs to me that a number of years ago, a significant test of the Law of Attraction was carried out by a large number of mostly young men, I'm assuming mostly in North America. These young men were engaged in focusing upon a common image, all with a very specific desired outcome in mind. They spent hours visualizing this outcome over and over. Their focus was quite intense. For those who might not be familiar with the experiment that I'm talking about or the image that inspired it, here's a reproduction:


Keep in mind, this reproduction is scaled down. Most of the young men participating in the this ad-hoc experiment had very large copies of this picture, usually hanging on their bedroom wall where they could achieve a certain amount of privacy while focusing on the desired outcome as intently as possible. Think about it -- thousands if not millions of young men giving great focus and affirmation to a certain desired outcome. If anything was ever a test of the Law of Attraction, this was surely it.

So if anyone reading this was a participant in this experiment (I probably would have been, but my mother would never have allowed me to hang such a racy picture up in our house), I'd like to hear from you. I'm especially interested in any of you who actually met and subsequently...shall we say dated Farrah Fawcett. Your experience will be proof positive that The Secret works!


Around the time Pharoah Faucet was deemed hot (altho I hated the messy hair and the rictus smile), a lot of people I knew were into that Law of Attraction stuff. I heard an interesting anecdote which helped immunize me against the notion. It seemed there was this woman who reallyreallyreally wanted to own and drive and most of all be seen in a Cadillac. So she started visualising a Cadillac parked in her driveway. She put so much of her energy into this visualization that her life fell apart and she wound up having to sell the house. Guess what kind of car the new owner of the house owned, and parked in the driveway. See? Visualization really works!

So "the secret" is another name for prayer? or is it magic? (or magick, or magik) You know if this secret isn't working fast enough, you could maybe try a voodoo doll or some santeria. Wait, maybe the idea is to get more people spending their energy on your goal, so make it a common focus and start a church where everyone affirms your goals for you. That ought to affect the balance to your favor. Don't like the religious hocum? Call it memetics and infect yourself with a "mind virus" for success and happiness. If it spreads to others, so much the better for harmonic feedback.

I just followed the scientific research link to read: "Over the next 28 years, an interdisciplinary staff of engineers, physicists, psychologists, and humanists has conducted a comprehensive agenda"

Apparently they either have created a temporal paradox (which'd be cool) or they have verb tense agreement issues (not nearly as cool)

I know I came off as a cynical skeptic, but I actually do believe in this principle. If the universe is a zero-sum game, then my needs are fulfilled from a limited resource pool - so it makes sense to tap that resource only when it really matters. The rest of the time it's karmically responsible to invest in that pool by helping others. If the universe is NOT zero-sum, then there must be much more complex driving forces to have kept us (yes, all of humanity) at this level of poverty. As bad as that sounds, I'd rather life not be zero-sum; it at least leaves some hope that everyone could be better off than we are currently.

Ryan O'Neal probably thinks "it worked for me." The author of The Secret certainly thinks it worked for her. I'm sure Oprah thinks it worked for her.

But its bunk. This is a great example of the logical fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc (translation - after this, therefore because of this).

As Phil pointed out, there is power in positive thinking.

Think of your greatest accomplishment. Could you have accomplished that goal without positive thinking? Probably not. Everyone has occasional self-doubt, but if you really believe that you can't do a thing, the battle is lost. You might as well move on - at least until you get your head in the game.

But that's not the whole "secret." You also had to work for it. The other hard truth it is quite possible to really believe in something, really work hard for it, and still fail.

The problem is that belief in "The Secret" is not conducive to rational analysis of a goal - either before the attempt, or after a failure. An important part of the real secret of success is to pick goals that are challenging, but realistic

Sure all those guys with Farrah's poster wanted to "date" Farrah, but 99% of them didn't even write her a letter. Why? Because they knew that goal was unrealistic. There was only one Farrah, millions of potential suitors, with probable success going only to someone as rich, famous, and good-looking as her. And so they took their chance with their high school's prom queen.

This is not cynicism, this is realism. And it's an important element of happiness.

If the prom queen thing didn't work out, they asked other girls out. A true believer of "The Secret" might end up getting himself arrested for stalking.

I saw "The Secret" a long time ago. I don't think the Farrah test applies to how the movie explained it. The argument was that you have to believe your visualization is attainable. In other words, the universe grants everything, including the doubts and the negatives. So for most men, the desires of having Farrah or a woman like her are nullified.

Interviews with successful people usually illustrate a few traits compatible with the movie. The first one is usually a firm commitment to a postive ideal that they hold of themselves. The second is a complete owning of responsibility for everything that happens in life.

I think its pretty straightforward. You don't lose weight by focusing on how much weight you have, nor do you gain wealth by focusing on how poor you are.

The benefit of dwelling on a positive goal usually comes in the form of a great idea that has a good chance of success...if acted upon. It also inculcates a mindset that does not accept failure too quickly and can turn even dire situations around.

In business, positive, happy salespeople usually make the most sales. As a salesperson of sorts myself, I can testify that people who always look on the bright side of life usually have better relationships all around, not just in business.

This all runs parallel to the thinking of "The Secret" and isn't really a secret at all.

Do I personally believe in the spiritual side of the big ol' Secret? Yes, I do, but not necessarily in the way they explain it.

Will Smith isn't a proponent of "The Secret" either, but here he says some familiar things.

"Chris Gardner and I had this in common...that we both believe that our desire and our commitment to the idea of our future is all that matters...Being realistic is the most commonly traveled road to mediocrity. Why would you be realistic? What's the point in being realistic?"


I don't think anyone at the Speculist is down on the idea of people pursuing their dreams. When Stephen argues that people need to be realistic, that's not very different from your saying that a practitioner of The Secret has to believe that the visualization is "attainable." Also, realistic is a relative term. Around here, we think it's realistic to anticipate things like space elevators and the end of human aging. I personally think it's not unreasonable to believe that disease and poverty as we know them will be eliminated within our lifetimes.

However, you can color me unconvinced that these things will occur primarily because people are visualizing them. I think it's all that stuff that comes before and after the visualizations that really makes the difference.

I understand your interpretation, but I don't think that's the one "The Secret" advocates. I caught the 2nd Oprah show where she had two of the speakers from the movie and they were actually a bit at odds over the balance of action versus thought in the attainement of dreams.

One guy, James Ray, attempted to argue it from a quantum physics perspective while the black reverend from L.A. argues it from a biblical one. I did a quick search on youtube and I found this video with Ray. I haven't actually watched it though, but it looks like a summery. (Im watching it now)

I think the basic idea people should draw from all these perspectives is that 1) we do have control over our lives, 2) whatever paradigm makes you the most comfortable, just go with it. No one expects people to understand the Truth of the universe with a capital T before achieving success or fulfillment in life.

To whatever extent the Secret is true, its counterpart deserves equal attention -- that negative attitudes can mold reality. For example, if you pardon a reference to current affairs, those who constantly repeat statements such as, "The war is a horrible mistake. We can't win it" are invoking a law they may not be aware of.


I had the hots for Deborah Gibson when I was growing up. Here's her MySpace page for those who are curious about this chick:

One day at the end of 1993 I was leafing through an English newspaper in the library when I saw that she was in the London cast of 'Grease'. I gambled a few hundred dollars of student loan money on a horse race and won a few grand... enough to book a trip to London... as part of the deal I got a free ticket to 'Grease'.

So in London I had fun and got to met Deb when I saw the play.

I recently signed up as her friend on MySpace and she sent me a comment. Check the comments on my page here:

A true story.

So it worked for me dude :D

There is another spiritual law that needs to be discussed in connection with the law of attraction. This is the law of karma. The law of karma says that actions have consequences. Good actions have good consequences and bad actions have bad consequences. Therefore be careful how you use the law of attraction. If you use it in a way that harms others, you will regret it.

This is a big problem with the law of attraction. It tells people to become totally focused on their attaining their goals. Then what happens when someone obstructs them in attaining their goals? Too often the answer is that they trample over anyone in their way. The law of attraction makes otherwise spiritual people suceptible to strong materialistic attachments.

The law of attraction is a very advanced and powerful tool. It can be used for good or evil. This fact should be taught whenever the law of attraction is taught. Unfortunately this point is too often neglected.

visualization is often used in sports, there have been studies about things like: people who visualized making free throws for a week were better at making free throws, even though both they and the control group didn't practice all week. Etc.

however, seriously, visualizing success, keeping your eyes on the prize, thinking positive "will this get me what i want" instead of negative "i can't do this it's not on my diet" etc, of course works, it's common sense.

But it's not magic or going to make you rich automatically, it's what you do to keep motivated, stay positive so you recognize opportunities and take them ("making your own luck" etc).

The author found a way to be successful: capitalize on gullible people by repackaging the same information and making it mystical instead of common sense knowledge successful people have already known.

The Secret works really, really well when you're too stupid to know you should have quit some time ago.

visualization is often used in sports, there have been studies about things like: people who visualized making free throws for a week were better at making free throws, even though both they and the control group didn't practice all week. Etc.

however, seriously, visualizing success, keeping your eyes on the prize, thinking positive "will this get me what i want" instead of negative "i can't do this it's not on my diet" etc, of course works, it's common sense.

But it's not magic or going to make you rich automatically, it's what you do to keep motivated, stay positive so you recognize opportunities and take them ("making your own luck" etc).

The author found a way to be successful: capitalize on gullible people by repackaging the same information and making it mystical instead of common sense knowledge successful people have already known.

I agree with Wildezword that the essence of the "Secret" recommendation is pretty positive. I saw that same TV program. A friend of mine made a point of showing it to me; she believes in many mystical things, I do not, so I feared it would be awkward at best. But to my surprise, I thought the ideas were pretty good. It seemed like the show mirrored my experience with my friend: the minister, the physicist, and Oprah were all using different frames of reference to try to discuss the issue. The "secret" is simple enough to bridge those gaps. I like that.

The emphasis was definitely on positive thinking, and I didn't hear any suggestion that visualization is all you need. There was also quite a bit of discussion of taking responsibility, realizing that one can have more power over one's life than might be assumed -- especially when one is depressed or troubled. The show included a lot of testimonals from people whose lives had changed from using the "system" and none of them had imagined Cadillacs or anything; almost all of them spoke of waking up to the good things in their lives, becoming more honest about the changes they wanted to see, and taking action on this.

The strongest part of the message seemed to be to pay attention to the messages you are really sending to yourself when you repeat inwardly "I could never do that" or whatever. This is sometimes called "self-talk," but that's an ugly term and requires a certain amount of explanation. The principle is an excellent one, though, and one many people don't know about.

I think the achievement here is one of terminology. "Law of Attraction" sounds good. If it helps people to pay closer attention to their thoughts and their behavior, that's a good thing. A lot of people are put off by psychology, personal growth theories, and religion--but so many people are seeking guidance. Many of them are not intellectually oriented. That makes them vulnerable to some wacky theories. I was pleased to see that this one seems to be mostly just codified good sense.

Oh by the way, visualizing Farrah didn't work because of all the other men visualizing her at the same time. The poor girl was being torn in nearly a billion different directions by the universe because of all the teenage boys on the planet visualizing her in their bedrooms. All those competing visualizations canceled each other out. Either that, or Farrah herself visualized herself as anything but the slave of every teenage boy and her visualization was just more powerful than ours.

This is the same magical thinking behind freewill, prayers that work (or do not) and everything else.

Certainly, you can get what you want more easily if you constantly visualize having it. I know of a man who wanted to own and run his own business - and he did and was very successful - after 20 years and six failed businesses.

On the other hand, I still have not won the lottery, there is NOT a private moonbase for me to live in, and I did not get the promotion.

As for the Farah experiment - like the one that showed that praying for people has negative consequences, I am certain that all those thoughts canceled out.....

I'm sure the millions of people starving to death and dying of AIDs will be overjoyed to know that if they just had POSITIVE THINKING their lives would be better.

Believing didn't work for The Who either. Check out "Pictures of Lily."

Funny, but not quite accurate. Fantasizing is not quite visualization, though they're similar.

If tens of millions of guys were to write down, ten times a day, "I will 'date' Farrah Fawcett" that would be a test of this method -- although, of course, the vast majority are destined to fail just based on competition with each other, let alone the impracticability.

A good example is "I will earn a college degree" or "I will be worth a million dollars."

The method is basically about being committed to a goal. If you are already the sort of person who commits and focuses on goals, it's not that useful. If you have difficulty staying focused on goals, it can be helpful.

The Farrah Fawcett thing is funny.

But how many of those guys were really trying? They could at least have meet Fawcett fairly easily.


Like I said, back '93 I had a crush on Deborah Gibson who was a US celebrity (pop singer and actress).. far hotter than Fawcett in my view.. check out this music video and you'll see what I mean...

Any way, end of '93 I was a broke student living in NZ down to my last few hundred bucks at the end of the University semester, DG was a big star on the London stage (playing 'Sandy' in the 'Grease' musical).

But I gambled my last few hundred on that horse race and won enough to fly half-way around the world to meet the object of my lust :D

So there.

There is another way the law of attraction can be misused. A person may need to learn something from life and rather than developing the character trait that lesson will teach them, they may use the law of attraction to circumvent the lesson. If someone needs to learn how to develop relationships, they may find that their relationships are unsatisfactory. If, rather than trying to figure out what they may be doing that causes them to have problems with relationships, they use the law of attraction to bring or keep people in their life, then they are misusing the law of attraction. If someone needs to learn to manage money better, and instead of learning to keep their spending in line with their income, they just attract money, they will not learn the lesson and they will always be short of money no matter how much they attract because they will continue to be unable to keep their spending in line with their income.

I am not writing to change your mind on the topic.
And I have not read the other replies, so I apologize if this information is duplicate.

To me, the "message" of The Secret was less about the 'physical' facets of our lives and more about the 'non-physical'.

I agree that it is impossible for multiple men to date (or more directly to your point - have sex with) Farrah.

But if you consider another way to look at what was happening, I think you will find that what all of those (us) teenage boys were "wanting" was a woman and partner that turned us on.

Is it possible for each of us to have that? I think so.

Is it a 'stretch' to interpret the message of The Secret from 'having whatever you want' to 'having (in essence) whatever you want'? Yes. If you are a fan-boy of that message within The Secret, then it is an acceptable justification.

Again, I write not to change you mind - your interpretation is entirely up to you. I hope that you are comfortable with how you feel about it. But my hope is that you will take my opinion as additional information and include it within your thoughts.


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