A collection of essays by Bill (website@ccjj.info) accompanied by feedback from his friends.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Movie Review: The Secret

This movie discusses the "Law of Attraction", supposedly a secret that will unlock untold and unlimited human potential.

This movie reminded me a lot of when I took "The Forum" (descended from EST), which is typical of the self-help genre, which tends to have the following characteristics:
  • Hardly any of the presentation is spent discussing the specific techniques that are supposedly going to improve your life.
  • Most of the presentation is spent vaguely praising itself. There is a lot of dramatic imagery involved.
  • A very strong pitch is made that you have the ability to completely control your life, the implication being that if you adopt the (barely discussed) techniques, everything in your life will improve.
  • The actual wisdom being imparted is actually very simple, not really enough to justify a whole movie or book, the rest is just window dressing to make it appear to be the core issue of the universe.
The "Law of Attraction" states that the universe delivers to you whatever you think about. It doesn't distinguish between good and bad. If you focus on the bad things, they will inevitably come to you. The way to make good things happen is by focusing just on those good things. That's it. That's the whole secret.
I think there is value to this. If you are focused solely on those bad things, without having positive thoughts about a way out, that's not a very constructive approach.
But I have also seen a couple of the most catastrophically failed people I've ever met who were totally following this philosophy.
  • One was a drug dealer who I knew in college. He was totally focused on how he was going to build his drug dealing business into a billion dollar corporation, and ignored the risks involved - this risks to his health caused by all the drugs he was taking, and the risks posed by the dangerous criminals he was associating with. He lost his sanity because of drug use and never really recovered.
  • Another was a guy who read some books about instant millionaires on Wall Street, who borrowed tens of thousands of dollars on credit cards to play the stock market. He did not think about the risks he was taking, and would not listen to my advice that these books he was reading were not economically sound, but just focused on the great wealth he was going to be enjoying, He had no health insurance, he drove without auto insurance. He lost his shirt in the market (by short-selling a high-tech startup, which makes absolutely no sense to any investor who takes risk into account), and last I heard was being sued by multiple banks while unemployed.
Fear is in many ways a very healthy instinct, keeping us from doing a lot of stupid things. It is a highly underrated emotion. Thinking about risks, avoiding them, and making preparations for the unavoidable ones, is very sound practice.

Another drawback of positive thinking comes to mind. I remember one time the state lottery jackpot was up to 100 million dollars. Normally I don't buy lottery tickets, but that week I bought one.
The whole week I spent a lot of time thinking about all the magnificent things I would do with 100 million dollars. At the end of the week (surprise!) I didn't win. I realized I had made a mistake in buying the ticket. The $2 lost was insignificant to me, but the wasted brain time, which could have been devoted to actually improving my life, which was instead devoted to stupid daydreams about what I would do with the money, was unacceptable. I've never bought a lottery ticket since. The human mind cannot accurately comprehend a one in a million probability, and does not allocate its time well.

There is a lot of talk about visualizing what you want, but that really is no "secret" to athletes. I remember being told in football practice to visualize myself doing the proper technique, and it is definitely a useful tactic.

But the movie makes claims that the supernatural is behind this principal. One guy in the movie claimed to "create" parking spaces for himself by visualizing them ahead of time. If "the secret" really works, I'd want a lot more than parking spaces from it -- I'm reminded of the time Homer Simpson got any wish he wanted and he asked for a really nice sandwich.

The movie talks a lot about sickness. There are always miracle cures occurring - a certain fraction of cancers just go away by themselves, and sometimes people heal when the doctors gave them no hope. For this movie, they dug up some of these people who then claim it was all done with the power of their minds.
I am reminded of a study discussed in a psychology class I took in college. Periodically, wildfires approach suburbs in Southern California, and sometimes they burn down some of the houses. People take numerous measures to save their houses - they stand on the roof with water hoses putting out burning embers than land on them, they run around the yard stomping out the flames. So for this study, they went around the neighborhood taking a survey of what measures were taken to save houses, then studied the correlation between measures taken and house survival. They found no correlation. What people did to save their houses made no difference. In the survey, they also asked people if the measures taken influenced saving their houses. The people whose houses survived tended to think their measures helped. The people whose houses burned down felt there was nothing that could have been done.
I am reminded of hearing about how people would be told in EST seminars that they are responsible for having gotten cancer, and this movie is doing exactly that. If the sick person actually listens to this drivel, their suffering is compounded by feeling guilty for having brought this upon themselves.
Furthermore, people may shun surgery and medication and try to just think themselves healthy. Interestingly, the movie offers no actual studies of survival rates of people who turn to modern medicine as compared to those who adopt a program of positive thinking according to the dictates of the Law of Attraction. But this movie isn't really addressed to the type of people who ask for statistics. Like most quack medicine, the focus is all on testimonials rather than studies.

They claim that The Secret has been passed down through the ages, in secret. What is not made clear is If this were true, Why was it kept secret? The movie specifically states there would be no ill effects if everyone embraced The Secret, there is enough abundance to go around. So the more people knew this, the better. There would be no reason for a few giants to hoard this wisdom and shut out the majority of the human race. There is also no specifics of the history of this secret through the ages, no specific examples of anyone trying to suppress anything.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. As for why it was kept secret, what fun is there in being a Master of the Universe if everyone else is one too. Like Thomas Aquinas wrote: "In order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned."[Summa Theologica, Third Part, Supplement, Question XCIV, "Of the Relations of the Saints Towards the Damned," First Article, "Whether the Blessed in Heaven Will See the Sufferings of the Damned. . ."]

    Actually the technique of not just focusing on the positive, but expecting it, does work perfectly during lucid dreams. Next time you find yourself at work with no pants on (in a dream) just expect yourself to have the power of flight and zoom right out of that embarrassing situation.