A Secret not worth keeping

If you roll your eyes every time you hear more media hype surrounding the pseudoscientific ‘think your way to victory’ film The Secret, Scientific American has a short, sharp, shock of a reply to its dodgy claims about the mind and brain.

A pantheon of shiny, happy people assures viewers that The Secret is grounded in science: “It has been proven scientifically that a positive thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought.” No, it hasn’t. “Our physiology creates disease to give us feedback, to let us know we have an imbalanced perspective, and we’re not loving and we’re not grateful.” Those ungrateful cancer patients. “You’ve got enough power in your body to illuminate a whole city for nearly a week.” Sure, if you convert your body’s hydrogen into energy through nuclear fission. “Thoughts are sending out that magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you.” But in magnets, opposites attract–positive is attracted to negative. “Every thought has a frequency…. If you are thinking that thought over and over again you are emitting that frequency.”

The brain does produce electrical activity from the ion currents flowing among neurons during synaptic transmission, and in accordance with Maxwell’s equations any electric current produces a magnetic field. But as neuroscientist Russell A. Poldrack of the University of California, Los Angeles, explained to me, these fields are minuscule and can be measured only by using an extremely sensitive superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) in a room heavily shielded against outside magnetic sources.

Actually, I’m all for anything that helps people to think more positively, but basing your advice on misinformation and empty promises is a recipe for disaster.

Link to SciAm article ‘The (Other) Secret’.


  1. Deborah
    Posted May 22, 2007 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    “if you convert your body’s hydrogen into energy through nuclear fission”
    I would be interested to hear how nuclear fission of an element whose nucleus consists of a single proton works. :-)

  2. abhik
    Posted May 22, 2007 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t seen this movie but I have seen similar ones (like the “What the Bleep” movies). The advice is generally good — positive thoughts are better than negative thoughts (in modicum); our emotional state can affect our physical state (stress won’t cause cancer but it will increase your blood pressure) and our thoughts might not emit electrical signals but other people do pick up on our emotional state. This is all decent advice based on personal observations. There’s no need to use pseudo-science to support it.
    Why do the creators of such books and movies feel the need to legitimize their observations or advice with explanations from physical science, even if these explanations are tenuous and usually wrong?

  3. Posted May 22, 2007 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    Two elementary physics mistakes within four sentences, in an article by a science advocate in Scientific American magazine!

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