Book review of “The Secret”, by Rhonda Byrne: A skeptical review of a subjective reality
By Andy Kaiser
Article ID: 124
Let’s get this part out of the way now:
What is The Secret? What is Rhonda Byrne’s philosophy? What is the Law of Attraction?
It’s defined many times, in many different ways, by many different people in the book. Here are a few of the more concise descriptions:
“Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind. It’s what you’re thinking. Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you.
Every thought if yours is a real thing – a force.”
“Thoughts become things!”
“Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think thoughts, they are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source – you.”
Got it? If you think about something, that something will be attracted to your life. Whatever is in your life is there because you caused it to be there. All the good and bad things surrounding you – your friends or loneliness, your loving or abusive relationships, your success or failure, your health or illness, your life and death – all are there because you caused them to be there. This is the “Law of Attraction”.
And that’s it. The rest of the book is details. To be fair, these details are fairly important to The Secret itself. But the core of The Secret’s philosophy is described above, and the rest of the book is issues like: how to use The Secret more efficiently, how all the great minds of our time succeeded by knowing The Secret, how to use The Secret to lose weight, gain money and find love. There are glowing personal proofs by those who’ve benefited from The Secret, and that The Secret works because all of existence is connected at the quantum level.
Quantum relationships and “thought frequencies”
Rhonda Byrne says much in The Secret about quantum relationships and “thought frequencies”. Indeed The Secret requires these things to work as Byrne describes. So let’s examine that aspect first. Here is “How The Secret works”, taken from key points Byrne claims in The Secret:
Every thought that you have in your mind has a measurable frequency.
Your thoughts are “magnetic”: The “frequency” of one thought will “magnetically” attract things to you, those things will match the “frequency” of your original thought.
When you think that thought, it’s instantly broadcast to the Universe.
A sensible person might respond, okay, you’ve given a nice overview of how The Secret works, but what about the detail? How is your brain frequency sent to the Universe? Can this be measured? Why are thoughts “magnetic”? How does a thought – with little or no measurable mass, generate any kind of magnetic force?
The Secret and Rhonda Byrne answer these kinds of questions in two different ways:
1) Quantum mechanics. Or perhaps that should be “quantum mechanics”, since Byrne makes a few claims about quantum states that are wrong:
This is a bad comparison: many people DO know how television works. And those who don’t can find out. Television technology is based on provable, testable, repeatable methods in physics and electronics, and can conclusively be demonstrated to work. The Secret is not based on such methods, and can not be conclusively demonstrated to work.
Your thoughts can affect quantum states.
No, thoughts do not affect quantum states.
The Secret uses an example of television: Most people don’t understand that it works, only that it does work. Therefore, we don’t need to know how The Secret works, only that it does.
Your brain “frequencies” communicate at a quantum level with the Universe.
No, there is no known way to communicate using a quantum state. Information can not be passed using quantum states.
2) We don’t know how The Secret works, and don’t need to know. Trust on faith that it works.
More problems with The Secret and Rhonda Byrne’s philosophy
Now we know all about The Secret and how it works. It’s a poorly-designed philosophy, because it also has internal conflicts and inconsistencies, none of which are addressed properly or at all in the book. Here’s a list of several problems with The Secret:
What if one person’s desires conflict with another’s? Whose thoughts will “win”? Religion and politics are great examples showing one person’s good is another person’s evil.
What about accidents? The Secret holds that there are no accidents: anything that happens to us – good or bad – is something we brought upon ourselves because we were thinking about it. Look at the bigger picture, and this is just glorified predestination: If I use The Secret to make the world the way I want it, then I’m changing the fate of hundreds, thousands or millions of people. But what if those people are also using The Secret? There is an unavoidable conflict here.
The Secret is a subjective reality. Indeed, several parts of the book describe this very clearly, from explicitly saying as much, to insisting that you should ignore problems in order to fix them.
The Secret recommends dangerous treatment of health issues. Why take medicine? According to Rhonda Byrne and The Secret, you don’t need it. We get quotes like this:
“In fact, parts of our body are literally replaced every day. Other parts take a few months, other parts a couple of years. But within a few years we each have a brand new physical body.”
Have these “experts” ever taken a biology course or opened a textbook? It seems not. A brand new physical body every couple years would be great. But it doesn’t explain away heart disease, cholesterol build-up, neuron loss and senility, cartilage growth, and plenty of other evidence that our bodies are not magically renewed every few years.
“The placebo effect is an example of the law of attraction in action. When a patient truly believes the tablet is a cure, he receives what he believes and is cured.”
This is not the placebo effect. The placebo effect is not meant to illustrate a cure, but a lessening of often subjective symptoms, like a headache. The whole concept here is that you can “think” your way out of a disease by positive thinking and using The Secret. When I was younger, a childhood friend of mine died of complications of leukemia. He was constantly thinking and saying “I’m going to beat this”. He was (and still has been) the most optimistic, positively-thinking person I’ve ever known. If that kind of attitude doesn’t work to prevent disease, then according to The Secret, there’s another reason for his death: Someone else must have been using The Secret against him, and caused his death. Ridiculous. Disease attacks a body. We know how it works and have some methods to prevent it. Knowledge of modern medicine makes far more sense than thinking thoughts cause disease. One might as well start reverting to working with “humours” or voodoo or similar medical guesswork.
The Secret can’t be objectively tested, and due to the nature of the human brain can always be defended by “faith” or retrofitting. We’ve got an unprovable system established with no honest scientific foundation: There is no difference between The Secret and any other religion.
Changing your attitude, perspective, thoughts and self-confidence doesn’t physically change the world around you. This is supposedly measurable and physical, but Rhonda Byrne in The Secret says nothing about detection or explanation. She only gives vague, non-specific quotes about quantum mechanics, and asks that even if we don’t understand something, we should just assume it works. A science book – a book describing reality – would not do this. And, unlike The Secret, it certainly wouldn’t have so many exclamation points. Thinking the world and your fate can be changed by thoughts alone is childish. Reality is not a subjective movie like “The Matrix“, or a game like “Mage: The Ascension“. We should leave this concept to the entertainment business.
Many of the famous minds and personal stories quoted in The Secret were taken out of context or retrofitted to fit the core concepts of The Secret. Those that are supposedly personal proofs are given with no references, links to more detail, corroborating evidence, or by their nature can’t be proven. We’ve also got quotes from “ancient thinkers” like Buddha, Albert Einstein, Carl Jung and Henry Ford shuffled in with various modern-day New Age proponents. The Secret gives bios of all the New Age proponents quoted in the book, including website links for all those still alive. These are hardly unbiased reviews. The book gives no further information on any of the “ancient thinkers”.
Does The Secret stand up to the most basic analysis? Take the basic claim of The Secret and apply Occam’s Razor: Your thoughts affect the world around you – if you’re always thinking about a certain thing, that thing will happen to you. What’s more likely:
1) If you’re constantly focused on one thing, you’re more likely to accomplish that thing.
2) Your focused thoughts are interacting with a Universal consciousness, and the Universe changes reality to suit your thoughts.
Can The Secret be used by non-humans? According to how Rhonda Byrne describes The Secret, yes. Remember, The Secret is supposedly in action 100% of the time, whether or not we realize it, and since everything in the Universe is made up of the same energy, thought “frequencies” from one animal (like me), shouldn’t take any priority from another (like my neighbor’s dog). This creates more inconsistencies and paradoxes within The Secret’s philosophy.
What about dreams? Dreams are thoughts. When we sleep at night, how are these dreams affecting the world around us? Roughly one-fourth of my time is spent dreaming, thinking of some really goofy stuff, and these “frequencies” are supposedly broadcast to the Universe. How do my zany dreams affect my waking thoughts and The Secret? Why don’t I see evidence for them?
What about mental illness? The Secret is supposedly in use all the time by all people, even if they don’t realize it. How then does this jibe with people diagnosed with obsessions, schizophrenia or dementia? Say a man is schizophrenic, and is convinced that the government is out to get him. This feeling consumes his every waking moment. Why then, is the government not to get him? The man is clearly using The Secret properly. This should have an effect, yet everyone who knows the man (as well as the government) would say the man needs counseling.
Conclusion of the review of “The Secret”, by Rhonda Byrne
The standard thing to do in a skeptical review of a book called “The Secret” would be to make a snooty, faux-witty connection between the title of the book and there being a lack of any actual secret. I’ll move away from that temptation and focus instead on the book’s success: The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, is titled more for marketing purposes than any other reason.
Sadly, there is some helpful information in The Secret: The placebo effect is known to work in certain situations. Positive thinking does improve recovery in certain types of illnesses. Thinking positively and loving everyone in the world is arguably a way to prevent conflict and increase the chances of world peace. But there is far too much pseudoscience and dangerous advice to take The Secret seriously.
The Secret and Rhonda Byrne are successful because they promise a quick and easy fix to all problems anyone could possibly have. That this is done dishonestly is, at best, well-meaning ignorance. At worst, it’s a scam. Unfortunately, those scammed by this campaign won’t realize till it’s too late, or may never realize it. They may waste their money and their lives in blind acceptance of an unverifiable claim. Or they’ll retrofit past events as “proof of The Secret”, and ignore or rationalize away times when The Secret failed completely.
The biggest problems with The Secret and Rhonda Byrne are the many falsely-presented aspects required for it to work. At its core, The Secret is nothing more than a feel-good, scientifically illiterate description of another New Age religion.