I rarely engage the subjects of this blog on their own turf, and vice versa. For the most part it seems a waste of time on both sides. They have more to lose than I, of course, being as elevated and evolved as they are, having trillions of devoted fans, and not wishing to bring themselves down to my level. But some of them have on occasion plotted to bury me with SEO tricks and suchlike, and I would not be surprised to learn that some have stooped to performing or paying for curses or other superstitious little rituals to negate my dark powers. Even so, with a couple of notable exceptions, they generally don't play on my planet, and when I visit theirs I usually don't linger to chat.
But I got a wild hair the other day when Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale wrote that there is further scientifical proof that the Law of Attraction "works." He cited a man with real medical credentials, Srinivasan Pillay, M.D., a Harvard psychiatrist (a REAL doctor, in other words, rather than a holder of questionable Ph.D.s) and a brain-image researcher. Dr. Pillay has written several books for the general public on how people can use the findings of modern-day brain research to have happier lives. And he has apparently hopped aboard the Law of Attraction gravy train in a big way with the book Joe was plugging, The Science Behind the Law of Attraction: A Step-by-Step Guide to Putting The Law of Attraction to Work For You.
Judging from the Amazon preview, this new-ish (January 2011) book has big type, lots of white space, left-justified text, and paragraphs delineated by extra line spacing rather than indentation. At only 110 pages it seems rather skimpy for its price. But size isn't everything, and Joe reassures us, "It's a thin workbook but packs a wallop in terms of effectiveness." He adds:
I interviewed Dr. Pillay for my Hypnotic Gold members. (It will go out to members in September). What I admired is how evidence based Dr. Pillay is in his answers. He doesn’t speculate. He tells you exactly what science reveals with current research. This isn’t opinion. It’s fact.
All-righty, then! There's nothing like using terms such as "evidence based" to sound scientifical. Once again Joe has proven that he can hold his own with the best of them skeptics.*
I wouldn't have given the post much more thought than that, but my friend Kathryn Price wrote what I thought was an interesting question about one of the concepts Dr. Pillay wrote about, as described by Joe. This is the concept of the brain's "mirror neuron system," which, Joe 'splains, causes us to reflect the emotions we feel. "In other words," writes Joe, "you attract what you feel through brain activity." He adds, "This also helps explain in part why critics of the Law of Attraction tend to band together, while fans of it tend to unite, as well. Each group is attracting like-minded members through the mirror neuron system in their brains."
I have a simpler way of explaining it: "Birds of a feather flock together." The late great novelist and social commentator Kurt Vonnegut had a more technical explanation:
Ideas on earth were badges of friendship or enmity. Their content did not matter. Friends agreed with friends, in order to express friendliness. Enemies disagreed with enemies, in order to express enmity.
But I will concede that those explanations aren't very scientifical.
Anyway, Kathryn wrote what sounded to me like a very sensible comment to Joe's post.
Let me see if I can get this straight. According to Dr. Pillay: “If you feel not loved enough and you put that out, you create a similar emotion in another person. You get back the emotions you put out.” According to you: “In other words, you attract what you feel through brain activity.” So perhaps a person feels that s/he is not loved, in a marriage, say. And what if it is true? What if the partner really doesn’t love him or her? The person feeling unloved caused the partner’s lack of love? What I’m hearing here is: never rely on your own emotions and instincts. Don’t trust your emotions, fake them, and the universe will give you what you want. “Use your brain to best align with the Law of Attraction” (program your emotions) “to get more of what you want.” Because the universe rewards fake feelings over telling the truth, even to yourself, and that is how to get more of what you want (always the goal).
To which Joe responded, "Huh?"
And that's when I got my wild hair. I wrote:
I think Kathryn’s points are perfectly clear. But maybe that’s just because we LOA critics “band together” (even as the LOA believers “unite.”) BTW, does the research that Dr. Pillay cites substantiate your famous pronouncement in The Secret about how the Universe and LOA work? You know, the mail-order catalog metaphor? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zW1F7Fd71s
Thanks for replugging that video snippet. As for Dr. Pillay, I’m amazed that people ask me what his research says when they can easily read his book. Maybe even ask him. Hey, there’s a crazy idea!
To which I responded:
Touche. I should have made myself more clear. I really wanted to know if YOU think that the research Dr. Pillay cites substantiates your claim in that little vid snippet that the Universe is like a mail-order catalog, that it “really is that easy,” and that “you do it all with your thoughts.” Here is some more insight on Dr. Pillay.
If you follow the link and read my comment on Joe's post, however, you will see that my last sentence, and the link to the Skeptico blog post, do not appear. For some reason Joe chose not to publish that part. He did, however, answer my question about whether or not he thought Dr. Pillay substantiated the video snippet in The Secret.
IMHO, yes. But you’re free to look through the universe’s catalog and choose “Disbelief” if you like.
Naturally I couldn't let it go at THAT. So I responded:
Actually, this isn’t about my choice to believe or disbelieve — or rather, that’s not the issue I’m attempting to address here. It is about your claim in the video snippet that “you do it ALL with your thoughts” and “It really IS that easy.”
Yet time and again since The Secret was released (or more accurately, since criticism about what critics view as The Secret’s simplistic magical-thinking message became more mainstream), you have said you’re the “action guy” in The Secret. You have tried to distance yourself from the idea that you do it ALL with your thoughts. You’ve said action is necessary too, a sensible piece of advice IMO. I’ve wondered why, in that case, you haven’t disavowed the vid snippet or at least said that it was taken out of context and that it is a misrepresentation/oversimplification of your overall message.
However, I think you have now answered my question about that. I originally thought you didn’t try to qualify the snippet because it is too effective as a marketing tool to bother with those fine points. But I guess I was wrong. When I asked if you thought Dr. Pillay’s work validated the message in the video snippet, you said yes, so I guess what you are saying is that it really *is* “that easy,” and you CAN “do it all with your thoughts.” Thank you for your honesty, and for publishing the portion of my most recent comment that you did choose to publish. I understand why you deleted the link about the flaws in some of Dr. Pillay’s research.
And naturally Joe couldn't let it go at that. Not only did he cut me off after "Thank you for your honesty..." (making my comment look much more like a compliment than I intended), but once again he redacted the critical mention about Dr. Pillay.
And he replied:
Wow. You’ve taken agreement to a video snippet as agreement to a larger philosophy. Surely you know better. First, the video snippet you refer to is the only one I am legally allowed to use from the movie The Secret. Second, in the same movie – in the same movie – I can be seen saying that you must take action. You need both. I’ve been saying, writing, teaching and preaching that for years. Thought leads to action. It can also lead to in-action, but that’s a different thought. I have repeatedly explained that misleading snippet, in teleseminars and more. Choosing to ignore that fact (or not do all your homework), is sad and certainly not “critical thinking.”
Okay, Joe, I understand about legal limitations. The producers of The Secret obviously wanted the most catchy sound-and-sight bites. Never mind that many of these snippets may be a misrepresentation and oversimplification of more complex principles (as is The Secret itself, IMO, but that’s something on which we will just have to agree to disagree).
Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks, who were interviewed for the original DVD, have written that they were concerned from the get-go because it seemed that Rhonda Byrne wanted to steer the conversation away from complex or even mildly negative concepts in favor of the feel-good stuff. From a pure marketing standpoint that was a winning strategy. How well it served the people who saw and believed in The Secret is a different question.
In my opinion it is inaccurate to say that I didn’t do all my homework. On many occasions you have written and spoken about things being effortless and easy – almost like magic, even – with no qualification about action and hard work. Yes, you have also written and spoken on other occasions about the importance of action and hard work. It depends upon what you’re marketing. (And of course, the fine print in the disclaimers, particularly the more recent ones, tells even more.)
In any case, on this thread I specifically asked you if you thought Dr. Pillay’s book substantiates the idea that “you do it all with your thoughts,” and that “it really is that easy,” as represented in that single video snippet. And you said that his work does substantiate the snippet, in your opinion. You didn’t qualify your reply with any mention of the necessity of action. That would have taken an extra sentence or two. However, I also wonder why you would have even made the remarks about the catalog and doing it ALL with your thoughts in the first place, knowing that it flew in the face of your other teachings about taking action as well. Or were you just the victim of bad editing by Rhonda and gang?
And by the way, I’ve never represented myself as a “critical thinker.” I do like to raise questions about matters that some people seem to accept blindly, but I don’t pretend to have answers. But even some of the skeptics think I’m not critical *enough*. They’re probably right. I have to wonder, though, why you keep choosing not to publish my references to legitimate scientific criticism of Dr. Pillay’s work. To me, THAT’S kind of sad.
He published it verbatim -- up to a point. I know this will come as a huge shock to you, but he cut me off right after the bit where I wrote that the skeptics who think I'm not critical enough are probably right. And unlike he'd done in the previous two comments, he didn't even put an ellipse at the end to indicate that some of the comment -- the part about the legitimate scientific criticism of Dr. Pillay's work -- had been omitted.
He did reply to me:
I was interviewed for over two hours by Rhonda. She kept what she wanted in the film. I don’t blame her. It was her movie.
And Joe's blog is Joe's blog. So I am going to let him have the last word there, even though he didn't answer my question about why he'd made the remarks about the catalog and effortlessness in the first place if the concept misrepresents his teachings. (He does seem to be both blaming and exonerating Rhonda for that misleading vid snippet, but I'm not going to go back on his blog and quibble about that.)
He did finally answer Kathryn's first question, in a manner of speaking, but only after she subsequently clarified. Of course he included a plug for his "awakening" wares.
In any case I have grown a little bored with sparring, and I have bigger fish to fry, on blog and off. The paying work is coming in steadily and I couldn't be happier about that. And besides, the seeming inconsistency between the idea expressed in that little Secret vid snippet and the rest of Joe's marketing is just the tip of a looming iceberg of issues (as some other bloggers have noted, e.g., BBF and the fake robot).
And as for The Secret, some would argue that it's old news so I should just let it go, and it was a waste of time to bring up that ludicrous video on Joe's blog. Yet the hustledorks who were featured in the DVD and book are still flogging The Secret for all it's worth, despite growing evidence that, in addition to being a blatant money grab, the whole enterprise has turned out to be a rogue's gallery for scoundrels who don't seem to have mastered the Law of Attraction very well at all, unless their intentions were to bring misfortune to themselves and some of their hapless followers.
But before I go off to fry those bigger fish, I want to clarify a few points. First, here's the link to a Huffington Post article by Kathyln and Gay Hendricks about their experience with The Secret.
And for the benefit of those who haven't seen it before, here's a blog post I wrote a few years ago about some skeptics thinking I'm "not critical enough."As you can see, the post is about a brief conflict I had with Skeptico and some of his readers, and has nothing to do with my not doing all of my homework about Mr. Fire's teleseminars.
I've long since made my peace with Skeptico, and as I mentioned, it is his blog post about Dr. Pillay that I cited -- or tried to cite -- on Joe's post about Dr. Pillay. Skeptico himself long since gave up trying to comment on Joe's blog, because Joe simply stopped publishing his comments.And it's little wonder. Skep and Mr. Fire went back and forth about LOA more than four years ago:
I have several other friends who stopped trying to comment on Joe's blog as well because Joe began refusing to publish their comments, and in some cases apparently blocked them. He even blocked Ron's email address a few years ago, commanding Ron to never write to him again.
And many may remember the story of how Joe just wiped his blog clean of all the dissent after his infamous San Diego wildfire blog post in the autumn of 2007. He wrote a post mentioning that his friends and fellow Secret stars, among them James Arthur Ray (pre-Death Lodge and felony conviction), were unscathed by the fires even though they lived and worked in the area. He implied that they didn't get hit because they know all those LOA secrets. I wrote about it a few times on my blog...
...although Joe has since deleted not only the dissenting comments to his controversial blog post, but has apparently deleted the post itself.
And so it goes. It is of course Joe's prerogative to delete, redact, or refuse to publish anything he wants. After all, I too have been known to cut off discussions that seemed to be going nowhere, and, in my more genteel moments, I have published comments with some of the expletives deleted. (I confess that I've not been nearly so careful of the latter lately.) And I reject altogether the comments that are all expletives or death threats.
But I can't understand why Mr. Fire would be so afraid of publishing anything critical about Dr. Pillay, especially since it wasn't a criticism of the particular book that Joe was recommending -- which hadn't even been written at the time Skeptico published his blog post.
Skeptico's post, in case you have not yet followed the link, was critical of an article Dr. Pillay wrote for the Huffington Post in March 2009, titled, "The Science of Distance Healing." Skeptico wrote of how Dr. Pillay apparently cherry-picked and misrepresented a rather questionable study, in order to make "distance healing" seem legit. Skep also cited other critical pieces about Dr. Pillay's HuffPost article: one by Orac (one of my favorite M.D. bloggers) and one by Steven Novella.
I did notice that the photo of Dr. Pillay's book on Joe's blog has what looks like an embedded Amazon affiliate link, leading me to believe that perhaps Joe gets a little somethin'-somethin' every time Dr. P. sells a copy of the book. Maybe Joe wants to do what he can to protect his money stream and, perhaps, his tenuous link to mainstream scientifical credibility. And even if he's not profiting directly from sales of that particular book, maybe he has some joint ventures planned with Dr. P. I know, I'm shocked as shocked as you are.
My remark that I am not really a "critical thinker," by the way, is in no way intended to be a put-down of my own cognitive abilities, though Joe may have tried to make it look that way, thus reinforcing one of his favorite toadies' proclamation some time ago that I am incapable of logic or coherence. I simply meant that I am probably not a "critical thinker" by classic standards, nor am I a hard-nosed rationalist, and I have never represented myself as such. I still feel much more comfortable in the skeptics' camp than I do around the giddy believers' groups, however, and I fully support the efforts of organizations such as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publishers of Skeptical Inquirer. But when it comes to debating facts or plumbing the depths of scientific research, I am not in their league and do not pretend to be.
Though I've sometimes been accused of character assassination and malice, the truth is that if I were more of a critical thinker (and a little less compassionate to boot), New-Wage hucksters would fare much worse than they do on this blog. And I have little doubt that if any of them were actually to allow a genuine debate on their own forums with a "real" skeptic/critical thinker, that person would rip them to shreds. But why should they do that? Their forums exist to sell frauducts and flopportunities, not to expose their weaknesses.
At any rate I am, I think, a pretty good b.s. detector, and I also have a pretty good editor's eye for inconsistencies and contradictions, whether they pop up in sales copy or hucksters' personal stories and "true" confessions.
So what about Dr. Pillay's work? I have no recommendation either way about it, as I have not yet read his books. If you read them before I get around to it, feel free to share your thoughts here -- positive, negative, or neutral. It does appear to me that Dr. Pillay is one of the growing number of M.D.s striving to be New-Wage rock stars (might we dub them "hustledocs?"). As Bernie Siegel, Deepak Chopra, and Mehmet Oz went, so goes Srini Pillay? Maybe. Oprah's power as kingmaker has diminished, but if Srini hitches his star to Joe's wagon, no telling where he'll go.
His intended career arc seems fairly clear as of now. To begin with, Dr. Pillay's credentials as they appear next to his photo on the 2009 HuffPost piece I linked to above are, in this exact order: "Certified master coach, psychiatrist, brain imaging researcher, and speaker." I don't know about you, but when someone lists "certified master coach" as a top credential it kinda takes away from the M.D. cred.
And it isn't as if Joe had to delve into an obscure medical study, or even a more or less neutral book for lay readers, to extract some LOA-friendly data. No, Srini already had the data bundled up nicely and neatly, ripe for the picking by LOA believers. The M.D. after his name, and the fact that he specializes in brain research, adds a veneer of credibility that some of Joe's other allies (such as those imaginary-friends hucksters Abrascam-Hicks) don't have, so you can't really blame Joe -- who has furiously been arguing for years that LOA is a scientific "fact" -- for grabbing what he can. And some might say you can't really blame Srini for taking advantage of marketing ops when he sees them, because it's getting more and more difficult to make a seriously good living with plain old doctorin'.
That said, I am always interested in reading about brain research, and one book that I have recently read and can wholeheartedly recommend is skeptic author and publisher Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies -- How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. In its pages you won't find 7 magic steps for harnessing the Law of Attraction, but you will find some very interesting, detailed, and well documented information about how beliefs are formed and validated in our brains -- whether we're skeptics or believers, liberals or conservatives, theists or atheists. It's a very good read.
And here -- one more time for good measure -- is that link to Skeptico's blog post about Dr. Pillay, just in case you missed it the first several times. I don't remember how many times you are supposed to include a link in one message, according to the hype-notic writing rule book. So just to make extra certain, here's that link again. http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2009/03/dean-radin-distant-intention-healing-study.html
Go see. It's freeee.
* Sorry. That was sarcasm.