Alternative MedicineAnti-Science

The Daily Woo: The Secret and other Balderdash

The Daily Woo is a brief summary of an alternative health treatment, as well as how it was experienced by me, Kate Donovan. I grew up with mostly alternative medicine (read: psuedoscience), and now you, lovely skeptics, get to live vicariously! (see note at the bottom of this post for an explanation of my attitude towards practitioners of pseudoscience.)

(This specific book is not something I grew up with–the general idea of thoughts causing wishes to come true is.)

As I explained to one of the people keeping me sane this summer, this is going to be a short post, because there’s only so many times you can say “Wait, really? That’s incredibly stupid.” So, let’s take a deep breath…..and dive headfirst into some terrible anti-science.

The Secret is a popular book and documentary (ahem), created in 2006 by Rhonda Byrne. By my totally scientific approximation, it accounts for about half of the times I tear at my hair.

“The Secret is the Law of Attraction.”

This is repeated over. And over. And over. Seriously, if other laws got that much attention, we could reduce the police force by half.

_The idea is, you have this special power* that means that when you think something, it goes out into the ‘cosmos’ and then the benevolent universe can make that thing happen, through….something. If you want a new car…you think about it a lot, or say it out loud, so the universe can hear you. As one part of the documentary kindly explained, your brain is a magnet…and so everything that happens in it attracts things to you. What is this I don’t even.

Going from bad to worse, the documentary version of The Secret claims that this is a hidden truth that has been passed down and kept hidden for centuries. Dan Brown should really get on telling that story.

Why do people think this could possibly be a thing?

Attentional Bias

You, me, and every other human, are more likely to recall emotionally charged events, rather than everyday occurences. How many times do you desperately wish for something–that crush to text you back, more money, a herd of stampeding pygmy goats–only to have it not happen? That one time you wanted a sweet sports car, and then your rich Aunt Myrtle stopped by with an extra one is going to be something seared into your memory much more clearly than the wishes that went un-granted.

So, it makes a little bit of sense, that upon reading that your thoughts have been changing the world around you, examples of this appearing to occur would spring to mind more easily than every single time your thoughts haven’t ‘manifested’.

It Would be Really Cool

If your every neuronal blip could have an impact on your environment, that could be fun. I’ve got a number of things about my present circumstances I’d change in an instant.

Why The Secret is Actually Horrible

Besides the fact that it ignores everything we know about the brain, the environment, and the known universe, The Secret is rather dangerous.

Is it really okay to be telling those living in abject poverty that they could just get out of it if….they thought harder? That they aren’t wanting things enough? The Secret’s documentary form says that the richest 1% got that way by wanting it hard enough.

Is it ever ethical to tell mental health patients that their thoughts, many of which may feel out of their control, are going to change the world around them? Way to make a disease that they have no control over seem like it’s causing every single problem they experience. Yet, The Secret gets recommended in psychology classes with depressing regularity–it’s happened to me.

The Secret isn’t harmless pseudoscience. It’s victim-blaming nonsense.

*Really, if you got to have a super power, I would not want my thoughts to be coming true. Most of them are technicolor weirdness. Could I just get to have wings instead?

Note: I am rather snarky in my dismissal of these practices. Alternative medicine does real physical and mental harm. It does not deserve kid gloves. People deserve respect, their bad ideas and the damage they do to others does not.

Featured image from here


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Kate Donovan

Kate Donovan

Kate is an outspoken atheist, feminist, demisexual, stigma-busting student in Chicago studying psychology and human development. She juggles occasionally, would knit you something warm if she knew you, and reads anything she can get her hands on. She was raised believing alternative medicine worked, and now spends her time making skeptical faces at it. You can find her on Twitter at @donovanable


  1. June 28, 2012 at 9:05 am —

    Mm, wings are a wonderful idea. It would be less conspicuous to be able to manifest your thoughts. And you’d be able to give yourself wings anyway, right? ;D

    My grandmother fed me this stuff years ago, before I realized that people sometimes spew complete bullshit. All it really taught me was to be determined in my goals. And it helped make me into a relatively good manipulator, which is not something I’m totally proud of, but hey, it’s a useful skill.

  2. June 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm —

    I remember one time being really freaked out as a little kid because I was afraid of thunderstorms and being struck by lightning, and I was told something like the Secret – the more I thought about being struck by lightning the more it would likely happen!

    Even then I didn’t quite get it, though. Like, why would my thoughts have any effect on what the lightning does?

    I do think the only truth there might be to this is a) the placebo effect (if it’s something to do with your physical or mental well-being) or b) just the fact that if you single-mindedly focus on ANY one goal you are more likely to achieve it, but that does often involve actually doing shit. (Or as the Andy Warhol quote I have on a shirt says: “They often say that time changes things but you actually have to change them yourselves.”)

    • June 28, 2012 at 7:05 pm —

      You made a really good point I should have also included…..that some things you can change with your mind–like your mental state.

      Also, that quote is spectacular!

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