Newsweek: No New Thinking in Rhonda Byrne’s Publishing Phenom The Secret

No New Thinking in Rhonda Byrne’s Publishing Phenom ‘The Secret’; Just New Marketing, Newsweek Concludes
Two Physicists Featured in Byrne’s Film Distance Themselves From Author’s Physical Law of Attraction

NEW YORK, Feb. 25 /PRNewswire/ — In the current issue of Newsweek, Senior Editor Jerry Adler takes a cold-eyed look at Australian television producer Rhonda Byrne’s new self-help book, “The Secret” – a publishing phenomenon featured on Oprah with 1.75 million copies projected to be in print by March 2, plus 1.5 million DVDs sold – and concludes that although the book brings “breathless pizzazz and a market-proven gimmick” to the tired self-help genre, what it doesn’t contain is a secret. “That should be self-evident to anyone who has ever been in an airport bookstore. The film and book are built around 24 ‘teachers,’ mostly motivational speakers and writers (dressed up by Byrne with titles like ‘philosopher’ or ‘visionary’) who have been selling the same message for years,” Adler writes.

Byrne’s “secret” is the law of attraction, which holds that you create your own reality through your thoughts. The book’s explicit claim is that you can manipulate objective physical reality – the numbers in a lottery drawing, the actions of other people who may not even know you exist – through your thoughts and feelings. Byrne emphasizes that this is a law inherent in “the universe,” an inexhaustible storehouse of goodies from which you can command whatever you desire from the comfort of your own living room by following three simple steps: Ask, Believe, Receive.

Adler concludes that on an ethical level, “The Secret” appears deplorable. It concerns itself almost entirely with a narrow range of middle-class concerns – houses, cars and vacations, followed by health and relationships, with the rest of humanity a very distant sixth. And on the scientific level, the law of attraction is preposterous. Two of the “teachers” in the film are identified as quantum physicists, which they are, although on the fringes of mainstream science. One, Fred Alan Wolf, is mostly an author of science books with a quasi-mystical bent, and the other, John Hagelin (who has run for president on the Natural Law ticket), is affiliated with Maharishi University of Management, in Fairfield, Iowa, which does research on transcendental meditation. Both of them, contacted by Newsweek, distanced themselves from the idea of a physical law that attracts objects such as necklaces to people who wish for them. “I don’t think it works that way,” says Wolf dryly. “It hasn’t worked that way in my life.” Hagelin acknowledges the larger point, that “the coherence and effectiveness of our thinking is crucial to our success in life.” But, he adds, “this is not, principally, the result of magic.”

Byrne’s mother, Irene Izon offered this assessment of her daughter to Newsweek: “The thing is that Rhonda just wants to bring happiness to everybody. That’s the reason it all began. She just wants everybody to be happy.”

There is nothing, in principle, wrong with thinking about what makes you happy. Even a serious academic like Harvard psychologist Carol Kauffman is willing to credit the idea that you can change your life by consciously directing your thoughts in a positive direction. “Basically, it’s chaos theory,” she says. “I don’t think you can actually attract things to you. But if you’re profoundly open to opportunity, then when ambiguous events occur, you notice them. I think what positive thinking does is raise your consciousness to possibilities so they can snag your attention. We’re starting to see some empirical studies on that now.”

“Of course, that’s a long way from the simple model of Ask-Believe-Receive,” Adler writes. “In most people’s lives, positive thought leads to success only through the transforming medium of action. For obvious reasons, this is a much less popular message.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday February 26, 2007.
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