Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Dangers of Wishful Thinking.

By Rob Lea.

Ever since The Secret became a massive seller, the self-help market has been flooded with "mind-over matter" philosophy espousing books. These books claim to teach the reader how to receive gifts from a variety of mysterious forces, simply by wanting them enough.  

E^2 by Pam Grout is one such book which claims to contain experiments that allow the reader to "prove" that their mind shape shapes reality. Here is a list of principles given by Grout upon which this method is based.

"1. There is an invisible energy force or field of infinite possibilities.

2. You impact the field and draw from it according to your beliefs and expectations.

3. You, too, are a field of energy.

4. Whatever you focus on expands.

5. Your connection to the field provides accurate and unlimited guidance.

6. Your thoughts and consciousness impact matter.

7. Your thoughts and consciousness provide the scaffolding for your physical body.

8. You are connected to everything and everyone else in the universe.

9. The universe is limitless, abundant, and strangely accommodating.

Among other things, it teaches people how to drop poundage by doing nothing but changing the focus of their thoughts."- 

There is no suggestion here, or even a hint, of what mechanism is responsible for transferring ones thoughts to the matter which one desires to alter. Also notice the liberal use of the word "energy". Scientists have something very specific in mind when using the term "energy" it is in short, the capacity in a system to do work, it is a measurable feature of that system. There are many forms of energy, but the description above seems to conform with the New Age definition of energy, which is used as a place holder in lieu of explanation.

The concept that "thoughts and consciousness impact matter." is something I will address when I focus on the dangers of this way of thinking. But suffice to say until then this primacy of mind is quite easily disproved by the fact that physical influences on the brain alter the mind. Think of the effects that hallucinogens can have upon the mind, for instance. Experiments mapping neurological changes in the brain would also suggest that matter takes precedence over mind.

The following review, graded as most useful on,£ highlights some of the ways in which believers in such nonsense fail in their justifications for these principles and the ultimate cruelty of "mind over matter" beliefs. I understand that this is just one person's opinion, but it is quite demonstrative of the way people who support this kind of thinking justify their beliefs.

From the review it's clear to see that when the supposed "proofs" manifest they are quite mundane, such as receiving tickets for an event.  

"Experiment #1 The Dude Abides Principle: I got a ticket to see Eckhat Tolle and Deepak Chopra at the Chopra Center in Carlsbad, California. How cool is that!!"

It maybe "cool", but it is not at all extraordinary if the said tickets were ordered and paid for! The reviewer fails to mention how apropos of nothing these tickets actually are. It seems like a case of making an everyday event extraordinary simply to suit purpose.

"Experiment #5 The Dear Abby: I asked God and my Angels for guidance on how to make my business more succesful, and what I got at the next morning was a bunch of creative ideas, and something made me yell YES!!"

The reviewer cites as further evidence coming up with ideas to improve their business, if this is an issue that has been on the reviewers mind, then it is likely they will eventually have some ideas which seem productive. Again there is no reason to imagine that some mysterious external force was responsible. Also we can't consider this extraordinary in anyway as we are not told if these ideas were actually successful or not.

"Experiment #7 The Jenny Craig: I lost 1 pound by just thinking every zip of water would clean my organism."

In this case the Jenny Craig is a diet, if the reviewer is already on a diet then it seems likely they are, at very least, making some effort to control what they eat. So how can we possibly attribute weight loss to be due to how one "thinks" about water.

"Experiment #8 The 101 Dalmatians: The friend I was thinking about and sending lots of blessings and happiness, rarely posts comments in Facebook, however at the second day of my experiment, she posted a picture of her beautiful growing vegetable garden and expressed how happy she was about it. That same night I was watching a movie and it turned out it was filmed in Verona,Italy; the city this friend is from."

Again, there's nothing here that can be attributed to anymore than coincidence. If the friends garden had somehow been destroyed and then miraculously recovered after the start of experiment... that would be more convincing. One can only assume that this friend spends a great deal of time on his/her garden, and the only help they receive from the heavens is purely natural in the form of rainwater. As for the city connection. A coincidence, not at all convincing and as below, would of probably gone unnoticed if the reviewer had not been looking for it.

Then there are instances in which the reviewer has to do some "reaching" to make an experiment appear as if a success.

"Experiment #2 The Volkswagen Jetta: I didn't see any sunset-beige cars, but I saw lots of yellow butterflies while watching Baby Einstein with my kids."

One could quite as easily said "well I didn't see any sunset-beige cars, but I did see lots of other cars" Also, let's say the reviewer had seen a sunset beige car. They would likely have no idea how many times they have seen a similar car, but simply never acknowledged the fact, because it simply hadn't been suggested to them that they should. 
And there are instances in which the reviewer blames themselves for the failure of these methods: 

"Experiment #4 The Abracadabra: What I learned from this experiment is that you have to be specific when asking for something to manifest. I focused on getting $ 5,000 but I didn't specify if I wanted them in cash of check, so what I got was a spam e-mail with a picture of lots of bills a huge sign " Win $ 5,000" in the bottom of the e-mail."

This highlights the cruelty of those who propose this way of thinking. Anything that the reviewer does not achieve is not evidence that this nonsense doesn't work. No. They didn't want it enough! They should of been more specific! 

OK, it maybe cruel, but is it dangerous? Well, without wanting to sound hyperbolic, I think this kind of thinking has the potential to do great harm. The people who tend to go in for this sort of thing are either looking for quick fixes for their problems or have problems which are beyond there capability to deal with. The employment of these methods may encourage those looking for a quick fix not to seek professional help for their problems. 

This is especially troubling in the case of serious medical conditions.

This book is being promoted on pages such as this (, on Facebook, in conjunction with accounts of how thinking such as this aided in the recovery of cancer. 

"When Louise Hay first heard that by changing your thinking your could change your life my life changed forever. This is the revelation she used to overcome cancer and to create the life she really wanted which was a total turn around from the life she had during the first 50 years of her life."

Now, I don't know if Louise Hay is a real person, or if she had cancer. But I would seriously doubt that if she recovered from cancer she did so purely through this method. To suggest this is the case is deeply irresponsible and, yes, dangerous. Oh and by the way if Louise had succumbed to her illness, according to the logic proposed by proponents of this method, it would of been her fault for not wanting it enough.

There is often no quick fix for our problems, all available evidence suggests that the universe doesn't bend to our wills, and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.