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Physics Errors in The Secret

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Physics Errors in The Secret

The cover of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

Atria Books

Thoughts Can Actively Create Things:

This is the premise of the book, called the "Law of Attraction," and it relies on the idea that
  1. energy and matter are related in quantum physics
  2. thoughts/consciousness, which are a form of energy, can directly influence the material world.
The first bit, about matter and energy, is true and confirmed by experiment (as I'll discuss in a bit). The second part, about consciousness, is not confirmed by physics experiments that are widely accepted, and most physicists do not believe it is true at all.

Misleading Quotes About Thought, Consciousness, and Quantum Physics:

Most physicists - by far - would not agree with the following statements as accurate descriptions of quantum physics implications:
"Quantum physicists tell us that the entire Universe emerged from thought!" (p.15)

"Quantum physics ... says that you can't have a Universe without mind entering into it, and that the mind is actually shaping the very thing that is perceived." (p.20)

"The amazing work and discoveries of the quantum physicists over the last eighty years has brought us a greater understanding of the unfathomable power of the human mind to create." (p. 21)

Matter is Energy:

"... under a microscope you're an energy field.... You go to a quantum physicist and you say, 'What creates the world?' And he or she will say, 'Energy.' Well, describe energy. 'OK, it can never be created or destroyed, it always was, always has been, everything that ever existed always exists, it's moving into form, through form and out of form.'" (p. 158, "The Secret to You")

This statement is true. Einstein famously showed that all matter is, indeed, a manifestation of energy. This has been most dramatically demonstrated through nuclear weapons, and it's also a key insight in quantum physics. Matter is energy.

Does Consciousness Affect Reality? And How?:

What is true is that there are some quantum physicists who have considered a potential link between consciousness and quantum physics. Even fewer physicists have speculated that the universe could not exist without conscious observers. But this is, by far, the minority of quantum physicists ... despite misleading claims indicating otherwise.

This speculation is based on experiments where the presence of an observer determines whether the physical system shows wave or particle behavior. But in no way do any of these experiments demonstrate the observer's ability to determine by thought the precise physical outcome!

Time Doesn't Exist:

The authors also make several false claims about the nature of time. Consider the following lines, from the section "How Long Does It Take?" in the chapter "How to Use the Secret":
"Time is just an illusion. Einstein told us that."

"What quantum physicists and Einstein tell us is that everything is happening simultaneously."

"There is no time for the Universe and there is no size for the Universe."

These are just not true statements, as I discuss in our article "Does Time Really Exist?"

Physicists in the Book:

Two physicists, Dr. Fred Alan Wolf and Dr. John Hagelin, are directly quoted in the book. While both are respected and accomplished in various circles, their stances on these issues of physics and consciousness are definitely not mainstream. The attempt within The Secret to make these controversial views appear to be a consensus of quantum physicists is misleading.

My Stance on the Secret:

The tone of this article may make it seem that I disliked The Secret, and actually nothing could be further from the truth. I actually really enjoyed it, and I'm typically a fan of these sorts of empowerment books. I find them helpful in getting myself thinking in a positive way about the world, and about my own plans for success. As I said in a recent blog post, I believe that people could view the "Law of Attraction" as a useful effective theory to achieve their goals.

However, that doesn't mean I think it's necessary, or helpful, to misrepresent the status of physics in order to bolster the claims of any ideology. If someone makes factual claims about the status of modern physics, that person should make the claim in a way which clearly and honestly represents the true status of the field. Skewing scientific terminology to support any belief system is intellectually dishonest, and should be avoided.

For example, in recent series of interviews by ABC News (linked at the aforementioned recent blog post, Deepak Chopra appears to genuinely believe that the non-locality in physics means that all points in the universe are simultaneously connected to each other. While there is a line of reasoning that can get this interpretation out of physics (a rather convoluted argument based on the idea of quantum entanglement), it's not the way most physicists interpret the findings. Chopra appears to have somehow missed that the "woo-woo" he's spouting is based on physics that isn't widely accepted.

I don't particularly care if anyone wants to believe an unproven, fringe scientific interpretation, but I do care if the person is being misled into believing that their viewpoint is not fringe ... and this is standard operating procedure throughout The Secret when physics is brought into things.

The book would have been powerful and helpful if there had been no mention of physics at all. The addition of physics weakens the argument, because it can so clearly dismissed as untrue by anyone with an understanding of the current state of modern physics.

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