The Secret

My employer recently opened a Wellness Center. (Considering my employer is the state Department of Health, this is arguably several decades behind the curve). There have been a series of lunchtime discussions and activities related to dieting, stress relief, aging gracefully, tai chi, and the like. None of this caught my attention until I saw a listing for The Secret: Come see what the excitement is all about!

In case you’re not in on The Secret, it is the most audacious of our contemporary cultural snake-oil pitches, a book that promises absolutely everything effortlessly, cloaked in a Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy theory. This is the path to success THEY don’t want you to know about!

It has something to do with your brain waves interacting with everyone else’s brain waves so as to bring you whatever it is you wish for. Lots of jargon from both classical and quantum physics are thrown about haphazardly, along with quotes from “Ph.D.”s and “M.D.”s. Need money, health, love? Just tune your mental frequencies.

Seeing a chance to play my own very small version of Clarence Darrow or John E. Jones III, I decided to attend. In truth, I’m not that argumentative by nature. Ever since taking on the entire first grade in a debate over the existence of Santa Claus – and losing – I’ve known there is no effective counterargument to “it’s magic”. But I work for a scientific institution. We prosecute quacks and faith healers, not hire them.

In addition to myself, there were eight people at the discussion. All were women, and all but one older. Several declared themselves devoted fans of the book, others merely curious. One woman who seemed somewhat confused said that she was just trying to find the exercise room she had heard about. Not the same as a Wellness Center, not at all.

The fans of the book told stories about how The Secret had helped them personally. One said she was trying to launch a business selling handmade handbags, and The Secret was bringing her steady contacts and potential customers. Another said The Secret had reduced the amount of junk mail and bills, while increasing her personal mail and gifts. Yet another talked about how she no longer worried about finding a parking space, because all she had to do was visualize an empty one.

This was even weirder than I expected, but I held my tongue until my turn came around. I introduced myself as a skeptic, though as soon as this word left my mouth it sounded horribly wimpy, as if all I needed was just a bit more evidence. My plan was to focus on just one point relevant both to public health and to my own expertise: cancer. I said I thought it was dangerous to be promoting the idea that positive thinking was an adequate substitute for medical prevention and treatment, particularly considering where we worked.

“Well, that’s one way of interpreting the book,” replied the discussion leader, the one with the special parking powers, “but the book doesn’t say that exactly. Have you even read it?”

I had foreseen this technicality, so I took a calculated risk. Flipping through the book, it took me about fifteen seconds to find the section on how The Secret meant not needing to see your doctor again. It helped that the book is thin and the type is large. I said that the chances of spontaneous remission of untreated terminal cancer were on the order of one in a million.

“Ah, but they aren’t zero, are they?”

I conceded that they were not. If you like those odds, I’ll give them to you. You can’t argue with magic.

For one person, the author, The Secret has worked pretty much as planned. It was number one on the best seller lists for months, and even now, a year later, it’s #4 at

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.