Not as bad as you think. The Secret, of course, is the huge best-seller (now #2 on Amazon) that claims you can get what you want by applying “The Law of Attraction” — namely, that if you think about something it will come to you. According to Wikipedia, “there have been no widely recognized studies demonstrating that the [Law of Attraction] actually works.” The book has been — not to put too fine a point on it — ridiculed, for example by the author Barbara Ehrenreich.
I learned about The Secret last July from my friend Sarah Kapoor, who made a CBC segment about the Shangri-La Diet. She told me about nine YouTube spots (Parts 1-9), each 10 minutes long, that together made a movie. I watched only Part 1 (now unavailable). It wasn’t enjoyable. It seemed like a parody of a film about science, and not a funny one. Sarah said it was growing like wildfire but at the time the segments had received only a few thousand views so I wondered what she was talking about. Time has proven her correct.
Is The Secret complete nonsense? It sounds like complete nonsense, the writers of Wikipedia apparently think it’s complete nonsense (“no widely-recognized studies . . . “), Barbara Ehrenreich thinks it’s complete nonsense (she calls it “mass delusion”), but I don’t think it actually is complete nonsense. Around 1980, Robert Cialdini, a psychology professor at Arizona State, and Kathleen Carpenter, an undergraduate, did a remarkable study. They gave Tempe residents one of two paragraphs to read about the benefits of cable TV (a new thing at the time). One was a dry statement of the benefits; the other asked the reader to imagine partaking of the benefits (“take a moment and think of how . . . you will be able to spend your time at home, with your familly, alone, or with your friends”). A month later, these residents were offered the choice of whether to get cable TV or not. Of those given the dry information, about 20% subscribed; of those given the “take a moment” statement, about 50% subscribed. A huge difference, with nontrivial monetary consequences, from what seems like a tiny treatment. The title of the published article, which appeared in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1982, vol. 43, pp. 89-99) was “Self-relevant scenarios as mediators of likelihood estimates and compliance: Does imagining make it so?” Imagining did make it so, in a surprising way. The effect is much too large to be dismissed. I don’t think it has been repeated, although I’m not sure.
I learned about this study from the excellent new book Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.