The Secret and an Extra Variable on Descartes’ Proposition

I was having a debate with a friend recently about the merits (or I should perhas say lack of merit) of that extremely popular book/film/TV show ‘The Secret’.  I’m not sure why people are so willing to just jump in and believe this stuff, particularly after watching the film!

Now I can’t say that I’ve read the book, or even watched the entire film, but what I have seen and what has been related to me seems pretty far fetched.  After debating about what the ‘Universe’ is (as this is referenced quite a bit in the film at least – ‘ask the universe for x‘) for quite some time the discussion shifted to where the concept of ‘The Secret’ came from.  I suggested that some marketing executives were out one night, got drunk, were very surprised at what nonsense others would believe, and simply thought ‘lets make a film/book/etc. that tells people it’s OK to believe their own nonsense and not just that of others.  But this didn’t sit to well with my friend, and I suppose it wouldn’t with those others who believe in ‘The Secret’ either.

But then something that my friend said got it for me.  She said that “‘The Secret’ is all about metaphysics, you know, like existential stuff, stuff like ‘I am, I can etc.'”.  I don’t know where these two areas of philosophy meet up in ‘The Secret’, nor where the ‘I am, I can’ stuff comes in but I instantly thought of Descartes, and then I noticed what those drunk marketing guys did.  They took Descartes’ proposition and simply added a variable.

Now this was obviously a smart move.  Give people a proposition that they are already familiar with (Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’) twist it up so that it’s a bit more modern and throw in an extra variable that’s in both the premise and conclusion.  Rather than repeating the old, and not very profitable, ‘I think therefore I am’ the producers of ‘The Secret’ came up with ‘I think x therefore I am x.  The entire project is just telling people that it’s OK to place whatever they want in the position of the variable and that it’s true!

Now this is obviously quite far from Descartes who was putting forward an argument for the existence of the mind and the body.  Throwing in an extra variable changes things quite a bit.  For example, if we make our dictionary read ‘x = I’m a millionaire’ then ‘The Secret’s’ message now reads ‘I think I’m a millionaire therefore I am a millionaire’.  Or if the dictionary reads ‘x = I will win the lotto’ then ‘The Secret’s’ message reads ‘I think that I will win the lotto therefore I will win the lotto’.  ‘The Secret’ simply presents all kinds of variations of this formula.

Of course ‘The Secret’ adds that convenient clause ‘you have to believe’.  But believe in what?  The universe?  What’s that?  How does the universe hear my requests in English?  How does the universe grant such mundane requests?  But that’s just it isn’t it, if I have such questions I don’t believe so Descartes’ revised formula isn’t going to work for me.

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1 Response to “The Secret and an Extra Variable on Descartes’ Proposition”


  1. 1 Paul November 11, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I agree with you Simon. I guess the self-fulfilling prophecy within this notion is what gives it some kind of absurd legitimacy.


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