The Muselet #21: Katie Holmes’ Love of Pseudoscience

It’s a long-term Muselet tradition to say “this is not a Netflix review newsletter” followed by yet another review of a Netflix show. And, you’ll be happy to hear, this week will be no exception. Except this week to mix things up, I will recommend two movies not to watch. While not worth watching, one of them is still worth musing on.

Small warning: this one has a bit of a build-up and a late pay-off. That said, there’s elements of conspiracy, pseudoscience, ultimate life success and Katie Holmes, so yah — this one basically checks all the must-read boxes (I tried to work in blockchain but didn’t manage to, some other time).

These are the two movies me and my wife watched over the weekend:

  1. The Holidate — terrible romcom, the poster and title probably say it all, the ending is exactly what you expect, and the journey not worth it.

  2. The Secret: Dare to Dream — another bad movie, but this one I do have a few words to say about.

Hah! “A few words” he said. Ok, over 2,100 words.

There’s two aspects of The Secret: Dare to Dream that are intriguing.

First: “The Secret.” That rang a bell, especially with the logo that appeared on the movie promo picture:

Hadn’t I seen that before? Wasn’t there some weird documentary with this title 15 years ago? I looked it up, and indeed there was — and we’re lucky, it’s on Netflix as well! I took the liberty to sit through it once more, so you don’t have to — more on this later.

The Secret: Dare to Dream seems to be an attempt to build a story around the original concept of The Secret (both book and film). This translated into — sorry, spoilers ahead — Miranda (Katie Holmes) having a bunch of bad things happen in her life (husband dead, no money, hurricane). Then Bray (Josh Lucas) appears in her life. His role is to, beside fixing her house for no apparent reason, repeatedly hint at the fact that if she’d have a clear picture of what she wants, she’d get it. While this is never revealed to be The Secret — those in the know, know that it is! Then there’s hurricanes, a marriage proposal, a change of heart, a surprise turn, yada yada yada.

As I said, it’s not worth your time. The interesting part is The Secret itself.

In effect “The Secret” (the original 2006 film) is a 1.5h rendition of “The Law of Attraction” — from Wikipedia:

In the New Thought philosophy, the Law of Attraction is the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person's life. The belief is based on the ideas that people and their thoughts are made from "pure energy", and that a process of like energy attracting like energy exists through which a person can improve their health, wealth, and personal relationships.

There’s one more sentence to that Wikipedia description:

There is no empirical scientific evidence supporting the law of attraction, and it is widely considered a pseudoscience.

By the way, if you think The Secret is just some fringe thing, it’s not. It sold 30 million copies, and it was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey.

Wikipedia in the “The Secret (book)” reception section:

Mary Carmichael and Ben Radford, writing for the Center for Inquiry, have also pointed out that The Secret has no scientific foundation, stating that Byrne's book represents: "a time-worn trick of mixing banal truisms with magical thinking and presenting it as some sort of hidden knowledge: basically, it’s the new New Thought."

And that, I realized, brings me to the second reason I found The Secret: Dare to Dream strangely intriguing: the fact that it features Katie Holmes

Katie

Remember Katie Holmes? 

She became famous at the end of the ’90s acting in Dawson’s Creek, and then in 2006 (the same year that The Secret came out — coincidence!?) married Tom Cruise in a — wait for it — Scientologist ceremony. Yes, she was, at least at the time, a Scientologist.

Remember Scientology? From Wikipedia:

Scientology followers believe that a human is an immortal, spiritual being (thetan) that is resident in a physical body. The thetan has had innumerable past lives and it is observed in advanced (and – within the movement – secret) Scientology texts that lives preceding the thetan's arrival on Earth were lived in extraterrestrial cultures. 

That’s right. We’re descendants of extraterrestrials. In case you didn’t know.

At the heart of Scientology is a set of practices and ideas called “dianetics” which have yet to be warmly welcomed by the world of science:

Subsequently, Dianetics has achieved no acceptance as a scientific theory, and scientists cite Dianetics as an example of a pseudoscience.

Pseudoscience! That’s the link between The Secret and Katie Holmes I intuitively felt, but couldn’t quite put my finger on!

So, I asked myself: whatever happened to Katie since she married Tom Cruise? Is she still part of the church of Scientology? Is she still dianetic’ing it up? And is this somehow related to this movie? Are we secretly being sold some Scientologist pseudoscience, packaged as a romantic movie?

Wouldn’t that be a huge scoop, dare I say conspiracy!?

So I started digging.

Apparently, Katie left Scientology after divorcing Tom Cruise in 2012:

Following her divorce from Cruise, Holmes returned to the Roman Catholic Church and began attending St. Francis Xavier Church.

Still, it seems very coincidental she’d act in a movie based on “The Secret,” which has been described as a “pseudoscience” a few years after leaving a “religion” based on a pseudoscience.

What’s up with that?

I looked for some back story on Katie’s participation in this movie, but all I could find is this:

Following its release in 2006, the actress “was inspired to read” the self-help book since so many people she knew “were positively affected by it.” “I was happy when I found it,” she says.

Perhaps that’s all there’s to it. Perhaps there’s no deeper conspiracy here.

Possibly, Katie simply likes things that have positive effects on people. Whether those things have any base in reality or not. Reality doesn’t exist anyway. Probably she felt the same about Scientology back in the day. People don’t always deeply scrutinize everything they get themselves into. Especially if those things take the physical shape of Tom Cruise, if you’re into that sort of thing. It happens to the best of us.

That’s it, Zef? You took us on a thousand word tangent and this is all we get — the discovery of a non-conspiracy?

No, I couldn’t let this go just yet.

If Katie is into this, there needs to be more to it. I investigated Scientology a bit, but found it to be a dead end, Scientology is just batshit crazy. So I diverted my attention back to The Secret30 million books sold. That’s a lot. So, I spent some time analyzing this whole The Secret thing and ultimate made a discovery.

In the remainder of this email, I’m going to attempt to pull the theory behind The Secret from pseudoscience to capital S Science1.

That’s right.

My discovery, which at this point shouldn’t come as a surprise, was that The Secret in effect is just another incarnation of my 5 step universal recipe for guaranteed success.

A brief reminder of the 5 steps:

  1. Decide where you want to go, and how you will know when you get there.

  2. Establish where you are right now.

  3. Decide what you’re not willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals.

  4. Iterate:

    1. Decide on an initiative that you hypothesize will make an impact on getting closer to your goal.

    2. Implement the initiative.

    3. Evaluate if you got closer to your destination and at what cost (sacrificing the right thing?), learn from this experience.

    4. There yet? GOTO 5, else: GOTO 4.1

  5. Done.

The Real Secret

I will argue that the core of The Secret is perfectly sound. Just not for the reasons claimed.

As part of my capital S Scientific research, I sat through The Secret (the 2006 film) once more. This sounds easy, but it’s not, it’s the movie equivalent of a bad business book. Luckily for you, this means it’s quick to summarize:

If you consistently visualize a clear, positive picture of what you want, you shall receive it.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

We start with the “Clear picture of what you want” aspect. I’ve been a long-time asker of the question “What does success look like?” before getting into any new venture or project. It’s step 1 of my universal recipe. Just sayin’.

Possibly my favorite quote of all time is by Yogi Berra:

If you don’t know where you’re going, you may not get there.

And this is exactly it: unless you know what you want to achieve in life, it’s unlikely you will ever achieve it. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible. It all starts with defining success. So step 1 is to decide on what you want

With me so far?

Next — as The Secret argues — we need to make sure our definition of success is formulated in positive language. Not as a set of statements like “not this, and not that.” The reason for this is not because we need to be “happy people” or whatever, but because we will use our definition of success as a direction to steer towards, not just as things to steer away from. So, stay away from “I don’t want to get sick” but rather “I want to be healthy.”

A good trick to do this is to visualize what success looks like. Try to picture it, perhaps even draw it. One dude in The Secret had a “dream board” where he visualized everything he wanted out of life. That’ll work.

Next: remind yourself of what you want regularly. For instance — I don’t know — during the Iterate cycle (step 4). If you have some sort of visual representation of it, this will be easy. Just look at it every day. The key is it’s active in your mind.

Doing that? Cool.

Now this is the point where my approach and The Secret start to diverge. In The Secret — and the Law of Attraction that it’s based on — they now argue that at this point “the universe” and “energy” will magically make things happen. You just need to sit back and enjoy the show.

With all due to respect, that’s probably bullshit. What you do instead is Iterate. Consciously or not. With a clear definition of success primed in your mind, you will start to detect opportunities in your life that will lead you there. Definitely more so than if you didn’t have a clear definition of success, would you agree? You take a step, and see if you got closer.

And while you may believe or think that “the universe’s energy” is handing you all these new opportunities, the fact is that they’ve always been there, you just didn’t see them as such.

Let’s say your goal is to be healthy, and you constantly remind yourself of it. Are you not more likely to decide to go for a run, or buy healthy food in the supermarket? If you decide your goal is to earn a shit ton of money, are you not more likely to optimize your career for more earnings, rather than randomly jumping from dead-end job to dead-end job?

By always having your goal in mind, you will consciously or not, start to move towards that goal, seeing both the things that happen to you, and the choices you have as opportunities to get there. That’s all there’s to it.

While “The Secret” will attribute all of this to energy and the universe bending itself to your will or whatever, the truth is, it’s you who primed your mind to invent or detect steps towards your goal. Whether you realize it or not.

So while The Secret’s what and part of the how make sense, I’m just not buying the why.

Anyway, TL;DR: don’t watch the Holidate, it’s garbage, nor watch The Secret: Dare To Dream. If you’re in any way intrigued by this The Secret stuff, watch the original film — but likely, you will not last much longer than the first 30 minutes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Also: my recipe for guaranteed success — it’s legit. This was just another opportunity to prove it.

And Katie — I did my best saving your credibility this time, but I won’t always will be able to. Take care of yourself. Pick your friends wisely.

  1. At least something less reliant on believing in magic.