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Neurometaphysics — BS in a Cheap Suit

by Steven Novella, Mar 09 2009

Dr. Joe Vitale is not a real doctor, in any sense of the word. He went to Kent State but failed to graduate. Then he received a “doctorate” in metaphysics from the unaccredited University of Metaphysics in Sedona, Arizona (America’s epicenter of woo). He also has an honorary doctorate from (also unaccredited) Belford University, an online diploma mill.

This guy wants to bring you the secret of neurometaphysics. Neurometaphysics is nothing more than a fancy name for “The Secret” — the magical belief that wishing for something makes it come true.

To any thinking person that’s probably all that needs to be said about it, but the window dressing is interesting. Promoters of The Secret claim they have discovered the “Law of Attraction” (LOA) — which is the power of positive thinking. Not in the ordinary sense that if you are a positive person you are more likely to be motivated and create opportunities for yourself, but in the overtly magical sense that the universe will respond to your positive energy and make this happen — by magic.

Modern gurus often like to throw around the word “science” to describe their BS. It’s just marketing, but it’s very irritating to those of us who actually care about the integrity of science. The worst of them invent new jargon, like neurometaphysics. But the only “science” that Vitale has to back his claims is the anecdotes of believers.

Also like most gurus, Vitale is intolerant of doubt. You must believe. He writes:

When anything happens in your life, you can say it was LOA that made it so or you can attribute the result to some other cause and pretend LOA doesn’t exist or doesn’t work.

Yes, we can always pretend. He continues:

The Law of Attraction is the same as the Law of Gravity or any other law: it’s working whether you give it credit or not. Knowing about it can help you achieve the results you want.

In other words, if you’re one of those who say LOA doesn’t work for you, then you might as well say gravity doesn’t work for you, either.

He reassures us that the best approach is to forget all doubt and just accept that LOA works. He has more advice:

I’m constantly saying that you must get clear of the limiting beliefs within you in order to attract your intention. Counter-intentions will always trip you up. Be aware of your thoughts when things don’t work out for you. Those are what you need to get clear of. Those are the beliefs that attracted what you got. How do you get clear? One easy way is through Zero Limits.

That’s right, all you have to do is buy his book. The core message here is the same as for most cons and belief systems – the magic always works, except when it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it was your fault for doubting the magic. When things go well for you, no matter what real-life factors may have been at work, it was really the magic. When things do not go well for you, that was your doubt in the magic.

Insert any magical belief system for “the magic.”

Further, any anecdotes that seem to support the magic are true, and any that seem to contradict the magic are false or misleading. This is a deliberate policy of confirmation bias.

If you want to have a bad day then read the comments below any of his entries, but stop before you lose all faith in humanity.


Thanks to Skeptico for sending this to me.

27 Responses to “Neurometaphysics — BS in a Cheap Suit”

  1. Jim Grey says:

    You’re right. I shouldn’t have read the comments. They were so tantalising, and now I have to go rock back and forth in a corner. :S

  2. ChaoSkeptic says:

    Yep, classical magical thinking tied with confirmation bias. Oh when will ideologists realize that the universe doesn’t give a flip what they believe in?

  3. GL says:

    An honorary doctorate from an unaccredited online degree mill that awards credit for “life experience”. Mind boggling.

  4. Colin J says:

    Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Not one skeptical comment on the page. Suppose they edit? What a load of horse excrement.

  5. Jim says:

    Oh…my…god. The most frustrating part is that all that stands in the way of those people and the real world is just a simple lesson in logic. Your belief is unfalsifiable people! Doesn’t that worry you at all?!

  6. Max says:

    Suppose that LOA actually works. Then what’s wrong with the analogy to gravity or the rest of the description?

    • Wrong says:

      Because everyone can observe and test that if I stand on a platform above the ground, and dropped you on your head, you would fall, and potentially break your neck. The LOA is untestable, unfalsifiable, and patently wrong. And by invoking the No True Scotsman fallacy by suggesting that for those the method doesn’t work, they must not be using the method right, they insultingly avoid any criticism. We could Assume I am God, and hence, I am god. Any description describing me as God is accurate. Remember: To Assume makes an Ass out of You And Me.

      Gravity, Relativity, all provable, testable and observable. Comparing a faith based system to these is wrong AND stupid. It’s an attempt at adding credulity by association.

  7. Jim says:

    The analogy falls apart when you look at the mechanism for how these carry out. The Law of Gravity basically says “stuff falls”; the Law of Attraction says “stuff happens.” There is a scientific theory of gravity that explains perfectly why “stuff falls.” The LOA has shite. The explanation for why “stuff happens” with the Law of Attraction is equivalent to the Intelligent Falling Theory for gravity.

  8. Brian says:

    Max: The biggest difference, to my mind, is this: Suppose the Law of Attraction does not exist, and that all kinds of things happened that you didn’t control. How would the universe be any different? As far as I can see, the universe could quite easily be exactly the same as this one.

    The Law of Gravity, however, was postulated to explain behavior that everyone can see is really there. The evidence came first. If there was no gravity, the world would definitely be a different place.

  9. MadScientist says:

    There are certainly some interesting sights in Sedona (watch out for that poison ivy though). I never knew the place was crawling with creeps until I saw that episode of Penn&Teller BS.

    Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve got to fly to work. Gravity doesn’t work, gravity doesn’t work …

  10. Scoops says:

    So… I can pretend the LoA doesn’t exist, and it will continue to work for me anyway? Why do I need his book, again?

  11. Max says:

    Scoops, if you pretend that gravity doesn’t exist, it will continue to work, but you might walk off a cliff.

  12. Mastriani says:


    One thing as a pragmatist and kitapsiz, I’ve heard this ad nauseum. Every time that life just doesn’t go your way, it’s “you just didn’t believe enough that it would happen” …

    Suddenly, you are a chronic pessimist, a curmudgeon, a “negative person” … “Your problem is that you refuse to believe …”

    It would be helpful if someone could explain scientifically why it is that people feel the need to assume that life is purposefully intended to be unilaterally positive in outcome and effect. Anything to the contrary is ludicrous, even to the point of “The Universe wants you to succeed, if you would only believe …”

    Gads, is there a gullibility gene?

  13. FreeMarketz says:

    I saw a list or a petition and one of the supporters was a hedge fund manager. I cannot find the site I saw but it was either skeptic/secular humanist/atheist. Does anyone know where I can find this pages and what the name was of this individual?

  14. Max says:

    Nassim Nicholas Taleb?

  15. Freemarketz says:

    No its not Taleb. It was someone on some petition or support list.

  16. BimboBaggins says:

    Can’t there be some law, where if you just buy a piece of paper, you can’t call yourself Dr? I hate these guys ruining the title ‘Dr’, it pours water on the power of my arguments from authority.

  17. Any pseudoscientific proposition that makes simple wishing an operative force in one’s life will find a ready and steady market of gullible customers.

  18. So people who are dying of hunger just don’t want food bad enough.

    What morons! You need to want it to get it! WANT HARDER!

  19. Feralboy says:

    No, people dying of hunger are operating under the falsehood that they need conventional food, which perpetuates big farma, or something. Whereas if you buy my book, Alternative Nutrition, you will see that a few atoms suspended in water…
    I’m sorry. I really am.

  20. John Draeger says:

    Yes, the ignorance is astounding – even dangerous! But Steven is too polite. Insert the word religion for “magical belief system.”

  21. What? All this time I thought those “Quick Diploma” emails were spam when in fact they’re a great way to buy credentials?

    I’ll be going from IT to medicine in under an hour and all for an introductory low price! You’re more likely to win the lottery than rely on the rules of attraction to deliver. I guess most people who buy into this BS are nothing more than wishful thinkers. Literally.

  22. Mastriani says:

    OMFG … My own mother has both the book and the video of “The Secret”.

    I can’t frackin’ believe it. She actually became animated and borderline infuriated when I tried to show her Dr. Novella’s article.

    She insisted it was “true” because she had “seen it work in her life”. I brought up the fact that anecdotal bullshit doesn’t equate to tested empirical facts.

    Her last comment before I just turned and walked away: “Science can’t tell you the truth about your life in this world.”

    I am surrounded and accosted on all sides, in all manners, by foolish, idiotic, moronic, tinfoil hat wearing, metaphysical cretins.

    Homo sapien = Universal fail.

    • Wrong says:

      Indeed. It’s the confirmation bias. They want small things, and they get it. Ask them what happens when they wish to be a multimillionaire, a god, surrounded by aroused, attractive members of the opposite sex, or able to breath water. If the universe gives you what you want, they should easily accomplish these paltry tasks.

  23. scott says:

    LOA = Lecturing Out (of one’s) Ass

  24. Marvin says:

    Religious folks have been peddling the concept of divine intervention in one form or another since before recorded time. Vitale and others of this stripe have simply found a way to repackage it for a new generation. Those who find success in life generally do so through the application of a combination of applied effort and intelligence.

    No doubt that self doubt and lack of confidence blind many to their own potential, believe in the Law of Attraction may work simply by allowing one to see opportunity and act on it, rather than turning away.

    Accepting that the universe is abundant and that we each are entitled to a limitless flow of good positive stuff is a potentially powerful and liberating idea. Buying completely into such a belief system may indeed provide the impetus to create a self fulfilling prophesy.

    Such beliefs are would be benign and harmless if not for the fact that if, after embracing such a belief circumstances do not change for the believer the down side of being unfulfilled could be emotionally disastrous.

  25. Mark Edward says:

    It may come as no surprise for those who read my recent blog on “ESP Bootcamps” to note that The Leader in that enterprise is tight with Joe Vitale. These two guys are planning a huge psychic marketing campaign and we can all look forward to a new wave of “science based” flummery in the coming years. We need to get off our asses and get aggressive real quick if we are to challenge this movement toward scams that take direct advantage of the word “science” to sell their bullshit. I just came back from the JREF cruise where I championed the idea that we have to become “guerilla skeptics” and stop being so kind to these creeps. Time to take the gloves off. We need to resort to the same tactics as they do! No need to stoop exactly to their level, but rather fight fire with fire. The marketeers of woo like Sylvia and Sedona have no scruples – so why should we? Why are we always making nice in accepting these crooks as if they are playing by our rules. They clearly are not. When dealing with the ESP Bootcampers, I first became aware of terms like “viral marketing” and must admit until I read about it, I was woefully ignorant of the techniques and availability of the process. That’s what WE NEED TO START USING. This is just the tip of the iceberg headed our way. Time to turn around facile skepticism, hang it up and get on the train. Its already left the station.