FAIL: People v the State of Illusion (PvtSoI) advertises itself as a quantum physics movie (You can check out the movie’s website here.) comparable to The Secret and to “What the Bleep Do We Know?” written and produced by Austin Vickers, a former lawyer turned leadership training/life coach. And similar to those movies it states that our thoughts create our reality and can therefore change our reality. This principle is called the “Law of Attraction” which thanks to those movies has been discussed at length by other skeptics so I won’t need to rehash that here. (To read an eSkeptic article about The Secret click here and you can find a breakdown of What the Bleep by clicking here.)
The format of this movie is very similar to What the Bleep and even shares some of the same experts, Candace Pert and Joe Dispenza. This time, the story centers around the incarceration of the fictional Aaron Roberts. After enjoying a few drinks while complaining about his life to a co-worker single-father Aaron arrives at his daughter’s school just in time to see her perform in a recital. On their way home the duo are involved in a horrible car accident. Aaron insists the other driver ran a red light, eyewitness on the scene report that he was the one who ran the light ultimately killing the other driver, a mother of two. He is then sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter. During his incarceration he undergoes a “miraculous” transformation that we get to follow and is constantly interrupted by the experts. This particular format lends itself well to Gish Gallop (definition here) tactics but in PvtSoI it ends up sounding more like the beating of a dead horse. We are following a guy who is transforming while in a prison and all the experts go on and on at length about how we create prisons of our minds every day. Thump thump. Aaron slowly starts to change his worldview thanks to some enlightening talks with the prison janitor, and we cut to the experts talking about freeing your mind of negative thoughts to break out of your mental prison. Thump thump. The only redeeming quality of the flick is that, even though it’s called a quantum physics movie, it doesn’t try to explain quantum physics in any form. In fact, the word quantum is only used in the movie once that I caught.
Of course that doesn’t mean there weren’t some outrageous claims made which are supposed to sound “science-y.” My personal favorite claim made by Vickers is that, humans have only 2,000 thoughts per day. The only references I can find to the 2k thought figure is from a Buick commercial and a professional sports performance coach. The first problem with this figure is what constitutes a thought and how do we measure it? Do the commands that my brain sends to my muscles count as thoughts? What about processing the feedback of what I am seeing, smelling, touching and tasting are those thoughts? Does dreaming count? Let’s assume that Vickers answers no to all these thoughtful questions, in which case only fully conscious thoughts we have during waking hours are counted, which would be about 16 hours a day. If we truly only have 2,000 thoughts per day that means we only have about two thoughts per minute. It took me only 7.5 seconds to just say that sentence, and frankly I often think faster than I speak. Let’s conduct a little math experiment right now. I timed the number of times I could think the phrase “I like this” in 10 seconds and got 12 times. If we extrapolate that figure out that’s 72 times per minute, which makes 4,320 thoughts of “I like this” in an hour. Granted I don’t typically repeat the same thought over and over but I also don’t experience very many waking moments when my thoughts actually cease. That 2k-thoughts-a- day claim was not well thought out at all.
Similar to What the Bleep, PvtSoI also discusses the research of a particular scientist that seemingly supports the underlying principles of the film. The scientist du jour for this flick is Dr. Robert Jahn who headed up Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR). Despite the fact that the PEAR lab has closed, Jahn and his associate Barbara Dunne are continuing their research in to how consciousness affects machines. The Skeptic Dictionary has provided a good analysis of PEAR’s research, here.
The most appalling claim was a casual remark made by Dr. Thomas Moore. He said something to the effect of disease is caused by a lack of imagination. This statement is so absurd that I wished I could hit the go back button to be sure I heard it correctly. Since a button didn’t manifest in the theater, I can only hope that his further explanation of it was edited out. The germ theory of disease has been well established for over 100 years now and genetic factors of disease have been studied for over a decade. Even beyond understanding how people get sick, his statement, and for that matter the whole power of positive thinking movement, simply don’t make any sense to me due to one reality based example. If disease and a lack of imagination were correlated in some mystical way, if we could positively think away all our ills; can someone please explain to me why infants and children get sick and even sometimes die? I am not saying that children don’t undergo stress or can’t experience depression and pessimism. What I am saying is that in many cases children don’t lack imagination; in many cases children don’t consider their own mortality. A diagnosis of a childhood disease can be a shocking and inconceivable experience for both parents and the child. How do these children manifest these realities that they never considered? Having undergone my first medical surgery at age three I have a deep personal interest in that answer.
Ultimately, People v the State of Illusion doesn’t have anything new to add to the Law of Attraction claims. It is the same premise as both “The Secret” and “What the Bleep do We Know?” but it lacks the window dressing of both of these previous films, at the very least What the Bleep had some crazy funny animations. One reviewer said outright PvtSoI was boring and Vickers response was “It was written to make people think, and become acutely aware of the patterns of their thinking and their emotional responses to life.” Truthfully the only thing it made me think was that Vickers wants to sell his workshops and cds to anyone who can’t make their new amazing perceptions a reality.