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Is the science in "The Answer" brilliant or rubbish?
June 10, 2009 9:25 AM   Subscribe

The book "The Answer" by John Assaraf and Murray Smith has a lot of neuroscience in it... but is it brilliant or rubbish?

A friend recommended me the book "The Answer" by John Assaraf and Murray Smith and I've started reading it... but ... The first few chapters present themselves as science but I can't work out whether it's real and good science and therefore amazing, or whether it's pseudo-science (like all the laughable TV ads for shampoo and skin creams) and utter rubbish.

There's a fair amount of hyperbole but I can read past that. And it's got some very interesting things to say about power of positive thinking and so on, but how seriously should I be taking it?

Has anyone out there read it? Anyone have an opinion that they can back up with some sort of evidence?

Thanks mefites!
posted by monster max to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Does it cite any peer reviewed papers?
posted by Pants! at 9:48 AM on June 10, 2009

I'm not familiar with the book, but I'm familiar with the Law of Attraction and its history and prevalence in motivational literature. I'm not as harsh on it as its critics, but I think most of the criticisms of its scientific claims are worth a look.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:58 AM on June 10, 2009

Does it cite any peer-reviewed papers? (Worth repeating).

I would be wary of any book called The Answer, personally, regardless of its claims - but especially if claimed to cover neuroscience without decent references.
posted by goo at 10:23 AM on June 10, 2009

It is highly unlikely to be the kind of science that scientists consider as science. I found this Googling, where Assaraf refuses to answer the question:
A caller on Larry King Live calls in and asks John Assaraf, "He (John Assaraf) keeps talking about the brain. I would like to know if he (John) is a neuroscientist or has done any research that he's published in peer reviewed journals that supports his claims? He (John) keeps talking about that he (John) does research."

John Assaraf responds:
"Actually that's a great question. I've had so many experiences with the law of attraction and our clients had so many experiences. I was "retired" for the last 6 years and I did my own research on books that were published, white papers that were published what was happening in my life, what was happening the lives of our clients and how we were able to achieve the success we were achieving. I studied other people's work. I read voraciously, I researched voraciously other people's works. And there's more than enough evidence at a quantum physics level or physics level and neuroscience suggests this is true."

This is a blog comment though, and apparently one made by one of Assaraf's competitors as well, so I wouldn't accept prima facie that he actually said this. There' s a Youtube video of Assaraf's Larry King interview, but I can't be arsed to watch the whole thing to see whether it includes the quoted exchange. If the quote is accurate, my opinion as a physicist is this:

Whenever someone starts quoting "the quantum physics level" to make inferences about issues so far removed from the microscopic world, I stop listening because it's a sure sign of a crank.
posted by themel at 10:52 AM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

"And there's more than enough evidence at a quantum physics level or physics level and neuroscience suggests this is true"

That means it is total crap unless proven otherwise.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:53 AM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Checking out the author's site, it has all the signals of pseudoscience. It's the mention of quantum mechanics more so than the neuroscience that is a real red flag. Mentioning quantum mechanics in self-help literature is pretty popular these days and it's almost always bunk.

Sorry I don't have anything specific to this book, but I'd assume pseudoscience.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 11:57 AM on June 10, 2009

I'm a neuroscience student.

Assaraf's book is total crap.
posted by kldickson at 12:02 PM on June 10, 2009

Thanks for the head's up. I'd not heard of THE ANSWER until right now. As goo indicated, "I'd be wary of any book called THE ANSWER" ... unless the actual answer offered is a big fat "Maybe". I could live with that.
posted by philip-random at 12:14 PM on June 10, 2009

Thanks folks (especially kldickson) - that confirms my own suspicions. As for citing a reference, the book refers to: Ervin Lazlo, Science and the Akashic Field (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2004), 112-113. See (This page on wikipedia for not much info about him.) As for the criticisms of the Law of Attraction, ouch!

So in the absence of anyone saying the book IS worth reading (anyone?), I'll give up on it and find something better to read.

(Sneaking in an extra question here...) So ... ARE there any books on positive thinking / self-motivation etc that AREN'T a load of rubbish?

Thanks again for saving me from a huge waste of time!
posted by monster max at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2009

I'm hard-pressed to think of any motivation / positive thinking books that aren't based on the Law of Attraction. My take on Law of Attraction stuff is that although its claimed link between positive thinking and achieving your goals is hyperbolic and full of faulty scientific and metaphysical reasoning, a lot of it contains good advice that does promote positive thinking and motivation.

Check out the books in this list (PMBA), most of which can be found at your public library if not through your local bookstore or Amazon.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:06 PM on June 10, 2009

ARE there any books on positive thinking / self-motivation etc that AREN'T a load of rubbish?

Yes. There are lots of good books about positive thinking and self-motivation that don't posit some imaginary scorekeeper out there awarding you points if you think correctly. (Nobody point out the irony of a Christian posting this or you get a knuckle sandwich.)

Run like the wind from anything that refers to the "Law of Attraction" or quantum mechanics or creating your own reality or homeopathy or NLP or other such bullshit.

Feeling Good, by David Burns, MD, is a very good book about how to apply the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy to one's everyday life. It offers simple exercises to help you break your own negative thought patterns.

If you go back to the old-school stuff like The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale and Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie, you'll be surprised how much of that has been just repurposed and dressed up in pseudoscience by today's "motivational experts."

One of the things that puts Peale and Carnegie head and shoulders above their modern-day counterparts is the lack of idiotic metaphysical or pseudoscientific "explanations" for their ideas. Both writers say that they base their approaches on what they observe around them about how people interact, and on their own life experiences.

The Magic of Thinking Big by David Schwartz is one of the few modern-day motivational books that doesn't go wandering off into woo-woo land.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Road Less Traveled is a classic, and rightly so. It talks about positive thinking, not as a magic spell that will "automatically" get you what you want, but as a tool in a well-stocked cognitive toolkit along with patience, self-discipline, love and so on.

(The author's a Christian, albeit a pretty liberal and level-headed one, and he talks some theology in the second half of the book. Depending on your proclivities, that might be too much for you. But I found the first half valuable on its own and I'm a stark raving agnostic — and even the second half was an interesting read. In any case, even if you count Christianity as woo-woo nonsense, the first nearly 200 pages are basically woo-free.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:15 AM on June 11, 2009

As for citing a reference, the book refers to: Ervin Lazlo, Science and the Akashic Field (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2004), 112-113.

This author does seem to have some academic credentials/reputation (in "systems philosophy", not neuroscience or physics), but I can't really tell. That book is not published with an academic press (but rather some kind of new age/spirituality press) and was certainly not peer reviewed; judging from the wikipedia page it has absolutely nothing to do with neuroscience. Searching for it restricted to .edu (here) turns up very little; if it were reputable science of any kind you would expect to find it linked from places other than religious studies, "frontier science", etc sites.

Also, if I am reading you correctly that this book is the _only_ reference cited, then that already would be a problem even if the one reference were reputable. Opening up a neuroscience paper at random, there are on the order of 50-60 references, probably nearly all to peer-reviewed work or conference papers in the field. For a book-length work, even if written for the general public, one would expect correspondingly more citations.
posted by advil at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2009

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