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    What science says about enlightenment

    With the idea that I should be eating a bit more protein, and being someone who is primarily a vegetarian who eats sushi every now and then, I headed for the low-fat dairy aisle. Sucker that I am for personal testimonials, I remembered a friend saying he loved kefir, a yogurt-ish drink.

    Well, I’m no fan of yogurt, but was willing to give kefir a try and, much to my surprise, I had a Life cereal moment. “Hey Mikey, he really likes it.”

    After months of glugging down kefir — and it does, in fact, glug… not pour… glug — I read the label for the first time this morning and saw the following:

    Published research has shown the healthy probiotic cultures found in Lifeway kefir may:

    • Enhance the immune system
    • Balance digestive health

    Enhance and balance with Lifeway kefir!

    Okay, here’sย  a contest.

    How many problems can you find that statement?

    This contest is kinda like the experiment where you have to count the number of times the letter f appears in a sentence and we tend to overlook the ones in the word “of.”ย  There are quite a few logical problems in that statement, some are so familiar they’ll be overlooked.

    FWIW, I’ve got 9 so far, but there could be more.

    I’ll give you one to start with, one that is often missed:

    “…probiotic cultures found in…”ย  Not the EXACT AMOUNT of cultures, or delivered in the same way, just the same type. In other words, let’s just say there’s a study that shows taking a daily enema featuring 10 pounds of acidophilus increases the curling of your forearm hair.

    Lifeway is able to us the “probiotic cultures found in” line to imply that you’ll get a forearm hair perm even if the kefir contains just a microgram’s worth of acidophilus. And you’ll get that benefit from drinking the acidophilus rather than taking it in through, uh, according to The Newlywed Game, “The strangest place you’ve ever made whoopie.”

    Now, before I let you loose with the challenge, let me tell you why I bring this up.

    This statement is VERY deliberately crafted by a collection of marketing and legal experts in order to do two things:

    1. Communicate benefits
    2. Say nothing legally binding

    And this is on FOOD.

    Think about all the self-help and personal development promotion that use “research says” and “science says” or “Quantum Physicists say” to promise a benefit that’s actually specific!

    “Quantum Physics says that everything is energy,” says one teacher. “And thoughts are energy. Therefore if you control your thoughts you can get anything you want!”

    Ummm… hello? Really?

    So the reason for my contest is this: When you can spot the errors in a statement as well honed as the kefir one and, as a result, be unswayed by it… imagine how immune you’ll become to something like, “We examined a group of millionaires and discovered what they have in common… now we’ll teach you how to think just like the rich so that you can be a millionaire, too!”

    In fact, for extra credit, tell me what’s wrong with THAT line of reasoning (and my apologies to the word “reasoning” for using it in association with that type of statement).

    And for extra extra credit, explain to me why the government would imprison Lifeway if they said something like the millionaire line on their bottle, but has no problem with the “teachers” who make those kinds of claims to sell their books and fill their workshops.

    12 Responses to “What science says about enlightenment”

    1. Tim Says:

      Screw the hype. If you can get used the sour taste of “mature” kefir, it’s really easy to convince yourself that something that tastes this dodgy *must* be doing you some good!

      And BTW, the “home-brewed” variety does you *much* more good than “shop-bought” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2. ric Says:

      The word “may” is a hedge and in this context to use “will” instead would be a lie. Better to say nothing, (since “may” carries the same weight as “may not”,) but suggest the positive which the unconscious will accept unquestioningly.

      Logically then, some published research show benefits and some do not, and that’s without addressing the facts of the research and specific benefits.

      The word “healthy” isn’t completely true as acidophilus isn’t always safe. But that’s a fact that requires personal research to uncover. Hyperbole at least.

      Generally, the language is what is referred to in NLP as hypnotic by its use of vague generalities and broad categories; the reader must fill in the details with their imagination to make sense of words. “Enhance” and “balance” are meaningless, and “immune system” and “digestive health” almost as much but give a scientificy truthiness (love that word) for modern sensibilities replacing words like the old style “vitality” used to sell vitamins. Tricky.

      The antidote for hypnotic language is to specify. Enhance HOW? What part or function of the immune system?

      One thing for sure, “published research” would be replaced by particulars if there were strong evidence of real benefits. But people only notice what’s there, not what is missing in a statement, something the spin-masters are quite aware of.

      As for millionaires, that sounds like Tony Robbins/NLP and what is called modeling strategies. If you’re going to be a guitar god, you have to learn the instrument and there are better or worse ways to go about it. That much has some validity, a bit. But it is presumptuous to expect to become a god because of it.

      The presupposition in the millionaire-think pitch, at least via NLP, is that the thinking leads to appropriate action which in turn CAN (a hedge) lead to greater wealth. The pitch of course is exaggerated and an unwary reader is likely to infer cause and effect where it is not positively stated as such.

    3. Kelley Says:

      Hi Steven — have you tried Quinoa for more protein in your diet? I love it and you can make lots of veggie dishes with it. Also, have you tried GT’s Kombucha and Synergy drinks? They don’t have protein but they have quanitified amounts of probiotics, amino acids, antioxidants and polyphenols in it. It’s fabulous and is a major part of my healing diet.

      Thanks for the tips from an “anti-Guru” — you’re really onto something here! Kelley

    4. Olivia Says:

      First, found this blog through Guruphiliac. I was beginning to think I was the only New Age-type who wanted to bang heads together over the whole Law of Attraction trend.

      As to this post, I’m game for the challenge.

      Let’s see:
      1. “Published research” never says who conducted the research, where it was published or what the research standards were. Lifeway can pay a lab to conduct research, publish it on their website, and have that research conducted under very dubious standards. The “research” would never get published in a peer-reviewed journal, but it is ‘published.’ It could be akin to the difference between Joe Schmoe who went to Vanity Crap Novel Press calling himself a ‘published author’ and J.M. Coetzee with a Nobel Prize in Literature calling himself a ‘published author.’

      2. “Shown” vs. “proven”. This research, however dubious it may be, has not ‘proven’ anything. Some result mere show a tendency to something. Research, especially research with dubious protocols, can ‘show’ anything. In college, a number of my friends decided to informally research the effect of their love of all recreational pharmaceuticals on test scores. They discovered that if they were blotto while studying and blotto while taking a test, their test scores were better than they were when they were blotto while studying and sober while taking a test. This did ‘show’ that their substance of choice helped their test scores, but it hardly ‘proved’ it.

      3. Gracias to Steven for showing some issues with the ‘probiotic cultures found in’ statement.

      4. “Lifeway kefir.” Is it only Lifeway kefir? Or are these cultures found in other products? A more direct, but less marketing savvy, way of saying it would be, “probiotic cultures, like the ones found in Lifeway kefir,” probably. I have had other brands of kefir, and my cereal swears it has probiotics in it, too. But the way they phrased it does make it sound like regular old kefir, some kinds of yogurt, or any other product but Lifeway kefir just won’t do.

      5. “May”: As Ric pointed out, that is hedging if ever I saw it. Sure, as my dorm mates in college assured me, smoking pot before a test ‘may’ improve my score, but I really was not about to test their theory.

      6. “Enhance the immune system.” First of all, love how they underline ‘enhance.’ Enhance is one of those advertising buzzwords that, thanks to all the ‘natural male enhancement’ ads, has gotten a whole new connotation of power and greatness. It also can be essentially nonspecific, and really only means “make bigger and better.” “The immune system” is also vague — it’s actually a pretty big system. Are we talking white blood cells, lymph nodes, or one of the other hundreds of parts going the immune system I don’t know a thing about? Also, if the immune system gets too “enhanced,” then we have autoimmune disorder, where we get allergic to every last little thing and become one of those people going around all the time with hand sanitizer and punctuating every sentence with “Yes, but is it gluten free?”

      7. “Balance digestive health.” You know, as I’m thinking about this, it would have been more compelling if they said “Balance the immune system” and “Enhance digestive health.” Balance is another vague word, and does not have the connotation of ‘maintaining regularity’ in the digestive system (thanks, fiber ads!). Digestive health is also pretty vague, and has a lot of aspects to it. All I know here is that eating/drinking/slurping kefir will ‘balance digestive health,’ so while it may make me stink up every bathroom in town and become profoundly flatulent, I may not get heartburn and indigestion that much — hey, it all balances out, right.

      And then, in closing, they go back to the happy mantra of ‘enhance and balance’ (even though it is really hard to do both at the same time, if not impossible) with ‘Lifeway kefir’ because ain’t no other kefir going to do this. Or something.

      Extra Credit:
      That sentence is presupposing that the way the rich were thinking had an instrumental part to play with them becoming rich. It ignores things like training, actions they took, the scholarship money they got, the fact that they decided to go into the oil business rather than post-postmodern cyborg-feminist performance art, the country and time they were born in, the set of cultural advantages they were given, the assistance they received from others, and on and on.

      Extra, extra credit:
      Cynical answer: Because the government, comprised mostly of the wealthy, has no problem with a bunch of people going to expensive workshops that absolutely won’t teach them how to become rich. Better to have people think they are poor because they aren’t ‘manifesting’ properly and are sending out weak ‘rockets of desire,’ rather than think that poverty has a lot to do with social, racial and cultural biases that might ultimately threaten the wealth of the very people in government. But there’s a ton of money to be made in medical malpractice, and given that most lobbyists (the people who actually write the laws) are lawyers… Then again, I worked for a lobbyist on health care and medical malpractice issues once, and I’m jaded. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    5. Ed Says:

      Given the above good answers, I’m going to skip right to the extra credit. “We studied a group of millionaires and discovered what they have in common…”

      Can I pick the group of millionaires to study? That sentence certainly doesn’t define the group, so there’s no requirement for it to be representative of the population at large. Nor is there any reason for it to be a large group (could be 3 people) nor does it necessarily have to be related to the target audience. I think I’ll pick “professional basketball players.”

      So… what do they have in common? They’re very tall, have great athletic skills, and have been playing basketball for years.

      So, now you’re going to teach me to think just like the rich? Well, I imagine that my group of rich spends a lot of time thinking about roll and picks and fast breaks and ways to get an edge over other millionaires in the group. I imagine there’s a lot of thinking about physical conditioning too.

      Now, assuming I think like this, I’m going to be rich too? Really? So exactly what is the mechanism where thinking makes me taller? Because when you teach me *that* trick, I’ll believe you’re on to something. Otherwise, I guess that I just can’t think myself into being like these millionaires at all.

    6. sashen Says:

      I think Olivia got all the points I found, too. I said “9” because I broke up “enhance” and “immune system” as well as “balance” and “digestive health.”

      “Enhance” and “balance” have no meaning in this context. Nor does “immune system” or “digestive health.”

      The “we studied millionaires” one really cracks me up. Why millionaires? Why not $999,999.99-aires? And what happens if someone HAD a million and then recently lost it? And what if our millionaires had a change in circumstance?

      And, why look for something they have in common? We LOVE the idea that it MUST be a commonality that caused them to have the same result. In fact, in “The Millionaire Next Door,” they didn’t count people who had made money in high-tech, let alone the various secretaries from Microsoft whose early stock options made them MULTI-millionaires.

      And, even if there WERE a commonality, and especially if it were a personality trait or habit of thinking, the odds that this group TRIED or TRAINED to become that way is, uh, let’s say, unlikely.

      So, even though nobody would suggest that, by knowing how Tiger Woods became Tiger Woods, they’ll toss out the idea that once you know how Joe Richguy became Joe Richguy (through the practice of human sacrifice and saving toenail clippings), then YOU TOO can adopt that new way of thinking and acting (when’s the last time you deliberately developed a new way to think?)… and, of course, this will lead to the same results Joe got.

      I could continue ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Oh, and frankly, I’m stumped about why making ridiculous claims about cause and effect with regard to income generation is not equally as illegal as saying “Lifeway Kefir will eliminate cancer, ingrown hair, and plantar warts,” other than the fact that the people making those laws are probably too busy attending some no-money-down real-estate seminar.

    7. Olivia Says:

      But Steven…if they sued people who made ridiculous claims about how to get rich, then they’d have to admit that most rich people, including the people who make laws, are rich for a billion and one different reasons and that there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone will become rich. Some of them are trust-fund babies, some of them are corrupt idiots, and some of them actually worked hard, came up with a useful idea, and spent a lot of time working and zero time in front of any “manifestation board” or “treasure map.”

      There’s a hilarious documentary called “Born Rich,” made by one of the Johnson & Johnson heirs, in which he interviews his other trust-fund endowed young friends, including Ivanka Trump. She recalls a time when her father was in huge debt and pointed to a homeless man. “See that guy?” The Donald said. “He has 80 million dollars more than I do right now.” If thinking your way rich was the way to do it, than how the hell is Donald Trump still grotesquely rich? Half of those kids in the movie were afraid of getting disowned at any moment, and they are all still and probably always will be a lot wealthier than Tony Robbins devotees. Most of them, through absolutely no effort at all, are richer than Tony Robbins.

      I’m really waiting for Abraham to explain that one.

    8. sashen Says:

      I *loved* Born Rich for exactly that reason: it showed how these REALLY rich people did NOT “think like the rich” or have “positive” beliefs or even like money! And I thought the homeless guy was 8 BILLION richer than The Donald ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I also think that if the gov’t went after people who made false claims about the causes of wealth, it would undermine a whole slew of beliefs that keep the gears of this country greased — basically the Horatio-Alger-meets-the-Industrial-Revolution beliefs that anyone can become anything if they just work hard enough.

      There’s a great book called “Lies My Teacher Told Me” that, in one chapter, discusses how the media held out Helen Keller as the greatest example of the proof of that belief… but as Helen got older, she began lecturing about how, in reality, America is a classist society and that her achievements were only possible because her parents were rich, privileged and white. Wouldn’t you know it, once Helen started saying “these people who say you can become anything you want are lying to you,” the media started suggesting she was a communist.

    9. Stacy Clark Says:

      I’m surprised no one has pointed out that “We examined a group of millionaires and discovered what they have in commonโ€ฆ” could realistically mean . . .

      Millionaires are “ugly bags of mostly water,”
      Millionaires walk on 2 legs,
      Millionaires have 2 arms, 2 feet, 2 hands, 10 finger, 10 toes, 2 eyes, etc.
      Millionaires breathe air and drown in water.
      Millionaires feet touch the ground when they walk.
      Millionaire’s sh*t stinks.
      Millionaires . . . you get the idea.

      ~ Stacy

    10. Ron Grubaugh Says:

      I am having difficulty believing, Steve, that you are actually stumped by what you say you are. Is this a metaphorical usage and it’s going over my head? (Stumped = I see no basis for a distinction)

      We feel very strongly about freedom of speech in this country. As a result of that, restrictions upon speech are very difficult to legislate. Nonetheless, even being totally ignorant of the details, as I most assuredly am, it seems obvious that there is a strict set of regulations regarding health claims for consumable products. That would not prevent me from writing a book claiming that kefir would cure everything from plantar warts to mange (assuming of course that you fed it to your dog). What is to be stumped about?

      What does have me stumped is how people get away with advertising on TV that if you take the pills they’re selling it will increase the size of your wing-wang. But I haven’t enough interest to look into it (referring of course to the question of how they get away with it).

    11. Barry Says:

      I’ve taken those pills

      My wing-wang has gotten HUGE!

      But my penis is the same size.


    12. sashen Says:

      First of all, Barry, I actually DID “lol”

      Secondly, Ron, you’re right. I’m not REALLY stumped… let’s say I’m more stunned. Or maybe dumbfounded, or amazed, or berflittedywonkeed.

      People can’t yell fire in a movie theater, but they can yell, “Buy real estate and you’ll make a fortune!” I think the latter may be more dangerous.





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