September 6, 2002
9:52 AM   Subscribe

The frequency of chocolate cake compared to my freakin' laptop computer? Kirlian Photography? God! So much hype! The Q-Link! That stupid "arm test!" The more I think about it, the more bogus it seems!

A true believer discusses the flim flam behind a Tony Robbins seminar in James Randi's online newsletter Swift.
posted by mikrophon (50 comments total)

 
Glad to see, too, that Sylvia successfully made it past the one-year mark.
posted by interrobang at 10:06 AM on September 6, 2002


Randi is an epistemic bully who makes a living by telling people what they can and can't believe. People will believe what they want, and their reasons for doing so tend to be just as good as those of epistemic conservatives like Randi's, even if they don't fall neatly into Randi's canon.

People tend to prefer William James' principles as outlined in his essay "The Will to Believe" to Clifford's starved epistemology in "The Ethics of Belief".

Of course, self-styled debunkers know what's better for the benighted masses to believe, don't they?
posted by goethean at 10:16 AM on September 6, 2002


> Randi is an epistemic bully who makes a living by telling people what they can and can't believe.

And he charges less than the guys he targets!
posted by ChuqD at 10:22 AM on September 6, 2002


I wonder how many more times goethean is going to say "epistemic" in this thread....

Randi does not tell people what to believe. all he does is tell people what *not* to believe. there is a very big difference.

now i'm going to sit back and wait for ptermit to come tear goethean apart again.
posted by interrobang at 10:25 AM on September 6, 2002


I give the blind newsguy a buck when he thinks it's a five! Ha ha! Hey if that's what he believes, then so be it. 'Least I'm not epistemic!
posted by HTuttle at 10:30 AM on September 6, 2002


With respect to Tony Robbins' whole shtick, a fundamental part of it appears to be gearing the whole crowd into a groupthink situation, where nobody wants to be the naysayer or doubter. Having their minds sufficiently opened to his radical, life changing ideas (heh), attendees go along with the show and leave these seminars remembering only the "good" parts. It also helps when audience members have shelled out a considerable wad o' dough to be there, and might hesitate to think it had all been wasted.

It would definitely be interesting to hear from anyone who's experienced The Man Who is Tony, to get the full scoop. Am I right on the herd mentality? That seems to be the goal of the speakers at the few (non-Robbins) seminars I've ever gone to.
posted by contessa at 10:38 AM on September 6, 2002


I'm not sure I'd pay to hear him talk, or that I'd buy one of his books/tapes.
But I've sometimes watched him on tv for a few minutes and it seems Robbins has very simple ideas (self-confidence, motivation, learning how to concentrate, understanding your goals etc)
Maybe employee/athlete motivation techniques are all bullshit, I'm not a psychologist and it's not for me to judge. But as far as snake oil stuff goes, Robbins' brand doesn't look that dangerous
posted by matteo at 10:40 AM on September 6, 2002


And yes, of course "food frequency" looks pretty suspicious
posted by matteo at 10:48 AM on September 6, 2002


I wonder how many more times goethean is going to say "epistemic" in this thread....

You know what? Fuck you and your know-nothing smugness. This thread is about epistemology. I didn't start it. You want a dictionary?


Randi does not tell people what to believe. all he does is tell people what *not* to believe. there is a very big difference.

I love being "torn apart" by people who clearly demonstrate that they have no idea what they're talking about.
posted by goethean at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2002 [1 favorite]


Randi might be a bit curmudgeonly in his approach, but I don't see any problem with trying to keep dishonest "psychics" and "faith healers" from taking money from desperate people, not to mention encouraging scientific investigation of "paranormal" claims.

Plus he looks like Santa Claus!
posted by mikrophon at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2002


goethean: according to your linked dictionary (and this is not so different than how it's defined on dictionary.com,)

epistemic: of or relating to knowledge or knowing : COGNITIVE

big fucking deal. why'd you use this word in the first place? You could say that any damned metafilter thread was "of or relating to knowledge". So why use it? Just pretentious.

You brought the attack on yourself by immediately jumping on James Randi in a thread about Anthony Robbins. What did you actually think about the article? Did you read it?
posted by interrobang at 11:07 AM on September 6, 2002


You know what? Fuck you and your know-nothing smugness.
You want a dictionary?
...people who clearly demonstrate that they have no idea what they're talking about.


goethean, you're new here, let me tell you a little MetaFilter story: we've lost many smart users here who are missed (classic example: holgate)
They were all very smart people who knew their shit, and gave a lot to the community.
But they also had some basic manners, you know?
posted by matteo at 11:09 AM on September 6, 2002


goethean -- Why so defensive? No one is trying to tear you apart.

For the record, Randi didn't even write that bit about Robbins. Still, I do love that man.
posted by mikrophon at 11:11 AM on September 6, 2002


Whoa! Somebody has bad Qi this morning!
posted by mcwetboy at 11:40 AM on September 6, 2002


My comment from the last Randi thread posted by owillis.
posted by skallas at 11:56 AM on September 6, 2002


Of course, self-styled debunkers know what's better for the benighted masses to believe, don't they?

An apt self-description, goethean.
posted by rocketman at 12:03 PM on September 6, 2002


Wow, to think I've gone through life without knowing the frequency of KFC is 3 MHz. My whole world's turned inside out!
posted by mogwai at 12:15 PM on September 6, 2002


But about the article.

Anybody here ever been to one of those Jim Wand Hypnotism scam things? The second time I saw him, he invited me up on stage with about ten other people, and he "hypnotized" us. He commanded me to "speak Martian" upon coming out of my trance.

Since this was during my rebellious teenage years (all-black clothes and long hair), when he asked me a question - presumably, to get a comic answer in Martian - I said "This is so lame." Big laughs from the audience.
posted by rocketman at 12:17 PM on September 6, 2002


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posted by sharksandwich at 12:44 PM on September 6, 2002


it seems Robbins has very simple ideas (self-confidence, motivation, learning how to concentrate, understanding your goals etc).

His approach combines some basic NLP with some standard goal-setting and time management techniques. He's an entertaining showman, which does help people remember what he taught at the seminar (that, and as the article pointed out, if you cough up big bucks you have a big incentive to get something out of it).

His sales techniques remind me uncomfortably of certain other large-group trainings, though. The tape programs are filled with commercials for the seminars; and each seminar, in turn, is peppered with commercials for the next (and more expensive) seminar, where you will "take it to the next level" or "really get energized."

I think he should be made to scroll a Results Not Typical disclaimer across the bottom of the screen during his infomercials.
posted by Tholian at 1:00 PM on September 6, 2002


Good link skallas.

Funny, mikrophon, I get defensive when accused of pretention for using the exact word that conveys my meaning.
posted by goethean at 1:09 PM on September 6, 2002


I just wanted everyone to know that the source of skallas' link believes in psychic parrots. That is all.
posted by interrobang at 1:21 PM on September 6, 2002


Does anyone know if either the "arm test" or the Tony-can-no-longer-lift-you-off-the-ground test part of the article is accurate?
posted by originalname37 at 1:30 PM on September 6, 2002


Goethean, is being accused of pretension sufficient grounds for losing your cool so spectacularly? Around here people will disagree with you. They will often be wrong. If you concentrate on explaining (or re-explaining) your side, you'll do much better than if you just freak out on them. In the end, you may make a valid point and everyone might laugh at you. Life (and metafilter) can be unfair.
posted by websavvy at 1:35 PM on September 6, 2002


I get defensive when accused of pretention for using the exact word that conveys my meaning

You're accused of pretention for using a smug, self-satisfied, know-better-than-you-do tone.

Maybe you are smart. But you're also an asshole.
posted by rocketman at 1:35 PM on September 6, 2002


Also, the MetaTalk thread.
posted by rocketman at 1:38 PM on September 6, 2002


skallas -- (from your linked comment):

Randi has no scientific background

Nor does he claim to have. Randi is a man who has spent his life as a magician (illusionist) and knows the tricks of the trade. He sees a huckster (like Brown) doing a trick (cold reading) and challenges that person to prove that she is capable of doing what she claims to be doing. The science comes in when an independent team puts said huckster's claims to the test. Randi is never involved in the tests.

The Skepdic has an embrassingly level of negative bias.


The other team has an embarrassing level of positive bias. A scientific approach to any belief is to try to disprove it. If the belief (claim) stands up to such attempts then it is worth holding onto. This is by definition a negative approach, but with positive results.

Brown wants you to believe in psychic phenomenon and Randi want to sell you on scientific materialism at any cost.

Close. Brown wants you to believe that she is a psychic so that you (or Larry King, or Montell Williams, or whomever) will give her money. Randi wants Brown to prove that she is doing what she claims or stop claiming that she can do it.

Let's be real here: Anyone can do what Brown, Edward, and their ilk do. Randi does it at his lectures. It's a trick. All that Randi is saying is "Put up or shut up." If someone chooses none of the above, then that means that that person doesn't want:

a) $1,000,000.
b) legitimacy.
c) anyone to find out that they are lying.

And, um, Tony Robbins has big teeth.
posted by mikrophon at 1:39 PM on September 6, 2002


Does anyone know if either the "arm test" or the Tony-can-no-longer-lift-you-off-the-ground test part of the article is accurate?

I don't know about the "arm test", but I'm pretty sure that if Tony's doing the "lifting", and he's already decided that you're suddenly too heavy, you're definitely not going anywhere.

...and welcome to the wild, wild world of metafilter, orignalname37.
posted by interrobang at 1:47 PM on September 6, 2002


Thanks. I asked because I am shocked that anyone would expect anyone to fall for either.
posted by originalname37 at 1:50 PM on September 6, 2002


"And, um, Tony Robbins has big teeth."

All the better to bite into your wallet with, my dear.

Mikrphon has it right. These are all verifiable and reproducible parlor tricks that anyone can do with sufficient practice. Cold reading preys on the want to believe and a lot of guessing. The guys that really yank my chain are the ones who charge grieving people big bucks to "contact" a dead relative. You know, "I see an accident. Yes, something with breathing. Does the letter 'R' mean anything to you?" all just vague statements/questions which the victim quickly offers up the full details on. It's sad seeing these people crying genuine heartfelt tears whilst being duped. How can a bastards like James Van Praagh and John Edwards sleep at night?
posted by sharksandwich at 2:07 PM on September 6, 2002


How can a bastards like James Van Praagh and John Edwards sleep at night?

On a big pile of money, surrounded by beautiful women.
posted by mikrophon at 2:12 PM on September 6, 2002


interrobang: I just wanted everyone to know that the source of skallas' link believes in psychic parrots. That is all.

That's a pretty simplistic and overly dramatic account of Sheldrake's theories regarding morphogenic fields and what he has often called 'the unexplained power in animals.' Yes, Sheldrake is alternative/fringe, but no one deserves to be treated the way Randi treated him. Randi got his airtime, gave his a priori assumption party-line, and then was later found out to be lying and exagerating. CSICOP has often called itself a media organization and they try hard get their point across. Facts be damned if they get in the way.

Sheldrake has a nice page on his 'controversies' here.

As far as beliefs vs theories go, from Sheldrake's own mouth:
I have never regarded animal telepathy as revealed truth; it is certainly no article of faith for any religion, nor is it even mentioned in most books on parapsychology. I entered this field of enquiry with an open mind about what animals can and cannot do, and would not otherwise have spent years in empirical investigations of their abilities.
This CSICOP neo-skepticism seems very desperate to me. Skeptics of all kinds are quick to join and defend some really shady characters because of their media connections and colorful antics. Randi is something of the clown prince of skeptics, not being a scientist frees him for any real responsiblity to do science and he can be as over the top as CSICOP wants him to be. Something like filling the pews by using some crowd-pleasing gimmick psuedo-skeptic style.
posted by skallas at 2:16 PM on September 6, 2002


skallas: I'm dubious because the only reference you've provided about this psychic dog and Randi being a jerk to Mr. Sheldrake is on Sheldrake's own website. People often lie, especially pseudo-scientists and "psychics"; It would not be the first time that someone who's come under CSICOP's inquiry has played the victim with untruth. It happens.

not being a scientist frees him for any real responsiblity to do science and he can be as over the top as CSICOP wants him to be.

what mikrophon said.
posted by interrobang at 2:25 PM on September 6, 2002


interrobang: I'm dubious because the only reference you've provided about this psychic dog and Randi being a jerk to Mr. Sheldrake is on Sheldrake's own website.

First you are assuming Sheldrake is lying in public, which I would think would get the attention of Randi and his CSICOP cohorts. You are the one making the claim that Sheldrake is lying in a pathetic defense of Randi, so where's your proof? Also, what's stopping you from emailing Randi or the JREF and asking yourself? I guess people will believe what they want regardless of evidence, be they skeptic or credulous.
posted by skallas at 2:28 PM on September 6, 2002


This CSICOP neo-skepticism seems very desperate to me.

I'm not sure I understand the term "neo-skepticism."

As an o.g. skeptic (them's jokes!) I think that it is entirely possible that animals have many senses that we humans don't share and therefore can't understand. The thing with the dogs? Dogs have a whole lot going on that humans don't have. So let's prove it. Double blind tests. I've seen the video in question. It's very compelling, but not, in and of itself, proof of anything.

When one starts talking about telepathy among pets via morphogenic fields, one should be ready to take some criticism. I'm not saying that there isn't something there, but let's approach it as a natural phenomenon that is to be investigated rather than a magical psychic miracle.
posted by mikrophon at 2:32 PM on September 6, 2002


Just sent to James Randi:

Hi there, Mr. Randi. In this post on metafilter.com, one of the members has linked a story on one Mr. Sheldrake, who claims that you first (ghasp!) ignored him, then lied about whether or not you'd seen a certain video of a dog looking out the window. Can you please tell us what the truth is? There is a lot of name-calling here on metafilter about this story, and some people are getting their feelings hurt.

Thank you very much,
posted by interrobang at 2:38 PM on September 6, 2002


you are assuming Sheldrake is lying in public, which I would think would get the attention of Randi and his CSICOP cohorts

Yes, that is the assumption. And it does get their attention. (third item from the bottom)
posted by mikrophon at 2:45 PM on September 6, 2002


mikrophone: So let's prove it. Double blind tests. I've seen the video in question. It's very compelling, but not, in and of itself, proof of anything.

Have you bothered to stop by his site and read his papers? Its one thing to generalize on possible pitfalls and another to look at the methodology itself from whats been published.

Regardless, I'm not defending Sheldrake as much as exposing how Randi and his CSICOP cohorts operate and why this organization has little credibility with me and that your pseudo skepts are just as capable of doing the things the credulous are often accused of doing - cooking data, etc.

In my opinion, this whole skeptic vs. credulous battle is a very dirty fight filled with people who are much more interested in hearing their own voices and winning over converts than engaging in an open discourse over anomalous events or claims.

Interestingly CSICOP head honcho Ray Hymen wrote an article on better criticism with some very telling advice even James Randi would use:
2. Clarify your objectives. Before you try to cope with a paranorrnal claim, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Are you trying to release pent-up resentment? Are you trying to belittle your opponent? Are you trying to gain publicity for your viewpoint? Do you want to demonstrate that the claim lacks reasonable justification? Do you hope to educate the public about what constitutes adequate evidence? Often, our objectives, upon examination, turn out to be mixed. And, especially when we act impulsively, some of our objectives conflict with one another.
posted by skallas at 2:52 PM on September 6, 2002


Helpful review of a Tony Robbins seminar by Alison M. Rosen.
posted by xowie at 3:10 PM on September 6, 2002


I like this review of a Tony Robbins seminar by Dave Barry.
posted by gazingus at 3:39 PM on September 6, 2002


About Sheldrake and his dog: here is an interesting account (on Sheldrake's website) of the 'psychic dog' Jaytee and his opponents, Richard Wiseman and Susan Blackmore. I've been to a lecture given by Wiseman where he spoke about his experiments conducted on Jaytee, and I was pretty convinced that the dog was in fact not psychic.

Frankly, I don't really know what to think now after reading Sheldrake's response; I'd have to look over his original paper and maybe talk it over with some other psychologists before properly making my mind up. Right now I'm quite skeptical - as I would be of any experiment that claims to provide evidence for something that would topple current thinking on both physics and neurobiology. The fact that many very intelligent scientists that I respect and spoken to do not agree with Sheldrake makes me even more skeptical; of course, they could all be wrong, but I think it's unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

It's interesting to note that Sheldrake says at the end of his article that he agrees his experiment was not conclusive and that he has more data on the way for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Of course, not all journals are equal, but we'll see what happens.
posted by adrianhon at 5:37 PM on September 6, 2002


People will believe what they want

People are foolish. One should only believe what is true.
posted by rushmc at 5:49 PM on September 6, 2002


One should only believe what is true.

Ah, yes. And what do you mean by 'true'?
posted by riviera at 5:58 PM on September 6, 2002


One should only believe what is true.

...but surely if you believe it, then it is true, to you at least...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 6:53 PM on September 6, 2002


I once attended a "mandatory for all employees" Robbins seminar.

The most interesting part was learning that Tony uses hypnosis and persuasion techniques.

The experience was like attending a revival meeting.
posted by redhead at 7:23 PM on September 6, 2002


not to mention encouraging scientific investigation of "paranormal" claims.


Which would be all well and good if CSICOP did scientific investigations of paranormal claims. Instead, they are often likely to dismiss out of hand, without investigation, many claims, and come up with simplistic explanations (without tests) to explain away others.

And though no one has brought it up yet, there's really no logical basis for Occam's (misquoted) razor. There's no particular reason that simplest reasons should always be the correct one.

Arguably, Randi's position as Debunker is a role that earns him money from his television appearances and others, so his lack of scientific investigations into the paranormal is, in a way, just so much snake oil sales.

Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate-Occam's Razor and other ways to cast aside believers in the supernatural.
posted by drezdn at 8:42 PM on September 6, 2002


hypnosis? isn't that what robbins used in the movie "shallow hal"?
posted by bwg at 8:47 PM on September 6, 2002


I went to a Tony Robbins seminar last spring. I normally wouldn't do something like that. For one thing, I'm a major debunker. I mean I'm with Randi in that there's charlatans out there who would sell your mother back to you if they could talk you into it. So I walked into the seminar with a chip on my shoulder and a very suspicious mind.

At the time I was unemployed and couldn't have afforded it, but a friend paid for me to go, and convinced me it'd do me good cuz at the time I felt kinda bad about myself. Well... I feel bad about myself most of the time. Come to think of it though, I don't feel as bad about myself nowadays.

I had incentive to put as much into it as I could muster, because I trust my friend and if he was willing to spend that much money on me I kinda felt indebted, y'know? But much of the seminar is against my personal principles. Parts of it are very groupthinky, and talking to people who volunteer to help Robbins out by going around talking to newcomers? They reminded me of those bald guys at airports who give out flowers.

Walking into the seminar was spooky to me, because there were all these people who were all fired up and had those weird googly eyed smiles like charismatic pentacostal church o god snake handlers. And Robbins used all this loud music and a big audio/visual display and he directs ya to stand up and jump up and down a lot. I figured the music probably had subliminal messages in it which may or may not work, and then he did the hypnosis thing which didn't really work so much on me, but I went along with it and I did learn some interesting things about myself. Like how my greatest fear isn't really all that scary after all.

I walked over hot coals. And yeah I know the deal. They put the coals out in such a way to where so long as you don't actually like, STAND there in the middle of it for five minutes you shouldn't get burned. You just walk across the thing and do what you're told and you make it through.

And that part kinda bugs me. So long as you do what Robbins tells you to do you'll be okay. Hrm... Yeah that part bugged me.

I do have to admit one thing though. Even though I know the 'trick' and that there never was any danger to it, I do have to admit there's still this little voice in me that has many times since said, "dude. You walked on hot coals. You can do this." Whatever 'this' is.

I have a job now. I'm now working in a field that both utilizes my strengths and helps me support the arts district in Dallas. These are things I've wanted for a long time, but I couldn't figure out how to get it. I don't know if that's cuz of Robbins. I prefer to think it's cuz of me. I refused to give up, but back last spring before I took that seminar, I was about to throw in the towel. So maybe Robbins had a little something to do with it. Maybe a smidgeon. Or maybe I woulda found that job eventually anyway. I guess I'll never know.

So yeah, Robbin's a charlatan.

He sells you back your self-confidence. OR you could say he helps you find your self-confidence if you lost it somewhere along the way.

He shows you what you're afraid of. Something you should already know, but then he suggests you face that fear, and it's kinda like being on an episode of Fear Factor. Corny. Embarrassing. But kinda fun.

He reminds you what's always been important to you, by setting up situations that encourage you to figure that stuff out.

He tells you stuff you should already know, but if you didn't know it before he told you, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Guess it depends on how you look at it.

ALL that said, I'd never drop a penny myself for a Robbins seminar. The guy's a genius at what he does (Houdini would be impressed), but he's also a major goofball.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:55 PM on September 6, 2002


Heh. That shut everybody up. *smirk*

Upon reflection of that last paragraph, actually Houdini's a poor choice. Houdini would have challenged Robbins and attempted to debunk him. P. T. Barnum would be impressed. That's what I shoulda said.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:04 PM on September 8, 2002


Or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, perhaps.
posted by rushmc at 11:41 PM on September 8, 2002


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