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Should Have KnownYou Will Know Me
Wayne Dyer explains that he is
"uncovering the metaphysical," so that makes him a philosopher.
Unfortunately, he is a muddled thinker and most of what he says makes little
sense. What is remarkable is that has been so successful in promoting his
products. It makes one wonder why real philosophers are so bad at explaining
their ideas to the general public, and what could happen if they had more
Transformation is a
collection of recordings of Dyer talking to audiences or explaining his ideas
in a studio, interspersed with short pieces of annoying light music. The two
CDs have about two hours of material on them. Dyer has an easy manner, and
while he is a little grandiose, he also has humor about himself. He uses down
to earth examples -- when saying it is good to stretch oneself, he uses the
analogy of his nylon running shorts.
His main messages are that in
order to live happily, we should understand that
people are their minds, and so are not essentially physical
people should not define themselves by their bodies
people should not be judgmental because that just defines who
they are, not who they are judging
there is no point being judgmental because we can't change the
people should have a positive attitude to live and test their
boundaries, trying new ways of living
people should enjoy life and have a positive attitude towards
Some of these ideas seem sensible
enough, but they seem pretty trivial. When he starts making arguments, they
fall apart. There's a central tension in his argument. On the one hand, he
says we are more than our bodies and we should appreciate the importance of our
non-physical life. Therefore there are no limits to our life, and we are not
bound by the laws of cause and effect. All that matters is our experience, and
reality is irrelevant. On the other hand, he says that our non-physical life
is "just thought" and we can ignore it because it is not important.
This sounds like a plain self-contradiction, and Dyer does not give his ideas
enough complexity to resolve this complexity.
Dyer seems seriously confused about
metaphysics. He says that transformation means "going beyond your
form." Now, he has a curious understanding of what the word
"form" means. A standard philosophical distinction is between
"matter" and "form." Matter is the stuff that things are
made of, and form is what gives it its shape. A table is made of the matter of
wood, for example, and what makes it a table is how the wood is put together,
which its form. However, Dyer confuses the issue by using "form"
apparently to mean "matter." He adds, bizarrely, that matter is
vibration, and that everything is vibrating, and that thought, being the
fastest and highest form of vibration, is the stuff of the universe. So
underlying his metaphysics seems to be some kind of idealism, the view that
everything is made of ideas. But going back to his understanding of
transformation, he seems to mean the transcendence of our physical selves, and
this is, for Dyer, the ability to do whatever one wants, including perform
miracles. To change the world, one simply changes one's thought.
Remarkably, he also says we should
not feel guilty about what we have done because the past is just thought. He
mentions that time is not real, and refers to Einstein as his source, in an
obvious misunderstanding of the meaning of relativity theory. Guilt, anger and
fear are pointless in Dyer's view. He promotes some odd brand of acceptance,
recommending that we should stop being judgmental about other people, and
should simply understand where they are in their lives and adopt a loving
attitude towards the world.
While he does not ally himself with
religion, his ideas seem suffused with religious rhetoric. One of his favorite
claims is that "you'll see it when you believe it," which is closely
linked to the idea of the importance of faith. He says that once we start believing,
miracles will start happening in our lives. His focus on personal
transformation sounds very like the idea of redemption through prayer, and he
is charismatic in his conviction. Only those people who have seen his truth
can really understand it, and this makes him sound very like a mystic.
There's a conservative agenda here,
which is brought out by Dyer's attitudes towards the unemployed. He says
people's circumstances reveal a lot about them, implying that people are
unemployed because they choose to be. He also says that people should be
listening to him because he has been so successful: his circumstances show that
he is worth listening to, and reveal the value of his words. His general view
that we should not blame people but should rather accept them leads to a focus
on ourselves: rather than change the world, we change ourselves. His vision
seems to be one of a world of people who are busy working on self-improvement
rather than helping other people. He insists that everyone is capable of
success and it follows that people are accountable for their own failure -- but
that we should not judge them for their failure. So it seems clear that Dyer
has little room in his approach for social change and that indignation about
injustice is just another instance of being "judgmental." He thinks
we should accept the world as it is and see the positive in everything.
Judgment clogs pure thought, in his view, and so we need to avoid it.
Yet at the same time, Dyer also
suggests that everything is as it should be, and that each stage of one's life
is where one should be, which sounds like a judgment to me, but he calls it
acceptance. His distinction between judgment and acceptance ends up being a
prescription to abandon any critical thought at all.
Of course, many of the platitudes
that Dyer promotes contain important truths; for example, it is counterproductive
to become bound up with negative attitudes and to blame other people rather
than taking action to make one's own life better. Constantly blaming other people
for past wrongs can be corrosive to one's well being. Yet Dyer's prescription
goes far too far in the other direction, allowing people to forget the needs of
other people and be indifferent to the pain that they have caused in the past.
There are parts of Dyer's thought
that seem utterly bizarre not at the philosophical level but just at the
simple empirical level. One notable example concerns schizophrenia and
cancer. He calls cancer a "psychic energy system," and he claims
that people with schizophrenia don't get cancer. His suggestion is that people
with schizophrenia have no energy containment, and this makes them somehow
immune to cancer. I am not familiar with the epidemiology of cancer in people
with major mental illnesses, but I will be amazed if his claims have any
resemblance to the truth. His view betrays a lack of understanding of the
nature of schizophrenia and an irresponsible attitude about speculating about
it. Similarly, some of his brief comments about depression seem to imply that
people with depression could end their illness by adopting a different attitude
-- after all, on his view, everything is thought and we can perform miracles
when come to have the right view of the world. Again, while he eschews being
judgmental, this approach leads to the view that people are to blame for their
own depression. This sort of view is irresponsible and dangerous.
In conclusion, people who are
filled with negative emotions and are looking for ways to become more positive
may find something useful here in Dyer's ideas since they may provide a way to
see life differently. But anyone who is suffering from mental illness would be
well advised to steer very clear of Dyer's views, and those searching for a
sophisticated philosophical understanding of the world should also look
© 2006 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Christian Perring, Ph.D., is
Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor
of Metapsychology Online Reviews. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.