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by Wayne W. Dyer
Simon and Schuster Audio, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jun 6th 2006

Transformation

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 success.

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 beings

·        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 past

·        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 others.

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 elsewhere. 

 

  © 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.