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Friday, September 12, 2014

Tony Robbins Firewalk Scam

I have to admit that even though I don't like or really believe in Tony Robbins, I honestly believed the idea that doing the fire walk -- walking over hot coals without getting hurt -- was an issue of mind of matter.

Maybe that's because I'm a gullible idiot.

Today I just happened upon this video.  This reports on the July 2012 San Jose firewalk incident in which several people suffered burns and may or may not have been hospitalized.  The initial reports (including from this video) were that there were screams of agony and that some people suffered third degree burns.  Robbins' defenders quickly jumped in and claimed that nobody was hospitalized and nobody suffered third degree burns, and that it's not unusual for some participants -- maybe 1% -- to experience some blistering.

I'm not here to judge that dispute -- I'm perfectly willing to believe that nobody was seriously hurt and that the initial news reports were exaggerated.

The video showed two Robbins acolytes talking about how the firewalk was a demonstration of mind over matter.  A contemporaneous Fox video featured a woman recalling that Tony Robbins had spent about an hour going over how to do the firewalk -- walk at a normal pace, don't look down, and keep repeating "cool feet" or something like that to yourself.

Other Tony Robbins' apologists managed to turn this thing into one more big advertisement for Tony Robbins.  Here's a paean to his greatness from Marianne Schnall, in the HuffingtonPost.  Marianne did the fire walk on a previous occasion and adores Tony Robbins, so she knew immediately that the news reports had to be wrong.  Apparently Arriana Huffington is an acolyte and firewalk-believer as well; Schnall quotes her as saying in an email: "It was a powerful experience of the inner strength we have to create the lives we want, not the lives we settle for -- an inner strength greater than we often give ourselves credit for. And my tiny blisters were a reminder of that!"

But what I learned from the ABCnews video is that the whole firewalking thing is just a sham.  Or maybe a scam.  There were clips of several people saying that it had been debunked, including someone from "Mythbusters" as well as Steven Salerno, author of "Sham," who says that coal is not a good conductor of heat -- if you get the temperature right and are walking fast enough, you won't feel a thing.  I guess it's like moving your finger through a lit candle flame -- you can do it without feeling a thing, but if you slow down too much, or hold your finger above the flame, you'll get burned.  If you've never tried that, go ahead -- it's cheaper than a Tony Robbins seminar.

So I'm not blaming Tony for causing people to get burned.  I'm blaming him for causing people to believe that they were NOT getting burned because of some "mind-over-matter" principle.

Don't get me wrong -- I absolutely believe in "mind over matter" in any number of contexts (that's the placebo effect).  Just not in firewalking.

So that's one more reason I don't like Tony Robbins.

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