Two important disclaimers:
- The Silva Method is a series of techniques that must be practiced. I have read the book and mostly have a decent model for what it's doing, but haven't devoted weeks and months to practice. You'll see why; but, therefore, who knows how right I am.
- I read this out of a hobby: learning about various woo practices or techniques out of curiosity. This isn't because I have an affinity for the mystic or a repulsion of rationality. Rather, in my experience, "effective" techniques—as claimed by practitioners—often model the world literally incorrectly, but in a way that points at a deeper truth that's typically more complex than reductionist science can interact with directly. Good practices, no matter what their world model is, are useful! Max Langenkamp has also explored this idea with respect to "energy work".
The Silva Method is the top book in Amazon's Extrasensory perception category, and I've heard of it several times over the past several years — almost always with enthusiastic recommendations. The Amazon reviews alone are quite good, with nearly 6000 5 star reviews and very few 1 or 2 star reviews. So, there must be something here, right?
José Silva is the kind of citizen scientist that Adam Mastroianni frequently encourages (I linked to a random favorite essay of his, but seriously, go read his stuff). Silva wasn't credentialed or authorized by anyone to do science, but had some weird observations and pulled those threads. He was clearly curious and attempted to be as rigorous as possible. What resulted was a framework and method of "mind control".
His mind control ranges from entirely mundane—remembering facts more easily—to entirely supernatural—remotely diagnosing and healing medical issues and mental time travel. And therein lies the fundamental issue: Silva's lack of scientific education most definitely interfered with his ability to differentiate between interesting increased mental capacity techniques, and the supernatural.
It's a visualization meditation technique that facilitates a quiet mind. Within this state, certain memory and cognitive tasks are subjectively easier. Furthermore, it's a high-agency worldview, no different than modern "manifesting" (in fact, I bet manifesting was influenced by his work). That's basically it. It "works" because (a) actually intentionally creating supportive mind states for cognitive tasks is helpful, (b) high-agency matters.
That doesn't sell well, even if it "works". I don't want to accuse him of being a charlatan — I don't have any strong opinions about what he actually believed. However, he is most definitely literally wrong about many things, and statistical misunderstanding abounds in the book. I was hoping that I could get good citations for the research that has been done, but even their site's Research page is mostly un-cited claims, broken links, and quotations from people such as "The World’s leading experts on spirituality and the brain". For being as certain as they are about the validity of the method, they're not that interested in actual science.
So, perhaps I'm missing out on something supernaturally astounding. I like the mental model, but it's capable of 10% of what he claims it is.