The Law of Attraction is definitely, well, an attractive thought. It essentially says you can get anything you want if you just WANT it enough! And who can’t do that? No one. So anyone can get anything.
Unfortunately, though it’d be a nice trick, the world simply doesn’t work the way it’s described in books (and movies) like The Secret, so I’d like to take a few minutes to tell you why the Law of Attraction is bullshit, why you should laugh it out of your life, and then why (and how) you can succeed anyway.
Since the Law of Attraction was most recently made popular by the book/movie The Secret, let’s start there.
First, consider 3 main pivot-points on which The Secret is based:
- If you know what you want, ask the universe for it, visualize it being yours, and be open to receiving it and letting go of the outcome, you will get what you want.
- The Law of Attraction is based on quantum physics.
- There is plenty of evidence to support the existence of the Law of Attraction.
Looking at this above 3 arguments, it’s easy to understand why so many people have been taken by The Secret’s claims. Each of them seems logical and rational individually, and together they seem to make a pretty strong argument that the Law of Attraction is the real deal. Unfortunately, each and every one of these points is an exaggeration at least, and an outright lie at most.
- If you know what you want, ask the universe for it, visualize it being yours, and be open to receiving it and letting go of the outcome, you will get what you want. Sadly, this is not true. Simply knowing what you want and asking the universe for it will not make it so. Who would be fulfilling these wishes? On what basis would they choose which to fulfill and which to ignore? If you asked for something that contradicted what someone else asked for, whose wish would win? It’s all just wishful thinking.
- The Law of Attraction is based on quantum physics. Saying that the Law of Attraction is based on quantum physics is a slap to the face for anyone who knows anything about quantum physics, has ever worked in a scientific field, or has either one of their feet planted in reality. A popular trick among hucksters and thieves is to give legitimacy to their product by claiming it has scientific backing. If someone used a fairly well understood scientific principle to explain their product (‘your hair will grow back if you want it to, due to the scientific powers of helium!’), they’d be exposed as frauds when someone brought forth numbers that clearly showed them to be incorrect. If a new, still misunderstood principle is used, however, who’s going to contradict you? One of the scientists who are still struggling to explain how and why the principle works? Doubtful. And the double-whammy is that new scientific principles often have an aura of magic about them. When humans first harnessed the power of the atom, everything was ‘atomic’ and when cavemen first developed fire, no doubt every enterprising Neanderthal was hitting the streets, selling ‘fire-clubs’ and ‘fire-rocks,’ despite the lack of fire involved with either product. The long and the short is that there is no evidence that quantum physics has anything to do with energy created by thoughts. This is pure fantasy, and not even original fantasy. It was most-recently written about by Rhonda Byrne (The Secret), but it was not created by her (more about this below).
- There is plenty of evidence to support the existence of the Law of Attraction. The only ‘evidence’ that exists to support the Law of Attraction is anecdotal. For the uninitiated, this means that the only thing holding this whole scam above water is the testimony of people who say that it worked for them. Let’s take a moment to think about this: you see people testifying that products and services work for them all the time…do you believe those people who are paid to talk about their alleged success stories on infomercials? What’s more is that anecdotal evidence is in no way scientific. The scientific method involves making predictions and having testable results. Like séances, miraculous conception, exorcisms, and the myriad other mystical claims before them, the Law of Attraction is untestable and un-falsifiable (there’s no way to prove that it isn’t happening, but also no way to prove that it is happening, which is a logical fallacy), which means that it is eminently unscientific (and unsupportable by anything except the statements of people who may or may not be paid by the people who are selling the books and DVDs).
The long and the short of this is that the Law of Attraction is a nice thought, but at the end of the day is a scam like any other. It’s a clever scam, and one that has taken in more intelligent people than any other scam I’ve seen before, but it’s a scam nonetheless (I would argue that The Secret was targeted specifically at intelligent people, what with its focus on achievement and science and human potential; all touch points for the influencers of the world).
Interestingly enough, The Secret was not the first hoax to make use of the Law of Attraction in order to sell product. It’s not even the first book to do so! Back in the first decade of the 1900’s, William Walker Atkinson wrote a book called Thought Vibration of the Law of Attraction in the Thought World which, as the title implies, is about the Law of Attraction as it is explained in The Secret. Thirty years later, Napoleon Hill wrote Think and Grow Rich – a book that remains to this day one of the bestselling books of all time — in which he describes a method for controlling your own thoughts, the energy they contain (which can attract other thoughts) and how to use this knowledge to get what you want. These are not nearly the only times the Law of Attraction has been used to sell books in the past, but they are two of the most prominent.
It should be noted that every time this hoax has been used in the past, the scientific community has ousted it from prominence shortly after its inception into the mainstream public. The same, unfortunately, has not happened yet for its most recent inception (though that’s been the media’s fault more than representatives of the scientific community…publishers and producers have much better PR people than do quantum physicists).
The really strange part of this entire movement is that, in a lot of ways, the Law of Attraction IS REAL. True, it has nothing to do with thought energy or quantum physics or anything hokey like that, but there is reason to believe that focusing on what you want will help you achieve it. You know why? Because when you focus on something, you consciously and subconsciously up your game in relation to that objective. If you really want a new car, and you spend all your free time thinking about it, even during the dull moments at work when you really just want to quit, you will make decisions that will move you closer to getting that car (keeping the job, taking on extra hours) whether you see it that way at the moment or not. That’s human nature, not magic (and definitely not quantum physics).
“But Colin,” you may be thinking, “if there actually IS something to this whole Law of Attraction thing, even if the books lie about why it works the way it does, why does it matter what mechanism achieves that end? Are you just a hateful person trying to rain on my parade?”
No, dear reader, I’m not a hateful person, and I really, really hate raining on peoples’ parades. I do, however, firmly believe that allowing ourselves to become disconnected with cause and effect and reality is a very dangerous thing, for ourselves and for our continued success in the material world.
Think about it: something that is magic is unchangeable and unquestionable. It just happens. It’s magic. You can react to it, but not do much about it otherwise. Something that’s scientific, on the other hand, is infinitely malleable; it can be studied, understood and changed to suit our needs. To call something magic when really it’s just complicated is doing everyone an injustice because it’s spreading the acceptance of willful ignorance and therefore hobbling our future efforts to understand the world and make positive changes.
A world full of mystics won’t invent the next big technological breakthrough or cure AIDS; all they would be able to do is sit back, hope real hard and watch as everyone around them slowly dies, totally unable to comprehend why.
What do you think about the Law of Attraction? Skeptic? Convert? Am I totally right? Dead wrong? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Update: April 24, 2016
It’s funny looking back at this post, because the Law of Attraction isn’t so popular anymore. It has, however, been replaced by numerous other spiritualist gimmicks that manipulate the same desire to believe and grow in people who are good-naturedly pulled to anything that makes the world seem like a more magical place.
And the same argument holds for all of these new things. Anecdotal evidence isn’t scientific, and though there’s always a possibility that some energy we don’t yet know about is allowing us to control matter with our thoughts, that’s just as likely as invisible unicorns living in Oregon. There’s no way we can prove that there are no invisible unicorns in Oregon, but that doesn’t mean we have any reason to believe there are.
Science and rationality give us a foundation from which to explore the world, the universe, around us. Anything is possible, but harnessing the things we discover, making real, actual magic happen, requires that these things we believe in are testable and falsifiable. If they’re not, we’re just buying into someone else’s faith, delusions, or scams.
But this is also a bummer thing to bring up in some circles, even amongst very intelligent people who should know better. Tim Minchin has a great piece he does about this, talking about these non-religious, faith-based systems, and how one feels like a jerk for bringing up their illegitimacy sometimes.
I should note that I still get angry emails about this post, primarily from people who’ve just discovered the Law of Attraction or something like it, and clearly haven’t read the post (but have decided to be angry about someone calling their new faith bullshit).
It’s frankly not my responsibility to convince anyone of anything, so it’s not the end of the world if they don’t end up seeing the world the way I see it. But man is it awkward when someone starts spewing falsehoods about quantum physics at a party or on a date; even though they’re the ones in the wrong, bringing up anything about actual science always seems like raining on their misinformed parade.