The Law of Attraction, for science-heads and Secret-haters

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Five or six years ago the Law of Attraction was presented to the masses in the form of a bad film. The LoA isn’t new and wasn’t new to me when I’d first heard about The Secret. Napoleon Hill was talking about how to Think and Grow Rich in the thirties, and there’s talk of the principle all the way back to before Christ.

I think when I first heard about The Secret I had recently finished Think and Grow Rich, and the afterglow had just worn off and I hadn’t really run with it. So much about the movie turned me off: the presumptuous title, the self-important wax seal motif, the whole new age vibe of it. So I never watched it, and I think its existence alone killed any urge I had to makes something out of Napoleon Hill’s take on it.

Somehow, planets had been aligning in such a way that I found myself in front of it last week. A flu/food poisoning combo had me incapacitated in front of a television, and the film was recommended to me at a time I was doped up on Neo Citron and very vulnerable.

It was really exactly like I’d expected. Terrifically cheesy. It was almost offensive. Actors, in the throes of dazzling positive intentions, shoot CGI shock waves out of their foreheads into the outside world, presumably to fetch them money, girlfriends and tropical vacations.

The action is interrupted frequently by whispered, out-of-context quotes from A-list historical figures such as Ben Franklin, Shakespeare, Emerson and Einstein, none of whom probably would have been too crazy about their posthumous involvement in this project.

But just because The Secret is profoundly cheesy and easy to dismiss, it doesn’t mean the Law of Attraction ought to be tossed out with same bathwater. I did watch it right through and by the end I was interested in the whole Law of Attraction concept again. I saw something in it I didn’t before, and in hindsight I am thankful to have watched it.

There are two basic camps on the LoA issue:

1) Those who believe that the universe (“the outside world”) is bound to do its own thing, as determined by its own internal laws, regardless of what you think about it or intend for it to do.

2) Those who believe that the course of the universe, or at least what any one person experiences of it, is altered by one’s perceptions, by their thoughts about it and their intentions for it.

By default I think most of us fall into the first camp. The world seems pretty stable in the way it works. I had been hoping for riches, fame and uncanny luck my whole life, and whether I got them (I didn’t) seemed to depend on what I did and not what was in my head.

There were too many contradictions for it to make sense. What if two of us were “intending” to win the same one-on-one ping pong match? It didn’t make sense. I used to feel these questions trapped me in camp 1. I couldn’t believe in a subjective universe if I wanted to. I knew better! 

The upside to ignorance

If you want to believe in a benevolent or subjective universe, but can’t because your logic won’t let you, the solution is to recognize that we are ultimately ignorant about how the universe works.

We’ve built models that seem to explain a lot, but they’re limited by what human beings are capable of understanding, they’re skewed to what we are good at measuring, and they are subject to biases we don’t know we have. Every advance in physics shows us that the universe is far weirder than we had previously imagined. Space is curved now? What?

So it’s foolish to believe you have any kind of certainty about how the universe goes about presenting itself to a human being. The world’s top physicists are probably more aware of their ignorance than you are of yours.

It’s probably incomprehensible anyway, so it’s kind of a relief to settle back into our only real certainty: that we are vastly ignorant of what we’re dealing with when it comes to consciousness and the universe.

Working from there (a presumption of ignorance above all else) it’s not hard to allow for the possibility that your intentions and thoughts do affect the course of the universe, that reality is indeed subjective, and that the way you’re used to imagining cause-and-effect is not necessarily the way it really works.

By letting go of our rather misguided certainty that consciousness does not affect the concrete parts of the universe (matter and what it does), then we can be open to moving through our lives as if the Law of Attraction might actually be at work.

Your thoughts and intentions may indeed be making a difference in what the universe around you does. Unless you claim an airtight understanding of consciousness and its role in the universe, you have to allow for the possibility, at least.

On one level, there’s no question that thoughts and intentions do have an effect on what happens to someone. A man who is acting as though the universe is poised to deliver his true love is definitely going to be a happier person than he would be if he didn’t believe that.

It would change how he feels when he wakes up, probably how he dresses, certainly the look on his face and the air of desirablility he carries. All of these would contribute to his chances of attracting someone, regardless of whether it was his intentions that were deciding what comes along, or whether it was his resulting bright demeanor and posture.

For that reason alone it’s worth at least allowing for the possibility that the law of attraction works, if you can suspend your doubt enough to let yourself do that.

Science doesn’t disagree

For the proud skeptics out there who aren’t satisfied with taking an agnostic stance on the law of attraction, one can find more compelling, empirical reasons to believe that consciousness affects and directs the outside world.

Science is already showing us that observation invariably affects whatever’s being observed. You can do experiments in a high school science lab that demonstrate that how you observe matter and energy changes how they behave, even if everything else is the same. You probably have, it’s called the double slit experiment.

One of the bigshots of 20th century physics, Dr. John Wheeler, focused his studies on the biggest question of all: why does the universe even exist? In his work he found that he couldn’t escape the conclusion that for the the universe to even exist, something was required something to observe it. Consciousness and the universe were fundamentally interrelated. You couldn’t have one without the other.

His theories had strange implications — that the universe didn’t exist before you began looking at it, but it looks as though it did; that observers create the observed; that nothing exists except as it is relative to whatever is aware of it.

In 1984 an experiment based on Wheeler’s work demonstrated that how we choose to observe a particle determines not only what it is doing now, but what it did to get to where it is now. This means present-moment observations can change the past too. If you’re skeptical, read this article about it, and enjoy at least a healthy chin-scratch.

Now, none of this proves that visualizing a pile of money will necessarily recruit the entire universe to deliver that pile of money to you, but it does show us that consciousness itself can affect the behavior of the world outside it.

This leaves the door open for all kinds of possibilities for the question of what we are creating when our minds are at work expecting, evaluating and visualizing. Redirecting ourselves to a different future is easy to imagine, but perhaps with our intentions we’re actively creating a different present, or a different past. It’s no longer as easy to dismiss as it once was, when we thought time and space and consciousness were much simpler than they really are.

The LoA crowd seems to be rife with fruit loops, which has naturally made us skeptical of the whole thing. It’s interesting to wonder, though, if maybe our skeptical thoughts have created these crackpots, only to deliver reasons for us to be skeptical.

In other words, if reality were indeed subjective, as the LoA camp says it is, then skepticism would naturally create incentives to be skeptical. If life seems to be unfolding as if your mind itself has no leverage over what happens to you, perhaps it’s unfolding that way only because you believe it must.

The bottom line is that we don’t know what our consciousness is doing to the world out there. And the knowledge that you don’t know is a valuable thing, because it allows for more possibilities for you.

I would bet money that if you know enough to know that you don’t know how the universe works — if you can acknowledge that our understanding of the universe’s systems of delivery are tenuous at best — you will find that cultivating positive expecations alone will make a concrete difference in how life goes for you, especially if you are habitually prone to negative expectations like I am. There are a thousand ways it could work, but it will work.

So in spite of my low opinion of the film The Secret, I’ve been experimenting with acting as though my intentions and thoughts are detectable by the universe at large and that it does react to them.

It hasn’t been long, but the first change was immediate. The world appears the same, but looks different. It looks benevolent. Details seem rife with significance, and so I become more attentive and less distracted as a side-effect.

I am also experiencing a consistent bout of optimism — very conspicuous for me, which made me realize how consistently negative my thoughts and expectations are normally. My negative thoughts seem a lot dumber now, when before they made me feel clever.

Most significantly, for the first time I feel responsible for my thoughts. I recognize that I am actively creating concrete experiences with them, even if it’s only because it changes the decisions I make.

Responsibility for my thoughts — I can’t believe that was a new concept for me. Somehow I used to reason that my thoughts didn’t really matter that much, because my only interaction with the universe is only through my actions. But the entire experience of being me feels different. There’s much less weight given to negative possibilities, and so I act differently. The quality of my moments is better.

Even if this feeling doesn’t last, I’ll still have that insight: I am far better off if I decide to take responsibility for whether I harbor negative expectations or positive ones.

I used to reason that it made no sense to act as though the universe heeded the Law of Attraction unless I knew that it did. Resoundingly, it makes sense to act as though it does, regardless of your confidence in it. Pascal’s Wager for the new age.

Detractors often dismiss positive outcomes experienced by LoA proponents as “just placebo.” But the skeptics are missing a crucial point about the placebo effect: the effects aren’t imaginary. They are real. Sugar pill or not, the patient did get better. So what if they aren’t sure exactly why?

***

 Photo by sleepyneko


Anya January 8, 2013 at 10:21 pm

I really liked this post. I always suspected that our world is what we make of it. I know that everything is relative to my perception, knowledge, and beliefs. If I don’t know about something or someone, they do not exist for me. After all, I have no other way to experience the univers, but through my conciesnes. Douglas Harding’s idea that I am the source of everything in my world is the best one I found, thanks to you David. It is mind-bending, but also magical. The spoon bends for me.

shane February 2, 2013 at 8:05 am

I have found myself amongst a puzzle. It seems that all my actions are monitored by the universe. Accordingly ta that there are consequences from the universe. Oh you want to eat healthy. Suddenly the world begins to offer less opportunities to binge. One after the other there are cases that show that you should eat healthy. It seems the universe thrives with thought. Thought in its purest form must manifest tirades of possibilities!

Jon Ray February 26, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Thanks for this. I had a very similar experience with The Secret—cheesy yet intriguing. A couple of things that you said really resonated with me:

1) It’s interesting to wonder, though, if maybe our skeptical thoughts have created these crackpots, only to deliver reasons for us to be skeptical.
2) My negative thoughts seem a lot dumber now, when before they made me feel clever.

Personally, I believe you’re right on with those statements. In my own life, I’ve found that when I want to be skeptical, then wackjobs abound. Yet, when I keep an open mind, the “right” information I need to further understand something appears. With the Law of Attraction, my longing for a better understanding led me into quantum physics and some of the work being done there, which as you mentioned, mimics some of the LoA marketing messages out there.

Anyhow, enjoyed the article. Thanks for writing.

Megan March 13, 2013 at 2:17 am

First of all, you’re writing style and message is wonderfully real and intelligent. As a great believer in the LoA, I’m also aware of the flack that The Secret always gets. It seems to have a pretty clear divide. People love it or hate it. Reading your article has given me a much better understanding of why that is. But it also conveys, very well, I might add, that no one can ever be truly enlightened to how the universe works. So why not choose to get on board with thinking that your positive thoughts can create a positive reality? It’s awesome that individuals that were once resistant can still find themselves on the road of manifestation. But again, I’m always reminded of the possibility of another universe. But it’s a great realistic and most likely the best way to convey the LoA. Through openness and on a positive outlook, not closing off any one side of the spectrum completely.
Thanks for this article.

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Sarah Brooks April 21, 2013 at 1:13 am

Hi David,

Thanks for this. I made a comment about The Secret on Amazon (how stupid of me!) and I already got a comment back disagreeing with me. Ridiculous really. I belong to both camps on the LoA issue. I think I can too because I am an individual with my own thoughts, freedoms (here in the US) and personal beliefs.

My personal beliefs had a major problem with page 28 of the book where they are claiming that mass killings are caused by people being on the same “frequency” as the event. This goes against common sense and everything I believe in. I mistakenly (or wisely) used the Serenity Prayer in my defense. I don’t think you can control what other people do, their actions, and such. Could we control Hitler…probably not! Could we control John Wilkes Booth for killing Lincoln…I really don’t think so. As for innocent children being killed like what happened at Newtown…well we can’t control that either. The person did it and it is there responsibility period!

You are very brave in having this website because there are so many people who to be FOR The Secret and have to accept the damn thing in it’s entirety and not read it with the same objective mind you should use when you read anything.

Peace out.

Sarah

bj bowen April 21, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Very great read. Comments too. I’m with Sarah. This “law” doesn’t isn’t a universal law. Universal laws, gravity comes to mind first and foremost, apply to every single thing the exact same way. Inanimate objects, plants, animals and humans… doesn’t matter.

I know forests, mountain ranges of forests full of dead trees, and if this “law” of attraction is true, then those trees really need to quit worrying so much.

Maybe I’ll hold a $95/tree workshop and teach them how to raise their vibration.

Thanks for the read and the discussion.

RAM May 20, 2013 at 8:17 am

Good post. Taoists and buddhists knew that we are not separated from the whole. Think of me (the ego) and the outside world as two different things, for them, its just an illusion or maya as Buddha said. Modern physicists knows that on the atomic level the matter behaves as they observe it. Einstein said all models of the science and mathematics are just our impression of the nature, a creation of the mind, not the truth. That not means (for sure!) my thoughts can change the universe, the nature, etc. But it can do changes on my perception of that same universe. What Napoleon Hill did was new fashion of old wisdom, especially from the Bible and LoA is the lean version driven to money.

BigmeBrainsBiggerMeBalls June 14, 2013 at 5:43 am

As a big time skeptic i once thought of the law of attraction as nothing but some pie in the bull,nut since the start of last year ive been gradually opening up,researching and doing my own strict experiments with the law of attraction,the results thus far has been,well,interesting to say the least,a few times ive also been totally gob smacked by the string of incredible co-incidences,it seams to give much credence to those who believe in a universal consciousness that interacts with everything in the the universe

that one guy August 15, 2013 at 12:31 am

Who cares about all this. We do!!. But it is Idiotic to pretend we know what’s going on. Probably worst top try and explain it. Here is what we know, . Just enjoy the moment, there’s so much more to wonder of and please let’s not explain things we don’t know / can’t prove.

Drusilla September 11, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Generally I don’t read article on blogs, but I would
like to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do so!

Your writing taste has been surprised me.
Thanks, very nice article.

Focault October 3, 2013 at 12:44 pm

What does science tell about the Law of Attraction? It tells that LoA doesn’t work. Do you need a proof by scientific evidence? Read this:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-van-edwards/law-of-attraction_b_2082921.html
http://www.heatherkappes.com/?page_id=68

But if you are a hard die believer in LoA, affected by cognitive bias, then please refuse to believe in science. For instance refuse to believe that your personal computer was built by using science knowledge, refuse to believe in Newton gravity law, refuse to believe in scientific evidence in general. Program your brain with positive thinking like a robot. Don’t accept your feelings as they are. Don’t love yourself as you are. Throw your life experience and your own judgment into the trash. Never desire to save your emotions.

Cheers!

George December 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm

The only thing these experiments prove, is that the LoA doesn’t work in the naive way represented in “The Sercet”. Which, of-course, isn’t surprising given the fact that the version of LoA presented there makes no farking sense whatsoever.

But the LoA does work, in more subtle ways. The simple fact is, that if you transform the way you look at the world, your experiences of the world will change and drastically so. Even if it is nothing more than a placebo effect (which I doubt), it is still very real – subjectively.

And frankly, I don’t particularly care if my healthy attitude towards life actually creates more opportunities, or I’m simply noticing them more because of my mindset. The bottom line is that it works, and that – really – is the only thing that matters.

David Cain December 29, 2013 at 8:36 pm

That’s really what my point was here — that going into it with even an agnostic attitude is likely to have benefits, because it will at least transform your outlook.

katie December 4, 2013 at 4:09 pm

“The LoA crowd seems to be rife with fruit loops, which has naturally made us skeptical of the whole thing. It’s interesting to wonder, though, if maybe our skeptical thoughts have created these crackpots, only to deliver reasons for us to be skeptical.”

Thank you for this sentence. Perhaps one of my favorite sentences in relation to LoA. I am a total believer by the way

George December 25, 2013 at 2:24 am

“1) Those who believe that the universe (“the outside world”) is bound to do its own thing, as determined by its own internal laws, regardless of what you think about it or intend for it to do.

2) Those who believe that the course of the universe, or at least what any one person experiences of it, is altered by one’s perceptions, by their thoughts about it and their intentions for it.”

Those two statements are not necessarily at odds with one another. In fact, I happen to believe that both of them are true.

I think that 400 years of science have proved, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the universe *is* operating according to immutable natural laws. The part the so-called skeptics aren’t getting, is that our minds are part of this system. And the LoA (in its more sensible versions) is simply one the ways our mind can interact with the material universe – according to natural laws.

At any rate, I personally have no doubt that some form of the LoA is real. This belief is based on both my knowledge of modern physics and my personal experience. And as a rationalist person, I actually think that this view makes much more sense then the “materialistic” alternative.

Focault January 4, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Jerry Hicks passed away because of cancer. Although he believed in LoA he used the mainstream medicine for trying to heal. Why? Perhaps because several people used LoA and died faster then the ones who used the mainstream medicine (eg. Kim Tinkham)? Just type on Google “law of attraction” & “cancer death” and you’ll find out so many sad stories. Do you still think that using LoA is a good and rensponsible advise? When it is useful? When it isn’t? Do you feel rensponsible when you suggest people to use LoA? Are you really offering a good service to humanity?

Sharaz January 23, 2014 at 10:48 pm

I read the article above and all the comments. Many of you truly do not understand the LoA. For myself, I watched the movie the Secret and I too thought it was just a really watered down way of showing people how they can change their lives. I think it did more harm than good.

LoA goes far beyond just thoughts and that that think it’s just positive thoughts then all they will have is positive thinking life. Still a good thing than being a negative person all the time but it will not create the life they want.

Many should learn some of the simple parts that are powerful givers in the LoA – Appreciation, Gratitude, Thank You, understanding abundance… there are so many things that I can write a book on.

I live my life engulfed in the LoA. Great things are constantly flowing into my life on a daily basis.

Remember, not because you practice the LoA doesn’t mean you won’t die. We all will die, it’s inevitable. What matters is when you are capable of creating the life you want you do it to the fullest.

A starting point to truly start living life using the LoA is to learn to tame the ego within. Understand the difference between the subconscious and the conscious mind. Tip, Conscious mind = EGO.

Those of you who want to live a life creating the joyous outcome that you want and desire I will suggest, study the complete works of Abraham-Hicks, read Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill, read the books based the lives of great men like the Buddha, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, etc. Read the Bible, the Torah, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and many more great books. Read with a non-judgmental mind. Once the ego out of the way then an open mind is all that is left.

In light my dear friends, we are within the universe and one cannot exist without the other, mould it your desires as it awaits your command.

Gina Corcoran February 2, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Hi David. It’s been a while since you
Wrote this. It’s 2014 now. I actually
Saw the secret when it first came out.
At first I was really pumped on it and
Then not long after I started to have my
Droughts. Like you, I have negative
Thoughts and I began to think all of
These LOA peeps where just nuts. Now
Recently I’m interested again because
A friend brought it up and she herself
Is all pumped on it. So I got online and
Started reading all sorts of blogs, articles
And stuff and came across yours. Guess
What? Yours is what has got me thinking
Of giving it a try. I am so all about thinking
I know about how the world and universe
Works and that I’m just one of those
Unlucky negative jaded suckers, but then
After reading this you made it very clear
To me that I don’t know shit. How can
I say that LOA for the good things doesn’t
Work when all along I could have been
Practicing it myself my whole life. Who’s
To say that my negative attitude and hard
Times haven’t resulted from the LOA
Thing in the first place? You said so much
More that made so much sense but this
What you made me realize and it’s so
True. So after all the research I have
Been doing trying to convince myself
That this thing is worth trying, I wished
I would have come across your reasonable
Words of wisdom first. It would have
Saved me so much more time this Sunday
Evening and I still would have come away
With the motivation to try this and that
I really don’t know as much as I think I
Do. Thanks :-)

Linda February 11, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Excellent article David! Coming from a long career in medicine I concluded I will never know how the universe really works. For me personally, the incidents of patients arresting on the table under general anesthesia verbalizing details occurring during their arrest was difficult to wrap my head around. This phenomenon goes against everything I had learned about consciousness vs unconsciousness under general anesthetic agents, and cardiac arrest. This doesn’t mean I can discount the validity of the experiences, only admit that I
don’t understand them scientifically with the current knowledge that I have. Taking thesame agnostic approach to LOA, so far it’s serving me well!

David Cain February 11, 2014 at 2:38 pm

That’s about where I’ve settled. I just don’t know, and I no longer believe I have a very complete understanding of how consciousness works. And I don’t think we need to in order to experiment. In fact, we need to admit that we don’t know in order to experiment.

aastha February 21, 2014 at 7:53 am

great article… I’ve always wanted to read about loa from an unbiased perspective. made a great read. I’m a believer for the simple reason that it makes me a better me. Cheers! :D

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