Law of attraction
| Dolphins and money|
The Law of Attraction (abbreviated LOA) is the "natural law" that  thinking about some goal and  behaving as though you'd already achieved that goal will cause the Universe to bring that goal closer to actually happening. To become rich, truly believe you are already rich. To win your sporting event, envision your victory in detailed technicolor. To gain someone's love, behave as if you already have it. The LOA is self-defending: failures of this method are waved off as "just not visualizing it" or "not truly believing it" and ignored. In short: "thinking about things makes them happen".
Proponents try to wrap the idea up in pseudoscientific language, usually something to do with quantum physics. Thoughts form "energy fields" that "vibrate" with a "frequency" that attracts "like-energy" from the "cosmos" and all this somehow happens because of quantum probability waves or wave-particle duality. Your vibrations are a precious
bodily fluid treasure that you should guard.
The law of attraction has definite origins in the New Thought movement. William Walker Atkinson titled his New Thought book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World (1906). Bruce MacLelland, a fellow New Thinker, published Prosperity Through Thought Force. He summarized the principle as: "You are what you think, not what you think you are." But almost nobody reads these texts anymore.
Instead, the LOA finally gained true popularity after the 2006 release of the book (and movie) The Secret. After all these years, the desire of LOA proponents to become mainstream is finally happening!
To prove that this so-called "law" is woo, one must complete the following experiment:
- Pick a body part of yours that isn't the size that you want.
- Think really hard about changing that body part's size.
When that doesn't yield your ideal dimensions, then scientifically! this hypothesis is falsified.
In addition to its other obvious flaws, the Law of Attraction can contradict itself in various ways. Most apparently, it is unclear what the Universe is supposed to do when two or more people want contradictory things. This wouldn't be as problematic if LOA advocates didn't hype it as the only guiding principle of reality, i.e., there are no other physical laws.
Semantics vs physics
Furthermore, the variant promoted by The Secret argues that the Universe ignores the negative aspect of a negative thought; for example, if you constantly wish to not get into traffic jams, you will keep getting into traffic jams because the "not" part is irrelevant from the Universe's point of view. This notion may derive from psychological studies that suggest that people in a state of less concentration often "tune out" terms like not in statements, forgetting that they were there. Of course, this is a fact about human psychology and should not impede the Universe (unless the Universe is sleepy or distracted). However, nearly every statement can be expressed in either positive or negative terms, and many thoughts are nonverbal. If Bob spends his time consciously or subconsciously desiring a vegetarian meal, will he get a vegetarian meal… or will he get a cheese steak because "vegetarian" is just another way of saying "not including any meat"? If he wants a hamburger, will he get a living cow because "dead" means "not alive"?
Note that this aspect of the logic of human language allows for yet another "out" in the case of failures of the LOA, alongside "more people thought about the opposite happening", "you weren't really thinking about it correctly", and "you really wanted the thing that happened; your conscious desire was just an expression of that".
The Law of Attraction postulates a false meritocracy, in that people are supposed to receive rewards for supernatural reasons. A genuine meritocracy requires that rewards are apportioned based on demonstrable competency and abilities. In this system, one gets what one deserves, as decided by woo. The availability of rewards in a meritocratic system would almost always imply that less-competent people are not going to be rewarded. This withholding of rewards, amounting to de facto punishment, is where the Law of Attraction becomes truly sinister.
Adherents of the Law of Attraction can dismiss the misfortune of others as being a case of "bad things happening to bad people".
So what about those caught up in wars, acts of terrorism and natural disasters? The hundreds of thousands killed in the Asian tsunami, the thousands who died on 9/11, the millions put to death in the Holocaust? Are we simply to assume it was all their own fault?
Byrne sounds rather weary as she skirts round this subject in her book but, basically, her answer is an extraordinary yes. "By the law of attraction, they had to be on the same frequency as the event," she says, allowing only a small concession: "It doesn't necessarily mean they thought of that event."
An interviewer on ABC's Nightline in America recently posed a similar question to Bob Proctor, one of the positive thinking experts quoted at length in Byrne's book.
"Children in Darfur are starving to death," she pointed out. "Have they attracted that starvation to themselves?"Proctor replied: "I think the country probably has."
So it's not actually about what the individual wishes for? Got it.
The Law of Attraction does not necessarily mandate that the suffering of those less worthy should be ignored, leaving them to their fate, but it certainly makes it easier to blame someone for events beyond their control. Starving Africans are presumably hungry because they just don't want food, or they lack the self-actualization to demand it from the cosmos. Conversely, the Law of Attraction would appear to personally reward people for their good fortune in being born in to a wealthy society.
Related laws seem to include:
- Law of reciprocity: This was a term Pat Robertson used -- inspired by name it and claim it theology -- to help increase the donations his flock of followers would give during his pledge drives on the 700 Club. Robertson basically claims that if you give him money then God would in turn find a way to give you that money back plus a bunch more. Robertson would describe this "law" with accompanied anecdotal stories from purported victims describing how they got rich giving all their money to Robertson's diamond mining operations in Africa. While "name it and claim it" is a doctrine found in some Christian circles, the LOA take on the "if I really want it, it will be mine" approach to self-fulfillment is geared more towards New Agers. Otherwise, they are fundamentally the same: bullshit.
- Law of appreciation: What you appreciate gets bigger, what you don't appreciate gets smaller. You cannot change, you can only appreciate. Appreciation is an attractive force, depreciation is a repulsive force. In other words, if you appreciate something, you get more of it. Or: "thinking about things makes them happen". Again.
- Law of resonance: Specific "vibratory frequencies" are projected by specific thoughts. This "projected frequency" only harmonizes with vibrations of similar frequency; when harmonization occurs, the harmonized object is attracted to you. Or: "thinking about things makes them happen". Again.
- Law of polarity: Every mental "vibratory frequency" has an opposite. By concentrating on the opposite thought, humans can suppress undesirable thoughts.
- Law of growth/abundance: Everything is always growing. Everything. This is because the universe has "unlimited energy". For just $19.99/mo, you too can tap in!
In a nutshell or two
- The Chaser's War on Everything testing the Law of Attraction
- Quick exchange between a contributor and Joe Vitale, who appeared in the film
- New Thought (aka Mind Cure or Mind Science) movement
- The Daily Mail doing a decent report on something involving pseudoscientific woo is genuinely astonishing. We can only conclude that readers worldwide must have really, really wished that the Mail would be less shit.
- The Magic of Guarding Your Vibration
- Google Books
- Google books, page 9
- Judge, William Quan (1915). The Ocean of Theosophy. United Lodge of Theosophists. p. 103.
- Popular Lectures on Theosophy. Theosophical Publishing House. 1919. p. 79.
- Prof. John Stackhouse’s Weblog: The Secret is "toxic"
- Daily Mail article. Skeptical summary for those who don't enjoy clickbait
- 700 club description of the "law"
- Universal Laws of Woo
- Law of Resonance