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Overview

The Law of Attraction claims to have roots in quantum physics, although this is dismissed by the scientific community as pseudosience. According to proponents of this law, thoughts have an energy which attracts whatever it is the person is thinking of.In order to control this energy to one’s advantage, proponents state that people must practice four things:

  1. Know exactly what you want.
  2. Ask the universe for it.
  3. Feel, behave and know as if the object of your desire is already yours (visualize).
  4. Be open to receive it and let go of (the attachment to) the outcome.

Thinking of what one does not have, they say, manifests itself in not having, while if one abides by these principles, and avoids “negative” thoughts, the universe will manifest a person’s desires.

Criticism

Skeptical Inquirer magazine criticised the lack of falsifiability and testability of these claims [12]. The evidence provided is usually anecdotal and because of the self-selecting nature of the positive reports, as well as the subjective nature of any results, highly susceptible to confirmation bias and selection bias.[13] References to modern scientific theory are questionable. Brainwaves do have an electrical signal, and any magnetic field produced by the brain is actually negligible. Not to mention the required shielding of a room against outside magnetic sources, to enable the minuscule magnetic field of the brain to be isolated and detected by very sensitive equipment. So, “the brain’s magnetic field of 10 -15 tesla quickly dissipates from the skull and is promptly swamped by other magnetic sources, not to mention the earth’s magnetic field of 10 -5 tesla, which overpowers it by 10 orders of magnitude” [14]

The use of the term “metaphysical law” has also come under fire (of the term and)

Both Dr. Victor Stenger (PhD. Physics, UCLA 1963) and Dr.Leon Lederman (PhD. Physics Columbia Univ.) are critical of references to quantum physics to bridge any unexplained or seemingly implausible effects, which are hallmark traits of modern pseudoscience. [15][16] [17]

Writing in the New York Times, Virginia Heffernan said: ““The Secret” is not really a book but a series of misquotations from historical figures and fraudulent maxims from no-count hucksters. And yet something in that gooey red waxy seal on the front of “The Secret,” and the book’s believe-in-magic glitter, takes me to a happy place.” The hitherto undiscovered “Secret”, is actually a mix of misunderstood quantum physics and a re-telling of “New Thought” fallacies, which have been around since the late 18th century [18].

The principles of the law of attraction have also been interpreted in the realm of medicine and illness. In 1990, Bernie Siegel (a retired assistant clinical professor of surgery at Yale) published a popular book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, which asserted that the threat of disease was related to a person’s imagination, will, and belief.[13] Siegel primarily advocated “love” as the source of healing and longevity stating that “if you want to be immortal, love someone.”[19][20] Some argue that this claim is clearly falsified by the eventual death of every known human, despite the propensity of many to love each other. As yet, no immortal loving people have been discovered. Siegel’s description has been largely rejected by the medical community.[21] The most notable critic is neuroendocrinologist and Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, who devoted a whole chapter in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers to critiquing Siegel. Sapolsky refers to Siegel’s general idea as “benign gibberish” but is strongly critical of what he sees as blaming patients for their illness, based only on questionable anecdotal evidence[22]. Sapolsky sums up his primary criticism as follows:

Where the problems become appallingly serious is when Siegel concentrates on the main point of his book. No matter how often he puts in the disclaimers saying that he’s not trying to make people feel guilty, the book’s premise is that (a) cancer can be caused by psychosocial factors in the person; (b) cancer (or any other disease, as far as I can tell) is curable if the patient has sufficient courage, love and spirit; (c) if the patient is not cured, it is because of the insufficient amounts of those admirable traits. As we have just seen, this is not how cancer works, and a physician simply should not go about telling seriously ill people otherwise.[22]

History

An “occult law of attraction”, 1879

In 1879, the New York Times was the first major newspaper to use the phrase “Law of Attraction”, describing the wagon trains of the Colorado gold rush as “moving in obedience to some occult law of attraction that overcomes all obstacles in their progress to their destination”.[23]

A physical “energy of attraction”, 1902

As early as 1902, references to something similar to the law of attraction can be seen particularly in discussion of matter formation. John Ambrose Fleming an electrical engineer and turn of the century physicist described “every completed manifestation, of whatever kind and on whatever scale” as “an unquenchable energy of attraction” that causes objects to “steadily increase in power and definiteness of purpose, until the process of growth is completed and the matured form stands out as an accomplished fact”.[24]

The New Thought Movement, 1904 – 1907

Thomas Troward, who was a strong influence in the New Thought Movement, claimed that thought precedes physical form and that “the action of Mind plants that nucleus which, if allowed to grow undisturbed, will eventually attract to itself all the conditions necessary for its manifestation in outward visible form”.[25]

In 1906, William Walker Atkinson (1862 – 1932) used the phrase in his New Thought Movement book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World.[26] The following year, Elizabeth Towne, the editor of The Nautilus Magazine, a Journal of New Thought, published Bruce MacLelland’s book Prosperity Through Thought Force, in which he summarized the principle, stating: “You are what you think, not what you think you are.” [27]

The “law of attraction” in Theosophy, 1915 – 1919

The phrase “Law of Attraction” appeared in the writings of the Theosophical authors William Quan Judge in 1915, [28] and Annie Besant in 1919. [29]

“Think and Grow Rich”, 1937

In 1937, author Napoleon Hill published his book Think and Grow Rich, which went on to become one of the best selling books of all time, selling over 60 million copies. In this book, he discusses the importance of controlling your own thoughts in order to achieve success, as well as the “energy” that thoughts have and their ability to attract other thoughts. In the beginning of the book, Napoleon Hill mentions a “secret” to success, and promises to indirectly describe it at least once in every chapter of the book. It is never named directly for he says that discovering it on one’s own is far more beneficial. Many people have argued over what the secret actually is, but there is a general consensus that the secret he referred to is, in fact, the Law of Attraction.[citation needed]

Mid 1900s to 2000

By the mid 1900s, various authors addressed the topic and related ideas under a range of religious, occult, and secular terms, such as “positive thinking“, “mental science”, “pragmatic Christianity“, “New Thought“, “practical metaphysics“, “Science of Mind” / “Religious Science“, and “Divine Science“.[2][30] Among the mid 20th century authors who used the term were Florence Scovel Shinn (1925), Sri K. Parvathi Kumar, (1942)[31] and Alice Bailey (1942). [32][33][34] Author Louise Hay in 1976 released a pamphlet in which she links various diseases and disorders to certain thoughts and states of minds. This list was included in her 1984 best-seller book You Can Heal Your Life, in which she promotes positive thinking as a healing method.[35]

Other proponents of the Law of Attraction included Wallace Wattles, Robert Collier, and Helena Blavatsky, who all published books in the early 1900s.

The “law of attraction” in the 21st century

In 2006, a film entitled The Secret (2006) based on the “Law of Attraction” was released and then developed into a book of the same title in 2007. The movie and book gained widespread attention in the media from Saturday Night Live to The Oprah Winfrey Show in the United States.[2] The same year the Hicks’ The Law Of Attraction was on the New York Times best seller list.[36]

The success of the film and various books led to increased media coverage. Oprah Winfrey devoted two episodes of her show to discussing the film and the law of attraction.[37] Talk show host Larry King also discussed it on his show but criticized it for several reasons. He pointed to the sufferings in the world and asked: “If the Universe manifests abundance at a mere thought, why is there so much poverty, starvation, and death?”[citation needed]

This is similar to a common criticism that the law of attraction only works because most of the anecdotes cited in books and movies are about people who live in a culture that has paths to allow people to overcome adversity, while this is not true for much of the world.[2]

In August 2008, Esther and Jerry Hickses’ book Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Health, Wealth & Happiness appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.[38]

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