Science Corner

Is the Law of Attraction Real?

Is the law of attraction real? - graphic of butterfly with galaxy pattern

At one point I had come home from an extended stay in hospital, and because ECT had wiped out a chunk of memory, I discovered things in my house that I had no idea how they had gotten there. One of those things I found was a book on the law of attraction.

At first glance, the idea of the law of attraction is very appealing; you get back from the universe whatever you put out into it, because like energy attracts like energy. According to the film The Secret, it’s not only thinking about what you want to get back; you need to really pour some emotion into it in order to get results. But when you poke at it a bit, the whole idea starts to crumble.

I watched The Secret for the first time recently and a number of things struck me as wildly unreasonable. A prime example is the film’s claim that the universe is like catalogue shopping (my analogy, not theirs), and as long as you think and feel a desire for something, you just need to sit back and wait because the universe will turn your thoughts into things and just drop them in your lap.

Apparently “the law of attraction will give you what you want every time”. Are you getting bills in the mail? Well, that’s not because you owe money, obviously; it’s because you’re expecting to get more bills. Change your thinking to expect a cheque, and your credit card company will just forget about those overdue payments and some random person will start sending you money on behalf of the universe! No need to worry about how it will happen; the universe is going to figure that out for you.

Time for some pseudoscience

The Secret contains some fishy ideas about how the brain works. Some examples: “Every thought has a frequency”; “Thoughts are sending out the magnetic signal that’s drawing the parallel back to you”; “It has been proven now scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought”.

A 2007 issue of Scientific American questioned the accuracy of how the law of attraction represents brainwave electrical activity, and multiple authors have questioned other aspects of its purported scientific basis. A 2010 New York Times book review cited by Wikipedia calls The Secret pseudoscience and an “illusion of knowledge”. And do thoughts vibrate? Do, they do not.

It’s not the same as the power of positive thinking

I’m not questioning the power of positive thinking to shape our experience. While the law of attraction may have some similarities to positive psychology concepts, there are some fundamental differences. Let’s consider Elie Wiesel, a remarkable, Nobel prize-winning Jewish author who survived detention in Nazi concentration camps. He is a powerful example of maintaining a positive attitude in order to survive unimaginable horrors. Did his attitude make the horrors go away and attract only positive things? Of course not. But it changed the framework of meaning through which he interpreted his experience.

However, this isn’t what the law of attraction is getting at. Instead, it seems to suggest that people ended up in concentration camps because somehow that’s what they were asking the universe for. Then they stayed there and suffered because they just weren’t properly asking the universe to be free. That’s a pretty gross idea.

Is mental illness your fault?

One area where the law of attraction really falls apart for me is when it comes to serious physical or mental illness. “Everything that’s coming into your life, you’re attracting into your life,” says “philosopher” Bob Proctor in The Secret (I could find no evidence of him being a philosopher in the sense of someone who has actually studied philosophy).

So, those of us, like me, who have a mental illness have somehow put crazy energy out there into the world in order to attract chronic illness our way? If we’re gripped by psychosis, is that because of something we’ve put out there into the ether? And when we try to end our lives, is that because we’re not shooting out enough “good vibes”?

Blaming people for mental illness and whatever other difficult things that happen to them comes from a rather privileged place. If Bob Proctor can “vibrate” away his problems, and take home a massive paycheque while his at it, that’s great for him, but it does sweet diddly squat for those of us stuck with mental illness.

Shouldn’t your actions matter?

I get that it’s good to try to be positive. There’s a whole field of positive psychology that leans in that direction without the pseudoscientific talk of thoughts radiating frequencies and positive and negative energies attracting each other. But how far can thinking/emoting get you without action? I can think wealthy thoughts all I want, but unless that spurs me to work on money management and pursue opportunities for growing wealth, it seems rather implausible that the universe would a) care, and b) throw money down from heaven and say “this is for you!”

If the positive thought acts as a motivator for action, I can see how that would be very powerful, but The Secret is very clear that action is not required; the universe will do the acting. Somehow, though, just hanging out eating, peeing, and sleeping dollars seems unlikely to get me very far in the wealth department.

Its many fans do not change the fact that the law of attraction is based on nothing more than hot air and the money the whole machine generates. That being said, there are still some positive things to take away from it if one ignores its faulty underlying premise. Make sure your attitude is helping you, not getting in your way. The way you treat other people is likely to end up being reflected back to you in some way, so follow the golden rule and do unto others, etc.

Do you think the law of attraction is real?

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41 thoughts on “Is the Law of Attraction Real?”

  1. Great post….I have seen the glitches in the law of attraction, much like you are talking about… It’s just nice to read something that really breaks it all down!!

  2. Nope! I don’t believe in it and I’ve seen people get hurt by the fact that they’ve done everything according to the “book” and havent found love, money, or happiness.
    But I wholeheartedly believe in the power of positive thinking to help steady, ground and make choices about the present and future.

  3. This made me laugh, but also you make a great point. I do like the idea of the law of attraction, and there’s some value to the idea of putting out positive energy or whatever, particularly if you do want to attract some yourself. It has to come with action as well, though, surely? As you rightly say, though, it does lead to assumptions that if something’s gone wrong you just simply haven’t tried hard enough. I mean, if asking the universe to solve my problems worked I definitely wouldn’t still be struggling with my mental health, that’s for sure.

  4. I wanted this crush of mine to ask me out i use to visualize it every single day i use to plan us getting together being together at every location i could think of and then i got to know that all this time he already had a girlfriend :p

  5. I have been considering my thoughts on the LOA for a long time. I REALLY REALLY want it to be real, but in so wishing I’ve forced myself into positive thinking at times when acceptance would serve me better. The other problem is, believing in LOA causes me to blame myself for not having what I want b/c I’m just not being positive enough, and I don’t need any help blaming myself. I do not believe that the LOA is real and it frustrates me that there are people who refused to see its privileged loop holes. Thank you for sharing! Your post gave me the chance to confirm my opinion!

  6. Reading a book based on it, and while part of the time I’m eyerolling, I think your point that there are a few things to learn anyway is right on. Can I vibrate my way into not having PTSD? No. Can I work on a better thought life and attitude even when shit is hard? Yes. Will shit still be hard? Yes. I’m starting to wonder when I read some books who the audience is…because if I look at the content of the book I can think “wow that’s not great advice for a lot of people” but then I pause and think “wow that is probably exactly what some people need to hear right now for where they’re at, and I just learned something anyway.”

  7. I think the Secret is ill presented. I do believe in law of attraction, but it has taken me years of working on understanding it. I definitely spent a few of those years thinking it was bs for all the same reasons you mention and during those years I was going through hell. but over this last year, to lift myself out of the hell have have been coming into a better understanding of what it is, what vibration is, and how to clean up vibration. and also accepting that our vibration is never going to be perfect, we will always fall out of the high frequencies because that’s how we learn and expand and figure out new things. There is a lot of truth behind law of attraction, but calling it a “catalog” as the Secret does is not the best approach to it. I won’t rant on, but Abraham Hicks was a major inspiration for the Secret and even she disagrees how they presented it – to the point that they had to edit her parts out of it. The important thing is to follow your own light, your own path. The forces of the universe whatever they be, will do what they do regardless of how we choose to perceive them.

  8. But law of attraction did work for me couple of times . You can contact me if you want to know my experiences. 🙂
    The crux of the rule is to think what you want and your body will start working in the manner which is necessary to get that thing. 🙂

  9. I personally do believe in the law of attraction, I use it in my every day life and to be honest it has done wonders to me. I am a strong believer that the universe was set up with so many laws and the law of attraction is one of them. The more positive you are about reaching your goals and the more certain you are that they will eventually come true, the closest you are to attract them into your life. 🙂

    1. I’ve heard of the LOA some years ago and just started looking back into it. I don’t necessarily believe in the “stand alone” concept of the LOA ….but I do believe in it when considering other realistic “faith without works are dead” in other words believing without actions will result in nothing…period. The LOA require actions on your part not just mere wishing, hoping, and dreaming. Nothing can be accomplished in this world just by mere wishes. That’s why I appreciate this blog bringing attention to this detail.

  10. The law of attraction is very real, but not in the “your wish is my command/the universe is like a shopping catalogue” BS that the Secret and some “LOA Gurus” present it as.

    Yes, being positive about something you desire helps, of course wanting something so badly but being negative or pessimistic about it would be counterproductive whether you believe in the LOA or not. By being positive and having an optimistic empathetic outlook WILL in fact get you the things you desire, but not because of some metaphysical “tuned in to the right frequency” mumbo jumbo, but because having the right attitude is going to PUSH YOU TO TAKE ACTION and be a go-getter, and with a “I will not take no for an answer” you will surely accomplish your goals.

    The LOA is very real but its been mainstreamed and turned into some really lame new-age pseudoscience thanks to “the secret” and a lot of them LOA “guru” youtubers…

  11. LOA is real only based on physical laws, My experience with this is that some things works and some doesn’t work, there are limitations, the best way to make it work is to first change yourself and your beliefs and understand how the manifestation process works.
    A lot of people don’t know how to receive.

  12. Hi Ashley awesome post, I can totally agree with where you’re coming from!

    Sometimes I see people go a bit O.T.T with the whole law of attraction and it really grinds my gears!

    I have read the Secret and must agree that some of the information is a little airy-fairy, not that it isn’t helpful but it’s not as simple as ‘Wishing and receiving’.

    Some manifestations are bigger than others, some take more time and commitment as well.

    Wishful thinking is only a part of it, you must align yourself with action, emotion, and thought.

    ‘Just thinking about being rich’ Unfortunately won’t necessarily make you rich…

    It takes a little more than that but positivity is a key element with the LOA, I have manifested amazing things into my life but not always how people imagine.

    I wish that others would stop falsifying and fabricating an ancient belief system to turn a quick dollar, that upsets me a lot.

    But anyway, thank you so much for this article I love hearing other peoples perspectives on the law of attraction !

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