Science Corner

Do Thoughts Vibrate as the Law of Attraction Claims?

Do thoughts vibrate? What the law of attraction and science have to say

I regularly read or hear someone talking about vibrational frequencies and how thoughts vibrate and all that jazz.  This is often in relation to the so-called law of attraction. This concept doesn’t stay in the metaphorical realm; instead, it’s not uncommon to see quantum physics being used to justify these kinds of ideas. It annoys me to see science being coopted into pseudoscience, so this is my rant.

Let’s talk physics

You probably learned in high school that everything is made up of atoms, and their basic building blocks are protons, electrons, and neutrons. Quantum physics goes beyond that, doing a deep dive to the elementary particle level. This includes particles like quarks that make up subatomic particles. Quarks have a size of less than 10-19 m. To put that into perspective, 1019 m is the average thickness of the milky way galaxy. 

The size ratio between one metre and the thickness of our galaxy is the same as the ratio between one metre and the size of a quark. So that’s the scale we’re talking about when quantum physics says that all particles have wave functions with associated probabilities and uncertainties, along with many other concepts that are pretty obscure for the average non-Stephen Hawking. You can’t have an informed discussion about something like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (which says you can’t know the exact position and velocity at the same time) if you’re baffled by the related equation ΔpΔx≥h/4π.

In systems with a relatively large number of particles, objects behave in a way that’s consistent with classical (think Isaac Newton) rather than quantum mechanics. The Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is an example of this. 

The thought experiment, i.e one performed in the mind rather than in a lab, involves a cat enclosed in a box with a flask of poison that would shatter if a radiation detector was set off, thus killing the cat. According to quantum physics principles,  at a certain point, the cat would be simultaneously dead and alive. Yet when we look at the cat, and certainly from the cat’s perspective, it’s clearly either one or the other.Various explanations have been put forward to reconcile what happens on a quantum level and what classical physics tells us about larger objects.

What exactly is a thought?

The field of neuroscience would tell us that thoughts arise from synaptic connections between nerve cells in the brain. These connections involve neurotransmitters being released from one cell and acting on receptors on the adjacent neuron, causing a flow of substances (including ions) in and out of the nerve cell. This generates an electrical impulse that travels down the cell, creating an action potential (change in electrical potential) that triggers the release of neurotransmitters. This passes the signal on to the next cell.

There are about 100 trillion atoms in the average human cell. Their size is measured in micrometres. So we’re not talking quantum scale here, we’re talking a lot closer to a big fat Schrödinger’s cat.

Frequency is not based on good or bad

The thought vibration argument is that individual thoughts vibrate at a certain frequency and radiate that frequency out into the world. This is supposed to then attract both thoughts and things that vibrate at the same frequency. Supposedly, positive thoughts vibrate at a high frequency and negative thoughts vibrate at a lower frequency, and we should all be trying to bring ourselves up to a higher frequency.

The idea that low-frequency vibration is associated with negative thoughts and high frequency is associated with positive thoughts may sound all very reasonable, but it’s also all very made up. What’s something that’s relatively low-frequency? Harmless AM radio waves. Something high frequency? Harmful X-rays, or gamma rays from radioactive substances. You do not want gamma radiation breaking your DNA.

There isn’t some profound universal rule that higher frequency is inherently a good thing. Not only that, science hasn’t pinned down individual thoughts to conduct measurements on. Science has also not established an arbitrary distinction between what thoughts are “good” and what thoughts are “bad”.

William Walter Atkinson, the author of Thought Vibration: The Law of Attraction in the Thought World, argues: “That we cannot see, hear, weigh or measure these vibrations is no proof that they do not exist.” The notion that “you can’t disprove it, therefore it’s true” is a hallmark of pseudoscience (in this context, I’m not referring to religion or other faith traditions).  It’s also much easier to prove a positive than to prove a negative.

A thought experiment

Let’s consider the existence of a hypothetical purple-people-eater. If you can find some objective evidence of a single purple people eater’s existence, you can prove that purple people eaters exist. On the other hand, you could scour the earth and find no trace of a purple people eater, but you still wouldn’t have proven that they don’t exist hidden away in a black hole somewhere.

Saying thoughts vibrate, and that must be true because no one can prove otherwise, is like saying there’s a lost colony of purple people eaters out there, and you’re just not enlightened enough to find them.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Atkinson goes on to say that each person “gets what he calls for over the wireless telegraphy of the Mind.” He also says that thought impulses from our ancestors are transmitted to us “by the laws of heredity” (a synonym for laws of purple people eaters?).

The One Mind One Energy website says our emotions and feelings must be in harmony with whatever it is we’re wishing for in order to create the proper vibrational state, which will in turn always bring us the result we’re vibing for. Not only that, you must “fall in love” with what you want. Fabulous.

There are a variety of different gaps in all of this. One that jumps to mind relates to the concept that thoughts vibrate and attract physical entities with the same vibrational frequency. Why does this only apply to thoughts? Wouldn’t feet vibrate in such a way that they would act as a magnet for other feet? Shouldn’t we all be homosexual, as vaginas would attract vaginas, etc.? 

Then there’s the idea that thoughts vibrating at a frequency would attract certain things. Is there a specific “toilet” frequency, and somehow my brain inherently knows what it is?  If the toilet is made out of slightly different materials, does the frequency change, or is there some greater harmonic essence of toilet? What if I was in the middle of the Australian outback and I was thinking long and hard about getting my toilet vibration on because I really didn’t want to squat and get my butt stung by a scorpion? Is a random toilet going to spontaneously turn up in the middle of nowhere?

Leave physics to the physicists

The most important gap, though, is that the thought vibration proponents are applying physics principles that they don’t actually understand and likely wouldn’t be able to without at least an undergrad degree, although preferably. a PhD. Knowing a bit of scientific jargon isn’t helpful if someone can’t recognize that’s just the tip of a very large iceberg of lack of knowledge. Yet these law of attraction folks talk about what they’ve cooked up as if it’s actually hard science. 

This talk about quantum mechanics involves an actual physicist talking about actual physics. For anyone who watches this and has a hard time following and no idea what the equations mean (i.e. most people who aren’t a physicist)… well, then you’re probably not qualified to argue that anything is based on quantum physics.

People are totally free to come up with whatever ideas they want, but don’t call it science when it isn’t.  If a metaphor is helpful, then great, run with it, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a metaphor, not literal reality.

Alright, that’s the end of my rant for now.  Time to go back to watching the new flat earth documentary on Netflix.  Pseudoscience knows no bounds.

The science corner: Pseudoscience, public health, & media literacy

The Science Corner, part of the Blog Index, has info on media & research literacy, fake news, public health, and debunking pseudoscience.

13 thoughts on “Do Thoughts Vibrate as the Law of Attraction Claims?”

  1. You lost me with the science stuff (neutrons, quarks, the number 19), but you regained me with the logic (the purple people eaters analogy and proving/disproving). Likely because I’m dreadful at science but great at logic! 😀 You’ve got a brilliant scientific mind, for sure!

    Yeah, I wouldn’t call it science either. I think metaphysics is the word? Let me look it up… “Abstract theory with no basis in reality.” Ah, we have a winner!

    I have to admit to being somewhat of a believer in it, but even I get confused by it. It felt like Luna Petunia came into my life so readily: I needed the love of a dog, I felt an intuitive calling to try out her breed, I wanted a young-adult female, and there she was on a puppy sale site. Another time, decades ago, Mother was house-hunting, and as my dad drove me to her rental home, I said, “Hey, wait, go up that street.” And we saw a house for sale that my mom just managed to buy under the wire (there were competing offers). I still miss that house.

  2. Bahahahahaha..My eyes went cross for a few. I have read much about the vibrations but would that be the same as how I feel energies? In a roundabout way? I hope not because I do know I experience different things, often, but perhaps that’s my ability to pay attention to people’s body language.?? I totally agree about not being able to call it Science without proof because even I know that is what science relies on. I feel vibes but not sure what it is to say for certain.

    1. To me it makes sense that there are ways to be more sensitive to what other people are putting out there other than thoughts physically vibrating in a certain way.

      1. Yes. That’s how I feel it. Although that is questionable as well as it is something I would debate (not argue) because I know what I feel – I just struggle to put words to my feelings.

  3. I like the conclusion, leave physics to the Physicists. This Law of attraction thing is just to stretched. As a Corporate Trainer I see it being peddled in corporate Trainings too. Pseudo science is harmful and needs good answers

  4. I feel the whole ‘putting vibes out there’ lingo really is metaphorical. I don’t believe in good high vibes vs bad low vibes, and us sending vibrations. If someone feels ‘negative vibes’ from someone, it’s simply their perception of that person’s body language–inconsistent tone and posture, a sour facial expression, etc. Two people don’t actually ‘resonate’ with each other vibrationally, they merely are mutually agreeable. We can’t raise our frequencies. Which frequencies? The myriad atomic-level vibrations of the different chemical elements that make up our flesh? if carbon vibrates at X Hz, and we try to raise that frequency, are we not then trying to destroy the nature of carbon itself, or the carbon molecules that are bound covalently? Everything is energy, the vibe folks say. No, everything is matter. You cannot have energy without matter. All is matter! From a scientific perspective, the Law of Attraction really is pseudoscience. From a Christian perspective, the Law of Attraction theory is idolatry, because they turn the vast, empty and dumb void of space into a genie-like god that grants everyone their wishes, just for the asking.

    1. I agree, as a metaphor, it could e useful, but as objective reality, not happening.

      That’s an interesting point about Christianity. I sometimes wonder how people manage to reconcile the two, because there certainly seem to be people that believe in both.

    2. Thank god someone with common sense!! When spirirual people say that ‘the vibe’ you get from people when you nearly not know them must be something about their ‘internal vibrations’ i also feel it doesn’t work like that. In my opinion we get a vibe of people when we hardly know them because of their body language, how they smile, act…these details we might notice unconciously. For instance when i’ve got a ‘bad vibe’ of some stranger it has normaly been because of how they ‘act’ or because of their ‘facial expression’. So i 100% agree with you!

      1. There are a huge number of verbal, para-verbal, and non-verbal cues that we pick up on, and our brains manage to conveniently package that up and serve it to us as “vibes” that have nothing to do with vibrating.

Leave a Reply