October 2, 2012

The Law Of Attraction, For Science-Heads And Secret-Haters

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What is the issue?

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 make 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 the 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? TC mark

David Cain

I’m David and my blog, Raptitude, is a street-level look at the human experience — what makes human beings do what …

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