Shh! It’s a Secret! (Part 1)

Shut up!I wasn’t going to blog about this here. But yesterday I saw The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham (by Esther Hicks, but not the Esther Hicks who graduated in my class, thank FSM) at Wal-Mart. And then Kat had to leave a comment on the last post. So, my space has been invaded by the sheer idiocy that is The Secret, and I’m going to stop it here and now.

I’ve spent a great deal of the last several weeks discussing the Secret and the Law of Attraction with a variety of credulous asshats, concern trolls, and tragically misinformed rubes. If you’re not familiar with the Law of Attraction, the links above (to the ever-informative and ever-reasonable Skeptico) provide a pretty good run-down on it. If you want it straight from the horse’s mouth, you can take a look at the first 20 minutes of “The Secret” or Joe Vitale’s Law of Attraction blog (while you’re there, check out one familiar commenter‘s tragic tale of the Law gone wrong). The following list is a basic debriefing on the Law of Attraction, as presented in the film “The Secret” and on the various blogs and sites devoted to it.

  • “The Secret” was known to all the great (dead) thinkers of the past. Plato, Jesus, Shakespeare, Emerson, Hugo, Newton, Lincoln, Beethoven, Churchill, Edison, and Einstein all knew it. We know this even though we can’t say with certainty that Jesus existed; even though we can’t say with certainty that Shakespeare existed, or that he wrote the literature attributed to him, or anything specific about his life at all including his religious affiliation and birthdate; even though we can’t ask these thinkers what they really think, since they’re all dead; and even though the only proof that any of these thinkers knew “The Secret” are various out-of-context quotations.
  • Despite the fact that all the great thinkers of the past, fictional or otherwise, knew “The Secret” and wrote obliquely about it, it is still a secret, and there is an ongoing conspiracy to suppress it.
  • There is one “infinite power” in the universe, one natural law which guides all our lives. This is the Law of Attraction. Also, gravity.
  • The reason that 1% of the population earns 96% of the money is that they understand the Law of Attraction, not because of social injustice and millennia of aristocracy.
  • Basically, the Law of Attraction says “like attracts like.” Just like the attraction of a magnet. Wait…
  • You create your universe with your thoughts. Everything in your life has been attracted to you by the things you think and/or feel.
  • Every thought has a frequency. When you think of something repeatedly, you’re constantly sending out that “magnetic signal” that will “draw the parallel to you” (quotations from Joe Vitale, “Metaphysician”).
  • The universe doesn’t care what your feelings or opinions are, it just gives you more of whatever you think about. So if you think about debt a lot, you attract more debt, even if you don’t want it.
  • Positive people tend to attract other positive people and positive circumstances. Negative people tend to attract other negative people and circumstances. You can believe this, because “Quantum Physicist” John Hagelin said so.
  • This is not just “wishful thinking” or “imaginary craziness” (quotations from Fred Alan Wolf, “Quantum Physicist”).
  • Quantum Physics supports and points toward the reality of the Law of Attraction. Wolf: “It [Quantum Physics] says that you can’t have a universe without the mind entering into it; that the mind is actually shaping the very thing that is being perceived.”
  • Lisa Nichols, “Author”: “[T]here’s a time delay, so all of your thoughts don’t come true instantly.”
  • By monitoring our feelings we are able to control the Law of Attraction.

To supplement this, here’s a list of significant quotations from the people in the video. I’ve provided the link above in case you think I’m quote-mining, but I’ve provided all the relevant context so you can get the point. I don’t have to distort what these people say, because…well, see for yourself:

  • Bob Proctor, “Philosopher”: “Everything that’s coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it’s attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind. It’s what you’re thinking. You see, whatever is going on in your mind, you are attracting to you.”
  • John Assaraf, “Entrepreneur,” and supplier of the magnet analogy: “You become what you think about most, but you also attract what you think about most.”
  • Mike Dooley, “Writer:” “And that principle [the Law of Attraction] can be summed up in three simple words: Thoughts. Become. Things.”
  • Proctor, again: “See yourself living in abundance, and you will attract it. It always works, it works every time, with every person.”
  • Nichols: “When you think of the things you want, and you focus on them, with all of your attention, the Law of Attraction will give you what you want, every time.”
  • Nichols, again: “The Law of Attraction is not biased to ‘wants’ or ‘don’t wants,’ it manifests the things that you think about.”
  • Proctor: “The Law of Attraction is always working, whether you believe it or understand it or not. It’s always working.”
  • Proctor, again: “Now, if you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean you should reject it. You don’t understand electricity probably. First of all, no one even knows what electricity is. And yet you enjoy the benefits of it. Do you know how it works? I don’t know how it works. But I do know this: that you can cook a man’s dinner with electricity, and you can also cook the man.”
  • Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith, I shit you not, “Visionary”: “It has been proven now scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought.”
  • Nichols: “You have good feelings and you have bad feelings. And you know the difference between the two, because one makes you feel good, and the other makes you feel bad.”
  • Doyle: “You’re getting exactly what you’re feeling about, not so much what you’re thinking about.”
  • Doyle: “There are no rules, according to the universe” (in apparent response to the question that, if everyone uses The Secret, won’t we run out of stuff?).

Holy crap, where to begin? I guess I could start with the contradictions. The video was only twenty-four minutes long, yet they managed to contradict themselves with the sort of efficiency and aplomb that typically requires a big thick leather-bound book. The universe conforms to specific laws, like the law of gravity (but not, apparently, the law of conservation of mass). But it only conforms to one law, the Law of Attraction. But you create your day with your thoughts, and “there are no rules, according to the universe.” This is a great secret and no one knows about it, except all the world’s greatest thinkers and the rich, powerful, and successful in society. You get what you think about, and thoughts become things, but you don’t really get what you think about, you get what you feel about, but the universe doesn’t care what your feelings are. Every thought has a frequency and you attract the things you think about most, but positive thoughts are more powerful than negative thoughts. It always works, every time, no matter whether or not you know about it, but it works for the things you think about the most, not for every little thought, and there’s a time delay. Oy, stop the spinning, I want to get off.

You know, real scientific laws tend to be a lot simpler. The basic concepts can usually be explained in a sentence or two, and the whole thing is coherent all the way through. There aren’t contradictions and exceptions to the law of gravity. There’s an equation that (to a certain degree) always works every time whether or not you believe in it, and whether or not you know how it works. It’s not “some masses are attracted as a function of the inverse square of the distance between them, but they’re also attracted in a linear relationship, except that some are attracted as the cubed root of the frequency of the color of the larger mass.” No, you ask any scientist anywhere, and they’ll tell you “G=m1*m2/r2.” Every physicist can tell you “in a closed system, the entropy tends to increase;” every chemist can tell you “PV=nRT;” every first year physics student can tell you “an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” These are scientific laws. “(Repeated) Thoughts (actually, feelings) become (after a time delay) things (because like attracts like)” is not a scientific law; it’s all hedges and weasels, all caveats and exceptions.

Now, I’ll admit that many scientific laws are only selectively applicable. The Ideal Gas Law describes an unrealistic situation, but uses it to model actual phenomena. Newton’s laws only apply in Newtonian frames of reference, and are only accurate to a certain degree. The Second Law of Thermodynamics includes in it the caveat that it only works for closed systems. The difference here is that science doesn’t make claims to 100% accuracy. We may round up to it, in cases like gravitation or Newton’s laws, but we recognize that every law may be supplanted with one which explains the phenomena even more accurately (as with the relativistic versions of Newton’s laws). Strike two against the Law of Attraction.

Next time, “The Secret” and its crimes against science!

8 Responses to Shh! It’s a Secret! (Part 1)

  1. Anonymous says:

    After talking to you this weekend, I decided it was time to find out what this “law of attraction” was all about, so I read Skeptico and other stuff. I have decided an awful lot of time is being spent trying to talk sanity into people who are not listening. Is it worth it?Regarding your last paragraph: The fact that much of physics instruction oversimplifies more complicated reality was the source of the physics club quote, “ridiculous but useful.” Seems to me that the law of attraction is “ridiculous and useless.” Or worse.-CJV

  2. “The Secret” is so ridiculous I really didn’t pay any attention to it until Skep did his article.I call it the Law of If You Build it, He Will Come. If someone really thinks that they can get something just by thinking about it, no amount of science or reality will change their minds.What I did like in your article was the reference to questioning Shakespeare’s authorship. I’ve never read the theories, though neither side seems to be able to back their claims up with any hard evidence.

  3. Doubting Tom says:

    CJV: They say that the definition of insanity is repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results. And I rarely see any new results in promoting real science and evangelizing skepticism. But, I think as educators and scientists, we have some responsibility to at least try to correct and counteract the antiscientific trends of the public. We may be talking at brick walls, but there’s a nonzero chance that someone will listen. Heck, I used to buy into anything. I devoured books on hauntings and ESP and aliens and whatnot. I grew up treating every word out of Robert Stack’s mouth as gospel. But eventually I guess I figured out that the real unsolved mysteries, though more prosaic, were far more interesting than the ‘repeatedly solved but generally ignored’ mysteries. Ryan: Skeptic magazine did a bit on the Shakespeare authorship question last year, and it’d make good fodder for a post here, methinks. They concluded that there simply wasn’t enough evidence on either side of the matter. That being said, one side says “there was a real William Shakespeare, and we have evidence for that (baptism records and so on), and he wrote the plays and poetry attributed to him.” The other side only agrees on “there may have been a real William Shakespeare, but he didn’t write the plays attributed to him,” and then there’s a dozen or so serious contenders for the “real Shakespeare.” Then there are all sorts of justifications for why the works are attributed to Shakespeare, why contemporary authors talk about Will’s works, and in at least one case (Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford), how several plays were written after the proposed author’s death. So, for me, it comes down to Occam’s Razor, and I say that William Shakespeare wrote the things attributed to him, not any number of figures with hypothetical pen names, secret lives, and beefs with the aristocracy.

  4. Skeptico says:

    Tom, I just KNOW you’re trying to attract Kat to leave a comment here. Be careful what you wish for. And good luck. ;-)

  5. I say that William Shakespeare wrote the things attributed to him, not any number of figures with hypothetical pen names, secret lives, and beefs with the aristocracy.I’ve been obsessed with this lately, and have come to the same conclusion. None of the arguments raised are very solid – if one of the people they put forth wrote the plays, why not say so?

  6. Dikkii says:

    Dammit, I wish that people would shut up about The Secret.I’m so sick of hearing about it.I nearly blogged about it. Thank FSM I didn’t – it would have been giving it an “air of respectability”.

  7. BEAJ says:

    If everyone knows the secret that means 100% of the people will make 100% of the money.

  8. Doubting Tom says:

    Gosh, I hope you’re joking. Give or take the salaries of movie-star animals, 100% of the people do make 100% of the money. It’s almost a definition thing, actually.

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