Have you ever met someone who was really into The Secret Law of Attraction? Maybe they’ve said something like “you can have whatever you want; you just have to make it manifest in your life. You can attract whatever good fortune you wish just by thinking about it the right way!” People who are into The Secret believe that the laws of quantum physics prove that like attracts like; in other words: if you think about something in a positive way often enough and properly, that thing will magically manifest in your life because “the universe” will provide it to you.
One example of how The Secret works which is frequently cited is: you receive an envelope in the mail. If you think a bill will be inside, then a bill will be inside; but if you think a check will be inside, then you will open the envelope and find a check. There is one major problem with this way of thinking: quantum physics doesn’t work that way, and neither does The Secret Law of Attraction. In fact, there is no “law of attraction” in quantum physics. Here’s proof.
First, Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret, has no scientific background or training whatsoever. She is a television producer and writer. She claims she based her book on another book published in 1910, called The Science of Getting Rich. Unfortunately, the author of that book, Wallace Wattles, did not have any science background either. He was a farm laborer. Therefore, the two books on which the Law of Attraction is based were both written by people who had/have no understanding of quantum physics.
According to real physicist Andrew Zimmerman Jones, the idea that quantum physics dictates that thoughts can control the “material world” is simply not true, and scientists who have training in quantum physics do not believe it is true based upon their expertise. Byrne’s ideas, extracted from Wattles’ earlier book, are just fabricated nonsense. Consciousness does not affect reality.
The people who believe in Byrne’s ideas are buying advice from someone who has no knowledge of quantum physics and then applying it to their lives, often with disappointing results. Besides physicists scoffing at Byrne’s ideas, those in the field of neuroscience also say the Law of Attraction does not exist.
According to neuroscientist Russell Poldrack, energy fields that are emitted from our brains are much too small to directly impact anything material or cause items, money, situations or other material things to manifest magically:
..these fields are minuscule…Plus, remember the inverse square law: the intensity of an energy wave radiating from a source is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from that source…The brain’s magnetic field of 10–15 teslas quickly dissipates from the skull and is promptly swamped by other magneticsources, not to mention the earth’s magnetic field of 10–5 teslas, which overpowers it by 10 orders of magnitude!
So, it is clear that when actual scientists get involved in the discussion, Byrne’s ideas carry no weight at all; but it’s not just scientists who state that The Secret Law of Attraction doesn’t work; studies have shown that positive thinking can actually be detrimental to achieving goals. A study out of Germany proved that people who concentrated on positive thoughts about getting a job not only failed to manifest that job, but actually ended up making lower salaries than those who did not purposely think positively. Fantasizing led to less action and thus, fewer positive outcomes overall.
The German study supports previous research out of London which showed that students who thought positively about their week got less accomplished during that week than the control group. It’s as if spending time thinking and fantasizing about positive things prohibits action which might otherwise have been taken during that time. This wasted time could have potentially actually led to a positive outcome had the person not simply thought about the outcome.
Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence of The Secret Law of Attraction working, no real science is available to support it, and plenty of anecdotal evidence of it not working also exists. The anecdotal evidence that supports the Law of Attraction is no more than the result of a placebo effect combined with confirmation bias.
So what’s wrong with the placebo effect if it helps some people? The problem is, for the many more people it doesn’t help, a much worse, more depressed, more vulnerable psychological state is often realized. This can lead to worse outcomes in the short term and a poor quality of life overall.
One of the most devious aspects of The Secret is that if someone fails to get what they want, The Secret dictates it is the person’s own fault. The Secret also blames cancer patients for manifesting negative energy and therefore causing their own cancer. It is this kind of victim-blaming mentality that makes this way of thinking so dangerous.
In addition to leading people into a destructive state of mind, psychologist Jenna Baddeley says that adopting the Law of Attraction as valid “promotes a relationship between the individual and the world that is akin to a glorified infancy.” She also says that believing that bad things are the fault of the person experiencing them leads people to a decreased state of empathy, since the victim is the one who is blamed for what’s happening to them.
The Secret also removes the very natural human state of anxiety from the equation; anxiety that can potentially be life saving. Anxiety and fear are survival tools that humans have relied on for centuries. For example, fear of starving in the winter is what propelled people to save and store food in the summer, and so on. The mindset that The Secret promotes takes this fundamental element of survival out of practice and could potentially lead to loss of these necessary fear instincts through disuse. The inevitable end point would be people who become unaware of the legitimate potential of dangerous situations.
Anecdotally, it is easy to meet people whose lives seem to be falling apart; who have no money; who may even be utilizing public assistance, who believe in The Secret and blame their troubles on themselves for not applying the principles of The Law of Attraction correctly. It is less common to meet people who have been highly successful using The Secret, no matter what Oprah Winfrey wants everyone to believe.
Anecdotal evidence abounds that sitting around thinking positive thoughts will not make anything magically manifest in someone’s life, and that doing so wastes time that could be spent taking action instead. Now, in addition to anecdotal evidence, numerous peer reviewed studies have proven the same.
In an article in Psychology Today entitled Positive Thinking Leads to Economic Decline, scientist Matthew Hutson describes the phenomenon of positive thinking being detrimental:
If you vividly picture a desired outcome (weight loss, a job offer), without also thinking in detail about what stands in your way, it’s a bit like you already have the prize, so you don’t strive so hard… all those vision boards that readers of The Secret have constructed—covered with magazine cut-outs of mansions and beach vacations and slim waists (but never world peace)—are likely to remain mere visions dancing in their heads.
The Secret Law of Attraction doesn’t work, and that has been proven by both scientific expert opinion as well as numerous peer reviewed studies. Now, researchers ought to move on to finding out the reason why people would purchase advice based on “quantum physics” from someone who is the furthest thing from a scientist, and why they would persist in believing it despite its lack of positive effect in their lives.
An Editorial By: Rebecca Savastio