Law of attraction (New Thought)
The law of attraction is the name given to the maxim “like attracts like” which in New Thought philosophy is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. This belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from “pure energy”, and the belief that like energy attracts like energy.
The concept of law of attraction received criticism from skeptical essays, like the Robert Todd Carroll’s skeptic dictionary.
The New Thought movement grew out of the teachings of Phineas Quimby in the early 19th century. Although he never used the words ‘law of attraction’ his basic premise was similar, although restricted only to the field of health:
the trouble is in the mind, for the body is only the house for the mind to dwell in, and we put a value on it according to its worth. Therefore if your mind has been deceived by some invisible enemy into a belief, you have put it into the form of a disease, with or without your knowledge. By my theory or truth I come in contact with your enemy, and restore you to your health and happiness. This I do partly mentally and partly by talking till I correct the wrong impressions and establish the Truth, and the Truth is the cure.
In 1877, the term ‘law of attraction’ appeared in print for the first time in a book written by Helena Blavatsky. By the end of the 19th century the term was being used by New Thought authors such as Prentice Mulford and Ralph Trine, but for them the law of attraction not only affected health but every other aspect of our lives.
The 20th century saw a surge in interest in the subject with many books being written about it, amongst which are two of the best-selling books of all time; Think and Grow Rich (1937) by Napoleon Hill and You Can Heal Your Life (1984) by Louise Hay.
In 2006, the concept of the law of attraction gained a lot of renewed exposure with the release of the film The Secret which was then developed into a book of the same title in 2007. The movie and book gained widespread attention in the media.
New Thought authors believe that the law of attraction is always in operation and that it brings to each person the conditions and experiences that they predominantly think about, or which they desire or expect.
The law of attraction will certainly and unerringly bring to you the conditions, environment and experiences in life, corresponding with your habitual, characteristic, predominant mental attitude.
Ralph Trine wrote in In Tune With The Infinite (1897):
The law of attraction works universally on every plane of action, and we attract whatever we desire or expect. If we desire one thing and expect another, we become like houses divided against themselves, which are quickly brought to desolation. Determine resolutely to expect only what you desire, then you will attract only what you wish for.
Claims of its effects
A core claim by New Thought authors is that our thoughts directly influence our health, and that this is due to the law of attraction. They believe that worry, fear, stress or other negative thoughts make people sick, while positive thoughts of wellness or love can keep people healthy and even cure illnesses. This can be seen in scientific studies where the placebo effect takes place. Those who receive fake sugar pills tend to become healthier due to the mere fact that they think they are getting treatment when they aren’t. Proponents also claim that an important part of maintaining health and of curing illness is to be able to visualize yourself as being healthy.
It is claimed that if someone consistently thinks prosperous thoughts then irrespective of their actual situation they will experience prosperity in the future because ‘like attracts like’. Conversely if a person consistently thinks that they are poor then that will be their future experience. One example used by Lisa Nichols in the film The Secret is as follows: “Every time you look inside your mail expecting to see a bill, guess what? It’ll be there. Each day you go out dreading the bill, you’re never expecting anything great, you’re thinking about debt, you’re expecting debt. So debt must show up…..it showed up, because the law of attraction is always being obedient to your thoughts”. Feeling happy and grateful for the money you already have, is claimed to be the fastest way to bring more money into your life.
Law of attraction proponents claim that it affects our relationships because whatever we focus on we experience more of. So if an individual focuses on another person’s good qualities then they experience more of those, where as if they focus on what they dislike about that person then those will be the characteristics of that person that they experience. They also claim that if you can visualize that a certain person is being nice to you, then you will be attracting experiences that match those thoughts.
It is claimed that when someone visualizes clearly and in detail what they want to achieve, and focuses upon that image, that they set in motion through the law of attraction a chain of events that eventually culminates in the materialization of that vision. Charles Haanel says in The Master Key System, “You must see the picture more and more complete, see the detail, and, as the details begin to unfold the ways and means for bringing it into manifestation  will develop. One thing will lead to another. Thought will lead to action, action will develop methods, methods will develop friends, and friends will bring about circumstances, and, finally, the third step, or Materialization, will have been accomplished.”
Philosophical and religious basis
The New Thought concept of the law of attraction is rooted in ideas that come from various philosophical and religious traditions. In particular it has been inspired by Hermeticism, New England transcendentalism, specific verses from the Bible, and Hinduism, 
Hermeticism influenced the development of European thought in the renaissance. Its ideas were transmitted partly through alchemy. In the 18th century Franz Mesmer studied the works of alchemists such as Paracelsus and van Helmont. Van Helmont was a 17th-century Flemish physician who proclaimed the curative powers of the imagination. This lead Mesmer to develop his ideas about Animal magnetism which Phineas Quimby, the founder of New Thought, studied.
The Transcendentalist movement developed in the United States immediately before the emergence of New Thought and is thought to have had a great influence on it. George Ripley, an important figure in that movement, stated that its leading idea was “the supremacy of mind over matter”.
New Thought authors often quote certain verses from the Bible in the context of the law of attraction. An example is Mark 11:24: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
In the late 19th century Swami Vivekananda travelled to the United States and gave lectures on Hinduism. These talks greatly influenced the New Thought movement, and in particular William Walker Atkinson who was one of New Thought’s pioneers.
Skeptical Inquirer magazine criticized the lack of falsifiability and testability of these claims. Critics have asserted that the evidence provided is usually anecdotal and that, because of the self-selecting nature of the positive reports, as well as the subjective nature of any results, these reports are susceptible to confirmation bias and selection bias. Physicist Ali Alousi, for instance, criticized it as unmeasurable and questioned the likelihood that thoughts can affect anything outside the head.
The Law of Attraction has been popularized in recent years by books and films such as The Secret. This film and the subsequent book use interviews with New Thought authors and speakers to explain the principles of the proposed metaphysical law that one can attract anything that one thinks about consistently. Writing for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Mary Carmichael and Ben Radford wrote that “neither the film nor the book has any basis in scientific reality”, and that its premise contains “an ugly flipside: if you have an accident or disease, it’s your fault”.
Others have questioned the references to modern scientific theory, and have maintained, for example, that the law of attraction misrepresents the electrical activity of brainwaves. Victor Stenger and Leon Lederman are critical of attempts to use quantum mysticism to bridge any unexplained or seemingly implausible effects, believing these to be traits of modern pseudoscience.
- Prentice Mulford, a Californian author and humorist, used the term law of Attraction in his essays Some Laws of Health and Beauty and Good And Ill Effects of Thought, written in 1891.
- Ralph Waldo Trine published his book In Tune with the Infinite in 1897. In the second paragraph of chapter 9 he says “The Law of Attraction works unceasingly throughout the universe, and the one great and never changing fact in connection with it is, as we have found, that like attracts like.”
- Thomas Troward, who was a strong influence in the New Thought Movement, claimed in a 1904 lecture that thought precedes physical form and “the action of Mind plants that nucleus which, if allowed to grow undisturbed, will eventually attract to itself all the conditions necessary for its manifestation in outward visible form.”
- James Allen, an English New Thought writer, wrote a series of books and articles between 1901 and 1912, after which his wife Lily continued his work. Allen is best known for writing As a Man Thinketh in 1902.
- William Walker Atkinson used the phrase in his New Thought Movement book Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World (1906), stating that “like attracts like”.
- Bruce MacLelland‘s prosperity theology book Prosperity Through Thought Force (1907) summarized the principle as “You are what you think, not what you think you are.” It was published by Elizabeth Towne, the editor of The Nautilus Magazine, a Journal of New Thought.
- Wallace D. Wattles wrote The Science of Getting Rich (1910) which espouses similar principles — that simply believing in the object of your desire and focusing on it will lead to that object or goal being realized on the material plane (Wattles claims in the Preface and later chapters of this book that his premise stems from the monistic Hindu view that God provides everything and can deliver what we focus on). The book also claims that negative thinking will manifest negative results.
- William Quan Judge a theosophical author used the phrase in his book The Ocean of Theosophy (1915).
- Annie Besant, another theosophical author, discussed the ‘law of attraction’ in 1919. Besant compared her version of it to gravitation, and said that the law represented a form of karma.
- Napoleon Hill published two books on the theme. The first was The Law of Success in 16 Lessons (1928), which directly and repeatedly referenced the law of attraction and proposed that it operates by use of radio waves transmitted by the brain. Then in 1937, he published Think and Grow Rich, which went on to become one of the best selling books of all time, selling over 60 million copies. In this book, Hill insisted on the importance of controlling one’s own thoughts in order to achieve success, as well as the energy that thoughts have and their ability to attract other thoughts. In the beginning of the book, Hill mentions a “secret” to success and promises to indirectly describe it at least once in every chapter of the book. It is never named directly, for he says that discovering it on one’s own is far more beneficial. Many people have argued over what the secret  actually is, some claiming that it is the law of attraction. Hill states the “secret” to which he refers is mentioned no fewer than a hundred times, yet reference to “attract” is used less than 30 times in the text. Most students of the book claim the secret is hidden in its title: THINK (i.e., thinking the right thoughts).
- Israel Regardie published many books with the Law of Attraction theme as one of his prevailing Universal Laws. His book, The Art of True Healing: A Treatise on the Mechanism of Prayer and the Operation of the Law of Attraction in Nature (1937), taught a focused meditation technique to help the mind to learn to heal itself on both a physical and spiritual level. Regardie claimed further that the Law of Attraction was not only a valid method for attracting good physical health but for improvement in any other aspect of one’s life.
- U.S. Andersen‘s book Three Magic Words (1954) became a forerunner of the current claims regarding the subconscious mind and the law of attraction.
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