Law of Attraction (again)

So I’m thinking about The Secret and The Law of Attraction (LoA) again, unfortunately. I have a more immediate need to think about it, now. In particular, it seems like a fairly common psychological bias. But I just don’t have a term for it, a conceptual anchor point.

This essay, New Thought (aka Mind Cure or Mind Science) movement by Robert Todd Carroll helped quite a bit. The kernel Carroll helps lead me to consists of these ill-formed hints:

  • illusion of control
  • self-confidence/esteem
  • “the master has failed more times than the novice has even tried”
  • evolutionary success

I don’t have the time to formulate something more coherent at the moment. And since nobody reads this log, anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s just one log entry on the way to another!

Anyway, that essay commits the same error it accuses the LoA believers of committing:

Nobody ever accomplished anything without a positive attitude and belief in his or her own ability to succeed at achieving a goal. Thoughts lead to actions and actions bring about results. No thought, no action—unless you’re a robot.

Anyone who knows me has heard me rant about the delusion of thoughts leading to actions. The only way I accept that is if you redefine “thought” to mean “smaller, faster actions”. So, Carroll is committing the same error by elevating the illusory thoughts into a causative role. We certainly can and do act without thought… all the time. And what’s with “nobody ever accomplished anything without a positive attitude”? That’s just plain ridiculous. Our history is replete with stories of unhappy, negative, suicidal artists and inventors who changed our world, both for the better and worse.

We know that most of our ailments will go away of their own accord and that many of our ailments are responses to our social situation. We know that having faith in the healer is important for success, as is the ritual and theater that often accompanies the meeting between healer and patient. We know that the optimism and hopefulness of the healer play an important role in affecting the faith of the patient in the process. We know, in other words, that belief is a powerful placebo.

Never mind the specious use of “most”, here. If he’d written “some”, it would be more defensible. The more important point is that the things Carroll is saying we “know” are really vague, abstract, placeholders for whatever underlying mechanisms there may be. We don’t know these things. A better way to say it is that we’re ignorant of why these correlations exist. The correlations imply a mechanism we may ONE DAY know or understand. But today, they’re merely phenomenal correlations.

So, although Carroll’s essay helped me refine my hunch that the LoA is a common diagnosable psychological bias, he is, himself, infected.