Sherlock Holmes and the law of attraction

18 10 2010

Over the past year lots of people have asked why I object so strongly to The Law of Attraction so here goes!

First of all, it isn’t a law!

The definition of a scientific law that I favour is “..a concise verbal or mathematical statement that expresses a fundamental principle of science.” For example Boyle’s Law states that there is a constant relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas. Independent measurements can be, and have been, made to confirm Boyle’s supposition. Newton’s Law of Gravity predicts that objects will fall to earth and over centuries of measurement and observation not a single instance has contradicted this law.

Scientists do not bestow the term ‘law’ frivolously. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is just that and while vast amounts of evidence have been collected to support the theory,  it remains just that, a theory. Now we could debate the merits of inductive and deductive reasoning in scientific proofs and there are, of course, alternative definitions of what a scientific law is, but the law of attraction fails them all.

Secondly, I am a linguistic pedant!

Words are very important. In the early twentieth century a whole school of philosophy, The English School of Philosophy, grew around the ideas of Bertrand Russell and focussed almost entirely on the way in which we use words.  I’m not the kind of person who rages at the radio each time I hear a split infinitive, rather it is the sloppy use of words that allows language to conceal real meaning. During the 1970’s and beyond the BBC have been prone to say that a terrorist organisation has “claimed” responsibility for an atrocity rather than say that they have “admitted responsibility”. You claim a prize. It should not be acceptable use of language to claim a bombing.

By using the word “law” the perpetrators intend to evoke science – they attempt to disguise their ideas behind the cloak of scientific language. It is strange to me that the worst offenders are practitioners of NLP. They should know better. Our habitual thinking creates shortcuts in our brain. In NLP we are told to create new patterns of thinking to break these old habits. Supporters of the law of attraction seek to use the fact that, thanks to our years at school, we all shortcut from the word “law” to assume that there has been rigorous, scientific proof of the idea. There isn’t any scientific evidence or research that would support a “law” of attraction and it is clear, therefore, that supporters are being deliberately misleading in their use of language.

If we allow this improper use of language to persist it allows charlatans to imply knowledge when they have none. If we all agree to use the word “law” to apply to real laws, not ideas or ideals, then it will give the fraudsters, of whom there are plenty in this area, no place to hide.

Thirdly, it demeans us as human beings.

It puts your ego at the centre of the universe, implying that your needs can be met above all those of all others. You wish it and the universe will make it so. I hope that now it is written here the ludicrous nature of this assertion is clear. If the universe has a conscience (and in the interests of creating a blog post rather than a book, I’ll save the arguments against this for another day!) then I am sure it has better things to do with it’s time than deliver my dreams.

It is far better to rethink the law of attraction completely.

In our every waking moment our senses are bombarded by millions and millions of bits of information. We cannot, and do not, process them all. Our brain helps us to choose which to pay conscious attention to and which to ignore. I can give an example. If you move house to a place next to a sewage farm you would be aware of a foul smell…to begin with. After a relatively short time you will not notice the smell. It is still there but your conscious mind no longer notices, or at the very least notices the smell less than when you first moved in. The same is true for people living near train tracks on flight paths.

But as the great Sherlock Holmes says “Everything is always there.”

I’m a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes. If you haven’t seen the films, read the books, listened to the radio plays or seen the recent TV adaptation, then you have been missing one of the great literary creations in the English language. Anyway, Sherlock Holmes will attend a crime scene with his assistant Dr John Watson.  Dr Watson will emerge having noted the nature of the crime, perhaps the type of victim, murder weapon, cause of death…the obvious things. Sherlock Holmes will have noticed much, MUCH more. All of the clues, all of the evidence was available to both men. Everything was there but only one man was open to all of the information.

My assertion is that we should take responsibility for our own experiences. Everything is always there.  We have to change the way we think in order to become aware of the opportunities that present themselves every single day. We have to act. We are not passive dreamers waiting to attract good things from the universe.

I propose that we ditch the passive, egocentric and misleading law of attraction and replace it with an ACT OF AWARENESS. We all need to make a conscious decision to change the way we think and sense and act in order to become truly aware of the universe we live in and make the most of the opportunities that will then be clear to us.

Everything is always there. Making an Act of Awareness, making a change within yourself to improve your perception is what will really make a difference to your life.

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Evolution and Consciousness

24 11 2009

The Origin of the Species was published 150 years ago today. It’s publication ushered in a new era for biology and began a debate between science and faith that rages still.

As yesterday, I have to declare an interest. I’m a zoologist. Yes, really I am. I have been lots of things in my life so you’ll have to get used to the things that I say I am ….most of which will be true!

My own copy of The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection is a very well thumbed paperback with a classic introduction by another great zoologist J. Maynard Smith. As you can guess I am a fan. It is as good an explanation as you can hope to get of how the world came to be the way it is. The theories that Darwin postulated 150 years ago have been supported by all of the geological and physical discoveries made since then and have withstood all of the challenges thrown at them by scientific and rational minds up to the present moment. The theory has also survived the abuse and misuse it has been subjected to by eugenicists and supremisists and assorted cranks over the years.

The theory of evolution tells us how the current state of the living world arose but making sense of it is a different matter. As living breathing creatures we have awareness and, maybe uniquely, we are aware that we have awareness. This is what we typically call consciousness and it opens up a whole pandoras box. We look for meaning and purpose to our existence and for answers beyond our 3 score years and ten. We look for answers, and having found them, formulate yet more questions.

When Buddha was asked whether the universe was finite or infinite he refused to answer, saying that any answer would be speculation.  We may never have all of the answers to all of the questions but how we use our self-awareness is important. We can choose respond positively and with creativity and, as buddhism has it, evolve morally and mentally without limit.

We can look to the wonder in the natural world and the explanations that Darwins fantastic theory brings and learn to respect and value all around us.  That is a sensible use of our self-awareness in these times of credit crunch and climate change.