Okay, let’s get nerdy about the New Age.
I’m assuming that if you’re here, you aren’t a big fan of New Age religion.
(If you are… man… you’ve really wandered off the beaten path.)
And you probably already think that the Law of Attraction is bullshit…
But sometimes it’s fun to dig into New Ageism and pull it apart in detail.
If for no other reason than to highlight precisely why it’s so ridiculous.
And to see if we can rescue any valuable gems of insight from the pit…
Let’s start with the most popular profitable mantra of New Ageism: you create your own reality.
Does true belief guarantee success?
Can happy accidents happen without us believing in them first?
If we really “create our own reality,” then it’s important to examine our expectations of how this creation actually works.
In technical terms, we want to question whether our beliefs are necessary and/or sufficient in determining the events of our lives.
Here’s the nerdy breakdown:
- If belief is necessary but not sufficient, then events can’t happen in your life without you first believing that they will. But belief alone does not guarantee that an event will occur.
(e.g. If you don’t believe that you will win the lottery, then you won’t win the lottery. If you do believe, then you might win.)
- If belief is sufficient but not necessary, then an event will happen if you believe it will happen, but events can also occur by chance.
(e.g. If you believe that you will win the lottery, then you will win the lottery. If you don’t believe, then you might win.)
- If belief is both necessary and sufficient, then events will only come to pass if you believe they will occur.
(e.g. If you truly believe that you will win the lottery, then you will win. If you don’t believe, then you won’t win.)
Although not stated explicitly, most New Age texts promote the third option.
The old tale about Central American natives being unable to perceive Spanish ships is usually offered as proof of the necessity of belief.
If you’ve never heard it before, the story is that the natives saw the Spaniards emerge from “clouds” on the water, since “ships” were not a part of their worldview.
They literally couldn’t see the ships anchored offshore.
I’m not sure where this story started… but let’s just give it to them and say it’s true.
Next is the tenet that if you truly believe an event will occur, you will draw it into your life.
This is where the Law of Attraction makes its appearance.
The Law of Attraction is an unknown law of the universe, which manifests our thoughts into physical reality based on the ancient idea that “like attracts like.”
(The law isn’t really unknown, since every successful person has supposedly been aware of it. But knowledge of the law has been suppressed by politicians and greedy corporations who want to keep the secret to themselves. Bastards.)
It’s basically the non-religious version of “God rewards the righteous.”
So it’s not terribly original… but let’s give’em that one too.
Taken together, we have you create your own reality.
Or, in less sexy language, belief is both necessary and sufficient to determine the events of our lives.
Now, the ugly consequences…
If you must believe in something for it to happen, and if things must happen if you believe…
Then everything that happens in your life is a consequence of your beliefs…
If a young child is shot or beaten to death…
That child should have adopted a healthier belief system and quit dwelling on murderous thoughts.
If your home is destroyed by a tornado, freak meteor strike, or a stampede of rogue circus elephants…
You have only yourself to blame. (Really? Circus elephants? What were you thinking??)
Hmmm… Not so empowering now, is it?
Still, there’s an element of truth tucked away in there…
The universe isn’t just lying about, waiting for us to stumble upon it as brute fact.
Reality is a seamless blend of both interior and exterior phenomena.
And if we lack the cognitive development to perceive an event—it never enters our conscious experience.
It “doesn’t exist” for us.
But while cognitive capacity is necessary to perceive and describe an event, a lack of awareness does not preclude the event from happening!
A bug doesn’t have the internal structure to comprehend the existence of a car.
(A “car,” as we understand it, never enters into the interior worldspace of a bug.)
But that doesn’t protect it from the windshield!
And, incidentally, it didn’t protect the Central American tribes from the invading conquistadors either.
So much for the necessity of belief…
But what about sufficient?
In this scenario, sincere confidence in our abilities would ensure success in any endeavor.
If that were true, the world would be bursting with rock stars and billionaires.
And disappointment would be the rarest of human emotions.
It doesn’t take more than a cursory review of our lives to see that this is not the case.
No matter how badly we want something…
No matter how loving or accepting or supportive or open or positive we are…
It doesn’t guarantee that events will unfold in the way that we desire.
Sometimes we can do everything right, and still fail.
That’s what makes our dreams so precious.
If they could be had for the paltry cost of a few positive affirmations, we wouldn’t bother to dream them in the first place!
We’d just jot them down as a reminder.
(Note to self: buy milk; record platinum album; solve world hunger.)
But despite the obvious clash between doctrine and reality, there is a never-ending stream of New Age literature claiming that positive beliefs and secret laws of nature will fulfill our deepest desires.
The authors mean well…
They are trying to empower us to create the life we’ve always wanted…
To reassure us that we’re not slaves to our physical environment…
That we have a hand in our own fate.
But for true-believers, the result is often a crippling sense of New Age guilt, which does far more harm than good.
Empowerment is a nice and noble aim—but with great power comes great responsibility.
And accountability cuts both ways.
If you follow the Law, and the object (or subject) of your desire doesn’t manifest itself…
It can only mean that you don’t really believe it.
Or you don’t truly want it.
Or you don’t actually deserve it.
And that quickly sets into a vicious downward spiral.
When you create your own reality, every fleeting desire becomes an impulse of divine origin—every vague disappointment, a verdict.
If you’ve gone down that path, you’ve felt it.
If you haven’t, count yourself fortunate.
It’s one of the darkest, most regrettable legacies of the New Age.
Salvaging the Sentiment
So now that we’ve savaged the central pillar of New Age religion, let’s salvage the sentiment.
Beliefs are incredibly important.
They determine our options in life in more ways than one…
If we don’t believe something is possible, we’re less likely to notice it when it happens.
Or to believe it when we’re told.
We miss opportunities.
And if we don’t believe in our dreams, we aren’t going to invest much effort in achieving them.
And that doesn’t help our odds of success.
At a deeper level, things like cognitive development, cultural bias, linguistic structure and unconscious assumption all shape our experiences before they ever even reach our conscious minds.
So it’s always beneficial to reexamine our beliefs in order to adopt a positive and empowering worldview.
We just don’t want to go overboard and start blaming ourselves when things go wrong…
Positive visualization can improve our health, but it doesn’t ensure good health.
A happy and open attitude goes a long way in making new friends, but it doesn’t guarantee that everyone will like us.
The act of loving deeply and selflessly adds immeasurably to our lives, but it doesn’t mean that those we love will love us back.
Failure and pain and rejection are just part of being human.
And believing that we can avoid those feelings only makes us miserable.
But what about mind over matter?
Does consciousness affect the world we live in?
The short answer? Yes, I believe it does.
Consciousness is as much a part of reality as anything else.
So I think it’s impossible for consciousness to not affect the world we live in.
(I also think the question is flawed… Our concepts of mind and matter are hopelessly outdated. And changing those ideas changes the nature of the question.)
Basically, it’s all a matter of perspective…
But, wait… What about quantum mechanics??
What about What the Bleep? Doesn’t physics prove that consciousness creates reality?
No. It doesn’t. (Sadly.)
But let’s get nerdy about that too while we’re at it…
No discussion of the New Age would be complete without a discussion of the New Physics.
The two go together like Santa and the Easter Bunny.
That unlikely union—between the flakiest of faiths, and the hardest of hard sciences—is a fascinating mix of physics and philosophy…
And university politics (of all things).
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About Zach Herbert
I teach people to do cool things with their consciousness, and break their brains with beautiful ideas.
Professional heretic. Unlikely mystic. Host to rebels, misfits and independent thinkers.
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