If you’re honest, you sooner or later have to confront your values. Then you’re forced to separate what is right from what is merely legal. This puts you metaphysically on the run. America is full of metaphysical outlaws.― Tom RobbinsStill Life with Woodpecker

As a doctoral student in philosophy my penchant for exploring unfounded and scientifically dubious (read:whackadoodle) ideas threatens to relegate me to the fringes of my field. I suppose you could say it makes me a bit of a metaphysical outlaw. Albeit, an outlaw who dabbles in decidedly mainstream (Oprah endorses them) ideologies. For this reason, I choose to remain anonymous for the time being. I prefer to pursue my outlaw activities in private to avoid jeopardizing my professional credibility. But I suppose I’m not an outlaw at all if I am still working in the confines of what is expected. Can you be a secret outlaw, or does it require some sort of public declaration? It is likely that putting such restrictions on outlaw-ism compromises the outlaw-ness of the concept. Outlaw, you slippery sucker! How can we understanding you if defining you makes you less, well, “you”?

Laws tend to fall into two categories, natural or political. Philosophers have been spilling ink for centuries attempting to determine how the laws of nature translate into the laws of moral and political society. But, one thing seems fairly evident. We need laws to make sense of our world. We need to believe that there is some underlying structure, whether God or science or some combination thereof, upon which we can rely. It is important to know that the law of gravity has your back as you walk down the street. Otherwise you might live in fear that the very next moment you could float into the ether rather than step into your favorite coffee shop. And, really, who wants to worry that they might have to sacrifice their morning caffeine to the unreliability of gravity?

All of this is to say that we crave certainty. We want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that certain things are reliable. This is not always a problematic tendency because further discovery often relies on foundational evidence. But certainty also closes our minds to the possibility that we know nothing. Even our scientific methods rely on empirical knowledge, or the recurring observation that a particular phenomenon will repeat itself given similar conditions.  And David Hume sort of blew scientific certainty out of the water when he popularized the problem of induction. If everything we know about the world comes from observation, and we have repeatedly observed that certain causes do not always lead to their expected effects, then how can we know with any real certainty that a given cause will produce the effect we intend? In other words, we are surprised by certain cause and effect relationships all the time; events do not always turn out as planned. So where in our experiences of the world did we come up with the notion that natural laws, derived from empirical observations, are everlasting?

We believe that things will occur based on some kind of underlying formula because we have pretty good reasons to think they will. While we do not always observe events happening as planned, we can generally agree that certain causal relations are more likely than others. It is more likely than not that gravity will hold us to the earth because we have plenty of experience with the universe working in this way. This is what John Dewey called “warranted assertability”. Certain “laws”, if you will, are more warranted than others.

All of this leads me to the subject of the next experiment with self-help literature: The Law of Attraction. In the posts that follow I will go into more detail regarding the book I chose to read and the process of discovery it details. But for now I will just say a short word about the Law of Attraction and its tenets. The “law” rests on the notion that “like attracts like”. If we think negative thoughts, then we will experience negativity in our lives. If instead we focus on our perfect future, the universe will deliver said future to us, like magic. This sounds very similar to the power of positive thinking concept promoted by positive psychology. Yet, for LOA adherents there is a more spiritual dimension. It has been deemed a “law” because, presumably, it gives the theory more cache. But also, the people who advocate for the law of attraction (and there are many of them out there), believe that they have direct experience of it working for them over and over again. To them, the assertability of the law of attraction as a law is completely warranted.

So in order to test this theory for myself I will be using a book by a woman named Pam Grout entitled E-Squared: Nine Do-it-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality. As my first semi-public declaration of metaphysical outlaw-hood I will dutifully make my way through Ms. Grout’s energy experiments and report my findings here. Stay tuned!

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Published by The Self-Help Sucker