The phrase Law of Attraction, although used widely by esoteric writers, has a variety of definitions. Turn of the century references conceptualized the law of attraction as relating to physical structure and to how matter develops. A more modern consensus among New Thought thinkers is that the Law of Attraction says people's thoughts (both conscious and unconscious) dictate the reality of their lives, whether or not they're aware of it. Essentially "if you really want something and believe it's possible, you'll probably get it", but putting a lot of attention and thought onto something you don't want means you'll probably get that too.
Widespread popular interest for the law of attraction reached its peak after the release of the The Secret (2006 film). After the film's release, the book, Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham, by Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks made the New York Times Best Sellers list, drawing more attention and interest to this topic. In 2007, Oprah Winfrey began a series of interviews during her talk show on the law of attraction.
Since many of the claims of the law of attraction appear impossible without violating established scientific principles and our understanding of the universe, it has received criticism from the scientific community. Physicist Ali Alousi, for instance, criticized it as unmeasurable (and therefore unscientific) as well as questioning the likelihood that thoughts can affect anything outside the head . The associated press is also quoted as saying that "some medical professionals suggest it could even lead to a blame-the-victim mentality and actually be dangerous to those suffering from serious illness or mental disorders".
Thinking of what one does not have, they say, manifests itself in not having, while if one abides by these principles, and avoids "negative" thoughts, the Universe will manifest a person's desires.
Scientists are critical of the lack of falsifiability and testability of these claims. The evidence provided is usually anecdotal and, because of the self-selecting nature of positive reports, as well as the subjective nature of any results, highly susceptible to misinterpretations like confirmation bias and selection bias. References to modern scientific theory are also criticized. While brainwaves do have an electrical signal, quantum physic principles do not act in the way proponents of the Law of Attraction have described them.
The use of the term law has also come under fire. Critics have said that the use of the term and the vague references to quantum physics to bridge any unexplained or seemingly implausible effects are hallmark traits of modern pseudoscience. Proponents of the Law of Attraction however say that the nature of the 'law' is not one to be settled scientifically, and the word 'law' carries the same belief-based weight as non-scientific 'laws' from other religions, such as the 'Law of Karma' and the Ten Commandments.
The principles of the law of attraction have also been interpreted in the realm of medicine and illness. In 1990, Bernie Siegel (a retired assistant clinical professor of surgery at Yale) published a popular book, Love, Medicine and Miracles, which asserted that the threat of disease was related to a person's imagination, will, and belief. Siegel primarily advocated "love" as the source of healing and longevity stating that "if you want to be immortal, love someone.
Siegel's description has been largely rejected by the medical community. The most notable critic is neuroendocrinologist and Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky, who devoted a whole chapter in his book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers to critiquing Siegel. Sapolsky refers to Siegel's general idea as "benign gibberish" but is strongly critical of what he sees as blaming patients for their illness, based only on questionable anecdotal evidence. Sapolsky sums up his primary criticism as follows:
In 1906, William Walker Atkinson (1862 - 1932) used the phrase in his New Thought Movement book,Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World. The following year, Elizabeth Towne, the editor of The Nautilus Magazine, a Journal of New Thought, published Bruce MacLelland's book Prosperity Through Thought Force, in which he summarized the principle, stating: "You are what you think, not what you think you are."
In 2006, a film entitled The Secret (2006 film) based on the "Law of Attraction" was released and then developed into a book of the same title in 2007. The movie and book gained widespread attention in the media from Saturday Night Live to The Oprah Winfrey Show in the United States. The same year the Hickses' The Law Of Attraction was on the New York Times best seller list.
The success of the film and various books lead to increased media coverage. Oprah Winfrey devoted two episodes of her show to discussing the film and the law of attraction . Talk show host Larry King also discussed it on his show but criticized it for several reasons. He pointed at the sufferings in the world and asked: "If the Universe manifests abundance at a mere thought, why is there so much poverty, starvation, and death?"
This is similar to a common criticism that the law of attraction only works because most of the anecdotes cited in books and movies are about people who live in a culture that has paths to allow people to overcome adversity, while this is not true for much of the world.
In August 2008, Esther and Jerry Hickses' book Money and the Law of Attraction: Learning to Attract Health, Wealth & Happiness appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.