From Thought Forms by Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, 1905. (Wikimedia Commons)

What if the New Agers Were Right All Along?

Why the radical metaphysics of thought-causation just might work

Mitch Horowitz
19 min readMay 10, 2023

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I believe that some of us dedicated to experimental spirituality and mind metaphysics must attempt to theorize the mechanics and delivery systems behind what we experience and observe. There exist, of course, manifold risks of personal bias toward a favored thesis. But to limit the wish to “know thyself” to clinical study is to eviscerate the principle itself. This is my effort to describe “what happens” in the process of thought causation or what is popularly, though inadequately, called positive thinking or manifestation.

Everyone hates The Secret. Mainline cultural commentators and “serious” spiritual seekers routinely resurrect the nearly 20-year-old work for excoriation, presumably allowing H.L. Mencken (1880–1956) to sleep undisturbed after writing the first “take down” piece on mind metaphysics more than a century ago. In 1910, the Bard of Baltimore wrote in “Mental Vibrations”:

The New Thought, that fantastic magic, goes marching on…There is, in brief, little if any truth in the belief that good wishes may be transformed into objective phenomena, that mind influences matter — and little, even, in the belief that mind influences mind.

To today’s cutting-edge rationalists who would lift our spiritual blinkers: we’ve been there.

My task in this article is neither to defend alternative spirituality nor enumerate its flaws — of which I write often — but rather to consider why, from a spiritual or extra-physical perspective, positive thinking, “manifestation,” or the “Law of Attraction” just might work. Before you cry confirmation bias! (materialism’s equivalent of lock her up!), take a beat.

I venture to map a seeker’s theory of mind causation — but one that also stands defensible within parameters of accepted (if not always understood) knowledge. My theory may be wrong. It may be grossly incomplete. But I believe that those of us engaged in the search for practical spirituality must at least attempt to theorize from the intersection of testimony, science, and experience. Each generation owes the labor of verification to the search of the next, which will have its own ideas and critiques.

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Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China