The Law of Attraction (LOA), also known as manifestation, is a cardinal doctrine of self-help, New Age, and New Thought movements. Defined as the central law of the universe, LOA claims a level of authority similar to that of a creator God. This ideology is accepted without question by millions of well-intentioned spiritual seekers. It sells books by the millions and undergirds the businesses of lucrative self-help speakers who promise wealth, health, and happiness to those who follow their teachings. Although LOA has come under fire by atheistic and scientific communities, it is rarely critically examined by people who identify as spiritual. A teaching so influential in spiritual circles deserves a higher level of scrutiny. The Law of Attraction may indeed work on several levels and produce certain real benefits. However, it also has potential for great psychological and spiritual harm because of its reliance on partial truths, demonstrable distortions of reality, bypassing of the human condition, and egocentric, duality-bound focus on materialistic pleasure. Nondual manifestation is an alternative paradigm for creating our intentions that preserves the benefits of the Law of Attraction and prevents the harms.
The Law of Attraction is the quasi-religious teaching that you create (manifest) your reality with your thoughts. LOA is commonly summarized with the catchphrase, “Like attracts like.” In other words, whenever you think and feel, the universe responds to your “vibrational field” by matching it with an experience equal to the “frequency” of your thinking and feeling. Whatever you dwell on, you draw into your “quantum field.” Therefore, you are responsible for everything that happens to you, good and bad.
According to LOA teachers, most people go through life as helpless victims of circumstance because they are unaware of how their negative mental states generate their cycles of suffering. LOA promises salvation to the suffering soul–you have the power to change your reality as you wish it to be simply by combining positive thoughts and intentions with positive emotional states, and by eliminating your negative thoughts and emotions. Some LOA teachers add, almost as an afterthought, that you must also take action to match what you are trying to create with your thoughts. However, what makes the Law of Attraction the Law of Attraction is not taking action, but understanding the mystical connection between your thoughts and the universe.
Manifestation gurus teach that the key to a victorious life is practicing Law of Attraction™ meditations, chanting affirmations, drawing visioning boards, and attending the expensive conferences of Law of Attraction gurus. By so doing, you will learn to associate positive emotional states with your wishes, neurologically “re-wiring your brain,” and wa-lah!, the universe responds like a genie God by creating your dream job, spouse, and miraculous healing. The Law of Attraction just so happens to align perfectly with marketing targeted to the major categories people statistically spend the most money on. Incidentally, similar philosophies exist within Christianity, including the Word of Faith Movement and Prosperity Gospel teaching. Here too, charismatic preachers draw large followings of people who spend huge sums of money because they know God’s (LOA, “the Universe”) law that God responds to faith (LOA, “positive intention”) with miracles, and to doubt with judgment.
Law of Attraction teachers combine elements of a hodgepodge of spiritual philosophies with appeals to quantum physics and neuroscience, utilizing scientific language like “energy, vibration,” “quantum field,” and “neuroplasticity” to add an air of scientific legitimacy to their teachings. It is quite possible, even likely, that human consciousness and our intentions powerfully impact reality or even create it in seemingly magical ways. If this is the case, quantum physics and neuroscience would necessarily be intertwined with human consciousness. Indeed, transpersonal psychologists and modern scientists who take the mystical elements of experience seriously acknowledge how eerily and uncannily internal, subjective experience can interact with external reality (e.g. parapsychology and synchronicities–Carl Jung’s idea of meaningful coincidences with an acausal connecting principle), and how traditional explanations of these phenomena based on coincidence and random chance seem grossly insufficient. However, it is by no means clear that science is related to consciousness in the way that LOA claims it is. In fact, LOA flagrantly disregards basic elements of both science and logic, such as multicausality. There are healthier and more nuanced alternatives to LOA in mystically and scientifically informed communities (in particular, nonduality).
The Psychological and Spiritual Harms of the Law of Attraction
Blame for Suffering, Lack of Compassion
LOA should be critically examined, among other reasons, because its teachings have major psychological consequences. Firstly, the Law of Attraction Universe is cold and lacking in compassion. This stems from its morally neutral philosophy and theology. Although most LOA adherents profess a belief in theism or pantheism (a loving creative intelligence), the cosmology of the Law of Attraction is mechanistic and the theology agnostic. Most spiritual worldviews place love at the center of their ideologies as a fundamental attribute of consciousness and existence. But the central axiom of the universe in the Law of Attraction worldview is not loving consciousness but a mechanical law to which loving consciousness is subject. LOA teaches that the universe is based on a neutral law that operates like a cosmic slot machine powered by our wishing. Neutral laws are mechanical, not conscious, and amoral, not loving.
Some LOA teachers claim they believe that the universe is a loving intelligence. Therefore, they say, we can trust the benevolence of the universe. However, these teachers misrepresent LOA with disingenuous words that contradict the logic of LOA. Loving consciousness and the Law of Attraction are mutually exclusive ideas. The Law of Attraction universe is not sentient, it is mechanical law. It is a machine that responds to the input of human intention and outputs creation. It is not loving, it is lifeless and neutral. The key to success in this universe is not the expansion of loving consciousness, but knowing how to manipulate this law. There is hardly even a reason to be good rather than evil in such an amoral, unconscious universe.
The heartlessness of the LOA universe is most evident in its lack of compassion for suffering. Most ideologies acknowledge that suffering is fundamental to the human experience. Although some of our decisions cause suffering, we are not responsible for creating suffering; we are subject to it as a result of being human. Because LOA teaches that you are responsible for your life situation, all your suffering is all your fault. Either your suffering results from your negative thoughts in this lifetime, or from your thinking and intentions in previous lifetimes and preincarnate states. Either way, you are totally responsible.
You are to blame for your suffering, including if you are raped, born in poverty, have a disability–whatever it is, it’s all your fault. According to LOA teachers, although this idea is a tough pill to swallow, it is actually empowering because accepting it enables you to recognize that your responsibility for your horrible situation can also be harnessed to turn it all around. This kind of thinking may work for privileged people who have the means to change their situation and who have never known true powerlessness. However, it compounds the suffering of the less fortunate among us, such as starving children dying of malaria whose manifestation powers have rarely been known to change the systemic injustices and inequalities from which they suffer. Not only does the LOA solution not help such people, but it also makes matters far worse by guilting and shaming those who suffer. This also applies to privileged people who suffer from injustice or tragedy. I have not yet met anyone, even the most positive manifester, who has been able to prevent tragedy and suffering through positive intention.
Psychological Torment to the Psychologically Distressed
Perhaps even more pernicious even than its victim-blaming, LOA manifests psychological and emotional turmoil because it teaches hyperresponsibility. We do indeed have some responsibility for our suffering, but not all of it. In the LOA worldview, however, so-called negative (more accurately painful) emotions are dangerous. Fear, anger, depression, and terrifying thoughts literally create disaster in one’s life. This LOA teaching is demonstrably false. If it were true, I would have experienced death by gruesome murder as well as every kind of suffering imaginable a thousand times over and manifested the zombie apocalypse. But this is not what happens. Quite the contrary, one of the most relieving lessons to be learned about fear, anxiety, and emotional pain is that most of the suffering takes place only in the mind. The vast majority of our fears and negative thoughts never come true.
In an attempt to avoid this obvious flaw in their teachings, LOA gurus claim there is a time-lapse between your thinking and its manifestation. In this window of time, you is safe to experience negatively briefly–but you must not stay in it for long! This LOA idea of a time window is both conveniently nebulous and demonstrably false. The mentally distressed among us totally invalidate the time window argument because they are chronically plagued by horrible thoughts that do not create the disasters they imagine. The tormenting, chronic negativity of the mentally distressed would rain down the proverbial wrath of God on every city in which they live if LOA were true. The mentally distressed would literally be the most dangerous people on the planet. And any veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome would be constantly setting off mystical minefields wherever they set their feet. Mental illness and psychological pain really should be a high crime in LOA teachings because there would be nothing more dangerous to society.
Tragically, LOA teachings place a tremendous, unnecessary burden of additional anxiety on people who are already burdened with suffering, especially in the cases of mental illness, grief, or any kind of psychologically trying situation. According to the logic of LOA, those who suffer psychologically are in grave danger because negativity manifests negative experience. Psychological suffering is already bad enough, but for people who believe in LOA, it is doubly awful and potentially tormenting. It is not safe to grieve the loss of a loved one for very long; you might draw more death into your life. People with phobias or depressive episodes are taught they might create their worst nightmare! People who suffer from anxiety are tormented by LOA because it causes them to be anxious about having anxious emotions and thoughts. Those who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder have it particularly bad in LOA, as LOA causes OCD people to obsess about their negative thoughts and compulsively try to unmanifest them.
In fact, LOA engenders an obsessive-compulsive psychological process. People who adhere to LOA are often seen compulsively word-cancelling and thought-stopping. LOA adherents believe statements like “I want,” “I hope,” “I am sick, and “I don’t have money” must be avoided at all costs. They see even harmless speech that is not phrased in positive terms as dangerous because the universe responds to admissions of lack with negative events. Therefore, LOA adherents scrupulously avoid honest statements and thoughts that imply not having or being in any kind of lack. They police their wording and are careful to phrase problems and desires in terms of triumphant future fulfillment; for instance, “I am excited to be healthy!” instead of the risky but honest, “I want to be cured of my sickness.” Not only does this make language and communication unnecessarily confusing, it is saddening. People should be able to express their needs and lack without fear. As the proverb goes, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one.
Spiritual Bypassing and Valencing of Emotions
Any teaching that causes people to repress or deny their humanity through spirituality is spiritual bypassing. LOA is spiritual bypassing; it teaches people to deny and suppress their so-called negative emotions through spiritual ideology and ritual. Spiritually bypassing practices are band-aid solutions that actually strengthen and prolong so-called negative emotions because they neglect the infected wound that festers underneath. LOA teaches people to bypass their emotions because it is burdened by a reductionistic psychology of emotions. It valences all emotions, categorizing them as good or bad based on whether they are painful or pleasurable. In reality, there are no positive or negative emotions. All emotions are valuable and necessary for psychological health; lacking the capacity for any of the so-called negative emotions is potentially dangerous. Moreover, so-called positive emotions are not always appropriate and can sometimes be harmful. If you feel content and blissed-out in a life-threatening situation, for instance, you may have a serious problem. Likewise, so-called negative emotions are often appropriate and can have a positive impact. Anger, for example, brings awareness of a boundary that has been crossed along with the emotional energy to address it. All emotions provide us with useful information that can be used to increase self-awareness (psychological health and spiritual growth). All emotions communicate useful emotional truths that are not good or bad. We repress or ignore them at our peril.
Every time I tune into spirit (into nature and my deep inner self), I am surprised by the invitation I find to feel my true feelings, be with my most authentic and human self, and learn that I am still deeply loved. The universe is more loving and compassionate than the cold neutrality of LOA. Moreover, not only is it safe to be real with our emotional suffering, it’s the only way to heal. It is safe to deeply feel profound negativity, and we don’t have to fear that this will call in disaster. It is true that unresolved traumas can result in us re-enacting and recreating traumatic scenarios, and perhaps a mystical or karmic element may be involved, at times, in this process. Even if this is the case, however, this suffering is not solved by artificially shifting our emotions, but by authentically facing them and deeply healing. Moving out of pain and into genuine, nonsuperficial positivity takes deep healing work.
LOA teachings are cruel and uncompassionate to the suffering because, when taken seriously, they produce shame and discourage healing. Trying to change your uncomfortable emotions is the exact opposite of the therapeutic process of healing. We know from psychology that what creates disaster and prolongs trauma is not having negative emotions, it is avoiding, repressing, and superficially changing them. The way of healing is to listen to your suffering, hatred, fear, and not judge it as good or bad–to see it and yourself with compassion and let the wound speak so you can discover your path to healing. The way of healing is to honestly admit your needs and lack and bring them into the healing power of compassionate awareness. Healing happens when you tune into the heart of compassion inside yourself and in others–in the heart of the universe itself. Heart-transformation comes from getting real instead of using quick-false fixes to hijack our emotional state into something else.
LOA teachings can be extremely confusing, terrifying, and counterproductive for anyone caught in trauma and painful states of being. They create a battle against the struggle doomed to fail from the outset and multiply the suffering by compounding it with a fear of the destructiveness of a universe strikingly similar to a wrathful god. Though it can be dangerous and cold at times, the universe is not sadistic.
Outsourcing your Power Through Manifestation
There are other dangers that come with LOA. Many spiritual people outsource their power to manifestation, similar to how many religious people outsource their power to God through praying instead of taking responsibility. Instead of believing in themselves, manifesters may unconsciously bypass their inner power and look to something outside of themselves like the universe and magical thinking. This is an avoidance of responsibility and outsourcing of divinity. Positive thinking can be dangerous if you believe it spares you of the need to do the work yourself. This is precisely why so many people are attracted to the Law of Attraction–it is pitched as a shortcut to success. LOA teachers encourage quick-fix spiritual practice because it sells. LOA is a multi-million dollar industry because it promises to relieve people of the challenges of taking responsibility and wrestling with ambiguity. All that is needed to grow rich and achieve your dreams is to think positively and believe. Then what you seek will miraculously show up in your life.
But success rarely happens this way. Many successful and wealthy people do not utilize positive thinking or self-help. Frequently, they do not even practice spirituality at all. In fact, many successful people are chronically negative and cynical. This in itself evidences that LOA is fallacious. If LOA were true, the billionaire class would be composed mostly of psychologically healthy, spiritually evolved beings. Sadly, the reverse is the case. Notwithstanding, prosperous people usually attribute their successes to taking consistent action over time, perseverance, and doing whatever it takes to make it happen. In this sense, we manifest through having a vision and creating it with our power. More than an outside force, we believe in ourselves, or the divine consciousness within ourselves and outside of us working in concert.
The Law of Hyper-Individualism?
In addition to its psychologically and spiritually bypassing tendencies, the Law of Attraction is problematic because it is hyper-individualistic. What counts in LOA is the individual’s egoic intentions. Other intelligent beings are not taken into the law’s me-centric calculus, nor are the influences of the ecosystems and complex societal structures in which we exist. In LOA, I am essentially God and the other people who show up in my life are like puppets on the strings of my mind. And presumably, I am also that way to them. Somehow, we’re all each other’s puppets and gods.
Some LOA teachers attempt to nuance their ideology by acknowledging that other people and structures also play a role in what we experience. However, such acknowledgments are misleading double-speak, plainly contradicting the philosophy of LOA teachings. LOA lacks a coherent explanation of how I can be solely responsible for my reality when conscious entities outside of me influence my reality. Any explanation of reality that accounts for outside influences would contradict LOA’s fundamental assumption of sole responsibility. As long as other people who can influence my life in a meaningful way really exist, then I cannot have confidence that my thoughts and intentions will create my reality. In such a universe, infinite amounts of energetic interference are not only possible but guaranteed.1
What would the point of LOA be, with so many factors? And what happens if my intention is the opposite of yours? Does my stronger intention cancel out yours, is it a positive thinking arm-wrestling contest? For the Law of Attraction to work, we would all need to come together and meditate with the same intentions for each other. Since this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, we might be better served by a different worldview that more closely matches the reality we actually find ourselves in.
How the Law of Attraction Contradicts other Major Spiritual Traditions
Such a worldview exists in many of the major mystical traditions of the world. The Law of Attraction contradicts central tenets of these major mystical traditions that LOA adherents themselves often profess to value, unconscious of this dissonance. Like many spiritual and mystical worldviews, the Law of Attraction presupposes philosophical idealism; that is, the idea that consciousness is fundamental, and matter is a manifestation of consciousness. However, LOA represents a significant departure from the nondualism of major mystical traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. In the logic of LOA, the ego reigns supreme, not consciousness. Separation is the root, not oneness (nonduality). In LOA, human intellect, will, and emotion are the highest principles of human existence.
Starkly opposite to Hinduism and Buddhism, with LOA the goal of existence is to avoid pain and increase pleasure (LOA, “abundance”). Gone is the richness and depth of the mystical traditions which emphasize acceptance of suffering, loving service, and detachment from the superficial in life as keys to a rich and fulfilling life. Because major yogic, Hindu, Buddhist, and some Christian, Jewish, and Islamic mystical systems of thought acknowledge a higher realm of unitive consciousness, their theologies and practices can deliver a more mature, bigger-picture spirituality than egoic-constricted worldviews like LOA. Since nonduality both transcends and constitutes the ego, experiences of the nondual have the capacity to take us beyond the ego separate-self and bring back higher, transformational perspectives into our egoic, physical experience. Part of nondual manifestation is about connecting to the transcendent (and the transcendent-immanent, the divine within) and bringing what we learn back into the material realm (the process of integration).
But because it emphasizes existence merely on the egoic level, the Law of Attraction is not likely to transform people beyond the realm of ego–the material plane of dualities like pleasure and pain. If unitive, transcendent realms are not emphasized in one’s spiritual worldview, the ego’s incessant avoidance of pain and pursuit of pleasure becomes an end in itself. (This is known as materialism, reality detached from higher meaning and evolution.) Higher meaning and the principle of evolution (soul purpose, soul growth) are rooted in a higher level of consciousness–the awareness of nonseparation; the nondual, not the egoic realm.
Nondual Manifestation: A Healthy, Spiritual Alternative to the Law of Attraction
There is validity to the idea of manifestation if it is conceptualized differently than it is in LOA. Firstly, manifestation can be articulated in humanistic, philosophical materialist, and psychological terms. Affirmations, vision boards, and meditations can help us shift our prohibitive inner states and limiting perceptions. They can assist us in gaining clarity on what it is we truly want and aim higher. We can also manifest (or create) by combining imagination with healing. Imagination enables us to access our deepest desires, which we often lack access to because of our fears and limiting beliefs. Through healing, we can address whatever is blocking us from believing in our dreams and in ourselves. A positive perspective can help us persevere, and accepting responsibility ensures that we will take necessary action.
Manifestation can also be conceptualized within a framework that recognizes the primacy of consciousness, or spirituality. On a spiritual level, there is indeed a link between our intentions, our belief in possibility, our actions, and what happens in our lives. However, it is less straightforward and more complex than the Law of Attraction makes it out to be. There are many other effective principles at work in the universe, such as causality, societal structures, chance, and so on. But the highest principle is not a principle at all–it is being, consciousness, divinity. Nondual manifestation is based on this fundamental consciousness.
According to the philosophy of nonduality, all of reality is one consciousness. It is infinitely and irreducibly interconnected. We are always creating and being created; there is an infinite number of factors involved in the manifestation of our universe that is the creation and creating of God. Although reality can be described, it is infinitely mysterious. It cannot be fully comprehended by the intellect or reduced to a single law or set of laws. Any universalizing, dogmatic system such as LOA results in harmful simplifications because it bends and warps an infinitely complex reality to fit into a tidy little idolatrous box.
LOA enforces dualistic, separation-based thinking because it centers on the self’s egoic desires in isolation from the desires and needs of other selves. In a nondual perspective, like in LOA, we are gods and conscious creators, but unlike in LOA, so is all of nature. We are not solely responsible–all is. Because all is one, nondual manifestation is about aligning with our spirit–the core of our being–which automatically connects us to the rest of reality, since spirit (consciousness) is one. The consciousness within me (the higher power within) is the same essence as the higher power outside of me. We align with the omniscient, loving intelligence of spirit by listening to our hearts and intuition. Our hearts speak our soul’s pure, unconditioned truth, and our intuition accesses the deepest parts of ourselves and connects them to the parts of ourselves beyond ourselves–the universe. (It is also essential to integrate our intellect, body awareness, and the other parts of ourselves in our decision-making and manifesting–our spirit is not separate from any of these. If there is any conflict between any of the parts of ourselves, before making a decision, we should do inner work to diagnose and address the conflict.)
Through the alignment we find in connecting to our hearts and intuition, we begin to experience flow states. We become as finely tuned stringed instruments vibrating in harmony with the symphony of all creation. Things start to show up in our lives (manifest) that support our soul’s intention, which is also our purpose, our reason for being here at this time. Things show up in the material realm to support us because our heart’s intention is the same intention of the consciousness outside of us, and (according to nonduality) the material world is a manifestation of consciousness itself. The glitch in the matrix that enables us to flow to bend and blend the material and higher realms of consciousness is our intuitive, spiritual connection.
We set powerful intentions that influence reality because they come from it. Effective intentions are not merely egoic (what I think I want), but also intuitive (what is actually best for me and my evolution). The universe is not a divine Santa Claus which we approach with our materialistic manifestation wish list of what we think we need. We mostly do not know what we need in an ultimate sense; we are here to learn. In nondual manifestation, we manifest not by knowing the right thing to manifest or striving to be positive and effective. Instead, we practice “downloading” and “inloading,” calling in heart-centered intentions through connecting to the spirit within and without (not through selfish craving). Our ego is not always in touch with our deepest needs, but our heart and spirit always dwell in divine fullness and always know what is best–whether it feels pleasurable or painful and whether it appears as success or failure in the eyes of the world.
It is possible that focusing on our heart’s aligned desires and combining this with positive thoughts and emotions does influence reality, although it is not clear how and to what extent, and in this regard the Law of Attraction may contain a partial truth. It may be beneficial and powerful to practice meditations emphasized in LOA teachings if you find this helpful, so long as you maintain awareness that such practices do not guarantee a result because reality is infinitely complex beyond all comprehension. We do not control reality, not even with the Law of Attraction.
A final, strong caution is in order for all who practice any form of manifestation. Life often produces the exact opposite of what we intend, good and bad. It is easy to prove from personal experience alone that life and the universe can dash our dreams, sureties, firm intentions to pieces on the crags of tragedy, disease, and misfortune. We all know what it is like to be firmly focused with complete belief and intention on a goal, only to have it all come crashing down before our eyes through no fault of our own. Life happens. Even the most advanced spiritual healers get sick and die, in spite of a thousand visions and prayers. The universe is a disillusioning and disintegrating place; this too is part of the nondual manifestation that is existence. Sometimes what we need is exactly the opposite of what we would ever intend. And many times, the opposite of what we would ever intend happens just because we are connected to the greater suffering that exists within the realms of duality. Life is tragic as well as triumphant.
Therefore, it is as important (perhaps more important) to be able to let go of what we intend to manifest entirely as it is to manifest. We do not ultimately know what our consciousness beyond our egos (the “knower” part of us) intends. We in our egoic selves can only do our best to create based on what we know (manifestation), and on the flip side of the coin, deepen in our practice of letting go, unmanifesting, and dissolving into Mystery. Dying is an important part of living, in the greater scheme of our spiritual development. We need our suffering, disillusionment, and pain to evolve and manifest the greater will of creation and our personal life purpose just as much as we need our successes, triumphs of manifestation, and pleasure. The twin practices of manifesting and letting go match are really one and the same practice; they are the ebb and flow of life and death and in the universe we are a part of. The practices and spiritual ideologies of life and death must be integrated into any spiritual system for it to be holistic and healthy (and LOA lacks the practice of death nearly entirely).
Nondual manifestation accounts for the whole of life (and death), including science, psychology, and our human experience of suffering and oppression. It enables us to operate within the universe and accept all of its complexities, rather than picking and choosing the parts that appeal to us and our materialistic desires and denying the less pleasant realities. Nondual manifestation is an integrated approach to creating, and the goal of evolution itself is integration, divinization, the return to oneness yet now also with individuated awareness–the marriage of creation with creator.
May all creation be enlightened with the awareness of its divinity, may all beings come to know the One that we are.
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Do you feel psychologically traumatized by religion, or isolated and disempowered by trauma and limiting beliefs in your life? I’m Andrew Jasko, Master of Divinity (M.Div.), M.A., Counseling Psychology in progress, and I work to help you transform your trauma into the place of your power and connect to a healthy, authentic spirituality that works for you (whether that’s as a spiritual, atheist, religious, transitioning, or agnostic identifying person). I was born into a minister’s family and became a preacher and missionary to India, after studying theology at Wheaton College and Princeton Seminary. As a Christian, my relationship with God was my passion, but unhealthy religious teachings caused me an anxiety disorder, sexual repression, and spiritual disillusionment. I felt alone, traumatized, and abandoned by the divine. After an agonizing crisis of faith, I rejected religion and spirituality. Then, I had an unexpected spiritual awakening through mystical and spiritual practices like meditation, psychedelics, and connecting my heart’s desires and intuition through my Divine Mindfulness practice. My passion is to help you in your spiritual or life transition to heal and connect with your authentic spiritual wholeness.
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1 It may be possible to believe in a more moderate version of LOA that acknowledges the meaningful existence of other agencies. In these schemes, your positive intention would be effective most of the time, but sometimes outside influences would mess it up. However, a moderate version of LOA still does not address the many other flaws of LOA. Moreover, there are alternative worldviews which more effectively account for outside causality.