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Is Lynn McTaggart Making Promises That She Can’t Keep?

As a known skeptic of the so-called unbiased scruples of rational and exacting, evidence-driven scientific convention, Lynn McTaggart presents her latest book, The Intention Experiment, as an invitation to actively engage in her own ongoing participatory research that has the potential, in her opinion, of becoming a social movement where individual and collective thoughts are used to positively change the world. After reading a little between the lines, I find that McTaggart’s popular work seems to raise the standards of science journalism, not in the form of a finished product of science journalism, but in her process of engaging in her subject as a dedicated researcher and an amateur scientist.

I picked out the McTaggart’s book on an audio-shelf because I was both interested in the premise of a scientific presentation of “intention” and skeptical of the clichéd bandwagon tagline: “use your thoughts to change the world.” I wasn’t familiar with her previous work, so it was unlikely that with my attention span I would get through 300 pages of presumptuous scientific journalism written by an unfamiliar source. Also, as a commuter with at least two hours of potential time-pass every day, McTaggart’s audio book fit my need to engage my brain in thoughts beyond the reality being trapped in a carbon-emitting bubble. So, I downloaded the mp3 file from Audible.com and invited Elizabeth Foss’s voice to accompany my drive. I managed to complete the unabridged eleven-hour audio edition of McTaggart’s book over two weeks. But after tuning in for all eleven hours, I was most disappointed that I was not able to login and check out the companion website that requires key words from the text.

While listening into The Intention Experiment, I will admit to being hyper-aware of becoming a potential sucker. I still feel that my underlying reservations were valid. My main concern with McTaggart’s message is how she packages her product. I would prefer a less cult-like approach, as I am aware and suspect of the potential abuse and manipulation of groups and self-declared leaders, such as in the case of Transcendental Meditation, which coincidentally McTaggart documents in the book without referencing any of the popular movement’s darker chapters. Also, I found that much of what McTaggart claimed as unique to intention seemed to re-package other work in attention and focus that is practiced through a variety of meditation practices, including Metta meditation. Too much focus was placed on presenting the experiments as novel in order to differentiate intention. I am unsure of how intention as used by McTaggart differs from a sales pitch or buy-in for her experiment, similar to those used to over-sell positive thinking, or worse: magical thinking. So while a loaded definition of intention may attract followers, I am unconvinced as to how McTaggart’s experiments will synthesize individual motivations into realizing a common group goal.

If you already enjoy and seek out alternative viewpoints as a way to develop your own assessments of “social norms,” then I would guess that you already have the patience to open your ears to less-conventional views. In fact, pop-psychology says that you are more likely to have an open mind and recognize multicultural values. I suspect that this is the audience that McTaggart hopes to attract to her experiment. And it is likely that such an individual is much more likely to pick up The Intention Experiment. However, unlike most books, The Intention Experiment is seeking out a select audience of interested readers who will potentially join the online community as a committed believer who will continue to carry out intention experiments. Can The Intention Experiment reach across into the mainstream and avoid the potential liability of serious manipulation? I’m not so sure. “Frontier research” is not only interesting, but can also be terribly seductive to an optimistic skeptic like me. And though I enjoy tuning into the love-labor of termites working to hollow out the hegemony in mainstream science that we’ve come to accept without question as the single trunk of truth, I still hesitate on condoning social movements that are susceptible to falling into the den of greedy predator-kings or self-righteous queen-bees who feed off the public’s trust and hope. I am less suspicious of McTaggart because as a science writer and amateur scientist, her process appears transparent, and it seems like her credibility is not something that she would like to lose.

Overall, I enjoyed Lynn McTaggart’s brave attempt and learned a thing or two about the old hat trick of debate-how to disassemble your opponent’s argument by first taking his or her framework, then turning it inside out with facts, and finally upside down with opinionated ideas. In other words, walk their walk and talk their talk, but keep the suspense alive. Does McTaggart make it work in The Intention Experiment? Here’s my punch line: you have to play with the ideas and exercises first, and then go on to define intention in a way that works for you. I’m still a little allergic to McTaggart’s tagline, “Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World.” In the end, The Intention Experiment offered me some interesting bits and pieces of information, some new curiosity, and a few more “what ifs” to add to my marinating-thought stew on how to change the world for the better.