Just My Thoughts – Contemplating Magic

(Silverdale, Washington; August 27, 2020) – Human society is pervaded by a cultural belief in the supernatural, also commonly called magic. This belief is a true spiritual path for some, and manifests merely as a suspension of disbelief while watching a Harry Potter movie for others, but it’s there.

Those who believe in the concrete reality of magic will point to centuries’ worth of cultural evidence, including their own experiences, of magic working in the world. Those who believe magic is only fantasy will point to centuries’ worth of scientific evidence, including their own experiences, which say the world only is defined by physical laws.

Who is say which one is more correct? Even those who adhere to a science-based belief in physics admit there are many things which defy scientific explanation (well, to be fair, defy it so far). Perhaps the most compelling example is that of prayer and meditation. People who pray and/or meditate regularly, people who believe they’re communing with some form of supernatural power, have been proven to be generally healthier and more well-adjusted emotionally than many others.

But does this mean magic, or any supernatural power, is real?

Faith and reason are the shoes we wear, to paraphrase a line from a great TV show of the 1990s. We can go a lot farther with both than just one or the other. Careful study of many people who achieved great things in our history, from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton, from Harriet Tubman to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reveals they all had a spiritual dimension to their lives. Many of our great scientists and cultural leaders, men and women alike, worked to better understand the world’s creator and get closer to Him (or Her or Them, depending on your own faith tradition).

Centuries of human existence are now behind us, yet the question stubbornly lingers: is magic real? Are there really supernatural powers operating around us we can’t see? Can a rational argument be made for the existence of magic? Granted the word “magic” is a bit loaded depending on your faith tradition, so please substitute whatever word you prefer, but the question has yet to be resolved. Can a truly rational case be made that we do interact with unseen forces?

Let me introduce you to the humble wave guide. The humble, quiet wave guide is a tubular metal device I got to know real well when I used to work on F-14 Tomcat fighters. My systems didn’t use wave guides, but I had to work around these magical implements while doing my work.

I say “magical” because a wave guide is a hollow tube used to literally guide waves of electromagnetic (EM) energy to a specific place while maintaining the wave’s frequency and integrity. In other words, a physical object is used to control and direct unseen energy to achieve a desired and controlled goal. That could be said to sound suspiciously similar to magic.

Think of your TV set. Your TV is a physical box which turns unseen, unfelt, and unheard EM energy into a moving, talking picture. Your TV allows you to witness live eventson the other side of the planet in real time. We’re so used to this that we say we’re “just” watching TV, but another person might say the ability to see around the world in real-time sounds oddly like scrying.

I am not saying wave guides and TVs are magical. We know the physical laws that allow these devices to work. The point is we regularly use physical devices to interact with unseen, unheard, and unfelt forces. Christians pray to an unseen Jesus for help, and we do this based on faith. Hindus revere Shiva and, based on faith, believe him to operate in our world. As stated above, the “power” of prayer to unseen gods based on faith has been proven to increase healing and emotional well-being.

People have, by design or accident, been able to interact with unseen, unheard, and unfelt forces for as long as there have been people. Some of this we know today to be physical laws our ancestors stumbled upon, but there are too many accounts from across the globe of more “fantastical” stories for us to simply dismiss them.

Despite our physics-heavy world, one thing about many faith traditions must be addressed: many of them define our physical world, our Waking World, if you will, as a more ‘primary’ reality for us than the Other World, at least while we’re alive. This is either a convenient way to explain away the uncertain shadows we might be imagining, or it might be a shrewdly cognizant understanding that the Other World can only be perceived through a veil darkly while we live in the Waking World.

Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic to less-advanced people. He was right. A person watching birds in the Middle Ages could only understand a honking big, metal Boeing 747 in terms of magic. A fisherman on his little wooden boat in the ancient world could only comprehend a steel super tanker if it were explained as magic.

I am not attempting to disparage or disprove any religious tradition. I’m a Christian (an unconventional one, granted, but a Christian), and I recognize my certainty about Christ is based on faith. I can’t see Him, hear Him, or touch Him, yet I see the hand of God because of my faith. A Wiccan will equally see the movement of their spirits and gods in the world based on their faith. We’re both operating on faith, yet we also both operate based on physics as well (you can’t exactly “faith” your way along the Interstate during rush hour!). Are we fools for believing, through faith, there is more to the world than mere physical laws?

Is the atheist a fool for believing the universe is only built upon physical laws and that the things we can’t explain are merely science we don’t yet understand? The atheist is taking on faith the belief that there is no world beyond our world, while spiritual people take on faiththere is. We all operate with faith and reason at the same time; the question is how much we balance these. Who’s to say definitively which of us, the spiritual person or the atheist, is more balanced than the other?

The point is we just don’t know. Are unexplained events simply a level of science we have not yet reached, or are they the product of supernatural forces? No one can have a truly provable answer, not in this lifetime.

I do know one thing: taking life with a bit of faith makes it easier to continue seeing the wonder in a flying 747 or a giant, floating steel ship. Wonder can be found long after childhood fades if one is willing to wear both faith and reason as their shoes on the road of life.

…Just my thoughts.

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