I just gave you an earworm, didn’t I? Every time I have thought about writing this post, that song by The Loving Spoonful starts playing. And playing. And playing. It’s like a magic recording in my brain.
For children, magic is everywhere. It may be a sign of adulthood that most of us stop believing in it, and a sign of some aspect of our spirituality that we never stop longing for it. We need mystery. We need something bigger than ourselves.
We’ve all enjoyed fairy tales as children. Anything is possible in a fairy tale. Fairy godmothers can grant wishes, mermaids can grow legs, a spell can put you to sleep forever, a prince’s kiss can break the spell.
Modern Fairy Tales
It may or may not surprise you to know that the most popular fiction genres include fantasy, supernatural, werewolf and vampire stories, and that they are not just for children or young adults. Intelligent adults are gobbling them up. There’s a reason for that, and it can be found in the world we live in.
“Magic” could be loosely defined as something that doesn’t follow natural laws as we know them. If you could use a time machine to snatch someone from a few centuries ago and dump them into today’s world, they would see magic all around them. Machines that light up and show moving pictures? Buttons that make light come on? Cooking surfaces that get hot without fire? Your son’s voice coming out of a little box when he’s a continent away? Magic!
In today’s world, it sometimes seems like there is nothing more to discover. With our powerful telescopes, we can peer back in time almost to the moment the universe began. We can examine the microscopic elements that make us unique. We can play God, creating new forms of life. We can heal diseases for which there used to be no cure. We can replace body parts which have worn out. We can create robots to do mundane tasks and program them to do incredible feats, such as delicate surgery.
It seems there is no magic any more; there is just science. If we can’t do something ourselves, we know there is someone out there who can. The mystery has been solved. And we feel cheated.
There’s Something Out There
Maybe it’s just that we don’t recognize magic any more. Having been hoodwinked into believing that everything can be explained, we don’t feel the sense of awe and mystery we might have when we were less sophisticated. I invite you to explore the magic that does still exist.
Plant a seed. Plant it in a glass, so you can see the magic unfold. Plant another one beside it, upside down, and watch a different magic unfold. No matter which direction they emerge from, the roots will always orient themselves to grow downward, and the leaves to grow upward. Science tries to explain it in terms of hormones.
Watch the behaviour of trees. They do different things in anticipation of different weather. They don’t listen to the forecast on TV. They just know. Science tries to explain that in terms of difference in barometric pressure, or hormones again.
Watch a child (or for that matter, a puppy) grow and learn. Science tries to explain that in terms of electric currents in the brain and hormones (yet again).
Science vs magic
We have fallen prey to the fallacy that if we give something a name, we know all about it. It gives us the illusion of control. This is true for everything from psychiatry to genetics to electricity. But naming something is not the same as knowing or understanding.
We can break down a hormone into its component molecules, break those molecules down into atoms , break the atoms down into particles, and still not have a clue why that hormone does what it does. We can only observe that it does what it does. And as soon as we recognize that fact, we are staring magic in the face. The fairy godmother has waved her wand and said, “Aabracadabra.”
The true scientist is not a technician. The true scientist is someone who has never lost his or her sense of wonder. The more he learns, the more he knows he doesn’t know. He is surrounded by magic. You can hear it in his voice. Brian Cox, David Attenborough, Neil DeGrasse Tyson exemplify this. They invite us into their magical world.
Maybe I’m prejudiced, but I think writers work magic too, as do musicians, artists, and creators of every kind. They awaken bits of you that are sleeping, let you see what you otherwise might not, open new worlds for you to explore.
And that earworm? Definitely magic.