Why I Love Magic

Updated: Apr 8

I wrote the following email in reply to a former colleague (okay, boss). She is a born-again Christian who never misses an opportunity to evangelize me. What follows is not good science, nor is it necessarily good philosophy — and it's certainly not rigorous. It is simply a description of one man's strongest intuitions about "the nature of things." • Danielle,

You asked if I have been anticipating miracles lately.

Here's a thought...

I love magic — as in the fake miracles that happen on a stage in front of an audience. Obviously I'm not the only one. But why do people love fake miracles? Why do we pay money to watch a guy do silly things, like vanish a little red ball and make it appear somewhere else? How pointless is that? People who are afraid of heights nonetheless dream of flying. Why?

Here is a wild speculation:

What if our spirits are absolutely free and unhindered by the laws of physics, while only our bodies are constrained? What if we are trapped inside of our bodies — and inside this material world — like birds inside cages? What if materiality is essentially a cage for the spirit — a kind of purgatory?

Some birds are in guilded cages that beguile them into never wanting to fly away. I think the same could be said for most of us spirits in the material world.

Like I said, this is total speculation, but you have to admit that it has at least a little bit of intuitive appeal. Well, it does for me, anyhow.

What if everything we call "technology" is really just a gigantic prosthesis for the limitless freedom we lost once upon a timeless time? What if airplanes and spaceships are nothing more than clumsy, artificial, tenuous attempts to make the most out of this purgatory-spaceship we call Earth?

What if it is okay to make the most of this prison while we are in it, but it is the height of foolishness to forget that it is a prison? I mean, it's one thing to jockey for a better bunk bed or more time in the rec yard so long as you don't deliberately hurt anybody — but you're a fool if you commit deliberate new crimes in order to do those things. Instead of being released, you'll receive a new life sentence!

What if the end of all of this is a return to "pure spirit" (whatever that means), and the cessation of all pain, all suffering, and all constraint? What if "miracles" are the default setting of unconstrained reality, and what if what we call "reality" is actually just as unreal and blind as living one's entire life inside a cave?

What if Descartes's separation of mind from matter was basically correct, albeit in a way that is impossible to make intelligible without reference to unknown dimensions?

Maybe that is why we like to watch the little rubber ball vanish from one side of the stage and reappear on the other side. It's a stupid trick, but maybe we like it because it points toward a higher need that we all share. Maybe it points us back to the dim and fading memory of our true, unconstrained nature — a memory that we are all very eager to recall, along with the hope that we may retrieve our freedom some fine day.

Maybe fake magic helps us remember that real magic is our true inheritance.

Maybe the counterfeit version of our highest hope is the classic "temptation in the desert" —the promise of a better bunk bed in exchange for a longer prison sentence.

And if any given sin is actually just a symptom of a congenital condition — not just an isolated action, but part-and-parcel of the entire matrix of constraint and scarcity to which we are consigned — then, truly, "all have sinned and fallen short." Given that circumstance, "missing the mark" is just as unavoidable as falling to the ground when pushed off of a building.

In fact, it's almost as though gravity is the physical manifestation of all that weighs us down in the world unseen. That's why the greatest magic trick of all is levitation. Think about it: We could all use a little more levity, but why? Why do we even care about the fact that we can't float? Why do we care enough to live vicariously as we watch some guy simulate the act?

And what if the word "miracle" is actually a misnomer? What if total freedom (i.e. "miraculousness") is the truth, while the laws of physics are more like a persistent illusion?

And what if the sensation of free will is actually our last remaining touchstone to the real world — the really real world — despite the ironic fact that most allegedly smart people seem to think of free will as the most persistent illusion of all?

What if the only evidence that matters is the evidence that allegedly smart people never think of as evidence — the intuitive evidence we experience on the inside? What if that's what we mean by "faith?"

And if what we call a "miracle" is actually more real than this temporary mortal coil, then isn't it at least possible that miracles have happened, and can happen, right here on Earth — if the Source of it All wills it to be so?

I grow increasingly convinced that what our five senses and reasoning faculties can "know" is not even the tip of the iceberg. I am also convinced that the dual intuition of free will and moral accountability is the key to understanding as much as we can ever hope to understand.

All the rest – science, technology, politics – is just the study of what's happening inside the walls of an elaborate prison. Studying such things is worthwhile, fascinating, and even necessary for living in this world, but it is also literally mundane.

So yeah, magic. Miracles. I get that. It's not irrational; it's arational.

I love fake miracles, not because of the lie that they are, but because of the truth they hint at.


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