We live in a world full of magic and nobody seems to notice. Humans fly through the skies. We send thoughts halfway around the world in the space of a second. We possess miracle cures for aging and ailments. And somehow we don’t think it’s magic.
Our spells don’t look quite like the spells you’ll find in storybooks. Constructing the grand factories necessary to build airplanes was no easy task, and it feels like magic shouldn’t require such busywork. But find me any wizard in the storybooks, be they Merlin or Dumbledore, and they’ll surely tell you that creating a new spell is no walk in the park. The magic happens after the spell is established. It takes a lot of elbow grease to make a spell, but once you’re done anyone can flick their wrist and invoke your magic. There’s a snap and a flash of light and suddenly – you’ve captured a perfect image of the world on your cell phone.
Yet somehow our real magic doesn’t satisfy the imagination. It feels too… mundane.
Perhaps it feels mundane because it’s merely real. Except reality is not mere! Being real does not deprive a thing of impact. Indeed, a thing must be real to have impact. If you cannot be satisfied with all that is, you’d better get used to dissatisfaction.
Or perhaps our magic feels mundane because it can be understood. It can be understood by anyone, no less. A child could pick up a textbook and learn how a light bulb works, if they wanted to. And if anyone can learn it, it must not be that interesting. Right?
Doesn’t the fact that it can be understood detract from the mystery?
Perhaps it does, but it shouldn’t. In every story filled with magic, there are those who understand how it works. There are wizards who pore over their books and study long and hard to understand their powers. They toil and sweat. They practice and they learn, and only upon the moment of understanding are they finally able to preform their grand spells.
Is that so different from our own reality? The magic in the movies may seem opaque to you, the viewer. But surely the wizards understand what they are doing, at least to some degree. Surely they do not play with fire any more readily than we do. To the wizards in stories, magic is not a mysterious force: it is a tool which they know how to wield. It is something that can be understood.
Things do not need to be mysterious to be magical! In every fantastic magical story, the magic is not mysterious to the citizens of that world. If you lived in their world, would you be as bored with their magic as you are bored with ours, just because it could be comprehended?
I hope not.
Imagine a world where we did discover magic. “True magic”, as a modern youth might claim, raised on Harry Potter books and completely devoid of empathy for medieval peasants. Magic where you can wave a wand and say a word and levitate through the roof.
If that actually happened in this world, we wouldn’t all throw down our scientific models and shout “magic is real!”. We wouldn’t burn down the discoveries we’ve already made and start over. No, we’d say “well isn’t that funny”. We’d scratch our heads and wonder “hey, how did that work?”
If hard magic was discovered, we wouldn’t try to hide it. We wouldn’t try to rationalize it away. Rationality can’t make things go away: rationality uncovers the truth. If you could wave a wand and levitate, we’d be very very confused – and then we’d figure out how you did that.
If we found magic, we wouldn’t label it “magic” and give up. We’d approach this new mystery like we’ve approached all other mysteries in the past. We’d figure it out.
Once we’d figured it out, it would be another domain of science. For science is the study of all that is.
If something must be mysterious in order to earn your wonder, then you aren’t pining for a world with magic: you’re pining for a world with stupider humans. No matter what reality looks like, humans will try to understand how it works – whether you think it’s magic or not.
Here’s the kicker: we found magic. We can wiggle special substances in special patterns in order to send messages to the other side of the world. We’ve discovered miraculous healing techniques. We have unfettered access to the combined knowledge of our ancestors. We found the magics of reality, and we understood them — and so we call them science.
In the real world, magic doesn’t get labeled as such. We study it, and it becomes a science. That doesn’t make it any less magical. If you actually look at our world, you’ll realize that magic is real. We found it. It lets us build buildings that scrape the very skies. It lets us explore the depths of the oceans. It lets us stand on the moon.
The fact that it’s real doesn’t make it mundane.