If you don’t know how something works, then it works by magic.

How does a light bulb work?

How does a car work?

How does a plane work?

How does a computer work?

Don’t give me vague, hand-wavy answers. I’m not wondering if you’ve memorized the passwords. I’m wondering if you actually know how these things work.

If you were sent back in time, would you be able to recreate these things? If the world ended tomorrow and all human information was erased, would you be able to rebuild them? If I erased the vocabulary words like ‘carburetor’ and ‘transistor’ and ‘filament’, would the concepts remain? If you lost the ideas, could you reconstruct them?

If not, then it works by magic.

Magic is what powers mysterious things. But mystery is not in the world: mystery is in you. It doesn’t matter if somebody else knows how cars work. So long as you don’t know how cars work, it’s magic to you.

Magic exists. Humans can do incredible things, and you can’t begin to fathom how. I don’t care if you’re a professional scientist: humans are too good at too many things. No one understands them all.

The parts you don’t understand are magic.

It’s a bit hard to see sometimes, in this modern world, how magical things are. Most of the obvious mysteries have already been solved. When your daughters asks what a rainbow is, the answer “light diffracting through rain” sounds a lot less magical than “a fairy road to leprechaun gold”.

It’s easy to repeat the words “diffraction through rain drops”. You can form the sounds even if you don’t know what they mean, and the syllables sound so cold and dry. They don’t sound colorful. They sound dull.

So perhaps a better answer is “it’s a mystery – what do you think a rainbow is?”

Actually understanding how a rainbow works feels amazing. Discovering that you can split white light into an array of colors is surprising, if you haven’t had the surprise spoiled. It explains a dozen other phenomena, like your red shirt looking black under blue light, and leads to a hundred new questions. It’s a window to the workings of the universe. And most importantly, it doesn’t go away when you grow up.

Prism

Leprechauns and fairies were not so lucky.

Our great mysteries don’t feel like mysteries. When we see a florescent light bulb, it does not feel like a burning question. So long as somebody else knows the answer, it feels like Just Another Real Thing. We think that we could find the answer, with ten minutes on the internet.

So we don’t.

Somehow, the fact that somebody else has solved a mystery is all it takes for us to lose interest.

That’s not how it should be. Just because rockets are understood by someone else doesn’t mean they’re understood by you.

Imagine the great scientists of old stumbling across phenomena they did not understand. Imagine Newton struggling to comprehend prisms. Imagine scientists of yore looking at up at the stars and trying to discover what they were. They didn’t know what they didn’t know yet. No path was clear before them. Everybody said that things were the way they were because that’s just the way they were, and the scientists didn’t even know if they could understand the stars. They didn’t even know if the answers were in their grasp.

They were.

Imagine that euphoria.

Imagine decoding the secret of the stars.

That euphoria can be yours. Those mysteries have been solved by humans, but they haven’t been solved by you. The fact that they can be known does not mean that you know them.

I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that awe. Perhaps you learned the nature of the stars so young that you don’t remember the revelation. Maybe, to you, that’s just the way things have always been. That mystery may have been spoiled for you.

But I assure you: many other mysteries remain.

There are many things out there in the universe that are still mysterious to you, and every one of them is little a bit of magic waiting to be explored. Reality is not mundane, and understanding reality doesn’t make it worse.

Dissolving mysteries and understanding reality is your own private road to magic.