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It’s All Magic - Musings and Meditations

Updated: Jun 9





“There are only two ways to live your life.

You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle.”

Albert Einstein




“The work of magic is this, that it breathes, and at every breath transforms realities.”

Rumi




“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”

Federico Fellini




“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clarke





Snow-covered mountain peak at dusk in Trøms county, northern Norway, 2017.

Photo: Filip Van Kerckhoven











Dear readers and followers of A Biosphere Project,


Last week I talked about a thread that seems to be emerging in my musings over the past six months: a train of thought about perspective and story as essential to our experience of the world and to our potential to begin to see our world differently. And in coming to see the world differently, there also arises an opportunity to redefine our place in and relationship to the world in a way that can lead to harmony between our species and our biosphere, the wider organism of which we are a part - however distant that harmony may seem right now.


I am beginning to suspect I will muse many more times on ways we can begin to see, perceive and experience the world differently, something I naturally have some ideas about from my lifelong practice as a visual artist. As I indicated last week, I feel that if we want to save our world, we must change our story about the world. The story that may or may not give meaning to our presence in this world as well.

Who are we, where did we come from, where are we going? The eternal questions that may never have full answers, but which we must continually rephrase, because how we even think about those questions determines a great deal of what we do and don’t do in this world. Our framing of the very question is the lens through which we view everything, and which colors everything we perceive.







In several of the previous musings as well as essays I talked about our overarching story that we currently live in, and how that story is (in the secular West anyway) essentially one of meaninglesness and nihilism, a story that we think is “scientific,” in part because of the work of someone like Richard Dawkins and other popular scientific authors. But a closer look reveals that that story is actually not at all based on the findings of the latest science on biology, quantum physics, systems theory, the study of consciousness, astrophysics and so on. Dawkins and his companions have long been “debunked”.


Our current Western narrative, which is also called “scientific reductionism,” “scientific materialism,” or “scientism” (although it is by no means supported by the scientific method but is simply a metaphysical assumption), appeals to the idea that our world and the entire Universe are merely an unwinding mechanism of blind forces set in motion at the 'Big Bang', and according to equally blind and meaningless 'laws' are running their indifferent course toward the 'heat death' of that entire meaningless universe by entropy in an incomprehensibly distant future.


By no means a happy story, and although it is not based on any real science (only on a choice to believe that and not something else), it is the dogma that one, as a scientist today, had better not question too openly, if one does not want to jeopardize one’s career or if one does not want to be 'excommunicated'. The idea that purpose, intelligence, and consciousness are fundamental to the Universe we are part of is a contemporary form of heresy for the “church” (in the bad sense of the word) that scientism has become (see also my essay “A Selfie of Planet Earth” and the musing “A Wondrous Afternoon with an Extraordinary Scientist”).

And I argued that it's not so surprising that, with such a narrative to guide us, we're not doing well at all at the moment, and that we're heading very quickly toward the destruction of our biosphere and an 'extinction-level event' as far as our own species is concerned.







This week I wanted to take a moment to muse on another possible story.

Many stories about the world are possible, and I want to explore stories that can help us perceive and imagine ourselves, our world and our future differently.


For now, I wanted to talk a little about magic.


The word magic has a bad reputation in our secular Western society. It is synonymous with superstition, with foolishness, with childish susceptibility to wishful thinking and equally childish unwillingness to accept “reality” as it is. Magic is everything we have left behind in the enlightenment and in our scientific view of the world, a world we have thoroughly “disenchanted”. There is no place left for magic in our technocratic society.


I propose a different view of magic: magic as a fundamental property of the Universe we live in. Magic as a fundamental aspect of all of our lives as well, of your life and my life. Magic as part of the core of existence, and as another possible guide to our choices, our growth as human beings, our relationship to our world and to the wider organism of which we are a part, our biosphere. Magic as the core of the experience of being aware, from which all other aspects of our lives spring. Magic as what we will remember when we go over the events of our lives on our deathbed. Magic as the core of what love is, what wonder is, what gratitude is.


Magic as something that can save our world, though it is not so much magic itself as it is our renewed recognition of the magic of the world and existence that can change our course.







Do I already hear some concern among you, dear readers: where is Filip going with his musings? Is he finally becoming a loony? Will he leave the last shred of common sense behind, and go down the slippery slope toward erroneous thinking, superstition and new-age nonsense?


So I immediately wish to appeal to one of the greatest scientists ever, Albert Einstein. 

Einstein, by the way, was religious, and like most of the great thinkers who were the “fathers of modern science,” Einstein saw no contradiction between that faith and the scientific method. And he saw no contradiction between science and the observation that existence is “miraculous” and magical.

He summed it up very succinctly:


"There are only two ways to live your life.

You can live as if nothing is a miracle, or you can live as if everything is a miracle."


Notice that he says that very decidedly, and that there is no in-between, just as you cannot be “a little bit pregnant”. It's one or the other. The choice we have, Einstein says, is to see and experience reality as fundamentally magical, imbued with a deep mystery and wonder, or to see and experience reality as a dead mechanism without meaning.

The story we inhabit in the secular Western world has become the former: reality as a dead and meaningless mechanism. And that may well be at the heart of most of our problems. (See last week's musing “What’s Your Story?”)







Without a doubt I myself want to believe, experience, and live the second option, and explore the implications of that option for a possibly different worldview, a different possible future.


How can we begin to see the world again as something miraculous and magical, rather than as a dead mechanism that makes no sense, and that we can manipulate to our hearts' content in the name of 'progress' and 'economic growth'? A mechanism on which mankind futilely projects some 'meaning' or 'values' to make the absurdity of life a little more bearable? How can we begin again to see nature, to which we are one and indivisible connected, as magical and sacred, imbued with intelligence and purpose at every scale? How can we let that recognition define our own choices, our goals and our hopes for our grandchildren's future? How can we also begin to see ourselves and our lives again as magical, full of deep mystery and wondrous meaning?


If we regain that perspective again, would we still desire and expect the same things in life? Would material possessions be so important? Would the need for control and dominance over each other and over nature manifest itself so strongly in our way of life? Would it still matter what kind of car we have, or how much money we make? Would we still become addicted in such large numbers to alcohol, drugs, antidepressants, television, gaming, shopping, porn, sugar, stimuli and kicks of all kinds ?   Would we still fall prey to autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, burnout, depression or cancer in such numbers? Would we still be so afraid of change and of an unpredictable future?  Would we still be afraid of death?


Magic as the core of everything, I am beginning to suspect I am going to talk about it more often in future musings as well.

We all know intuitively how important magic is, don't we? When we have experienced something very special we say it was “pure magic”. When we are in love we say we are “enchanted” or “under a spell”. We do know in the end that magic belongs to the core meaning of this life, even though our present collective story tells us something different.







Magic can be understood in several meanings of the word. On the one hand, what we call “magic” or “magical” is an experience of a special quality. It points to an extraordinary dimension that distinguishes an experience from the “everyday”. Although we should immediately add a correction to this: even the everyday can be magical, or suddenly reveal itself as extraordinary. This often has everything to do with the point of view from which we view or experience the everyday. Sometimes we suddenly experience an ordinary place or event as utterly magical, and we are moved to our core by a mysterious experience of the magic in a sight or an encounter, even though seconds before we did not see or experience that extraordinary aspect.

In this sense, then, magic is a quality of an experience, or a recognition of an extraordinary aspect of the “outside world” and how that world enters our experience. It is an aspect of the interaction between our consciousness and what we call the “outside world” or “material reality”.


On the other hand, magic can refer to aspects of a practice that contains elements of what we call “the supernatural”. Sorcery, so to speak. Acts or practices attributed in ancient times to shamans, sorcerers, witches, druids and so on. Things we associate with Harry Potter and his friends.


That's probably the aspect of “magic” we most often think of today as nonsense or superstition, fairy tales we finally left behind in our rational and scientific view of the world.

But there is further to muse on that as well. I won't go too deeply into that now, but I will start by referring to the quote from writer Arthur C. Clarke at the beginning of this musing: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”


I think that's a very important observation, and one that we constantly forget: what we now consider “normal,” or what is now a technology that we understand well and apply generally, was once no different from magic. If an average medieval man or woman had seen a huge Boeing or Airbus airliner roaring overhead, he or she would certainly have considered it magic, and probably that sight would have made that ancestor of ours shudder with apprehension and fear . And anyone who raised the possibility that there must be a simple explanation based on natural principles for such appearance would possibly have been burned at the stake. The same goes for most of the technologies we now consider “normal”: our televisions, smartphones, spacecraft or computers: they would have seemed pure magic even a century or two ago.

Similarly, phenomena or events that we now consider “magical” or supernatural may be aspects of nature that we do not yet understand from our current worldview and understanding of what nature actually is.

One thinks of some of the phenomena that have been proven very real indeed by research at the Institute Of Noetic Sciences led by Dean Radin and also at other research centers through the scientific method: telepathy, precognition (knowing in advance of events), 'remote viewing' or being able to 'see' events from a distance, and so on. (See the previous musings 'Five Sigma (You are Not Going to Believe This’, and 'A Wondrous Afternoon With an Extraordinary Scientist').

So these, too, are phenomena that we now usually still associate with “magic” or the “supernatural”, but that are equally aspects of nature that we do not yet understand from our current worldview and from our current beliefs about what is real and what is not.








So magic and science need not be contradictory concepts, they may just be practices that take place on different ontological levels, and that one may one day seamlessly merge into one another.

It is interesting to note in this connection that someone like Isaac Newton, who as a mathematician, physicist and astronomer helped lay the foundations of modern science, was at the same time also a theologian and was actually more interested in alchemy and magic and spent more time on those subjects than on physics or mathematics. Newton was deeply religious and saw the world as imbued with a higher will and intelligence, as did most of the founders of modern science. And he did not see the scientific method as the only path to knowledge and understanding, as evidenced by his lifelong fascination with alchemy. Newton would probably be very scornful of the reductionist view of reality as a machine that characterizes the current paradigm in science. Just as Darwin (who was also religious, although he struggled with his faith) would absolutely disagree with the reductionist and mechanistic view of life that characterizes Neo-Darwinism.


And today also, there are scientists who recognize and acknowledge the ultimate mystery behind reality. Because, when all is said and done, we must recognize that the scientific method does not actually explain anything, but can only make observations, confirm the existence of regularities and patterns and from these formulate predictions about future events and behaviors of the elementary forces, particles or systems. The scientific method can formulate “laws of nature” based on those observations, but it cannot answer the question as to why those “laws of nature” are what they are, or why there is something at all and not nothing. Why is there a Universe? What was there before the “Big Bang? How did life come into existence? What is matter anyway? No answers, no explanation.  As Nobel laureate Sir Roger Penrose said, “Actually, we don't know what matter is.” 

So that which is the foundation of our world view, the idea that only matter is real, is paired with the succinct admission that we have no idea what the basis of that view of reality is, really. Quite a world view. It can really come as no surprise that we are so confused.

Nor do we actually know what energy is. In “Reality Blind,” the standard work on all the ecological “bottlenecks” we face, a scientist mentions that you might as well replace the word “energy” with the word “magic”. We only see the effects of energy (the transitions of electrons from one state to another due to the electromagnetic force for example, or the formation of atoms or their interaction), but the energy itself that drives all that, no, actually we have no idea what that is or where it comes from - and so we might as well call it “magic”. Just as philosopher Daniel Schmachtenberger also named the phenomena 'emergence' and 'synergy' as being very close to something that we cannot but call “magic” (see the past musing ‘The Most Important 25 Minutes of Your Life’).







You see, there is much to muse about magic. Both about magic in the sense of an experience and about magic as an aspect of reality that we cannot understand from our current knowledge or paradigm.

And possibly the two are just sides of one coin: the mystery of reality and the mystery of experience are actually inseparable. As quantum physics has taught us, there can be no reality without a conscious observer, they are one indivisible system. So the experience of reality and reality itself are also two sides of the same coin. But that’s food for future musings.


Magic as the core of the most wondrous experiences in our lives. Magic as an aspect of what binds us to the most important people in our lives. Magic as the mystery of intuition that whispers to us what is ours to do.


Magic as a property of the fabric of life that permeates everything on this wondrous planet, magic as a guiding principle that directs evolution toward greater harmony, beauty, elegant complexity. Magic as the core of our possible new alliance with the wider organism of which we are a part, the biosphere.


Magic as an aspect of nature that we cannot yet understand in our present state of evolution, and certainly cannot measure or demonstrate with scientific instruments, any more than we can measure love or beauty, but an aspect that is no less real for that reason. 


What would it be like, if we could measure love and beauty? The idea immediately strikes us as not only idiotic, but also extremely harmful. We intuitively feel that some things must never be measured. That measuring certain things would constitute a kind of obscenity.

'Measuring is knowing,' the well-known dictum of our scientific paradigm, rests on an (important) fallacy. Measuring is really only: knowing what can be measured. And as Newton, one of the fathers of measurement, also knew well: there is a great deal that we cannot measure but that we are no less sure of because of that impossibility to measure. How much we love someone, for example. Or how beautiful we find a landscape. Or how magical an experience is. We know it very well when we experience it. Even if that experience cannot be measured.

And the idea that what cannot be measured does not really exist can be considered one of the most unsavory ideas we have ever come up with. Incidentally, that idea was also definitively debunked in the last century by one of the greatest scientists ever, the mathematician Kurt Gödel, who proved with his “incompleteness theorem” that things that cannot be proven can also be true. But that's also  for another musing.






Magic as the heart of the matter, food for thought indeed!

In the musing of next week, I would like to share something of the magic that I myself have been privileged to experience in my life.

Our personal experiences of magic are our pearls of light, our bright pointers on the path, the hints we receive of a bigger picture beyond our imagination and rational mind. The glimpses of the bigger picture that we so often lose sight of. And I am grateful every day for the moments of pure magic that I have already been privileged to experience, some in extraordinary places and in extraordinary circumstances, and some in “ordinary” places and in “ordinary” circumstances, but as has been said before, upon reflection, there is no such thing as an “ordinary” place, an “ordinary” circumstance, or an “ordinary” person. Everything is extraordinary, and that may be the crux of the lesson we need to learn.



Thank you for reading or listening,

Until the next episode,


All the best to you,


Filip





 







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