Proof that Magic is Real

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

Magic. The word alone conjures all kinds of extraordinary ideas. It’s the foundation of fairy tales. It’s the stuff of dreams. It’s one of the reasons I love fantasy. Magic is mysterious and otherworldly. It’s a step away from the ordinary, an exploration of the bizarre. It’s a light shone into the darkest corners of existence. Of course, magic is limited to storytelling and the imagination. Isn’t it?

On the contrary, I argue that magic is real.

Wait, hold on. Let’s define our terms. What exactly is magic?

Magic eventually boils down into two categories. There’s supernatural magic, which deals primarily with the conjuring of spirits and the manipulation of a world that lies beyond the physical universe. Then there’s natural magic, which is simply a study of nature and the laws that govern its behavior. When I speak of magic here, I refer solely to the latter.

Merlin, in the 1998 NBC mini-series Merlin, recounts his own instruction in magic thusly: “I studied day and night, learned of those unseen forces that hold this world together.” Those “unseen forces that hold this world together” sound as if they belong in the domain of physics, and why not? At its heart, physics concerns itself with the four known fundamental forces of nature and how they shape the universe.

Yes, that’s right.

Natural Magic is Science.

In any sane fictional world, magic has rules. Thus, the magician is tasked with discovering and refining his understanding of what those rules are. The studious magician of fiction is almost always a seasoned scholar, either of books or of practical experience, and has spent a lifetime probing those secret forces of nature that ordinarily remain aloof of common everyday experience.

The alchemist of old was nothing more than the ancient precursor to the modern chemist. Like the modern chemist, he sought to understand the ways in which materials interact with one another. He ran experiments, made observations and took notes.

That’s science.

But science is so ordinary and mundane! When has science ever produced magical results?

The magician of fantasy and the scientist of the real world have more in common than many realize. Like the magician, the scientist has learned to harness and exploit the laws of nature for technological advantage. In reality as well as fiction, this has lead to mind-blowing breakthroughs. We’ve developed nearly instantaneous visual and auditory communication over significant distances. We’ve developed a means of reliably transmitting incredible amounts of energy, capable of powering great hulking machines and lighting cities at night. We’ve developed a means of traveling by flight. We’ve even developed methods of sending men to other worlds.

Sounds magical to me.

But science is logical. It can be explained. Magic is arbitrary and irrational. It defies understanding.

Well, can the laws of nature as revealed by science be fully explained? True, larger and more general aspects of reality can always be broken down and explained by progressively smaller units of knowledge. Why does an object grow hot when it sits on a stove, for example? Because, among other things, the molecules on the stove, which are vibrating very fast, are bumping into the molecules in the object, which aren’t vibrating as fast. This causes them to bounce around more quickly, which we perceive as heat.

We could break the process of inquiry down further. We could ask why faster moving molecules speed up slower moving molecules when they collide. This would inevitably lead to a discussion of momentum and electromagnetic forces. On and on we could go, descending further and further into ever smaller units of knowledge. But at the end of this long and winding chain of questions and answers is something that must simply be accepted, a philosophical brick wall. Ultimately, why do the fundamental forces of nature exist and behave the way they do? Because they do.

And is magic really all that irrational? On the contrary, a believable system of magic must be internally consistent and obey ordered laws. True, there are concessions that must be made. But that’s nothing new. At its roots, science makes the same concessions. Without an axiomatic foundation on which to build, all of science would crumble to the ground.

The only thing that sets science apart from the magic of fiction is that science is a system of natural magic that happens to be real.

Conclusion

Arthur C. Clarke, in his book Profiles of the Future, wrote that, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I go one step further. I argue that advanced science is indistinguishable from magic because it is magic. The only reason we take science for granted is that it’s familiar. But if the roles of reality and fiction were ever reversed, and some denizen of a far off fantasy world were to stumble across the fundamental laws of nature that we accept as part of our daily lives, they would be mystified. For them, it would not be something ordinary, but something extraordinary. For them, it would be magic.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Does Reading About Evil Make You Evil?

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

I love dark fiction. I’ve always been fascinated by the problem of evil, and literature that grapples with diabolical themes gives me an opportunity to explore this very difficult subject in all of its many facets. I get to enter into the minds and souls of those who do evil, and am able to witness first hand the torment and destruction wrought by their wicked hands.  Is there something wrong with me? Is my fascination with evil the sign of a disturbed and demented mind?

Critics of dark fiction argue that stories which address sinister themes outside of a strictly didactic context necessarily glorify evil, and conclude that the act of reading such literature is, by extension, also evil. Conversely, proponents of dark fiction argue that evil is an inescapable part of life, and that we should not be afraid to tell the truth about it in literature. Which of these two voices should we listen to?

A distinction must be made.

Critics of dark fiction make the mistake of conflating two separate and distinct desires. They argue that because one hungers for an understanding of evil, that they must therefore hunger for evil itself. This is a non sequitur. Is a police officer evil for his fascination with the criminal mind, regardless of the fact that his motivation stems from a desire to prevent further criminal activity? To the contrary, his desire to know evil is rooted in a desire to do good.

FIctional characters enable us to know the mind of evil without becoming evil.

A desire to understand is an inextricable component of our human nature. We don’t just want to know what people do. We want to know why. What motivates someone to make certain choices? Why does one man decide to save a life while another decides to commit murder?

By entering the mind of a fictional character, we can discover answers to these questions. We are privy to their thoughts, their emotions, they’re motivations. We aren’t just exposed to the evil deeds they commit. We’re exposed to the rationale behind those evil deeds. This is very important, because only when we understand the causes of evil can we ever be in a position to do something about it.

Learning about evil teaches us how to be good.

One of the most potent ways to learn is by example. When we see a person act a certain way and observe the result, we take that experience with us as if it were our own. When a person’s actions have a positive outcome, we’re conditioned to emulate their behavior. Conversely, when a person’s actions have a negative outcome, we learn to avoid it.

An accurate portrayal of evil will necessarily showcase the consequences of bad behavior. Sometimes, these consequences will be practical in nature. A bank robber, for example, might slip up during a heist and leave behind clues that eventually lead to his arrest. Sometimes, the consequences will be more spiritual or psychological. A character in a novel might, for example, get away with murder. But if the author has a firm grasp of the human psyche, he will, simply by knowing his character well, reveal the terrible transformation that takes place inside his mind, now irrevocably tainted. From this devastating case study, we are given an opportunity to reflect on what evil can do to us if we allow it into our own hearts.

And, we witness first hand the pain and suffering that evil inflicts on others. We see lives reduced to ruin by greed and malice. We feel a deep sense of desolation and loss. We walk through a desert of despair, barren of all things good, and our hearts howl from their deepest depths for something better. Prolonged exposure to darkness makes the most miniscule act of kindness blaze like the sun. It makes us more sensitive to a right way of living.

In short, reading about evil makes us better people.

Encountering evil in stories reminds us that evil exists outside of stories.

It’s easy to drift through life, comfortable, complacent, apathetic to the suffering of others. Unless we’ve experienced hardship personally, it’s difficult for us to sympathize with those who have.

But when we encounter terrorists, thieves and murderers in fiction, we are reminded that these same criminals also exist in the real world. We are forced to confront an uncomfortable truth that we would otherwise prefer to brush aside. We are forced to watch as innocent characters weep and wail and gnash their teeth in unending agony at the hands of evildoers, and we are reminded that the same thing happens to real people. This awareness breeds empathy, which in turn breeds a genuine love for the rest of our human family and a desire to act against the injustices that afflict them.

Refusing to acknowledge evil is untruthful.

The world is not all pink fluffy bunnies, sunshine and rainbows. Art that intentionally ignores or attempts to sugar coat the darker realities of human life is a distortion, a twisted half-truth that is not only deceitful but dangerous. A selective view of the world through rose colored glasses enables us to look away as innocent people suffer. It allows us to pretend that the world is better than it is, that it’s ok for us to withdraw into ourselves and ignore the plights of others who are less fortunate.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with art that zeroes in on goodness and innocence, any more than there is something wrong with art that doesn’t. A balanced outlook is essential to a healthy understanding of the world, and we need also to be reminded of all the things that are good and right. But we must never turn a blind eye to evil. We must be willing to stare it down, to meet its malignant eyes gaze for gaze.

There is tragic beauty in dark literature.

When characters suffer, we cry for them. When an evildoer gets away with murder, we flush with anger and outrage. A good balance of light and dark allows us to explore the full spectrum of human emotions, which in turn leads us to a better understanding of ourselves. This is why the ancients devised great epics that dealt regularly with death and loss, as well as why great tragedies like Romeo and Juliet resonate so strongly and continue to persist throughout the ages.

Conclusion

Critics of dark fiction misunderstand us. They perceive a great multitude of maligned individuals prancing through the streets, approving of and even praising evil deeds. But nothing could be further from the truth. As lovers of dark fiction, we are those who are most sensitive to the devastating effects of evil. We are those who are most profoundly disturbed by its manifestation in the world. We are those who recognize more than anything else the terrible evil within ourselves. We are the ones who desire most of all to be better than we are.

We can respond to evil in one of two ways. We can bury our heads in the sand, sing Kumbaya and foolishly hope that evil will someday pass us over, that we can somehow wish it away, conquer it simply by refusing to acknowledge that it exists. Or we can face it, study it, try to understand our adversary so that we can better prepare for the task of striking it down. Which will you choose?

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

2 Ways That Characters Are More Intimate Than Best Friends, Husbands and Wives

If you’re like me, reading fiction usually involves an endless string of love affairs and heart breaks. It’s always the same. I meet someone new. I fall in love. I’m on an emotional roller coaster. I burst with joy when my character is happy. My heart aches when my character is hurt. I’ll invest hours of my time into the relationship, only for it to come to a sudden abrupt end when there are no pages left to turn.

The relationship between Reader and Character is intense and intimate. What follows are two ways in which this relationship is more intimate than those we share with our closest friends and spouses.

1. You, Along With the Author, Are a Character’s Co-creator.

In real life, when you meet another person, what follows is purely a process of discovery. Who that person is has already been fully defined, independent of you. A real person always exists outside your mind. You may be lead to believe certain things about who that person is based on your own observations and biases, but whether or not those beliefs are correct has nothing to do with you.

By contrast, while the author might provide you with certain details regarding what a character looks like, what he thinks about or what happens to him throughout the story, he’s only partially defined. It’s up to you to provide the missing pieces. Unlike a real person, your character only has the fullness of his existence inside your mind. As a result, it’s as much a process of creation as it is one of discovery. Together, with the author, you give life to this other person.

The unique role that you have as a character’s co-creator is what allows you to understand him so intimately. Who he is depends in part on who you are. Because of this, you know this person more completely than you could know anyone else.

2. The Relationship Between Reader and Character Has No Boundaries.

In your relationships with real people, there are always boundaries. Between husbands, wives and best friends, there are always secrets. When dealing with real people, you can only completely know yourself. What your friends and spouses experience in their own minds you can only experience imperfectly through what they choose to reveal.

In your relationships with fictional people, this is not the case. In fiction, a character’s innermost thoughts, desires and motivations are all laid bare before you. You can peer directly into a character’s mind and soul. You can know a character better than he knows himself.

Conclusion

There’s a reason we connect so profoundly with well written characters. It’s basic human nature to crave love and intimacy. We strive to know others, for it’s in knowing that we can love. The fictional characters we encounter in stories might not be real, but the love that we have for them most certainly is. It’s a very unique kind of love, one that, in some ways at least, exceeds that which we have even for those real people who we hold closest of all.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.