Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Nature of Magic ...

I would like to see if we can determine the nature of magic. Not tricks of illusion performed by magicians, but rather the ancient notion of magic in that traditional sense. The realm of the ‘impossible’.

Rather than simply dismiss everything we do not understand as impossible, perhaps we could acknowledge that some people have believed that what they saw and experienced was magical, and for the sake of curiosity and for the sake of what we might learn, I would like to simply entertain some thoughts around the issue.

It has been said that an educated mind is one that can entertain an idea without necessarily accepting it. So, in the interest of expanding our understanding and possibly discovering new insights, let us dance with new partners for a while. We can always go back home to our old ideas again later if we find the new ones are not to our liking.

Here you will find some science, some thoughts, some logic, and some questions to make you possibly come to your own conclusions. Or, at least, after having read these ideas, you might have expanded the range of ideas you have considered before arriving at the conclusions you hold to in the future.

We all struggle to understand the nature of the universe in our own way.

Let us examine three possibilities to explain the ancient concept of magic.
1) Fantasy and wishful thinking.
2) Forgotten knowledge/technology
3) Manipulation of patterns of energy

Magic as fantasy:
The concept of real ‘magic’ is rejected by most modern western people because we are educated by a system which rejects it. The educational system is based upon the empirical evidence and results produced by scientific method and reliable reasoning. It is a good system and covers most of what we need to understand. It works for us, and so we tend to trust it.

However, it does not cover everything in our collective experience. There remain a few intangibles around the edges of our understanding of the universe. This includes items of metaphysics, clairvoyance, magic and the supernatural, etc.. Those intangibles are generally rejected by scientists because they cannot be predicted or explained by our current science. Of those intangible areas, magic is one.

Yet there are stories of a tribe of Indians in the Pacific Northwest in the mid-1800’s who could levitate solid objects and move them through the air using sound. There are stories of ancient druids who could perform inexplicable acts such as creating a fog, or clearing one in a small precise area, causing waves to change coming in from the ocean, cause storms in the sky, and many other legends of ways they could alter the effects of nature in the world around them.

There are many stories of ‘magic’ coming from the far east, from India and China and other places in that part of the world. In fact, most parts of the world have a history of observations and legends about things considered to be ‘magic’.

So what exactly is ‘magic’ then? What is the nature of this phenomenon?

Perhaps some of what we consider ancient ‘magic’ was merely stories, legends, and wishful thinking. Maybe it was merely fantasy. That is what most of us believe, isn’t it? That is the explanation we are most comfortable with, since the alternatives have implications that frighten some people, and intimidate others who cannot stretch their mind to encompass things that far from their base of understanding. For these people, there exist religions to explain the things beyond the reach of natural science, observation and traditional reasoning.

Einstein once said, “Without religion, science is lame. Without science, religion is blind.” This clever observation touches on the notion that one explains what the other does not. As our science improves, our understanding grows, our knowledge illuminates further, and so the line moves further into the darkness of what religion tries to explain. Of course arguments will forever be fought about where that line lies between them. The strongest religious believers tend to resist losing ground in the mix between what their religion purports to explain, and that which is explained by secular science.

So religion explains some ‘magic’ as ‘miracles of God’. And for those of faith, that is explanation enough.

Magic as forgotten knowledge/technology:
Arthur C Clarke once said something to the effect of, "Any sufficiently advanced technology appears as magic to the uninitiated". Certainly, a cell phone conversation with someone a thousand miles away that is common today, and easily explainable to a modern person, would seem as magic to a person from 150 years ago. This is merely because even the basic concepts of the underlying technology would be far beyond their understanding in that time. Clarke’s statement is certainly true in this sense.

So is ‘magic’ merely the label we have for the effect of experiencing things we cannot yet explain or understand? Perhaps then, some of what was thought of as ‘magic’ was really just methods, techniques, or a form of technology that was once known but has since been forgotten.

There are certain technologies that we know for certain we once had that have been lost. The technology to create Damascus steel is an example. We still have some swords and knives made of that, but have not ever been able to reproduce it in hundreds of years of trying.

Also, the ancient Sumerians knew of Pluto, and Neptune and Uranus over 6,500 years ago. They drew pictures of them, plotted their paths, showed mathematically their distances, etc., and yet we later did not possess the technology to find them all again for thousands of years until just in this last 75 years or so. Pluto was (re)discovered in 1930. That doesn't mean that it didn't exist before that, of course. It's been there for billions of years, but our current science simply didn't know about it and so ruled out a 9th planet until that time.
Isn't it interesting that Pluto DID exist on ancient Sumerian diagrams of our solar system from 6500 years ago? Just this year, May 15th in fact, it was discovered that Pluto has two more moons that we didn’t know about. We knew about Charon, which was discovered in 1970, but now there are two new ones. These also existed all along but were not in our collective knowledge yet until just a few months ago.
We still don’t know if they were created by an impact with another object into Pluto itself, or if they were objects from the nearby Kuiper Belt captured into orbit around Pluto as it passed by. Maybe we should research more into the cuneiform tablet documents of the Sumerians to find more that we once knew but forgot long ago.

For that matter, the Sumerians also noted a 10th planet in our solar system. It is on a much different, wildly elliptical orbit, 45 degrees off the plane of the ecliptic the other nine planets are on. We haven’t yet confirmed that, but this last summer, some scientists just discovered such a planet, and it is in the process of being validated and confirmed now.

Also, based on skeletal evidence, the Sumerians were successful at brain surgery, and even a form of radiation treatments, both of which were lost to the world all these thousands of years until just recently.

Also, there were maps of the detailed coastline of the solid land portion of Antarctica (under the 1.5 miles of ice) drawn out by Piri Reis, a Turkish sea captain 800 years ago using other maps that were more than 5,000 years old. The US Navy Hydrographic office has stated that these 5,000 year old maps could only have been created as a result of arial survey.

So, can it be true someone was flying around the world over 5,000 years ago? And they had the ability to fly thousands of miles from the base of support and fueling?

But I digress. The point is that our knowledge is not always the straight linear path from knowing nothing in the past, to knowledge of almost everything in the future. Some things were once known and then forgotten for a while. And then rediscovered much, much later.

Could our ancient knowledge of what we called ‘magic’ be among these things once known and understood, but later forgotten or suppressed?

Libraries of ancient knowledge have been destroyed many times in human history. The Great Library at Alexandria is one example. It was considered one of the "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" and represented the sum total of the world’s knowledge at that time, but it was wiped out in a single stroke by a fire.

It’s hard to say exactly what may have been lost over the course of thousands of years. There is also the well-known legend of Atlantis, a city of advanced technology, apparently with solar-based power and other technologies far ahead of our current levels. This was written about by Plato, and by other civilizations that pre-date him, and has been discussed widely around the world for thousands of years. Could that technology and knowledge be sufficiently ahead of our current knowledge that what they did might appear as ‘magic’ to us? Also, according to ancient Welch writings, the original Druids (who were considered to possess magic) were called “The Followers of Pharon” and supposedly escaped from Atlantis when it sank beneath the sea. The writings state they arrived in boats on the shores of Ireland and Wales after the incident.

I will also point out that, according to the archeological findings noted in the book “Forbidden Archeology”, mankind has been around on this planet for millions of years. There is even a man-made necklace found inside a chunk of coal discovered in the American Midwest, and the necklace was dated at around 300 million years old. But I will save that tangent for another article.

Nevertheless, if we have been here as a species for millions of years, and yet this current civilization is only about 6,500 years old, then how many other civilizations may have sprung up, and died out, in all these millions of years? Evidently, the Sphinx is a relic left behind by one of them. The city of Tiahuanaco in what is present-day Bolivia is another relic of past unknown civilizations from before the last ice age.
Every once in a while, an ice age comes along and wipes the slate clean. Most of the evidence of any previous civilizations is literally wiped from the Earth and the surface of the Earth itself is changed. Resculpted into new rivers, and canyons, hills and valleys.
Is it possible some of those previous civilizations over the past few million years had technologies in advance of ours now, and that those technologies would seem like magic to us? Or to our ancestors who were less knowledgeable than we are now?

Magic as manipulation of patterns of energy:
Let’s take a lay interpretation of one facet of generally accepted science (quantum physics), and then try to make some logical extrapolations into less well-known areas simply to see if we can begin to grasp some greater, larger, less tangible truths about the universe as we experience it.
First, let’s look at how some things we experience are really an ‘effect’ of something else, rather than the thing itself.
One time I was driving with my brother through the New Mexico desert (a magical place if ever I saw one…) and I was trying to explain to him how quantum mechanics worked, and I saw the perfect analogy as we were driving by, and so I stopped, and pointed to a field of tall grass waving in the wind.

I pointed out that the wind was blowing on the neighboring blades of grass evenly, and yet they did not respond identically.I showed him how a wave effect propagated from one side of the field to the other. This reminded me of quantum field effects because, like sub-atomic particles, you can't predict the exact position of any single blade of grass but you CAN predict a probability of where a percentage of them may be at a given moment based on the overall wave effect - the so-called 'quantum effect'.

The word 'quantum', just basically means a tiny little particle. A quantum effect means a whole bunch of small things taken as a whole. Like looking at the rain, instead of looking at a bunch of individual droplets. If you look at an individual blade of grass, you can't really predict exactly what will happen to it, because the forces acting upon it seem out of that context. But you can take the field of grass as a whole. A view of the whole field at once, (a 'quantum field' if you will, LOL), reveals patterns of predictable behavior. You can predict what percentage of the field will be fully bent down, and what will be as erect as possible, and varying stages between, and also you can predict how many waves per minute to some extent because statistically, these things are measurable and observable and therefore predictable to a certain degree.

Another example of a similar effect might be a knife on a string. Tie a knife to the end of a string and start swinging it around your head very, very fast. In fact, there is only one knife blade perhaps 1 inch wide. But because it is in motion so fast spinning around you, it creates the effect as if it were a 6 ft diameter cutting disk extending around you in a 360 degree circle. No one could approach you from any angle because the knife would catch them. So the single knife, because of it's motion and speed has the EFFECT of a disk.

It's the same thing with the electrons in the 'shells' around the nucleus of an atom. One single electron may have the quantum effect of being everywhere at once and so has the effect of being a field, or shell, simply because it is moving so fast.

Time and space are similar in that they exist as an effect. Since you cannot move instantaneously from one place to another, (it takes time to travel) and since all things everywhere are in constant motion, therefore a displacement in space equals a displacement in time, and a displacement in time equals a displacement in space. Just sitting still for an hour means you have spun 1000 miles with the surface of the Earth in rotation, and you have shot 68,000 miles further into space with the Earth in its trip around the sun. Not to mention the sun's movement, or the galaxy turning and still exploding from the center of the universe from the Big Bang 12 billion years ago.

Here is another thing that exists as an effect: substance itself. Like space and time, matter and energy are also two forms of the same thing. If you look at matter closely enough, you find it is really nothing but patterns of energy. For example, take a single atom of, say, hydrogen. It has 1 proton, 1 neutron, and 1 electron. Scale is extremely important here. If the atom itself were 140 feet across, then the entire nucleus would be roughly the size of a grain of sand, and the electron, 70 feet away, would be the size of a speck of dust. The other 99.999999999% of the 'space' of the atom is absolute nothingness.

We have known that much for decades, but in 1982 or thereabouts, it was discovered that even the grain of sand and speck of dust were not solid. Even they were simple energy. A positively charged 'field' inside a negatively charged 'field' So now, the whole atom itself is just energy.

And if you follow string theory, you can even trace it down past the basic quarks to something even more basic which is: 'superstrings' vibrating in 10 physical dimensions. Really not matter as we could define it at that level.. It is merely 10-dimensional vibrational energy.The direction, speed and intensity of the vibrational energy manifests itself as different types of what we end up interpreting as 'particles' which we then theorize are the building blocks of the atoms for basic elements, which combine to form molecules of everything from clay bricks to tree leaves to human skin.

It may be that all of space and time and matter and energy are merely effects of some common element at a more fundamental level. Patterns of energy.

Einstein had also predicted a unified field theory. In other words, he felt that there was a single type of fundamental energy which included mass, electromagnetic energy(light, x-rays, etc.), gravity - etc. Everything. And that all these things are simply manifestation of that one fundamental type of energy. He actually did create the math for the theory, but died in 1955 before completely resolving it down to the final elegant formula. But the working formula DOES exist in his ten equation complex form.

So, it would appear that everything in our universe may simply be the manifested effects of patterns of energy. Everything we see, hear, feel, taste, or experience on every level of what we consider ‘reality’ might be, at the most fundamental level, just patterns of energy.

Have you ever seen a CTscan of a brain while the person is dreaming? It is a firestorm of electrical activity. Synapses firing all over the place at incredible speeds. Literally - patterns of energy.These patterns of energy are also manifested as real physical things on another level - the level of experience. As far as the person in the dream is concerned, that is real at that time, just as this 'reality' seems real to you right now.

So, it would seem that ‘reality’ and ‘dreams’ have something in common. They both appear solid and substantive when you are experiencing them, but at the most basic level, they are both merely patterns of energy. And since we know that your mind is manipulating, even creating, the dream world by manipulating it’s patterns of energy, can we imagine that some minds can also manipulate the ‘real world’s’ patterns of energy in similar ways?

Further, just as we can be taught to manipulate our dreams, can we be taught to manipulate the ‘real world’ similarly? Is this what ancient ‘magic’ was?I sometimes wonder if the old texts and legends of magic were a view into some of the strange ways that human mental acuity could manipulate the empirical facets of the world around them.

To take this a little further, if all the universe is made of patterns of energy, and our thoughts and dreams are universes made of similar patterns of energy, could it simply be that we are individually making this all up as we go along?

How personal is this universe we are in?

If I tell you the ball in my hand is orange, how do I know that you see it with the same color as I do? How do I know that your idea of ‘orange’ is the same color as mine? How could I tell that empirically? Isn’t it always open to subjective interpretation? For that matter, how could I be sure that you see a ball exactly as I do? Maybe what you see as a ball, I might interpret as egg-shaped? For that matter, do you exist at all? Or do I?

How could we ever tell what is ‘real’ or even what the concept of ‘real’ actually is? After all, a dream appears to us as reality when we are experiencing it. How can we logically differentiate between that and this? It is all equal at the level of experience.

From a scientific perspective, what tools of examination, observation, or deductive reasoning could we use to find out the true nature of our reality, and compare it to our perceived reality within a dream, and distinguish reliably between them?If the world around us is merely manufactured at some subliminal levels within our minds, it would at least explain some things which have been observed, but which are inexplicable by our current understanding of science. Magic for one. If reality is nothing more than a dream, then magic becomes easy to explain, since anything is possible in a dream.

Movies like “The Matrix” series, and “Existenz”, and “The Thirteenth Floor” have explored this subjective vs objective reality concept to some degree. So, since it has passed from the world of extremely esoteric thought into pop culture, now I can discuss it. But 30 years ago, when I used to spend a lot of time thinking about it, I could never discuss it. We have come a long way as a culture in this respect.

There is much to think about here. For me, thoughts of quantum physics led to an understanding of how patterns of energy underlie our entire existence, and I can relate that to our dreams in which the universes we experience are also nothing more than the manifestations of similar patterns of electric energy. So there is a corollary there implying they may be related or even the same thing on a different scale – or even the same thing period.

Imagine that in a dream tonight, you look up into the night sky and you see stars. The stars reveal that the universe is big, and that they are far away. Far enough that the light takes years to reach you. But the dream is only a few minutes long. So where did the light of the stars come from? Well, they were just created as is in your dream, weren’t they? The whole concept of light traveling vast distances over vast time periods, is rendered moot by the simple fact that your mind created them on the fly. Instantly.

How do we know for certain that all our measurements and logic and theories and observations and calculations and sciences in the ‘real’ world about stars and the universe are nothing more than fancy, highly complex thoughts and deduction about something that is merely a similar effect? Something ephemeral created instantly in the moment it takes to observe them in ‘this’ reality?

In this respect some might say that a faith in God supersedes science. I acknowledge that, but also suggest that imagination supersedes it as well. To me, this only reinforces Einstein’s famous words that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited, but imagination encircles the world.”


Post a Comment

<< Home