Squaring the Circle

Calcination

Scientific study has always faced a backlash from the world of the religious. It challenges faith-based teachings, tossing out mythos and replacing it with a new story of creation. There is no Genesis, no turtle with the world on its back, no Hiranyagarbha. Instead, there is a point of intense density and temperature that caused an explosion that seeded spacetime with the building blocks of life. Without a creator.

But it’s more than just the disregard for religious dogma that has had people railing against science for centuries.

Faith is belief. Science is knowledge. Epistemology tells us that belief is knowledge when the belief is true. That is the primary difference between them. Knowledge requires an element of objective truth. Belief is a form of subjective truth. A belief is held to be true by an individual, regardless of objectivity.

Religion… belief, requires the mystical. More concerned with the spirit than the material, the subjective over the objective. In this spirtual haven, people can find a form of awe. Of wonder. Of beauty. A sensation they find lacking in the diagrams and equations that help us explain scientific laws.

Science has no soul, they say.

With science, there is no magic in the world.

Dissolution

For some time now (most of the 4+ years we’ve been acquainted), my friend Stauff and I have been in a bit of an argument. He stands on the side of magic. I stand on the side of science. We quibble and bicker and tease one another about the validity of the other’s belief.

We represent those two opposing viewpoints, those of the mystical versus the scientific. Our arguments are based on the fact that there is little love lost between the realms of magic and those of science.

Science, my dears, is the systematic dissection of nature, to reduce it to working parts that more or less obey universal laws. Sorcery moves in the opposite direction. It doesn’t rend, it repairs. It is synthesis rather than analysis. It builds anew rather than revealing the old. In the hands of someone truly skilled, it is Art. One might in fact call it the Superior, or the Finest, Art. It bypasses the Fine Arts of painting and drama and recitation. It doesn’t pose or represent the world. It becomes. A very noble calling. ~Miss Greyling, Wicked

What? Come on, magic is just something that hasn’t been explained yet. ~Kat, Gunnerkrigg Court

Separation

The widespread perceptions of science and magic seem to pit them against one another, offering no true compromise between the two:

  • Science is our ongoing quest for knowledge about the natural world. Magic is the process of accessing knowledge about the world that science cannot, via occult/supernatural methods.
  • Science is facts, formulas, models, theories, and data. Magic is feelings, talismans, chants, and spells.
  • Science is the brain. Magic is the spirit.
  • Science dissects the world. Magic works in harmony with the world.
  • If you can mass produce it, it’s science. If you can’t, it’s magic.
  • Science is a cold and impersonal look at the universe. Magic is a way of personally interacting with the universe.

Conjunction

But there are striking similarities between the concepts of magic and the practices of science.

Foremost is that both rely heavily on a ritualistic element. In order to harness and channel the powers of the universe, magicians require specific words, talismans, and rituals to perform. So too do scientists require special terminology, equipment, and experiments to do their research. Cauldrons or test tubes, spell books or black boards, power circles or supercolliders, it all boils down to the same thing: science and magic both require ritual.

Even more than that, though, is that both magic and science are governed by sets of laws. What we consider to be the natural laws of the universe (from gravity to relativity to quantum fluctuations at sub-Planck lengths) are the laws that govern the realm of science. But, while magic often overrides the laws of nature, it is subject to supernatural laws, from the “equivalent exchange” of Fullmetal Alchemist to the principal exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration in Harry Potter (only one is expressly mentioned in the text, though there are five… for you HP geeks out there, I’ll give you a cookie if you can name the known exception without looking it up in the books or online) to the goblins in Labyrinth requiring someone to wish their child away before they can collect them. No matter the universe, there is something there to keep it in balance. These are the laws science and magic are subject to.

Another intriguing similarity is that both magic and science often deal with things that are not always visible to us. With magic it’s ley lines and spirits and elemental powers. With science it’s subatomic particles and force fields and black holes. In the end, though, both deal with a world beyond our normal ability to detect with our meager human senses.

Fermentation

Posit: Our problem has a commutative solution. Magic is science and science is magic.

Distillation

When you strip away the problems of reality and unreality, spiritual and material, magic and science both have the same thing at their essence: they are a method of exploring our sense of wonderment.

The biggest obstacle between the synthesis of scientific and mystical thought is that mystics think scientists lack the ability to be in awe of the world. That by poking and prodding and ripping apart reality to its base constituents, scientists lose the ability to fully appreciate and revere the beauty of the things around them. When mystics see a rose and feel a sense of quiet wonder at the delicate blossom before them, they believe a scientist cannot possibly feel the same way, because (by striving to understand the underlying structures and processes involved in creating that rose) they have torn the veil of wonderment from their eyes. They may see facts, but they no longer see beauty.

This is far from the truth.

Scientists see the universe in their models and equations. They see the workings of the world. How is that not beautiful? Just as watching the interplay of muscles underneath the skin is beautiful, so too is it beautiful to “see” how atoms work together to create those muscles. So when a scientist looks at a rose, they see the flower. They also see the stamen and pistol and think of the intricacies of the rose’s reproductive cycle. They see the sun hitting the glistening dewdrops on the leaves and think of the photosynthesis occurring within the plant’s cells. They see the weave of the world, the delicate embroidery holding the world together.

That is beautiful. That is wonder.

Magic is also the pursuit of that same sense of wonder a scientist finds in nature and equations. For magic, it’s in nature as well. But it’s also within people. It’s in the “spirit” of a person, what arises from all those chemical processes in the body to become what many consider the soul.

It’s easy to think that, because magic is more personal, that it’s more emotional. That it is more attuned to the feelings within a person. That it can tap into awe better than science. But it’s only easy to think that because you aren’t really thinking. All you are doing is believing something someone told you, something you never bothered to ponder on your own.

But when you think about it, you find that science and magic share a soul.

Coagulation

Belief is not knowledge. But all knowledge begins as belief. All scientific theories began as a belief that the universe worked in a certain fashion. It was only after study and experimentation by many people that the objective truth of the belief could be verified and the belief could become knowledge.

Belief is powerful. And when that belief is in the form of mysticism, it is no more or less powerful. Wars are fought over beliefs. Laws are made that conform to religious doctrine. Morals are dictated by religion. Our lives are shaped by belief, both our own and those of others. Of everyone around us.

Our beliefs arise, often, out of the knowledge of our own mortality. Our lives are brief, and when they are done, there’s no redo. Even if you believe in resurrection, you get just one life as you. One shot to get the most out of this world. To experience the vivacity of life, to feel wonder at the world and the things in it.

Call it science.

Call it magic.

In the end, it’s all the same.

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