Religion

Science And Magic: Is There A Relationship?

Last night I had dinner with some colleagues from Dartmouth's Department of Religion. An interesting conversation ensued on the relationship between science and magic. Here, I don't mean magic tricks, like rabbits coming out of hats or cards and coins, but "magic" in a more preternatural sense. Of course, at first sight we would think the two to be completely opposite, even antagonistic. My colleague Ehud Benor, a scholar of Jewish philosophy and mysticism, made an interesting statement: "science tries to make magic real."

I took this in and started to think of what he meant. Then it dawned on me that he had a point. Consider the following list of magical feats that were accomplished by science (please, feel free to add):

* Flying: we do fly, with machines and or wings attached.
* Flying to outer space: we put men on the moon and have reached the confines of our solar system.
* Seeing what is invisible to the eye: through our instruments, we see the world of the very small and the very large. We also see all the invisible radiation that surrounds us, infrared, ultraviolet, radio waves.
* Communicating at a distance: through radio, phones, cell phones, we can connect with people anywhere in the planet. Blogs!
* Seeing at a distance: with TV and video-phoning we can see beyond the reach of the eye.
* Fighting disease: one the oldest links between science and magic, healing the body and mind.
* Destruction: we all know this one.
* Add your own here.

The list is long. And I see Ehud's point quite clearly. Science does make magic real. The difference, of course, is that the powers do not emanate from us directly, but through our creativity and instruments. As such, science makes us into magicians through a synthesis of mind, body, and tools; instead of an enchanted staff to aid in the performance of tricks, we have technology. As the great physicist Michael Faraday wrote, nothing is too wonderful that it can't be true, as long as it obeys the laws of Nature.

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