MAGIC AND THE NEED TO UNDERSTAND

I often engage in a little argument with friends in which my position is that almost everything in life is magic and nothing in life is understandable. This of course is an invitation to my friend to prove that I am wrong, and usually they can't do that. First, let's look at magic. Magic is something that you see happening the way it does. A magician who makes a young lady float in the air does so without the observers being able to understand how he does that. However, if you watch this event and someone turns to you and says, "it's done with wires" you will then react as if you now understand how the act was done. Of course, the statement really tells you nothing because if you can't see the wires, or if you can't see the lifting mechanism, or if you can't understand how the girl could remain so rigid or straight, you still do not understand the trick. If your friend means that it is done with electrical wires, or electricity delivered by wires and you are thinking it is done by using lifting wires, then obviously you still don't understand the trick and are not even looking in the right ballpark.

People seem to universally have a need to "know" and "understand" things that they are aware of. This seems to be true whether we are talking about other people, things, or events. For example, everyone knows that when you flip a wall switch and the lights come on it is because you've gotten electricity to the light bulb. But think of the hundreds of questions that could be generated in this simple process. What makes light come from a light bulb when electricity is put to it is a good one, but also the very nature of electricity is poorly understood. Eventually, an explanation of electricity would get down to talking about the movement of "electrons." Fiddlesticks. I would argue that there is no such thing as an electron and then ask you to prove to me that there was. We can't see them, taste them, or weigh them.

Or consider this. Most of us have flown on airplanes and I myself have my own airplane, which I love to fly. The aeronautical engineers can design an airplane wing that is efficient and can tell us before the wing is built, factors such as the best operating speed, the lifting potential, on and on and on. Nevertheless, the theory of flight is still exactly that…a theory. We cannot prove why an airplane wing behaves the way it does. We simply know some of the formulas and principles that seem to work. Although I am not an aeronautical engineer, I know three separate theories of why an airplane wing performs the way it does and each one explains flight equally well. I would simply suggest that there is a fourth…magic.

My suggestion here is not really that we should try to explain things in nature as being magic but is that explanation is often as good as any other. My real purpose in presenting this argument and inviting a challenge to it is to point out that we literally spin our wheels attempting to find answers to questions but out efforts stop when we are given any explanation at all. If that explanation is wrong, we still stop looking for an answer. A parent who is asked why their child is demonstrating "bad" behavior or signs of depression or signs of other forms of disturbance might well respond with a socially pat phrase of "he's going through a phase." Too often the parent accepts that as an answer when in reality it's little more than a socially accepted way of saying, "I don't know." We really should not do that as parents because it is not a pattern which will help us understand and do our best for our own children. A funny thing about answers is that you stop looking at that point and therefore many times finding the "answers" to questions is simply a way of locking yourself into errors.

It has often been observed that the greatest thinkers in history were those who were painfully aware of their ignorance. One of the natural processes of becoming educated and knowledgeable is that the questions continually outrace knowledge. An aeronautical engineer would have many, many more questions about the nature of flight than would I because he understands more about flying and therefore understands a wider range of questions that exist. On the other hand, if we ask a small child why an airplane flies he might be very happy with an answer such as "because it has a motor."

The point of all of this is that I think that people should really try to avoid thinking of themselves as being "knowledgeable" because learning and awareness often stop at that point. A strong position is a position that is defined by "I don't know" and an openness to pay attention to whatever information is available. If we as parents, educators, husbands and wives, or any other role that I can think of are willing to settle with whatever explanations seem to fit whenever they are available, then I would argue that it's probably better to explain everything in life as "it's magic." The results are pretty much the same.

Think about it.