Science vs. Magic, Round 1
This is a very old post from my blog; so old that it was originally hosted on LiveJournal. The page has been preserved in case its content is of any interest, but formatting errors are likely and the page's original comments have been lost. Please go back to the homepage to see the current contents of this site.
Philosophy time! This is the first of possibly many posts I’ll make, to dump my thoughts onto the internet and see what people make of them.
I, for want of a better phrase, believe in magic. For the sake of argument I’ll define magic thus:
<blockquote>The ability of a mind to affect reality as perceived by it and by other minds, either directly by thought alone, or by physical actions that are not directly physically related to the desired consequence (e.g. causing it to rain by cloud-seeding involves interaction with clouds, thus not magic, whereas a rain-dance does not involve direct interaction, thus it’s magic).
</blockquote>Feel free to take issue with that.
In an attempt to quantify this belief, I’ll say that I am about as convinced that magic is possible as I am that the Copenhagen Interpretation is possible. To people who have never come across the concept before, both seem ridiculous. However, I believe that I have seen enough evidence for them both that I am convinced. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t convince an opponent of either that the object of their opposition is actually a feature of reality. However, I’m pretty sure I could talk around someone who already seems predisposed to believe in that kind of thing (e.g. convince a religious believer of the existence of magic, or a chemist of the existence of quantum indeterminacy).
So, how can I justify my belief in either? I’ll begin with magic.
As far as I know, our commonly accepted scientific knowledge contains no mechanism by which magic can sensibly exist. The idea that a mind can directly influence the world without physical action isn’t currently scientifically viable. The idea that something can have an almost unrelated consequence is way out on the improbable fringes of chaos theory.
These thoughts drag me inexorably in the direction of Mister Berkeley and Idealism. However, the age-old question of whether a tree falling when no-one is there to hear it makes a sound or not raises its head. It seems silly to suggest that it wouldn’t. As I understand it, Berkeley’s response is “God is always watching”. Along with sounding like a bit of a cop-out, this seems at odds with the current understanding of the quantum realm - the fact that indeterminacy seems to exist suggests that (either we’re not really getting it, or) there is no universal observer.
It seems logical that a tree falling when no-one is around should make a sound. Perhaps it’s an integral part of what it means to be a tree. This, they tell me, is Phenomenalism, or something like it.
However, I have issues with that too. For example:
It’s not an intrinsic property of a plastic ball that it should be underground. In fact, it’s not even a very likely property for any ball in question. However, say you had a plastic ball. You bury it in the ground, cover it up perfectly, and don’t tell anyone about it. Even if there is no reality outside of what’s in our own heads, you know the ball is there, so it is. No-one else has any opinion on the subject, because they don’t know about it. Now, say this ball is left for 200 years. You’re long dead, so no-one knows about the ball. By chance, someone digs in just that spot. They find the ball. If there were no absolute reality, and no-one knew about the ball, it must be random chance that the digger found a ball. Which leads me to suppose that the chance of him finding a ball was there - and presumably the same - regardless of whether
you ever buried a ball there in the first place.
That seems very unlikely. However, that also seems the logical conclusion of the idealist / phenomenalist points of view, which are the only ones I have encountered that provide a reasonable basis for my experience of magic.
Thoughts / Comments / Criticisms / Mad Irate Ranting?