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When we are young

When we are young, we imagine dragons and elves, magic and wizards, heroes swooping down on flying carpets to save the day. As we grow, we long to see these things. We long to catch a glimpse of a dragon soaring over the mountains at sunset, to see with our own eyes the magic of the elves.

We are told that there is this thing called "science," and science takes away magic. Science says there are no wizards, no elves, no magic carpet rides, no dragons spreading their wings in the last rays of the sun. And it hurts.

For many, the impulse is to reject this thing called "science," this destroyer of dreams, so that we can live, if even only a little bit, in the world of magic and make-believe.

But for those who do not do this, for those who want to see the world for what it is, science offers us more than our imaginations. Instead of dragons and elves, instead of wizards and magic, we are offered a universe that is ancient and huge and strange beyond our dreams. We are offered a place where galaxies gigantic beyond our comprehension collide in ferocious cataclysms of creation and destruction, where strange objects that can never be seen tear holes through the fabric of space and time, where tiny things flit around and appear in two places at once. We are offered magnificent weirdness far stranger than the paltry ordinariness of wizards and dragons--for what are wizards but men with a litany of parlor tricks, and what are dragons but flying dinosaurs with matches?

Some who reject science still see, however vaguely, the faint glimmers of the wonder that it offers, and so they seek to appropriate its fancy words to fuel their imaginings of dragons and elves. "Quantum!" they cry. "Quantum thus-and-such, which means magic is real! We make the world just by looking at it; we are rightfully the kings of creation!"

And when told that their crude and fuzzy grasp of this hateful thing called "science," this shatterer of dreams that comes in the light of day to steal their dragons away, says no such things, but actually something else, they react with derision, and scorn, and contempt. "Science," they say, "is just opinion. It is religion, full of popes and magistrates who declare reality to be what they want, and not what I want."

For them, I feel sad. In their desire to wrap themselves up in the imaginations of youth, they turn their backs on things far more fantastic than they can dream.

I love science. It does not steal magic away from us; it shows us magic far more awesome than we could ever otherwise know.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
I have a slightly different calibration here.

I see science as a learning technology. It does tell me that dragons don't currently exist, but the next step in the process is "Okay, so how can I make one?" Which might still possibly develop an answer.

See you this evening,

Feb. 11th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
This. Absolutely this.

I grew up on a mixed diet of science fiction and fantasy, and the quote that sticks with me year after year is from one of Clive Barker's books, Weaveworld: "What can be imagined need never be lost."

As far as I'm concerned, science is what makes magic possible, and imagination is what gives science wings. If we're ever going to have dragons, fairies and unicorns it will be because science enabled us to create them, and I love living with that possibility.
Feb. 12th, 2012 02:42 am (UTC)
science is what makes magic possible, and imagination is what gives science wings.

That is lovely.
Feb. 11th, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
Since I've started following your blog, I have been absolutely fascinated by your world view and what you have to say. I can't always relate to your experiences, for example, I think I may have met one or two people in my life who either disregarded science and embraced fantasy with a blind eye to any other possibility, or who did the opposite - believing in embracing science and disregarding fantasy. Honestly, I can't wrap my brain around either concept.

I believe in magic; however, how I describe/define it doesn't seem congruent to what you describe (that, to me, is the fascinating bit - I love learning how others perceive the world around us) but I also love applying the scientific method to every bit of fantasy and magic around me. For me, it's just plain fun. And when someone introduces something that proves some magical element wrong or untrue - I love it. I embrace it. And I ask lots of questions - questions that either can or cannot be answered by science. (at least not yet)

I apply science to the world around me, and science is my magic. It is huge and beautiful and mysterious (because I know I can never have the time or brain capacity to comprehend it all) and that, to me, makes it magical.

Love reading your blog. :-)
Feb. 12th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
I, too, get frustrated at the people who say that science removes magic and beauty and mystery from the world. Things that are beautiful and awe-inspiring are no less so when we explain how and why they occur. Many times they become even more so, when we fully understand the complexity involved.

To those who claim that science is just another religion, I try to explain that science isn't a set of beliefs. It's merely a tool, a method, for helping us understand the world. The scientific method doesn't tell us what to believe (and plenty of scientists do believe in god), it just gives us a reliable method for recording, testing, sharing and repeating our observations. It's no more a belief system than mathematics or writing. They are just tools.
Feb. 12th, 2012 03:00 am (UTC)
I actually thought about getting in to genetic engineering so I could BUILD dragons. :-)
Feb. 12th, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
Surely I can't be the only one who's occasionally a scientist by day and a (parody of) an elf by night?
Feb. 13th, 2012 03:47 am (UTC)
Science destroys magic, but then Quantum Science makes the particles that make up everyday objects so fantastic the old childhood wonder lights up again. When I stop and think that *I* am made up of the same particles that follow quantum behavior like Heisenberg uncertainty and wave/particle duality, pushing off of each other with force fields of electromagnetism and the strong force... sometimes I think my childhood self was right and magic was real all along.
Feb. 13th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
Robin Ince talks about this same thing in his Happiness Through Science show. And talked about it at FUSE when he was speaking there.

Wonder and imagination are not exclusive to those things that aren't real and can be even more amazing when they are applied to things that are real.
Feb. 13th, 2012 03:38 pm (UTC)
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

When I was young(ish), I was introduced to a very unique children's book titled The Magic Carpet and the Cement Wall. It went a LONG way towards merging the concepts of science and magic, complete with a section in the back for advanced (young) readers to learn a bit about the possible physics for parallel dimensions and such. I would recommend anyone of any age give it a look. - ZM

Edited at 2012-02-13 03:38 pm (UTC)
Feb. 14th, 2012 01:25 am (UTC)
Love this post. I am reminded of a Feynman story. He was talking to an artist about her painting of a flower. He started explaining what all the bits are for and she stopped him, telling him he was unable to see the beauty. His thought (and mine) was that knowing what something really *is* is a big part of the beauty.

For me as a biologist, the magic is in the places where science can currently only say "and then something happens." That is what fuels the wonder and the desire to know more. Every professional science researcher I have known has had that childlike wonder about their field. They seek out what we do know and are so amazed by what we do not know, that their thirst for knowledge becomes a life-long, passionate pursuit of the information to fill in those gaps.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )