Category Archives: understanding

Science and Magic


We might picture magic as opposed to science where science is natural and magic is supernatural. But here we have one of those deceptively simple binaries that are worth questioning. Besides, in recent years, the axioms of quantum physicists start to sound like mystics, and many begin to use language that marries science and magic. For example, today a Google search yields 597 hits for the unusual phrase “quantum magic,” and 102 for “quantum sorcery.” But long before the latest science, the public mind was seeking a blend of worlds, at this writing, Google-net shows us 48,600 references to “spiritual science.” Of course many of these links have little to do with science and quiet a number bear little or no relation to anything truly spiritual. But the links do reflect how the mass mind responds to psycho-spiritual atmospheric pressure–an integrative pressure seeking manifestation in human culture.

We might think of “supernatural” as the unexplored natural, then a true magician would be a scientist in disguise. Or we might think that there is only the natural and that a true magician is a developing scientist. Or we could discard the word “magic” altogether in favor of a less burdened term. But this is contrary to the powerful wave that is solidifying the idea of magic in the public mind. This wave finds expression in numerous new mythologies, in books, and motion pictures. Much of this material is of a superficial kind, yet everything has a higher or deeper correspondence, and a writer or artist will sometimes bring through something of magical significance. There is this beautiful passage by Thomas Wolfe, from his book “Time and the River:”

“At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being–the reward he seeks–the only reward he really cares about, without which there is nothing. It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, the rude and painful substance of his own experience, into the congruence of blazing and enchanted images that are themselves the core of life, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed, the kernel of eternity.”

In this, we find a subtler sense of the meaning of “charms” and “spells” associated with magical lore. The passage is about invocation, and it does address the supernatural, but it’s not so much phenomenological as psychological and spiritual, or if it is phenomenal, it places us in the realm of right motivation. There is in it the definition of magic as manifest spirit, the union of heaven and earth.

So then, the magician is thinker and creator, and good thought is like magic out of the air, like a clear day when the atmosphere sings with subtle possibilities. Magic is soul force, a secret wind that electrifies the body and collapses the space between points. It stimulates the spirit of service and makes the eyes supernaturally bright.


Art by David Urbanke

Meditative Translating—Verbal and Conceptual Adaptation


We do not know to what extent we agree or disagree with another until we understand each other’s thoughts, and to do that we must get behind each other’s words. Intellectually, it would seem that we all know this obvious truth, yet emotionally we often demonstrate we do not. So, if a person’s words are foreign to us, we may assume the thoughts behind them are foreign as well though this may not be true. Frequently, we will argue, so to speak, with the words of another and never connect with the ideas, never realize that we failed to understand what was is in the other’s mind and heart.

It’s useful to understand the special language used by another, especially when that language contrasts with our preferred usage. It helps to be able to put on different verbal hats. Indeed, the externalization of thoughts is so intimately bound up with language that often we must be able to put on a different verbal hat in order to think toward something new. Adopting another’s terms and meditatively translating them into our own language can often advance understanding of the new.

Through this discipline, we gradually approach the realization that words are not the same as meaning, that essence is not the same as form. It would seem that this is obvious and that we understand this, yet the frequency of arguments based on unexamined definitions shows that our understanding of word/meaning relationships is weak. In the abstract we may know that words are not the same as the things they refer to, and that words mean different things to different people, yet to often in our conversations we betray “the better angels of our nature” and foolishly fail to act from our understanding. Here then is a practical aspect of semantics that can promote essential understanding and avert many arguments. About arguments, fools may rush in, but angels can tread most anywhere without ill effect. And where we prove more the fool than angel, well there’s the lesson also.