how, exactly, is magic real?

I treat magic like a totally normal and completely natural part of life. It’s as real to me as gravity.

But the phrase “magic is real” conjures a lot of eye rolls and forehead crinkles.

An academic professional and former orthodox rabbi responded to a Magic is Real email with this:

Lizzie, Please!  Magic is not “real.” It is by definition illusory, just ask any magician. According to Spinoza, the only reality is natural law. There is no such thing as SUPER-natural.

I took that as a challenge. I kind of agreed about natural law as the only reality. But magic feels natural to me. So I went straight to the (online) dictionary, and tried to logically, as a word-ninja, prove myself right. What I found in my research was my own distaste for the word “supernatural” somehow translating to “not real.”

So let’s look at the definition for supernatural:

supernatural: (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature; unnaturally or extraordinarily great.

I can work with “beyond scientific understanding.”

Science defines in certain terms what already exists. That which already exists does not need to be defined by science in order to exist. So we can conclude that there are things that exist which are “beyond scientific understanding,” or not yet scientifically recognized as true. The existence of these things is not negated by the fact that science has not yet defined them.

The same goes for the “laws of nature.” There are infinite truths about nature. We have not yet defined all of them. To presume we know everything about how the world works would be short-sighted and kind of silly.

So I redefine:

supernatural: (of a manifestation or event) attributed to a force which seems beyond the common understanding of how our world works (because the commonly accepted view is so narrow); and so great that its existence brings us awe (because we’re not used to seeing things that are so great and make us feel unity and connectedness so often.)

It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but I like it.

So now I’ll define magic, and at the bottom of this post you can see the definitions I pulled from.

magic: n: a quality which makes something seem removed from banal everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight and awe; wonderful, exciting; a power that inspires awe, seemingly from a source beyond nature as science currently defines it and as many are accustomed to understanding it; the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using forces that are not commonly understood in our society; the use of words with specific intentions, which are believed to have power beyond natural law as currently defined by science a: having or apparently having powers that appear beyond the laws of nature as science has defined them; very effective in producing results, especially desired ones

And it’s true there’s another definition of magic, which accounts for about a small percentage of the magic definitions:

magic: n: the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand; mysterious tricks such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment, to stoke delight and awe at the possibility of reality beyond what we are accustomed to seeing.

Dictionary Definitions from Google’s Dictionary and Merriam Webster:

  • the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces

  •  a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight. (like “the magic of the theater”)

  • something that has a delightfully unusual quality. (like that seaside town is pure magic)

  • adj: having or apparently having supernatural powers. (magic wand)

  • adj: very effective in producing results, especially desired ones. (confidence is the magic ingredient needed to spark recovery)

  • adj: wonderful, exciting (what a magic moment)

  • an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source; something that seems to cast a spell

  • the use of means (charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces; magic rites or incantations

  • “the art of producing illusions by sleight of hand” is the last definition cited by merriam webster. that makes me feel better because it can’t possibly be the most important.

  • mysterious tricks, such as making things disappear and appear again, performed as entertainment.

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