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Magic in Real Life (Part 2)

There is, apparently, a literary genre called Magical Realism. It applies to serious literary works that describe magical events "as though they were real." It doesn't apply to speculative fiction like Science Fiction and Fantasy. It applies only to serious fiction featuring real people in real word situations in which there are scenes that involve non-Western characters who claim to be able to work magic. And the magic, surprisingly, works the way it’s supposed to.

The underlying assumption is that only people who aren't infused with the scientific mindset and protestant culture mores believe in magic. Indeed, the genre originally applied to writers from Latin American countries who, being predominantly Catholic, still cling to a non-linear, non-materialistic view of the world in which both witches and saints were taken seriously.

This is significant, I think, because it underscores the fact that experiencing the magical realm, whether it involves ghosts, fairies or angels, is a matter of mindset. If we believe in the magical realm, which Psychologist Carl Jung called the realm of the numinous, we will see, hear, feel and otherwise experience things that we would not if we did not believe. Or, rather, we might still experience these things, but we will interpret them far differently. And besides, who is to say that one mindset is more real than the other?

One of the significant discoveries of modern science is the fact that the expectation of the experimenter will often determine what results are obtained in certain key scientific experiments. For example, one of the classic early experiments of Quantum Mechanics was performed to determine if light was a wave or a particle. A beam of light was passed through two slits in an opaque plate, creating an interference pattern on a screen located behind the plate. The mathematics are a little complex, but briefly if the interference pattern showed one set of characteristics, then the light beam was made up of particles. If the pattern showed a different set of characteristics, then the light beam was considered to be a wave.

The outcome of this experiment showed that the interference pattern would show the characteristics of a particle if the experimenter expected it to be a particle. Similarly, the interference pattern would show the characteristics of a wave if the experimenter expected that outcome. In short, even if the experimental apparatus was identical, the interference pattern would vary depending on the expectation of the researcher.

This, as you might expect, caused quite a stir in the scientific community. Such experiments proved ‘reality to be something independent of what is experimentally established,’ as Einstein put it. But what else could it be? Our perceptions of reality are what matter to us after all. We see what we expect to see. And if we expect to see ghosts, fairies and angels, then we will see them.

And I, for one, don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

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