6- Magic

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The previous essays viewed spiritual experience as a brain process only, generated by electrical patterns in reticular networks.

But is that all there is to it?  Is your soul nothing more than brain electrical patterns?  Is God just a reticular illusion?

Or does your soul go beyond brain functions?  Does it connect with a universal mind or spirit?  Is there a God who hears your unspoken prayers?

If so, that’s magic.  In fact, all those questions boil down to this basic question:  is there really such a thing as magic?

Carl Jung maintained that there is  –

“I do not know what is happening when a man knows something he definitely should not know… For instance, anticipatory dreams, telepathic phenomena, and all that kind of thing are intuitions. I have seen plenty of them, and I am convinced they do exist.”

Intuition, according to Jung, can go beyond brain functions.  Paranormal events, like ESP and telepathy, originate in what he called the “collective unconscious.”  This deepest dimension of mind extends infinitely, interconnects our souls, and transcends the known laws of nature.

“Space and time, and hence causality, are factors that can be eliminated, with the result that acausal phenomena, otherwise called miracles, appear possible.”

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To skeptics, of course, all this is nonsense.  Paranormal phenomena have not been scientifically established.  It does no good to contaminate psychology with such unfounded mystical notions.

Again, the old familiar debate:  is there really such a thing as magic?

Out of nowhere, a mother has a sudden fear for her child’s safety.  But she quickly dismisses it  –  the kids are at school, they’re fine, they’ll be home soon anyway.  A half hour later she gets the call that her son was injured on his way home.

In a dream, a man walks through a strange building and marvels at its unusual architecture.  The next day he travels to a convention in a city he never visited before.  He enters the convention center and is immediately struck by its uncanny resemblance to the building in his dream.

We’ve all heard many similar stories, or experienced similar things ourselves.  Some are hard to dismiss as just coincidence, self-deception, or fraud. We can find no other explanation:  they certainly seem to be paranormal events. Such anecdotes don’t prove anything, but the large number of apparently credible reports does suggest that magic may be real.

Similarly, parapsychology  –  the research field that attempts to demonstrate paranormal events scientifically  –  also hints at, but does not prove, the existence of various psychic phenomena.  For example, some ESP experiments produce more positive “hits” (e.g., correct guesses of objects in another room) than would be expected by chance alone.  Sometimes the results are impressive, but never consistently so.  In general, the results suggest that paranormal events may occur, but unpredictably and largely beyond intentional control.  Some people may have greater psychic ability than others, but apparently no person has consistent psychic powers.

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Of course, skeptics point out there’s no proof for any of this.  As one of them put it, parapsychologists’ claims “continue to be held suspect by a large body of scientists.”  On the other hand, surveys of scientists consistently find that a half to two-thirds of them regard psychic events like ESP as at least likely possibilities. That same skeptic complained that this “bizarre new paranormal worldview” seems to have “penetrated science proper.”

In 1909, after many years of studying paranormal events, psychologist William James wrote:

“At times I have been tempted to believe that the Creator had eternally intended this department of nature to remain baffling, to prompt our curiosities and hopes and suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although [paranormal events] are always seeming to exist and can never be fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible of full corroboration.”

Over a century later the situation is still baffling, but parapsychological research does provide reasons to suspect that magic might be real.

And now another branch of science, modern relativity and quantum physics, provides more reasons.  What we call “magic” may reflect some fundamental realities that modern physics is now exploring.

Physics is the study of physical reality  –  matter and energy, space and time. In the traditional view, or classical physics, paranormal events are impossible.  It takes a commonsense view of matter and energy, existing in ordinary space and time, obeying well-known laws of nature.  There’s no place for magic in classical physics.

But now relativity and quantum physics show that physical reality is not at all what it seems to be.  Again and again, the findings of modern physics defy both common sense and our traditional scientific worldview.

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“The first three decades of our century changed the whole situation in physics radically. Two separate developments  –  that of relativity theory and of subatomic physics  –  shattered all the principal concepts of the [classical] worldview:  the notion of absolute space and time, the elementary solid particles, the strictly causal nature of physical phenomena…None of these concepts could be extended to the new domains which physics was now penetrating.”

– Physicist Fritjof Capra

The first thing to go was the notion of solid matter.  Einstein’s famous equation  E=mc2 spells it out:   matter is concentrated energy.  Despite what our senses tell us, the physical world is just an ocean of energy fields.

Our commonsense views of space and time are also basically inaccurate. Space is curved, time is warped, and the space-time continuum always fluctuates strangely.  In black holes, space becomes infinitely curved, then collapses, and time slows to a standstill.  Peculiar space-time wrinkles called “wormholes” may directly connect distant regions in space, and distant moments in time.  Past, present, and future may all exist now in the infinite space-time continuum.

One basic notion has emerged from modern physics research.  It seems that energy is more fundamental than space and time.  Energy is the basic reality  –  it’s not in space and time.  Like matter, space and time are ways we perceive the underlying energy fields.

Another intriguing new discovery is “non-locality.”  Quantum physics shows that all energy fields, everywhere in the universe, instantaneously influence one another.  On the most basic level, all matter/energy is “entangled.”  All energy fields  –  including those concentrated in matter  –  extend infinitely and are in immediate contact with all other energy fields.  The universe is an interpenetrating and interconnected whole.

“Non-locality appears to [be] an inherent property of the universe… [This] means that the universe, on the most fundamental level, is an undissectable whole… [The] discreteness of objects must be, in some sense, a macro-level illusion…The vision of the cosmos as one, or as a unified whole, has been consistently reinforced in modern physics.”

— Physicist Menas Kafatos and philosopher Robert Nadeau

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Modern physics is changing our views of the universe  –  and of ourselves.  If the universe is an “undissectable whole,”  in which all energies are fundamentally interconnected, our brains‘ energy fields must be part of the interconnected whole.  They must also extend infinitely and be in immediate contact with all energies everywhere.

So our minds must also be part of this picture.  Consciousness does exist;     it must be taken into account.  At the most basic level, according to Kafatos and Nadeau, “the sense of ourselves as separate from the whole is merely another macro-level illusion.”  Our minds are integral parts of the whole, interconnected with and inseparable from other energies.

Many scientists and philosophers now share this view.  Consciousness is universal  –  in one form or another, it’s part of all energy everywhere.  As Kafatos and Nadeau put it, “non-locality… allows us to ‘infer,’ although certainly not to ‘prove,’  that the universe [is] a conscious system.”

So modern physics gives us more reasons to suspect that what we call magic may be real.

“The new kind of interconnectedness…raises the intriguing possibility of relating subatomic physics to Jungian psychology and, perhaps, even to parapsychology.”

– Physicist Fritjof Capra

“Inside the atom our concepts of space, time, matter, and causality are no longer valid, and physics turns into metaphysics with a strong flavor of mysticism.”

– Philosopher Arthur Koestler

Physicist Albert Einstein was, of course, a major contributor to the new physics. Like many other scientists, he believed in the existence of a unified field  – a most basic, universal ground energy  –  the source of all other energy fields.  Everything is a vibration, condensation, or somehow an expression of this fundamental force.  It’s the whole from which all parts emerge.

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The unified field idea fits with the findings of modern physics, but has not yet been proved.  Einstein spent the last twenty years of his life seeking a mathematical description of this primal energy field, but never achieved his goal of a “unified field theory.”  However, he remained convinced to the end that such a field must exist, and many today share his conviction.

Many also share his view that this basic ground energy is both physical and mental.  Again, mind does exist, so must also be an integral part of the whole.  In this increasingly common view, the unified field is also the universal mind.  It is the Creator  –  infinite, eternal, and alive  –  the source of all physical and mental energy.  Our individual brains and minds are vibrations of this basic Force.

“Mind is by its very nature a singulare tantum.  I should say:  the overall number of minds is just one. I venture to call it indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable, namely mind is always now… I am now talking religion, not science – a religion, however, not opposed to science, but supported by what disinterested science has brought to the fore.”

–  Physicist Erwin Schroedinger

“A human being is part of the whole, called by us the ‘Universe’… He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest  –  a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us.”

– Physicist Albert Einstein

Einstein’s message is the same as great teachers of all religions.  Our sense of being separate from the Whole is an illusion, “a kind of prison.”  But there is, he says, a path to “liberation” and a “foundation for inner security.”

“The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the sower of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger…is as good as dead.  To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty… this knowledge, this feeling, is at the heart of true religiousness.”

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  • James William. In William James on Psychical Research. Ed G. Murphy and R. Ballou. Viking Press, New York, 1960.
  • Jung, Carl. Analytic Psychology: The Tavistock Lectures. Pantheon Books, New York, 1968.
  • Jung, Carl. The Portable Jung. Ed J. Campbell. Penguin Books, New York, 1971.
  • Kafatos,Menas and Nadeau, Robert. The Conscious Universe. Springer-Verlag,N ew York,  1990.
  • Koestler, Arthur. Janus: A Summing Up. Random House, New York, 1978.
  • Kurtz, Paul. Is Parapsychology a Science? In Paranormal Borderlands of Science. Ed K. Frazier. Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, 1981.
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