Saturday, July 23, 2016

On Magic, Knowledge, and Wonder

“Its still magic even if you know how it’s done.” Teri Pratchett

The space that Science occupies in popular imagination is not always flattering. By demystifying “magic”, it is often accused of making the world less interesting.

The metaphor is sometimes that of the bully who bursts out the secret of Santa Claus on unsuspecting kids, forever destroying the magic, and ending innocence.

Science is portrayed as cold, logical, disciplined, linear, rational, and precise.

Art, on the other hand, is seen as the antithesis. Art is beautiful, creative, nonlinear, and immersive.

One is a machine; the other has a soul.
One is Vulcan; the other is Human.

This dichotomy between “thinking” and “feeling”, while convenient, is a giant fabrication. In other words, scientists, even when “doing serious science”, are more like Dr. Spock - half Vulcan, and half human.

Consider a discipline like math, which is seen as cold and calculating (pun intended). It relies heavily on leaps of imagination to propose bold conjectures, with order, beauty, and intuition, as the only guide.

Substantial parts of it, in other words, are art.

Yes, it is true that Science occasionally destroys ideas that some people find magical. Often, however, a deeper beauty is revealed.

For example, the evidence-based claim that we came from something like the Big Bang, may superficially resemble the bully destroying the secret of Santa or a divine Creator.

But really, isn’t the implication far more amazing? I don’t know about you, but the notion that we are all made of “star-stuff”, I find totally awesome!

What an incredible Universe, we live in!

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