Dawkins and his “Magic of Reality”

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October 13, 2013 by Devin

One of the things I am trying to do more often is to keep reading. This has been a sporadic effort, but recently I came across one particular author who had a fascinating view of reality that I felt should be shared.

A lot of people know who Richard Dawkins is, and a lot of people have not-kind feelings toward the man. Honestly, I can understand why. I think he often comes off as too dismissive and bitter.

But in reading his books, The Blind Watchmaker and more recently The Magic of Reality, I have come to see another side of Dawkins that I think might be more indicative of the man’s views on the world.

Dawkins is not a religious person. He is not a pantheist, one who believes that the universe is a manifestation of god (aka “god is in the stars and in the plants and in all the animals”), but his views toward science and the world around him reflect a similar kind of wonder.

The Blind Watchmaker in particular is about the science behind evolution, but reading it does not feel like reading a textbook. Instead, it feels like a friend telling you something really exciting that they just learned. Dawkins walks the reader through the evidence behind evolution with admiration. “Look how things change,” he says, “isn’t that cool?”

In some ways, his approach to science is not that far from fellow popular scientist, Bill Nye. I am convinced that the main reason Bill Nye became such a beloved figure for many people being introduced to science is because Bill Nye was in love with science like many of us are in love with movies, books, or food.

For both of these men, I do not think that they would say they found god or religion in their scientific pursuits. In a weird way, I think they would consider that limiting. Instead, I think science offered them an almost juvenile sense of hope and wonderment.

I think there is a time when, growing up, the world stops seeming so mysterious. We get a lot of the answers we wanted and dismiss the wanting questions. But for Dawkins, I think he was able to move beyond that moment and still approach the world asking, “Why?” And every new moment or discovery led him to keep asking that question with renewed vigor. I don’t think he found religion in science because I think that would mean he found answers in science. Instead, I think he just found better questions.

Of course, a large part of this is conjecture, so I want to end this post with a rather lengthy quote from his book, The Magic of Reality, that I think sums up his thoughts very well.

Supernatural magic is the kind of magic we find in myths and fairy tales… It’s the magic of Aladdin’s lamp, of wizards’ spells, of the Brothers Grimm, of Hans Christian Anderson and of J. K. Rowling… These are the stories we all remember with fondness from our childhood, and many of us still enjoy when served up in a traditional Christmas pantomime — but we all know this kind of magic is just fiction and does not happen in reality.

Stage magic, by contrast, really does happen, and it can be great fun. Or at least, something really happens, though it isn’t what the audience thinks it is… What we have seen on the stage is only a trick. Our eyes have deceived us — or rather, the conjuror has gone to great pains to deceive our eyes, perhaps by cleverly using words to distract us from what he is really doing with his hands…

The third meaning of magic is the one I mean in my title: poetic magic. We are moved to tears by a beautiful piece of music and we describe the performance as ‘magical’. We gaze up at the stars on a dark night with no moon and no city lights and, breathless with joy, we say the sight is ‘pure magic’. We might use the same word to describe a gorgeous sunset, or an alpine landscape, or a rainbow against a dark sky. In this sense, ‘magical’ simply means deeply moving, exhilarating: something that gives us goose bumps, something that makes us feel more fully alive. What I hope to show you in this book is that reality — the facts of the real world as understood through the methods of science — are magical in this third sense, the poetic sense, the good-to-be-alive sense. (20-22)

It is formatted like a children's book, which is helpful to people like me who never grew up.

Do you think Dawkin’s view of magic is fascinating as well, or is it just the rantings of someone who does not understand reality? Heck, maybe you think I do not understand reality either. Either way, let me know in the comments below!

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The Good Greatsby

Paul Johnson's comedy blog: I didn't get into comedy to be rich or famous. All I've ever wanted was to be loved...by somebody rich and famous.

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