While I trod my riparian route today my inner musings took a strange turn. I was thinking about the universe and magic. (The strange turn came later.) It seems to me that we all arrive ready for a magic show. From my earliest memories, I can remember welcoming the feeling of being amazed. We want to not believe our eyes.
Then reason enters the picture, and the intellect starts to reflexively conclude “this must be a trick” when magic happens. Considering that stage, street, and other forms of illusional magic are timeless arts drawing audiences of all ages even since the Age of Reason there must be an explanation. It seems our innate capacity for awe literally overwhelms the rational function of our minds when the tricks are good enough, seemless enough, slight enough. The same goes for optical illusions. Like magic they create an inescapable and sometimes troubling experience that says at its most fundamental any understanding of experience is bound to be circular. We realize we are easily deceived – benignly, beautifully, perplexingly so.
“The universe is quite the trickster,” I continued playfully. Its magic is meta-magic though. Instead of speaking to the personal it speaks to the whole. If the cosmos practiced slight-of-hand (and I’m here to suggest that it does) how would we know given that personal experience is our primary guide? Would that make God a magician? I’m pretty sure none of the traditional religions would be interested in reconciling such a seemingly trivial view. Still I got excited at how a slight-of-hand metaphor is the perfect way to explain my unique view on how dark energy comes into play in the universe.
“But wait!” I couldn’t believe where my path had taken me. Quantum theory already re-introduced the trickster god. The 20th century science pantheon of mathematically-indocrinated theorealities would not be complete without a god who ruled quantum indeterminacy, Heisenburg’s uncertainty theory, and the Copenhagen interpretation. The forest transformed from inviting sanctuary to foreboding trap.
My own repose was doubly vexed. I know the pitfalls of quantum theory, but in wanting to present the cosmos’s slight-of-hand there was quantum theory’s legacy pointing the way. I realized the source of the irony several hours later. The trickster and the magician are related and even blend together under dualistic thinking. But Ancients understood the difference. I had ignored it – briefly. The distinction is that the trickster works from the insecurity created by illusion; the magician builds on the awe.
Quantum theory has primed us to see the universe as more than it seems. I will give it that. But I hope we are still capable of seeing that the cosmos is more than the work of a trickster. More than mere now you see it now you don’t imperceptible tricks suggested by quantum mechanics, the cosmos streams from imperceptible slight-of-hand where a broken string becomes whole again and one ball becomes dozens. Where coins disappear from a hand only to reappear behind an ear. Where no laws of nature are violated, only made irrelevant by the possibilities beyond perception.
Let me be specific. What makes the boats in the painting above? The blend of bridge and clouds. Unbelievable, yes. But real, yes, at least in the perception created by the artist.
What makes matter? The blend of dark energy and radiation. Unbelievable, yes. But real, it is possible. A coherent cosmos is one where nothing is more magical than what is real.