gbsteve (gbsteve) wrote,

Making sense of the world

I've been thinking about what "magical working", as used by practitioners, might mean. I guess I could ask them directly but my first guess will involve trying to work it out from what I've seen, heard and read. Magic is an attempt to make sense of the world, in much the same way as Science and Faith. To a certain extent, I'm just trying to sort out my thinking on this.

For some people, the world is to be understood on an intellectual basis, mysteries are dealt with by collecting data, proposing theories and testing them against the world. It's pretty much the scientific principle. Occam's razor is not uncommonly used to sort between competing explanations and the general touchstone of acceptability is the power of the explanation, the power to be useful. Thor works as an explanation for lightning, but electromagnetic theory gets you a microwave.

More metaphsyical aspects of the world tend to be given short shrift because of their general lack of provability. The soul as an explanation for the sense of self is about as useful as UFO. If there is a ghost in the machine, or a little green man in the sky, then there had better be much better evidence than what we've seen so far. Science is rather devoid of moral principles although economics does purport to give some foundation for choice based on maximising profit of some kind, but this does rather deify profit. But science does score quite highly on providing practical ways of interacting with the world.

For others faith is their bedrock. The world is ordered the way it is because God made it so. Much of what is taught is of moral rather than practical use, but any practical knowledge has to be measured against the moral principles set out by God and his representatives on Earth. The faithful are happy to use the fruits of science when it doesn't contradict any tenets of faith. Faith, as a bedrock, is of immense personal use and as a group cohesive.

There is a third explanation which I'm starting to get my head round. It's magic. There are several degrees of using magic as an explantion for the world and I'll only ramble on about one, although almost everyone engages in Magical Thinking at some time or other. But this is about Magic as a metaphysical explanation, with a pratical bent.

Science provides an explanation as to how things happen, but is rather short on the why, the ab origine. Faith posits God as the ulimate cause. In fact, that's one of the common features of Faith based worldviews (along with morals and some form of after death explanation). Magic seems to be a different order of thinking. It's an attempt to explain the world through ritual interaction with metaphors. Faith does use some of the trappings of magic, such as trans/con/substantiation, but generally sees the workings of God as a different order from the workings of man, which is where the domain of magic lies. And for Faith, the ritual is of less importance than the belief whereas I get the impression that in Magic, the ritual is coexistant with the belief. The practice is not just a reinforcement of belief through repetition but a direct enactment of those beliefs with the express intention of producing an effect on the practitioner and, in many cases, the world. Magic seems very good at defining one's place in the world, of understanding complex interactions between the world and the individual, at being part of something larger than the individual but not as narrow as faith.

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