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Abdul-Rahman El-Ammari

Graduated Electrical Engineer,

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How can science explain magic? كيف يمكن للعلم تفسير السحر؟

we all watched movies related to magic or sometimes black magic like harry potter
but i've been thinking if magic is something abnormal what is the scientific explanation for the magic?

Topics: magic science
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  • May 24 2011: Ah...great point. Having lived in another culture for a while, magic is alive and well. I am not talking about white or black magic, but a magical world that does not operate on newtonian physics rules. Most of the other other cultures of the world leave room for magic. In the west we have to explain it. Abdul, there is no explaining it I think. It just doesn't fit the rationalist worldview. On the other hand, after living in and around it, it is difficult to deny directly its power in the lives of real people, even very educated ones. This is a great question.
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      May 24 2011: aha.. ..
      i thought i was the only one who think this way am not sure of this but i saw in a documentary movie that the strings theory has 5 versions and all of them are mathematically right but only one version of them can be applied in our world the question was : '' if we are living in this world who is living in the other 4 worlds?''
      in the matter fact i still don't realize how along all these centuries nothing was revealed about this issue and still the physics we know is standing still toward these activities such as the board game ''The Ouija Board''
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        May 25 2011: string theroy says all other version is like a mirror to the real one
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      May 25 2011: Hi Michael! Can you provide any examples of what you mean? What events or phenomenas have you witnessed?
      • May 25 2011: Part 1
        You have asked if I can detail some of my experiences. I can. I will give you two different examples of what I mean. One is very tied to Latin culture; the other is a specific story from W. Africa.

        Magic here is not what an illusionist does, nor is it “breaking natural laws.” Magic is the manipulation of this real world through supernatural means. I believe there is such a thing as a magical world. There are worldview elements, shared by most non-western cultures, which reflect this magical element. One thing that is terribly difficult for westerners to understand is that this is not superstition, or ignorance, it is a daily way of life. It is “practiced” by all economic and educational strata. It is a way of life that says there is a reality that can be bent through the use or manipulation of these supernatural powers. It is found not just in “primitive” cultures (a term I detest), but in developed countries all around the world.

        I lived for almost 20 years in Mexico. It is a wonderful country. In Mexico, whether it is The Virgin of Guadalupe, a local saint, traditional indigenous practices or even evangelical Pentecostalism, people believe that through ritual, beliefs, and devotion, they can change how the world works because of their commitment. Healings of physical ailments take place, people are saved from imminent catastrophe, people are delivered from harm. These are not simple “campesinos” that practice these things the practices cut across all economic lines. It is a magical world because they believe they are changing reality.
      • May 25 2011: Part 2
        The literary world has a name for a certain genre of writing that has been called “magical realism.” It is typified by authors like Laura Esquivel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Isabel Allende. These authors, that some North Americans call “fantastical” writers, are actually describing how this magical worldview looks and acts, and feels. They describe this magical world that seems even ridiculous to some, in wonderful stories. I would recommend any of their books.

        The next example is a very personal one. I was in West Africa, in Benin, one of the homes of what is called voodoo in the West. I will relate the story and you can judge its power and veracity yourself. I was working on a study of some of the evangelical churches in the country. A pastor related a story of how he had gone to a new village, was living there, but was facing great opposition from the leaders of the indigenous voodoo practices. A recent convert ran to his home one day in tears, one of her puppies out of a litter had died. She saw this as a curse that had come on her home. This was a very serious matter. All animals belonging to a family are considered very dear. To curse the home and make one of the animals die was seen as a very violent act. The pastor prayed and the puppy was healed. It was not dead. It was seen as a sign by the villagers, that the pastor and his beliefs had more power than the person who threw the curse.

        I know that some reading the last paragraph will say, well that’s nice, but obviously the puppy wasn’t dead, why would a puppy have such impact, it is just a dog; they only thought it was dead. You can rationalize all you care to about this story. I have heard all of it before. I personally believe the story took place as described.
      • May 25 2011: Part 3
        Abdul’s original question had to do with science “explaining” magic. It is impossible to do. The West, when it adopted rationalism eliminated completely the possibility of a magical world. If it cannot be explained by reason, then it does not exist. I totally disagree with that worldview. In the end that is the problem, there are two distinct worldviews colliding with one another. The best analogy I have found is this: One is speaking a language of rationalism; the other is speaking a language of magic. They cannot understand each other.

        I am sorry this response is so long, but I could not fit it into just one space. I would be happy to dialogue about anything I say in this answer.
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          May 25 2011: Thank you very much Michael!

          I don't think the main oposition to "magical phenomena" from a scientific point of view so much is about the irrationality of them as it is about the inability to provide examples of their existense. I think every true scientist would be more than willing to investigate any magical phenomena, because in a sense that is what sciense is about.

          In physics for example, the phenomenas of electromagnetism, gravity, or quantum mechanics are all at the moment things that not can be explained by rationality. And the search for a "vis viva" (living force of matter) in the 17th and 18th century eventualy lead to the concept of energy. All of these concepts started out being very magical but through repeated exposure to them people eventualy were able to find out that all these phenomenas very very lawbound, and to discover very exact and simple descriptions of these laws.

          Electromagnetism and gravity is extreamly predictable from the theory (even though system complexities can make even these concepts very unpredicatable as approximations has to be applied to solve real world problems). But even though it is very well understood which laws these phenomenas obey, it is not rationaly clear why they do so. For quantum mechanics things are even more "magical" as it not seem to obey any deterministic laws at all, but rather just statistical ones.

          So I would say that science is more than willing to consider "magical phenomenas". I think the main problem with many of the claimed magical phenomenas is that they allways are described in second or third hand and it is impossible to tell if the phenomena actually did occur, if someone just believed it occured, or if the story even just was made up. And most of the time it seems much more likely that it is the later two, or a combination thereof that is the proper explanation.
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          May 25 2011: As for my own experiences, I grew up in a religious pocket of the otherwise quite secular Sweden, where very many people believed in a very literal interpretation of the bible, in faith healing, a very physical prevalence of the holy spirit, and so forth. I do however after having studied some psychology and so forth recognise very much of what happened as wishful thinking and lack of critical thinking, combined with a bias toward remebering the times when things worked out as hoped for and forgetting each time things didn't work.

          This video that I posted in another thread was very intersting to me because it agrees so well with the suspissions I hade throught the time when I had many friends that were quite into it.
      • May 25 2011: Ah yes, but the fact is people who live in this magical worldview use magic every day and it does work. They wouldn't do it if it didn't. You can reply, it would have happened anyway, things seem strange sometimes, but frankly, no. It works. Have you ever read any of those Latin American authors? Try reading the stories and see if you can put yourself into that magical world. Worldview jumping is fun.
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    May 24 2011: I think you have to specify what you mean by magic. That which claims to be magic that I have come across seems to be possible to explain with illusions or psychology. Even though very many ilusionists keep their tricks secret, I think it is very rewarding to watch a few that does reveal what they do, because it makes you understand how easy it is to get fooled to think tricks are actual magic.


    Beneath the skin:

    Regarding the psychological effects in for example hypnosis. A quite intersting show where a regular person was turned into a fake faith healer and that shines some light on how large amount of people can be fooled into believeing that they are witnessing true miracles can be found here:

    It is also intersting to watch Keith Barry here on TED who not claims to be doing any true magic, but I am still unable to explain how he does what he do:
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      May 24 2011: yeah you're right ...
      what i meant by magic is not tricks not illusions but what i meant is the breaking of the physical laws sometimes this includes rituals
      i heard that elves are living in a world with different physical laws what make us unable to feel them
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        May 25 2011: Are there any evidences that elves exists? I find it much more likely that people believe that elves exist and says that they exist in another dimension just because there are no eveidence for them. If I say that somehting called ABCD exist, that no one but my grandmother have ever seen them, and we are unable to interact with them because they live in a different dimension. I think most people would believe that I just made up the concept or was misslead to believe that ABCD existed by my grandmother. =D

        I don't mean to say that there are things that exists that we don't understand, or not have seen yet. In the 18th century noone would have proposed that electromagnetic waves existed, even less that there was something such as black holes. It didn't mean that they didn't exist, just that they were to strange for people to make up in their mind at the time. With time eveidences for their existens did come and we do now believe in their existence.

        With elves I think it is the other way around. They are easy for us to imagine and people like to believe in them, and people get reinforced in believing in their existence because other people also believe in them and talk about them. But in reality I am quite sure noone has actually seen one. And because we now have explored the earths surface to such an extent that we would have expected to find one if they existed, some people keep inventing new reasons that we don't see them because we so dearly want them to exist that we rather come up with strange explanations for why we don't see them than let go of our belief in them.

        Does my view on it make sense?
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    May 24 2011: There is nothing called MAGIC in science, if something happens which is not explainable with current knowledge , science will search for until then will call it "still unexplained" or will simply say "don't know yet"

    Science definitely will not close the book by saying it to be MAGIC.
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      May 25 2011: So sir you admit that there are somethings can NOT be explain by our current knowledge,
      But you don't call that magic, did i am right?
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    May 25 2011: Woow really great question dear, the answer is surely -like Michael say- there is no explaining for a lot of things in the world because we didn't get the end of knowledge and we will not.
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      May 26 2011: Exactly Ahmed we will not but the knowledge is a quantity approaching infinity so as we do take the limits in mathematics we do approach our limits there so we do what ever we can to find the truth but always there is no absolute one so we continue observing and researching and that how the scientific theory develop
      in my opinion magic here can be divided into tow sections :
      1- explained and thats is like electro magnetism and radiation
      2- un-explained yet and thats what the scientists should work on because living in a world with ungoverned phenomenas always been messy and unsafe .. .. uncertainty principle of Heisenberg showed us that we cannot determine the velocity and the position of an electron at the best results so i think this principle work everywhere

      so still the question remains its not if science can or cannot i believe it can but how?
      • May 26 2011: Abdul, I really feel that science can never explain it. As I said in my long post, the magical worldview and the scientific worldview are speaking two different languages. Now, I believe that in most cases translation between languages is possible. If that's what you want, then I suggest that searching for a way to translate those two worldviews to each other is needed. It is a worldview issue, not a methodological one.

        This is a good discussion.
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    May 25 2011: First we need to agree what you mean by MAGIC?
    then we can easily tell if science can explain it or not and why
    if you refering to the magic mentioned in Quran which seprate a man from his wife
    this sort of magic is a deal between a man and jinny
    and scinec does not believe in jinny that why it can not explain it
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    May 26 2011: How did we learned the Magic
    very important lecture by Hamid Adam

    I wish some one can translated into English for the benefit of other
  • May 25 2011: magic is two type:
    1-making illusion in view (sense) of people using errors of human senses.
    so science can explain this magic by knowing human errors and the process of magic and its relation to human errors.

    2- using some powers of Jinns.
    they are creatures like humans leaving around earth and they are not material and we can not see them. they can go in future or past in time and have no limit in place. they can go quick to other place and do somethings for you. or other abilities. they have family and society like humans. I do not think science can detect them using material instruments and tools. some people doing predicting/prognostication/soothsaying/communicating dead people/... use help of Jinns.
    for example:
    but most of people doing such works are cheaters and only get money and tell some lie that will be right in any condition.
    but some of them really have such abilities.
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    May 25 2011: real magic would be destroying matter.
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    May 24 2011: well in the world of physics and matter, if you put an ice cube in a microwave and turn it on, theres a one in.....well some outragous number....chance of that ice cube catching fire. some would say that would be magical, but its just probabilitys
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    May 24 2011: To be more precise science doesn't explain , just proves nothing is MAGIC.....until it can do, it moves on relentless searching and fact finding....
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    May 24 2011: Science of Imagination, Creativity and Animation can give exact explanation for any and all the magics.
    As for magic in Harry Potter, I am sure J. K. Rowling author of Harry Potter sure must have answer for them. ;)