A couple of times, though, it went a bit deeper – mostly because I couldn’t figure out where else to put what I was writing about on my website. One of those times, I tossed out a hypothesis to explain just why people believe in religions and such – or, at least, to explain why I thought they might. Heck, because I figured it would cause some…controversy, I even worked out a sort of (hokey, manually run) comment system for it.
Anywho, it’s been a while and I now feel I haven’t annoyed people enough lately, so I’m going to toss another idea out into the world: On just why people believe in magic.
It actually compliments my earlier ideas on religion above…and besides, I no longer have to rely on “comment systems” that use email and hand coded html…
The Origin of Magic
Every culture on Earth seems to have developed some sort of belief in magic – here defined loosely as “a way to affect the physical world without using physical processes.” Oh, it a lot of times this belief gets called something else – like prayer, or psychic powers, or metaphysics – but in practice, the effect is much the same. Said “effect” is that if you do the right activities, correctly chant the right spell (or prayer), wave your arms about mystically in the proscribed way, light the appropriate candles in the stated order, do the Scanners “make someone’s head explode” grimace for long enough, whatever, then something you want to happen will, in spite of the utter lack of any physical connection between your activity and that something.
Problem is, of course, barring the occasional placebo-like effects, this doesn’t actually work.1
So why do people keep believing it?
I have a hypothesis – and the answer is not what you might expect. It’s because once, for a brief period for every human being, it did work…and deep down, we all remember this…
…and, yes, I know I’ll have to explain!
Way back, again, at the dawn of time – or at least, the dawn of you – you lived in a world where everything you needed, everything you wanted just, well, magically appeared.
Initially you had no control at all over this magic. But gradually you discovered that saying the right “spell” – for example, “bah-bah” – and you could make food appear. Mystically lifting your arms up in the right place – such a place, for another example, being in front of a parent – and you were carried high into the air to fly about the room.
Toys, blankets, happy music, love – the magic spells and gestures you created brought them all.
Gradually, however, they got more and more complex. Initially, this was a good thing – as, for example, the “lay there and cry spell” was remarkably non-specific in what it brought you, so being able to clarify “bottle” or “diaper” was a nice improvement – but as time progressed, the complexity just began to get in the way. Magic that once took a single word would now require whole complex speeches. And frequently you need to combine spells and gestures to get anything to happen at all!
Worse, more and more often, even these complex spells could and would fail, as the magical creatures that they controlled now increasingly ignored, or even flat out refused to obey their mystic commands.
Then one day, magic went away completely. All the magic creatures disappeared and were replaced by mere human beings – sometimes known as “grown ups” – and these proved to be immune to your spells and gestures. Oh, some of the more complex ones you’d by now created could be used to communicate your needs to these…humans…and sometimes, they would still fulfill those needs. just like the magic used to.
But only if they wanted to – you no longer had any control. You could suggest or ask or even beg – but if they didn’t want to bring you, say, a pony, you didn’t get it.
Your magical control of the world was completely gone.
Gradually you forgot the details of this “magic.” You realized that the “magic creatures” had just been your parents and this so overwrote the memories of them being magic that soon you thought of all that had happened back then as just ordinary “asking for things,” like you were forced to do now.
But deep down, you still believed in it – the magic – for after all, up until recently it had literally worked for all your life! And you subconsciously felt, even if you could no longer do it right now, there must still be a way to make magic out there.
So most of you continued to try.
Often, you’d form up with others to make what were sort of “support groups” to help you with this. These tried adding ever more complex spells, mixed with a whole series of mystic gestures and often added in magical “props” to boot, all in an effort to make the magic work again.
Others figured the problem was that the magic creatures had all gone away…and tried to locate, or at least contact these beings.
Still others figured it must be a matter of the right mental attitude, the right mental training, and with enough work and practice, their powers would return. Their ideas weren’t as popular as the others, because “enough work and practice” often turned out to be a lot of work and practice – and since the whole idea of magic was to basically get something without really doing anything, a lot failed to see the point.
Many felt that the reason it no longer worked was that some “others” – usually evil others – were keeping it from working and what they needed to do was to fight these others, to resist, to vanquish them…and on that day the magic would return…
…and the fact that at no time for thousands and thousands of years did any of this actually do anything useful continued to be glossed over…because everyone involved still remembered having magic…
…or, anyway, that’s my take on why. And I’d argue it over a Dr. Pepper – I don’t drink beer – and certainly over the internet.
So let the commenting begin!
1) And I can prove it doesn’t work in two words. Two little words. Two words that show, no matter how much you try to squirm around it, that magic and prayers and psychic “powers” and everything else that’s in the “metaphysical” section of your bookstore Just…Don’t…Work.
And those two words? Las…Vegas…