Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The magical

Magical things happen. The glorious glow of the sunset, the elegant glide of the turkey vulture or the delight of conversation with friends. Such experiences of the magical are what gives life its zest.

To experience these things as magical is to experience the events as going over and beyond the merely natural. Thus, if naturalism is true, such experiences are all deceptive. And that makes naturalism a very dour doctrine indeed.

Yet even if naturalism is false, how can these experiences be of events going beyond the merely natural? A sunset is, after all, just light refracted in the atmosphere as the part of the earth on which one stands turns away from the sun. So there is something more going on than the physics describes. This something more could be intrinsic or relational or both. Perhaps the sunset reflects something much deeper beyond it. Or perhaps there is more in the very sunset than the physics describes.

4 comments:

zorionto said...


To answer how these experiences could go beyond the mere natural, I'd want to say that the transcendent feelings of sunsets and other like experiences produce knowledge of truths about reality. "There is a God who loves me", "The world was, despite its enormity, made for me to come to know God", etc.
We can have very real emotional, spiritual, and physical responses to (perhaps) abstract concepts like true propositions. Even if two worlds were identical, a godless world is genuinely lacking something concrete.

While these experiences are certainly beautiful and aesthetically pleasing, this is consistent with the dourness of naturalism. From what I can tell, when you say 'if naturalism is true, such experiences are all deceptive' you mean that these experiences suggest false propositions.

skip said...

Naturalism is false because there is nothing "merely natural." All of nature is magical, i.e. built on a structure of "subnatural" being, so to speak. Sometimes we get a glimpse of the magic that lies beneath the crust of physical reality we normally see. Love really does make the world go 'round. Planetary angular momentum is merely one physical manifestation of that love.

IanS said...

What is the relation between the world and our experience of it? This, as you say, is a puzzle for naturalists and non-naturalists alike. But is the magic of a magical experience any more mysterious than the standard example, the everyday experience of redness when looking a red object?

The light of the setting sun is objectively unusual. It is redder than usual because it is filtered through lots of atmosphere. Unusually, it hits clouds from below, making then appear yellow, red, pink and purple. “Unusual” is not quite “magical”, but it is surely part of the story.

entirelyuseless said...

I don't think "merely natural" or "naturalism" are sufficiently well defined here to make any conclusion about them from those experiences.

The same problem tends to come up with "physicalism" or "materialism," since we don't know what can or can't be material, or what being material implies (you have raised some of those questions yourself, e.g. whether being a material object requires continuous quantity or not.)