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The First Rule of Magic

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Magic plays a big part in the world view of characters in the book I am writing.  Belief in it was pervasive in the period of the story.  So, I did some research to find out how to portray this properly.

The research revealed some insights into modern times as well. In this age, where many say that the rules and standards of science are what guide us, it seems that the rules of magic still play a big role.  But, now they appear under the guise of Junk Science.

According to Sir James George Frazer in his fascinating book, The Golden Bough, magicians try to influence the world through two main rules of cause and effect. The first one is:

Similarity: like begets like, an effect resembles its cause.

So, for example, this rule makes the ritual cave drawing of a successful hunt the cause of success in the real hunt. And, of course, the whole process helps provides job security for the magician-artist.  Because, even if the hunt turns out poorly, the clever magician can always claim insufficient belief among the hunters and further solidify his position. 

In modern times, Similarity is called Correlation, but with a big scientific difference.  Science shows that just because the amount of two things rises and falls roughly together, that alone does not imply cause and effect between them.  The mis-use of scientific Correlation as magical Simlarity is truly Junk Science.

But, how many food fads come and go in the news because of wide belief in the first rule of magic? First, something is OK for you, then it’s not, then it is, and so on. Each new headline depends on some correlation where no valid causal relationship has been shown.

For me, among the worst daily examples of the first rule in the news is in blurbs about stock market behavior. Business newspeople pick something different that occurs each day and then tell us with casual certainty that the change in the market was caused by that thing.  Sure. Abracadabra!

Can any readers think of more examples in modern life where the first rule of magic is widely in play rather than science?

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  1. March 11, 2011 at 8:11 am
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  4. July 20, 2011 at 6:53 am

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