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SENTENTIA. European Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Miracles in Law: Magical Underpinning of Physical Universe

Subbotsky Eugene

Doctor of Psychology

Professor, the department of Psychology, Lancaster University, Great Britain

CR0 2GG, Velikobritaniya, London oblast', g. Croydon, ul. Saffron Square, 11






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Abstract: The paper analyses a psychological phenomenon, which indicates that certain structures of magical thinking, such as “participation” and “mind over matter”, leaked into the concepts of modern physics and cosmology. Recent psychological experiments have shown that modern rational adults subconsciously believe in the supernatural. At the same time, philosophical and psychological studies have found that there exists a deeply rooted link between magical and scientific types of thinking. Magical thinking operates at the level of the subconscious through symbolic images, where it generates draft “theories in the making”; scientific thinking filters these draft theories and selects those, which are in concord with “objective reality”. Criteria used for this selection are empirical verification via experiments and compliance of a theory with the general context of available knowledge. As physical science stepped over from the observable world into the micro- and mega-worlds, empirical verification of certain theoretical ideas through experiments became impossible. There remaining criterion - compliance with the general context of knowledge - is a lot “softer”, than empirical verification. This “softening” of the borderline between magical and scientific thinking resulted in that a subconscious belief of modern people in the supernatural filtered through into the very “heart” of physics – its theories about the origin and structure of the universe.

Keywords: Parallel universes, Participation, Anthropic principle, Belief in the supernatural, Subconscious, Copenhagen interpretation, Quantum non-locality, Scientific thinking, Magical thinking, Physics and psychology

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Arthur C. Clarke

Recalling my school lessons of physics, I visualise the school's physical laboratory, an induction coil, a device for demonstration of electric discharge, and a small cloud chamber in which alpha-particles, like the jets in the blue sky, were leaving thin tracks of steam. The names of Michael Faraday, Thomas Edison, Ernest Rutherford and other great scientists, who gave the world its modern physics, cross my mind. With all the diversity of trends in physics, physicists of the past were united in one thing: They knew how to ask nature questions and get answers. Theories they created were sometimes questionable, but a life saving experiment always came to an aid. The experiment was a convincing judge: One can’t argue with facts.

I did not become a physicist. However, I have been maintaining my interest in physics trying to make up for insufficiency of knowledge by reading handbooks and books. Simultaneously, in the course of my career as an experimental psychologist I developed an interest in magical thinking in modern people. To my surprise, from a certain moment I started to be aware of the fact that some theories in books on physics for a general reader were increasingly overlapping with magical phenomena. In the beginning I explained this fact by inaccurate interpretation of new physical theories in the books written by science writers and journalists. But when established physicists started writing books for non-specialists, yet the overlapping between physics and magic didn’t disappear, my suspicion that magical phenomena crept into modern physics grew stronger.

Of course, physicists will be quick to object and say that magic is a direct opposite to physical theories. Why? Because physical theories are based on facts that can be verified by experiments, and magic (e.g., astrology of palm reading) is based not on verified facts but on false beliefs. That is, of course, true as far as it concerns the belief that magic can affect the laws of classical physics. Yet, in the domain of human consciousness and thinking magical effects can be real [1]. One important function of experiments in science is exactly to prevent magical phenomena from invading scientific knowledge. But recently there appeared theories in physics which are impossible to verify by experiments. One might ask: Is it possible that, with experiments inconceivable, there emerged a «psychological wormhole» through which magical phenomena can trickle into such theories unimpeded? In this paper I am going to examine this possibility, in the context of recent psychological studies on magical thinking and magical beliefs in modern people.

Chernomor's beard: Magical thinking and the magical world

My interest in magical thinking emerged over 30 years ago, while I was observing children playing games of pretend. The feature that surprised me was how easy it was for a 5-year-old «player» to overcome the most insurmountable obstacles and solve most difficult problems. «A tiger is chasing you, what are you going to do?» - I ask a child, and the child answers «I'll run away from it». «And if there is a precipice in front of you?» «I'll jump over». «And if the precipice is very wide?» «I will make a bridge and run over». In play a child can pretend to be a bird, fly to another planet, read the mind of a wizard, erect or demolish a castle with the help of a magic wand. In other words, in play the child «thinks magically». Simply put, magical thinking is the kind of thinking that embraces creatures and events, which violate known laws of physics, biology and psychology. Physical objects that appear from nothing; demons, which sort out fast molecules from slow ones; animals, which can speak human languages; gods and spirits, which can read human minds and be in several places simultaneously - these are examples of magical creatures and events.

But isn't yesterday's magic today's science? s British science fiction writer Arthur Clark said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic [2]. Indeed, just three hundred years ago such events as instant transfer of a visual image over long distances and flying in the sky would look magical, but today they are science. American physicist Michio Kaku in his book «Physics of the Impossible» forecast that in the future even more advanced «magical» devices would arrive, which allow time travel and teleportation [3].

The parallel between magic and advanced technology is tempting, yet it is not entirely accurate. There is one important difference between a magical action and an action of an even the most advanced technical device. In the world of classical physics everything – from an atom to a human being – is a complex mechanism. The objects that classical physics study are soulless and mindless machines. By contrast, in the world of magic all objects are animated; in this world there is no difference between living and non-living things, there are no dead objects; every object, every entity has a soul and a mind of its own. Every entity can be spoken with – all you need is to know the language. There is a fundamental difference between magical communication and physical interaction – the same difference that distinguishes an invitation to sit down from making one sit down by brute force. Physical interaction is based on one of the four known fundamental forces – gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear [4], whereas magical communication, just like social communication, is based on semantics. For instance when we ask a person at a table to pass a saltcellar, we initiate the person’s action, which can not be reduced to physical energy that we spend on speaking the words. In other words, there are important features that distinguish the world of magic from the the world of technology where the laws of physics hold sway.

One of these counterintuitive features is that in the magical world mind can change matter (“mind over matter” magic ). The ancients believed that if a person wanted a certain event to occur (e.g., that it started raining) and asked gods for it by performing certain prayers and rituals, then the wanted even would really happen. It is easy to see the difference between magical “mind over matter” actions and actions of modern devices that react to electromagnetic waves of the brain (e.g., motor prosthetics or brain-computer interface [5]). The principle on which neuroprosthetics are based looks magical but this resemblance is only superficial. Neuroprosthetics do not decode the meaning of a thought but react to the neuronal signals that accompany the thought, thus converting these signals into a movement (e.g., switching on the motor of an artificial limb or shifting a cursor on a computer screen). In principle, neuroprosthetics is a highly advanced and sophisticated version of a remote control device. On a remote control device we press buttons by a finger, whereas on a neuroprosthetic device a disabled person “presses the buttons” by intentionally producing appropriate neuronal impulses. This kind of interaction is still physical, not semantic. It is not that a receiving end of this interaction – a computer or a prosthetic limb - has a mind of its own and “understands” what a disabled person thinks or wants; these devices blindly react to the physical force – electromagnetic waves produced by a neuronal signal, which correlates with the thought or the wish. By contrast, at a receiving end of a magical incantation or a prayer there is another mind, which considers the plea and makes a decision about whether to grant or reject it.

Another feature of the world of magic is that in this world conservation laws (e.g., conservation of energy, matter or momentum) are not observed (“something from nothing” magic ). A wizard or a genie can create a mountain, a castle or even a city by waving a magic wand, a cat can vanish into nothing with the last thing visible being its grin. Finally, in the magical world different objects can have magical connection to each other that can not be causally explained (“participation” magic ). For example a character of Slavic folklore Koschei cannot be killed by targeting his body. His soul is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare and so on and so forth. To kill Koschei, the hero must find and break the needle. It is worth to note that these three features of the magical world are interconnected: the “mind over matter” and “participation” magical events don’t conform to conservation laws, and the “something from nothing” magical event can happen as a version of the “mind over matter” (e.g., a wizard creates an apple form thin air) or the “participation” (e.g., speaking a magic spell can move a mountain).

But the world of magical thinking is not just a negative image of the real physical world. This world is a mixture of ordinary and magical things and events, of the possible and the impossible. For example, in Alexander Pushkin’s fairy tale “Ruslan and Ludmila” [6] Chernomor the Wizard in some ways is an ordinary person: he walks in his garden, falls in love with beautiful girls and even suffers from a sexual dysfunction. However, he also has a magical beard, which allows him to fly in the air and do various miracles. An equally odd combination of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the physical and the magical we see, for example in the myths of Egypt or Greece.

For most people magical thinking unfolds in their imagination. Indeed, in our dreams we can travel back in time, speak to our diseased relatives, see magical transformations of people into animals and vice versa. Many of us enjoy watching movies with a magical content, reading books about wizards and shamans, studying ancient myths, attending museums in which paintings with magical creatures and events are on display. Because these “games with magic” are confined to the realm of our fantasy and labelled as entertainment, art or dreams, they peacefully coexist with our belief in science. In fact, most educated adults in industrial cultures today, while enjoying magical thinking, are convinced that they don’t believe in magic.

Meeting with a witch: Magical beliefs in modern people

Of course, one thing is to play with magic in the imagination, and quite another – to believe that magical events can take place in the real world. For instance, in Babylon, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome people addressed gods and spirits, trying to solicit the divine help in solving personal problems. In exchange, the people made sacrifices to the gods and obeyed the gods, which spoke to the people directly or indirectly, through chosen individuals – priests and oracles. In the XIX-th and the most part of the XX-th centuries in industrial cultures the opinion gained a foothold that the belief in magic is superstition and fallacy, and even religion on a number of issues gave way to science. It appeared that the belief in magic was left to children, psychiatric patients and a fraction of superstitious adults.

However, psychological studies of the last decades have shown that at the level of the subconscious mind modern educated adults keep believing in the supernatural [7][8]. For example, one of these studies aimed at examining whether modern adults believed in the «mind over matter» magic [9]. Participants (university graduates and staff members) were first interviewed on whether they believed or didn't believe in magic and then asked to imagine that a professional witch was going to put her spell on their future lives. In one case the spell intended to make the participants rich and famous, and in another – to make them servants to evil forces. In the interview, most participants denied that they believed in magic and acknowledged that the spell would not affect their lives in any way. Yet when they faced the choice between the two spells, they allowed the good spell but not the bad one. When asked what they would recommend another person (a scientists and non-believer in magic) to do in this situation, most participants changed their mind and said they would recommend the scientist to accept both spells, in order to prove to herself that she doesn't believe in magic.

In another study [10] participants were shown a row of ones on a computer screen and told that if the experimenter increased this row (e.g., turned 111 into 111111), then the number of difficult life problems in the participants’ future lives would double. If, however, the experimenter decreased the number of ones (e.g. turned 111111 into 111), then the number of difficult life problems in the participants’ future would shrink proportionally. As was expected from rational adults, almost all participants stated that increasing or reducing the number of ones on a computer screen wouldn’t have any effect on their future lives. However, when the experimenter asked the participants to allow him to change the numeric row on the screen, most participants allowed to reduce the row, but only a few allowed to increase it. When asked to justify their decision of not allowing the experimenter to increase the numeric row all but one participants answered that the manipulation could negatively affect their lives (“I don’t want to have more problems, not that I believe in it but just to have a peace of mind”, “I don’t want to multiply my problems”, “Because I am superstitious about it”, “I’d rather not play with my future. I don’t think anything would change, but I still would not want to try it, just in case things turned out for the worse”). To their own surprise, the participants discovered that they believed in the «mind over matter» magic. They exhibited their belief in magic not in their theoretical judgements only, but in their actions as well, by forbidding the experimenter to proceed with magical manipulations. An unexpected result of these studies was that educated adults believed in magical powers of a psychology experimenter to the same extent they believed in magical powers of a professional witch.

So, educated adults, when placed in a certain context, do believe that their future lives conform to the laws of magic. What then can prevent them from believing that certain physical phenomena conform to the laws of magic as well? Is it possible that even scientists – the creators of theories in physics – could start believing in magical events, if sophisticated mathematical calculations brought them to the conclusion that magical events are real?

Science or quasi-religion?

Due to its technical achievements and elaborated experimental procedures, physical science won such a great respect of the society that for a non-specialist the physicists’ statements became almost sacred. But what about the latest physical theories that can not be tested by experiments? In what way are these theories different from the stories of the origin of man and nature that are told in the Bible? These theories are based on mathematical equations and post-hoc evidence, but mathematics is a science about numbers, not about the origin of nature, and post-hoc evidence (e.g., the expansion of the universe) can not be supported by reliable statistical estimations.

For the first time this question crippled into my mind when many years ago I began reading books about relativity theory. As it is well known, Einstein’s special relativity theory is based on Galileo's principle of relativity, which states that the laws of physics are identical in systems moving in a straight line one at a constant velocity in relation to the other, so that one cannot conduct any physical experiment capable of indicating if the body is immobile or in motion. Systems that move in a straight line with constant speed relative to each other are called inertial frames of reference, or inertial frames for short. Galileo invented transformations, which can help compare two inertial frames. Einstein applied Galileo's principle to the laws of optics and electrodynamics, and draw a conclusion that the absolute reference frame doesn't exist [11].

The question I failed to find an answer to is what is the frame of reference in the head of a theorist who is pondering, for instance, the relative nature of the «simultaneity of events» in two different reference frames (e.g., a train station and a train that is passing by)? Indeed, independently of whether I am staying on the railway platform and thinking about the train that is passing by or sitting in the moving train and thinking about the platform, I am at the same time observing myself from a certain «third» point of view, which is deep inside my mind. It turns out that the very statement on the equivalence of the laws of nature in inertial frames only makes sense if I tacitly allow for the existence of my own «personal» frame of reference, from which I can compare the two inertial frames and make the inference about the impossibility to distinguish between them by any physical experiment. Embedded within his or her «personal» reference frame an observer can theorise about «jumping» from the platform into the train and back and conclude that the laws of nature in both are identical. What one can't do however is to jump out of one’s own mind and ponder laws of nature while being «outside» oneself at the same time. Personal subjectivity is always with us, and it is as constant as the speed of light in vacuum.

Reading various books and roaming the internet for an answer I discovered that in spite experimental evidence supporting the theory of special relativity is scarce, criticising this theory is considered a bad taste, similar to trying to invent a perpetual mobile. Most criticism is anonymous [12][13], and resembles criticism of Marxism in the former Soviet Union. The impression is that the theory of relativity became a kind of «quasi-religion» of modern physical science. Of course, calling Einstein's theory «quasi-religion» is only a metaphor. However, regarding certain modern physical theories this metaphor is close to the truth. Indeed, today many scientists started to believe in theories, which are impossible to verify empirically, for example, in «string theory», «M-theory», and «theory of a multiverse» [14][15]. It appears that, based on these theories, new discoveries are not waiting around the corner. Well, according to unconfirmed reports, in the year 1900 the renowned British physicist lord Kelvin had said that there was nothing left to discover in physics, after which a century of major discoveries followed [16]. And yet, it seems that Kelvin, if he said that, was not entirely wrong. Physics' explanatory power, like that of any scientific discipline, has its limits.

It is possible that in certain areas physics has already met its limits to explain reality. There is also the opinion that physics and some other sciences became victims of their own success. The higher the tempo of a science's discoveries is – the sooner the science runs into a certain insurmountable explanatory boundary [17]. Physics can never give ultimate answers to the questions of what physical reality is “really like”, how the universe emerged, what the fate of the universe is beyond a few billion years, why the fundamental physical constants (e.g., the speed of light, the gravitational constant, the Plank constant) are so finely tuned to each other that they make life and a human being possible, what the role of a human being in the universe is, and many others. It is unlikely that biological science will ever be able to create living things from non-living ones, or even completely understand the mechanism of how an individual organism is built. We can hardly expect psychology to fully explain consciousness, or cybernetics to prove that machines are capable of conscious thinking.

When physics as an empirical science comes to a threshold beyond which facts have to give place to beliefs, the belief in magic, which thus far have been lurking at the bottom of the mind, can ascend to the surface. And the situation appears when it is hard to understand, which of the theoretical constructions is still science, and which is already magic.

So, what makes this extraordinary interaction between theoretical constructs of modern physics and magical phenomena possible? It appears that the causes of this convergence are hidden in the structure of human thinking, and in the subconscious belief of modern people in the supernatural.

Magic as a midwife of physics

The history of science suggests that magical thinking and scientific thinking are not incompatible intellectual processes but instead team up in a search for truth. As some authors pointed out, science grew out of magic: astrology gave rise to astronomy, alchemy gave birth to chemistry, and modern mathematics originated from numerology [18]. Another branch of culture that grew out of magic was modern religion. In prehistoric times magic and religion were the same. Finally, human language and poetry emerged form magic as well. The first word was a spell, and the first sign was a magical symbol. This is particularly evident when one looks at the Palaeolithic cave paintings or Egyptian hieroglyphs [19]. Religion and science grew out of magic by negating it, and language and poetry – by taking from magic and reworking magical rituals into symbols and metaphors. That could be a reason why religion and science are hostile toward magic, whereas human language and poetry openly acknowledge their kinship with the supernatural. Like I mentioned earlier in this paper, communication through language is based not on physical causality, but on the magical one. In essence, a magical ritual is the forerunner of the whole of culture [20][21]. However, different branches of culture separated from magic at different times.

Indeed, unlike religion, which was fighting magic since biblical times, in the age of Isaac Newton (1642-1727) science was not yet in opposition to magic but peacefully coexisted with it. In the XVII-th century science was an occupation for a few, and limits of science were more visible than they are today. Science did not aspire to understand the human mind, which remained in the department of religion. Newton was not just a mathematician and a physicist, but also an alchemist, who was trying to find the «philosophy stone» that could help to convert common metals into gold. According to the Alexandrian cultural tradition (II-IV centuries AD), there was a magical kinship (sympathy) between certain metals and seven planets of classical astrology. Sun was “the ruler” of gold, Moon – of silver, Venus – of copper, Mars – of iron, Jupiter – of tin, Mercury – of mercury, and Saturn – of led [22]. In Newton's time magic, astrology and alchemy were not yet separated by an impermeable barrier from astronomy and mathematics. Indeed, half a century before Newton took a post in Trinity College of Cambridge University a member of this college's council was John Dee (1527 -1609) – a famous mathematician, astronomer, alchemist and astrologist. John Dee's contemporary Italian Dominican friar and philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was not only a mathematician and an advocate for Copernicus' heliocentric system, but also studied magic and astrology.

Giordano Bruno defined magic as «knowledge of the science of nature» [23]. Conflating science and magic was not unusual in the time of Renaissance, because both magic and science were seeking an answer to the same question of how to gain control over the universe. In the time when religion has long been persecuting magic (one of the accusations of the Holy Inquisition against Giordano Bruno was that he had been involved with magic), science still did not cut the «umbilical cord» that connected it to magic. Perhaps, it was the magical kinship between planets and also between planets and metals that brought Newton to the idea of gravitation – the enigmatic invisible force that works instantly and at a distance. Gravitational force seemed to Newton as incomprehensible as the astrology's «force of sympathy», which connected planets between themselves and with people. Only in the beginning of the XX-th century Einstein in his general relativity theory managed to explain gravitation through curvature of space. So it is quite possible that the belief in magic opened the gate to classical physics.

The question arises of why physical scientists as outstanding as Isaac Newton did not see a contradiction in studying magic and physics simultaneously. Was it perhaps because magical and scientific thinking have a common purpose in a search for the truth?

The image of a rider and a horse: Scientific thinking as taming the magical

Sigmund Freud used the image «a rider and a horse» for describing the relationships between the conscious «I» - the holder of will and rational thinking, and the subconscious «Id» - the holder of drives and passions [24]. The same image comes to mind when I think about the relationships between magical thinking and scientific thinking. According to psychoanalysis, the subconscious is not only a source of drives, but also of creativity. Because in the realm of subconscious thinking is not constrained by common logic and social stereotypes, new and unexpected combinations of images and ideas can emerge. When these unusual combinations ascend into the realm of reflective consciousness, some of them are rejected by critical thinking (the censorship), while the others can give rise to new scientific theories. In essence, the relationships between subconscious and conscious types of thinking describes the relationships between magical and scientific types of thinking.

Indeed, the aforementioned magical «sympathy», which in modern anthropology is called «participation», connects two objects that objectively have no link one to the other. Participation implies that an object that was in contact with a person (for instance, the person's bunch of hair or a piece of clothes), retains a magical connection with this person, which works instantly and at a distance. A similar participation exists between objects that resemble each other (e.g., a person and the person’s photograph or a doll, which is called by the person's name). If a wizard burns the bunch of hair or punctures the doll with a knife, while simultaneously chanting a certain spell, then the person is expected to get ill and die.

In a similar way, through participation, symbols in our thinking work. For example, if in a war movie, which is placed in certain socio-historical context, we see a knife piercing into a tree trunk, we understand that a war broke out. When in the same movie we see a dove descending on a broken and rusty tank, we know that a peace has come. The knife and the dove can be parts of both a war and a peace, but when they are put in specific contexts they symbolise either the war or the peace, by embracing the war or the peace as a whole with all their armies and countries. According to Freud and some modern theorists [25], our subconscious thinking operates not through concepts but through symbols. This means that language of the subconscious is the language of magical thinking. Far from being a mere fantasy, magical thinking can play an important role in the search for scientific truth.

Some scientists acknowledged than they are indebted for their discoveries to magical thinking. Speaking in 1890 at a meeting of German Chemical Society organized in his honour, German chemist August Kekule, who suggested the ring structure for benzene, said that right before the good idea crossed his mind he had dozed off on a chair and had a day-dream of a snake seizing its own tail (this is an ancient symbol known as the ouroboros) [26]. Magical thinking is sometimes used in thought experiments, which allow violation of known physical laws. British physicist James Clerk Maxwell used the image of a demon to illustrate the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the demon violated that law by sorting out fast molecules from slow ones and thus decreasing entropy in a closed physical system [27]. Einstein mentioned that the idea of relativity of physical processes entered his mind for the first time at the moment when he was making a thought experiment, by imagining himself sitting on the end of a beam of light [28].

These revelations support the suggestion that a scientific discovery may occur not as inductive generalisation of known facts, but as a «sparkle» of magical thinking. New insights reveal themselves unexpectedly, through magical participation, which links together totally different images (e.g., a structure of a molecule and a snake biting its tail) in a way that is impossible to rationally explain. It is only after a discovery is made and supported by experimental facts that our rational mind brings the succession of events «in order», presenting the discovered law of nature as a logical conclusion from earlier established facts. In reality, as Einstein wrote «There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can reach them” [29]. In other words, magical thinking supplies rational thinking with new “theories in the making”, and rational thinking sifts these theories through the filter of experience. At the same time, by backdating, rational thinking is trying to “fix” the discovery-making process in order to exclude magical thinking from the picture.

Whereas some scientists, like Einstein, recognize the role of magical thinking in scientific creative process, they can’t admit that magical phenomena participate in the order of nature. Einstein’s maxim “god doesn’t play dice” prohibits random processes from participating in fundamental laws of physics [30]. Indeed, scientists are talking of random events all the time, but what is a random event? It is commonly accepted that a random event is not an effect of a certain casual process, but then it must be a miracle – a “something” that appeared from nothing. And if a random event is an effect of a certain cause, or a bunch of causes, then the event is not random. In other words, by definition a random event is a magical event of the “something from nothing” type, which doesn’t conform to conservation laws. That is why scientists are prepared to allow random events to happen in everyday life, but not in the fundamental laws of nature. We call a result of a dice roll a random event, but only mean that the randomness comes from our inability to account for atmospheric noise and all the tiny variations in the effort of a throwing hand. But that doesn’t mean that this result is random in the fundamental sense of the word, i.e. it can not be causally explained “in principle”. If we had a supercomputer, which could take into account all the forces that affect this individual dice throw, then we would be able to exactly predict the result. s it stands, a “random” event in the everyday life is only “pseudo-random”.

Like it prohibits randomness, classical physics also forbids a direct effect of the mind on results of experiments. Of course, an experimenter may affect experimental results in many ways, but these «experimental biases» only happen due to inaccuracies of the experimental procedure. What is impossible is the magical «mind over matter» effect, e.g., affecting a result of throwing a coin by just thinking hard about the desired outcome. Indeed, if the experimenter's mind could directly affect a result of an experiment, this would undermine the objectivity principle, which is fundamental for science [31]. However, the emergence of quantum mechanics in the XX-th century shattered the aforementioned prohibitions, thus opening a gate for magical effects to enter physical reality. It tuned out that randomness is an unavoidable element of quantum processes, and the observer's consciousness plays a definitive role in what the observed physical reality is.

Participatory universe: A magical impact of consciousness on reality

The term «participation» was coined in the beginning of the XX-th century by French anthropologist Lucien Levy-Bruhl [32]. In essense, «participation» is an extension of the astrology's «sympathy», but is usually applied to more «earthly» human deeds. I’ll remind the reader that participation is a magical bond between things that once were in physical contact (e.g., a person and a bunch of his or her hair) or have real or imaginary resemblance to each other (e.g., a person and his or her picture). This bond works instantly and doesn't depend on distance between the bonded objects. Participation can also exist between two objects that are totally unrelated one to the other. For example, the Bororo people - an indigenous people of Brazil - believed that they were parrots Arara, which Bororo viewed as their totemic ancestors. It didn't mean that Bororo did not see a difference between a person's physical appearance and that of a parrot. Yet with all the physical differences between a parrot and a person Bororo maintained that a spirit of Arara lives in a person, and so in each Bororo there is a part of Arara, and vice versa.

Similar invisible bonds and connections can exist between quantum objects of modern physics. The most close to «participation» is «quantum entanglement». Quantum entanglement is a physical phenomenon that occurs when a pair of quantum objects is generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state (e.g. spin) of each particle cannot be described independently of the other. If something happens with one of the entangled objects, then something also happens to the object’s entangled pair, even if the pair is separated by arbitrary large distances. It thus appears that one object of an entangled pair "knows" what measurement has been performed on the other, and with what outcome, even though there is no medium between the objects to pass this information through. It is no wonder that Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen, who first described this phenomenon in a thought experiment, considered it to be impossible because it violated the principle of physical causality [33]. Yet later this counterintuitive prediction was verified in experiments [34]. It turned out that information instantly and without any medium known to physics gets from one entangled quantum object to the other. Some physicists argue that entanglement can not be used for transmission of sensible information [35]. Nevertheless, the fact remains that some interaction between physical objects can happen in an instant, even if the objects are separated by a distance the size of the universe. In earlier times people thought that only gods and Santa enjoyed the ability to be present in many places at once. Clearly, entanglement is not a cause-effect connection, because a cause precedes its effect in time. Quantum entanglement is a magical participation between two physical objects, or, as Einstein once called it, a “spooky action at a distance”.

Less obvious but no less convincing is the participation between an observer of quantum phenomena and the phenomena being observed. According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics [36], every quantum object, e.g. a photon, doesn't exist as a certain definite entity prior to being measured. Prior to an act of measurement the object exists in the «superposition state» - an indefinite probabilistic state when it is impossible to say whether the object is a particle or a wave. It is the act of measurement that defines in what capacity – of a particle or a wave – the object reveals itself. It means that an act of observation doesn't simply reflect reality in a way a mirror reflects an object, but participates in what this reality becomes, influences reality. In other words, there is a bond between an act of observation and the quantum entity being observed. But this bond is not a cause-effect type, in which one physical object affects another physical object through one of the four known fundamental forces – electromagnetic, weak and strong nuclear, and gravitation. The «observer – quantum object» bond is a magical bond in which two fundamentally different realities interact: psychological (the observer's consciousness) and physical (a unit of matter). A cause-effect type interaction between two quantum objects conforms to the law of energy conservation (e.g., a collision between an electron and a positron at low energy creates two gamma ray photons). For a magical type interaction the law of energy conservation is irrelevant, since in this interaction a quantum object interacts with the observer's mind, which has no physical properties. As a result of such interaction the quantum object doesn't turn into another quantum object, but adopts a certain form – of a particle or a wave. The observer's mind does not create the quantum object with which it interacts; rather, the act of observation defines the form this object takes, thus becoming «a part» of the final state of this object.

The participation of consciousness in shaping physical reality can be illustrated by the so called «double slit experiment» [37]. In the classical version of this experiment a laser, which is a coherent light source, illuminates a plate that has two parallel identical slits cut in it. For simplicity’s sake, I will call them Slit A and Slit B. On the screen behind the plate the light beam leaves a trace. The detectors placed at the slits show that each individual photon passes only through one of the slits, and not through both as it would be expected from a wave, and produces a single spot on the screen. Thus far each photon behaves as a single particle of matter. However, when the number of spots accumulates, they build bright and dark bands on the screen, which is an indication of interference – the phenomenon which is a property of waves, but not particles. This proves that a photon can be both a particle, which has a fixed localisation in space, and a wave, which has not such localisation – the property called the wave-particle duality. Electrons and other elementary units of matter behave in a similar way [38]. Although the wave-particle duality violates properties of an object of classical physics, so far this experiment remains within the requirements of classical physics: the observer registers the result without affecting it.

However, a modified version of this experiment can show how an act of observation affects the process of the photon taking a form of either a particle or a wave [39]. A special prism converts every photon, emitted by the laser, into two entangled photons of a lower frequency, which then are focussed into two separate beams of light; for convenience, let me name these beams the upper and the lower ones. Next, one of the beams – the lower one – goes through the double slit plate and the detector screen at the other side registers the expected interference pattern. At this stage a new element is introduced in the experiment: a special device «marks» the photons, by producing clockwise circular polarisation of the photons that went through Slit A, and counter-clockwise circular polarisation of photons that went through Slit B. As a result, an observer knows which path each individual photon of the lower beam took. After this the interference pattern on the detector screen disappears. Finally, another device gives the photons of the upper beam, which did not go through the double slit plate, a diagonal polarization. By engagement, the upper beam gives diagonal polarisation to its pair – the lower beam. This erases the effect of circular polarisation of the lower beam, which now becomes a mix of clockwise and counter-clockwise polarized light. The photons of the lower beam are no longer marked and the detector screen of the lower beam can no longer determine through which slit each individual photon passed. As a result, the interference pattern on the detector screen reappears. The conclusion is clear: when the observer knew which path in space had been taken by each photon, the photons behaved as particles, and when the observer didn't know «which path» - the same photons behaved as waves. This participation between an act of observation and the object observed can also illustrate the “mind over matter” type of magical events.

An interesting twist of this experiment is an experiment in which the decision of whether to erase or not to erase the information about «which path» is taken after the photons, which went through the slits in the slate, reached the detector screen [40]. This is achieved by converting each photon into two entangled twins after it went through the slit, and not before as it was in the previous experiment. As a result, there emerges four beams: to upper beams (one from the photons that went through Slit A, and the other from photons that went through Slit B) and two lower beams, which are the upper beams' twins. It is arranged that the two upper beams reach the detector screen sooner than the two lower beams. After the upper beams «collapsed» and produced a certain pattern on the detector screen, each of the two lower beams, which are still on their way toward the detector screen, is converted into two entangled beams again. In two of the four resulting beams, which are still travelling toward the detector screen, the information about the path is erased. And now the important bit: the photons of the upper beams that had been entangled with those lower beams' twins in which the information about the path in space was available, behaved as particles; in contrast, those photons of the upper beams that had been entangled with the lower beams' twins in which the information about the path was erased, behaved as waves and produced the interference pattern. The amazing feature of this experiment is the fact, that the decision of whether to erase or not to erase information «which path» in the lower twins was taken after the upper twins had already reached the detector-screen and «made a decision» of whether to become a particle or a wave. It appears that the upper photons «knew in advance» what would happen to their entangled lower beams' twins.

One might ask, what does all of this have to do with consciousness? Indeed, photons and electrons are being registered not directly by our consciousness, but by devices. But this question is wrongly put. Directly our consciousness can't register not only photons and electrons, but any object at all. In order to be able to see something, feel the taste of something, or hear something we need special devices: the retina in our eyes, taste buds in our mouth, or eardrums in our ears. Such things as «redness», «saltiness» or «loudness» do not exist in nature; what exists in nature are electromagnetic waves of a certain length and frequency, molecular structure of a grain of salt, and amplitude of the sound waves' vibration. It is our perceptual organs (eyes, mouth, ears) and brain that convert these natural structures in subjective reality – colour, taste, sound. Devices that allow us to «see» photons and electrons are our «artificial eyes», which convert some invisible reality into the reality accessible to our perception – traces of photons or electrons on a detector screen. In other words, physical devices are an extension of our sense organs, through which our consciousness can see the world, therefore, these devices are part of our consciousness.

To summarise, depending of whether the observer knows or doesn't know the physical entity's localisation, this entity will collapse either in the form of a particle, or in the form of a wave. Even more wonderful is the fact that the entity «knows» in advance whether its spatial path will or will not be observed, and acts accordingly. It appears as though a person and a quantum object communicate with each other. In other words, as American science writer John Horgan put it, at the fundamental level our universe might be a «participatory phenomenon» [15, p. 81]. What it could mean is that a magical phenomenon – participation – is registered in experiments of modern physics. If Bororo of Brazil believed that they were parrots Arara, then modern physicists established in experiments that an observer is a part of the quantum phenomena being observed.

So far so good. We established that magical thinking can play a vital role in scientific discoveries. We also revealed that in quantum physics of the XX-th century magical phenomena, such as participation and mind over matter, were proved to exist not only within magical thinking, but also in physical reality itself. The evidence, which allowed scientists to upgrade magical phenomena from events of the imagination to the events that happen for real, was obtained through rigorous experiments. The belief in the supernatural that modern educated people implicitly hold didn’t play a role in these developments.

Yet the same experiments that demonstrated the definitive role of an observer in shaping the states of quantum objects brought physicists to the threshold, beyond which lies the realm of reality where experiments become inconceivable. In this hypothetical realm only mathematics and theoretical reasoning hold sway. And where the empirical verification of theories is impossible, there appears a possibility for the implicit belief in magic to sneak into the body of physical knowledge.

Crossing the threshold: From participatory universe to the multiverse

One influential theory of modern physics, which is difficult to distinguish from pure magic, is the so called «many-worlds interpretation» in quantum mechanics. According to this theory, put forward by American physicist Hugh Everett [41], any measurement of a quantum object, for example, a fixation of a photon on a photographic plate as a spot of light (usually called «the wavefuntion collapse») creates not a single version of this object, as Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics insists, but splits the universe into the version that we see and the other possible versions, which stay invisible for us. Everett called his interpretation «the universal wave function interpretation», and American physicist Bryce DeWitt later renamed this theory «many worlds interpretation» (MWI)[42]. DeWitt elaborated that by every quantum measurement an observer unintentionally creates multiple universes-worlds, each including a copy of the observer inside it. It is hard to avoid a conclusion that in this interpretation of quantum measurement an observer is a god or a omnipotent wizard, with the only difference that God of the Bible created the universe willingly by inspiration, whereas the «quantum god» manufactures universes unintentionally. To believe or not to believe in this theory is a matter of preference. The question that some scientists ask is whether this theory can be tested in experiments [43]. According to Swedish-American cosmologist Max Tegmark it can, but only at the cost of «quantum suicide». Unfortunately, if the MWI is true (which is yet unknown), then by committing the quantum suicide you might prove this theory to yourself but will never be able to prove it to anyone else [44, p.5].

The MWI is not the only theory that proposes the existence of other universes. In the recent decades, there appeared a number of theories in which our universe is only a unit in a potentially infinite number of universes. To mention just a few, hypotheses were proposed for quilted universe, inflatory multiverse, brain multiverse, cyclic multiverse, landscape multiverse, holographic multiverse, and simulated multiverse [45]. For example, it was suggested that the simulated multiverse exists on a complex system of computers that is capable to simulate entire universes. An interesting question is who is the holder of this magical system of computers, which can simulate not only stars and galaxies, but life and human consciousness as well? And of course, none of these theoretical constructions can be verified in experiments.

Finally, «string theory» is replacing the point-like particles of matter, such as protons and electrons, by one-dimensional objects called «strings» [46]. This theory’s advantage is that it explains all known types of elementary particles through these particles' «quantum states»; it also explains all four known fundamental forces – electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear, and gravitation. A distinguished feature of string theory is that it postulates, on top of the known four dimensions (three in space and one in time), other dimensions as well. For example, in the «superstring» version of string theory there are 11 dimensions, with the extra 7 dimensions being packed into a compact “ball” called Calabi-Yau space. With all the advantages of string theory it has been impossible thus far to test this theory in experiment because of the unimaginably small size of the strings (the so called Planck length), and inaccessibility of the «extra dimensions» [47]. An extension of string theory is «M-theory», which is trying to unite all the versions of string theory. M-theory suggests that strings are one-dimensional versions of yet more fundamental entity – the two-dimensional membrane, which vibrates in the 11- dimensional space. Some physicists call M-theory «a theory of everything», because in this theory all the diversity of the physical universe is reduced to one theoretical construct. Because vibration of strings and membranes is a final «point of reference» and doesn't conform to any natural causes, this vibration is similar to a magical phenomenon. This might be a reason of why some physicists decipher the term «M-theory» as «magical» or «mystical» theory [48].

To summarise, none of these theoretical constructions can be empirically proven. These hypotheses are about the “final cause” of both the observed universe and the hypothetical other universes that can not be observed currently or in principle. Because the final cause can not be further reduced to any natural causes, it is by definition a “something from nothing” type magical event. Through the hypotheses that tacitly imply a magical event, the implicit belief in the supernatural that thus far has been locked deep in the scientists’ subconscious, claims its right for public attention.

So far I have been primarily concentrating on how magical phenomena infiltrate physics of the microworld. And what is happening in physics of the megaworld – cosmology?

Magic of the megaworld

It has always seemed to me that the Big Bang is an event that is no less magical than is the biblical version of world's creation by God in six days. For the infinitesimally small fraction of a second (and for the human perception – instantly) the universe emerged form virtually «nothing» - an incredibly dense and tiny point called the point of singularity - and has been inflating ever since [49]. By definition, when something as big as the universe emerges from something the size of almost a mathematical point – this is a “something from nothing” magical event, which escapes the known laws of physics. What makes this event look even more magical is that in this magically inflated universe there appears an observer who is able to understand this universe and is puzzled by the impossibility to logically explain its origin.

In his book «Farewell to reality. How fairy-tale physics betrays the search for scientific truth» British physicist Jim Baggott refers to an old philosophy problem: If a tree falls in the forest, and there's nobody around to hear, does it make a sound? According to Baggott, the answer depends on how we define sound. There is no sound as subjective quality, but there is sound as «auditory waves in the air» [14]. Baggott's answer is incomplete, because the notion «auditory waves in the air» is a result of human intellectual activity, hence this notion (as all notions of science for that matter) is a product of human consciousness. This implies that without a human being who hears the sound or thinks about the sound, however we defined it, the sound isn't there. And what is there? There is «something», about which we can say nothing except: if this «something» interacts with our ears, we experience what is called «sound», and which we understand by creating the concept «sound waves in the air».

The same applies to the universe as a whole. Without a person who experiences sounds and colours of the universe and creates theories about what they are, there is only «something». There are no photons and electrons, no black holes, no stars and planets without a human being who thinks and reasons about these entities. One might ask: Does it mean that people, like artists, create the universe as they wish? Of course it doesn't. The universe exists independently of our consciousness, as «something» out there. But what this «something» really is like we can only find out if we «mix» this «something» with our consciousness, like we mix sugar with water. Literally «mix with», and not «get through» our consciousness like a light beam gets through clear glass. The beam of light gets through clear glass unchanged, but the «something» of the universe, when it mixes with our consciousness, creates a unique «fusion». This fusion we then call electrons, stars and galaxies.

It is because physical universe is a part of our own mind that we can understand the laws of nature. Something, which is not a part of our conscious experience, like the other universes, can not be understood in principle. Exactly because the physical world is a part of our mind, we observe the wonderful “tuning” of the universal physical constants to each other in such a way that their “ensemble” makes it possible for life and humans to exist [50]. Indeed, if one of those fundamental constants (e.g., the gravitational constant g, which defines the speed of the universe’s expansion) were just a little bit different, life in the universe would be impossible. Likewise, if the universe were a little bit younger or older that it is now, there would be no us, because there would be no the elements from which our bodies are built. So, who tuned the “piano of the universe” so finely? Who was that wizard, which made the fundamental constants fit so perfectly to each other that life became possible in the universe?

The awareness of this problem gave rise to the “anthropic principle” in cosmology [51]. The strong anthropic principle, introduced by Brandon Carter in 1973, suggests that the emergence of conscious observers (and therefore, life) was pre-determined from the beginning in the structure of the universe. It is easy to conclude from the strong anthropic principle to the classic argument of intelligent design, which was put forward by British theologian William Paley in 1802. If, when crossing a field, I come across a stone – Paley reasons – I am likely to think that the stone has always been there. If, however, I came across a watch, I would think that a craftsman had made it, because it is unlikely for a mechanism as complex as the watch to have emerged on its own. Because the strong anthropic principle does not exclude the Creator, some scientists argue in favour of the weak anthropic principle, which says that the universe’s fine tuning is a chance event, and because our universe is so nicely tuned for us to exist, we can only observe this universe and none of the other [52]. The weak anthropic principle leads to a conclusion that there must be an infinitely large number of universes from which our universe is the only lucky one to have human observers. But the hope to avoid the Creator by downgrading the anthropic principle is an illusion. As I argued above, a chance event in its own right is a non-causal “something from nothing” magical event. Instead of one purposefully created universe that the strong anthropic principle implies, the weak anthropic principle allows for the possibility of an infinite number of magical events.

Both versions of the anthropic principle implicitly involve an element of the belief in the supernatural in still another way. Indeed, according to astrology, there is a magical kinship, or sympathy, between people and planets. But the “pre-established harmony” between the human mind and the laws of nature is a core feature of the anthropic principle as well. Hence the link between the participation phenomenon in astrology and the anthropic principle: an astrologist can read a person’s fate by using the “language of planets”, and a modern scientist or an engineer can “speak” to nature using the language of physical laws.

Conclusion: From the Standard Model to magical physics

I started this paper with the question: How and why did it turn out that some influential theories of modern physics and cosmology describe events, which are indistinguishable from magic? In my search for an answer I turned to the recent psychological studies of magical thinking and magical beliefs in modern people. These studies revealed that magical thinking is wired in the human mind and shows up in dreams, art and fantasies. Since magical thinking is confined to the realm of the imagination, it doesn’t contradict modern person’s belief in science and peacefully coexists with logical thinking in the person’s mind. By contrast, the belief in magic in modern industrial cultures is proclaimed to be a fallacy and is thought to remain only in children and a small number of superstitious adults.

Yet further psychological enquiry has shown that modern educated adults, who consciously consider themselves non-believers in magic, deep in the subconscious still believe in the supernatural. Psychological defences, built by modern education and the dominant belief in science and rationality, prevent this hidden belief in magic from ascending to the reflective consciousness. When these defences are undermined, the hidden belief in the supernatural can get access to the realm of reflective thinking and rationally controlled behaviour. In some circumstances, modern rational adults not only reason magically, but also behave as if magic were real.

Philosophical and psychological analyses have established that there is a link between magical and scientific types of thinking in the search for truth. Magical thinking operates in the subconscious through symbols and is a «generator of ideas»: it supplies scientific thinking with a pool of «theories in the making» . Scientific thinking is a conscious process and selects from that pool those theories, which resonate with objective reality. In the process of this selection, scientific thinking uses two main criteria: verification by experimental facts and compliance of the «theories in the making» with the general body of existing physical knowledge.

As physics proceeded from the macroworld into the micro- and megaworlds, the concept of a physical object changed. From an object that can be seen by a naked eye the physical object turned into an object, which can be deduced from traces it leaves in various mediums and observation devices. No longer supported by direct sensual experience, the physical object increasingly depends on structure of experimental devices and methods of observation. The fundamental link between human consciousness and physical objects, which in classical physics has been denied to protect objectivity of knowledge, in quantum physics becomes evident. As a result, some phenomena pertinent to magic, such as «mind over matter» and «participation», appear in physics under the names of Copenhagen interpretation and quantum non-locality. Nevertheless, up till 1970-th of the XX-th century quantum physics, currently called the Standard Model [53] coordinated its theories with experimental facts. The magic-like phenomena in physics were proven empirically, and the implicit belief in magic played no role in this.

Finally, when theoretical physics moved further away from empirical reality and in the realm of such theories as the string theory and the many worlds theory, experiments become impossible. A major reality check criterion – verification by experimental facts - that was used to separate the «plausible» hypothetical constructions supplied by magical thinking from the «drafts», which were influenced by hidden magical beliefs, disappears. The only remaining criterion - compliance of the «theories in the making» with the general body of current physical knowledge - is significantly more flexible and «soft» than the experimental reality check. The «softened» border between magical and scientific thinking made it possible for the implicit belief in the supernatural, which in modern rational individuals is lurking in the subconscious, filter through into some theories of modern physics. What in the world of classical physics is magic (e.g., to create a universe by performing a certain action), in some theories of modern physics (e.g., the «many worlds» theory) is proclaimed reality. Physical scientists, who otherwise reject magic as superstition and fallacy, become more benevolent when magical evens come to them clad into sophisticated mathematics and inaccessible to experimental reality check.

Is this process a step forward toward the truth, or a step back toward medieval astrology and alchemy? I think it’s a bit of both, and this process is unavoidable. There was a time when physics separated itself from magic, to allow the humankind to make an explosive leap forward in its capacity to control nature. What made this leap possible was the idea of objectivity of knowledge rooted in the invention of a scientific experiment. Now physical science approached the borderline where it again, at a more advanced level, faced the phenomenon of magical participation - the deep level unity between the mind and matter. Beyond this borderline the realm of concepts lies so general that experimenting with the underlying reality becomes impossible. Some physicists stop at this threshold, but others, armed with mathematics and the imagination, venture into this uncharted territory.

And the belief in the supernatural, which thus far has been imprisoned in the basement of the subconscious, is getting through into the very heart of physics – theories of the origin and structure of the universe.

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