Abracadabra!

Conjuring the practical from watching magic.

Posted Dec 01, 2019

Courtesy, Mabel Lim
Source: Courtesy, Mabel Lim

I sometimes wonder why I so enjoy watching magic. After all, I’m otherwise quite a practical, no-nonsense person. Yet magic, which by definition is nonsense, holds great appeal to me.

Magic embeds three aspects that might be of value to you: It’s the ultimate escape, it teaches you to appreciate Confucian effortless mastery, and offers an opportunity to consider the question, "How important is pure, impractical pleasure?"

The ultimate escape

All recreation provides escape, but magic, ahem, levitates us from the quotidian and merely amusing to wonderment: the illusion that the seemingly impossible is possible. Such escape is perhaps particularly important to people who are dutifully practical.

Appreciation of the concept of effortless mastery

Confucius lauded effortless mastery (wu-wei) as among the highest goods. More recently, Malcolm Gladwell asserted that 10,000 hours is required for mastery. The ability to do mind-boggling magic indeed requires thousands of hours before being able to effortlessly blow people's minds. Might watching magic help motivate you to master something?

The value of pure pleasure

Magic puts into full-relief the question of pleasure's importance. That’s because magic has no practical value—It provides only pleasure. And if you go to a quality magic show, you’ll hear sounds of pleasure you’ll rarely hear in public: oohs, ahhs, and often, standing ovations. Perhaps it’s no surprise that on America’s Got Talent, magic acts get very high ratings, and magician Shin Lim not only won this year’s America’s Got Talent but also won in the competition with other years’ winners.

Many people, including hard-nosed utilitarians as well as Marxists, say that effort should create the greatest happiness for the greatest number. So, beyond providing survival's basics—food, shelter, health care, transportation, and perhaps employment—should not that which provides the most pleasure be at least venerated? Of course, for many people, sex tops the list of pleasures, with movies and eating perhaps not far behind. But is magic not underrated? Shouldn't at least an occasional injection of magic’s wonderment be part of your life? Not sure? You might want to spend five minutes watching Shin Lim.  (Tip: Watch to the very last second.)

I read this aloud on YouTube.