The Magic of Reality

I cannot think of a better introduction to science than this book. Richard Dawkins, renowned English evolutionary biologist, former esteemed professor at Oxford University, has made it so simple and fun, through stories well told, and analogies plucked from day to day life. All the main sciences, whether astronomy, biology, geology, physics or chemistry, have been covered in this book and with so much detail, it is commendable.

review of magic of reality

I think the opening chapter is the most important part of this book. This is because it explains and distinguishes between the three kinds of magic we are used to. There is first what we call the supernatural magic or mystery. The second one is magic as seen on stage or illusion in one word. The third kind is the magic of reality (straight from the title of the book) or what we know for sure is true.

Throughout the book, Richard has narrated popular myths from the past, with which our ancestors, in their naivety, have addressed the seemingly natural phenomena as mystical or supernatural. Myths from Japan, from India, from the Middle East, from the Americas, from Africa. In other words, what we didn't have explanation for, we put it up on the unknown, or God, which is, of course, not the way of science. In the need of answers, human beings created their own, fake ones.

For example, there is a creation story from Central Africa in which the great God Bumba felt a terrible pain in his stomach, due to which, he vomitted the sun, the moon and the stars. The ocean water dried up with the heat and so there was land. But still ailing, Bumba vomited once more, this time bringing forth some animals, the leopard, the eagle, the crocodile, the fish, the tortoise, and then some men.

After each made-up story is told, genuine facts are revealed comprehensively. Richard Dawkins and other biologists like him very well know that there was no first human. And in fact, even the other animals did not just pop up out of the blue. Dawkins has shown in the book how life is interconnected, how's it evolved over many, many stages, slowly, but surely. Strong evidences are laid out for the readers, like for instance, how similar human DNA is to those of chimps, cats, cattle and mice.

Consider another popular story, that the rainbow was sort of a bridge between the heavens and the earth. The great gods would use the bridge of the colorful rainbow to descend and to ascend. In the words of Richard Feynman, the great American physicist and Nobel laureate, "God was always invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand." Clearly. Dawkins has eloquently described the reasons why rainbows form, why they're vibrant in color, where to find them, and at what angle, all the details, in fact there's a whole chapter dedicated to the rainbow.

Similar stories have been told about the night and day, about the changing of seasons, about the eclipses, and so on. Stories, merely fantasies of the ancients, who did not yet possess the tools necessary to study the phenomena of nature in the scientific way: through questions, guided by logic and reason, verified with experiment.

Towards the end of the book, Richard Dawkins has pinpointed that despite making numerous advances in science and technology, there's plenty of people who reject some myths selectively but on the other hand, accept other "more beloved" myths. For example, people reject frogs turning into princes, they also reject the story of Bumba, and other such creation stories, but they accept those of a prophet who turned water into wine, of another prophet who flew to the moon on a winged horse, or that the universe was created in one go by a four-headed man sat on a lotus. No surprises, because Dawkins is an outspoken atheist, hence he's criticized the foundations of organized religion in the book, this time more gently.

The whole point of the book is that the truth is even more so beautiful than the popular fantasy. Next to the magic of reality, the other two magics, although to some extent entertaining to see or hear, become cheap by comparison. The magic of reality is, in one word, wonderful. Wonderful and real. Wonderful because real. You must read this book to have a deep understanding of the sciences and how collectively they describe the workings of nature.

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