Why Magic Lost to Technology
and why it’s making a comeback
Somewhere during human history magic lost to technology. Technology came to dominate our mindshare while magic was relegated to superstition.
I, like many, assumed magic lost because it turned out not to be real. As a young techno-capitalist I was ok with this; I was into computers and the whole world needed an upgrade.
But eventually I found challenges that technology wasn’t addressing: broken minds, violence, depression. I don’t just mean somewhere out there among the homeless or mentally ill but in my own life too, successful as I appeared.
I went looking for ways to transform myself, and found many wondrous things. I found the keys to self-actualization. I found ways of entering altered states of consciousness that conferred uncommon understanding. I found ways of uncovering painful memories, repressed but not forgotten, and ways of re-experiencing those memories differently, thereby changing the effects of the past on my present. I discovered the meaning of synchronicity and how to use them to navigate my life’s course.
Then after years of this it finally hit me… magic is real.
Now, I don’t mean that everything that’s ever been called magic by everyone is real. But are there attitudes, actions, and understandings that can result in intense, unordinary, and significant experiences inside one’s self, between our selves, and around us? Yes. Are there ways of growing in their skillful wielding? Yes. Are there ways of guiding, influencing, or stimulating in others these peculiar effects? Absolutely. And after you’ve experienced enough of it you just sort of acquiesce and say to yourself, “Ah, so this is magic.” You simply have no reasons left not to call it that.
Perhaps you, like many moderns, are prejudiced against magic and biased toward technology. Well I have news for you: Not only is magic real, but magic is technology.
Magic is just a type of technology with un-obvious system requirements.
Like? Subtlety. Rather than electricity or software, magic requires the ability to access and observe the delicate sensations and observations arising within and around one’s self. Magic is subtle technology.
Over time the Western mind lost it’s acquaintance with the subtle, which is why magic seemed to disappear. We lost it during the rise of organized religions, when navigating subtle experiences and altered states came under the control of sanctioned authorities. We lost it during the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution when we regained personal authority through rationalism and empiricism but threw the magic out with the religious bathwater. We lost more of it during the industrial revolution, where subtle sensations were only a distraction in the drudgery of the assembly line. And we lost still more during the Information Age, dominated by industrial educations, where the pressure to learn standardized curricula forced us to routinely suppress our intuition.
The other thing about magic is that it doesn’t scale as easily as manufactured goods and services. This is because market adoption tends to be inversely proportional to skill. So the products that scale most quickly are those that require the user to know or do as little as possible.
Magic doesn’t work that way, at least not in its current stage of development. Magic requires a skillful user to navigate internal experiences that others cannot see and to shift and focus attention onto indescribable objects. The duplicability is poor. The instruction manual difficult to write. The onus on the user, great.
Because of all this, the word “technology” now tends to mean just all the the fundable, scaleable, shippable, stuff that anyone can buy and with the push of a button get some effect. Missing are the technologies that require subtle sensations to be masterfully directed, expanded, and amplified.
But things are beginning to change. What is the mind? What is the Self? What can we become? What is our greatest destiny? It is just these sort of questions that are coming to matter most to a people who have for decades binged on easy access to every material want. And without skillfully navigating the subtle, these questions are impenetrable.
You can see it happening most obviously with the increasing popularity of meditation. Think about it: here we are in this glitzy, gadgety, gluttonous society full of streaming high-def video, all-you-can-eat buffets, and amusement parks. Yet people en-masse are starting to say, “Well, I like those things sometimes but you know what? I think I’m going to just sit here with my eyes closed.” And they’re having a wild time.
And what is meditation? I’ll tell you. Meditation is the skillful immersion of the self in the subtle. Which means that meditation is magic — literally, the attempt to cast a state-altering spell on one’s self. This is why the results from person to person are so varied.
We can see the return of subtle technology in many other places too: in the unprecedented popular interest in psychology and yoga, in the revitalized psychedelic movement, in the renewed respect for indigenous medicine and ceremony. We can see it in our language, with the appearance of concepts such as “ego death” in the vernacular. And just about every other person I meet these days, whether engineer or venture capitalist, seems to at some point confide in me that they’ve been getting into “energy work”.
We are a people becoming less interested in having things and more interested in having experiences. Less interested in becoming rich and more interested in becoming whole. Less interested in information and more interested in states — states of peak performance and flow, states of seeming union with the infinite, states of elevated perspective that disillusion us of our fears and anxieties and reveal them as baseless in the face of our true nature.
Magic will return, understood this time as subtle technology. It will be integrated with the obvious technology of today. Together they will give rise to the next great industries, and to new jobs and livelihoods that we can once again believe in, which will not enslave or ensnare us but rather heal us and make us whole.
We will leave the age of excessive information, the age of mental illness, the age of material glut, for the age of consciousness. And we will know it by the felt sense of aliveness, connection, purpose, and love that it confers upon us. Which is all we really want anyway.