Ted Annemann, The Jinx, c.1939

The gift of mystery

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing

I’ve been a magician most of my life, and let me tell you, it’s not like the old days. There have always been people who obsessively try to figure out how a trick was accomplished. But unless the magician was loose-lipped or incompetent, finding the answer took a lot of effort. Today, audience members can just hop on their iPhone and search the Internet for an answer. (Of course the answer isn’t necessarily correct, but like Wikipedia and hand grenades, close enough is often good enough.)

But learning a secret isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Sure, you gain a little bit of knowledge, but you also lose something in the process. Mystery and wonder are the silent casualties of the ubiquitous Internet.

It’s not just magic tricks, of course. You’ve all experienced the dinner conversation that stops cold because someone at the table has to know—right this goddamn instant—the name of that one actress in such-and-such a movie. Or, maybe they can’t remember the capitol of Illinois. Or what kind of candy you mix with Diet Coke to make a geyser. Or etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It. Never. Stops.

This makes me sad. I believe that mystery and wonder are essential elements of the human condition. Perhaps uniquely human. They remind us that we do not and can not know everything. They remind us that the world can be a surprising place. As Eugene Burger, one of the greatest magicians of our time has observed: mysteries point beyond ourselves.

So the next time you encounter something that you don’t know, try waiting a few moments before scratching the itch to search for an answer. Relish the feeling of not knowing. Mystery and wonder are fleeting gifts to be noticed and savored, not vanquished with a tap, tap, tap.