The vast majority of you that knew me when I was younger will remember the near-unhealthy nature of my obsession with the Harry Potter books. That obsession ended up having a very positive impact on my life, though that is a story for another day. Today I would like to talk about real life magic. Not fantasy books, not even magic tricks - real life magic. Now, before you start calling me delusional, please let me explain.
Im currently working in a laboratory, a place of science. During one lunch break, I mentioned how incredible I find clouds. The way they form, how they look like a painting in the sky. Whether they are dark rain clouds or wispy, they all have such character that I just adore. I noted what a strange phenomenon they are. As you can imagine, that got quite a few weird looks and one of my colleagues questioned me, as if to try to explain the physics of clouds. Now, Im not a scientist myself but I have a pretty good understanding of many areas of physics (indeed, I once seriously considered a career in Quantum Physics - well, more precisely Quantum Computing).
I do understand how clouds are formed. But they still feel magical to me, in the same way as rainbows feel magical despite simply being refractions of light in the water droplets.
This is not a post about some delusional idea that magic and sorcery exists, it is more of a love letter to physics. You see, magic tricks can be incredible - there are some extraordinarily talented magicians. But as soon as you learn the trick, the magic disappears (although there may also be some extra respect for how the trick was pulled off so well). Physics is quite the opposite. When you have no idea how rainbows are formed, you might think Oh, thats a very pretty rainbow or even wonder how they are formed. But the fact that they are refractions, turning the light into its visible components, in millions of rain droplets that you happen to see due to being at a particular place at a particular time, looking in the particular direction while the earth is at a particular angle to the sun… that is incredible. In fact, since rainbows are not even *real* (whatever that means), even if there are a hundred people standing with you looking at the rainbow, they are all seeing different rainbows! Even each eye is seeing a different rainbow. Now thats one magic trick that wont be getting boring any time soon!
Even some human-made technologies are magical, due to physics of course. Much of the data we work with is from satellites in space. Now thats cool enough… we work with *satellites* - those things that orbit the earth*. But actually, despite all of that, I have a certain love of the magic of satellite dishes. They are round, curved, pieces of metal. Not too unlike a frying pan. Yet they are used to communicate with things in space. Round pieces of metal. Unlike rainbows (which are natural, and therefore we can easily take for granted), satellite dishes do not become much more incredible (okay, maybe a little bit) when you know how they work… because they are round (usually round, at least) small pieces of METAL. That is always going to be incredible, isnt it?
And now for a slight moan. At Christmas I saw people on Facebook and Twitter talking about how they should explain to their children that the bright light that shoots through the sky is Santa bringing them presents. No no no no no. That bright light is a human-made satellite that people live in, work in, and float around in. That is real magic, no one needs lies about Santa when you have real people floating around in a space ship! Oh, and recording music videos while floating around in that space ship, thats pretty cool too.
These things really put life into proportion. I have enough trouble some days getting my code to work, yet without fail: clouds form, illusions of mystical rainbows appear, sounds are heard, the sky is blue, and every planet in the solar system (and even the entire universe - probably) moves around in constant orbit.
All because of physics. Surely that is magic?
* You know, this planet that almost every person you have ever heard of has never once left.