Magic Of Reality
Author- Richard Dawkins
In Magic Of Reality, Dawkins uses an amazing technique highly appealing for young and old.
He explains the questions all of us have about the universe in a very interesting way.
This book taught me that magic has many forms. One that talks about gods and myths but there is
another kind of magic that makes us discover the real answers about the universe.
And that is the magic of reality, or basically what we call science.
Questions like “what is stuff made of?”, “how old is the universe?”, “why do bad things happen?”
We can ignore these questions as something beyond us or they can make us think like a scientist too.
In all the chapters, Dawkins talks about the myths first and then gives the best possible answer to the questions, which is the answer of science.
In chapter 2, “who was the first person?”, Dawkins starts by telling some of the myths people believed (and still believe) like the Adam and Eve story where god made the first man out of dust and called him Adam (Adam just means man) and later in the story, god gives Adam company by creating a woman, Eve. That is a popular myth used to explain a question in everyone’s mind.
But then Dawkins talks about who the first person really was. Actually, there was no first person. Dawkins explains a thought experiment. In the thought experiment, we have to imagine ourselves and then our father, and then our grandfather, and then our great-great grandfather and so on until we reach near our 185th millionth great grandfather.
Another way to visualise it could be to imagine a bookshelf where we are in the near end and the far end has a picture of our 185th millionth great grandfather. If you walk steadily from one end to the other, you will notice yourself in one end and a fish in the other (meaning we all descended from fish who then became apes and so on and very difficult to say the exact moment when one form changes to another).
Dawkins explains this by giving the example of our own lives: we were once a baby and now we are not. When we become a lot older, we will look quite different again, but every day of our life, we are the same person as when we went to bed the previous night. It is like when a baby changes into a toddler, then into a child and so on until an old person. However, there never really is a day when we can say that a baby stopped being a baby and is now a toddler!
Back to the thought experiment, changes in life forms are so gradual that we never notice any clearly demarcated change. We go back through 185 million generations of grandparents until we come face to face with a fish!
The book abounds with similar other thought provoking examples. In chapter 3, “why are there so many different kinds of animals?”, Dawkins first talks about a myth. Then he talks about why are there really so many different kinds of animals.
Every scientific name of an animal or plant consists of two latin words. The first refers to a genus (which is basically a group of species) and the second to the individual species within the genus.
For example, Homo sapiens (wise man) and Elephas maximus (big elephant).
Every species is a member of a genus and each genus belongs to a family.
Cats (including lions, leopards, etc) make up the family Felidae. Every family belongs to an order.
Cats, dogs, bears, weasels, and hyenas belong to different families within the order Primates. And every order belongs to a class. All mammals belong to the class Mammalia.
Dawkins then speaks about the family tree, because we can see a shape of a tree developing in our minds while reading this description. That is what happens in evolution.
Charles Darwin himself drew a branching tree as the only picture in his very famous book, On the Origin of Species. You can see that if you keep on doubling up species, it doesn’t take long to get up into millions of species.
There are many many other examples in the book.
I really enjoyed this book a lot and it definitely made me see the scientific side of magic! I think books written in this fun and engaging style can convert many young people’s mind into one of scientific inquiry. We will become more curious, ask a lot of questions and try to understand the reality behind what we see everyday. Instead of blindly believing in myths.