Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Magic That Works

I have discovered that I have magic powers.  It is likely that you do, too.

There's a common theme in entertainment known as the Unspoken Plan Guarantee.  Put simply, if a character has a plan, the success of that plan hinges on whether the audience becomes aware of the plan before its execution.  If the audience is told the plan, then the plan will necessarily fail; if the audience is not told the plan, then it is almost certain to succeed.

When I was still young, I discovered a similar principle as this, except in real life.  The less I enunciate some wish or desire of mine, the more likely it is to actually happen; to actually state what I want to happen is to guarantee it to not happen.  Likewise, if I have a prediction, then it is guaranteed to not come true if I state it out loud, and more likely to come true if I refrain some speaking it.  Sometimes I will say things that I predict just so that they won't come true.

Obviously the above can't possibly be literally true, but they are principles that I have lived by.  It has dawned on me recently that my use of the above essentially constitutes the practice of magic.

For instance, I recently learned that Murphy's Laws grant me the power to control the weather.  I live on the second floor of an apartment building and ride a bicycle to work.  When I come home, I can either chain my bike up outside where it will get rained on, or carry it upstairs where it will be out of any rain that may or may not fall.  By so doing, I can either cause a regional drought by bringing my bike upstairs each night, or else I can summon rain by leaving my bike outside for the night.  In either circumstance, by using Murphy's Laws to my advantage, I can dictate the local weather patterns, with more assurance than the most fervent Indian rain dance.

Another example relates to the fantastic board game, Settlers of Catan.  In this game, a roll of 7 (statistically the most common roll) forces all players to discard half of their deck if they have more than 7 cards.  I have found a fail-safe way to guarantee that I never have to get rid of my cards in this game: if I have 8 or more cards, I simply repeatedly shout "Seven!" whenever the dice are rolled.

Now, it's not quite as simple as that.  I have to

  1. Be internally convinced that the dice really are going to turn up 7 and force me to lose half of my hand just before I can use them to make a critical move, either due ot others of Murphy's Laws or just because 7 is "due".
  2. Shout my prediction as an actual prediction, with as much conviction in my voice as possible.  Other players have to believe that I really believe and predict the dice to roll a "7".
By following the above procedure, I can virtually guarantee that 7 will not be rolled when I have too many cards.  So long as I don't think too hard on it.

Of course these aren't the only examples of how I frequently use the apparent antipathy of the impersonal universe towards me personally to redirect its senseless malice for my own good.  But these are the most striking examples of it.

It is very likely that what I've encountered is merely a data collection bias mixed with robust pessimism.  It's very possible that I only remember the situations when I leave my bike out and it immediately rains and not the times when it doesn't rain because the former cause my bike chains to rust and fill me with righteous indignation (a very heady emotion).  And it's possible that if I ever tried to make any sort of actual statistical analysis of rain patterns with my bike left out that I would find a null result.  I'm not pretending to scientific precision here; I'm just saying that I use these ideas to try and exert control over circumstances.

What I do wonder, is whether my decision to leave my bike out at night because the flowers need watering is really much different from painting myself stark white and dancing around a fire to summon ancestral spirits to bring rain.  Or if my shouting of "Seven!" to force the universe to not roll a 7 is as much of a spell as "Wingardium Leviosa"?

Am I practicing magic when I rely on Murphy's Laws to control circumstances?  And is this bad?  Should I cease doing this?

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