The Magic of Reality

Richard Dawkins has a new book coming out later this year, a children's book titled The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True (pre-order from Amazon US or Amazon UK). Beautifully illustrated by regular Neil Gaiman collaborator Dave McKean, the upcoming release features the 70-year-old vociferous atheist discussing mythical explanations for elements of the cosmos, and then countering with the 'magic of reality':

In other myths, the sun is not a god but one of the first creations of a god. In the creation myth of the Hebrew tribe of the Middle Eastern desert, the tribal god YHWH created light on the first of his six days of creation – but then, weirdly, he didn’t create the sun until the fourth day! ‘And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.’ Where the light came from on the first day, before the sun existed, we are not told.

It is time to turn to reality, and the true nature of the sun, as borne out by scientific evidence...

I'd imagine this book is the one we discussed a few years back, when Professor Dawkins started mentioning the possible "insidious effect on rationality" that fairytales could have with children.

Click on the image below to view a PDF sampler of The Magic of Reality (13Mb):

The Magic of Reality PDF

The Magic of Reality is due for release in the U.K. on September 15, and in the U.S. on October 4.

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Georgehants's picture
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28 November 2010
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The guy would be just "sad" if it where not for the fact that he passes on his reductionist, establishment, narrow, religious dogma to future students in one of the so called top centers of learning.
His lectures and publications should come with a Health Warning.

georgehants

jupiter.enteract's picture
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I can't wait for him to write his book explaining the mysteries of romantic love, and how it's really a wonderful interaction of electro-chemical impulses driven by evolutionary imperatives and environmental pressures.

dorayakii's picture
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I don't like to assume, but it seems more than likely that you haven't read Dawkin's "Unweaving the Rainbow" or any of his other books except "The God Delusion". Beauty and mystery don't have to be supernatural, magic or irrational as you imply by your sarcasm.

If love really were 'just' "a wonderful interaction of electro-chemical impulses driven by evolutionary imperatives and environmental pressures" would it make love less enjoyable? Does knowing that a rainbow is lightwaves and not a secret message from God make it less beautiful? The Enlightenment means just that; shining more light to rid humans of darkness.

There is much more beauty in reality than in darkness. Dawkins may be ascerbic and intolerant, but his difficult personality does not make him wrong that there is beauty in nature, and nothing but dissatisfaction in "supernature".

Rick MG's picture
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While I agree with the principle behind Dawkins's book - fighting the rubbish spread by Creationists and encouraging critical thinking - I can't help but feel that Dawkins is one of those blokes who thinks poetry and art is a load of crap. I used to think he's just incapable of contemplating the concept of metaphor, so left-brained his right-brain may as well be removed, but it's now obvious he dislikes metaphor as much as he loathes the Pope.

There's another bloke by the name of Joseph Campbell who was also an atheist (albeit leaning heavily to the agnostic side), but recognised mythology's importance. I've found a neat little article that sums up Campbell's (and my own) view:

Irregular Times wrote:

What Campbell stands against is literalism in any form: belief or disbelief. He criticizes atheists who believe that life is merely mechanical, decrying such simplistic materialism as limited and unimaginative. Campbell also takes a more courageous stand against the simple-mindedness of literal belief in religious teachings.

Makes sense, right? It does to me.

So why is Dawkins et al so pig-headedly averse to acknowledging the importance of mythology, symbolism, metaphor?

Joseph Campbell wrote:

God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It's as simple as that.

It really is as simple as that. Dawkins believes his intellect is all knowing and superior. Religious fundamentalists believe their faith is all knowing and superior. People with more humility know that we don't know everything.

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

undrgrndgirl's picture
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i started to read the article you link to and this sentence immediately struck me:

"Once atheists get over the anger and fear that naturally come as a result of the separation from religions..."

why is it that atheists assume there is anger and/or fear from rejecting religion and that IF there is anger or fear that it is natural and even necessary?

i can only speak for myself...i've rejected a number of religions, but have never felt anger or fear from doing so...

Greg's picture
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Rick MG wrote:

While I agree with the principle behind Dawkins's book - fighting the rubbish spread by Creationists and encouraging critical thinking - I can't help but feel that Dawkins is one of those blokes who thinks poetry and art is a load of crap. I used to think he's just incapable of contemplating the concept of metaphor, so left-brained his right-brain may as well be removed, but it's now obvious he dislikes metaphor as much as he loathes the Pope.

Dawkins actually loves poetry, though it's obvious that he has trouble squaring away the usual 'flaws' of the mind that seem present in the great artists and poets (ie. a fair bit of irrationality). From a 2007 Guardian article:

I had always wondered how Dawkins could square his zealotry for reason with his admiration for William Blake and WB Yeats, the former a mystic who talked with angels and created a despot called Urizen, the latter a fully initiated magician from the Order of the Golden Dawn. Enemies, in short.

'Oh, [Yeats] wrote a lot of pretty words,' Dawkins said to me with a dismissive wave, 'whether they mean anything is another matter.'

In his book Unweaving the Rainbow, he wrote of Yeats and Blake:

I am almost reluctant to admit that my favourite of all poets is that confused Irish mystic William Butler Yeats. In old age Yeats sought a theme, and sought for it in vain, finally returning, in desperation, to enumerate old themes of his fin de siecle young manhood. How sad to give up, wrecked among heathen dreams, marooned amid the faeries and fey Irishry of his affected youth when, an hour's drive from Yeat's tower, Ireland housed the largest astronomical telescope then built... What might a single glance at the Milky Way through the eyepiece of the 'Leviathan of Parsonstown' not have done for the frustrated poet...

...But ,like Blake, Yeats was no lover of science, dismissing it (absurdly), as the 'opium of the suburbs', and calling us to "Move upon Newton's town". That is sad, and the kind of thing that drives me to write my books.

He goes on to say that it his thesis "that the spirit of wonder which led Blake to Christian mysticism, Keats to Arcadian myth and Yeats to Fenians and fairies, is the very same spirit that moves great scientists; a spirit which, if fed back to poets in scientific guise, might inspire still greater poetry."

A page later he then starts pointing out the dangers of "the cult of The X-Files". Oy vey!

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Rick MG's picture
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thingie wrote:

'Oh, [Yeats] wrote a lot of pretty words,' Dawkins said to me with a dismissive wave, 'whether they mean anything is another matter.'

Thanks Greg, this is what I was getting at with the left/right brain thing. Some of us find meaning in a painting, others just see pretty colours. Who's right? It's subjective. I just find it bizarre that some people think we should live in an atheist world without meaning -- I find that equally as bizarre as believers thinking we should live in a world without critical thinking.

Dawkins wrote:

"...that the spirit of wonder which led Blake to Christian mysticism, Keats to Arcadian myth and Yeats to Fenians and fairies, is the very same spirit that moves great scientists; a spirit which, if fed back to poets in scientific guise, might inspire still greater poetry."

Dawkins is a conumdrum alright.

~ * ~

@levitatingcat

red pill junkie's picture
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I call that 'spirit of wonder' divine inspiration. Paul Kimball has been recently speculating it might very well be some form of alien communication.

Whatever it is, the possibility that it might be externally-originated is something Dawkins would never be able to contemplate, whereas I see it as the greatest mystery of them all.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
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dorayakii's picture
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"I can't help but feel that Dawkins is one of those blokes who thinks poetry and art is a load of crap."

I dispair at comments like this. People constantly pass judgement on Dawkins without even acknowledging (or maybe without even reading, or having heard of) his other works. In fact, the book hasn't even been released yet and already people are prejudging it.

Dawkins uses art and poetry in his books, he regularly utilises metaphor. In fact he has written an entire book (Unweaving the Rainbow) explaining how nature and science have an intrinsic beauty. You don't have to have the supernatural or unreal in order to have art, music, poetry, literature and beauty.

I do admit though that he needs to be more accepting of other world views. Instead of criticising them as "wrong" he needs to see them as "different".

red pill junkie's picture
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You don't have to have the supernatural or unreal in order to have art, music, poetry, literature and beauty.

Likewise, you don't have to purge all sense of that which is often called 'the supernatural' (hideous term, but what can you do?) in order to further explore what remains to be discovered in this wonderful Universe of ours.

For in the end, what was often considered 'paranormal' eventually found a rational explanation that fitted into a complex pattern of physical laws; who is to say things Dawkins considers to be rubbish or dangerous delusions could not be the key to expand our horizons the same way as electricity and evolution? first there has to be a willingness to see the data and give experiencers the benefit of the doubt, of course.

Artists can be inspired by a myriad of different things. Some are even inspired by Darwinian laws and biology, for sure. Others by technology and Man's space endeavors. But for other artists, there is and will always be the matter of myths and the mysteries behind the 'very big' questions: who am I? why am I here? is there a purpose for my existence? is there a God?

I think that the more Dawkins keeps bashing all those people with his rhetoric that they shouldn't waste their talent on such nonsense, the more encouraged artists will be to explore those very topics in different artistic expressions. After all, art is often borne out of a necessity to disagree with authority figures.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

raptorshaman's picture
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>>You don't have to have the supernatural or unreal in order to have art, music, poetry, literature and beauty.<<

I feel part of the issue here is the biased and inconsistent manner in which Dawkins treats certain subjective concepts.

What constitutes meaningful art, poetry and what constitutes beauty is subjective, almost always relative to the individual and, perhaps on a larger scale, species. Without a human or other sapient being to decide those qualities for themselves upon viewing, a statue is just a hunk of rock, metal or similar worked into a particular shape. To a materialist like Dawkins, acknowledgments of beauty are a product of chemical reactions in the brain, nothing more. Not unlike experiences with the so called "supernatural" or the Divine.

The very use of the word Magic itself evokes images of wizards, monsters, demons and fantastical settings, appeals to the unreal and impossible, as though Dawkins is attempting to attribute reality with some inexplicable characteristic, one he would reject outright if it were related to him by an experiencer of the anomalous. Dawkins appears happy to apply fanciful meaning, qualities and value to a universe that by materialist reckoning has "no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference".

The title itself makes the book sound (though apparently intended for children) like something marketed to appeal to and hook the new age metaphysics crowd, the Deepak Chopras, and the stereotypical airy fairy crystal worshipers. Maybe he believes he can change their mind about various paranormal topics and finally stamp out the pesky notion of God, but his campaign appears to be sending mixed messages.

Inannawhimsey's picture
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I think this would provide a good lens to look through as well:

"We are peculiar people. I say this with reference to the fact that whereas almost all other peoples have called their theory of art or expression a “rhetoric” and have thought of art as a kind of knowledge, we have invented an “aesthetic” and think of art as a kind of feeling."

-- Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

Religion as art. Rituals as art. Art as another way of knowing; and not by revealing meaning or finding it but by CREATING it. Thus the importance of religion, even through whatever ways "G_d" one is talking aboot doesn't "exist" by science's standard. A placebo works even if we know it is a placebo. Meaning and purpose are important -- Nietzsche was terribly afraid that humanity's ability to maintain and produce meaning and purpose were getting weaker, so he created art, ways of maintaining meaning and purpose...

I think we all have worldviews/beliefs/delusions/truths/imaginations that 'control' us -- just look at a common delusion -- there are people on Earth who actually believe that there are such things as "Australians" and "Canadians" and "Oregonians" and so forth.

I think that there is still a tendency to search for some 'truth' or way of life or believing where one doesn't have to think anymore, mistaking our comfort for something more real and foundational, whether one calls this "Atheism" or "Scientology" or even "Democracy". But we are never NOT involved in the world, we always have choices and input into what world we are living in and co-creating all the time. That is the bit that is important, I think, from the whole atheist schpiel -- that we are always involved and have choices in our beliefs and not as some magical panacea that atheism is better than theism.

---------
All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

red pill junkie's picture
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You make a *very* good connection there. Indeed, there is an inherent ritualistic quality in the artistic process.

Any true artist will tell you their best work comes when they 'shut down' their inner speech and immerse themselves in the act of creation.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

Inannawhimsey's picture
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Read the full essay...art as a form of knowledge, one that doesn't reveal truth or find truth (like science does) but that CREATES it.

(and maybe the monotheistic fear of 'humanity getting too big for its britches so anything humanity creates isn't worthy but subservient to G_d's GREATNESS' is still with us in scientific guise, but in the sense of 'imagination is subservient and less important than that discovered by science')

This fits with my interests and noticings of such luminaries as Bradbury and Tom Robbins going on aboot Death of the Imagination, of Rob Brezsny and his Apocalypse of the Imagination...there is a tendency to think what humanity creates isn't as real or as important as, say, Gravity.

So maybe this is going to be the 'new paradigm' that is being midwived right now: science and art working together, both finding truths and creating truths -- religion creating truths, science finding truths...with no fear (but respect) of ourselves or what we can do.

---------
All that lives is holy, life delights in life.

--William Blake

The Cancer Man's picture
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"insidious effect on rationality" that fairytales could have with children.

Overall I like Dawkins I guess, but damn, lighten up, ya know. I think his new book here might be a good thing in some ways...

But what about the nurturing of the imagination, and creative spirit? I'm also under the impression that fairytales usually have some sort of moral or point to them that should teach valuable life lessons. So does the Bible, for that matter, being the greatest fairytale of them all. Should we read our children Tax Codes before bed?

How much would you want to bet that Dawkins was read childrens tales as a child? Did it have an "insidious effect" on HIS rationality.

Wait, maybe thats a trick question.

"I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative." - Bill Hicks

Greg H.'s picture
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My cynical and skeptical side wonders if Dawkins doesn't mine the extremes in Atheism to appeal to his fan base for purely monetary benefits, the same way politicians whore their principles to further their political careers. Anyone so committed to their singlemindness is either self deluding or amorally opportunistic. Throughout history - those in the present day always manage to presume their interpretation of reality whether it be science or religion is the pentultimate truth, only to be revealed as woefully inadequate in subsequant generations. What grandiose self-important narcissistic elitist delusions must Dawkins and all those so entranced with themselves must have.

Greg H.

red pill junkie's picture
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The problem of filling the role of poster-boy for a certain movement of philosophy, is that it's like the Mafia: once you're in you can never get out.

Once you show the smallest sign of doubt or ambiguity you'll be condemned of 'growing soft', and there will be plenty of eager volunteers to replace you among people with even more extremist ideas than you.

So I have no doubt that in person Dawkins must be a more open and agreeable fellow than the character he impersonates in public. But Heaven forbid if his devoted followers ever caught him without his mas on.

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

dorayakii's picture
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Correct in part. Atheists don't really need a "posterboy" beacause atheism isn't a philosophy, it is the rejection of a philosophy. Dawkins really needs to get back to what he does best, explaining science. He was the University of Oxford's Professor for Public Understanding of Science 2008 and even though he no longer plays that role, he needs to continue helping people to understand science, rather than criticising those who don't. This is the only way he can help people to see the superiority of the explanatory powers of science, but he needs to also acknowledge that there are things in which science, no matter how superior, has no jurisdiction (and by that I don't mean the supernatural).

Greg's picture
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dorayakii wrote:

Atheists don't really need a "posterboy" beacause atheism isn't a philosophy, it is the rejection of a philosophy.

I think atheists would like to think that's so. I don't believe it is.

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

LastLoup's picture
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I took one look at this and got a nose bleed, had to read Manly Hall to sop up the mess....

...I forgot how I got here but everyone seems to be heading off in that direction. I hope someone brought food. I have a feeling this is going to be a long journey................

undrgrndgirl's picture
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once again to know i'm not alone...i work with a bunch of dawkins worshipers who are totally oblivious to their own dogma, they are incredibly arrogant about their own right-ness, so it is quite refreshing to come here and read the comments of those who are also skeptical of skeptics!

my take on dawkins and his ilk is that they have HUGE mommy issues (mommy being the one who forced them to go to church as children) and the only way they have to deal with those issues is to publicly belittle those who have beliefs different than their own...

as to speculation on a future dawkinsian world watch the season 10 south park "go god go" episodes...

dorayakii's picture
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I do agree that Dawkins and his followers shouldn't belittle differing belief systems, but it doesn't really help your case when you belittle them by patronisingly calling it a "huge mommy issue". A very childish comment I must say.

emlong's picture
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A turgid mix of Asperger's Syndrome,incomplete potty training, poor relationship with the opposite sex, and clinically untreated jerkism including circle jerkism.