Many of us grew up avidly reading and watching the Harry Potter series, and attempting to (in vain) use it in real life. Though we may live in a muggle society, it is an interesting question to consider whether magic could be possible with our philosophical ideas of perception.
Direct realism is the idea that objects exist in material space and time, and retain their own qualities. That is to say, that if you saw a red door, then you are perceiving an object that is in an external world and is indeed red. This is often the most criticized theory of perception, but for the sake of the question it does have it benefits; the fundamental concept of magic is that there are set spells that can be taught to all wizards that have the same effect for every single witch or wizard. For this to work, everybody needs to perceive the object as the same, otherwise the same spell would work differently for everyone who cast it. This would challenge the idea of teaching magic, and therefore the idea of spell books or Hogwarts would be impossible. This doesn’t mean magic wouldn’t exist, but it does provide a strong challenge. However, using direct realism solves this problem as the properties belong to the object, not our mind.
This would make it seem that magic would be plausible with direct realism. Unfortunately, direct realism fails to stand up to the objections that have been raised by philosophers, such as perceptual variation. Locke, for instance, illustrates this with the use of water. If you put one hand into hot water, then one hand into cold water followed by placing both into lukewarm water, then one hand will perceive the water as hot and the other as cold. This is impossible as the vein of water could not possibly change its qualities in the external world. Therefore, the properties cannot belong to the object but our mind as sense data (termed by Russell). This goes directly against direct realism and leans itself to indirect realism.
Indirect realism is the idea that objects are external and exist in material time and space, possessing some primary qualities (such as shape and size) but not all. In fact, some secondary qualities are created in the mind as a result of the primary qualities (such as colour, smell and taste). This theory of perception does have a benefit in the fact it explains the casual principle involved in magic. Boyle proved that sound cannot travel in a vacuum demonstrating that in order for us to perceive sensations there must be a causal process linking us to the object.
This idea is important to the concept of magic because there must be a causal process between the object and the witch or wizard. In the case of indirect realism, the causal process would be magic. In fact, magic would be a great way of proving indirect realism as we could physically see the causal process instead of relying on an invisible causal process proved by the evidence of science.
However, unfortunately for indirect realism, magic does not exist and it is opened to a wide range of criticisms which mostly focus on not being able to prove the existence of the external world. For example, Descartes came up with the idea of the Cartesian Devil, a devil which gives us the perception of the real world, but does not actually exist. It is impossible for us to disprove this idea as, in the case of demons, we could not trust what our senses where telling us.
On top of this, the benefits of direct realism are lost when we turn to indirect realism. In direct realism, secondary qualities are interpreted by the brain, and as all our brains are different (for example, take those who are colour blind) there is no guarantee that we perceive secondary qualities exactly the same as the next person. As a result, it would be extremely difficult to label spells as doing certain things, as they would have different effects on different people. This creates a strong challenge to our concept of magic.
A far more damming argument to this perception is that it is impossible to separate primary and secondary qualities. In fact, some believe that all properties are secondary qualities, such as Berkeley’s Idealism. This is where there is no external world and all objects, plus their properties, are mind dependant. That is to say, all objects are bundles of ideas produced by the mind.
There is a benefit to this as our minds would be controlling the objects around us which would be a form of magic. However, this is one of the only ones and is far outweighed by the negatives. For example, Berkeley’s idealism relies on the idea that we are somehow in control of what we perceive. If that was the case, then surely we would live in utopias. We could eat ice cream all day without getting fat, we could get rid of suffering and we would have no need for schools as we knew the information anyway. It is clear that we don’t live in such worlds and therefore it cannot possibly be concluded that actually we are in control of such a world.
Despite this, Berkeley still sticks to his argument by defending it via the use of the all-perceiving perceiver – God. The idea is that everything that we perceive in this world is just a bundle of ideas that have been produced from the mind of God. We do not have control over such ideas.
We could list flaws with this argument indefinitely, but instead we are going to use the one that is relevant to the question, and that is the fact that if we come to this conclusion, then we must accept the fact that God is the only one with any magical power. For most of you hoping to be witches or wizards I’m sure you will agree that that is rubbish and defeats the idea of a magical society if God is the only one in possession of magic. Therefore, the price we pay for using idealism is far too great for the magic we gain.
In conclusion, magic would be best suited towards indirect realism, due to magic supporting the idea of the causal process. However, we must acknowledge that there are still flaws with this theory of perception. Therefore, it pains me to say that we must carry on living in the muggle world we currently reside in.
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