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Stories from the Verse
Versers Versus Versers
Chapter 11: Kondor 156
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Kondor had heard Lauren’s stories as she told them over dinner in the presence of the Caliph, so he knew what had happened to her since their last meeting. She tended to wheedle a seat near the Caliph at dinners regularly, apparently so she could hear all the stories she had missed. It was thus a few weeks before she was sitting with Joe and Zeke without the royal contingent. Zeke questioned her.
“So,” he began, “Maybe you can settle something for me. Shella says that almost everything she does, other than read minds, is magic. Derek says that almost nothing he does is magic, but it’s all this mental stuff he calls psionics, but that he believes in magic, too, he just doesn’t do much of it. The Cap says there is no such thing as magic, so it all has to be mental, psionics, even if Shella and Derek somehow think otherwise. I’m told you do a lot of that kind of thing, and you say they’re different. Why do you think the Cap is wrong?”
Lauren smiled. “Joe’s an atheist,” she said. “He doesn’t believe in magic because he doesn’t believe in God or spirits or anything beyond what he can find in the natural world. Are you an atheist, Ezekiel?”
“I wouldn’t say so, ma’am.”
“That’s a good name--the name of a prophet. Are you a Christian?”
“Methodist,” Zeke replied. “Not all that good a Methodist; my Gran would roll over in her grave if she knew I carried a deck of cards with me and drank beer at the pub. But it’s on my dog tags.”
Lauren waved aside the issue of being a good Methodist. “I knew a guy who joked that Methodism was the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, nine million members no two of whom agreed on any point of doctrine. But if you’re a Methodist, you believe in God.”
“I reckon so, ma’am.”
“You also believe that Jesus rose from the dead.”
“Well, I remember they told me that in Sunday School. I’m not quite sure whether or not I believe it.”
“That’s important. You see, magic works based on what you believe, and whether you expect that there is supernatural power which you can use, one way or another. One way is to pray, to ask God or some other supernatural being such as a saint or a djinni or an angel to use the power for you. The other way is to learn to channel the power yourself. I do both, and I also use my own inner power, the psionics at which Derek is so good. But if like Joe you don’t believe that there’s anything supernatural out there, then obviously you can’t use it.”
“So you’re saying,” Zeke suggested, “that Joe doesn’t believe in magic because he doesn’t believe in magic.”
“You could put it that way. In a way he’s protected against magic by his own disbelief, although not completely. His skepticism works against the faith of others, and becomes self-confirming.”
“My ‘skepticism’, as you call it,” Kondor interjected, “is an honest recognition that there are alternative explanations for everything people attribute to magic.”
“Sure there are,” Lauren said. “Once upon a time all carts and carriages were moved by draft animals or sometimes people. Then in the nineteenth century what they called the ‘horseless carriage’ started to make its appearance. Some of the earliest were modeled on scaled down versions of James Watt’s steam engine that had made the railroad possible, and so we had the Stanley Steamer. Someone also figured out how to make an internal combustion engine--the combination of a lot of ideas and technologies and techniques to get rotary torque from an engine by exploding gasoline in small quantities. So if you saw a car coming down the street, you might then have thought that somehow they had hidden the animals inside or underneath, and in fact they could have done it that way. So you have an explanation, but it’s the wrong explanation. You might guess that it’s a steam engine, and still be wrong if it’s a gasoline engine. In short, just because you have a theory that explains the facts you know doesn’t mean that the theory is correct, or that it explains the facts you don’t know.
“Have people wrongly claimed that magic was the explanation for perfectly natural things they didn’t understand? Of course they did. That doesn’t mean that magic is never the right answer, just like the fact that you almost never see an electric car doesn’t mean that all cars run on gasoline.”
“So,” Zeke volunteered, “ultimately there’s magic if you believe in magic, but there isn’t if you don’t?”
“No,” Lauren replied, “magic exists whether or not you believe in it, but if you don’t believe you cut yourself off from it.”
“Of course it’s different. It means that magic still exists for everyone else, and still might affect you. You just can’t affect it.”
Kondor could tell that this was having an effect on Zeke, and the last thing he needed was a companion who thought he could do magic. It was time to change the subject. “So,” he said, “when you were in that asylum, why didn’t you just use magic to escape?”
“Most of my magic didn’t work well in that world. Besides, most of my magic is designed to kill vampires and other spirit creatures of evil. I don’t know that much of it would have worked against hospital workers even in an atheistic dictatorial world, but I didn’t really want to kill people to escape. And your argument doesn’t really work, because most of my psionics didn’t work well in that world, either, and we already know that in some worlds some things work better and others not at all. Just because something doesn’t always work doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It just means that most things we do involve a possibility of failure, and when we’re moving between universes the rules change.”
Kondor sort of humphed. He knew from experience that this was not an argument he could win, and realized that if he pursued it it would probably wind up having the opposite effect on Zeke from what he hoped. He excused himself to go get more oranges to wash down his meal. The problem, he realized, was that Lauren was so entrenched in her beliefs that simple logic wasn’t going to persuade her that what she thought she’d experienced was unreal. Apparently professionals, with much more skill than he, had just been trying to do something very like that, and she was unshaken.
Of course, in that case they were trying to disprove a reality that was very real, but outside their experience. That was different.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #319: Quiet Worlds. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: