Like Magic

One of my favourite fictional series is Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. I love it partly because of how well-written it is, and partly because of how it inspires me to strive to educate and improve myself.

In the books, learning magic is a little bit like learning high-level mathematics, and a little bit like learning complicated old dead languages. (Indeed, learning dead languages is actually one component of learning magic, in that universe.) It is arduous, slow intellectual work to improve at magic, but those few who can be disciplined enough to do it will find themselves able to change the reality around them with a word, a gesture.

This sort of story really appeals to me, largely because it points to a set of profound truths about the world we live in.

-Knowledge, words, languages, have power, power that can (if used rightly) make life better for ourselves and also for others within our relational reach.

-These things are difficult to master, really requiring decades of effort for most of us to make meaningful headway, and often with only meagre rewards in the short term.

-We can make faster progress once we have a sense of what we need to learn, but even then the only way forward is brute force, just putting in the time and effort and being consistent. Read and reread, learn and relearn, think it through to the point of understanding and then think it all through again.

We can study languages, and philosophy, and rhetoric, and the techniques and output of the great writers and thinkers of history. Without that study we cannot hope to change things in the world, certainly not in a way that is at all responsible. With such study, though, we just might.

The vast majority of people will not know that this is a reasonable choice to make; of those who do, a still smaller fraction has the capacity and the determination to follow such a course of studies down its twisting and exhausting path.

Do we have what it takes? Can we put in the time and effort now in view of the great advantages we will possess later? If we think about how we spend our time on an average day, we probably have our answer.

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