…Rely on Them
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. —Arthur C. Clarke
I believe in miracles. Not thunder-and-lightning, fire-from-the-sky, raise-the-dead type miracles, but miracles that happen everywhere, every day — miracles so commonplace we’re likely to dismiss them as merely “science,” “art,” or “nature.”
Miracles occur all the time; we simply fail to recognize them. Once I was chatting with a friend in my apartment. It grew late, and dark, and neither of us felt like getting up to turn on a light. My friend made a peculiar whistling noise and pointed his finger at the light switch. When his activities failed to have any effect, he sighed and said that his magic didn’t seem to be working very well. “Turning on lights is trivial,” I said, hearing my roommate’s footsteps on the stairs. “Catch the light, will you?” I called as my roommate stepped through the door. The room was immediately ablaze with light, though my friend dismissed the event as the work of a charlatan. But was it anything less than a miracle?
Consider what happens when you turn on a light. Electric energy of the sort that powers our homes can’t be stored — it must be created and delivered in precise amounts the instant it is requested. Thousands of people and countless machines are required to accomplish the task. People viewed the light bulb as a miracle when it was first invented. Has the intervening century dimmed its glow?
The miracle goes beyond technology. With scarcely more effort than taking a breath, my wish was fulfilled. The fact that another person assisted in its fulfillment makes it more, not less, miraculous. What processes must have occurred in my brain, what intricate coordination of diaphragm, vocal cords, tongue, teeth and lips was required to vibrate a column of air just so? How many miracles did it take, that tiny bones and filaments vibrated in my roommate’s ear, that in so vibrating they released chemicals, a molecule at a time, that stimulated other chemicals that generated tiny electrical currents that cascaded through his brain in millions of neurons until there was understanding.
We are collections of chemicals that have given those chemicals names. We look inside ourselves, and simulate, synthesize, and theorize about the processes we see there. More than all that, we have done it together. We have developed speech, writing, communication. Where all the other creatures of the earth live with their thoughts locked inside their heads until death, we can share our thoughts with others, or immortalize them in print. So what if communication sometimes fails, and the wrong light gets switched or a war breaks out? Is it so bad if we occasionally have to labor until well into the night to finish writing a particularly recalcitrant essay? What matters is that, through the miracle of language, we communicate. I wonder if the curmudgeon really appreciated the appropriateness of his advice when he counselled “Don’t believe in miracles…rely on them.”
— Ron Risley 1990