Sunday, May 27, 2012

Of mushrooms and disenchantment

“The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations.” —Max Weber

Max Weber – sociologist – is talking about the loss of the sacred, the loss of our feeling of awe and amazement and the sense of magic. This loss has been brought on by the age of science, the extreme – and sometimes zealous – desire for rationality.

The loss of enchantment.

I get the desire to rely on science rather than “non-science”. Science has given humans an immense advantage in the survival of our species. I believe though that we have to be careful how far we take this reliance on our left brains.

There’s a danger in believing that if it can’t be proved, it’s not real.

I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in God. So I guess I’m an atheist. I don’t believe we should all be living our lives by any set of rules linked to an external force that will reward or punish us for our behaviour.

But I look at some of the atheists I know and think they take it too far. Being an atheist isn’t about intellectual superiority, and shouldn’t become a cause pursued with religious fervour. Scepticism is taking over as a new religion. Take a look in the mirror you guys, you’re more like the people you’re being intolerant of than you realise.

I do believe in something other. I believe there’s more to existence than science can currently prove. And I like that. I feel no desire to debunk every possible belief that hasn’t currently been proved. I don’t believe that we must be rational at all cost. Where’s the fun in that?

I also don’t feel the need to preach to and convert everyone I know to the great god science.

Weber says that “ God, magic, and myth are now replaced with logic and knowledge.”
In Western civilisation, I believe he’s right.

What is the long-term cost to art, creativity, literature, as we leave belief behind us? What will this cost us if we continue to worship only at the altar of science?
What does it mean to our sense of morality, ethics, and values, if all we care about is rationality?Time will tell. For me though, civilisation without magic, without the unknown, a sense of the divine, the enchanting stuff that makes your hair stand on end because it triggers something deep in your more primitive brain, will be a pretty dull place.


Many thanks to Julie Klop for bringing Weber to my attention.

A touch of magic in dull old Burwood is what prompted this post. This is a very large ring of mushrooms – a Fairy Ring – around a tree down the road from our house. I couldn’t get an aerial view to show it properly, but here it is – first as is:

And now showing the actual path of the mushrooms.

Magical, huh?

Where do you find the enchanted in your life?


  1. Yes it is magical. I believe that there is magic, but that we explain it with science. So mystical stuff can and does happen, and eventually science explains some of the how. Quantum physics and parapsychology have funny little links together that cannot be fully explained, like how observing a particle (I think it's a quark) can influence the particle just through obeservance.

    I tell my girls that magic is there, we just have to look for it. It may not be what we think or be explained in the way we think, but as we uncover some of how it works we do see magic. I think some of our technology uses part of magic, all of those electrical fields and waves and frequencies we can't see with our senses. What else is out there that we have not seen?

    Anyway, science should never be an altar. it should be an investigation to bring betterment and understanding to mankind. It should not be used to debunk religions or magic because we haven't discovered everything now, have we? Not only that, who can say that the big bang theory isn't just a physical explanation of what a higher power did? It does not declare the absence of a higher power.

    Anyway, I am not a religious person. I don't subscribe to any fait in particular, I just know there is something "other" as you say, and make sure my kids know tht, because they're the next scientists, lawyers, politicians, doctors, etc that we are handing our world to.

  2. I'm one of those people who needs things proven to me. Blah. And you're right, it probably does take away the enchantment because instead of revelling in it, I'm probably asking "well how the hell did that happen?!!!"

    As for what I do find enchanting, that's easy. The sea, it's always the sea. I could sit there for hours lost in its beauty and sometimes savagery.

    1. I agree about the sea - it's an amazing force. Like standing next to the biggest battery in the world.

      Thanks for reading!