John Watkinson ponders miracles.

I remember as a child reading someone’s outpourings on the subject of radio and what a miracle it was that all the different instruments in an orchestra could simultaneously be reproduced out of one speaker. 

I didn’t find it easy being a child and being told that adults always know better. If that was true then I must have been extremely stupid because what I thought was being logical often contradicted what I was told. Clearly my logic was at fault, but I couldn’t see why and it was rather stressful. 

I recall the day when I had to have an injection to ward off some disease or other. Some authority figure wearing a white coat filled a syringe from a container and then told me with a straight face that it wouldn’t hurt when he stuck it in my arm.  This time my logic wasn’t at fault. What I had been told was an outright lie. Although it was painful, it was an important lesson that not everything you are told is true.

Some of the other children who were told the same thing actually burst into tears on account of the pain, leaving me in no doubt that what I had felt wasn’t in my imagination or down to some shortcoming in my own body. 

It was with thoughts of that kind in the back of my mind that I tried to decide whether listening to an orchestra on the radio was a miracle. I wasn’t convinced.

When I learned about eardrums, and how they vibrated in sympathy with sound to let it in whilst keeping dirt out, I think it dawned on me that an eardrum was like a loudspeaker diaphragm in that it could only be in one place at one time. If I could hear all of the instruments of the orchestra through such an eardrum, why should not a loudspeaker perform the same trick? There is a flaw in that argument, because it could be that it is the eardrum that is the miracle.

Years passed and I became more accustomed to adults talking nonsense and even came to expect it. Then one day I read that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic to those who don’t understand it.

There is a good corollary to that piece of wisdom. A miracle is defined as some event that cannot be explained by physical laws. That’s not a very good definition, because…

(contd)
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