Magic: Fantasy and Reality

Qin Sun Stubis is a writer and communications consultant

Qin Sun Stubis is a writer and communications consultant

By Qin Sun Stubis

Magic is more than a form of entertainment. It’s enchanting, whether to children or those young at heart. We’re curious by nature, eager to figure out what seems to be an impossible act being demonstrated right in front of our very eyes.

But a good show is hard to figure out. Most magicians sharpen their skills through years of practice behind closed doors, their specialties often handed down in secrecy from generation to generation. So how do they pull off these mysterious, seemingly inexplicable deeds? True magicians never tell.

You may call them “fakers” or “masters of illusion,” but worshippers of Harry Houdini, the king of all magic tricks, were convinced that he actually attempted and succeeded in doing the impossible. He was so brilliant that they expected him to cheat death itself, emerging from his tomb someday.

After a seamless magic show, the audience often walks away with more questions than answers. What looks plain and simple may puzzle many for days: How does a rabbit actually come out of an empty hat, a person levitate in midair, or a smiling actress disappear from a locked box?

Our dear family friend Dr. Lew Lipsitt, Professor Emeritus at Brown University, is a coin wizard who entertains us every time we visit his home in Marion, MA. I’ve watched closely many times as he made coins appear and disappear, but I could never tell how in the world he breathed life into his pocket change, commanding it to come and go, multiply or dwindle.

We think of magic as an entertaining form of fiction, but these days science and technology are taking the place of mysterious men in cloaks with top hats, literally pulling real objects out of thin air. Just think of one strange device that recently evolved from a two-thousand-year-old Chinese invention: printing.

Instead of churning out illusions of reality, mere words and images on blank paper, a “3-D printer” actually creates real, physical things. It is like a genie-in-a-box that takes your wish as its command. After being fed image data such as sonograms and CT scans, it prints out practically anything and everything, from custom-fit hearing aids to microscopic batteries, paper guns, and even the promise of new human organs.

Not long ago, the National Children’s Medical Center in Washington, D.C. started to use 3-D technology to replicate young patients’ hearts and study their deformities before operations. A model heart is synthesized to the exact specifics of the real one in size, shape, texture, and color. It allows a surgeon to look into each unique aspect of a patient’s anatomy, plan out treatment strategies, and even do practice runs on these “stunt doubles” before an actual operation.

The invention of printing helped preserve and spread ideas, propelling civilization forward. Now the invention of 3-D printing promises to take us to a whole new level, providing us with a magic box where ideas go in and real objects come out. Sometimes I look at my printer in awe, wondering what will walk out of it someday: a smart robot, maybe, to serve me dinner or body parts made with my own genetic material to replace damaged ones and make me new again. Today’s fantasy may become tomorrow’s reality. Now, that’s magic in the making.

You can always reach me at

Qin Stubis is a regular columnist for The Santa Monica Star. She lives in Bethesda, MD.

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