This week I was asked to speak to our first year business students about what a transformational education means at the University of Essex. This was both an honour and a privilege as I have always believed that a University education is truly transformational and is one of the most incredible times in your life. My own time at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s was unbelievably good. The professors, the campus, the extracurricular activities, and the dense social relationships all combined into four years of learning, living, and lucidity that have been a great foundation for all that I have done ever since.
In preparing my comments for our new students, I reflected on my time at Penn with great fondness and thought back on all the changes I experienced. I also reflected on the word transformation and its different meanings. For the talk, I made reference to the natural world and included images of the life cycle for a butterfly and a frog. I then reflected on the Aristotelian notion of telos accompanied by an image of an acorn and an oak tree. Inside all of us (acorns) is an oak tree waiting to get out.
As a magician, I had of course to reflect on alchemy and the scholar magicians of the 16th century, who were interested in the conversion of base metal into gold, as well as the process of spiritual development. For me, the notion of the vessel from alchemy was important for my talk. Inside the vessel, all sorts of changes happen. The vessel as a metaphor was useful for my point about education at Essex.
We take our base material (the students), put them in a vessel (library and classrooms), ferment the students (books, lectures, knowledge, skills, relationships, learning environment), and distillation (the newly formed graduate), the result of which is a person ready to take on the world.
I shared my own personal transformation from an idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania to an Academic Magician living in England. To cap off the event, I performed a quick demonstration using a Rubik’s Cube and a mind reading experiment using Thomas Hobbes classic tome Leviathan.
I like the openness of the University of Essex to these kinds of ideas. It is a University that has been challenging convention since its founding in 1964 and this week was ranked among the top 100 in the world for the social sciences. It has been my professional home since 1993 and a base from where I have been able to explore the world.
Next week, the Edge Hotel School, the first of its kind in the UK for work based learning in the newly refurbished Wivenhoe House Hotel, will host my new show ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, which explores many foundational philosophical ideas through the medium of magic and mentalism.
Like the lecture, the show offers a different opportunity for transformational education, which for me, is something that is ongoing and never really reaches an end…