Intentional Community


In the ear­ly 1970’s, a half dozen friends came togeth­er with the pur­pose of learn­ing to live bet­ter and con­tribute to oth­ers’ doing so. Chal­lenged by a postal ser­vice employ­ee to pick on the spot a name for our group on the spot so that we might share a post office box as unre­lat­ed indi­vid­u­als, we light-heart­ed­ly called our­selves Magic.

Few peo­ple at that time had heard of ecology—scientific study of inter­ac­tion between life and envi­ron­ment. Few­er still had giv­en much thought to it. Ear­ly Magi­cians and those who’ve fol­lowed share a per­cep­tion that ecol­o­gy is the sole demon­strat­ed method to more accu­rate­ly dis­cern and more ful­ly enjoy value.

This insight is the foun­da­tion for val­ue­science, an emer­gent dis­ci­pline to which Magi­cians have been key con­trib­u­tors, and a core prac­tice under­pin­ning Magic’s work. We per­ceive val­ue­science to be a unique­ly effec­tive means to fur­ther human well-being by address­ing a full spec­trum of con­cerns at their roots and in an inte­grat­ed fashion.

From the out­set, some Magi­cians lived and worked togeth­er as an inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty so that we might broad­ly ben­e­fit from each other’s part­ner­ship in learn­ing and apply­ing val­ue­science. When we incor­po­rat­ed Mag­ic as a pub­lic ser­vice orga­ni­za­tion in 1979, this core group assumed pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty for shap­ing and deliv­er­ing its pro­grams. Ever since, res­i­dents of the inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty have relied upon val­ue­science to gen­er­ate insights and to apply these to fur­ther com­mon good.

In the fol­low­ing sec­tions we present an overview of the Mag­ic inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty: its foun­da­tion­al ideas, its past, its present, and plans for its future.


Many humans lack the req­ui­sites of a decent life. Despite mil­len­nia of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion, social reform, and phil­an­thropic effort, more peo­ple today than ever before are starv­ing, home­less, sick, bru­tal­ized, envi­ron­men­tal­ly poi­soned, and strug­gling to find mean­ing and purpose.

We at Mag­ic view these afflic­tions to be symp­toms. We work to end them by address­ing under­ly­ing caus­es. As humans become more numer­ous and pow­er­ful, we see mount­ing evi­dence that we can trace these caus­es through our own behav­iors to our infor­ma­tion about value—about what we want and how to get it—on which we base behav­ior, and final­ly to flawed meth­ods by which we obtain and qual­i­fy that information.

Infor­ma­tion about val­ue is encod­ed in our genes at con­cep­tion and in our brains through expe­ri­ence. Some is inac­cu­rate, as we dis­cov­er when we get what we think we want and feel dis­ap­point­ed or do what we think suf­fi­cient and come up short. To live and die well and con­tribute to oth­ers’ doing so, we learn to more accu­rate­ly dis­cern and more ful­ly real­ize value.

Infor­ma­tion per­tain­ing to val­ue entails pre­dic­tion of con­se­quences of inter­ac­tions with an envi­ron­ment that includes oth­er peo­ple, oth­er life, and abi­ot­ic enti­ties, both nat­ur­al and arti­fi­cial. Ecol­o­gy is the sole demon­strat­ed means for pre­dict­ing such out­comes more suc­cess­ful­ly than we can pre­dict them by chance. It is the only way humans have dis­cov­ered to inform action so that we more often get what we want and want what we get. Ecol­o­gy prac­ticed to these ends is valuescience.

We under­pin val­ue­science with this human ecol­o­gy framework.

As we become more adept and con­sis­tent in prac­tic­ing val­ue­science, we change broad­ly and deeply, alter­ing how we work, play, relate to oth­ers, and think about our­selves. We use sci­ence to qual­i­fy oth­er ways of know­ing val­ue, includ­ing adher­ence to “gut” instincts, to reli­gious, polit­i­cal, or oth­er author­i­ty, or to pop­u­lar opinion.

Magic’s res­i­den­tial ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty is a con­text for peo­ple who want to root out mis­in­for­ma­tion about value—however deeply embedded—and recon­struct self and soci­ety on firmer ground. We found the com­mu­ni­ty on proven learn­ing meth­ods: (1) immer­sion is among the most effec­tive ways to learn, espe­cial­ly when learn­ing entails broad and deep per­son­al trans­for­ma­tion; (2) part­ners in change can facil­i­tate and accel­er­ate indi­vid­u­als’ becom­ing more as we intend; (3) exam­ple is a pow­er­ful les­son; and (4) we learn more by doing than by mere­ly hear­ing or seeing.

The Mag­ic ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty is both lab­o­ra­to­ry and demon­stra­tion. Par­tic­i­pants apply val­ue­science to gen­er­ate mean­ing and pur­pose; to become health­i­er and con­tribute to oth­ers’ doing so; to shape a freer, fair­er, more peace­ful soci­ety; and to pro­tect and enhance the nat­ur­al and con­struct­ed envi­ron­ments. We demon­strate how indi­vid­u­als can cre­ate an inte­grat­ed liv­ing-work­ing envi­ron­ment in which abstract ideas about fur­ther­ing human well-being are bases for con­crete actions that yield observ­able and mea­sur­able ben­e­fits. Magi­cians empha­size that par­tic­u­lars of our prac­tices illus­trate a few of many pos­si­ble ways, rather than “the” way to apply val­ue­science for indi­vid­ual and com­mon good.


At the out­set, Magi­cians were more or less peers. After rent­ing togeth­er for a few years, we pur­chased a house in 1976. Over time we became a node in a net­work of pro­gres­sives. We worked towards greater per­son­al aware­ness and health; more wide­spread peace, free­dom, and jus­tice; and more effec­tive envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, and we host­ed and col­lab­o­rat­ed with oth­ers work­ing to these ends.

As those of us who per­sist­ed in mak­ing Mag­ic gained expe­ri­ence and pro­fi­cien­cy in artic­u­lat­ing and apply­ing val­ue­science, we became known for this and attract­ed peo­ple who want­ed to live, learn, and serve with us so that they might hone their own under­stand­ings and prac­tices. By 1979, when we reg­is­tered Mag­ic as a pub­lic ser­vice orga­ni­za­tion to research and teach human ecol­o­gy, we were guid­ing a steady stream of res­i­dent interns, asso­ciates, and affil­i­ates in apply­ing val­ue­science to real­ize their indi­vid­ual poten­tials and con­tribute to oth­ers’ real­iz­ing theirs.

Mag­ic fel­lows and res­i­dents place a gate and post assem­bly at our inten­tion­al liv­ing community.

Dur­ing Magic’s first forty years, more than one hun­dred res­i­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed in the ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty for a year or more, anoth­er two hun­dred par­tic­i­pat­ed for a month to a year, hun­dreds more par­tic­i­pat­ed for days or weeks, thou­sands of non-res­i­dents made day vis­its, and tens of thou­sands of peo­ple direct­ly, and many more indi­rect­ly ben­e­fit­ted from pub­lic ser­vices deliv­ered by residents.

Edi­tors and pub­lish­ers of books, mag­a­zines, and news­pa­pers have found the Mag­ic ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty wor­thy of note. Mag­ic was select­ed to be the sub­ject of a lengthy pro­file in the Com­mu­ni­ties Direc­to­ry, a com­pre­hen­sive guide to more than six hun­dred inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ties through­out the U.S. It also has been fea­tured in arti­cles in Com­mu­ni­ties, the Jour­nal of Coop­er­a­tive Liv­ing, in a five-page cov­er sto­ry and pho­to essay in the Palo Alto Week­ly, in a two-page alum­ni pro­file in Stan­ford mag­a­zine, and in a San Jose Metro cov­er sto­ry. Print, broad­cast, and web media have pub­lished numer­ous reports acknowl­edg­ing Magi­cians’ con­tri­bu­tions to com­mon good.

In Octo­ber, 2019 we cel­e­brat­ed the 40th anniver­sary of Magic’s incor­po­ra­tion and com­ple­tion of a thor­ough, decade-long orga­ni­za­tion­al renew­al. Dur­ing this ten-year peri­od we’ve been recon­struct­ing val­ue­science cur­ricu­lum, revis­ing oth­er pro­gram con­tent, broad­en­ing the com­mu­ni­ty of Mag­ic sup­port­ers, and over­haul­ing and expand­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al and phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture to increase our capac­i­ty to serve. Res­i­den­tial ser­vice-learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty per­son­nel have led this process.


The Mag­ic com­mu­ni­ty is rec­og­nized as a unique and suc­cess­ful exper­i­ment. We enjoy ongo­ing work­ing rela­tion­ships to pro­vide ser­vice learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents at Stan­ford, at oth­er col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties, and at pub­lic and pri­vate ele­men­tary, mid­dle, and high schools. We also part­ner with employ­ees of local busi­ness­es and mem­bers of com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions and reli­gious congregations.

Mag­ic asso­ciate Hilary Bay­er hosts for lunch and an intro­duc­tion to val­ue­science at Mag­ic a dozen of the 36 Inter­na­tion­al Oaks Con­fer­ence atten­dees who par­tic­i­pat­ed in a post-con­fer­ence tour of Mag­ic’s Plant­i­ng for the Sec­ond Hun­dred Years oak project at Stanford.

We host, and exchange ideas with oth­er lead­ers in the inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ties move­ment, in pub­lic ser­vice, in land plan­ning and build­ing con­struc­tion, in ecosys­tem con­ser­va­tion, and in edu­ca­tion. In a typ­i­cal year we receive inquiries from more than a hun­dred prospec­tive res­i­dents liv­ing around the nation and the world, about twen­ty of whom we accept for stays of a few weeks to a year or more. We also host hun­dreds of vis­i­tors and pro­gram par­tic­i­pants annually.

Since the organization’s found­ing, Magi­cians have pub­lished in peer-reviewed pro­fes­sion­al jour­nals. By doing so we’ve earned cred­i­bil­i­ty in sci­en­tif­ic cir­cles. We’re uti­liz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty cre­at­ed by this rep­u­ta­tion to bring val­ue­science to the fore in teach­ing and in demon­stra­tion projects at Stan­ford and in oth­er mid-San Fran­cis­co Peninsula/Silicon Val­ley con­texts. Since 2010 we’ve made val­ue­science learn­ing avail­able on-line and with­out fee by post­ing a syl­labus, lec­tures, study ques­tions, and oth­er materials.

The ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty is key to com­mu­ni­cat­ing val­ue­science. With it Magi­cians pro­vide an inte­grat­ed exam­ple of how peo­ple can shape sat­is­fy­ing work and home lives by weav­ing togeth­er ideas and prac­tices stud­ied, taught, and applied through oth­er Mag­ic pro­grams. We take sat­is­fac­tion in the many com­pli­ments we receive from thought­ful observers who laud us for “walk­ing our talk.”

The infor­ma­tion com­mu­ni­cat­ed with­in and through the ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty is a broad, deep blend of the­o­ry and prac­tice. Par­tic­i­pants learn meth­ods and prin­ci­ples of val­ue­science and apply them to reassess fun­da­men­tal ideas about iden­ti­ty and pur­pose, to become health­i­er, to improve rela­tion­ships with oth­ers, and to become bet­ter stew­ards of the envi­ron­ment. As they do these things, they also oper­ate Mag­ic and play key roles in deliv­er­ing its pro­grams for ben­e­fit of the gen­er­al public.

Magic’s phys­i­cal facil­i­ties are well-matched to needs of the ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty. Three sin­gle fam­i­ly res­i­dences on adja­cent lots in a qui­et Palo Alto neigh­bor­hood abut­ting Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty are with­in walk­ing dis­tance of shop­ping and major tran­sit lines and with­in bicy­cling dis­tance of thou­sands of acres of pub­licly acces­si­ble open space. Near­by church­es, schools, and com­mer­cial facil­i­ties are avail­able to accom­mo­date Mag­ic activ­i­ties that might be out-of-place in our peace­ful res­i­den­tial neighborhood.

The prop­er­ties togeth­er com­prise one-half acre. We’re evolv­ing a per­ma­cul­ture land­scape empha­siz­ing native plants and fruit trees and demon­strat­ing tech­niques for per­co­lat­ing storm water, reusing house­hold gray water, and eschew­ing tox­ic and fos­sil-fuel-based maintenance.

Build­ings com­prise approx­i­mate­ly 8,000 square feet. We ren­o­vat­ed one res­i­dence in 2000. In 2015, we occu­pied anoth­er,  new­ly-con­struct­ed and designed and built to evi­dence eco­log­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty. On-site facil­i­ties include an office, a work­shop, gym, and music prac­tice and recre­ation rooms.

Five res­i­dent fel­lows with tenures of ten to more than forty years guide the com­mu­ni­ty. Ten to fif­teen oth­er res­i­dents learn and serve with ben­e­fit of their expe­ri­ence. Togeth­er these Magi­cians wel­come a steady stream of short-term res­i­dent interns and day vis­i­tors diverse in age and expe­ri­ence. Despite rig­or­ous selec­tion stan­dards, qual­i­fied appli­cants to the res­i­den­tial ser­vice learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty sub­stan­tial­ly exceed the num­ber we are able to accommodate.


Recent and ongo­ing phys­i­cal facil­i­ties expan­sion and ren­o­va­tion, growth in per­son­nel, and pub­lish­ing and teach­ing suc­cess­es rep­re­sent a rich oppor­tu­ni­ty. Mag­ic now has where­with­al to fur­ther pub­lic inter­est more effec­tive­ly than ever before. To this end we are con­duct­ing a grow­ing num­ber of val­ue­science meet­ings, sem­i­nars, and pub­lic pre­sen­ta­tions aimed at expand­ing the ranks of peo­ple who under­stand the impor­tance of this dis­ci­pline, who apply it to ben­e­fit self and oth­ers, and who sup­port Magic’s lead­er­ship in devel­op­ing and dis­sem­i­nat­ing it. We’re rel­ish­ing the greater capac­i­ty of this larg­er ser­vice com­mu­ni­ty as we com­plete the orga­ni­za­tion­al renew­al under­way and expand val­ue­science research and teach­ing so that humankind can more ful­ly reap its benefits.

Mag­ic res­i­dents lead in orga­niz­ing semi­an­nu­al neigh­bor­hood gath­er­ings. Mag­ic’s house band pro­vides entertainment.

If you want to learn more about val­ue­science, apply it to fur­ther com­mon good, and sup­port oth­ers in doing these things, please con­sid­er how you might par­tic­i­pate in the Mag­ic inten­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty: vis­it for a meal; if you want to test the water more bold­ly, come stay for a day or a few; if you’re ready to jump in, apply to be a res­i­dent. Who­ev­er you are, you may be able to improve your own and oth­ers’ well-being by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the con­tin­u­ing evo­lu­tion of the pio­neer­ing exper­i­ment that is the Mag­ic ser­vice-learn­ing com­mu­ni­ty. We’ll wel­come your partnership. ❧