Arthur C Clarke told us that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic‘.
It was a quite distinctive way of telling us that in the future, some weird shit could go down. It’s a handy reference point for a SF writer, particularly one who really wants to write fantasy but prefers it a little shinier than most.
It’s the premise that allows Clarke’s giant black obelisks to grant clubbing abilities to monkeys or propel spacemen through hallucinogenic streaks of light. The music’s pretty cool too.
There’s even a noticeable kernel of truth in there.
Things will become possible in our lifetime that would seem like magic to us by the time they come around.
Except they won’t, because we’ll ‘understand’ it by then. Take some of the changes in our lifetime. It’s now the norm to have tiny black boxes that give us any kind of information we want, plucking knowledge and videos of cats licking window panes out of the aether that apparently wafts through the air we breathe.
It would all seem pretty magical; and in a semantic sense, for many of us, it is. Few of us know how every bit of technology we simplify (and complicate) our lives with work.
Even the simple things don’t rest entirely within our ken. I’m pretty sure my kettle works by taking electricity, passing it through an inefficient conducting element that turns the electrical energy into heat energy (and light energy, turning the element red). This in turn heats the water around it, eventually making tea, but even in that relatively simple flow chart there’s elements I haven’t taken the time to figure out. Most notably, how does it know when it’s boiled?
So the kettle is magic.
And just imagine how magic the telly is, or the laptop, or the iPhone.
We live in a world where things just work.
And some people decide to be magicians and figure out how things work. And make new kinds of magic.
All the time.
And a lot of them probably get quite pissed off if you call them magicians.
Which is probably fair enough.
Other magicians I’m not so fond of, but only because they lack a certain form of skepticism. There are a thousand attempts to explain things we don’t know about yet, and any based on belief are kinda faulty.
One magus said it already:
In this book it is spoken of the sephiroth & the paths, of spirits & conjurations, of gods, spheres, planes & many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether they exist or not. By doing certain thngs certain results follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophical validity to any of them.
– Aleister Crowley
Now there’s some mystical skepticism we can all get behind.
I don’t think I believe in belief that much. Believing is too close to solidifying, and solidifying is a bit too close to death for my liking.
Illustration by Adam.