Sterling’s Truths for Life #117

All technology is magic.

science technology magic

Further Explanation

One of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous epigrams says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is a sensible and easily accepted statement. However, I think there’s a deeper level of understanding that is even more practical to daily human life: “All technology is magic.” This captures the essence of both what humans believe about technology and what humans actually know.

The technologies we like are the ones that are magical. The reason a person goes to a crowdfunding site to invest in some bit of technology is because they see some gadget and think, “Wow, that really solves a problem I have.” That "wow” is the magic. The same goes for just about all technologies we adopt. We adopt them because they “magically” solve a problem for us. It is true that some technology is used in commodity form and we no longer even think of it and wonder: ballpoint pens, paper, squared lumber, uniform weights and measures, etc. However, they were magical to the first humans that adopted them.

Also we generally understand far less about technology than we presume we do. There are those who understand the principles operating each part of their car or home heating system or computer or whatever. However, we only understand these on a macro scale: this part pushes on that, this electrical switch turns on when that sensor detects this, etc. We may even understand on a certain micro scale: a digital switch on a CPU chip is on when the voltage increases above a certain level and off when below a different level, or understanding how the various molecules interact when mixed in compounds to trade atoms and molecule groups to form new compounds. However, if you keep asking for why something works on smaller and smaller scales, you eventually get to the point of “because gravity” or “because magnetism” but we don’t know what those are except maybe that the existence of one may imply the necessary existence of the other. We don’t know why fundamental forces happen, but we know they do. That’s magic. Everything we use contains a little magic, at least a bit of something we don’t grok.

We should respect the limits of our knowledge and enjoy the experience: magic.

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Copyright © 2016 Sterling Hanenkamp.