Thursday, March 17, 2011

Things I Did Today
  • Worked from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
  • Heard about a temp-to-perm bankruptcy litigation opening at a mid-size firm and will be interviewing in the near future.
3 Recommended Links
Thoughts -- Magic And Technology, Part 1

Arthur C. Clarke famously postulated that "[a]ny sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This has always struck me as an uncontroversial insight, the idea being that any technology far enough beyond our own might as well be magic as far as we're concerned, because we're not sophisticated enough to tell the difference. (By magic I mean actual magic, as it exists in fiction, not mere sleight of hand.) Only recently, though, did I pause to reflect on the implication that there is a difference between magic and technology, a difference between something seeming like magic and something actually being magic. This, too, strikes me as an uncontroversial proposition. After all, isn't the very essence of magic that it is something otherworldly, something ineffable at its core? Accordingly, I believe that magic should properly be conceived of as something fundamentally different from technology.

But how should we articulate this distinction? Let me give it a shot. To begin with, consider the concept of technology. I think of technology as the systematic application of knowledge. This definition is of course broad and fuzzy -- like the concept itself -- but I think the word "systematic" does a lot of work. Systematization implies a replicable process, a set of instructions for achieving certain results that can be passed on from individual to individual provided that the recipient is sufficiently sophisticated. In other words, technology can be taught: others can acquire it by learning the system, such as how to build a fire or how to parallel park. Of course, some people will always be better at using a given technology than others, but this is due to differences in skill, not because there is something fundamentally mysterious about the system. I don't mean to suggest that there is nothing mysterious about technologies; I just mean that they can be codified enough to pass on all of the information that is practically relevant to using them. For example, imagine if someone chanced upon a recipe for making gold and remembered exactly what he did but didn't understand physically how the recipe works. He would be able to replicate and codify the process, but there would still be plenty of mystery, just not at a practical level.

Tomorrow I will attempt to define magic in opposition to this conception of technology.

No comments:

Post a Comment