Of Mannikins and Men

In his 1962 book  PROFILES OF THE FUTURE Arthur C. Clarke posits the dictum that Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

I answer is that Clarke’s Dictum is true only if the man who fails to make the distinction steadfastly ignores what distinguishes technology from magic in the first place, as Clarke, a crass materialist, blatantly does.

Because magic and science are as different as soul and body, as different as as word and meaning, as different as mechanism and aim, Clarke’s Dictum must be rejected as fallacious, if not risible.

As if saying any sufficiently advanced mannikin is indistinguishable from a man. The thing can be said only by someone who refuses to see what makes a man a man and not a mannikin.

The fallacy of Clarke’s Dictum is a fallacy commonplace to the one-dimensional thinking of our science-worshipping hence most unscientific modern age, namely, that all causation is regarded as mechanical causation, so much so that the other three types of causes, formal, material, final, are never mentioned, perhaps not even known.

The four causes were first enunciated clearly by Aristotle. Mechanical cause cites the events leading to an effect; the final cause is the aim or purpose of the action; the formal cause describes its essence, pattern, shape, or definition that defines a thing be what it is and not otherwise; the material cause describes the substance, manifest properties, or incarnation of the form.

Nearly all the errors, philosophical and political, plaguing the modern mind spring from this disregard of Aristotelian causes.

As for magic, Mr. Clarke does not define it, because he does not distinguish what it is from what it is not. The only trait of magic, namely, that it is occult hence unknown, is share with technology sufficiently advanced to be unknown. They are both unknown things, hence indistinguishable. This is the fallacy of definition by non-essentials.

As if an unknown bird were the same an unknown fish. We know nothing about the Jub-Jub Bird, but we know it is not the Great Pink Sea Snail.

The way magic is handled in fiction, or is treated in real life by primitive folk who once believed in magic (or modern folk who still do), is not something anyone could mistake for a technology.  The whole approach is different.

In magic, the cosmos is alive. The cosmos is an living spirit or is guided by the spiritual.

Magic is always political, that is, asking a supernatural being to grant you favors or establish a contract or covenant, or perhaps domesticating something like a supernatural beast which is guided by passions and intentions. You sacrifice to it, or, on rare occasions threaten it, think the right thoughts or say the right things, and get something in return.

The spiritual character of the cosmos reacts to your character. Only the rightborn king can draw the magic sword, and only the pure can find the Holy Grail.

A living cosmos, or the living power running the cosmos, sometimes takes pity on the suffering, or delivers punishment to the wicked. Intentions matter.

In technology, the cosmos is dead. The cosmos is a machine.

Technology  is always mechanical. It manipulates the consistent causes and effects of matter and energy in motion.

A mechanical cosmos takes no notice whatever of any creatures trapped within, like rats locked in the grandfather clock. Should they deduce which springs and gears to prod, and see what wheels move in return, the cosmos will not heed nor stop them. Moreover, any one, for good or ill, who wishes the wheels to move can move them, provided only he knows how. Intentions never matter.

Psionics is an invention of the modern mind, an attempt to treat the living spirit world as if it were dead. It is a bastard stepchild, where all the things done by magic are done by a silent effort of will, often without the ritual sacrifices, prayers, amulets, or spells of magic.

Psionics is magical effects without magical causes, where ectoplasm, or some other brainwave-guided astral or aura energy is supposed to be the material substrate of spiritual effects. Psionic is the mechanical treatment of magic, treating an organism like a mechanism.

With this in mind, it can be seen that there is an unspoken assumption behind Clarke’s Dictum, that, if spoken, would be clearly ring false.

Mr. Clarke treats magic as abortive science, and it is the opposite. Magic is abortive religion: that is, it is idolatry, defined as the attempt to control and command, rather than serve and worship, the supernatural.

Clarke assumed (absurdly) that magicians attempt to understand nature in the fashion of scientists, and attribute spiritual causes to material effects only when the material causes are unknown. As if magic were merely a logical fallacy. Magicians, real magicians, by which I mean idolaters (men who attempt to control the supernatural) correctly attribute spiritual causes to material effects both known and unknown, but these are final causes, not mechanical causes.

A magician is a character in a book who seeks to make a bargain with the author: I will sacrifice to you in Chapter Three if you let me defeat the hero and marry the heroine in Chapter Four.

Now, within the book, the defeat and the wedding will always take place by the cause and effect of events explained within the book: a horseshoe nail will be lost, a horse be lamed, and a messenger be delayed before battle, so the hero is killed before relief arrives, whereupon the girl, unable to pay the rent, must wed the villain to save the family farm.

But if it were possible for characters to make bargains with writers, the chain of cause and effect runs from the compact signed in blood between villain and writer, so that the writer does indeed write the events to lose a horseshoe nail, kill the hero, and make the farm rent suddenly due. The writer writes both the cause and the effect.

The writer is not himself a nail, a shoe, a horse, a lost message or any other cause within the causal chains within the book. The writer stands outside the book.

The writer is a supernatural being, a creator, as far as the characters in the book-world are concerned, because the book is their cosmos, their creation.

If Clark were correct, there is no writer, and the writing decisions are actually mere events in Chapter One not known to the characters in Chapter Two. This is an insane worldview, an insanity called atheism, which says that all events are events within the book, and everything in later chapters come only from events in earlier chapters, not from the mind of the creator.