Why We Need To Think About Magic

I had been avoiding reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy for many years. I somehow had the impression that it was boring, but 40 pages in and my mind has been blown already. In any case, now that you’ve read into the third line of this post, I might as well tell you that this post is not about Foundation and its fascinating reflections on the nature of power. That post may be forthcoming but it might also not. This post is about magic.

While reading Asimov, I came across this passage: “A man in glaring blue and yellow uniform, shining and new in unstainable plastotextile, reached for his two bags. […] ‘The Luxor Hotel,’ said the driver.” To give you some context: a man who had just gotten off a spaceship that could travel millions of light years, had just gotten off a taxi that had to be driven by a person. And here we are in the 21st century with no colonies in Mars but have driverless cars zooming around in some cities with the hopes of taking this technology to scale in less than two decades. As I read that passage, I thought to myself: how would I write about a futuristic society and achieve “technological foresight immortality”? And by this I mean: how would I write something that doesn’t seem dated forty or fifty years down the line?

Questions like this might blow up the internet, naturally, but this question brought me to another passage in another, quite different, book:

‘And you?’ she said, turning to Sam. ‘For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?’[1]

This is the encounter between Galadriel, Frodo and Sam in Lothlorien. I then asked myself: why does Galadriel not understand what magic is? For those who’ve read some of Tolkien’s essays and letters, you’ll know that this has to do with his “metaphysics” or the underlying structure of the world he created. Without going down the rabbit hole with this notion, suffice it to say for now that the interaction between an elf’s mind and the world around him is not limited in the same way that a hobbit’s, or a human’s is. That is, elves have a certain control over matter and nature that enables them to shape the world through images and notions in their minds.

Herein lies the secret, I believe, to writing about technology: the more perfect a technology is, the less there is a barrier between a person’s mind and the world around him.

I hope to follow up on this notion with a few ideas I explored in my thesis a long time ago, where I relied upon Heidegger’s analysis of technology to explore the nature of the internet and its impact on how we perceive ourselves.

In the meantime, I highly suggest reading Asimov 😊


[1] Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Lord of the Rings: One Volume (p. 389). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

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