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Tolkien and technology

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  • David S Bratman
    Tolkien didn t hate technology, he hated industrialization. There s a difference. Any old hand-made farm tool is technology, it s just not technology made by
    Message 1 of 14 , Jan 1, 2003
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      Tolkien didn't hate technology, he hated industrialization. There's a
      difference. Any old hand-made farm tool is technology, it's just not
      technology made by mass industry. And his hatred for industrialization did
      not mean that he wanted England to return to a pre-industrial society, any
      more than my distaste for Jackson's desecrations means that I'm demanding
      the film be withdrawn and erased from our memories. In both cases: it's
      here, we'll live with it, but we don't have to like it, and we _can_
      protest its indiscriminate spread and its attacks on that which we hold dear.

      In the prologue to LOTR, Tolkien writes that hobbits "do not and did not
      understand or like machines more complicated than a forge-bellows, a
      water-mill, or a hand-loom, though they were skilful with tools," and in
      _The Hobbit_ he writes of their "long clever brown fingers." Hobbits got
      on very well with technology, just not industrialized technology.

      - David Bratman
    • alexeik@aol.com
      In a message dated 1/1/3 5:09:12 PM, David Bratman wrote: One should
      Message 2 of 14 , Jan 1, 2003
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        In a message dated 1/1/3 5:09:12 PM, David Bratman wrote:

        <<Tolkien didn't hate technology, he hated industrialization. There's a
        difference. >>

        One should also note that the supposed "magic" of the Elves (like the
        Silmarils, the palantíri, Galadriel's mirror, etc.) are really examples of a
        very high technology, but one that isn't the product of an industrialised
        system.
        Alexei
      • David S Bratman
        ... And one that can t be reduced to a simple scientific explanation either, one should also add. As Tolkien wrote, I dislike any pull towards
        Message 3 of 14 , Jan 1, 2003
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          At 01:55 PM 1/1/2003 -0500, Alexei wrote:

          >One should also note that the supposed "magic" of the Elves (like the
          >Silmarils, the palantíri, Galadriel's mirror, etc.) are really examples of a
          >very high technology, but one that isn't the product of an industrialised
          >system.

          And one that can't be reduced to a simple scientific explanation either,
          one should also add. As Tolkien wrote, "I dislike any pull towards
          'scientification'. ... [This mode is] alien to my story." (The invaluable
          Letter no. 210 again, p. 274)

          - David Bratman
        • Stolzi@aol.com
          In a message dated 1/1/2003 11:09:12 AM Central Standard Time, ... One gets the feeling that industrialized technology is what Saruman has been producing,
          Message 4 of 14 , Jan 1, 2003
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            In a message dated 1/1/2003 11:09:12 AM Central Standard Time,
            dbratman@... writes:


            > Hobbits got
            > on very well with technology, just not industrialized technology.
            >

            One gets the feeling that "industrialized technology" is what Saruman has
            been producing, although we're never quite shown what, or how.

            If it's driven by wood as fuel (the trees he's been chopping down) it doesn't
            seem terribly advanced; yet he apparently blows up the wall at Helm's Deep
            with something resembling gunpowder.

            Diamond Proudbrook


            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • David F. Porteous
            Message 5 of 14 , Jan 1, 2003
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              <<One should also note that the supposed "magic" of the Elves (like the
              Silmarils, the palantíri, Galadriel's mirror, etc.) are really examples of a
              very high technology, but one that isn't the product of an industrialised
              system. Alexei>>

              No, I must disagree here. OCE defines technology as "the study or use of
              the mechanical arts or applied sciences". The items you mention are neither
              mechanical or examples of any kind of science. This "supposed magic" is
              better described as just "magic".

              Vision over distance or of the past is something we can now do with
              technology, but the function of these items should not be described as
              technological.

              -- David.
            • Pauline J. Alama
              Perhaps someone s already brought this up, but at any rate, I think that for an author whose best friends were sent to the trenches by leaders proud of their
              Message 6 of 14 , Jan 2, 2003
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                Perhaps someone's already brought this up, but at any rate, I think that for an author whose best friends were sent to the trenches by leaders proud of their modern thinking, and killed by some of the latest inventions of military technology, like chemical warfare and automatic weaponry, it's rather natural to have a somewhat jaded view of technology and progress.

                "What passing bells for these, who die as cattle?
                Only the monstrous anger of the guns."
                --Wilfred Owen, another WWI poet.

                Pauline J. Alama
                http://www.geocities.com/paulinejalama/paulinealama.html
                THE EYE OF NIGHT
                (Bantam Spectra, July 2002)
                --- On Wed 01/01, David S Bratman < dbratman@... > wrote:From: David S Bratman [mailto: dbratman@...]To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.comDate: Wed, 01 Jan 2003 11:01:13 -0800Subject: Re: [mythsoc] Tolkien and technologyAt 01:55 PM 1/1/2003 -0500, Alexei wrote:>One should also note that the supposed "magic" of the Elves (like the>Silmarils, the palant�ri, Galadriel's mirror, etc.) are really examples of a>very high technology, but one that isn't the product of an industrialised>system.And one that can't be reduced to a simple scientific explanation either, one should also add. As Tolkien wrote, "I dislike any pull towards 'scientification'. ... [This mode is] alien to my story." (The invaluable Letter no. 210 again, p. 274)- David BratmanThe Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/

                _______________________________________________
                Join Excite! - http://www.excite.com
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                [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
              • alexeik@aol.com
                In a message dated 1/2/3 12:48:00 AM, David Porteous wrote:
                Message 7 of 14 , Jan 2, 2003
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                  In a message dated 1/2/3 12:48:00 AM, David Porteous wrote:

                  <<No, I must disagree here. OCE defines technology as "the study or use of

                  the mechanical arts or applied sciences". The items you mention are neither

                  mechanical or examples of any kind of science. This "supposed magic" is

                  better described as just "magic".


                  Vision over distance or of the past is something we can now do with

                  technology, but the function of these items should not be described as

                  technological.

                  >>

                  I can't agree. What the Elves do doesn't at all resemble traditional models
                  of magic. Fëanor and the Noldor are consistently portrayed as craftsmen, not
                  magicians; the Silmarils and the Rings of Power are "forged", clearly put
                  together by some sort of physical process, even though it's not one we're
                  familiar with. The passage Jan Galkowski just quoted from FotR (about the
                  elven-cloaks) makes it clear that the Elves don't think of what they do as
                  "magic", although it looks like "magic" to outsiders (viz. the old chestnut:
                  "A sufficiently advanced technology is undistinguishable from magic"). It
                  seems evident to me that Tolkien (not himself a scientist) envisioned his
                  Elves as possessing a science that gave them a far more intimate knowledge of
                  the workings of the universe than 20th-century human science has managed to
                  achieve, and as having a technology that reflects this. He didn't bother to
                  speculate in detail on the nature of this science and its technological
                  applications (which would have turned his books into science fiction), since
                  this was not where his primary interest lay.
                  Alexei
                • David F. Porteous
                  What traditional models are you referring to? I can t
                  Message 8 of 14 , Jan 2, 2003
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                    <<Alexei wrote: I can't agree. What the Elves do doesn't at all resemble
                    traditional models of magic.>>

                    What traditional models are you referring to? I can't dispute that point
                    unless I know what you have established as a basis for "real" magic.

                    <<Fëanor and the Noldor are consistently portrayed as craftsmen, not
                    magicians; the Silmarils and the Rings of Power are "forged", clearly put
                    together by some sort of physical process, even though it's not one we're
                    familiar with.>>

                    I would be curious to learn how you would go about constructing a ring which
                    you considered magical and what part of that process you feel is lacking in
                    the construction of these rings. Simply because the rings of power were
                    forged does not by itself mean they were not magical. As for Fëanor being a
                    craftsman he certainly was, but as I said that does not preclude him from
                    also being able to make items of magic. "Then he began a long and secret
                    labour, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill;
                    and at the end of all he made the Silmarils... And the inner fire of the
                    Silmarils Fëanor made of the blended light of the trees of Valinor...." --
                    (Sil. p67). Note the terms "power" and "subtle skill" -- the Silmarils were
                    not simply an application of technology, of "lore", they were a creation
                    beyond technology which depended on something being given to them by their
                    creator. Part of that something may have been art or craft, part was most
                    certainly magic. If you are implying that the elven understanding of the
                    physical universe was sufficiently advanced to trap an endless source of
                    light in a crystal I would say that such advanced technology would be
                    otherwise represented in elven culture, it is not possible to go directly
                    from living in trees to manipulating wave/particles; there are several steps
                    in-between and while I'm prepared to countenance that elves may be very
                    advanced I would first like to see some kind of evidence of these
                    intervening steps.

                    <<The passage Jan Galkowski just quoted from FotR (about the elven-cloaks)
                    makes it clear that the Elves don't think of what they do as "magic"...>>

                    No it doesn't, it makes it clear that the elves don't think of the cloaks as
                    magic, which they aren't. I haven't heard anyone say they are. The quote
                    actually tells us how the cloaks are made, somebody weaves them -- perhaps
                    it's very technologically advanced weaving? If the elves had been
                    questioned about the mirror I doubt their answer would have been as prosaic.

                    <<...it looks like "magic" to outsiders (viz. the old chestnut: "A
                    sufficiently advanced technology is undistinguishable from magic").>>

                    And of course the reverse, magic might easily be mistaken for very advanced
                    technology, is necessarily true. Unless of course your contention is that
                    magic does not exist at all in Tolkien, in which case we cannot have this
                    discussion.

                    <<It seems evident to me that Tolkien (not himself a scientist) envisioned
                    his Elves as possessing a science that gave them a far more intimate
                    knowledge of the workings of the universe than 20th-century human science
                    has managed to achieve, and as having a technology that reflects this.>>

                    You may think it strange, but I would agree with that. Only in general
                    sentiment though. Elves, as is the case with many of the peoples of our
                    earth, have a spiritual understanding of their world and that this
                    understanding does not derive through equations and formulae. But isn't
                    this closer to what we would consider religion and mysticism than science?
                    I've posed that question and I apologise as I'm also going to answer it. It
                    is religion and mysticism -- which for Tolkien's world is real; discussions
                    on how this pertains to our world are tangential and irrelevant -- which is
                    only the shortest of steps away from magic.

                    <<He didn't bother to speculate in detail on the nature of this science and
                    its technological applications (which would have turned his books into
                    science fiction), since this was not where his primary interest lay.>>

                    Couldn't the argument be made that the reason Tolkien didn't speculate in
                    this way was because there was nothing on which to speculate? Tolkien
                    didn't speculate on a great many things which weren't part of his books.

                    Tolkien did however use the actual words "magic" and "sorcery" in the
                    narrative of his books, not just as misconceptions by characters. I cannot
                    believe he would use such terms when he in fact specifically did not mean
                    magic or sorcery, but technology.

                    -- David
                  • disneylogic <disneylogic@yahoo.com>
                    On Thu, 2 Jan 2003 21:29:56 -0000 David F. Porteous wrote in part: [snip] ... A quibble, if you ll allow: Industrialization and
                    Message 9 of 14 , Jan 3, 2003
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                      On Thu, 2 Jan 2003 21:29:56 -0000 "David F. Porteous"
                      <dporteous@...> wrote in part:

                      [snip]

                      >Elves, as is the case with many of the peoples of our
                      >earth, have a spiritual understanding of their world and that this
                      >understanding does not derive through equations and formulae.

                      A quibble, if you'll allow: Industrialization and mechanics does not
                      go, necessarily or not, hand in hand with superior mathematics.
                      Indeed, it is pretty much independent of it. Much of the gnostic
                      tendency in early European science and, before that, in southeastern
                      European religion was a combination of mathematics, mysticism, and
                      Manicheanism. Having been grounded in much of it, I can't imagine
                      anything closer to the spiritual than a view of our world based upon
                      quantum mechanics, although many of the purely rationalist opinion
                      would disagree with me on that.

                      Recall the toast of the Oxford Mathematics Society:

                      To Mathematics! May She be of no damn use to anybody!

                      Indeed, to people familiar with it, the astounding thing about
                      mathematics is that it is as useful as it is.

                      --jtg


                      [snip]
                    • Stolzi@aol.com
                      ... Elvis did, too. [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      Message 10 of 14 , Jan 3, 2003
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                        > On Thu, 2 Jan 2003 21:29:56 -0000 "David F. Porteous"
                        > <dporteous@...> wrote in part:
                        >
                        > [snip]
                        >
                        > >Elves, as is the case with many of the peoples of our
                        > >earth, have a spiritual understanding of their world


                        Elvis did, too.


                        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                      • David F. Porteous
                        Message 11 of 14 , Jan 4, 2003
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                          <<disneylogic wrote: A quibble, if you'll allow>>

                          Hmmm, oh alright, you may quibble ;)

                          <<Industrialization and mechanics does not go, necessarily or not, hand in
                          hand with superior mathematics. Indeed, it is pretty much independent of
                          it.>>

                          Well I would agree that mathematics is not dependant on industrialisation or
                          mechanics, but engineering, and thus industrialisation and mechanics, is
                          dependant on mathematics.

                          <<Much of the gnostic tendency in early European science....>>

                          But in this instance the discussion is not about early science; the argument
                          which has been put is that elves are in possession of some very advanced
                          science. To duplicate the effects of the rings of power using technology
                          would require greater understanding than we currently have and it is my
                          contention that while such is not inconceivable, it would be necessary to
                          move to such an understanding systematically. Everything we know about the
                          development of technology tells us this is so.

                          <<Having been grounded in much of it, I can't imagine anything closer to the
                          spiritual than a view of our world based upon quantum mechanics, although
                          many of the purely rationalist opinion would disagree with me on that.>>

                          I think religious people would disagree that there is nothing closer to the
                          spiritual than maths, though I believe this Pope is very much in favour of
                          science being developed and doesn't feel it impinges on the remit of
                          religion. Personally, as an atheist, I believe in an existentialist
                          viewpoint.

                          <<Recall the toast of the Oxford Mathematics Society: To Mathematics! May
                          She be of no damn use to anybody!>>

                          Very good.

                          -- David.
                        • alexeik@aol.com
                          In a message dated 1/2/3 9:24:26 PM, David Porteous wrote:
                          Message 12 of 14 , Jan 4, 2003
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                            In a message dated 1/2/3 9:24:26 PM, David Porteous wrote:


                            <<<<[I wrote] The passage Jan Galkowski just quoted from FotR (about the
                            elven-cloaks)

                            makes it clear that the Elves don't think of what they do as "magic"...>>


                            No it doesn't, it makes it clear that the elves don't think of the cloaks as

                            magic, which they aren't. I haven't heard anyone say they are [mind you, the
                            hobbits have just expressed a suspicion they might be -- AK]. The quote

                            actually tells us how the cloaks are made, somebody weaves them -- perhaps

                            it's very technologically advanced weaving? If the elves had been

                            questioned about the mirror I doubt their answer would have been as prosaic.>>

                            Galadriel (in reference to the Mirror): "For this is what your folk would
                            call magic, I believe: though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and
                            they seem also 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?"
                            Much the same reaction as with the elven-cloaks (which are not simply
                            high-quality weave, but have unusual properties that could be ascribed to
                            "magic") -- "you people call it magic, even though that doesn't make sense to
                            *us*; but I'll humour you by calling it "magic" if it makes you comfortable".
                            Yes, as you point out, Tolkien does refer to "magic" and "sorcery" as
                            realities in his subcreation, but (as far as I can recall) always in
                            reference to activities of the servants of Morgoth, and later Sauron. The
                            reason, I think, is simple: as a Catholic, Tolkien has a strongly negative
                            view of magic and the occult as illicit spheres of knowledge ("the deceits of
                            the Enemy"), and doesn't want us to think that the activities of the Elves
                            are at all related to them in *kind*. What the Elves do is the product of
                            licit, "scientific" knowledge -- what a Mediaeval frame of reference would
                            call "natural philosophy". It is real knowledge of the workings of nature,
                            applied to licit ends.


                            <<<<...it looks like "magic" to outsiders (viz. the old chestnut: "A

                            sufficiently advanced technology is undistinguishable from magic").>>


                            And of course the reverse, magic might easily be mistaken for very advanced

                            technology, is necessarily true.>>

                            Not necessarily. One can mistake a very advanced technology (a technology
                            that has dispensed with bulky "hardware", for instance) for magic because the
                            process by which it works is invisible, cannot be reconstructed by
                            observation, and thus seems to have the properties commonly ascribed to
                            magic. But there's no in-built reason to perceive something that looks like
                            magic as being anything other than magic (unless one disbelieves in magic on
                            principle, and thus is forced to suspect that something else is at work).

                            << Unless of course your contention is that

                            magic does not exist at all in Tolkien, in which case we cannot have this

                            discussion.>>

                            See above: magic does exist in Tolkien, but it has the negative
                            characteristics it usually has in Christian tradition.


                            <<{I wrote] It seems evident to me that Tolkien (not himself a scientist)
                            envisioned

                            his Elves as possessing a science that gave them a far more intimate

                            knowledge of the workings of the universe than 20th-century human science

                            has managed to achieve, and as having a technology that reflects this.>>


                            You may think it strange, but I would agree with that. Only in general

                            sentiment though. Elves, as is the case with many of the peoples of our

                            earth, have a spiritual understanding of their world and that this

                            understanding does not derive through equations and formulae. But isn't

                            this closer to what we would consider religion and mysticism than science?

                            I've posed that question and I apologise as I'm also going to answer it. It

                            is religion and mysticism -- which for Tolkien's world is real; discussions

                            on how this pertains to our world are tangential and irrelevant -- which is

                            only the shortest of steps away from magic.>>

                            But for Tolkien, "religion and mysticism" are part of the real world, and in
                            fact come closer to giving ultimate explanations of the nature of the world
                            than any other approach. They're not mere epiphenomena that distract from the
                            investigation of material "reality", but a strong clue to understanding the
                            entire pattern of reality, including its material dimensions. As Steve
                            Schaper put it, "30,000 years of instruction by angels" has given the Elves
                            as much (much more, in fact) real *knowledge* of the workings of the universe
                            as millennia of trial-and-error empiricism could have. It's also allowed them
                            to bypass the messier stages of scientific discovery -- ie, cruder,
                            destructive and polluting technologies based on heavy industry.

                            <<If you are implying that the elven understanding of the

                            physical universe was sufficiently advanced to trap an endless source of

                            light in a crystal I would say that such advanced technology would be

                            otherwise represented in elven culture, it is not possible to go directly

                            from living in trees to manipulating wave/particles; there are several steps

                            in-between and while I'm prepared to countenance that elves may be very

                            advanced I would first like to see some kind of evidence of these

                            intervening steps.>>

                            But when scientific knowledge is obtained not through a purely empirical
                            process but through "30,000 years of instruction by angels", there don't
                            have to be any "steps in-between". You're assuming that the development of
                            science and the attendant development of technology must necessarily follow
                            the same pattern that it has on our world (and you may well be right if the
                            same limitations that affect human knowledge are in place in the subcreated
                            world as well). I doubt, however, that Tolkien was constrained by such an
                            assumption. A close parallel can be seen in _Out of the Silent Planet_, by
                            Tolkien's fellow-Inkling C.S. Lewis: initially Weston and Devine think that
                            the inhabitants of Malacandra are technologically primitive (and therefore,
                            like low-tech peoples on Earth, "inferior" and available for exploitation by
                            high-tech peoples) because they see no evidence of industrialisation on the
                            planet. Later, when he witnesses the dematerialisation of the bodies of the
                            dead hrossa at Meldilorn, Devine is terrified, realising that his assumptions
                            about the ignorance and helplessness of the Malacandrians were unfounded.
                            Again, "instruction by angels" has upset the expected model of technological
                            development, allowing Stone Age artifacts to coexist with "manipulating
                            waves/particles", eliminating the "steps in-between". Lewis (no more a
                            scientist than Tolkien) makes a general attempt to convey the different
                            nature of Malacandrian science (eg, Augray's brief disquisition on light and
                            angelic bodies), but he doesn't, of course, take it very far. I do think,
                            however, that the Elvish and Malacandrian models are very similar. Since what
                            they do consists of an application of real knowledge of the workings of the
                            universe to affecting local natural processes, I don't hesitate to call it
                            "technology". Perhaps your own definition of the term is incompatible with
                            this.
                            Alexei
                          • disneylogic <disneylogic@yahoo.com>
                            On Sat, 4 Jan 2003 13:04:24 -0000 David F. Porteous wrote in part: [snip] ... Yes, true enough, I guess. But apart from the
                            Message 13 of 14 , Jan 6, 2003
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                              On Sat, 4 Jan 2003 13:04:24 -0000 "David F. Porteous"
                              <dporteous@...> wrote in part:

                              [snip]

                              >Well I would agree that mathematics is not dependant on
                              >industrialisation or mechanics, but engineering, and thus
                              >industrialisation and mechanics, is dependant on mathematics.

                              Yes, true enough, I guess. But apart from the alchemist tendencies
                              on the part of Sauruman in producing the gunpowder-like substance to
                              use at Helm's Deep in LOTR, there isn't a lot of calculation
                              apparent. Sauruman seems to empower things using his wizard's staff
                              and the orcs appear to come already equipped with metallurgical
                              skills. In the movie, in contrast with the book, the Uruk-hai appear
                              to be formed whole. I don't recall the book detailing how they are
                              created.

                              <<Much of the gnostic tendency in early European science....>>

                              >But in this instance the discussion is not about early science;
                              >the argument which has been put is that elves are in possession of
                              >some very advanced science. To duplicate the effects of the rings
                              >of power using technology would require greater understanding than >
                              >we currently have and it is my contention that while such is not
                              >inconceivable, it would be necessary to move to such an
                              >understanding systematically. Everything we know about the
                              >development of technology tells us this is so.

                              Well, while clearly there has been progress in technology, based upon
                              the kinds of things we are capable of creating, there is always this
                              sense, felt at the fringe, that superior technology was once in hand
                              and has been lost. After all, isn't that part of the Atlantis myth?
                              And isn't that part of the thing that moves people, including some
                              folks who've recently grabbed the headlines, to believe our
                              civilization and perhaps even we are intellectual descendents of
                              'visitors from elsewhere'?

                              That could be, too, another gloss on "For nothing is evil in the
                              beginning. Even Sauron was not so." This might mean the skills and
                              art of doing all these things were given and created by Iluvtar,
                              along with the moral bounds and limits on their proper use, and this
                              usage has decayed since then. Indeed, why not paint Melkor as the
                              first vehicle who strayed beyond the proper use of these skills?
                              This sentiment isn't limited to technology. Maimonedes, in one of
                              his ego trips, wrote Judah ha-Nasi codified things in the Mishnah
                              with a completed understanding of the philosophical principles
                              underlying the Torah, common understanding had decayed since then,
                              and he, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, was going to set all right because he
                              knew what was right again. Maybe all this is is an extended fall
                              from grace? I've wondered, in fact, if the history of Middle-earth
                              might not be interpreted as Man's fall from grace, albeit it takes
                              thousands of years rather than the instant an apple is eaten.

                              <<Having been grounded in much of it, I can't imagine anything closer
                              to the
                              spiritual than a view of our world based upon quantum mechanics,
                              although
                              many of the purely rationalist opinion would disagree with me on
                              that.>>

                              >I think religious people would disagree that there is nothing closer
                              >to the spiritual than maths, though I believe this Pope is very much
                              >in favour of science being developed and doesn't feel it impinges on
                              >the remit of religion. Personally, as an atheist, I believe in an
                              >existentialist viewpoint.

                              The viewpoint is not modern, for sure. But I bet that's a lot of
                              what Scholasticism was about and how and why folks saw in Greek
                              sources another way of establishing their religious convictions, if
                              one accepts logic as being of the same stuff as mathematics, i.e.,
                              logos.

                              -- Jan

                              [snip]
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