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Re: [mythsoc] Tolkien and technology

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  • alexeik@aol.com
    In a message dated 1/1/3 5:09:12 PM, David Bratman wrote: One should
    Message 1 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 2 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 3 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 4 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 5 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/

              _______________________________________________
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            • alexeik@aol.com
              In a message dated 1/2/3 12:48:00 AM, David Porteous wrote:
              Message 6 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 7 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 8 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 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


                      Elvis did, too.


                      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                    • David F. Porteous
                      Message 10 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 11 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 12 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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