Magical Thinking

Arthur Clarke’s 3rd law of prediction reads: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. “
Upon reading Dan Dennett, I would translate this as: any sufficiently advanced crane is indistinguishable from a skyhook.
  1. Justuju said:

    Like the post! It’s like my dad considering it magic that I could pull instant data from the net about a topic we were discussing.

  2. Carpe Diem said:

    OK, i finally get it. I think…

  3. rendezvous said:

    Nice! does it also mean that it is a generalization – for a common man, anything that is overly complicated and not sufficiently understood hovers on the borders on being mystical or hides under the covers of the unexplained (magic here)? If yes, then it becomes just a placeholder term to duck under or shove under. It may not necessarily be used in the true sense of the term.

    Maybe I'm not thinking correctly here….

  4. Unawoken said:

    rendezvous, yep, right-o 🙂

  5. Unawoken said:

    rendezvous, good summary 🙂 But this "It may not necessarily be used in the true sense of the term."
    The contention is that that is the true sense of the term!

  6. rendezvous said:


    The "true" sense of the term is a bit elusive to me 🙂 I understand you are saying that this IS magic here is used as it means.

    Did I get that right?

  7. Unawoken said:

    The claim that the statements are getting at (but not saying so explicitly) is that, when the circuitry (or structural details) of a phenomenon are beyond our current purview, we as a people have called it "magic" i.e. that is what magic is.

  8. rendezvous said:

    got it! 🙂

  9. “When we no longer look at an organic being as a savage looks at a ship, as at something wholly beyond his comprehension; when we regard every production of nature as one which had a history; when we contemplate every complex structure and instinct as the summing up of many contrivances, each useful to the possessor, nearly in the same as when we look at any great mechanical invention as the summing of the labour, the experience, the reason, and even the blunders of numerous workmen; when we thus view each organic being, how far more interesting, I speak from experience, will the study of natural history become!” — Charles Darwin

  10. unawoken said:

    “The science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke remarked that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Clarke was referring to the fantastic inventions we might discover in the future or in our travels to advanced civilizations. However, the insight also applies to self-perception. When we turn our attention to our own minds, we are faced with trying to understand an unimaginably advanced technology. We can’t possibly know (let alone keep track of) the tremendous number of mechanical influences on our behavior because we inhabit an extraordinarily complicated machine. So we develop a shorthand, a belief in the causal efficacy of our conscious thoughts. We believe in the magic of our own causal agency.”

    Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will

  11. “The ordinary modes of human thinking are magical, religious, and social. We want our wishes to come true; we want the universe to care about us; we want the esteem of our peers. For most people, wanting to know the truth about the world is way, way down the list. Scientific objectivity is a freakish, unnatural, and unpopular mode of thought, restricted to small cliques whom the generality of citizens regard with dislike and mistrust.”

    — John Derbyshire

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