Of Magicians and Mad Scientists

“The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavor are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole, we can discern the impulse of which I speak. There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique; are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead. If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlow’s Faustus, the similarly striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from his devils, but gold and guns and girls….In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what out to be used as a spouse for fruit. He rejects magic because it does not work, but his goal is that of the magician.”

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

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