“Science, Technology, and Magic” by Umberto Eco

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

I have to admit that this essay, included in the book Turning Back the Clock: Hot Wars and Media Populism, was not what I expected from the title. I expected an analysis on the similarities between the three, but actually it is an exploration of science is different than technology and magic, which Eco asserts are similar in nature. Honestly, I always considered magic and science to be more alike.

Eco begins his argument by pointing out that technology is not the same as science, but is merely a product of science.

Science is different. The mass media confuse with technology and transmit this confusion to their users, who think that everything scientific is technological, effectively unaware of the dimension proper to science, I mean to say that science of which technology is an application and a consequence but not the primary substance.

Technology gives you everything instantly; science proceeds slowly.

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 105)

This is where Eco argues that technology and magic are similar—both appeal to the human desire to have fast results. Essentially, he claims that technology and magic both promise instant gratification without having to go through the work required by rigorous adherence to the scientific method.

Magic is indifferent to the long chain of causes and effects, and above all does not trouble itself to establish by experiment that there is a replicable relation between a cause and its effect. Hence its appeal, from primitive cultures to the Renaissance to the myriad occult sects to be found all over the Internet.

Faith and hope in magic did not by any means fade away with the advent of experimental science. The desire for simultaneity between cause and effect was transferred to technology, which looks like the natural daughter of science. How much effort did it take to go from the first computers in the Pentagon, or from Olivetti’s Elea, which was the size of a whole room (and they say it took the Olivetti programming team months to configure that mammoth machine to emit the notes of Colonel Bogey, a feat they were enormously proud of), to our modern PCs in which everything occurs in a split second? Technology does everything possible so that we lose sight of the chain of cause and effect.

(ibid: p. 106)

While I understand Eco’s argument, and see his logic, I am not sure I am in complete agreement. Based upon what I have read regarding ceremonial magic and alchemy, there is a definite cause and effect relationship. In fact, Aleister Crowley defines magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” I would have to argue that magic is closer to science, that it is a process of experimentation, careful taking of notes, and then replicating the process in order to see if the results are consistent.

Our culture has a tendency, it seems to me anyway, to look for the differences in things instead of searching for similarities. Everything in our universe is connected in some manner. Maybe if we focused more on the connections instead of the divergences, we might advance to the next level of humanity.



Filed under Non-fiction

18 responses to ““Science, Technology, and Magic” by Umberto Eco

  1. Excellent review, dear Jeff…. Eco is such an intelligent man…
    I like the excerpts you have highlighted here… particularly the one related to the differences among technology and science …
    “Technology gives you everything instantly; science proceeds slowly”…► I believe that he makes a good point over there…
    Sending best wishes. Aquileana 🐉☀️💫

    • Hi Aquileana! I hope you are doing well. Thanks for your comment. Eco is brilliant and one of my favorite writers. Even when I don’t completely agree with him. 😏

      Sending hugs and warm wishes.


  2. Stirring post. I agree with you that we should concentrate on connections, because everything is.

  3. I think because too many people in this age of technology have lost the thread of humanity.

  4. Interesting Jeff. I tend to view scientific theories as, for the most part, working or functional “myths” that will ultimately be replaced by different “myths.” Many seem to confuse tech with science. If tech works well, a lot of folks assume science (or its method) has a monopoly on truth.

    Thanks for enabling reblog!

  5. Thank you; I enjoyed the ‘and/or’ nature of this post, and insights shared in the comments as well.

  6. Pingback: A Tragic Day for Literature: Umberto Eco and Harper Lee | Stuff Jeff Reads

  7. oh! well, where should i start? i could write a post in reply! 😀 for my two cents worth, i completely agree with your perspective. i am wondering if its a matter of semantics…? but he surely had editors…
    i think that science and magic are quite similar and often interchangeable endeavors. tech is an outcome or manifestation. it is the product of that ‘slow process’ as an individual learns to grasp and utilise principles and laws. a magi might appear to conjure something ‘out of thin air’ but that is just a misunderstanding on the part of the observer. magi work is full of study and application, trial and error. the Will of the scientist and/or the magi is naturally disciplined into the alignment of *potential possibilities* that thus gives true meaning to crowley’s statement. (there are So Many more possibilities available to the practitioner’s mind than to the freshman and we can see this analogy in all fields.)
    i think that as long as magic is a term used tongue-in-cheek and scientists are discouraged from sharing how vital their imagination is to their thinking processes, perhaps it wont be cool for authors to be too explicit. 😉

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment. No doubt, we are in agreement. I think that the latest theories in quantum physics are opening space for imagination and consciousness to be readmitted into the fields of science, and that’s a great thing. If that’s something that interests you, read “The Holographic Universe.” Amazing book!


      • thanks for the book title, i will keep an eye out for it. thanks to you i am running a bit late this evening 😉 i was writing a post and wanted to reference a commenter of yours. i ended up absorbed in thought on this! if you get time, perhaps you can fill in the credit.

      • There were a few. Not sure which one.

  8. Pingback: Sunday Surfing 08/05/16 | Neptune and the Oak

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