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Natural Magick (1584) (umb.edu)
67 points by brudgers 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments





A modern version of this should be written in this exact style:

"On the generation of diverse animals and plants through descent with modification..."

"Of the refinement of the silicate ores and the arrangement of circuits thereon..."

"Of the splitting of the atomes to obtaineth warmth, light, and terrible destructive forces whose mere possession shall discourage all enemies from waging war upon thee..."


You may enjoy Uncleftish Beholding[1] by Poul Anderson. It's a short essay describing atomic physics explained with pure Anglish words instead of Greek or Latin loan words.

> At first it was thought that the uncleft was a hard thing that could be split no further; hence the name. Now we know it is made up of lesser motes.

> Some of the higher samesteads are splitly. That is, when a neitherbit strikes the kernel of one, as for a showdeal ymirstuff-235, it bursts into lesser kernels and free neitherbits; the latter can then split more ymirstuff-235. When this happens, weight shifts into work. It is not much of the whole, but nevertheless it is awesome.

> For although light oftenest behaves as a wave, it can be looked on as a mote, the lightbit.

[1]: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/complexity/people/studen...


Uncleftish Beholding is amazing!!! It would be so cool if more people tried to write like this, even just as an experiment. It's kind of sad how the english language seems to be almost shameful of its heritage with all of the pseudo-greek/latin scientific words people make up.

There's a clever software engineering resume out there in the same style (and also in the style of Leonard da Vinci's resume): https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1086527

The parts of fruit preservation were interesting, though I couldn't get the link to work for the section detailing preservation using salt water. I never heard of encasing unripe fruit still on the vine with mud. Burying grapes in sand with a jug overtop reminds me of "Dr. Beals Seed Viability Experiment". This ongoing experiment is over a hundred years old. Never imagined it could be used to preserve food as well.

>"The Unicorn is allured by scent."

>Tretres writes, that the Unicorn so hunts after young Virgins, that he will grow tame with them. And sometimes he will fall asleep by them, and be taken and bound. The hunters cloth some young lusty fellow in maids cloths, and strewing sweet odors on him, they set him right against the place where the Unicorn is, that the wind may carry away the smell to the wild beast. The hunters lie hid in the meantime. The beast, enticed with the sweet smell, comes to the young man. He wraps the beast's head in long and large sleeves. The hunters come running, and cut off his horn.

http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281b/Ph...


Wow, I'm genuinely curious what the inspiration for such writing was. Are there hidden metaphors or analogies like other mythical beasts?

Some things don't change. The only big separation historically is what was allowed to be written on paper, scolls, and tablets when doing so was rare and expensive. But we still get some perspective on the human mind in the popular mystical characters and stories people invented.


It's slightly shocking to read this and realize how many outright falsehoods these people were being told. It's almost wonderful that knowledge advanced when people were being taught stuff like this by authorities ancient and modern:

> Diodorus says, that near to the city Thebais in Egypt, when Nilus overflowing is past, the Sun heating the wet ground, the chaps of the earth send forth great store of Mice in many places, which astonishes men to see, that the fore-part of the mice should live and be moved, whereas their hinder parts are not yet shaped. Pliny says, that after the swaging of Nilus, there are found little Mice begun to be made of earth and water, their fore-parts living, and their hinder parts being nothing but earth.


I think reading things which were believed in the past, and how they were justified, what 'proof' was held up, etc, is tremendously helpful. We can imagine re-walking their path and understand how they came to believe what they believed, and be confident that those techniques are not reliable. If you see those exact same justification or reasoning being used in modern times, you can know to be suspicious. You always have to account for the fact that a correct conclusion can be happened upon with an entirely wrong reasoning, but in most cases you will also have a head start on know how to disprove the conclusion if it's in doubt. It's surprising how often conclusions are abandoned, but the style of argument that supported them manages to stick around. You would think that if someone says 'clearly X is true because only an evil Creator would make it otherwise, and the Creator is not evil' but X is then thought to be false, that you couldn't justify anything else with the same argument, but its very common that they would just throw out X when it became impossible to ignore its truth, but preserve a whole host of ideas based on the same reasoning.

The thing is, we don't know what they were describing. There's a lot of strange things old records describe that do turn out to be true; I don't think it's wise for us to be so dismissive.

Agree - this kind of sounds like the description someone might ascribe to a sometype of mudskipper [1] or perhaps tadpoles [2] emerging from a drying creek bed (Re: "[when the] Nilus overflowing is past, the Sun heating the wet ground, the chaps of the earth send forth great store of Mice").

1.) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudskipper

2.) https://images.app.goo.gl/NFuudEfvAfUoFRhP7


Yeah, but frogs and tadpoles are common across the world, so I find it hard to believe that the writer was not aware of tadpoles.

Out right falsehoods were not uncommonly produced as true facts of distant lands. For example, it is common knowledge that Ethiopians and natives of of the Indian subcontinent do not have heads, but rather have their face embedded directly into their chest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headless_men

Or if that is too fanciful, consider that the salamander’s natural habitat is fire.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salamanders_in_folklore


I ended up reading the lodestone section and realizing that it was a description of magnets.

Magnets were well known the Greeks in antiquity[1], likely because of the Magnesia region in Greece where natural magnets are commonly found[2]. Words like "magnet" and "magnetite" are named after that region.

In 1584, the magnetic compass would have been well known and understood, but the connection between electricity and magnetism was a long way off. Gilbert's De Magnete[4], which explained that compasses worked because the earth itself had a magnetic field, was published in 1600, not long after this book on "Magick."

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnes_the_shepherd

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesia_Prefecture

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetite

[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Magnete


Which section is that?


On the flipside, is there anything in there that's actually true and isn't part of the modern common knowledge compendium?

Can't wait for computers to start actually understand text because reading 10 volumes where both the language and the way to think about things is - let's say - different is bloody hard.


Yeah, read the parts on disguises.

I love reading old texts... In part because they simply aren't read


Also very interesting: "A true & faithful relation of what passed for many yeers between Dr. John Dee..." https://ia802605.us.archive.org/32/items/truefaithfulrela00d...

This stuff is absolutely fascinating as it gives an insight into a worldview that we (well, many in the west) have lost, and not so long ago either. I wish I had time to read this lot.

It helps with the worldview, but it doesn't give us context as to how it's contemporaries interpreted it - was this a popular book that was accepted and acknowledged, or was it a fringe effort that remains?

At a guess? That this was the way they interpreted the world so they'd read it much as we'd read a science book (those that were literate) - why do you assume it was fringe?

It's easy to forget how different things were. Mathematics was considered a branch of magic, possibly even by newton, and there's evidence that the romans equated magic with mathematics (I have looked before but can't find my original ref, sorry).

Astronomy grew out of astrology. Chemistry grew out of alchemy. It was thought mice were produced abiogenically from the decay of grain - literally rotting grain produced mice (found a ref, gives quite a bit of detail: https://www2.nau.edu/gaud/bio301/content/spngen.htm)

IIRC a cart ran out of control and killed someone. The cart was put on trial, found guilty and hung (edit: for murder). I think that was some medieval times. It's easy to assume one's own worldview is, was, and always will be. That's why I find some history so fascinating.


What is a good definition of magic? Does magic necessarily NOT exist by definition, or do many/most/all forms of it not exist due to empirical results? Does magic that works become science?

"The Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will" - famous early 20th-century magician Aleister Crowley

"So then Magick is taken amongst all men for wisdom, and the perfect knowledge of natural things: and those are called Magicians, whom the Latin's call Wisemen, the Greeks call Philosophers ... The Egyptians call them priests; and the Cabalists call them prophets. And so in diverse countries Magick has diverse names." (From chapter I)

So it seems in this book it is basically knowledge about the world, with no particular distinction been "natural" and "supernatural".


>There are two sorts of Magick; the one is infamous, and unhappy, because it has to do with foul Spirits, and consists of incantations and wicked curiosity; and this is called Sorcery; an art which all learned and good men detest; neither is it able to yield an truth of reason or nature, but stands merely upon fancies and imaginations, such as vanish presently away, and leave nothing behind them; as Jamblicus writes in his book concerning the mysteries of the Egyptians. The other Magick is natural; which all excellent wise men do admit and embrace, and worship with great applause; neither is there any thing more highly esteemed, or better thought of, by men of learning. The most noble Philosophers that ever were, Pythagorus, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato, forsook their own countries, and lived abroad as exiles and banished men, rather than as strangers; and all to search out and to attain this knowledge; and when they came home again, this was the Science which they professed, and this they esteemed a profound mystery.

Science Magick is arcane, requiring math skills and experimenation, rational and ordered

Sorcery is fel, dealing in raging infernals and sexy succubi from the Twisting Nether, emotive and chaotic


Beautiful. "The most noble Philosophers that ever were, Pythagorus, Empedocles, Democritus, and Plato, forsook their own countries, and lived abroad as exiles and banished men, rather than as strangers; and all to search out and to attain this knowledge; and when they came home again, this was the Science which they professed, and this they esteemed a profound mystery"

Can't ever learn too much about Pythagoras.


The best definition I've seen was in an interview with writer Ted Chiang. Paraphrasing from memory: magic is physics with the addition of "person" as a fundamental concept. It empirically doesn't exist, but it's not impossible by definition.

Starting with the premise that our mind doesn't actually perceive reality directly, but rather creates an internal representation based on external sensory inputs, I would say that the definition of magic is "the intentional manipulation of another person's internal representation of reality." Which should cover a lot of what most people consider to be magic tricks.

"Tricks are what a whore does for money." Why make it manipulation of another person? It could include the self as in the case of invocation. Or you could go the Crowley route and say Magick is causing change in accordance with will...

Magic, science, religion and philosophy are three dimensions of this issue. Magic and science are the practical dimensions, while religion and philosophy are the theoretical dimensions.

There is overlap, so religion has it's practical side, but here I realy mean theology.

In the early eras magic and science were essentially indistinguishable, because people had limited intellectual tools to determine what really worked and what didn't. As those tools became more codified and more reliable, science started to distinguish itself. So for example modern chemistry extricated itself from alchemy.

Nowadays we look at these questions in hindsight using the lens of modern rationalism and scientific methods, so we can distinguish between activities that were effective and reliable from those based on fanciful ideas and 'magical' thinking.

A lot of historical magic was based on a religious view of the world. So there were spells for summoning demons that could help you find treasure, or protect you from evil influences, or make someone fall in love with you. These evolved from religious practices, but then again what is a marriage ceremony or blessing if not a magical spell? They are attempts to invoke esoteric powers to make a change in the world.

Other forms of magic evolved from natural philosophy. This includes a lot of early medicine that tried to manipulate the balance of the humours in the body, or magic that invoked elemental powers or principles. The modern equivalent is crystal healing and such.

So one way to look at it is that magic is stuff based on theological or folkloric ideas, or (to not put too fine a point on it) false philosophy. That's a very modern way to slice things though. Modern occultists have also invented new and interesting ways to redefine magic, Crowley for example. And yes, I'd put him in the modern category.


Or psychotherapy. For some reason, a LOT of people that I've known to eventually to go become therapists, first have dabbled in tarot, runes and other magical divination. And since their intention was honest intent to help people and they were intelligent enough, progression to moden therapy seemed very appropriate.

The symbols with which our minds reason about our circumstances are truly interesting. Makes sense that people are trying to "see behind the veil" and tease out what those symbols effect.

My personal definition of magic is an effect that cannot be repeated- say, something like cold fusion. Perhaps you performed a magickal act once and it had an effect - but the same effect will never repeat itself no matter how often you repeat the exact same magickal act. But, maybe you can find another Act that will have the same Effect.

... or in nay case that was a definition of magic that I was planning on basing an entire (homebrew) RPG supplement on :)

My definition of science, on the other hand is absolutely "magic that works". Modern science is achieving everything that ancient cultures tried to do with magic. Except, we found the way to understand how the world works and how to do all those things for real- the scientific method. Which doesn't always work of course- but if anything does, that's science.


One definition of magic I've heard is the "application of hidden or unknown forces".

So, this gives compassion to prescientific pursuits and acknowledgement of psychological forces, which we still don't understand, that govern a wide range of contemporary rituals and designs.

Because there are many things that operate through what is probably best called magic. For instance, and this is a dumb example, architectural ornamentation. It has a huge effect on the "vibe" of a building or street -- but is essentially unexplainable. Sure, we can tell ourselves stories about why the ornamentation works... But come on, it's the part of design that is just magical.


I'd define it as the nonphysical controlling the physical. Math is one obvious example of such magic.

Hence why Bacon, who originated modern science by rejecting teleology and promoting math, was an occultist.


Math is merely a different teleology, a top-down knowledge structure that begins with axioms. It is non-scientific by definition.

By contrast, science is bottom-up--a continuing process of experimentation and analysis. Although scientists have varying beliefs, scientific literature normally makes starting assumptions only insofar as they are helpful to the process--like the (unproven but very helpful) assumption that physical processes obey consistent physical laws that don't change between experiments, or mathematical axioms and their resulting knowledge/methods. But all knowledge obtained scientifically should be held lightly and remain subject to falsification by further experimentation.

There's nothing wrong with top-down knowledge structures built on a set of starting assumptions, as long as we don't "catch" worldviews like the cold without subjecting them to truth tests like correspondence to reality and internal consistency.


Math is an invented tool. It controls nothing.

I wouldn't say math was invented. One thing plus another thing has always been two things, even before we existed to give names to that concept. The names, symbols, etc were invented but the language of mathematics is just how we describe what has always existed.

One thing and another thing just exist. They don't perform abstract operations on one another. They may engage in physical interaction but that behavior is only modeled by mathematics. There is nothing to do a "plus" without man to account for it. It is not an inherent attribute of the universe.

The Pythagoreans believed the underlying substance of the universe was not water, air or fire but math. It is, I'd argue, the modern world view.

The key difference between hydrogen and helium, for instance, seems to be a matter of number.


So does Max Tegmark [0], who believes the multi-verse is literally made of math, but I wouldn't say that's the modern world view. Most believe that math is our best tool for understanding reality, but that reality maintains an independent existence.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Mathematical_Universe


Math, maybe, is invented.

But wouldn't you say that arithmetic, geometry and harmonics are intrinsic properties of every universe?

The discovery of these properties seems to produce almost magical effects in our world. As it would for every intelligent society discovering these properties.


Math is built of analogues to preexisting patterns. The symbols may be invented, but the concepts are discovered.

If math is invented, then why are some answers right and some answers wrong?

Same reason that while DnD is an invented game, some actions are allowed while others are not. To be coherent, a system (invented or not) must remain consistent within itself.

In math, a wrong answer isn't so much "wrong" as it is inconsistent with established mathematical properties/rules.


So it sounds like some aspects are not invented.

As a knowledge structure (axioms and theorems), math is absolutely invented.

The fact that it often corresponds to our experience of reality is a consequence of thousands of years of refinement with the goal of making it describe reality as closely as possible while remaining internally consistent.

But that doesn't make it any less invented... just a very helpful tool for modeling reality.


It seems you are confusing the mathematical language with the concepts themselves.

You’re stretching my thinking — thanks for that. It can be hard to delineate the difference between the properties of reality itself and a knowledge structure, built by people, that undeniably corresponds very closely to reality and is internally consistent — the two tests for truth.

I think we can both agree that reality (the physical universe) is well-ordered, self-consistent, and eminently logical in its operation. (Side note: my own belief is that it exhibits these qualities because it reflects the character of its Creator.)

And yes, it obeys certain concepts with absolute constancy - which we have worked to discover and which our mathematical language describes.

But I still maintain that the math and physics knowledge we have is at best limited and at worst an incomplete set of poor approximations. Because they cannot (and I maintain they won’t ever) account for everything we observe, or answer every question we have about the universe, and because its axioms have led to all sorts of abstract structures that have no relation at all to anything ever observed, I still think it’s fair to call math “invented”.

That being said, the real concepts we attempt to grasp in what we observe of the universe are clearly vastly superior to our comparatively small efforts to understand and model them.


Because we invented it specifically to establish a system in which some answers were right (those which could be proven given a set of axioms and a set of legal reasoning techniques) and some were wrong. Why would it being invented affect whether it could have right and wrong answers?

Languages are "invented" too, but we can still use them to approximately describe reality.

Things are true in math if we can follow the rules to derive the truth from axioms. That knowledge may then describe or predict something which should hold true in reality, which is tested via experiments.


Magic is simply religion by another name. The belief that the natural world is governed by a supernatural world and that the latter can affect the former through divine intercession (theurgy) or human will and ritual (thaumaturgy) is, essentially, basic religious belief. What tends to happen with the semantics is "our" practice is considered "proper religion", and "theirs" is "pagan sorcery."

...and here I was, thinking that this would be a treatise on Haskell...



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