Quite a while a go, my daughter noticed that I had elements of witchcraft strewn about the house–particularly various crystals. She wondered if I could be a witch and alas, I wish I could be. I wish I could cast love spells and attract good fortune. I can’t.I had the crystals because I like rocks and minerals. I’m no witch. But at least I have science.
What did humanity have before science? We dwelled in superstition. The world was erratic and capricious–sometimes benevolent and other times cruel–depending on the wishes of deities. Deities selected the rulers of a nation. They brought the weather–sunny days to firestorms. They spoke to us through calamity and fortune. We did our best to understand, obey, and predict their whim and wishes. A cricket on the hearth signaled luck. In England, black cats were unlucky.
In the US, old shoes in the wall brought good luck as did lucky bones made from codfish. We had slogans such as “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” We had signs–lightning struck towers because the people within were bad, not because static charge accumulates at points. Maybe I’m glad not to have the witch’s craft. It seems so complicated.
As the Renaissance spread in Europe, a New idea took hold–that of verifiable truth. The idea that nature can be observed and understood, not just by the practitioner but by anyone else with the proper measuring tools and instruction. Secrecy and private craft was out and sharing ideas was seen as the only way to make progress.
When science struggled for respect, old women and women with birthmarks and extra nipples were witches. Witches cast low magic, earth magic or practical magic spells. An example of such might be causing milk to spoil or making someone have a “fit.” Interestingly enough, early scientists such as Isaac Newton believed in high magic, involving the planets, angels and demons, and cosmic realms such as alchemy, which involved chemistry mixed with prayer and summoning of powers by the alchemist. Sadly, all Newton got from his dabbling in alchemy was mercury poisoning from quicksilver. The Salem Witch Trials occurred during Newton’s life, although the English were starting to doubt witchcraft and the need to execute witches.
It took a while for magic to live only in the realm of fantasy. What’s the difference between fantasy and scifi? It’s magic vs verifiable truth. How does magic, the harnessing of unknowable forces, differ from science? In science there is the belief that anyone can do it–you don’t need to be The One who draws a sword from the stone or who is chosen to go to a school of magic. In science, nature makes the rules and anyone can discover them. Powers are discovered, not summoned. In science, everyone is a Muggle. Michael Faraday was a great champion of this and his ideas inspired other thinkers such as Charles Darwin who were great proponents of us all coming from the same family tree. (As opposed to leaders being from heaven and some being born better.) Science, at its heart, is the most equitable truth out there. It’s why it’s toppled dynasties, abolished slavery, and why scientists tend to write lab reports in the passive voice. It’s why, it’s so dangerous to those who believe they are innately better and are born better than others.
In my upcoming novel, Lost in Waste, the city-state of Cochtonville has evolved into the country of Cochtonia, run by businessman brothers Bert and Clarence Cochton. They rule through their wealth and capriciousness. Agricultural products are the heart of Cochtonia–and scientists are there to help the country produce more products. What’s lost in this country is that science is a way of knowing based on evidence. It’s a search for the truth. Without this quest, scientists aren’t happy and they aren’t productive. And the truth is, the citizens aren’t be happy in Cochtonia either. The nation’s ridiculous hoops for advancement in society have created a stratified society. It’s conformity and slogans impact productivity.
Inequality makes societies unhappy. Societies which value fairness, equity, and equality are happier and more productive. Yes, science has brought us products and technology. But perhaps the deepest gift is verifiable and predictable truth while retaining the awe and wonder of magic.
“Because I said so.” Didn’t you hate that as a kid? I found it so unpersuasive as evidence. Verifiable truth. No special powers. No divine leaders. Equality. These are tools science gave us to use against oppressors. So wave a wand and cast a spell if you wish. I hope it works for you. In my lab, we’ll be pushing buttons. Because all we have is the new craft of science. And as far as things go, science is much more dangerous to demons.