An odd contradiction: People are turning away from science as a way to understand the world, even though we keep using more and more advanced technology which is invented using that scientific knowledge.

What if it’s that, in terms of Clarke’s Third Law, the technology we use is sufficiently advanced that it might as well be magic?

It’s easy to understand how a toaster works. Electricity goes in and heats up the wires. Or an incandescent light bulb, or an internal combustion engine. Anything that’s primarily mechanical, you can understand intuitively: “Oh, this part moves that part, which moves that part, and then I kind of get lost, but eventually it gets to the wheels.”

But a computer chip? GPS navigation? Downloading and playing a game on a mobile phone? These things might as well be magic to most people who use it. At the consumer level, GPS is a black box that tells you where you are and how to get where you’re going. But underneath that, it’s satellites, relativity, radio transmitters, radio receivers, computer software, circuitry, mathematics, rockets, data transmission, traffic detection, mapping software…so many pieces that take some degree of studying to really understand.

If our technology is “magic,” it ceases to be a reminder that science works, and may even encourage belief in things that don’t have clear mechanisms and supporting evidence. The very success of science at making possible the technology we use everywhere could, ironically, be discouraging people from believing in it.

*I wrote this three years ago. I’m not sure why I didn’t post it at the time. All I had to do was tighten up the wording a little bit. And sadly, the situation hasn’t improved.

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