[iDC] Why Magic Stinks

John Hopkins jhopkins at commspeed.net
Mon Oct 9 14:33:47 EDT 2006

>One claim that is obviously false without requiring testing involves 
>weighted rims that are sold for audio CDs. The makers claim that the 
>added mass will help the CD spin at an unvarying rate. This is true. 
>People who know a bit of physics are aware that a greater mass is 
>accelerated less by a given force, so any disturbing force will have 
>less effect on the rate of spin of a heavier disk. The makers also 
>claim that this will make the CD sound better with less "wow" or 
>"flutter," which on tape recordings or vinyl records was the result 
>of uneven motion of the recording medium. The claim for better sound 
>is false and relies on the ignorance of owners of CD players. 
>Ignorance is superstition's guide.

I think that this example points out an underlying issue -- namely, 
"fundamental principles."

As a educator, over the years, I have observed the rapid demise of 
university students' knowledge-base of fundamental principles, and 
how to apply the same.

I believe it relates to the fact that there is so much surface-level 
'noise' in the social (and political!) sphere, that one is constantly 
distracted from making considered connections between disparate 
events.  This makes it difficult to see an underlying causality in 
most systems.

Education has also drifted into this focus on the fluffy details at 
the surface, and teachers often don't have the skills or ability or 
relaxed time with the students to develop these kinds of perceptual 

While I personally dislike reductionist ways-of-going, I believe that 
principles of many sorts are powerful tools to interact with the 
phenomenal (and noumenal) world.  Whether basic mechanistic physical 
laws, or principles elucidated in the I Ching, a solid knowledge of 
some of these, with an ability to translate that knowledge into 
understanding more complex (or more un-revealed) relations is a very 
powerful tools for clearing the air of bad voodoo.

Having said that, I admit that I believe that there are phenomena 
that cannot be  circumscribed by known principles (or perhaps are not 
even knowable).  I need to have a worldview which is flexible enough 
to accommodate phenomena which have no known principles behind them, 
and either simply revert to a 'faith' condition that accepts the 
world-as-I-perceive-it, or have an internal mechanism that 
synthesizes fundamental principles according to my experience-base.

Faith is not a problem until everything is connected to it as a 
fundamental principle. (but that is another  discussion!)

The problem in contemporary culture, again, is this evolving 
inability to understand even basic technological 'phenomena.'  Along 
with a distinct lack of desire to even begin to do so.  This is a 
surrender of autonomy to the social system which holds the knowledge.

As a youngster, I recall helping my father repair our cars, usually 
out in the freezing cold, handing him tools.  Later, with my first 
car, I ended up rebuilding the entire device from the ground up. 
This acquired knowledge-base gives me (still, though I rarely service 
my own car), a position of autonomy with my mobility and in 
juxtaposition to the 'priest' at the car dealership who will not be 
able to forcibly  'sell' me a repair -- I can query him as to his 
knowledge about the problem, his conclusions, his reasoning, his 
evidence, and ultimately, to the principles upon which his conclusion 
rests.  Fewer and fewer people have these knowledge-bases, and the 
number dwindles at the same time technological devices propagate and 
at each propagation, seize a small territory of autonomy from the 
ignorant user.

So instead of being able to deal with an older car, we instead decide 
to buy 'something more reliable' which translates into: a newer car, 
more expensive, more complex -- factors which further deepen our 
co-dependence with a socio-economic-political system which then holds 
our autonomy as a hostage.

I used to say the maxim: If you don't understand a technology (at a 
level of principles), then the technology is using you, not you using 
the technology.

It's a bit extreme, but I believe it holds some truth which relates 
to our loss of autonomy (and to our subsequent feelings of 


PS -- I'm thinking that the discussion about technology and it's ills 
would find deeper conclusions if instead we look at the underlying 
social constellations and systems which generate the technological...

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