Physics and Magic. Disenchanting Nature

In J. Mildorf, U. Seeber & M. Windisch (eds.), Magic, Science, Technology and Literature. Lit (2007)
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A widespread view of the natural sciences holds that their historical development was accompanied by a constantly widening gap between them and magic. Originally closely bound up with magic, the sciences are supposed to have distanced themselves from it in a long-drawn-out process, until they attained their present magic-free form. I would like, in this essay, to discuss some arguments in support of this plausible view. To this end, I shall begin with a definition of magical and scientific concepts of nature. To exemplify the gap which, over several epochs, widened between the magical and the scientific understanding of nature, I would like to examine two concepts in natural science, both assumed by physics. The first concept I select is Aristotle's concept of physis. It was fundamental to the emergence of physics, and sets its mark on thought in this field right up to the beginning of the modern period. The distinctive characteristic of the second concept of nature is negative, consisting in the elimination of the Aristotelian distinction between physis and techne. I consider Galileo Galilei to be a trail-blazer for this anti-magical position, as well as a co-founder of experimental science with his mechanical and astronomical works. As a conclusion I will say something of the relationship of magic to concepts of nature typical of the following period, both in physics and other natural sciences.



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Gregor Schiemann
University of Wuppertal

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