Magic, Alchemy, Hackers

In ‘Meissen Chymistry’, a column for American Scientist, Roald Hoffmann suggests that alchemy was protochemistry, highlighting in what ways that which today’s chemists do is similar to what alchemists did hundreds of years ago.

‘Modern chemists,’ he writes, ‘screaming to high heaven that they have nothing to do with alchemy, have fulfilled the alchemist’s dream – transmuting sickness into health and, with superb ingenuity, changing mud (the raw materials of organic synthesis) into gold (what pharmaceutical companies sell).’

Perhaps hackers were protodevelopers, perhaps we still are protodevelopers.

I guess alchemists had the air of magicians. In one sense, a magician is someone that accomplishes something, leaving everybody else dumbfounded. That was certainly true of hackers, and software development is still a mystery to a great number of people.

If magicians were the protosomethings of their age, what is that something today? Doctors? People in advertising? Psychotherapists? Hypnotherapists?

In a documentary on Sudanese architecture I saw, being a master builder also meant being a magician, in the sense that you must master the art of blessing the houses built. Perhaps magic is/was an ingredient of any endeavor, and not a profession in itself?

The above was posted to my personal weblog on September 9, 2005. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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