Why did the genie in the story of Aladdin come out after rubbing a lamp, or, in the more original version of the tale, a ring? Wouldn’t a button or a lever be more appropriated? When I originally asked that question in an essay some years ago, the answer I expected was different from the ones we will get now.
Thanks to touch screen smartphones, millions of people slide, and effectively rub their fingers to unlock their devices. Aladdin’s tale has come to a technological reality. And if you think about it, rubbing a lamp was an interface that actually made some sense. Any mechanical system would be more prone to failure, so having a way for the user to interact with the lamp without any mechanical parts such as a button or lever would be a good design, something the people of The Long Now Foundation have to ponder.
But few people would make the association. And even the ones that do would seldom infer that this would be evidence the origins of Arabian Nights had something to do with ancient Steve Jobses of advanced technological civilizations – be they Atlantis or from beyond Zeta Reticulli.
Yet, Aladdin is not alone. Snow White also portrays a smart magic mirror, something still not quite ubiquitous, but that will probably soon be seen everywhere, as computers get cheaper and cheaper – you can see above a proof of concept, the only thing stopping me from buying one is the price. The list could go on, Sleeping Beauty was not sleeping, as she did not age, she was on suspended animation or stasis.
To us, these fairy tales have been presented as the fantasy they are. The same is not true for some religious texts, such as the popular – among Ancient Astronauts enthusiasts – story of Ezekiel. One engineer even tried to reconstruct the spaceship he proposes Ezekiel saw.
But that is not much different from thinking Aladdin had an actual iPhone. Ezekiel’s vision is in fact deeply rooted in the context of the age, and every detail of the “spaceship” can be traced to contemporary symbols, as Mike Heiser shows.
Living in a technological world, we tend to interpret everything in technological terms. And it’s amazing that our technology allow us to create so many things that some centuries ago could only be seen as magic, or some millennia ago were evidence of the power of the one true God.
Arthur C. Clarke formulated that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, but from that we must realize the opposite is also true, magic can be indistinguishable from sufficiently advanced technology, even if the magic is pure fantasy.
Sometimes, magic is just magic.
[I originally wrote a piece on Aladdin’s lamp in Portuguese before the introduction of the iPhone. In the end of the essay I suggested that if someone knew how to create a technological flying carpet they could become billionaires. Little did I know that the interface for the lamp I had just elaborated on was actually closer to a real money-making application. Should have tried to patent it;]
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