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Bob G
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Hi People,


I couldn't find a history forum here that seemed to want this question, but I thought it might be of general interest, so I'm posting here.


How old is magic?


The question is unanswerable unless we first define "magic." So let's start with, "Magic is deception for the purpose of entertainment." Here I'm taking "entertainment" to mean, broadly, "What intrigues us, makes us laugh, refreshes us, brings insight, produces a sense of wonder, etc." I'm excluding activities that amuse, enrich, or otherwise benefit the deceiver at the expense of his or her audience. So, interesting though these things are, no cheating at gambling, no spycraft, no seances.


I'd also like to restrict answers to what can be documented.


For comparison (and because it might interest people who love mathematics, as I do), I would tentatively date the beginning of modern mathematics to be around 300 BC, with the publication of Euclid's Elements. Euclid introduced the method of logical reasoning that we mathematicians use today, in which we start with axioms -- assumptions that are deemed to be obvious to all reasonable people -- and derive from those axioms further truths, and from the further truths even more truths... and eventually we get to stunning and not-at-all obvious conclusions like the Pythagorean Theorem.


Mathematics is probably much older than 300 BC, because it's likely that much of Euclid's work was an orderly compilation of others' previous work, but I'm somewhat arbitrarily defining modern mathematics to be the kind of axiomatic thinking that I just described.


Interested in your thoughts...



Bob
Thomas Henry
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Hi Bob,

I don't know about magic, but you can push your date for mathematics back to 600 BCE, thanks to Thales. He clearly understood the nature of axiomatic systems and the notion of proof. Thales is generally credited with proving such things as "a triangle inscribed in a semicircle is always right," "opposite angles created by two intersecting lines are equal in measure," and several others. His arguments for these show a genuine sense of rigor, and that he clearly understood the distinction between axioms and theorems.

Just my two-cents.

Thomas Henry
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Bob G
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Hi Thomas,


I hoped I'd hear from you. I knew you were interested in mathematical principles in magic. The name Thales is familiar to me, but I didn't know that he already was thinking axiomatically. I was writing without any of my history of math books at hand. Really interesting -- and relevant to a textbook I'm writing. I may have to revise a paragraph or two!


Bob
tommy
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BBC History of Magic, is a series of documentaries which go into the history of different kinds of magic, such as mental magic, close up magic and so on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrHWgWNX......&index=1
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Thomas Henry
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Hi again, Bob,

When in harness, I taught a "mathematics for liberal arts students" course, which I'd designed. After spending the first week on the applied arithmetic and geometry of the Egyptians, we watched the following excellent video in class, with a discussion following:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6cr0hv

The point being that all of the work of earlier people had been entirely practical in nature, but that Thales was the breakthrough thinker. In the Western world, he really is the first to apply what we would call rigor and logical discourse in the creation of new mathematics. I always said in class that he proved the first theorem. Incidentally, James Burke (eminent historian of science) does a spectacular job of giving Thales his due in the video. The remaining episodes in that series are also terrific, and we watched some of them in class as well.

Now a bit about your question of which came first, magic performance or mathematics: if you're going to define mathematics to be the application of axiomatic discourse, then magic has it beat by a long shot. One need only refer to the Westcar Papyrus in which Dedi performing the old cut-and-restored goose head trick is described. This was some 2000 years before Thales.

On the other hand, if we permit mathematics to mean "manipulating numbers" (an insipid definition many people today still adhere to--it completely skirts the deep areas of the subject in which no numbers appear), then dating it against magic becomes a much closer race. The problem, of course, is knowing precisely the definitions of magic and of mathematics employed. But if we can establish these, then we must turn to scholars outside of our own areas for advice. For instance, in both undergrad and grad days I took assorted courses in the history of mathematics, but nowhere along the way did I ever enroll in an anthropology class which would be vital for rendering a learned opinion.

So as you admirably note, fixing the definitions at the outset is vital, and then I would also add in, the need to turn to scholars in those areas outside our own expertise.

Allowing the "manipulating numbers" definition for mathematics, and allowing magic to mean "witch-doctors, exploiting natural science to create mystical or religious effects, curses, deceiving ignorant people for nefarious reasons, etc.," then my guess is that mathematics and magic are roughly the same age. Counting one's sheep by day, and creating violet sparks and black smoke with saltpeter in the campfire by night to dazzle ignorant onlookers, seem roughly contemporaneous to me.

But if by mathematics we mean axiomatic reasoning, and by magic we mean "for entertainment," then as mentioned above, Dedi has Thales beat by a long shot. And remarkably, we've even got written records to back up that claim.

It's an interesting thread, but a new effect is calling me for rehearsal!

Thomas Henry
Omne ignotum pro magnifico.

Curious who I am? See my quick video bio.
Michael Daniels
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Quote:
On Sep 22, 2020, Thomas Henry wrote:
Hi Bob,

I don't know about magic, but you can push your date for mathematics back to 600 BCE, thanks to Thales. He clearly understood the nature of axiomatic systems and the notion of proof. Thales is generally credited with proving such things as "a triangle inscribed in a semicircle is always right," "opposite angles created by two intersecting lines are equal in measure," and several others. His arguments for these show a genuine sense of rigor, and that he clearly understood the distinction between axioms and theorems.

Just my two-cents.

Thomas Henry


Indian (Vedic) formal mathematics probably predates even Thales.

https://gnomepublications.org/JMSC-002.1-0002.php

Mike
tommy
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De Viribus Quantitatis, (The Power of Numbers) by Luca Pacioli, was a book on magic! Friar Luca Pacioli was an amateur magician! The text revealed numeric puzzles (thus the name), instruction on how to juggle, how to make a coin dance, how to eat fire and a few other magical stunts. The book also makes one of the first ever references to card tricks. It is the first major work focusing on teaching magic.

https://stevencarlsonmagic.com/2013/08/0......agician/
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Bob G
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Wow, thanks for these interesting replies! I won't give a substantive reply now, because it would be a major research project to follow up on all of these ideas, videos, and other links. But I'm happy to have all this material to look into when I have pieces of time.


I didn't know, though I'm not surprised, that you're a mathematician, Thomas. I've never done it, and won't now as I'm close to retirement, but I've always thought it would be interesting to teach a Math for liberal arts course, or a Great Theorems course (inclusive "or," obviously). I agree with you about consulting with people outside of our fields.


People often say that there's an affinity between music and math, and it seems clear now, as you point out, tommy, that there's an affinity between magic and math.


Bob
funsway
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Posts so far have been about documentable - written references. OK for one perspective, and I agree with tommy's reference about Pacioli who was Aristotle's teacher. Obviously, magic tricks had been around long before that for him to take an interest. Another view is anecdotal references. Many are considered unreliable as evidence, but we might presume there is some truth to stories form different cultures. People have been performing magic in markets, caravanserai, royal court, etc. for more that six thousand years.

My bets source is from Turkish instructors at WLIC Language School in 1967. I was able get them to discuss Turkic history and magic in several forms. These stories are more reliable than most
because of the very rigid structure of the language. While many new words have been borrowed in later centuries, a basic phrase about common things would be unchanged. The line from a famous song,
"As I was traveling to Uskadar, I found a beautiful scarf," is said exactly the same today as ten thousand years ago. Another reason is that dialect formation was prohibited. When travelers would gather around an evening fire
traditional stories were told. The speakers were corrected as to accuracy and word usage. The point is that while the original story may not be completely true, today's telling is accurate to that truth.

One story deals with the agreed/mandated separation of magic done by street performers and court entertainers (safik) from ceremonial or symbolic magic used by priests, seers and mystics.
The latter were known to use trickery and guile and "unknown agency" in their professions, but they were not allowed to perform as entertainers. Likewise, a wandering performer doing magic tricks could not
tell fortunes, make predictions or be a religious leader/teacher. This separation is documented in several laws decreed during Ottoman rule to prevent foreigners form performing either type of magic.
These laws refer to the "ancient separation and protection" that indicate it was over six thousand years old then, so add 1200 years.

Thus, I accept that some guy was wandering around a market place 7200 years ago busking magic tricks for pay. But, I am also sure that some uncle was entertaining kids with colored stones long before that.
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst

eBooks at https://www.lybrary.com/ken-muller-m-579928.html questions at ken@eversway.com
tommy
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Speaking number, old magicians and documents and spells:

"Socrates. Some god or divine man, who in the Egyptian legend is said to
have been Theuth, observing that the human voice was infinite, first
distinguished in this infinity a certain number of vowels, and then
other letters which had sound, but were not pure vowels (i.e., the
semivowels); these too exist in a definite number; and lastly, he
distinguished a third class of letters which we now call mutes,
without voice and without sound, and divided these, and likewise the
two other classes of vowels and semivowels, into the individual
sounds, told the number of them, and gave to each and all of them
the name of letters; and observing that none of us could learn any one
of them and not learn them all, and in consideration of this common
bond which in a manner united them, he assigned to them all a single
art, and this he called the art of grammar or letters."

-Plato
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Bob G
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Hi Funsway,


Thought-provoking post as always. If we dismiss my strict requirement for documentation, then we can take it as likely that magic and math have both been around for forever. (I think Thomas said something similar above.)


I like your image of the Uncle and the colored stones. I can imagine him using the stones to teach the idea of number, and then doing a magic trick with them! (Depending on the trick, the might have to understand the idea of number before the trick would be surprising; that's why I put math chronologically before magic in my extension of your image.) As I'm sure you know, the origin of the term "calculus," as in a systematic method of calculating things is related to stones -- or bones, I forget which. I haven't looked this up recently, but I think people presume that early shepherds used stones to represent individual sheep so as to make sure they had as many sheep at the end of the day as they had at the beginning.


Interestingly, although we still use "calculus" in the way I described, as a generalization of the stone/sheep method, it has an additional meaning as the particular calculus that many students learn in college, about rates of change, tangent lines, areas of curvy regions, etc. "The calculus of infinitesimals" became "The calculus," and then, simply, "Calculus."


I imagine Thomas can fill and details and correct me if he has time and interest.


By the way, I was interested in your thoughts about Turkish. What does WLIC stand for?


See you,


Bob
Bob G
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Hi Tommy, is Socrates talking about the origin of language here? And are "spells" in the sense of "magic" discussed?



By the way, according to my American Heritage Dictionary, the word "rune" comes from an old Norse word meaning "whisper." The dictionary includes a short and interesting essay about how that came about.


Bob
funsway
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Sorry - my fumbled typing. DLIWC - Defense Language Institute - West Coast, Monterey, CA (Now named something else)
"the more one pretends at magic, the more awe and wonder will be found in real life." Arnold Furst

eBooks at https://www.lybrary.com/ken-muller-m-579928.html questions at ken@eversway.com
Bob G
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Thanks, Ken.
Thomas Henry
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Hi Bob,

"Calculus" is a Latin word and it's come to our language unchanged in spelling. It means pebble or stone, and depending on the context in the Latin tongue can also mean the abacus itself.

Two personal notes here: my Master's thesis was on the calculus of finite differences, and now in retirement I've taken up the study of Latin. So your comment really caught my eye!

Now back to the magic...

Thomas Henry
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Curious who I am? See my quick video bio.
tommy
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Soc is debating if happiness or wisdom is more important and in passing, he mentions Thoth, who is widely regarded as the first magician; the god of magic, inventor of writing, etcetera.

https://evolveconsciousness.org/thoth-th......ss-pt-4/
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

Tommy
Bob G
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Thanks to you both, Thomas and tommy.


Thomas, sounds like you're having a rich retirement! Finite differences are very cool. My focus on analysis has led me to be more comfortable with continuous phenomena. Thanks for clarifying "calculus."


Bob
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