Archive | November, 2011

The Wizard’s Apprentice

1 Nov

Tarkovsky:  “ there is nothing more beautiful and
mysterious than simplicity.”
– Andrei Tarkovsky

Goethe wanted to give us a lesson with his poetic masterpiece «the aprentice of the wizard» written in 1797 (“Der Zauberlehrling” in German). In Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem, the wizard’s assistant try to work out some of the magic acts performed by the wizard, but without to properly control them. Walt Disney parodiate this situation in the 1940 animated movie Fantasia (watch the trailer here) with music by the French composer Paul Abraham Dukas (1865-1935). In his other masterpiece, Faust, he took pratically thirty years of his life writing (uncontinuosly), but every new experience of his life was deeply meditated, wandering into every field of knowledge and, at the end, coming back with sorrow and unsatisfaction, showing to him the eternal problem of the thinker and the various nuances of the social existence of all of us.

The word Magic comes from the Persian language, Magu-sh, name given by the Persian and Medes (people that lived in the area called Media in the actual Iran) to the priests of the religion of Zaratustra (their disciples were called Meghestom), and it was used by Jeremias (Book of) to designate a Babylonian priest. The primitive meaning seems to be “worship of the light” [2]. For the Parsees, the Medes, and Egyptians the term Magic meant a higher knowledge of nature, where religion and astronomy made an integral part of it. The Magi were driven by justice, truth, aiming to preserve their secret wisdom.

Dr. Faustus, Don Giovanni, Frankenstein, like the wizard’s apprentice, they all represent in many ways an archetypal hero who challenge authority and the society (and thus God), in a transgression that represent the eternal tragedy of humanity, seeking dominate nature and the others fellow beings via their seductive and destructive power.

But the judgement of the apprentice (aren’t we all?) is not so simple, because he faces an epistemological crisis about the limits of the human knowledge,  the undecibility (does we have a soul? can we built a robot at our own image? what can we discover investigating the “big questions” beyond the reasonable?…), attaining the «[…] porous boundaries between human and nonhuman, organic and inorganic» [1].

Mozart’s Don Giovanni inspired many artists, composers poets, writers (Byron, Baudelaire, Mérimée, Pushkin, Tolstoi), philosophers,…One of the most famous arias of Don Giovanni is “Il mio tesoro” (“My Treasure”), and I propose you to listen here sang by the famous Irish tenor John McCormack.

Humanity’s greatest strength is his ability for thinking, for sure, and our abstract thought separate us from the animal kingdom in a great measure, althoug in the actuality we are ruled by shameless people…Political scientists (it is not clear to me why they call themselves “scientists”) opened the Pandora’s box, they are in fact apprentices’s of the wizard. They use science to control society for the interest of some groups. Like Pinocchio, we are bound to something, to our creature, and like Pinocchio we have to cut the “strings” that bound us to our Geppettos.

One of the earliest paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, the Adoration of the Magi, is a testimony of the crisis a creative man may came across in his search of the absolute. Leonardo’s tragic destiny  starts to unfold malefic forces around him, with numerous material complications, or possibly he  restrains himself to acomplish the masterpiece, knowing that he already mastered all the techniques. Lorenzo il Magnifico, ruler of the Florentine Republic shows indiference towards Leonardo [Antonina Vallentin, in Leonardo da Vinci] and this hurts him a lot. As the time is running (like the Roman poet Virgilus wrote in his Georgics: Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore) he fears for not having time to acquire the knowledge he deeply seeks. His pratical side drove him to invent a lot of apparatus intending to give to man the power over nature. Tempus fugit and a sensitive man feels the need to understand fully the how and why we are here…Andrei Tarkovsky, the russian movie director, incorporated motifs of The Adoration of the Magi in the narrative of his movie The Sacrifice (with music of Sebastian Bach Mattheus Passion, listen here), which represents his interpretation of the painting, but in a time reversal way, predicting instead of the bright beginning of humanity, the dark future of Western culture. Science and technology, only by themselves, do not fulfil the humankind needs.

Michelangelo captured the sublime moment of creation in his famous painting of the Sistine Chapel; Adam, with his arm stretched waiting for the finger of God touching, and apparently between man and God there is just an interposed- gap, that’s Michelangelo’s representation of life itself (p. 142, Ref.[1]).

This dramatic situation is well described by Erwin Schrodinger in one of the conferences organized by the Association Eranos, held in Asconna, Switzerland. He criticized the materialistic egotism of natural sciences and that ethics and moral cannot both be dissociated from the scientific research [3]. For the alchemist some knowledge must be kept in secret in order to not fall in the wrong hands, unpreprared politicians and rulers, because then they may serve the evil.The scientific method is certainly powerful, searching the causes of phenomena, analytic and methodic, aiming to formulate the laws that govern phenomena. But it potentiates the materialistic egotism typical of our actual societies, the consumist societies living with the only purpose to consume…

For some this may represent “The End of History” [4]. Science has the only purpose to answer to our “how ?”, not our “why ?”, which is the purpose of philosophy. Philosophy is predominantly synthetic, going from the particular to the general, critic and systematic, searching the «Why?» of these phenomena, their raison d’ être and their value. That ‘s why a world without science AND philosophy is open to tragedy.


[1] Scott Bukatman, in Beyond the finite: the Sublime in Art and Science, Ed. by Roald Hoffmann, Ian Boyd White p. 129 (OUP, New York, 2011)[2] The History of Magic, by Joseph Ennemoser, Translated from the German by William Howitt Vol I (Henry G. Bohn, London, 1854)[3] Friedrich W. Doucet, in O Livro de Ouro das Ciências Ocultas (Translation to Portuguese)[4] Jean Braudillard, The Illusion of the End (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1994)

%d bloggers like this: