Saturday 26 June 2010

Science and the One Ring

I do not (any more) believe that science - discovering reality - is intrinsically good. Sometimes it is good, sometimes very bad indeed; for the simple reason that humans, as such, are intrinsically corrupt.

Tolkien's elves are real scientists who are skilled in discovery and take delight in craft, but the results of their researches may be good or evil, depending mainly on their motivation. The greatest elven scientist/ craftsman was Feanor - and he ended-up consumed by pride, possessiveness and hatred; and caused more evil than any other elf.

In Tolkien's world, science is one of the noblest human endeavors (and remember that Tolkien was himself a professional scientist - a philologist; as well as having many more obviously scientific hobbies such as astronomy and botany) yet he depicts science as fraught with danger because - in so far as it succeeds - it enhances human power over nature - especially power over other humans (note: elves are 'human' - albeit very long-lived).

The paradox is exemplified by the One Ring - that when someone gains power through science (through 'the machine' as Tolkien terms it) then he himself is diminished - he has (in effect) infused his native vitality into the making of the machine.

Morgoth (who was a fallen god, the greatest in power under the creator god) expended his power in the corruption of the world (his darkness permeating its substance and all creatures) and in making armies of orcs, dragons, trolls and balrogs. But when he was finally defeated, this god was shockingly diminished and cowardly – a puny thing.

Sauron (a fallen angel) put so much power into the One Ring, that when the ring was destroyed, so was he.

The high elves (from the undying lands, or descended from these elves) made the same mistake - they put so much power into the Three Rings, which they used to preserve the beauty of Middle Earth, and make it more like the undying lands, that when the master One Ring was destroyed they were diminished to the level of the 'wild' elves.

The greatest men, the men of Numenor, became invincible in war and outstripped the elves in many types of technology. However most of them became utterly corrupted by their desperate craving for immortality; and ended worshipping the 'devil' (Morgoth), creating an evil totalitarian state, invading the undying lands, and being destroyed by the gods.

We moderns have put the main part of our power, our vitality, into our rings: technology. We use technology to control nature, and other people. But if our rings were taken from us, if technology is destroyed, we will find ourselves sadly diminished.

We will 'fade' like Tolkien's elves; indeed we are already fading because the power now lies in our 'rings', and has been lost from us creatures who are using the rings. We are wistful, passive, nostalgic like the high elves - or demonic in our perverse energy like the Numenoreans.

A ring of power appears to confer immortality, but in actuality it merely spreads life thinner and thinner, until the owner becomes a wraith out of contact with reality and living mainly in an insubstantial spirit world.

Modern man minus his technology is a puny thing.