The Engineer's Notebook Blog

The Engineer's Notebook

The Engineer's Notebook is a shared blog for entries that don't fit into a specific CR4 blog. Topics may range from grammar to physics and could be research or or an individual's thoughts - like you'd jot down in a well-used notebook.

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The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

Posted October 23, 2006 3:12 PM by Chris Leonard

I saw The Prestige this weekend. It was a very thought provoking movie about obsession, illusion, and the depths to which two men will sink to perpetuate revenge upon each other. In the movie, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) play rival magicians in turn of the century London.

My aim here isn't to review the movie, but to talk about the portrayal of Nikola Tesla and science. Now I have to admit that I am not particularly knowledgeable about Tesla, but he is painted in stark contrast to the "magicians" of the time. Both Angier and Borden work to perfect their respective versions of their great trick, "The Transformed Man", but in both cases, it isn't magic that they use, but sleight of hand and showmanship.

Tesla (as portrayed by David Bowie) on the other hand is presented as a true magician. It is through his scientific knowledge that the magic flows; his ability to electrify Colorado Springs, or illuminating a field of lightbulbs without wires, to the disconcerting crackles of energy produced by his "Telsa" coils. Yet at the same time, he is obsessively driven by science in the same way that Angier and Borden "live" magic. And his own rivalry with Edison is demonstrated as a counterpoint to that of the two magicians, with similarly destructive results.

So is science, in the end, magic?

Hollywood would have you think so, as the machine Tesla builds for Angier; upon which the final act turns, simply cannot exist.

So has anyone else seen The Prestige? Even with the Tesla character as a science fiction creation, I would give it a thumbs up, B+, a fresh tomato, whatever rating system you use as a scale.

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Guru

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#1

Re: The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

10/23/2006 11:05 PM

"So is science, in the end, magic?"

Interesting you should ask. Wasn't it Arthur C. Clarke who once said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

--Europium

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

12/22/2006 11:31 AM

I have been in the printed circuit board manufacturing industry for 30 years and

recall many references to our trade as "black magic". There are so many processes

and overlapping tolerances that product engineering is different (to some degree)

for each shop.

Circuitgl

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#2

Re: The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

10/24/2006 12:28 AM

Thanks for the mini-review Chris. I think I will definitely put it on my to-see list. As far as I'm concerned, why should the fact that we understand it make it any less magic. I say stay amazed. Although I know how a 747 works it is no less amazing to see that much junk so high in the air. Since on a quantum level nothing is all too certain, why not let it all be magic. Some of it we understand, some we don't yet understand and some we may never.

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#3

Re: The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

10/25/2006 4:25 PM

The late Isaac Asimov noted "To the un-initiate, sufficiently sophisticated science appears to be magic". Tesla has quite the aura around him. He was rumored to have mastered transmission of power through the air without copper wires and he did, in fact, create AC power. I also saw the movie and loved it. I will say the "The Illusionist" was better yet. In my opinion.

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#5

Re: The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

04/27/2007 11:46 PM

"There is no such thing," wrote St. Augustine, "as a miracle which violates natural law. There are only occurrences which violate our limited knowledge of natural law." God himself is bound in the web of rationality.

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#6

Re: The Prestige: The Scientist as Magician

05/13/2008 7:54 AM

I have not seen this film - but I do intend to view it in the near future.

Tesla was indeed a genius, and he is known as "The Forgotten Inventor".

You must read his autobiography to understand that he was indeed a child prodigy, and the reason why he was able to accomplish these "Magical" feats was mostly due to his ability, or disability as he called it himself, to see images vividly in front of him for prolonged periods, as if they were reality itself.

This is why when ever Tesla built a prototype of his patents, they majority of them always worked first time, as he had gone over all the testing in his mind - which was made possible by his "disability".

Sadly, this is also why we have very little details and calculations to show how he worked it all out - as he was able to do it all in his head.

Science is supposed to be for the benefit of mankind - then, why did one of the most brilliant minds ever born die in poverty, in a hotel room in NY, and why was his work, which he clearly demonstrated on many occasions, covered up and pushed to the back seat of "Scientific" discovery!

As usual, Power & Domination has a lot to do with it, and in this light, maybe a more fitting question is;

Who controls the scientific discoveries that are made available to the masses - as science is for the good of all mankind, No?

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