Updated: Apr 15, 2021
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clark
One of the defining aspects of technology is that eventually it becomes cheaper. It becomes available to everybody. So things that were at one point restricted to the very few are suddenly available to everybody." - Ted Chiang, in response.
Arthur Clark offered up his observation as a critique of the wonder which one should feel at the world. Really, he thought the world around is quite unremarkable. We are just insufficiently advanced to appreciate that fact. Ted Chiang takes this idea even further. Not only is the world a fundamentally unremarkable place, all things which might seem remarkable either are, or will one day be, as accessible as a television.
This week the Torah tell us the opposite. The Torah tells us of a terrible disease, Tzara'at. It's cause is unknown and supernatural; it is unquestionably related to a person's state of spiritual pollution. It has no cure beyond introspection, repentance, and redemption. And not everyone can proclaim the presence of the affliction. Only a Cohen may do so.
What are we to learn from this strange condition? As many have said, we should learn to be more careful in the way that we speak and act towards others. We should learn to be less proud. We should learn to be more reflective and considerate. However, that is just what the condition itself can teach us. What do we learn from the very fact of its existence?
What we learn above all is that Clark and Chiang are wrong. The world is a remarkable place. It is easier to appreciate the wonder of the world which G-d created when we don't understand, as we still don't with Tzara'at. However, it is incumbent upon us to try and recognise the beauty and the glory of the creation, and of the Creator, even in those things which we understand quite well, and even in those things which seem to us quite ordinary