Science: Golden Age of Magic

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Lynn Thorndike, professor of history at Columbia University, this week turned out two final chunky volumes of his six-tome monumental History of Magic & Experimental Science, thereby completing almost 40 years of work.

In the 16th Century, more than in the Middle Ages, magic flourished and excited men's burgeoning curiosity like commerce, art, religious debate, exploration. Yet the use of magic rites, incantations, number-conjurings, etc. was falling off. Imperceptibly the way was clearing for experimental discoveries.

Today most people think that magic and superstition hindered and stifled science for centuries. Fact is, says Thorndike, ". . . Magicians were perhaps the first to experiment. . . ." In their splendid, grotesque yearning to control nature's forces, the Fausts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance gave science the inspired curiosity which is perhaps even more important than the experimental method.