Friday, April 8, 2016

Heka - Magic or Engineering


Magic is defined as the art of producing a desired result through the use of various techniques, such as special words or certain actions, which are perceived as supernatural powers, and presumably give the impression of human control over the forces of nature.  It’s important to note, that within the definition of the word “magic”, when the attribute of “supernatural” is applied to the words or actions which produce the desired result, it is based on the perception and presumption of the observer and onlooker. 

Magical Thinking is the attribution of causal relationships between actions and events which cannot be justified by reason and observation. In religion and superstition, “magical thinking” looks for meaningful relationships and correlations between rituals, prayers, sacrifices, or other traditional practices, to some event occurring in the natural world.  However, Magical Thinking is a type of causal logical fallacy, and Magical thinking is diametrically opposed to Scientific Thinking.  That is to say, without knowing the details of the method, without knowing the specifics of the process, without knowing the engineering algorithm, mathematical formula, or scientific procedure which goes into the production a certain result, the observer, in the search for an explanation, may qualify the production of the result as “Magic”.  This notion is embodied by the famous quote from the futurist Arthur C. Clarke, which states: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Indeed, since Engineering is the application of scientific knowledge to produce machines, tools, systems, and technology which facilitate the control over certain aspects of nature, then naturally, the analogy between magic and engineering is a plausible extension.  What differentiates Magic from Engineering is whether or not an observer is informed of, or ignorant of, the process that goes into creating a certain outcome.  An individual informed of the science which goes into the production of a certain outcome will likely qualify the production of said outcome as engineering, while an individual uninformed of the science which goes into the production of a certain outcome will likely qualify the production of said outcome as magic.

So when we consider the Ancient and traditional practices of Africans, on the continent and in the diaspora, which are qualified as “magic” by outsiders observing the culture, we have to take a second look at those same practices from an insider’s perspective to know if those practices are truly viewed as “magic” or “engineering” within the context of the culture.  This has been one of the many aims of the African Creation Energy series of books, to show the relationship between African Philosophies and Theologies to Scientific Theories, to show the relationship between African Symbolism and Myth to Modern Math, to show how African Artifacts, statues, and relics are related to technology, and to show how the African practices and techniques such as Vodoun, Hoodoo, and Ifa, which are relegated to the realm of “magic” by the uninitiated, should be in fact viewed as engineering within the context of those disciplines. 

A perfect case study which speaks to this point is the concept known as “Heka” from the culture of Ancient Kemet (Egyptian).  The word Heka is from the Medu Neter language of Ancient Kemet and is often translated as meaning “magic, spell, sorcery, charm, incantation, and words of power”.  However, we know that Heka was also considered a deity who was the patron of medicine and healing, and the doctors and healers in Ancient Kemet was called “priests of Heka”.  Since the earliest Medical text in the world come from the culture of Ancient Kemet, and these papyrus also provided detailed steps of the scientific method, then we must recognize that within the context of the culture of Ancient Kemet, Heka was viewed from a scientific perspective rather than from a “Magical” perspective.  Heka is also translated as meaning “to activate the Ka.” S,o if we consider that Heka is a scientific concept, then we would also have to investigate the concept of the Ka, which is often translated as meaning “spirit”, to see if there is some scientific association with the Ka as well (for example an electrical phenomena which serves as an “animating spark”).  Heka was also used to describe the process of sculpting or carving a statue, writing hieroglyphics, and building a structure.  In the medu neter language of Ancient Kemet, Heka was used as both a noun and a verb: Heka was something you could do, or Heka was something you could be.  Similarly, in English, the word Engineer is both a noun and a verb: you can Engineer a new invention, or you can be an Engineer.  It may be that outside observers to the culture of Ancient Kemet who were ignorant of the process and methodology of Heka, may have viewed it, understood it, and translated it as “Magic”, but clearly within the context of the culture of Ancient Kemet, Heka was used to refer to practices akin to Biomedical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Materials Engineering, and Structural Engineering.  Hence, Heka was an Ancient African form of Engineering.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is such a thing as “African Science” and there is such a thing as “African Engineering”.  Just like there is such a thing as “European Science” or “German Engineering”.  No one would argue that there is no such thing as “African Art” or “European Art” or “African Language” or “European Language” or “African Food” or “European Food”.  What makes the Art, Language, Food, Clothing, Music, or Philosophy “African”, “European”, or otherwise, is the group of people who develop it.  What makes the Science or Engineering “African” or “European” or otherwise, is determined by the person or group of people who develop the scientific theories and engineering methodologies.  How many people have ever watched a Mercedes Benz commercial, or a Volkswagen commercial, which boast about “the power of German Engineering” and then said, “There’s no such thing as German Engineering”?  - I would wager to guess very few to none.  But when we discuss “African Science” and “African Engineering”, we get choruses of people saying “There’s no such thing as African Science and African Engineering”!  One of the reasons for this is because the vast majority of people have been convinced that many of the African Sciences are just African Myth and African Magic.

Unfortunately, over the years as Africans on the continent and in the diaspora have been subject to slavery and colonization, we have lost much of our traditional knowledge, and now our Sciences have become Theology and Religion, our Symbols for Math have become mere Myth, our Technologies have become mere fetishes, trinkets, and lucky charms, and our Engineering has been degraded down to mendacious Magic.  So we cry out as a people looking for answers, looking for results, looking for solutions to the problems which we encounter in life, and gravitate towards anything which seems like it may effect a change.  Now, void of our traditional knowledge and desiring quick and easy solutions, Magical thinking has become the order of the day, more prevalent than scientific thinking, while our problems perpetuate, and the world laughs at the new stereotype which they have attributed to us.  Let us return to our traditional African Scientific way of life.  Let us use our minds to discover the Science to accept things we cannot change, Technology to Engineer the things we can, and the Mathematics to know the difference.

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