Corollary to an Ancient Law

Heliopoli_Full_EX88There are those who don’t believe in Heliopoli. They do not believe that it was built by humans. They do not believe that it is as big as it is. They do not believe in its purpose.

There are those who don’t believe that humans built the ancient Egyptian pyramids, or, at least, not without help from extraterrestrials.

There are those who don’t believe that mankind landed on the moon.

Let us begin with the pyramids.

Author Arthur C. Clarke formulated Clarke’s Law, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. (Points of argument: One would hope that if one came from a technological society, one would assume that the “magic” was a form of technology to begin with; doesn’t one need a belief in magic from the start, to assume that something is magic?; and how does one define magic? — but these concerns are outside the scope of this inquiry.)

Heliopoli_Full_EX87The chief archivist would like to propose a corollary to Clarke’s Law: that any sufficiently ancient technology is indistinguishable from magic. This supplies our nonbelief in the pyramids. We cannot figure out how they did it, therefore extraterrestrials helped out by levitating blocks into position, or some other kinds of “magic” built them.

A corollary to the corollary would state that any wondrous thing achieved by a generation may succumb to nonbelief by a subsequent generation. This supplies our nonbelief in the moon landing. (This also holds true to horrible events inflicted by a previous generation.) We haven’t gone back to the moon, later achievements in space don’t measure up, and so, they believe, it didn’t happen; it cannot be believed in.

The corollary to the corollary to the corollary would state that plucking one thing out of the context of the time from whence it came and holding it singly to the light of day subjects it to nonbelief and ridicule. We take one thing — “Look at those pyramids over there” — and see them only in our own context, our own lateral history. If it is something we would not do, it becomes hard to believe in. We do not see the actual belief systems that surround it, the cultural motivations, the economic incentives, etc.

Heliopoli_Full_EX89Lateral history, as defined by the chief archivist, is that connective web of factors that exists concurrent with the object or achievement. The ancient Egyptians believed in the godhood of their kings and the preservation of the body to ensure an afterlife; they needed a public works project; they sought to employ a population outside of the irrigation time when the Nile flooded; and so on. These factors exist at the same time as the achievement.

In summary, ancient technologies seem like magic, a previous generation’s achievement appears impossible because it does not belong to us, and context is stripped away when an object is plucked away from its era.

An achievement belongs to its time. The rest is filtered interpretation.

How, then, should we regard Heliopoli? What belief system drove it? What economic incentives inspired it? How did its builders view it, without regard to those who came after?

The excavators do not understand Heliopoli. Certainly it was an achievement. It exists, like the pyramids, and we regard it through our filtered interpretation. We pluck it out of its lateral history and turn it over in our minds and, for many, see it as quaint. We see it as foolhardy. We see it as a cute exercise. We see it as a failed attempt.

But eventually we must come back to belief. Belief fuels the interpretation, both for the builders of an achievement and the interpreters who come later.

One must first believe in magic to interpret something as magic. And we believe what we want to believe. Maybe magic isn’t outside the scope of this inquiry, after all.

The chief archivist believes that Heliopoli is magic. With its pedways and monorail and boulevards; its open expanses; its sweeps and turns and flourishes; its raw exuberance; its dreamy foolishness; its innocent charm — how could it not be?

Heliopoli, in many ways, belongs to its time. Its nature is singular, however, because it once belonged to the future.