After reading a few other questions where people were talking about how dangerous knowledge of Muggle weaponry would be on the world of wizardry. It made me think: how could they not know about it?

In the films Arthur Weasley asks Harry what the function of a rubber duck is - something trivially easy to find out, but he makes it sound like some big mystery.

We know the Ministry - a kind of pseudo-branch of British government - has a Muggle research division, and that Hogwarts has a Muggle studies class. How incompetent are these people? I understand that technology vulnerable to EM has been reasoned to not work near magic in other questions here, but even free newspapers available all around London would give a wealth of knowledge they seem to lack.

I have also read in passing people's theories of wizards distancing Muggle-borns from their roots. But I'd think any Muggle-born given initiation starting at 10 years of age could explain at least a rubber duck.

EDIT: To clarify, A lot of people are telling me they don't care. Though as an extension of my question I would ask why? Are we to assume they're just isolationist? Xenophobic? Racist towards Muggles?

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    For future reviewers: I have read the answers to these closely related questions: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/2611/… and scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/16893/… and they don't apply here. They simply assume that wizards are ignorant of muggle tech, but don't explain why. – KutuluMike Jun 15 '15 at 12:06
  • How often do newspapers talk about rubber duckies... – user16696 Jun 15 '15 at 12:38
  • I think a short answer would be simply: they don't care. As said in here, most wizards don't care about Muggle technology as they prefer their culture. In the books, it is stated that Muggle Studies in Hogwarts are considered a "soft option" and mostly not taken seriously. So most students don't even take this course and won't know anything about Muggle technology as it's not mandatory anyway. As for weaponry, they're not threatened by Muggles since Muggles don't know wizards exist, so they have no use of taking interest in guns to counter them. – Ananas Jun 15 '15 at 12:52
  • In the books Arthur Weasley does not ask such a question. As a father of 7 children he is most probably aware of the purpose of toys. He seems to fascinated (and greatly unaware of) by technological things like electricity or combustion engines. Still how many people knowing how these things function? People know how to USE them of course but that's different. – vap78 Jun 15 '15 at 12:52
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    Well, thames duck aside, how much of that is available in print and not the net? Remember that potter is set in the 90s. No net, no smart phones. A simpler time. And the electricity vs magic thing makes tv not an option. – user16696 Jun 15 '15 at 12:58

First of all, I think we have to make a distinction here - some magical folk do understand Muggle tech and culture (extremely well!). Besides all the Muggleborns who do, basically by definition, we've numerous examples of the magical community interfacing with/controlling the Muggle populace. You can't tell the Muggle world Sirius Black is armed with a gun if you don't know what a gun is! Mr Crouch dressed like a bank manager, Dumbledore reads the Muggle papers etc etc.

So some do understand the Muggle world - but most don't. They never take the trouble to. The question, as you seem to be putting it, is...why?

Well, look at it this way; Wizarding communities definitely seem to be more isolationist than Muggle ones. Le't's look at some of the reasons why this might be the case.

Geography

Muggles need to group together geographically for practical purposes, but with Floo powder and Apparition/brooms this doesn't really apply to Wizards. Some live in the country, others live in towns/cities, but neither need to physically travel/mingle with their Muggle neighbours. We've also seen from Hogwarts that large groups of magical folk disrupt electronics, so by and large they can't group together to study them. This means that most wizards don't interact with Muggles or technology in their day to day lives.

Practicality

Hagrid states that if the Muggle world knew about Wizards, they'd constantly want magical solutions to their problems. Clear reason (among others) for keeping he governments separate. So investigating/getting to know Muggles puts you in a bit of a tricky position legally, just in case you slip up. It's not exactly a huge deal but it is there. This also ties in with...

History

Muggles and Wizards have a history together, as evidenced by Harry's essay on witch-burnings. First thing we'll notice is that the Muggles reaction to magic is fear and hate. Hardly ideal. Secondly, even back in these times the Muggles were being duped by the magical folk. This leads to what I consider the most important point...

Control and respect

Sadly, it boils down to power. The magical community has far greater power (in the specific sense of control) than the Muggle one. You have a nuke? Doesn't matter to me, I can easily bewitch the big red button so that no Muggle can activate it. Witches and Wizards can perform tasks that no Muggle can, and can control the actions and thoughts of a Muggle at whim. That which you can control easily, you tend not to respect - and the magical community most definitely controls the non-magical one.

The witch-burnings are an example - the fact that some witches would let themselves be caught because they enjoyed the sensation shows how little fear or respect they had for the Muggles.

When you can bewitch, control, hoodwink, and essentially run rings around a group of people they become children at best, pets at worst. Think how often the sentiment "poor Muggles" is expressed throughout the books. Pity and condescension, even when meant well. And that's the nub of it - the attitude that you can't have a really intelligent conversation with a child. A pleasing distraction or a nuisance, but not an equal. And when you get odd stares and barely understand their world or how to navigate it (and your world is for all apparent practical purposes better), then why bother?

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    "You have a nuke? Doesn't matter to me, I can easily bewitch the big red button so that no Muggle can activate it." This seems inadequate. You can perhaps bewitch the nuke buttons you know about, but you (presumably) can't magically render every nuke now and forever unusable. – Dan Barron Jun 15 '15 at 19:06
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    If the problem doesn't 'arise,' i.e., they don't know it's coming until after it has detonated, then what? – Dan Barron Jun 15 '15 at 20:43
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    @DanBarron Assuming someone was outside ground zero, I believe that's time to bring back the time-turner and follow a plot similar to the beginning of Xmen days of future past – Foon Jun 15 '15 at 21:51
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    @Robotnik this would be hard to achieve. Remember how Ron did hit a Death Eather mid-flight during the Battle of Seven Potters and Tonks mentioned that this is extremely hard. An ICMB flies at VERY high speed. Maintaining eye contact (also required) with it will be impossible - it will be out of sight before you are able to say(or even think) the words of the spell. – vap78 Jun 16 '15 at 7:37
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    @DavisS - No need to beat the dead horse, I suppose, but all your solutions presume they could be done ahead of time. I'm assuming Potterworld is Our 1990s World + Wizards (is that wrong?) and therefore world leaders do have nukes and keys and could obliterate Hogwarts in a surprise attack before anyone knew it was coming. Maybe I'm missing something. But the question assumes a disinterest and lack of knowledge on the part of Wizard to Muggle affairs, so plants in the cabinets of the world governments seem unlikely. – Dan Barron Jun 16 '15 at 12:14

The short answer is - they are oblivious to technology because they don't need it at large. They have easier to use, safer and cheaper alternatives.

Things that we take for given like electricity or cars are NOT very simple to create. It took us centuries and the work of thousands of people until they work as we see them now. The reason that they are cheap is because many people paid a high price in the past to refine the technologies AND because there are a lots of consumers which allows to distribute the cost.

Consider even the simplest thing like a electric lamp that provides light when it is dark outside.

It requires

  • a power plant to generate electricity with an energy supply to make it work
  • an electrical network to distribute the energy to the consumers
  • in the home - an internal electrical network that safely provides the energy to consumers
  • the electrical lamp itself - although a pretty simple device it took Edison Labs years develop a feasible electrical device producing light

Compare this to simply flicking your wand to produce light and you will understand why would they not care. Note that the light from magic comes for FREE while muggles have to pay for electricity, devices and maintenance of the electric net inside the house.

Same goes for cars, telephones and other technological devices. Wizards have CHEAP and accessible alternatives that they can easily use.

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    What do wizards listen to for music? Do they have social media? What if they are bored while waiting for whatever? – thegreatjedi Feb 25 '16 at 18:04

Out of universe answer

It seems to me that J. K. Rowling wanted her world to feel distanced from ours. When they take the train from urbane King's Cross to magical/sylvan Hogwarts, it felt like travelling to another world. Before I had read the first book and had only heard people talk about it, I actually thought it was a completely separate world and not based on Earth at all. This distance helps lend to the magical/mystical feel of the books that in turn helps the reader escape their own mundane lives and enjoy the fantastical.

So it makes sense that the muggle world, especially its technology, would be seen as whimsical and cute to wizards - this reinforces the "default mindset" is that magic is normal. More immersive that way. Think of Mr. Tumnus in Narnia referring to "Spare Oom" or of Ariel's fascination with a fork. This is one of the things J. K. Rowling does very well I think, and why Harry Potter is often referred to as escapist literature.

Also, it's supposed to be funny. Again, see the seagull in the Little Mermaid.

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    The seagull in question you are referring to is named Scuttle. – Benjamin Mar 24 '17 at 14:59

This explanation is going to sound completely off subject at first. So, please, bear with me.

My wife and I were walking down the street one day, and I was walking on the inside (with her between myself and the street). She stated that this was un-gentleman-like. Her logic was that, if a car drove past and splashed a puddle, then I should be between her and the street in order to block her from the splash. I noted that her logic made sense. However, the custom is for the man to walk closer to the buildings. Do you know why?

Back in the 19th century and before, it was customary for the man to walk on the side closest to the buildings. And, the woman would walk on the side closest to the street. This custom came about for several reasons, but most of all because it was common for people to throw their wash water and even chamber pot contents out of the window and onto the street. With the man walking closer to the building, he was more likely to take the hit. A horse-and-buggy on a cobblestone road does not create the same kind of splash that an automobile on a paved road can. Therefore, the bigger threat came from poo raining from above.

Now you may be asking yourself "what does that have to do with the price of eggs in china?"... Well, I am going to tell you...

My wife's logic, though sound in today's world of automobiles and technology, did not fit with the logic of yore. Two worlds had completely separate views on the same subject due to their differences in circumstance.

JK Rowling impressed heavily  the idea that there was quite a bit of cultural difference between the magical world and the muggle world. She also impressed that there was a lack of tolerance of muggles by many wizards.

There were several times throughout the series where Harry encountered items that he was not familiar with, but were common among wizards (talking portraits, Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, etc). In fact, I can guarantee that you never hears the word "muggle" before the Harry Potter books came out. Yet it is a common term in the wizard world.

So, it makes sense that there would be many muggle items that wizards might not be familiar with. Especially since the function of so many wizard items is not outwardly evident (if a muggle picked up a remembrall on the street, do you think they would have any clue what it was?).

Without the common understandings that we take for granted (having grown up with these things), it might be easy for a wizard to assume that there is a purpose for something beyond the obvious.

As for specifically why Arthur did not know the purpose of a rubber duck... Don't read too much into it. It was written by the author to point out how foreign the muggle world is to the wizard world - Even something as mundane as a rubber duck is a mystery to these people. But, primarily, it was a joke... a gag. Something to make the reader laugh. It is not a vital plot point. JK Rowling's whole colorful world of Harry Potter does not come crumbling down because Arthur Weasley does not know what a rubber duck is.

And, if you MUST have an explanation about the duck. Think of it this way... Perhaps he is so overly excited about muggles that he figures that ther MUST be some function to such a common item other than the obvious. Remember, he comes from the world of wizards, where the function of items is not always evident. Maybe he assumes that a rubber duck is some sort of protective talisman or guardian. As for why he could not have gotten this information himself... Where, exactly, does one GO to find out the purpose of a rubber duck? (the internet does not count. For one: wizards don't have computers. And two: when the first books were written, the internet was not quite as extensive as it is today... dial-up anyone?) Besides, if he had asked most muggles what the purpose of a rubber duck was, he probably would have gotten the same answer that he got from Harry (which was nothing, by the way)

So... short story long... I hope this answers your question

  • Well thought out. +1. As an aside, the whole man on the outside thing was recently explained to me as only a pimp offering a woman for sale has her on the outside. – user16696 Jun 16 '15 at 20:46

There seems to be strong allusions to isolationist and xenophobic mentalities being pervasive amongst the wizarding community.

We see this strongly in a few places, most notably the Death Eater's complete disregard for muggles.

In a slightly subtler way, we see this through the fact that the magical community has not "outed" itself to the muggles. Harry is cautioned several times about not performing magic around muggles. Also the existence of a "Muggle Worthy Excuse Committee" and Obliviators within the Ministry of Magic could be construed as evidence.

This firm separation of Magical and Muggles could lead to the current situation where generations of magical-born children would have little to no interaction with the muggles, leading to a sustained ignorance of all things muggle-made including their technologies.

  • Not to mention the slur "Mudblood." JKR touched on this here and there, but it would be an interesting way to go if she wanted to write more books set in the Potter universe. If the Wizarding community were widely outed, the implications would be interesting, to say the least. – Dan Barron Jun 15 '15 at 19:15
  • While true that magical-born children do have little interaction with the muggle world, even the Weasley kids manage to dress themselves perfectly normal, where their parents (and especially their Muggle loving dad) have trouble with it. Could just be eccentricities and the fact that Wizards tend to have a longer livespan, though. – BMWurm Jun 16 '15 at 5:56

The rubber duck was a joke. It has no function. But Weasly is so excited and intrigued about muggle's inventiveness that he thinks it MUST have a function which he has overlooked.

I wouldn't read too much into it.

It mainly serves as a way to:

  • show Arthur is different since he is interested in muggle technology
  • show that wizards are ignorant about the muggle world
  • and as extent of that show that the wizard world is a completely seperate world from the real world

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