Friday, May 18, 2012

Magic vs SCIENCE

Dear Urban Fantasy: Science is not a force. It is a process by which we test and decipher the laws of the universe. If magic existed, the process of science would have uncovered and named it by now. Magic and science cannot be opposed anymore than you can "oppose" the idea of the assembly line with a rock. I buy that magic might futz with technology the same way you can use that rock to smash a factory, but if that were the case, that if there were some universal force that fucked with everything that had more than three moving parts in it on a regular basis, we'd damn well know where the problems were coming from by now (this is conveniently ignoring the fact that we would have already been calling it something else entirely by now and have incorporated it into systems and, since any system or tool designed to solve problems is "technology," we'd be calling it "technology." Not "manatech" or "magitech" or anything like that. Just "technology." A spell is a type of technology just the same as a hammer or a battery is. Deal with it.). I know, you're trying to present us with a good old "man vs nature" conflict by having magic represent nature and science and technology represent man, but, seriously, there are better and more sensible metaphors you can choose. Like sticking a man in the woods. Actually, that might be fun. Stick a wizard in the woods without his magic and see what the fuck happens to him. I guarantee you it will be the same thing that happens if you put just about anyone else in the woods and take their pocketknife. Thank you.


  1. Hear, hear! (Or is it, "Here, here!" I forget.)

  2. I agree that the first thing any good scientist would do when confronted with provable 'magic' would be to experiment with it to incorporate it into our model for reality. There are a few acceptable rationals for magic causing more complex devices to falter or at least encounter a statistically significantly greater number of malfunctions.

    1) Magic could cause alterations in normal physical forces that are either impossible or simply very difficult to predict, causing failure in certain small-scale components, like transistors. If this is the case, more complex devices would have greater difficulties and one could potentially make more resistant devices by widening the margin of error for components at the cost of efficiency.

    2) Magic might be somehow connected to some sort of intelligence that actively opposes the scientific method. A god that encourages ignorance and faith or a gremlin that likes to mess with people.

    Ultimately it depends on a setting's concept of magic. Also remember that humans are quick to make artificial distinctions where there is none and scientists are not wholy immune to this impulse. Heck, the term magi-tech could just serve for advertisement. You might want to check out the well-written fan-fic "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" for an example of a rational character trying to make sense of an infuriatingly arbitrary magical system.

    1. As for #1, I make allowances for that, again, in the same way you can smash a machine with a rock. It doesn't take special spells to fuck up a computer, all it takes is kicking it hard enough. And yeah, if there were a force like that, everything would have hardening, because someone, somewhere, would have run into it often enough to construct a way way around. It's just the way engineers work.

      As for #2, this is often brought up to me. "Well, the gods could say blah blah blah." I'm actually writing in this context right now. A gremlin that likes to fuck with people would be discovered. The very idea of a god with unstoppable powers relegated to its spheres of influence is a NEW idea. The vast majority of mythology includes gods who lock people out of their needs and basic physical laws and then get punched by mortals until they relent. This is mostly because any god who's capable of controlling the world around it to an extent that it can directly oppose any inquiry about that world isn't actually encouraging ignorance: the world works that way because he or she says it does, and is thus invalidating its own position that it encourages ignorance; its word would be law, and its pronouncements -would- be absolute pronouncements of reality.