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Will the reality of technology outpace the fantasy of magic?

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by EccentricGentleman, May 15, 2015.

  1. I have often heard this quote: "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"

    Something I love about fantasy and magic is that it is not technology, it exists beyond science, does things that science and technology are not capable of.
    But we live in an age when technology is progressing at an unprecedented pace and doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

    What I'm afraid of is that, eventually, magic in fiction will no longer be seen as something wondrous. Because the real world will be capable of something similar or even greater.

    I once saw an episode of a TV show where one of the characters had a magic book, when she would write in it her words would magically appear in the pages of another corresponding book. Magical yes, but we have email and instant messaging that does the same thing.

    A wizard can look in his crystal ball, sees and hears things that are happening on the other side of the world. In any other age, the audience would have listened to that with awe and wonder. But these days we have Internet and Skype.

    I know it sounds silly but I'm worried. Worried that in time technology will advance so much that people will no longer read about magic and think of it with any sense of wonder at all. It's already starting now with the examples I've given.

    What I want to ask is, is science and technology capable of doing the same things that magic can supposedly do? Can magic compete with ever advancing technology?
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    No. Actual science will never be able to replicate imaginary magic.
    Yes. Imaginary magic can compete with actual technology no matter what.

    The keywords here are imaginary, and actual. Imaginary magic is limited only by our imagination, while actual science is limited by the laws of reality.

    Humans are curious beings. The unknown fascinates and intrigues us. There will always be someone asking what if, or why, or how.
    The world is a big place [citation not needed]. It's also complicated. We will never know all of it, and we will never understand all of it. That's awesome, because it means there will always be something left to wonder about.

    The magic of our stories might change, but our wonder at the mysterious and unexplainable will not.

    There's a counter quote, which you may not hear as often, that says that any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology.

    An interesting extension of this comes from the Warhammer 40,000 universe, where the tech-priests of Mars worship holy machines and perform sacred rituals to encourage the spirits within the machines to prevent them from malfunctioning. The technologies they're dealing with is so advanced that no one knows how it works and all they're able to do is follow arcane instructions and rituals to keep the things running.
    Okay, that may be a bit overly simplified and a bit wrong, but it'll work as an example.
  3. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    The answer to that question depends on what type of Magic is featured in a Fantasy story, what it can do within clear limits and how it works.

    Some stories involve Magic that is very low in capabilities, so yes, it can be surpassed by the achievements of Technology. In the other hand, there are stories with magical artifacts and powers that the Science of our times still has no idea how to replicate... For example, I am still waiting for my Flying Broomstick but we have no clue how to do that.

    I would like to point out that not all of Technology is advancing.

    There is an urgent need to discover a new system of refrigeration, something to replace the costly current system which involves compressing gases.

    So far, there is no clear answer to that problem. We are still burning fossil fuels like crazy because there is no better answer to our energy needs, and things like potential anti-gravity technology, teleportation or inertial supression are still far beyond our knowledge of the universe.

    From my point of view, the famous quote you mentioned is pointless because my definition of Magic is Antireality, the stuff that destroys the laws of the universe and does what it wants anyway. Technology is about using the natural laws to do what you want, while Magic is like the ultimate Cheating.

    So in my stories, Magic will always be superior to Technology.

    After all, readers of Fantasy want to enjoy the mysterious and awe-inspiring capabilites of Magic in the stories that we love... A non-magical character can use a Flamethrower to fight, but simply shooting Napalm from your hands is somehow much cooler =)
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  4. Until, sometime in the future, mankind has advanced genetic engineering to the point of literally enabling people to shoot fire from their hands. Until mankind invents a personal antigravity transportation rod (broomstick).
    I don't know if I'm right or not but part of me assumes that technology will just continue to advance and eventually, millennia from now, we will all have godlike powers at our disposal.

    And at that time, children will pick up the books I intend to write about fantasy and magic and they'll feel no more sense of wonder then the children of today who read a story involving a lightbulb.
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I think the uh...magic of magic is that it goes against what we know is real. If, say, someone were to knock on my door and try to sell me a telepathy device, with which I could "speak" to my mother in Seattle, I'd be unimpressed to say the least. Take that same concept and throw it into a Medieval world, and voila! it's miraculous and everyone's gotta have one.

    The great part of magic in general is that it exists in worlds where technology doesn't accomplish the same things for all people. BY that I mean, what if you have a world of high technology, but magic works based on different properties (something as simple as technology needs a battery but magic is fueled by invisible power lines running through the sky, or some people can do magic but others are hopeless muggles).

    While technology can certainly accomplish the same things as technology in a technologically advanced world, the very fact that it relies on some other elements than the technology itself, makes it wondrous. Think of it this way. I could buy a flamethrower, but it would shock the crap outta me if I saw someone shoot fire from their hand. That's why magic cannot be replaced. Technology, whether basic or advanced, is reliant on "rules" whether they be power sources, humans to program them, maintenance of components, disabled by electromagnets, reliant on the physics of the world, etc. magic can break rules and be better...or worse. Magic can defy physics or have its own set of strengths and weaknesses.

    Magic is unique and infinite in its uses (for a writer to write). Keep magic alive!
    Sheilawisz and Feo Takahari like this.
  6. Addison

    Addison Auror

    I doubt that science will take the wonder out of magic. The examples, Skype, Internet, E-mail (if the TV show you watched was a cartoon I think it was "Huntik"), all the science references are founded on rules of science. Logic, programming, electricity, facts, rules, real elements.

    In magic the power is often called "mana", but last I checked there have been no stories which have wizards holding a ball of mana, putting it under a microscope or through some tests. I've never heard of any technology, in real life or any sci-fi, that operates via a piece of whittled wood or works by arranging cotton, inks, a claw and speaking in a dead language while wearing a pointy hat. The day that such actions are called technology is the world people breathe underwater and gophers rule the lands.

    That is why magic will continue to live no matter how advanced science goes. It doesn't make sense in the world of logic we live in, that's why it has a strong element of wonder, why we call it magic.
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  7. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    No amount of genetic engineering will allow a person to simply shoot burning napalm, bolts of lightning or any other similar thing right from our hands, that's impossible. I do believe that such exotic powers could be achieved by means of Technology, but it would involve something far more complicated than altering genetics.

    There is a possibility that Technology can lead to capabilities similar to those of the Q beings in Star Trek, but we cannot be sure. Perhaps the limits of what can be done according to the laws of the universe are more limited than we imagine, and in any case, it's very unlikely (not to say impossible) that our species will ever develop even interstellar travel.

    I think that Technology is great, but it's far from being the all-powerful and unstoppable wonder that people sometimes just assume it is. The advances of Science and its applications can bring as many dangers as they bring benefits, so there is no reason to take for granted that a thousand years from now it's all going to be peace and marvels.

    My advice would be to use all the Magic that you want in your Fantasy stories, because there will always be people wishing to read Fantasy and venture into our imaginary worlds... If our stories get read by curious readers centuries after our times, probably those readers would appreciate our imagination and we would be authors of classic literature by then.

    Even if technological flying broomsticks were available today, I would still enjoy to write and read stories about magical characters flying, teleporting and transforming into monsters. Think of the Harry Potter series: Many of the things that they do by means of Magic have a technological equivalent, and millions of people love to read those stories anyway.
    Penpilot likes this.
  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I get the impression you think there's a limit to the imagination, but not to technology, and I don't see why that would be the case.

    It may very well be that we'll be able to shoot fire from our finger tips at some point in the distant future, but do you really think that our minds will run out of things to wonder about? Sure, throwing fireballs may seem like an ordinary thing to kids of the future, but there will still be things left for them to wonder about.

    The imagination isn't a static thing. It evolves and it adapts.

    That doesn't mean that old ideas don't get dated. Take a look at an author like Jules Verne. His stories were fantastical and wondrous at the time, but even though the technology he describes was advanced back then, it's now rather everyday. Yet people are still reading his books (I believe).

    Another example is Lovecraft. Technology has advanced far beyond what it was when he wrote his stories, and plenty of kids today would be of the impression that whatever monsters he talks about could be defeated by large enough amounts of explosives, or lasers, or whatever. That doesn't mean the stories are useless today. The stories are still taking place back in that time, when people had no idea about lasers or intercontinental ballistic missiles or nespresso machines.

    I wouldn't worry that technology might make your future stories seem outdated at some point in the far future. In fact, they almost certainly will - for all of us. That doesn't mean that they can't still be great stories with a great sense of wonder about them.
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  9. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    When it comes to magic and science I take the view that magic is science. That is, if it has rules, which can be manipulated to produce predictable outcomes, it is science. And even then, it is physically impossible for something to happen which goes against the laws of physics, because if it happens, by definition it is within the realm of possibilities of the realm of physics, else it wouldn't have happened. If I was walking dow the street and saw a bus literally morph into a dragon, then buses morphing into dragons must be within the laws of physics. Nothing happens that can't happen, is basically what I'm saying.

    As to technology, I feel that it most certainly will advance to a point where we can do things people previously would have thought of as magic. I can't remember the details, but I heard recently about them being able to give blind people bionic eyes which allow them to see. They've made wheelchairs which you can steer using your mind. And while previously we had stories about making living statues, now we have the beginnings of true robotics. Technology won't stop advancing – why would it? Some things take longer to develop than others, and sometimes people may say that something is impossible, but that's exactly what people of the past said about some things that we have today.

    As to magic. While the technology of tomorrow may well surpass some of the fantasy magic of today, that's not to say the fantasy magic of tomorrow won't be greater than the technology of tomorrow. So long as there is something current technology cannot do, people will write magic which can do it. Only if and when humans literally break the universe and become gods will fantasy writers run out of possibilities (and by that point I don't think books will be very relevant anyway).
  10. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    I have prepared a list to compare Technology with various examples of Magic from the Harry Potter series. First, I want to start with a few spells and curses that could be imitated, one way or another, by the science of our own world:

    1- The Lumos spell: The characters use it in order to produce light from the tip of their wands. The simplest technological equivalent would be the light bulb, and we have flashlights as well. The difference is that while the light bulb depends on a chamber of inert gas, a tungsten filament and electricity, the magic wand does the same just because it happens.

    2- Blasting Curses: These are used to cause your target to explode, sometimes with enough violence to blow up a street or make holes in the walls of a castle. The scientific version would be the high explosives contained in the head of a missile, which is a very complex and expensive machine that depends on a combination of different factors to work.

    3- Incendio: To set things on fire from a distance, without throwing fire itself. I am not sure about this one, but certain powerful lasers could be a good equivalent.

    4- Petrificus Totalus: There are drugs capable of quickly paralyzing a person, in a fashion similar to this little spell.

    5- Fiendfyre: Perhaps the most dangerous weapon of the Harry Potter world. There is not a clear equivalent to it in the scientific world because it's alive and seemingly conscious, but using hundreds or even thousands of incendiary bombs against a small area could create a comparable firestorm.

    Now, some examples without a Technological equivalent at all:

    1- Transfiguration: The capability to turn a person into a ferret, a rock into a dog and other similar examples is scientifically impossible, at least for us. This even violates our current understanding of the universe, and we won't be doing anything like that in the foreseeable future.

    2- Flying Broomsticks: Antigravity is just a dream, and it will remain so for a very long time. When somebody talks about how incredible the technological advancement is in our days, I like to mention that I am still waiting to own one of these and have fun flying in the forest.

    3- The Floo Network: This complex system of arranged teleportation points is far beyond what Technology can do.

    4- Apparition and Disapparition: Another type of Teleportation, even more complex than the Floo Network since they are free to apparate almost anywhere they wish.

    5- The Imperius Curse: All attempts to use various chemicals, hypnosis and other things to control people like mindless puppets have failed.

    6- Protego and other similar charms: The military forces of any country would love to create force fields of some kind to defend headquarters, air bases, fighter jets and so on, but this is just a dream too.

    7- Avada Kedavra: The killing curse is impossible to replicate by scientific means. It's true that bullets and other weapons kill people, but this curse causes death inflicting absolutely no physical harm to the target. Victims of Avada Kedavra simply fall dead when life is swooped away from them. In the other hand, all known non-magical weapons harm the body one way or another.

    The Magic in some of my own stories is more extreme, but I prefer not to discuss it here because I am planning a new thread dedicated to some of its examples.

    I think it's a nice combination when Magic and advanced technology exist in the same world...
    Ruby and MineOwnKing like this.
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    To me technology will never overtake magic unless we break physics and some of the fundamental laws of the universe. With magic I can break the law of conservation of energy. Science can't do that.

    For example. If you shoot flames out of your fingers, your body doesn't just need the ability to do so, it needs fuel. From what I can gather online. One gallon of gas has around 7000 Calories. A 2.2lbs of flesh has around 2000 Calories. An 6' 200lb man needs to eat around 2500 Calories a day.

    So just to generate flame equivalent to one gallon of gas a person will need to burn off 7.7lb of flesh or need to eat just under three times the normal daily intake of food. This disregards what the body needs to maintain itself.

    To take that into practical terms a flame thrower has a 5 gallon tank of Napalm, which my research says is a mixture of gas and a gelling agent. Flame throwers last only for seconds in combat.

    So human torch, lasting longer than the 40yr-old virgin his first time, good luck with that.
  12. Even if you are right and magic (the product of human imagination) will always trum human tech, what about what I write today?
    How do we know that in the centuries to come, when man has doubtless gain technology far beyon what we can currently imagine, my stories about magic will still be looked at with wonder?
  13. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Hello, EccentricGentleman.

    We have no way to know what could be the future of our species. It could be bright and wonderful, but it's also possible that we'll go extinct some decades or a few centuries from now. The advances of Technology could reach incredible levels and bring a golden age... or they could create some nightmarish disaster that destroys us all.

    I really see no point in worrying about what the readers will think of our stories in a future that may or may not exist, but if you are so sure of this, then perhaps the best option for you would be to write Science Fiction stories.

    Fantasy fans will always love the mystery and wonders of Magic, even the less powerful styles of it.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  14. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Just read a couple of not overly great books featuring wars fought by self replicating machines or 'Von Neumann Machines.' About the size of a cat or rat. Drop one in a given area, it chews up the landscape. An hour later you got two. An hour after that, four, then eight, and...well, in a few days these machines blanket the whole planet. Eventually, they devour everything else and become the planet. Books had some versions of these critters that churned out new copies of themselves in seconds. Combined with Artificial Intelligences, well, a real nightmare prospect.

    The most depressing thing was much of this devastation was unleashed by accident: a defective AI overseeing a colonization project, a kid who destroyed a planet by trying to build a city, and a corporate experiment gone wrong.

    In actuality, of course, there would be limitations - flaws or mutations in the machines, raw material that could not be used by these machines to reproduce, conditions they couldn't function in. But still, a major nightmare.

    And a different way of thinking about technological warfare.
    Sheilawisz likes this.
  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    We don't.

    Do you feel that this prospect is having a negative impact on your desire to write those stories?
  16. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    Even if there is what we would see as wondrous technology in the future, to someone who was born and lived in that time, it would seem mundane. A major draw of speculative fiction is escapism, and I don't think there will be a change in that because of advances in technology. In all honesty, this seems like it would be a bigger issue for science fiction writers, who would have to worry about their ideas being eclipsed as technology marches on.
  17. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    I've heard it said a lot of times that the difference between magic and science is that magic can break the laws of nature, and I feel as though this is somewhat reductionist.

    By definition, the laws of nature cannot ever be broken, because they are the literal basis for every single thing that can happen to happen. To illustrate, let's use perhaps the most fundamental law of nature, that being that 1+1=2. That is a law of nature. But what if through a magic spell, you make 1+1=3? Well, then it would be a fundamental law of nature that 1+1 can equal 3 given the prerequisite of this magical spell. You're not breaking the laws of nature, you're obeying them, because if the laws of nature stated that 1+1 could never equal 3, then 1+1 would never equal 3.

    So when you create a world in which people can create energy from nothing and do other actions which in our real world would be impossible, you are making it so the laws of nature are different in your world than the real one. In our world, saying incendio while waving a twig will not produce flame. But the world of Harry Potter follows fundamentally different scientific laws, and so it does.

    In the end, magic is the science of a different world.
    Legendary Sidekick likes this.
  18. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    If your point is this:

    nuclear missile > magic missile

    ...then, yes, technology can outperform magic in terms of the result.

    But as far as what's impressive to read, power is relative. Power could refer to magic, technology, political power, physical strength, etc. What makes it interesting is what advantage the powerful character has, and how the less powerful overcome the disadvantage.

    Take physical strength: Superman vs. The Mountain. Against each other, Superman wins, and against just about everyone in his storyline, Superman is stronger. Of course, his story is as a being far more powerful than us earthlings and he's saving our dependent butts. The Mountain is the strongest man in GRRM's world, but he's not impossibly strong, and the Viper defeats him... then gets cocky and dies horribly, but still, the Mountain's poisoned. He's as human as the next guy. It's just that the next guy isn't eight feet tall. (Or in the case of the actor, the next guy isn't able to break a thousand-year-old log-throwing record.)

    So, magic... I personally don't like magic to be too effective. Healers risk their own lives, so they mustn't push themselves--and they may even be force to choose to deny magic or heal knowing self-sacrifice may be the result. I picture a lightning mage with sparks flying from her frizzy hair. She looks like an insane robot. People would fear mages because they're a rare breed.

    For technology, I like clunky and big. Just yesterday, I was thinking of this while moving out my 1993 62" TV, a big honking box! Finally, it's dead, so I'm getting a 1080p (60" cheap thanks to 4K technology). I was thinking how big technology was in the 20th century, and came to this conclusion: Aliens is the way the future should look in sci fi. Huge, noisy guns. Goofy robot suits for lifting stuff and punching alien queens. A bunch of guns taped together to become an awesome gun. Vehicles with more wheels than God. And spaceships aren't aerodynamic because, screw that, aerodynamics are meaningless once you leave the atmosphere. Make spaceships armored in chunky metal so they look like they weigh more than a small moon.

    I think real world technology, where things are small and convenient... that's for Trekkies. I personally don't want to read about people being disintegrated by an iPhone app or sticking an ear of corn in their cars for fuel. So I would likely ignore current tech and theory and make sci-fi steam punkish, myself.

    Magic, for me, would be a mix of better-thans and worse-thans. No "whisper" spell has the range of a cell phone, though maybe a crystal ball is equal to Skype, but it's an elitist Skype that only wizards with a 200+ IQ can use. Healing beats current medical technology, but fireballs pale in comparison to 19th-century military technology.
  19. Sheilawisz

    Sheilawisz Queen of Titania Moderator

    Part of the beauty of Magic in our Fantasy stories is that we can imagine all types of Magic systems, each with its own definition, capabilities and limits and sometimes a special twist that makes it different from other styles.

    You can make your Magic a part of nature in your world if you want, effectively a type of Science, because we set the rules of the settings we are creating. In my settings, Magic is by definition the opposite of Reality and this means that Technology will never be able to compete with it...

    That's my Magic, but yours can be different and that's alright.

    Legendary's example of Nuclear missiles being superior to the Magic of most Fantasy stories is good, but even nukes are a joke when compared to many Magical weapons from my worlds.
  20. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    True. I have seen one spell that does more than any mere earthling technology could even come close to.

    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 10, 2017

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