Friday, April 25, 2014

A Particular View of Magic in the Context of Science

There have been quite a few different systems of magic invented for fantasy stories. It's not the purpose of this post to examine these systems broadly. Instead, I'd like to talk about the implications of specific concept of magic. One of mine.

I'm not the only person to do so, but I've hypothesized that one type of magic could simply be a form of energy unknown in our universe. A form that could be harnessed in a systematic way, which we do not know about either because it is too uncommon in our world or does not exist at all here. But which responds to concentrated thought or other acts directed from a person, such as speaking out loud, which would wind up resembling the magical spells of fantasy lore.

This type of story would not utilize Wizard of Oz type magic, where the entire world had reasons for existence that don't make sense in scientific terms, where pretty much anything is allowed. No, saying that magic is an additional principle added on to what we already known to be true from science, available in an alternate universe which in other regards resembles our own, is a concept that carries some inherent limitations with it. And certain implications.

If other scientific principles are still true, causing an item to levitate by a spell "just because" would be impossible in the type of story world I'm talking about. Scientific principles still apply, so gravity is still gravity and will still be in effect. Perhaps a spell could locally shut off gravity, but doing so could cause the strange or damaging effects of shutting down the Higgs field, which I described in a post on the Higgs Boson. Perhaps a more practical form of levitation would involve increasing an object's repulsion against the magnetic field that would exist around this fantasy planet. If that's how it would work, ferro-magnetic objects made of iron, nickel, and cobalt would be easier to levitate than anything else. Note that a magician in this universe would not necessarily have to understand that a magnetic field exits or that what he or she did involved magnetism. He or she would simply know from experience it's easier to lift particular kinds of metal than anything else.

Or perhaps levitation could involve creating an additional gravitational pull from above, or magnifying the pull of an orbiting moon. If so, the position of the moon could effect levitation. Or delicate objects might prove difficult to lift without fracturing them between stresses from gravity above and gravity below.

Since so many reactions in the natural world described by science produce heat (chemical reactions, friction, absorption of radiation, etc), it would make sense that one of the simplest spells in this hypothetical magical system would be heat generation. Lighting a fire would be simple, but throwing a fireball or simply burning an enemy would not be far removed from that (and welding would be a breeze). Making something cold is actually removing heat, so it's harder. Cold spells and heat spells, treated as opposites in most fantasy tales, would not be opposites in the system I'm thinking of. Generating cold would be significantly harder.

Alchemists would still attempt to transmute lead into gold--under this type of magic, doing so would be definitely possible and in fact simpler than a number of other imaginable spells. But alteration of atomic nuclei by magic (the magic user does not have realize that's what he or she is doing to be doing it), would bear the terrible risk of setting off an atomic blast if matter were to be converted to energy and back for the purpose of changing elements. In fact, setting off an atomic blast by magic should be a real possibility, since the physical world would still operate under the same principles that makes such blasts possible in our world. (Nuclear magic may be a component of some fantasy story I've never heard of, but as far as I know, the idea is new.)

Likewise, since light amplified by sharing a common phase is a natural phenomenon, a laser spell ought to be common, simpler in fact that many other types of spells. Electrical-based spells should also be prevalent, not just the lightning bolts that are common enough, but taser-like paralyzing effects, and steady electric arcs for lighting, and more.

Spells that would be hard would be any that involve the creation of matter from nothing (because these would have to gather a great deal of ambient energy first in accordance with E=mc2). Especially those that create life. In fact spells involving significant alterations to living creatures might be virtually impossible--life is just so complex. Though a plant's growth might be accelerated by altering time for the plant (again, the sorcerer may perceive her or his spell makes the roots grow instantly, but what they actually would do is accelerate time for the plant in question, allowing it to produce what it would normally do, only much faster). Restoring someone from the dead may never work, but even if it did, it would almost surely produce a zombie instead of a normal person. Such a spell could perhaps work more effectively by, once again, attempting to restore a part or the whole of a person's body back to an earlier time--as opposed to regenerating highly complex individual cells. Accelerating natural healing might be an effective form of healing spell--though it would have the inherent limitation of eventually aging the patient to the point of death if used too often.

Time based effects, not commonly explored in fantasy stories, perhaps should be extremely common, since time is scientifically known as one of the dimensions of the existence of any object. Perhaps though, a bit like hot and cold, accelerating time in the direction its already going would be a far, far easier than reversing it.

I float this concept for readers of my blog giving some examples of how science being real and valid would affect and limit a system of magic added onto a world like the one we know. Heat, lasers, atomic blasts, the difficulty of making life, levitation, electricity, and time are by no means the only subjects this discussion could have covered. What other examples can you think of, dear reader? Please do share...

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