Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Magic And Science

I'm glad to see that I've driven some traffic Anthony's way, and that there's a busy little debate going on there.  You can find the link on my previous post, where other's already have.  I haven't seen a word there yet about the history of science, and I think this is the massive elephant in the room.  That is, the furtherance of Science very depends upon a degree of fabrication that doesn't exist prior to the discovery of this or that.

A very simple example?  Galileo's conception of the heavens depends upon the development of the telescope by Hans Lippershey in 1608.  It must be understood that Lippershey's telescope was not the first attempt of the device, but the first success.  If I incorporate the existence of magic, the telescope comes into being as soon as the telescope is conceived ... ie., prior to 1608.  We have evidence of 'reading stones' being employed as early as the 12th century.  Magic, it is fair to say, would have enabled the invention of the telescope nearly five centuries before Galileo ... which presumes also the invention of spectacles before the 15th century, superior investigations into optics long before Newton, the destruction of the Catholic/Ptolemy earth-centered universe before Copernicus would have had a chance to write his textbooks, etc., etc.

This sort of example can be applied to every science.  Magic would, across the board, change the events of history and the distribution of ordinary technologies in literally thousands of ways.  A simple cantrip replaces Louis Pasteur long before the 19th century; healing spells enable medical surgery on the body long, long before the development of anesthetics and Lister's antiseptics; divination spells clarify early on the existence of guessed-at concepts like air pressure, electricity, atomic structure and the existence of gasses; metal and stone transformative and creation spells allow greater superior mechanical engines, alloys and tools; resurrection spells enable explanations for fossil discoveries; mind control spells increase the likely success of early examinations into anthropology and psychology ... there really is no end.

It is the height of absolute stupidity to claim in any way that the existence of magic would not speed the progress of technology, and therefore the understanding of the universe through experimentation and conclusion (which is science, after all), far beyond our present condition.

And so, to avoid sounding like a complete moron, the argument is almost always, "People would lose interest in science if magic existed."

Bullflops.  Utter, unmitigated bullflops.

In the world of magic as presented in D&D (and I don't give a fuck about arguments that there's some flaw in D&D magic that somehow ruins or wrecks the game - more bullflop, that), human beings are still human beings.  Hearts still pump blood, hands still hold weapons in the same way, the mind retains its human characteristics and we are still born, fall in love, give birth to children, grow old and die.  As such, the fundamental problems of the denizens in a D&D world are the same problems that exist in this non-magical environment.  We must clothe ourselves, we must find shelter, we must feed ourselves and we seek comfort.  We continue, as a creature, to succeed in accomplishing these things through experimentation.  We continue to fashion tools.  We continue to seek a means, and therefore knowledge, about how to fashion better tools.  While it may be true that magic will succeed in fashioning some tools for us, magic must be advanced in the same manner as any other technology.  New magical methods do not come into existence spontaneously.  They must be proposed; they must be developed and tested and they must meet certain criteria in order to be useful.  Magic, like science, requires a fertile mind.  And fertile minds are encouraged by need, not abundance.

Magic or science, we would still be the same creative creatures we are now.  The fact that we would be solving problems this way - with magic - would not change our habits in solving problems in any other way.  Let's have it clear that not everyone is able to DO magic ... are people without the necessary wisdom and intelligence supposed to sit around in caves?  And are we to assume that just because people with intelligence were capable of doing magic, they automatically would?  Ridiculous.  I'm not an engineer now, am I?  I refer to the flagrantly stupid argument - that I've heard before, but not with regards to Anthony's site - that people would be compelled do to magic and therefore would not investigate science.  Oh my god that is a fucking dumbass thing to argue!  Just pile up all the parents in the world who want their children to blindly follow in their own religion and see how high a mountain you build.  People can no more force their children to obediently follow the rules than they can force themselves to cease their own stupid assumptions.  Children will grow up and do whatever they please ... it has been true in every era.  It will always be true.

I feel a need to redress the argument from two paragraphs prior by suggesting the gentle reader get off his or her ass and read the short story Olympics by Isaac Asimov.  I should have said so before.

The reality is that magic and science would progress in tandem, just as religion and science progress.  One might as well argue that the existence of science precludes the existence of art, or that the existence of religion precludes the existence of hedonism.  Human beings are plentiful and spectacularly varied.  There is room enough in the world for every kind of behavior.  Practitioners of magic, no matter how many of them there were, would not stop the observation of natural phenomenon.  I have not heard anyone suggest that invention would become impossible.  How then would it become obsolete?

Now, there was one point that richard at Anthony's site touched upon (richard is one of those heightened souls who has explained that I am undeserving of his comments), which was the research of magic.  And there lies an important, and rarely pursued question.  If magic exists, when is it discovered?  I have sat and written numerous posts about the development of technology - which technology inspires the first sentient creature to have the first flash of inspiration that enables the onset of magic?  When does this occur?  Before Christ?  Before the Romans?  Before Ramses and the supposed freeing of the Jews?  Before Abraham?  Precisely when does this occur?

And if this is your world, and the history is one of your own making, how long has magic been in existence?  And how long has it existed at the level it is at now?  Has fireball existed since the very beginning?  Was every spell invented at approximately the same time?  Or has it been only fifty years or so that the really powerful spells have come into continuous use?  Remember, we live in an age where change and development has been mindboggling.  Could not magic have come into existence only fifty, perhaps seventy years ago, like computers ... and could not spells have been developed like the Internet, only to become widespread only 12 or 14 years ago?

Food for thought.  I will consider, and perhaps write further on this tomorrow.


Anthony said...

We are on the save wavelength today it seems, I put up a germane post nearly the same time as this one:

Magic In Design.

In particular, why I have written off the influence of magic on science as negligible.

Zzarchov said...

This all depends on "What is Magic" is Magic just physics players don't understand (ie, it is science) or is it truly magic, things that cannot be in anything but make believe.

If it is just science, then it will still cause some technologies to stagnate. Medicine will be woefully behind as it will only be studied as a curiosity. If 2 alms and a prayer really cured all much less investment would the pharmaceutical industry get? I liken this to our current investment in trinary computers. It still advances, just slowly as it is merely a hobby.

Then we get to the problem of modern science being unable to exist. If Magic = Science then Science = Magic. So if there are only 4 elements how does that impact atomic theory? Is Plutonium mostly earth with a hidden core of the fire element? Or are atom bombs just impossible?

What are the knock on effects for aviation if heavier items fall faster than lighter items?

Then we get to option B, which I is how I run magic. Magic is the disproof of physics. Things are so because God, the giant turtle or Azitoth, the Matrix etc wills it so.

You can spend a lifetime and document gravity, optics, magnetism and atomic theory. Then the rules of physics change 100% (yet due to God/Matrix/Azithoth the average peasant doesn't notice a damn thing different) and your life's work looks like Time Cube to the next scientist.

If every third Tuesday the "matrix" switched physics engines, would the inhabitants ever be able to piece together how the world works?

Keith said...

If you're running an internally consistent world, your physics engine would not change every Tuesday.

Arguments revolving around the pre-modern concepts of the four elements keep popping up. The reason that model was discarded was because it was wrong. It could just as easily be discarded in a fantasy world if wizards or scientists discover it to be wrong. If it's true in your D&D reality, okay, it's true, and that changes the physical laws of the world. I doubt it is in the 'standard,' assumed D&D world though.

I disagree that medicine would stagnate. Not every town will have a priest powerful enough to cure all ills. The priests that are can only magic me back together so many times. What if I'm bleeding to death and the nearest priest is 8 hours march away? What if I can't pay the priest, but that sawbones next door would be willing to work for less? Doctors may incorporate healing magic into their methods, but a mundane medic is never going to be unnecessary.

Why would I try to invent an atomic bomb if, for far fewer resources, I could find a high level mage and have him deliver the equivalent? Besides, if I was living in a fantasy, quasi-medieval, agrarian economy, I'm more interested in taking your land than I am in nuking it to oblivion.

Science and magic would work together and develop alongside each other, not independently or exclusively.

Zzarchov said...

Well not Keith,

then you are getting back to point one. You aren't describing magic, you are describing science. At that point you should really remove spells as a whole in my opinion, because its a loose thread on a tapestry. The ability to utilize "magic" opens so many scientific holes that cannot function, if you can break the laws of thermodynamics with a butt wiggle and three magic words its no longer a law. The implications are HUGE if this is something that can be studied, understood and replicated.

Forget the use of magic to study the natural world, if magic is part of the natural world (and not supernatural, breaking the modern understanding of the universe) think carefully about what that really..really means. Why study minor physical quibbles when studying magic directly..and studying it with a scientific method is far..far more lucrative. If the human body had all the tools needed to surpass the greatest abilities of modern science and industry it would be a totally alien world.

Which is why, if I am going to bother having Magic. I make it Magic, it means the laws of physics ARE in constant flux. Because magic can only exist in a world view that is now bunk, a world view where a giant turtle, or old man in a chair surrounded by ravens, or any number of other deities set the rules of the world by their will, and if they change their mind they can change the rules of physics. It is a fundamentally different world than the cold uncaring universe we live in.

Oddbit said...

The reason I believe technology would persist is simple to me.

Each mage can only prepare 'telescope' so many times, or the spell will only last so long. A telescope will last as long as you can see your target and have patience.

Even assuming you could cast the spell for an entire night's duration, you forfeit one 'photograph' spell for every telescope spell you have used... And so on. Magic users would seek a mundane and cheaper solution for the obvious benefits.

Tweezers would still be invented to deal with splinters even though a cure minor could deal with it.