Saturday, July 31, 2010

Magic vs. Technology

Magic vs. Technology
By Sabrina Klein

Magic influencing technology is something that is foreign to our world, we have no magic…well none that most people believe in. If we did how would it have changed the technological evolution of our race? The answer-dramatically. Not only would it affect physical technology but everything affected by Wallace’s technology continuum, (1966; Religion: An Anthropological View; ISBN-10: 0394442717). Wallace says that the higher level the technology the more complex the religion. Magic is often tied to religion in some aspect, so this line of thought is not necessarily true. If magic comes from religion, then the religion affects the everyday lives of its believers. Religion then becomes essential to the culture, but it may or may not become more complex than at its inception.

What if magic’s source isn’t from religion but from science? Then the perception of its origin has no bearing on the gods, religion and technology become separate. Do they become advisories? Probably, they are now in our world. Most of the time as long as the science backs the current majority the science is praised, but when it contradicts religion… pardon the expression but all Cain breaks loose. For example, what if the body of Christ was found and by scientific means proved absolutely beyond a scientific doubt. The rebellion of the Christians against the scientific community would be devastating, and the Jewish community would be moving with just as much force… and there would probably be a war of some kind.

However, if the bodies of the Fianna were found under the hills at Tara? What would be the response? These are holy characters to the old Irish Celtic religion (and many of the old pagan religions of the British Isles), but of no consequence to the five major religions of the world. This still may create a certain level of friction. Science is defined by absolutes but religion is defined by faith, and science only has faith in what it can conceivably prove. Most often religion only finds science useful and kosher as long as the science is in the religion’s best interest. If science, scientifically proved the body of Christ had been found the uproar and devastation would be catastrophic. Denial of the validity of the science by both logic and ‘heresy’ would occur from a variety of sources. Just as if science found undisputable proof contradicting any religion.

How would magic affect technology? What if electricity wasn’t required, or gas, or water to power anything? No need for all those environmentalists… or their jobs or sciences. Botany would just be the study of plants and wouldn’t include how the deforestation affects the planet, but would include its interaction with life on the planet. It might be divided into the study of magical and non-magical plants. Same instance for zoologists, geologists and the others. Elevators wouldn’t exist you’d just float up to a place or take the stairs, maybe you would just teleport. Planes, trains and automobiles…also most likely wouldn’t have been invented. Necessity is the mother of invention, remember it, its true.

Medicine? Magic would heal you. Pens would write as you spoke, or the words might just form on the page. There might not be a need for things like computers. Physical cleaning or repair might not happen either, just speak a few magic words and poof! All clean or fixed. That group of jobs might be held by a select group of magicians, a guild perhaps of ‘craftsman’. If stone was sculpted by magic, why would you need those chisels and hammers? If a deed is done by magic then the physical tool is unnecessary, keep this in mind. If things are held together by magic, why would a culture create nails or screws? Or is there a need for these things by those who can’t access the magic, and if they are who are these people?

Magic, I think, follows one of Newton’s laws most of the time. For every action there is an equal and/or opposite reaction. Magic, or the portrayal of magic, often work like science in this capacity. If you do something with magic there will be a reaction of some kind, most like of equal proportion to whatever you did. If you send the fireball down the hall at the bad guys, instead of firing a gun, bow, or smallest member of the party, it just might blow up the whole hall, and not only one of the villains. On that note, if guns fire magic, what need is there for bullets? In fact what need is their within the culture of magicians for physical weapons at all. Those “limited physical items” would be a marker of those less fortunate not to cast magic. Does magic create an upper class of magic users? Making anyone who doesn’t or can’t use magic a lesser person, or are the mages outcast as freaks?

Just remember, magic has laws of operation just like technology’s laws are rooted in the laws of science. Magic is not an excuse for not explaining yourself, and it certainly isn’t ‘poofty, solve a problem’ with no explanation of its origin because you went and boxed yourself in.

Sabrina Klein is a frequent contributor to the Writers' Symposium panels at Gen Con in Indianapolis and an anthropology student with a passion for world-building. Read more of her essays here on the Writers' Symposium Blog.

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