Magic vs Science

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Magic vs Science

Post by FaxModem1 » 2018-09-07 11:35pm

In more magical settings, there exists a sort of dichotomy between science and magic, if both appear. Sometimes the role is antagonistic, or one is superior to the other in some respect as opposed to the other. Sometimes they are equal, and just different methods for the same thing. Sometimes one is the other just cleverly disguised.

Knowing the theme of this board, I'm sure I know the preference already, but I feel I should ask it anyway. How do you prefer this dichotomy to be handled?

Which media do you think handles this best? Which media do you think handles this worst?
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Batman » 2018-09-07 11:46pm

I'm with Tony Stark on this-'Magic is just science I haven't figured out yet'. In most magical and especially RPG settings magic is essentially science few people understand. There's rules, there's certain ingredients you have to use, certain chants to use, there's structure to the way magic is done.
That to me implies it's just another level of science the way superpowers are, that setting's 'science' is just not up to figuring out the mechanics yet (hardly surprising as Fantasy settings are usually pre-gunpowder)
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Tribble » 2018-09-08 12:38am

Ya, that applies to LOTR as well. IIRC Galadriel even seemed a bit confused over Sam describing her abilities as "magic," since as far as she was concerned they are merely a part of how the world works.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Imperial Overlord » 2018-09-08 02:54am

The best way I've seen is R. Scott Bakker's Earwa books. Thousands of years ago, the space ark of an alien race crashed into the world. Their legacy haunts the world to the present day. Some of their technology survives and the locals, who have magic, integrate their limited understanding of it into their world view. Magic works based on certain metaphysical laws and the relationship of sentient beings with the Outside, another plane of existence, and technology based on physical law. As befits a quasi-medieval civilization, their understanding of how and why their own magic works is limited and so alien technology is regarded as another black art, the Tekne. Technology and magic aren't opposed forces, although the users of science and technology have had a long series of bloody war in opposition to each other. Technology and magic are tools to be employed, with the Consult being the heir to what remains of Inchoroi high technology and one of the last possessors of the high magic of the Ancient North.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Q99 » 2018-09-08 03:06am

Batman wrote:
2018-09-07 11:46pm
I'm with Tony Stark on this-'Magic is just science I haven't figured out yet'. In most magical and especially RPG settings magic is essentially science few people understand. There's rules, there's certain ingredients you have to use, certain chants to use, there's structure to the way magic is done.
That to me implies it's just another level of science the way superpowers are, that setting's 'science' is just not up to figuring out the mechanics yet (hardly surprising as Fantasy settings are usually pre-gunpowder)
Though I'll add, magic-magic tends to be either from a specific type of power source or a specific way of doing things, often tie to the specific user/their soul or whatever. It's not just unknown science, it's a specific field of unknown science that involves aspects of the individuals. Rather than 'just science I haven't figured out,' it's 'a science- or a collection of sciences in the cases where there's multiple approaches- I haven't figured out.'



----

Personally I generally (with some exceptions- Flight of Dragons was fun) dislike stuff that says they innately are opposed/magic is beyond or outside of science or doesn't have rules/relies on faith (in large part because the magic in question almost never actually acts that way, it has rules), but as two separate disciplines without a lot of overlap, they can be pretty cool.

Fred Perry's Gold Digger has magic as channeling 'ether' through one's personal aura. And a rock-paper-scissors of Tech having the advantage against magic (which has a weakness to unenchanted metal, which kinda acts like a lightning rod), phantasm/ghost stuff having an advantage against tech, and magic having an advantage against phantasm. And the really advanced civs having magitech, because once you grow enough you can figure out how to combine the two. I like that (though it's not for everything).

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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Formless » 2018-09-08 03:42am

I don't see it that way, Batsy. The idea that magic is anything people do not understand is anthropologically incorrect. There are levels of understanding, or as Asimov put it, different degrees of wrongness to every explanation of what the world looks like and how the world works. In every society that believed in magic there was always some kind of specific explanation given for how it worked, no matter how silly we see those explanations today. The Ancient Egyptians for instance believed that words had power, albeit subtle power over the world, and were given to humanity by the gods to be used in spells and everyday life. Considering the importance of language as both a tool for communication and a way of clarifying our own thoughts, its easy to see how this belief came about. The Japanese had a similar belief regarding the mystical properties of words and names, so this isn't just the Egyptians. Later in Europe you get the idea of sympathetic magic, which is a very specific magic system, and also the idea that certain forms of knowledge constitute magic. In fact, Divination is probably the most common form of magic practiced worldwide, as people have always known that knowledge is important. Its also pretty common among many cultures to associate knowledge of the divine with magic and (other)worldly power. China has its beliefs about Chi or vitalism, which stemmed from observations they made about the human body. They had the wrong explanation for how the body works, but their explanation was informed by real biological phenomenon and gave them useful techniques for treating illness and exercising the body. Both the Chinese and Europeans had alchemical and astrological traditions, which both proposed that the workings of the universe could be known, understood, and harnessed to useful ends. Its no surprise that both alchemy and astrology are more often labeled proto-science than magic, because each lead to legitimate scientific discoveries, but back in the day the practitioners very much understood what they were doing in mystical terms. No, in my opinion, the idea that magic is any science we don't understand yet is actually a form of chronological arrogance; a way of saying that people in the past were stupid. Its patently untrue.

Magic is whatever a culture decides it is, regardless of whether it works or whether the explanations are correct. It is, at the end of the day, just a word, able to be defined and redefined as people find need to do so. I would speculate that our culture has decided that magic is anything that is actually unreal is probably a result of several historical factors, such as the Abrahamic religions' disdain for the practice of magic (probably a way of distinguishing themselves from pagan religions), the practice of stage magic where the audience is being deliberately tricked for their entertainment, and the fact that post-Renaissance thinkers chose to avoid mystical language as much as possible to avoid aggravating the Church. So modern thinkers talk about the natural world in terms of technology and scientific laws, but that isn't the only way to talk about the natural world. It is the way we choose to talk about it. And in philosophy there was a history in Greek times up until the Renaissance to talk about metaphysics in mystical terms. Plato's Theory of Forms is, if I recall, directly used in Gnosticism, because honestly the Theory of Forms as an epistemology lends itself easily to magical thinking. Yet many modern mathematicians are de-facto Platonists, at least insofar as many of them fall back on it when asked whether numbers are real.

That in mind, knowing that the distinction between magic and science is actually an artificial distinction, in fantasy works at least I like it when the author breaks away from our modern intuition to separate the two completely. I like scientific magic. I like works like Nanoha where magic is done with AI imbued devices and people travel the cosmos in spaceships that can enter magical dimensions. I like Pokemon, where you work for a professor of science and catch ghosts and gods without the mythology feeling incoherent as a result. I like Magic: the Gathering where artificers of all Planes live on the border between what is magic and what is technology, and an entire slice of the Color Pie that defines the flavors of magical spells has science as one of its very domains. I like spelljammer for completely changing everything you expect space to be like, because this is how people used to think space looked like at one point in time. I like the trend of the Final Fantasy series to trend towards Steampunk and mysticism seamlessly blended together. I like Avatar: the Legend of Korra for breaking the fantasy cliche of a world that forever remains in technological stagnation. I used to watch Digimon religiously as a kid, because it was like portal fantasy a-la Narnia decided to take the science fiction route and this was the result (and it was awesome). I even like the Technomages from Babylon 5 (despite not liking B5 as a whole) who openly admit that they use what most people just consider to be advanced technology, because their philosophy is that it makes no difference-- what matters is that it allows humanity to express itself in amazing ways. I like all of these things, so long as we don't get into bullshit like "Hard Fantasy" where the rules of magic are so constrictive that it not only ties the writer's shoes in a knot but moreover ceases to have any connection to the pre-modern modes of thought that makes fantasy what it is. Those systems of thought had limitations built into them to begin with, and so long as you take the time to learn what they were and why people believed in them, it makes the world feel more fantastic even if your characters approach it like a kind of science. This is fantasy. In fantasy, science shouldn't be superior to magic. It shouldn't be inferior to magic. It shouldn't be separate from magic at all, for at its heart the entire dichotomy is a modernist, Rationalist conceit that has no place in worlds that do not work like our own and do not share a common history with the Earth we live in. The most rational way to approach the topic in the fantasy genre is to decide what the best aesthetics are for a given work and decide whether you want to do the traditional medieval setting or something a little more "out there". And perhaps the characters have even come to the wrong conclusions about how their world works... but unlike the real world, when they realize the true explanation they don't have to stop talking about magic as magic. That is what makes Fantasy wonderful. It breaks the rules of the world we know to show us something impossible in real life.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by mr friendly guy » 2018-09-08 07:12am

If you are going to have science play prominence in a magical fantasy setting, I would like some interaction and the view that they are largely just the way the world works. For example, in the Legend of Korra, there are automobiles, but people have magical powers and no one finds it strange that "magic" and science exist simultaneously. The magic is separate from science seems to be a trope mainly of superhero comics, in both DC and Marvel.

Another example of good interaction is Brain McClellan's powder mage series. If you can magically enhance bows, swords, armour etc, why not enhance firearms. A gun in the hand of a powder mage shoots further. Just as some mages in various fantasy draw power from a particular source, eg nature, powder mages draw it from gunpowder.

Going on, there are examples where magic and science are discordant. For example in DC comics "books of magic," Timothy Hunter is told about science as describing how the universe works or something to that effect, while magic is speaking to the universe in a way it cannot ignore. Going further, in Legion of Superheroes, there have been itinerations where the Legion faces off against magical beings whose very presence causes advance tech to fail. Now I am prefer a fantasy world to not have this, however I admit this opposition can serve for good storytelling. For example a science based civilisation fighting a magic based one (I think Harry Turtledove did one of these stories).
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Guardsman Bass » 2018-09-09 12:25am

I'll second the Earwa/Second Apocalypse magic. Magic/sorcery is overwriting reality, but sorcerers are limited by rules of metaphysics they don't entirely understand, as well as the language they use to try and express incantations. A big point of the series is that most sorcerers can only "sing" in analogical form, meaning that if they want to spray fire at an enemy they have to create a magical simulcra of a dragon's head in the process (or a simulcra of a brick wall with defensive spells, etc).

In general, I like magic as essentially a "flexibility" to reality. If science is the exploration and understanding of the rules and processes governing reality, then magic is essentially individuals being able to "bend" the rules and shape reality to their liking.

Although I also like the "magic" of Lord of the Rings. Beings have a degree of "authority" to shape the environment around them, and it's at its most useful when they're trying to essentially "bridge the gap" between what they will and what is (like Gandalf creating a fire, but needing something to burn to do so). The Elves and more divine beings don't really think of this as magic separate from their normal activities - it's just something that gets shaped into everything they make and do.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Korto » 2018-09-10 09:30am

Personally, if magic is just science we haven't figured out, then it's not magic, it's science that we just haven't figured out.

I prefer my magic strange and fantastic. Wonderful. Like, as a negative example, an example of the exact opposite of what I'm saying, there's the way huge magical objects were created in one of the older versions of D&D:
The object, lets say a flying ship, was sized, and each 10 foot section would be individually enchanted with a building spell, a flying spell, whatever other spells, then a permanency spell, and then the mage moved on to the next 10 foot section and did the same. And so on. They managed to take creating a magical flying ship, and suck all the magic out of it.

There should have been a clearing, at the dead of night, under a blood moon. Creepy chanting acolytes in robes, looking to the centre, where glowing timbers are bending and shaping before our very eyes!
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Q99 » 2018-09-10 09:43am

I feel there's room for many types of magic, from those with tight formula and rules, to those that involve asking spirits and soft measures. Which one you have affects things a lot, of course.

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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by tezunegari » 2018-09-10 01:34pm

Isn't any form of Magic that can be systematically studied as part of the natural world science?
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Elheru Aran » 2018-09-10 03:57pm

tezunegari wrote:
2018-09-10 01:34pm
Isn't any form of Magic that can be systematically studied as part of the natural world science?
It depends on whether it operates on principles that can be understood and explained, though there does exist science that basically describes stuff which happens that we don't understand yet (I think).

IE, writing a circle on the floor, lighting a few candles and chanting certain phrases, and then poof, a creature appears in the circle, which you can make bargains with for certain favors, accomplished in ways not necessarily known to you... would be kinda difficult to explain as to exactly HOW that happens. Is the circle a portal to an alternate dimension? Etc.

It can also be complicated if magic is of the 'only a few very specific people can do it' type. LOTR for example. Or Harry Potter. A Muggle trying to do magic is unlikely to get very far, thus making study difficult.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Formless » 2018-09-10 04:37pm

tezunegari wrote:
2018-09-10 01:34pm
Isn't any form of Magic that can be systematically studied as part of the natural world science?
No. There is a fundamental philosophical mistake underpinning this statement. Science is an epistemology: a system of thinking and gathering knowledge about the natural world *. But there are other methods of understanding the world, including methods that categorically reject many common methods used by scientists. For instance, many high profile Rationalist philosophers like David Hume and Rene Descartes took issue with inductive reasoning as a flawed form of logic to one degree or another, but scientists use inductive reasoning all the time; Sir Francis Bacon even went so far as to argue that science cannot be done without using induction at some point in the process, and to describe a very nuanced way of refining inductive reasoning for the purpose.

Engineering is systematic and often mistakenly conflated with science (especially in fiction), but its all about applying known facts towards making useful technologies, materials, systems, architecture, medicine, etc. Certainly pre-modern societies that didn't practice scientific research had engineers and craftsmen. Even, say, martial arts is more similar to engineering than it is science, even though there are objectively true facts within martial arts systems. The distinction is that the goal of martial arts is not knowing. Its about achieving combat objectives, like surviving attacks and winning fights. Likewise, there are other epistemological systems besides science, such as dialectics, which are used in philosophy, math, ethics, and politics. In a world where Plato's Theory of Forms and its associated epistemology is actually a true description of the world, you can know about the natural world simply by thinking about it and literally remembering how the world works because your soul once inhabited the World of Forms. Thus a world where Plato's Forms exists could very well have a Form (or several Forms) for Magic which can be known or perhaps can only be known through A-Priori knowledge, and not through science. Cartesian philosophy offers yet another alternative: if you take skepticism of empirical data to its extreme conclusion, you end up with either solipsism or Faith as the only ways of knowing anything. Rene Descartes chose Faith, which is great in a fantasy world where the Divine is a major player (and that's also great if you want to create a Divine vs Arcane division where non-faith based practitioners get different benefits because they study magic differently). But alternatively, following Cartesian philosophy you could decide that the world is, say, a literal dream made real, and thus magic is actually about Mind over Matter. The dreamers can become "lucid" and thus have as much control over the world as they have imagination. Think of The Matrix, but Fantasy instead of Science Fiction. So in no way does Magic and the study of Magic have to be "scientific" in a fantasy world in order to qualify as rational. Hell, some philosophers would say that science isn't Rational. Which makes the consistency and robustness of its conclusions annoyingly difficult to explain.

*technically, its multiple competing epistemological theories, like Baconian empiricism (the most direct opposite of Cartesian philosophy), Pragmatism/Instrumentalism, the Rationalist approach (which is where theory driven science comes from), Positivism, Popperian falsificationism, etc. However, the distinctions between these systems are in the details and most scientists are able to work together without issue or even without necessarily knowing the differences themselves.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Jub » 2018-09-10 10:04pm

Formless wrote:
2018-09-10 04:37pm
Engineering is systematic and often mistakenly conflated with science (especially in fiction), but its all about applying known facts towards making useful technologies, materials, systems, architecture, medicine, etc. Certainly pre-modern societies that didn't practice scientific research had engineers and craftsmen. Even, say, martial arts is more similar to engineering than it is science, even though there are objectively true facts within martial arts systems. The distinction is that the goal of martial arts is not knowing. Its about achieving combat objectives, like surviving attacks and winning fights. Likewise, there are other epistemological systems besides science, such as dialectics, which are used in philosophy, math, ethics, and politics. In a world where Plato's Theory of Forms and its associated epistemology is actually a true description of the world, you can know about the natural world simply by thinking about it and literally remembering how the world works because your soul once inhabited the World of Forms. Thus a world where Plato's Forms exists could very well have a Form (or several Forms) for Magic which can be known or perhaps can only be known through A-Priori knowledge, and not through science. Cartesian philosophy offers yet another alternative: if you take skepticism of empirical data to its extreme conclusion, you end up with either solipsism or Faith as the only ways of knowing anything. Rene Descartes chose Faith, which is great in a fantasy world where the Divine is a major player (and that's also great if you want to create a Divine vs Arcane division where non-faith based practitioners get different benefits because they study magic differently). But alternatively, following Cartesian philosophy you could decide that the world is, say, a literal dream made real, and thus magic is actually about Mind over Matter. The dreamers can become "lucid" and thus have as much control over the world as they have imagination. Think of The Matrix, but Fantasy instead of Science Fiction. So in no way does Magic and the study of Magic have to be "scientific" in a fantasy world in order to qualify as rational. Hell, some philosophers would say that science isn't Rational. Which makes the consistency and robustness of its conclusions annoyingly difficult to explain.
You're making the mistake of conflating practicing a thing (ie. engineering, martial arts, magic) with having an understanding of how that thing works at a fundamental level. Whilst one can build a bridge that works without science a material engineer will use the scientific method to test their materials to help design the safest, cheapest, and most efficient bridge they can. With improved understanding of the principles of engineering and the materials we have at our disposal, we can slowly remove the human element. Given that materials can be understood scientifically and the problem of getting goods from here to there via a fixed physical path can be understood. Thus, logically there must exist a perfect design for any given set of parameters.

The same goes for a fight between two fighters who's styles and body mechanics are perfectly, or closely enough to perfectly, understood. With a sufficiently powerful computer, their fight could be simulated millions of times and a winner could be deduced based on that simulation. Such a simulation could even be run to account for the opposing coaches having equal access to said simulation and that could also be factored in. It's a distant and possibly unlikely future where we get brain and body maps detailed enough and hardware advanced enough to make such simulations possible, but anything physical can be made into a scientific certainty with enough understanding. In this case, the sole wrench would be if quantum effects have any interaction with human thought processes and if quantum effects are truly random.

Even in a world where most magic is understood due to knowledge that we are born with doesn't violate this idea. If such a society reaches the point where brain mapping and mind uploading is possible, and likely long before that, the knowledge can be studied rationally and logically and pooled to allow for a deeper understanding of how it works. Then we can start to pick apart where the knowledge comes from. Nothing that interacts with the physical world can ever be fully apart from it, so it's likely that we'll eventually find a physical change that adds this knowledge at some point during our brain's development. We may even induce such knowledge purposefully into artificial minds or find ways to remove the knowledge from the minds of those who've shown they will misuse it.

At the most fundamental level magic always interacts with the physical world in some way. Be it altering the brain of the user to add knowledge to their mind or in conjuring fire from the palm of one's hand. We can study those moments in great detail and if we do we're likely to find some physical precursor to these events. Even in universes with a soul, mind, body separation (or some variation thereof) each can be verified to exist and thus can be studied. Nothing that can be interacted with can't be understood by current scientific methods once the right tools and tests have been devised and in devising these tools and tests understanding can be gleaned by those tests which have failed.

tldr; Nothing that exists can't be studied and simulated with the scientific method.

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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Formless » 2018-09-11 12:28am

Jub wrote:You're making the mistake of conflating practicing a thing (ie. engineering, martial arts, magic) with having an understanding of how that thing works at a fundamental level. Whilst one can build a bridge that works without science a material engineer will use the scientific method to test their materials to help design the safest, cheapest, and most efficient bridge they can. With improved understanding of the principles of engineering and the materials we have at our disposal, we can slowly remove the human element. Given that materials can be understood scientifically and the problem of getting goods from here to there via a fixed physical path can be understood. Thus, logically there must exist a perfect design for any given set of parameters.
No, Jub, "understanding" is completely incidental to the point I am making. And no, you can't remove the human element from engineering, period. Engineering and applied arts and sciences ("sciences") are fundamentally different from Science due to its goals and values being distinct from science as a philosophy and research paradigm. Science per-say only values knowledge and truth, but engineering values good practice and... well, it depends on the field of engineering. But the point is that not all engineering problems have hard and fast solutions like building a bridge (which is itself subject to contexts like how far the bridge spans and what load its meant to bear). If we take a look at weapon engineering, because it is relevant to fantasy, throughout the millennia the sword has come in more forms than anyone could possibly count. And yet, this has little to do with metallurgy. Yes, the change from bronze to iron to steel made a difference, but we will get back to that. Even by the 19'th century, when the steel was just short of modern quality, bladesmiths still couldn't decide whether it was best to optimize a sword for cutting or for thrusting, or for both. This is because you fundamentally cannot remove the human element from the question! Our knowledge of anatomy could not solve the debate either, although the science contributes to the question. Cutting has more stopping power (because it can immobilize an opponent or lop off their limbs) but thrusts are more lethal (as they can more easily penetrate vital organs). And if you err on the side of cuts, what kind of cuts? This actually gets to the central reason the debate was never resolved (and likely, could never be resolved): it depends on what you think is the best practice. There are wrist cuts, elbow cuts, shoulder driven cuts, slicing cuts, pushing cuts, hacking and hewing cuts, and even more besides that which our martial arts experts could inform you of. And each has not only a tactical distinction associated, but also a different effect on the body of the person performing the cut: wrist cuts are sometimes poo-pooed because they can be hard on the wrist, but many arts used them anyway due to their speed and power, and you don't care about wrist damage in a life or death fight. As soon as you get into tactical considerations, there are objective facts you can work from but no easy answers as to what the best practices are despite that. A few principles stand out as universal in swordsmanship, like the basics of timing, but beyond that it becomes extremely complicated by contextual factors. And that, more than metallurgy, is the reason that even in the 19'th century there was a diversity of sword forms used by the world's armies.

What engineering takes from objective facts, regardless of whether those facts were derived from the scientific method or something else like trial and error, is it finds opportunities in the natural facts to either improve on an existing technology or alternatively discovers a new application that was unknown before. So the change from bronze to iron was actually a switch to an inferior metal as far as strength of the tools went, but happened because iron was cheaper and more available. Iron swords were pretty similar in length to bronze swords, but because steel is harder and has springiness it allowed swords to get longer than before. But no all steel swords are long-- context still matters, and in some circumstances a shorter weapon outmaneuvers a longer one. In the Philipines they kept using short swords because the jungle encourages close combat, whereas European swords were generally long because the environment allowed them to be.

And this isn't restricted to ancient technologies, either. Its true today as well; just look at computer programming and the sheer number of programming languages alone that you can work with. The number of ways to get something done in any one programming language are so great that at best computer programmers will only ever be able to create rules of thumb, never a simple algorithm that takes in design parameters and spits out code.
The same goes for a fight between two fighters who's styles and body mechanics are perfectly, or closely enough to perfectly, understood. With a sufficiently powerful computer, their fight could be simulated millions of times and a winner could be deduced based on that simulation. Such a simulation could even be run to account for the opposing coaches having equal access to said simulation and that could also be factored in. It's a distant and possibly unlikely future where we get brain and body maps detailed enough and hardware advanced enough to make such simulations possible, but anything physical can be made into a scientific certainty with enough understanding. In this case, the sole wrench would be if quantum effects have any interaction with human thought processes and if quantum effects are truly random.
Actually I'm pretty sure these simulation argument musings are actually wrong because of thermodynamics. The kind of information-completeness needed to make a perfect simulation of two fighters is indistinguishable from an actual fight between two real human beings. That is, the entropic output of the computer becomes indistinguishable or worse(especially if you want to run the simulation hundreds of times) than the thing being simulated, and you can no longer reasonably call it a simulation really. You are cloning two human beings and pitting their clones against one another in a fight. After all, fights have a mental component-- you don't know shit until you know how a person will react you getting hit in the face! This is the problem with "perfect information" and "perfect understanding": it does not and cannot exist in foresight. The best we can reasonably do is statistical analysis.

Ironically, we can know this because of science. :P

Even in a world where most magic is understood due to knowledge that we are born with doesn't violate this idea.

No, but Platonism renders scientific methods and attitudes redundant. That's why the downfall of Platonism during the Renaissance was important to the development of science in the real world. In a fantasy world where the Soul really does exist in the World of Forms prior to coming into the material world, that scientific revolution might simply never happen, or be delayed for mellenia. Look at the real world. It took over ten thousand years from the dawn of civilization to the beginning of the Renaissance for modern scientific thinking to transform the world. And again, we know people in the past weren't stupid.

If such a society reaches the point where brain mapping and mind uploading is possible, and likely long before that, the knowledge can be studied rationally and logically and pooled to allow for a deeper understanding of how it works. Then we can start to pick apart where the knowledge comes from. Nothing that interacts with the physical world can ever be fully apart from it, so it's likely that we'll eventually find a physical change that adds this knowledge at some point during our brain's development. We may even induce such knowledge purposefully into artificial minds or find ways to remove the knowledge from the minds of those who've shown they will misuse it.

Dude, I think you need to actually read up on Plato before going on about things irrelevant to the Theory of Forms. If the Theory of Forms were true, the information would not be added to the brain. You would be born with it already present, somehow. And among that information would be the Truth of where it came from, no brain scans needed, just a sit down to think about it real hard. His argument was that the physical world was embedded in the World of Forms, not the other way around, so it was actually the more "real" plane of existence. And it was described as "eternal and unchanging," so it is doubtful he thought it interacted with time in the way we experience it in the physical world. It is a far weirder theory than anything a modern, scientifically minded person would ever imagine unless they took LSD. And that's what makes it potentially perfect for a fantasy work. You don't have to explain anything magical in scientific terms if higher planes of existence are real. Hell, I think I've even seen science fiction works where psionics are justified in similar ways because if there is something difficult or impossible to observe in conventional ways, then anything becomes justifiable.

At the most fundamental level magic always interacts with the physical world in some way. Be it altering the brain of the user to add knowledge to their mind or in conjuring fire from the palm of one's hand. We can study those moments in great detail and if we do we're likely to find some physical precursor to these events.

And what if you don't find the physical precursor? How much effort do you think a society would have to put into trying to find the ultimate causes of the supernatural before they give up trying to explain it in naturalistic terminology?

Even in universes with a soul, mind, body separation (or some variation thereof) each can be verified to exist and thus can be studied. Nothing that can be interacted with can't be understood by current scientific methods once the right tools and tests have been devised and in devising these tools and tests understanding can be gleaned by those tests which have failed.

That's certainly optimistic of you. Try to remember, though, that we are talking about fantasy fiction here. One great sociological experiment you can conduct in fantasy that is difficult to do in science fiction is present a world where Positivist attitudes simply do not work and certain tools for testing the world never come about, even though paranormal phenomenon are abundant. Or, like I said in my earliest post, one where the history of the world is so different that culture does not shy away from calling the paranormal "magic" like scientists in our world do (when they study the paranormal at all).
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Formless » 2018-09-11 01:00am

Damn, one typo and the whole post becomes italicized. And its too late to edit. Fuck.

Anyway, I guess everything I want to say can be encapsulated with "science is a philosophy, but its not the only philosophy in the world." A good fantasy writer can avoid the cliche of "science VS magic" by simply researching those alternative philosophies with an open mind, and even just allowing science to be magic through the power of semantics. Take Avatar: the Last Airbender for example of how that works. I don't think at any point in the show do they actually use the word "magic", although they do invoke Chi and several other concepts from Chinese philosophy, folk lore, and mythology. Of course, the audience sees Bending as magic regardless, because it is impossible in our world, but to the people of the Avatar franchise it simply Is. The first time they explain how lightning bending works, they indicate that Chi is Energy, lightning is Energy, therefore we the audience are free to conclude that Chi is electrical energy if we so please. Or not, because the world remains just as consistent whether Chi is magical energy, something scientific, or something else entirely. Which is why no one bats an eye at the industrial revolution occurring in the course of the show. I think some people have a hard time making this mental adjustment in their minds, possibly because of how works like D&D make Magic the exclusive domain of Wizards, Clerics, and Druids and people in the world find it just as fantastic as the audience does. They really shouldn't even if they have never seen advanced or large scale magic; magic should be that fundamental to how the world works. I think the best way for a world to go about using magic is to circumvent the word entirely, like Avatar does. You can even use the word "spell" because real world people don't have any clue what a spell is. One time rituals that have real world consequences seem to be one thing that our real world technology just doesn't usually do, except maybe if you count chemical reactions. By establishing your own vocabulary that avoids invoking too much comparison to the audience's assumptions about magic, you give yourself license to make it work how you want it to work, whether you want it to work scientifically or based on some other paradigm. The audience will accept it.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Jub » 2018-09-11 02:44am

Formless wrote:
2018-09-11 12:28am
No, Jub, "understanding" is completely incidental to the point I am making. And no, you can't remove the human element from engineering, period. Engineering and applied arts and sciences ("sciences") are fundamentally different from Science due to its goals and values being distinct from science as a philosophy and research paradigm. Science per-say only values knowledge and truth, but engineering values good practice and... well, it depends on the field of engineering. But the point is that not all engineering problems have hard and fast solutions like building a bridge (which is itself subject to contexts like how far the bridge spans and what load its meant to bear).
You didn't read my post very well if you think mentioning that bridges having different spans and load limits are something I failed to mention... Objectively, there is a single best bridge if you know the initial conditions and requirements of the project. With advanced enough simulations you might even go a step beyond that to see how that design deals with various disasters which are difficult to simulate today.
,Sniped sword debate
Except that during most of this period swords were at best self-defense weapons and at worst relatively worthless next to polearms and dedicated plate busting weapons. During the period where material strength and consistency was rarely a major issue, the sword was no longer the queen of the battlefield. Plus, if all factors were to be known and simulated there could be the best sword found for any given scenario and that could be averaged out to make the best sword for the highest percentage of scenarios and that could then be broadened out to the best sword for most people of skill x in most scenarios. The point is with perfect knowledge there will be an objectively best sword, or ax, or gun to use. This might end up in a rock paper scissors scenario where each side knows the best weapon and best armor or tactic to counter it, which leads to weapon b being best against that, and yet another beating that but that doesn't change that objectively there exists a best possible thing. That thing won't be an engineered thing it will be a scientifically designed and tested thing.
And this isn't restricted to ancient technologies, either. Its true today as well; just look at computer programming and the sheer number of programming languages alone that you can work with. The number of ways to get something done in any one programming language are so great that at best computer programmers will only ever be able to create rules of thumb, never a simple algorithm that takes in design parameters and spits out code.
There are certain languages that are still objectively better at certain tasks than others. Once we get machines that can self-generate code the best language will then be either binary or machine language because in all likelihood they'll be most efficient using the lowest level least complex languages. Even know if lines per hour weren't an issue those two codes would always generate the most efficient programs. Everything else is window dressing for the limited minds, timeframes, and budgets we're currently working under and even then there should be an objectively best language for a given coder and another for the given project.
Actually I'm pretty sure these simulation argument musings are actually wrong because of thermodynamics. The kind of information-completeness needed to make a perfect simulation of two fighters is indistinguishable from an actual fight between two real human beings. That is, the entropic output of the computer becomes indistinguishable or worse(especially if you want to run the simulation hundreds of times) than the thing being simulated, and you can no longer reasonably call it a simulation really. You are cloning two human beings and pitting their clones against one another in a fight. After all, fights have a mental component-- you don't know shit until you know how a person will react you getting hit in the face! This is the problem with "perfect information" and "perfect understanding": it does not and cannot exist in foresight. The best we can reasonably do is statistical analysis.

Ironically, we can know this because of science. :P


it doesn't matter that it can never actually happen what matters is that if you had perfect information there would always be a single objectively best approach to any given task. For some tasks we might be able to simulate that, for others it remains a thought experiment for ever. Regardless, this doesn't change the fact that a theoretically advanced enough simulation could have perfect foresight and design perfect things and plan perfect actions.

No, but Platonism renders scientific methods and attitudes redundant. That's why the downfall of Platonism during the Renaissance was important to the development of science in the real world. In a fantasy world where the Soul really does exist in the World of Forms prior to coming into the material world, that scientific revolution might simply never happen, or be delayed for mellenia. Look at the real world. It took over ten thousand years from the dawn of civilization to the beginning of the Renaissance for modern scientific thinking to transform the world. And again, we know people in the past weren't stupid.


That only matters if the world of forms can be perfectly recalled to the point of being a predictive tool. Given the fallibility of the human mind and the increasingly long periods of thought required to suss out anything sufficiently complex, you'll still need science to get over certain hurdles. There are just things, like counting to a trillion one number at a time, which no amount of preknowledge shorthand will get you past.

Dude, I think you need to actually read up on Plato before going on about things irrelevant to the Theory of Forms. If the Theory of Forms were true, the information would not be added to the brain. You would be born with it already present, somehow. And among that information would be the Truth of where it came from, no brain scans needed, just a sit down to think about it real hard.


You'd still need brain scans to ever access more than a small fraction of that knowledge at once. Human thought can only be so perfect and no single human will ever come close to perfectly using even the most perfect of knowledge. Perfect knowledge would also take infinitely long to contemplate so some answers that would evade a thinking human while being easily accessible by a computer accessing it millions of times faster and yet more knowledge would never be reached at all.

In the end, you'd likely never get the most of this knowledge without science. The exception being contemplating how to best access this pool of knowledge and having that answer be small enough to be parsed by a human mind. That path might, of course, lead to an endless chain of knowledge seeking machines each slightly better than the last. Then you'd also need to ask for the best ways to use said machines and use said knowledge in general.

It's possible this system could work, but I find it unlikely that without the aid of science the most could ever be made out of this system. It's also likely that a rationally minded civilization encountering this system would advance in knowledge faster than a society that never developed it and thus may leapfrog them in short order. Just like how those nations that embraced rational thought in history leapfrogged their neighbors.

His argument was that the physical world was embedded in the World of Forms, not the other way around, so it was actually the more "real" plane of existence. And it was described as "eternal and unchanging," so it is doubtful he thought it interacted with time in the way we experience it in the physical world. It is a far weirder theory than anything a modern, scientifically minded person would ever imagine unless they took LSD. And that's what makes it potentially perfect for a fantasy work. You don't have to explain anything magical in scientific terms if higher planes of existence are real. Hell, I think I've even seen science fiction works where psionics are justified in similar ways because if there is something difficult or impossible to observe in conventional ways, then anything becomes justifiable.


Even so, if this physical world is a reflection of some ideal world, studying the real world with rationality may yield greater results than looking at it any other way. Certainly achieving rational thought would help you examine that perfect knowledge in a more useful and ordered way.

And what if you don't find the physical precursor? How much effort do you think a society would have to put into trying to find the ultimate causes of the supernatural before they give up trying to explain it in naturalistic terminology?


An infinitely large amount if modern physics research is anything to go by. When have we ever let not finding something stop us from further research into an observable phenomenon?

That's certainly optimistic of you. Try to remember, though, that we are talking about fantasy fiction here. One great sociological experiment you can conduct in fantasy that is difficult to do in science fiction is present a world where Positivist attitudes simply do not work and certain tools for testing the world never come about, even though paranormal phenomenon are abundant. Or, like I said in my earliest post, one where the history of the world is so different that culture does not shy away from calling the paranormal "magic" like scientists in our world do (when they study the paranormal at all).


Given how short a time humans have had the tools to share ideas on a large scale I think it's inevitable that rational thought will emerge at some point. I suspect that magic allowing for sharing knowledge earlier than our reality had it would only hasten this breakthrough. After all, the printing press vastly increased the level of rational thought wherever it appeared IRL; it's just a shame that it was hampered by the layers of bureaucracy and isolationism in China or we could be a few hundred years ahead right now.

Of course, in fiction, the author has final authority on what can happen but just saying that for any given system of magic science cannot advance our understanding of it seems wrong at a fundamental level even if a given author could make such an occurrence many orders of magnitude more difficult and less likely to happen.

-----

Even in Avatar they could have studied bending scientifically. It isn't something that would have made the show better as a show but logically if the show's world existed and wasn't simply the whim of a creative team with limited time, budget, and scope to tell a story in eventually bending would be studied rationally.

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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by mr friendly guy » 2018-09-11 08:11am

tezunegari wrote:
2018-09-10 01:34pm
Isn't any form of Magic that can be systematically studied as part of the natural world science?
Yeah, but you could thematically make them each their own thing. For example have characters repeatedly state that science and magic are different (comic book universes tend to do this). Or have the rules of magic blatantly run counter to known "rules of science," so we can't just fall back onto its just science we don't understand. For example the rule of sympathy, where its basically like a homeopathy rule which works the opposite of rules of chemistry.
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Re: Magic vs Science

Post by Q99 » 2018-09-13 04:44pm

One other funny thing that happens is when the two are contrasted in universes where science is effectively magic- Super scientists and mad scientists, rather than a broad scientific process, often create inventions that are effectively unique to them (and those who learn directly from them) with only a little overlap, and whip up special capabilities on the fly. The difference between mage and scientist can sometimes be a difference in styling and feel.

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