Ignorant Magic - story idea

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tomandlu
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Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby tomandlu » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:29 am UTC

How does this sound?

Magic is real and always has been - a fundamental universal force. However, it has quantum*-like behaviour, in that it hides from any scientific inspection or analysis or consideration. Basically, if you know any true science, then magic is never going to work for you. Essentially, for magic to work, the user must accept it blindly. When this is finally discovered, in order to weaponise magic, the PTB create fake mythical scenarios to bring potential magicians up in (a large island), deceiving them about the nature of reality, before carefully introducing them into real-world scenarios and conflicts, with the magicians still thinking they're living on Middle-Earth or whatever.

The story would start with one of these magicians questing and casting on the island, and only slowly would it be revealed to the reader what was really going on. Tentatively, it would end with the magician working out how to overcome the limitations on magic and taking over the world.

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby ijuin » Thu Jan 07, 2016 12:35 pm UTC

Having a "magic can do anything, so don't think about limits" attitude that is so absolute as to preclude the mindset that there is Order in the universe would seem to require a mind so devoid of Order as to be unable to maintain consistent focus on any goal that would involve detailed planning.

More workable instead might be the mindset that Will trumps all else, with the stronger Will (more powerful deity, sorcerer, etc.) overcoming the weaker. Basically, believing that the world is shaped according to the whims of those who can shape it, as opposed to the above belief that the world is and must be inherently shapeless.

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby tomandlu » Thu Jan 07, 2016 2:11 pm UTC

ijuin wrote:Having a "magic can do anything, so don't think about limits" attitude that is so absolute as to preclude the mindset that there is Order in the universe would seem to require a mind so devoid of Order as to be unable to maintain consistent focus on any goal that would involve detailed planning.

More workable instead might be the mindset that Will trumps all else, with the stronger Will (more powerful deity, sorcerer, etc.) overcoming the weaker. Basically, believing that the world is shaped according to the whims of those who can shape it, as opposed to the above belief that the world is and must be inherently shapeless.


Well, I was thinking more that the magic-user mustn't even consider questioning the fundamental nature and/or possibility of magic. Primitive man would, I assume, assign a mystical character to the sun and moon, but would still be able to plan a hunt.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby sevenperforce » Thu Jan 07, 2016 3:29 pm UTC

I'm left thinking about the mechanism for such a story and universe.

Although you obviously wouldn't have to reveal this right away (or at all), you could always take the fairly straightforward route of supposing that "magic" is some sort of universal field which "reads" the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of any sufficiently advanced lifeforms and alters their environment accordingly. Then you could posit that any sort of doubt causes a disturbance in the projection produced by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, interfering with the universal-magic-field's ability to convert that projection into reality. This disturbance could be attributed to a specific chemical, or to something less concrete.

My question is this: what is the function of the practice of magic? The spells, the rituals, the process itself...are those things with magical qualities of their own (e.g., potion-making in the HP universe) or do they exist solely to preserve the user's suspension of disbelief? For example, if you tell a potential magic user that he can levitate his body simply by willing it to rise, he will probably not believe you...but if you tell him that brewing a complex and tricky potion using rare and expensive ingredients then inhaling the steam from this potion will allow him to levitate, he might be more inclined to believe you and therefore be capable of pulling it off.

A potential twist: what if some subset of science (or even all science) is actually magic, and we just don't know it because we've made it so rigorous and so complex? For example, suppose that nuclear weapons are actually completely impossible, and the only reason they work is because the scientists who built them believed that they would work.

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby tomandlu » Thu Jan 07, 2016 4:15 pm UTC

sevenperforce wrote:I'm left thinking about the mechanism for such a story and universe.

Although you obviously wouldn't have to reveal this right away (or at all), you could always take the fairly straightforward route of supposing that "magic" is some sort of universal field which "reads" the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of any sufficiently advanced lifeforms and alters their environment accordingly. Then you could posit that any sort of doubt causes a disturbance in the projection produced by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, interfering with the universal-magic-field's ability to convert that projection into reality. This disturbance could be attributed to a specific chemical, or to something less concrete.

My question is this: what is the function of the practice of magic? The spells, the rituals, the process itself...are those things with magical qualities of their own (e.g., potion-making in the HP universe) or do they exist solely to preserve the user's suspension of disbelief? For example, if you tell a potential magic user that he can levitate his body simply by willing it to rise, he will probably not believe you...but if you tell him that brewing a complex and tricky potion using rare and expensive ingredients then inhaling the steam from this potion will allow him to levitate, he might be more inclined to believe you and therefore be capable of pulling it off.


Good questions - and things I'm still fumbling with. Since I've posited that magic is a natural force, I'm tempted to imbue things with sympathetic magic that can be utilised, so a potion would genuinely be magical. This raises two questions - how is this dependant on the beliefs of the caster, and how is not dependant on the beliefs of the recipient? (assuming you were using the potion against enemy combatants for example).

A potential twist: what if some subset of science (or even all science) is actually magic, and we just don't know it because we've made it so rigorous and so complex? For example, suppose that nuclear weapons are actually completely impossible, and the only reason they work is because the scientists who built them believed that they would work.


Fun, and worth a story of its own...
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby sevenperforce » Thu Jan 07, 2016 6:26 pm UTC

tomandlu wrote:Since I've posited that magic is a natural force, I'm tempted to imbue things with sympathetic magic that can be utilised, so a potion would genuinely be magical. This raises two questions - how is this dependant on the beliefs of the caster, and how is not dependant on the beliefs of the recipient? (assuming you were using the potion against enemy combatants for example).

Important questions.

While my two cents are only worth the fiftieth part of a dollar, I'd probably be skeptical of imbuing objects with sympathetic magic apart from a person's belief. However, the magician's belief can be quite permanent, given the right circumstances. If a magic user uses his will/belief to create an object which has certain properties -- say, a seeing stone which allows the user to look through walls -- then the object will retain those properties for as long as the magic user maintains that will/belief, regardless of who the "user" is. Should the magic user ever forget about creating the seeing stone, or perhaps remember it but doubt that it still works, it will cease to work. If magic is a universal field that responds to beliefs, then doubting magic doesn't negate the effects of other people's magic; it just prevents you from doing any magic of your own.

In the extraordinary case where a powerful and skilled magic user enchants a magical object with the belief that it will remain permanently infused with magical properties and then dies without losing that belief, the object will be permanently magical. At least until someone with more magical prowess comes along and decides to de-enchant (disenchant?) it.

A potential twist: what if some subset of science (or even all science) is actually magic, and we just don't know it because we've made it so rigorous and so complex? For example, suppose that nuclear weapons are actually completely impossible, and the only reason they work is because the scientists who built them believed that they would work.

Fun, and worth a story of its own...

Perhaps this concept could be a vital part of the story. Is magic an added component of the world, or is magic the underlying substrate? What if all science and scientific laws -- from Archimedes to Hawking -- is the result of particularly confident individuals reaching strong conclusions about how the universe works? The only way to overturn a scientific law, after all, is to come along with a better, more complete understanding and mathematical model...which gives the user a great deal of confidence, which causes the entire universe to bend itself to their will. Of course, the only reason they can be so powerful is due to the immense confidence gleaned from being able to model something mathematically, et cetera.

This explains why scientifically-informed people cannot do magic; their knowledge of the progress of science destroys their ability to believe that magic is possible. The only way for a scientifically-informed person to become a magician is for them to experience something so completely outside of the confines of expected science that it shatters their perception.

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"And they ∫aid one unto another, 'Behold, lett us build a tower, who∫e top may reach unto heæven; and lett us maek us a name, lest we be ∫cattered abroad upon ye face of ye whole Eærth.'

"And ye Goddes came down to ∫ee ye tower, which ye children of men builded.

"And ye high godde ∫aid, 'Behold, ye people have all one language; and this they begin to do! and now nothing will be re∫trained from them, which they have imagined to do.'"

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby ijuin » Thu Jan 07, 2016 9:15 pm UTC

On the matter of the magic following the belief of the caster and ignoring the belief of the target, that is why I proposed that it be based upon the strength of a person's Will. A caster with a strong Will could impose his own reality over people whose Will is weaker--for example, his magic would work on you as long as his belief that it will work is stronger than your belief that it will not work. This also adds the twist that people with an exceptionally strong disbelief in magic have resistance to being directly targeted by it and can only be hurt indirectly--e.g. a fireball would not burn his body directly, but it could set fire to everything around him.

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby SDK » Fri Jan 08, 2016 3:37 pm UTC

Someone who believes that humans cannot spontaneously generate fireballs will very quickly believe they can after seeing several other people do it a handful of times. They then try it themselves with the belief that it would work, and viola! It works! At that point, how is this not just science?

Or maybe that someone fails because generating a fireball requires complete commitment to that belief. But now seeing someone else fail to do so multiple times surely plants a seed of doubt in the mind of the caster. So... how ignorant is ignorant enough?
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri Jan 08, 2016 6:10 pm UTC

That's just the point at which it becomes believe-in-yourself power. This becomes Digimon in a fight and Oprah in economics.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Jan 08, 2016 6:17 pm UTC

In Name of the Wind, some of the magic system is based on 'waking your sleeping mind' to 'understand the truth of a thing'. To that end, a lot of the training for how to do this requires unlearning what is known, to understand and accept and truuuuuuuuuuly know the true nature of the thing. There's a great scene where a character is describing the essence of air, and says something about the sky, and then looks up and shouts 'BLUE! BLUE! BLUE!'.

You can easily play with this concept, the notion that over rationalization obfuscates the true knowing of a thing. Malcolm said it too - 'All the math in a verse won't let you fly a ship you don't love' or something like that.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby sevenperforce » Fri Jan 08, 2016 6:36 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:That's just the point at which it becomes believe-in-yourself power. This becomes Digimon in a fight and Oprah in economics.

Which is why I think it would be better if real laws of physics were actually the result of actualization of beliefs about the universe by particularly clever people.

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Jan 08, 2016 9:19 pm UTC

sevenperforce wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:That's just the point at which it becomes believe-in-yourself power. This becomes Digimon in a fight and Oprah in economics.

Which is why I think it would be better if real laws of physics were actually the result of actualization of beliefs about the universe by particularly clever people.

Dammit Feynman, stop trying to quantify reality.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby sevenperforce » Fri Jan 08, 2016 9:56 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
sevenperforce wrote:Which is why I think it would be better if real laws of physics were actually the result of actualization of beliefs about the universe by particularly clever people.

Dammit Feynman, stop trying to quantify reality.

I think this is appropriate.

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby Xanthir » Sat Jan 09, 2016 1:19 am UTC

"Science is just magic by really rational people" is the entire premise of the Technocracy in oWoD Mage. Rationalists got a really good magical paradigm going around the Enlightenment, and have been gradually killing off all other magical traditions to strengthen the power of their own.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby ijuin » Sat Jan 09, 2016 2:27 am UTC

The question we are dealing with is, ultimately, of how it can be sensible for magic to be insoluble to rationality yet soluble to at least one achievable irrational method. Unless Magic has some sort of will of its own, I do not see how it can at the same time be predictable enough for a mage to get reliable results yet unpredictable enough to be immune to analysis. Perhaps there is a factor similar to Heisenberg Uncertainty working here, in which knowing too much detail about one aspect will inherently limit the amount that can be known about other aspects (of the same event)?

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby tomandlu » Tue Jan 12, 2016 2:41 pm UTC

ijuin wrote:The question we are dealing with is, ultimately, of how it can be sensible for magic to be insoluble to rationality yet soluble to at least one achievable irrational method. Unless Magic has some sort of will of its own, I do not see how it can at the same time be predictable enough for a mage to get reliable results yet unpredictable enough to be immune to analysis. Perhaps there is a factor similar to Heisenberg Uncertainty working here, in which knowing too much detail about one aspect will inherently limit the amount that can be known about other aspects (of the same event)?


Nicely put - and, yes to Heisenberg. I dunno - this may be a dead end without an elegant mechanism. I'll keep playing with it... my basic idea is that the magician would lose his power after discovering the true nature of the world, but would then finally resolve the contradiction and recover his use of magic. After that, he's basically limitless... and now this is drifting far too close to HP and the methods of rationality... sigh.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby Xanthir » Wed Jan 13, 2016 5:08 am UTC

Don't worry about HPMOR - it moved away from the "rationally explain the laws of magic" thing real quick and never returned. It's nowhere near claiming that story space.
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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby sevenperforce » Wed Jan 13, 2016 1:20 pm UTC

I'm feeling a bit of the Matrix thing going on. People who use magic to bend spoons or whatever but don't really understand why vs people who are trapped in the Matrix and follow its rules vs people who understand that it's an illusion vs The One.

Of course making your concept into a compelling story is a challenge all its own. You hardly want to go the Heroes route and make your Chosen One moody and self-doubting....

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Re: Ignorant Magic - story idea

Postby liberonscien » Sun Jan 24, 2016 1:18 am UTC

This is an interesting concept.


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