"Magic and science coexist." A tired phrase by now, because it's found in so much fiction. But can it make sense?

Assume a world broadly parallel to our own. It has experienced its Age of Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution.

There is also magic (type yet undefined). It should allow human magicians who cast spells, whole species that are magical in nature, locations and objects with persistent magical properties. The usual stuff.

The Masquerade is not in effect. It is, and always has been, impossible to keep a fundamental part of the nature of the world secret.

How to keep magic separate from science?

"Science" includes many fields of study. How to make it such that magic is not one of them? How to make magic resistant to study by experimentation?

Science must be "logical" and "rational" and magic not. A person with a rational mindset should not look to magic as the first answer. Why?

And how and why would the scientific method ever have developed if a major part of reality was resistant to it?

I left the nature of magic open because that's an inseparable part of the question. What type of magic could fit this world? Is there any magic system that can make sense here?

I've asked this question on other sites before. A couple important points resulting from that:

Magic can't be totally random, since it must be possible to control it to some extent, or there could be no magicians.

The suggestions I previously received that came closest to satisfying my requests hinged on irreproducible results. These permitted spellcasting, but ruled out the other aspects of magic.

  • $\begingroup$ Here I'm trying to answer a related question worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/36475/8465 $\endgroup$ – enkryptor Feb 26 '16 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ (For some reason I cannot add an answer, even though I have enough reputation.) I just wanted to drop two quick ideas that I haven't seen in the existing answers: [1] "The magic" is actively tampering with the memories and written records of people trying to understand the fundamentals. The average practitioner and casual observer will see the magic work and accept it. But any attempt to dig beneath the surface is automatically recognized and 'erased'. [2] Whenever someone starts to understand the magic in any technical detail, they become utterly unable to explain it to others. $\endgroup$ – mhelvens Mar 10 '16 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Not everything that exist can be explained by science right away. We have use our brain since the beginning of humanity, yet today science still struggle to map it out completely. The same as magic, it can be exist as much and as global as you want in your world, yet their science still need hundreds or thousands of years to detect some kind of special quantum entanglement between the object and the spell caster's brain that happen everytime a spell is casted. $\endgroup$ – Hariz Rizki Dec 5 '18 at 9:02

33 Answers 33


The rules change quickly, simple as that. At any given point in time, msgic can be studied by science. If, however, all of the observations are useless three years down the track, it will mean that the only practical use for magic is by wizards who know what the deal is right now.

Imagine if there was a magical train that went five times as fast as a steam train and used no fuel. Now imagine if two years later that train stood up and went on a rampage.

In this world, wizards are people who are in a constant race to keep up with the rules, and scientists would become discouraged towards studying magic. They may even come to resent the wizards. Wizards may even be ostracised by society, if they caused enough mayhem.


If the point is that you want the magic to be immune from scientific examination then the simple solution is that any attempt to examine it results in some horrific action against the scientist. Consider what happened to Albus Dumbledore when he tried to destroy the horcrux ring and his hand got withered, and would have eventually killed him. Similar tragedies could occur to anyone attempting to use physical means to examine the metaphysical.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't think discouraging the scientific process or making it impossible was point of the question. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 31 '15 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ It wasn't his attempt to destroy the horcrux that cursed Dumbledore, it was that he put the ring on. $\endgroup$ – KSmarts Apr 1 '15 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ My mistake, I didn't actually read the books. I only saw the movies, and apparently didn't follow that point precisely. The meat of my answer still serves though. The entirety of Magic could have an anti-discovery curse on it, precluding any scientific research. $\endgroup$ – TecBrat Apr 3 '15 at 23:39

Step in a different direction. What about all the Psi/Esp stories.

Anne MacCaffrey has a series of stories about the Talented. Talents take various forms: Some people are telepaths, some are empaths, some are precogs, but may be limited to fires and explosions. Some are finders -- but only lost children. Some can teleport -- anything under half a pound. Others can teleport themselves, but nothing else. They arrive naked.

In the stories, they have formed a guild, partly to find and train other talents, part to educate the population about their limits and defuse the fear. There is some attempt to study what's happening, but other that interesting brain waves, there is no good theory to explain what they do let alone how they do it.

In Zenna Hendersons "Book of the People" the talented are humans, but alien. Almost everyone can levitate. Almost all are telepaths. Some have other talents. Healer: Able to telekinetically set a bone, remove a swollen appendix. Sorter: Go into the mind of someone mentally disturbed, and help them sort things out. A bunch of others.

Heinlein has one magic story -- "Magic Inc." where magic clearly exists alongside conventional technology.

A comment on the question mentions Lord Darcy.

Both of these universes exploit some laws or rules of magic:

Law of Contagion. Two things once part of the same thing, are in some way bound together forever. Thus your fingernails become a handle for voodoo.

Law of Similarity. The map is the territory. Make model with intent, link the model to the object with bits of the object.

The symbol is the object. Manipulate the symbol, you manipulate the object. The True Name is the object.


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