Some background

The world I am working with contains 5 (and a half) realms, two of which are more like reality, one realm with magic, one without.

  1. The realm without magic is presented as the world we live in, with our same history, technology, etc.

  2. The realm with magic is presented more as the typical fantasy world, with castles and fantasy races, etc.

The issue(s) I’m facing

Is there a way that magic and technology could coexist without the tech being a byproduct of sorcery (in the way that alchemy was magic but was also just science)?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Did you ever watch Avatar? There is a very hard magic system and technology. Especially the later comics and Legend of Kora often deals with the combined use of magic and technologie. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 18:35
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It sounds like for the most part, magic and technology do not coexist in your setting - as you describe, there are distinct magic and tech realms. Is travel common between the realms? If not, maybe it's just that magic/tech hasn't had a chance to spread to the opposite realms yet. If yes, maybe there's something about your world that dictates that magic doesn't work in tech realms and tech doesn't work in magic realms. $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ @NuclearWang travel was pretty common up until it wasn’t so that’s a good place to start thanks. As well as just making it that tech doesn’t work in that realm... but then that leaves the issue of modernization $\endgroup$ May 8, 2019 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ This is largely dependent on the rules of your magic. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 8, 2019 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ Please read our meta posts about high concept questions and open-ended questions. Questions like these are not objective, tend to be very broad, and SE is not a discussion forum. We need to convert this from an off-topic infinite list of things to an on-topic finite list of things. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 8, 2019 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


Technology and magic are only at odds if you as the author say they are.

Technology is really just tools, if people have tools they have technology, magic may or may not be incorporated in to the tools but that is up to you.

is there such a thing as a non-magical hammer in the magical realm? if so they have technology. Even if they only have magical hammers that is s still technology just different technology. All your realms have technology.

Even if you use the more modern definition of technology, that is as the application of science) you still don't have a problem. Magic and science are only at odds if your magic does not obey any rules. Science is just a way of understanding the world, a way based on falsifiability. If your magic obeys rules science can still be applied to it.


Perhaps magic can bend the natural elements around you to your will, but it can't store a database of client records for tracking millions of dollars worth of transactions in a day, or send videos of your child to your mother who lives in another state with the press of a button. In short, magic doesn't do data or programming. Magic may also be exhausting in ways that technology is not. Flying or teleporting 100km may feel like running a marathon, or you could just sit in a car for an hour while listening to some nice tunes.

That said, if you're trying to make a house, using magic to shape a pile of stone into floors and walls using the power of your mind may be way more convenient than spending days measuring, cutting, and nailing your house together one plank at a time. And, why own a gun with all the headaches of availability and ammunition when you can just zap an intruder with a deadly finger lightning bolt?

In short, put a few limits on what magic is and what it can do, and you will see natural advantages for each emerge.

As for keeping tech and magic separate... if I gave you a cell phone, and you had the power to craft anything your mind could image, could you craft the phone with your mind? The answer is probably a hard no. For starters, there are tons of things in that phone you just don't understand. Secondly, your brain just can't visualize all the complexity of a cell phone or recreate all the standardization required to make said phone network with other phones. Magic may be able to power and fuel modern devices to a degree, but mostly, you need lots of tech, data, and science built one layer on top of the next to make modern tech. For this, magic is useless for recreating all but the most basic of modern stuff.


Unless magic upsets or replaces one of the fundamental forces (gravity, strong interaction, weak interaction, electromagnetism), there's no reason that everything that works in the mundane world wouldn't work in the magical world. Having technology not work would raise some very difficult problems, such as how would people be able to move between the worlds and not, y'know, die. The exact same basic forces are the ones that allow basic chemistry and biology to work. If life requires something in the magical world to exist in order to replace one of those fundamental forces, it should fail in a world without it, just as someone from a non-magical world should die if one of the fundamental forces their biology relies on suddenly vanishes.

The only reason why something wouldn't work is because something is actively, intentionally, and selectively interfering with specific cases of basic physics or chemistry. If, for example, a digital camera don't work, how does anything have functioning eyes? Both eyes and camera use the same basic physics; light is collected and diffracted through a lens to fall on a material that releases electrons when hit by photons. You can work through the all the elements of a digital camera and see the same basic physics would also apply to lifeforms. The only way you could have eyes working and cameras not is if something is very specifically interfering with the ability of cameras.

So, the safest assumption is that technology will work perfectly well in the magical world. So why don't they use it?

Let's say that, however magic works, at its basic level it's the cheat code to the universe. The same basic forces work the same way, it's just the magic allows you to alter reality in some specific ways to cause specific effects. Dragons shouldn't be able to fly based on normal biology; the cheat code alters gravity's effect on them when in flight. Wizard throws a fireball? The cheat code is creating an area of localized extreme temperature that turns the air inside it into a plasma, containing it until it hits something it's thrown at, and so on.

Magic would, therefore, allow you to do things you'd require a very sufficiently developed level of technology to duplicate. If the ability to use magic is common enough that wizards could be used on large construction projects to raise material into the air, there'd be no particular reason to, for instance, develop cranes. So society could do things that it would otherwise need technology to do. Two things could result: first, magic users might actively oppose the development of technology that threatens their monopoly; second, the existence of magic could short-circuit the ability to create such tech. If, in the age when humans were just poking around on ships, magic users could somehow magically determine their exact location, there'd be no particular need to develop navigation aids like the compass and the sextant, nor anything that comes from them, because what you had was much better and so you'd never have felt the need to develop the technologies that ends up with 20th century navigation technology, which is finally equivalent to the magical equivalent. And the same argument could be applied to other things. Why would medicine develop if magic was already available to deal with illness and injuries? If magic can control heat, what's the impetus for developing refrigeration or air conditioning?

In short, it puts the magical world in the same place as the various worlds in Turtledove's short story "The Road Not Taken" who stumble on the secret of controlling gravity. With that technology, further scientific advance pretty much stops for the culture because they don't need more advanced tech.


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