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In this world, magic is based on belief - if "everyone" believes something is true, then it is true. In order to create a new belief, it may evolve naturally (and then there is no problem) OR one goes to the Guild of Professional Liars, who are so skilled at spreading rumour as though it is fact that, eventually, the belief enters the public consciousness.

As an example, long ago the Guild convinced everyone that airships could fly, and so they do.

The problem is twofold. First, the Guild knows that they are lying, so clearly not "everyone" knows that the magic is true. In some cases, we might be able to just ignore this by saying that the Guild members aren't affected by the magic, but some things, like flying airships, are not either/or. The airship really is flying, whether the Guild believes it can or not.

Second, someone has to go to the Guild to create the magic in the first place. I envision them as working on commission, where those who know how things work can seek out the guild through suitably difficult means and pay exorbitant amounts to have their spells cast upon reality.

Now, we might be able to wave away the second part (since "everyone" knows they aren't lying, but are in fact creating the magic or something), but I'd prefer not to. I like the idea that magic is based as much on lies as in belief, since I feel that it makes things a lot more interesting for a group of people to know that they could just make up reality if they wanted to.

I'd also like to avoid the idea that "the more people believe the stronger the magic is". To continue the airship example, either the airship flies or it doesn't. Stronger magic doesn't make it "fly more". I do have written into the world the idea that big things that are significantly different from everyday experience are harder to convince people of. This limits the power of the magic - you can't convince people that fire demons exist as easily as you can convince them that airships can fly, because people have seen flying things but never fire demons. However, it still does not solve the problem.

So how do I reconcile this?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Dec 13 '19 at 12:24

19 Answers 19

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So you have a belief-fueled system and a group of people that are very good at spreading belief though lies and misinformation.

An analog would be a fire and the fuel to spread it. What your Guild is at its core, is the fuel to stoke the fires of magical belief. With enough belief out there in something, the belief magic becomes self-sustaining and the Guild is no longer needed to keep the fires stoked.

As for the Guild: Just because you know something is not true does not stop you from believing in it. Or in acknowledging that belief in a different way. They might not believe in the lies that allowed the magic to take hold, but they can believe in the collective belief that it will work and in their work in spreading the faith. This almost metabelief might not be as strong as the faith of others, but it is not a negative force of belief. In fact, there are theories that it is necessary to stabalize a magic based on lies until the truthiness of the magic overwhelms the lies it is based on. Or something equally philosophical and brain-bending.

To provide a bit of a real-life concept: Given that this is a December answer, look at Santa. Kids believe in Santa -- many of us basically teach them to have that faith. And while many adults don't have the same pure belief in Santa that the children have, in a sense we believe in a child's belief in Santa. Of course, there are always those that do not hold faith in Santa for their own reasons, and that is fine. Likewise, the ideal of Santa is different in different parts of the world. That is fine -- what we are demonstrating is sort of a metabelief in Santa.

Also under this concept, more belief in something doesn't make it stronger. What it does is makes it more stable. With enough people believing, then no doubt in its functionality can cause a problem nor can a single person's absolute disbelief in magic case a catastrophic failure. Stronger belief can also make a magic more wide-ranging -- As belief spreads, so do the stories of magical miracles. Also, the effective range of the magic grows.

The more realistic risk is the belief changing over time from something like "I believe this can fly" to "This will get us from A to B in 2 hours!". A change in belief, propagated though the world could change how something works at a magically fundamental level. An interesting side effect.

Also an interesting side effect is that magic can not only be created and enhanced with the Guild, it can be debilitated and destroyed the same way.

To use the Airship as an example of the process

  1. Artificer wants to fly. They can't because of the overwhelming belief that humans can't fly
  2. Artificer creates an airship after X tries and succeeds in flying with it. His belief starts the process
  3. The Guild is brought in to propagate the belief in flying airships
    • They are given proof of function and believe
    • The decides on the stories, both fact and fiction, to spread
  4. The Guild spreads the words to the masses
    • The population start to believe, as per the question
    • The guild metabelieves by believing in those that believe thier stories
  5. ...
  6. Flying Airships! (Maybe Profit)
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    $\begingroup$ I love this answer, but I'm a little confused by the final part -- how does The Artificer actually create the airship? Does he tinker with it physically until it actually flies, and then is the flight based on the result of his tinkering, or is the flight a result of his belief that the tinkering should result in the success of the airship? If the flight is a result of a physical process, then how is it magic? (As an aside, as a software developer, I with I lived in a world where "he believes in it therefore it is" -- coding would be so much easier) $\endgroup$ – Sidney Dec 11 '19 at 17:54
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, my interpretation is that the exact answers depends on the world setting. As the question did not provide anything beyond "flying airships are a thing", I tried to keep that part more general as to not make assumptions. But it is an interesting premise though -- probably one part construction, one part philosophy, and something artificers in this world have to truly get to make great things. I personally suspect the correct answer is a bit of both. $\endgroup$ – Haylen Dec 11 '19 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ I think another really interesting side-effect would be to have some villain trying to spread disbelief. Get enough people to doubt that airships will work ("Did you hear about the airship crash last month??"), and they actually do stop working, causing even more people to disbelieve. You could cause serious chaos by attacking the beliefs that keep the civilization running. $\endgroup$ – David K Dec 11 '19 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ Instead of saying the guild metabelieves I think it would work better to say the guild manufactures belief. The truth of how the guild does this could be limited to a very small and very elite group of people who administrate and run the guild, while the bulk of the guild's members fanatically believe in what they are doing. It would work better if the guild name were changed though. Make it something similar to how 1984 had The Ministry of Truth. The guild could be called The Guild of Magical Proliferation. $\endgroup$ – R. McMillan Dec 12 '19 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Sidney What could be interesting is that... the initial prototype airship flew because of tinkering and physical processes. Once people began believing that airships can fly, the airships no longer need to rely on purely physical processes. This ought to be true for many magical inventions - the first iteration works physically (or is bootstrapped off of a different magic), and iterations past that just need to resemble the prior versions enough to be powered (partially or fully) by belief (before they too get absorbed into the collective belief for future iterations to base off of). $\endgroup$ – Delioth Dec 13 '19 at 16:23
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Guildmembers know it's not a lie

They would not call themselves liars. Instead they would refer to themselves as Evangelists or some such. They know, from long experience, that consensus makes a thing happen. They know, from long experience, that the Guild has a long track record of making things happen.

So from a certain point of view, after the guild takes its commission, they aren't lying. This is the same kind of unshakeable confidence that CEOs and generals have to have in their plans: they make plans, then have to project absolute confidence in said plans. Because if they don't, that will make the plans fall apart.

They are simply spreading a new truth only they are privy to. For the moment. Not that it matters much. Even the "fact" that it isn't "true right now" is an insignificant minor detail, because they know it will be soon enough.

After all, the Evangelists took a commission. Everyone knows they always come through.

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    $\begingroup$ "After all, the Evangelists took a commission. Everyone knows they always come through." I actually love that. The Guild's very effectiveness is based in the very magic they help create. They probably started at some point in the distant past by just faking it and hoping people bought it. But now that their reputation is solidified, it's backed up by magic. They will succeed because people believe they will. $\endgroup$ – Ahndwoo Dec 11 '19 at 17:49
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An obvious option is to say "majority rules". I may know that the airship only flies because the majority of people aboard and within sight of it on the ground believe it can fly, but my singular pessimism is not enough to overrule the majority, so I get to ride along.

Alternatively, if only a singular person knowing the truth can undo the magic, then you must build a strong distinction between "doubting" and "knowing". I would only know for certain that airships cannot fly without magic if I was alive in the age before airships flew and saw contructs similar to air ships which couldn't fly. If I witnessed the distribution of the lie and knew what was happening, then I could never fly on an airship. But my children, could fly on the airship because they only doubt the airship's ability. They may know that I can't fly but can't be certain that this proves that magic is behind airship flight. As far as I know, I might just be afraid of flying or might myself be under a magical spell which keeps me from flying. After all, if the magic of belief can make things fly, then everyone's belief that I can't fly should be enough to keep me grounded.

I would personally go with the majority rule because it can be applied much more creatively. For example, I can fly on a ship full of believers but no more than a few of the liars guild can ever fly together for fear of crashing the ship.

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    $\begingroup$ I had thought about that, but it runs into some big problems. Again with the airship - at some point, the airship has to be in the air. People, even doubters, will see this happen. So majority believing leads to the rest of the people believing because they've seen it happen... $\endgroup$ – Michael Stachowsky Dec 10 '19 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, the trick is to make the first flights in unpopulated areas with only the faithful (and fully lie indoctrinated) crew aboard to support the magic. Then once the ship is staffed by a crew that KNOWS it can fly, they can fly over small towns, demonstrating and gathering consensus about the possibility of flight. Eventually, after newspapers report on the small town successes, the ship's magic will be strong enough to fly over cities. I have always thought that that is why the Wright brothers started their first flight from an empty field. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Dec 10 '19 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ You could even have the airship "seed" the city with believers prior to its arrival. Load the airship up with fully indoctrinated town folk and fly them towards the city. Then declare a minor problem and land just outside of the city's view. Unload your passengers and drive them into the city in horse-drawn carriages while the crew "fixes" the airship. Then once the city has a small group of true believers watching from the ground, load up a new group of passengers and let the crew's belief overwhelm their doubt, thus getting the ship airborne. Then with believers onboard and below, fly! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Dec 10 '19 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelStachowsky And that makes the belief self-sustaining. But you need one or more core believers to get it into the air in the first place. You might also like to check Hitchhiker's Guide for how Arthur Dent learns to fly, in particular ensuring that beginner flyers avoid people saying "you can't possibly be flying!" because they'll suddenly turn out to be right. $\endgroup$ – Graham Dec 11 '19 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ It's worth remembering that under these conditions the Guild might well consist of a core of diehard cynical liars, and a lot of very gullible people who believe what their bosses might say. If so, the core group might well commit to staying very far away from anything important, e.g. up a mountain or something, while the gullible group might wonder the earth spreading the wonderful new truth they heard... one wonders what happens if one of the cynics comes down the mountain and wonders near something important and magical, as perhaps their knowledge carries a special weight that taints more. $\endgroup$ – James Carlyle-Clarke Dec 13 '19 at 8:18
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There's no conflict. The guild believes that the "lie" will be true once they spread the belief enough, and thus it's not so much that they need to believe the lie, but that it will no longer be a lie once they've done their job.

In essence, their belief in their ability to make the "lie" true, leads them believe that the lie will be true, and thus the lie becomes true (as they've already convinced everyone else).

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When it comes to things like this, short and sweet is best.

One of the rules of salesmanship is to believe in what you are saying. That's the best way to create the emotional connection to cinch the deal.

The Guild is the epitome of this. Upon receipt of payment, the Guild member literally believes in what they are saying and, in doing so, resolves the paradox. The fee received is not a fee for making something true as much as an offset for the costs of the Guild member believing something is true. History is littered with beliefs people held at great cost, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. This also naturally works into your idea that some things are harder to convince people of -- these are quite literally more expensive. A particularly tough case may literally cost the Guild member their life, which probably happened multiple times in the history between the Guild and various religions in your world.

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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking something similar. Though, I should also point out, once the guild succeeds, they are no longer telling a lie. You might take the approach that the guild isn't spreading a "lie", as such, they're spreading future truth. If the guildfolk believe in their abilities, there's actually no reason why they shouldn't believe in what they're "selling". $\endgroup$ – Matthew Dec 10 '19 at 21:32
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I have a similar system for my universes' magical rules, and the problem you outlined. Basically, the simple explination is that scientific truth is not in conflict with magical belief: But rather scientific truth is the most widely believed magic.

That is, all magical spells are a way of forming proofs to why the effect of the spell works. So to create a spell to make a free standing door open up to a wizard's home, I have to demonstrate to myself why it works (my logic follows that you cannot have a room without a door. All doors open to a room. All doors allow penetration of a barrier to the room they open too. There exists things which exist that I cannot see. If I cannot see the barrier the door penetrates, that only means I cannot see the barrier. Therefore, a door with no walls may still have walls, therefor the door opens to the room).

Every human is capable of performing magic and in fact all of them do... we just don't consider physics and science to be magic... when in fact everyone knows they work because it's proven. Since all spells are proofs, and we know how gravity works, we can prove we will fall until we stop falling. Gravity is science and magic. Because we know it works that way.

Then the "magical" is nothing more than science by a different proof and the effect works because the person performing the trick not only believes it works, but knows it will and expects it will. Magic users in this verse are the people who watch Mythbusters and took "I reject your reality and substitute my own" way way to seriously.

I tied this ability mostly to strength of personality rather than some objective ability because again, magic is natural to everyone, but because almost everyone practices "science magic" that is how reality works, it's difficult to unlearn the basic ideas of K-12 schooling in science. But if you can do that, you can do magic.

It also gives spells difficulty to different users becasue the spell logic doesn't work with their own spell logic. If I don't accept the door proof, than I can't open the door. If I want it to work, I have to somehow work your proof into my proof and realize that the missing ingredient to get them working is I failed to carry the moose antler (I'm clearly not showing my work here, but the system is prone to a lot of non-sequiter explinations like this because again, you only have to prove it works to you.).

It also allows for training ala jedi where you can talk about bigger philosophical concepts as opposed to actually making it work. Even hard rules like no raising the dead would exist because no one's really worked out how to do it perfectly... but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

The flaw is also baked in: knowing why a spell works allows you to counter it, since you need to show the impossibility in the magic system. Back to the door example, If I'm the wizard, you can open the door all day and all night and perfectly understand why it should work for you, but doesn't... because a door is still a door and I have the only key and locked it. You can't open a locked door without a key... everyone knows that (accept the guy who brought a tuba because he knows that it will work).

One can even share spells with others (and in my verse, Merlin is the important wizard because he wrote down so many useful proofs that some magic users can't adequetly handle Merlin spells... It's like trying to do math without knowing 2 + 2 = 4... it's often taught early as it's simple to follow. Which leads us to one of the reasons why magic is hard for many: The people who do it well are highly selective about who they teach because as even stage magicians will tell you, a good magician never reveals his secrets. For them it's career ending... for magic users, it's possibly life ending.

It could easily work for your verse because the people who do not know how the magic works, it works becasue they believe. For the "liars" who make the magic, it works because they proved to themselves that lies are a critical requirement for magic to function, and thus their magical crafting works only if the buy does not unravel the lie and learn the truth: Its really true.

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This is already something we see in real life. Placebos are the closest thing to magic that we deal with on a regular basis - completely useless pills often actually work. They work better if you think they're more expensive. They work even if you are told that they're fake. Despite relatively widespread knowledge of placebos, they still work.

You're also benefited by the "elephant" effect. Humans can't deliberately forget something they 'know'. And any evidence (contrary or supporting) is likely to just strengthen whatever belief a person already has.

Your magic system is not likely to encounter ANY problems with human psychology. Your real issue is how to limit it at all given basic human psychology. Potential ideas:

  • Once something is known to be invented, then that makes it more vulnerable to being un-invented (I used the stones to destroy the stones)
  • It's very difficult to un-invent things that weren't actually invented. (Making fire cold is downright impossible. Making fire hotter is difficult but doable. Making a rock that starts fire when you flick it and hold down a button is very easy.)
  • The scope of an invention affects the scope of belief required to enact it. A good magician can single-handedly make a tool that can do very limited and sensible things on a small scale. It requires a guild to do something big like "planes fly".
  • Once literally nobody knows that something was invented, it gains "not invented" status.
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The guild is made up not of reasoned rationalists, but airy-fairy, head-in-the-clouds-type dreamers.

One day, a guild member comes up with the idea for an airship (to use your example). He really believes it can fly, and now he is seen as the inventor of the airship, even though his only task in "inventing" it is convincing the other guild-members it will work.

For this, of course, it must have some sort of explanation for how it can fly even if that explanation is complete rubbish by scientific standards - But as long as none of the guild members know enough science to realise that it's rubbish, it should work. Once they are all convinced, they spread the good word.

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The primary job requirement of a Guild member isn't their ability to lie to people - the Guild, being the gatekeepers of actual magic in your world, has more than enough resources to spread their propaganda, rewrite history books and get rid of dissenters. Your personal ability to convince the masses that the airships do indeed fly isn't that important.

Instead, Guild members are selected based on their capability for doublethink, and extensively trained in methods, both magical and mundane, that allow them not to believe their own lying eyes.

Let's say Alice the inventor brings a floaty mattress to the Guild and asks Bob the guildmember to make it fly. The biggest challenge for Bob isn't going to be spreading the word about mattresses flying - it'll be convincing himself that, as he goes through old newspapers and fixes the stories about mattresses falling down, that he's fixing a grave reporting error and not making up stories out of whole cloth.

If that can be done, then both making Alice aware that she came to the guild in error as her mattress already is and has always been flying, and teaching the populace about the long history of mattress flight are going to be trivial.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea, thanks. Basically, we resolve the problem by letting the Guild actually believe what they are doing, sort of like "believing seven impossible things before breakfast". On another topic, are you the same Maciej who is an editor of tdwtf? $\endgroup$ – Michael Stachowsky Dec 11 '19 at 16:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelStachowsky yup, that's me! Is that how it feels to be famous? :) $\endgroup$ – Maciej Stachowski Dec 11 '19 at 16:26
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This seems analogous to Open Placebo Trials.

Unlike a double blind medical trial where neither the doctor nor patient/subject know what is the "real" medicine and what is the placebo (and the goal is for the "real" medicine to cause less harm and more benefit than the placebo, some researchers were wondering "wait -- why is placebo scoring so well?"

Here are a few articles examining it from this past decade: You can see that things were originally more about the deception, but lately it's become more open all around.

In my own experience, I semi-knowingly have used placebo effect when starting new antidepressants, which in real life take a few weeks to become active. I read up on the pill, disregarding unwanted side-effects and focusing on the positive outcomes others have reported -- I am doing a bit of self-conditioning and confirmation-bias there. I know that any effect in the first few weeks is just my "hopeful placebo" effect boosting energy, suppressing side-effects, but it still helps! (A coworker of mine is always focused on the side-effects and discontinues drugs very quickly and still hasn't found the right one for her. This is known as the nocebo effect. )

Placebo and Magic

To bring this back to your worldbuilding - just like Placebos work on things controlled by the mind (perception of effectiveness, etc.) even when the deception is known. Still, better presentation leads to better outcomes, so the guild won't go around telling everyone how fake the things are.

Our human minds only control neurotransmitters and the perception of sensory data. If the Guild's minds control a something that allows the permitted effects, then that's all that's needed.

For some perhaps it's just a small background thing, like the proprioception we all use while walking, while with gifted/trained users, it's like the same sense used by acrobats balancing in unusual position.

The artificer would go to the Guild like the Smithsonian writer went to the doctor for "Writing Placebos." He or She would describe the desired effect, and they could collaborate on the final "product." If the artificer wants a flying ring, the Guild could see that's unlikely to work (like the Writing Pills couldn't be metallic-looking gold, and they were limited to 2 hours effectiveness).

The guild member may propose a Jetpack, the artificer might worry about heat and weight... and this is where the Magic comes in! The artificer has already decided that "yes, a good jetpack WOULD solve this lack-of-flying...", so they've bought the premise, now it just needs some details to function. The Guild member consults with others to devise a light-weight, cool-exhaust jetpack, with a flight-time indicator on one shoulder strap. So now the Guild has dressed it up in plausibility, and put in a reasonable limit. I think people work best with some limits to work within and sometimes strive against. Perhaps only the Guild can recharge it, perhaps the jetpack needs to be charged in a big at-home station.

The belief is still binary -- it either flies or doesn't: it doesn't fly better or longer based on how hard anyone believes. The guild knows that they're somehow harnessing a "lie," but they also know that when they have the right lie, it works, and the more they work or study together (like the acrobat's balance), the more specific or powerful their magic/lies become.

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Resolve it the same way we do in real life

Much of real life human society is based on beliefs about how the world works. People believe the world works a given way based on the things they see and hear. And, just because a marketer or propagandist knows their message is bull-poop, it doesn't prevent people from behaving as if the lies are true.

A couple things about belief:

  • New beliefs generally must either mesh well with the existing beliefs (the case of organic growth of a belief), present so much evidence that ic can't not be believed OR, be so delicious that even if the thing isn't real, people want to believe it anyway. This last one is how the Guild primarily works.
  • Each person has their heads a model of how the world works. This is the set of their beliefs. Society has an aggregated set of beliefs but this is set isn't uniform across all people in any way you'd care to categorize them. Some people believe earth is a ball, others believe it's a disc. The small minority doesn't prevent the earth being a ball.
  • To believe something is generally to act as though it is Real.

That the Guild doesn't believe in their own magic isn't a problem. If everyone else believes in it and act as though it's real then the magic applies and airships fly.

Sample Conversation:

A: Did you hear about them flying ships?

B: Yeah, our Nathan said he heard about a man in that big city, Bombairies, who made a ship that flies through the air like some giant bird.

A: Nooo! Can't be. Everyone knows that birds is the only things that fly.

B: Yeah, but, our Nathan was talking to your Graham about how with one of them flying thingies you could get from here to Brumton in less than an hour instead of three days. That'd be something. I'd love to see Brumton market again in the spring....all fresh and green. Never can get away though 'cause of planting.

A: Or those fresh pastries they make there. Oh, that'd be lovely! Those flying things has gots to be real.

A little while later, a poster is nailed to the pub indicating that airship rides will be starting soon. Between the desire to have something be real and hints of evidence that it is, people will start to just behave as though there are real airships somewhere.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea, especially about how you don't have to believe, you just have to act as though it's real. In the video game Planescape: Torment, your character is named "The Nameless One", but people as his name and you have the option of saying "Adahn". If you say that enough times, an actual non-player character named Adahn shows up and wanders the city :-P $\endgroup$ – Michael Stachowsky Dec 11 '19 at 14:25
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Enough people believe the Guild of Liars are able to spread belief that they become magically empowered to spread belief - it becomes impossible to not believe the things they say.

Without a thorough screening process on what lies may be told this sounds quite dangerous.

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I suggest another approach: Replace everyone with 80%.

As soon as more than 80% of the population believes in something, it becomes reality.

This has a really nice property: It may be a single person that is responsible for making a belief become true, namely the person that increases the percentage from 79% to 80%. However, if this person immediately stops believing, which decreases the percentage from 80% to 79%, the belief is still reality. It stays reality until there are 20% or less believers, because then the 80% threshold for the opposite belief is crossed.

Properties:

  • It does not really matter whether members of the Guild believe or not, because they are only small part of the population.
  • Convicting everyone of something is really hard. If there are 1'000'000 people and you convince 999'999 of them and there is one single person left, nothing happens. The 80% threshold solves this problem.
  • This is better than a simple majority of believers (50%). With a 50% threshold, the belief may switch very often between true and false if very few people change their beliefs shortly after another.
  • If everyone must belief something so that it becomes true, people with weak cognitive abilities can be a problem, because they may believe neither "airplanes can fly" nor "airplanes can not fly".
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The term you are looking for is consensus reality.

Obviously, you do not need every last person to believe your lie - otherwise a single person who on principle doesn't believe in magic would bring down the world.

You need an overwhelming majority of people to believe. So many that those who don't are fringe lunatics, conspiracy theorists and everyone agrees they're just mental.

The guild is such a minority (by numbers). As are the people who started it or those that the rules of magic apply to issue X. Problem solved.

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  • $\begingroup$ This -- otherwise it could never work. Even today we have non trivial number of people believing for example that humans never landed on moon, or that Earth is flat, etc. Statistically not that big number maybe, but with "anyone not believing will break the magic" rule, it's more than enough to make magic disappear completely. Also, from readers perspective, it would be hard to believe that such a world where everyone believed the same things could exist (unless maybe there is no individuals really, but instead only one collective consciousness like Borg or something) $\endgroup$ – Matija Nalis Dec 13 '19 at 0:06
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A short and potentially too "easy" answer but people in the know know this guild is capable of spreading the lies necessary for new belief and have seen it happen. Not only that but the same applies to all the members in the guild.

It's possible that the guild's founding lie was that though secret methods, their belief or lack thereof is in fact exempt from affecting magic. With considerable effort, con work, and staged fake magic they were able to make this first lie stick which laid the groundwork for all others.

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What you need is a threshold, at which belief becomes real. "Everyone knows that airship cannot fly" to "Enough people believe it can fly" is a gradual transition as the number of believers increase. Gradually, ratio of believers to non believers keeps tipping, until at on point, the impossible phenomenon instantaneously becomes possible. Its similar to discrete energy levels of electrons, it's either level 1 or level 2, no in between. You need to define the last straw that broke the camel's back. A funny example would be like this: An isolated population of 101 people (avoid even number to prevent equality), consisting of 50 hardcore believers and 50 similarly non-believers. And 1 guy not so sure. When he believes, plane flies, when he doesn't, it falls.

Also, I would suggest adding localization to the equation. Going by the previous example, lets say in the entire southern hemisphere, 100 people are gathered who believe airship can fly, while in the northern hemisphere, there are 10,000 people who don't believe that. Can the people in south fly atop the airship, until they reach the area of influence of the northerners, causing the ship to fall ? Or is the consensus global and not bound by area of influence & geography ? This concept of localization can bring about an interesting phenomenon. Its like Zeus being all powerful in Greece, but after landing in Egypt, becomes a normal person.

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I believe you just missed few small details about your world:

  1. We know, that the magic works so good, that airships can fly - and we also know, that that blind+deaf+mad Matt from the other city cannot be communicated to - so we know, that not literrally "everybody" must believe it, but that it is fully sufficient, if large enought majority beleive it.
  2. There is also the problem, that only we talk in understandable language, so even if there is a lot of nations, that cannot speak right and so are not able to understand such ssimple facts, as that "airships can fly", those airships really fly - as we can see everyday. So it is just logical, that there is needed the vaste majority only locally, not over all world (from which the more was not yet discovered, if we assume something like midlleage)
  3. we all know, that strange things can happened in undiscovered areass and theier near proximity - some even say, that airships are more prone to crash there for (yet) unknown reasons.

If the world is in magical era comparable to middle age and is comparable to Earth somehow (not just one small island on planetary wide ocean), that for the effect is enought to have majority on some local place, to have the effect mainly working there.

Logically it is possible to came with new ideas and "prove" them to public.

  1. We need creator, with some idea and some resources (the Guild is not cheap).
  2. The Guild have "scholars", who are able to "judge" the idea and found "rational core" in it.
  3. The Guild have also "childs", who may be little young and/or naive, but are willing to listen.
  4. The guild have also "reporters" (or Evangelists) who spreads the true.

Our creator got Idea "big ship flying in the air". Nobody would trust it now, but the sscholars are good at negotiation and while "everybody knows big ships cannot fly" they came with fully reasonable view, that the creator may just little exgregate and had seen small ship not falling too fast - looking at dirt in the wind, they can talk to children, that they know a man (the creator), that had seen something like ship flying in the air - hey, in such wind as today surely could small ship like this leaf fly in the air, is it not nice idea? And what you think, how it would manuevre - would there be some sails, or would there be some paddles - our loved hero Guily-Where would then today meet some small nation, which fly such ships and now lets hear, what interesting he had seen there ... (later, when Guily-Where is in middle of story on miniship) hey, did not somebody had seen something unusual? And yes, two child have the feeling, they had seen something, which could be a small flying ship, or maybe something toally different... Next day reporters are going around talking about two witnes in Guild, which had seen something like verry little ship floating in the wind. And that all witneses of something flying in the wind, which could ressemble really small ship should go to scholars and say, what they had seen. And each such witness will get copper coin for the effort of reporting. So many people will get copper coin for reporting something not totally different of small ship like shape they may had seen for moment in swirtling dirt on some ocassion. (And talk itself to "maybe it was not exactly flying ship, but it could look alike at least for moment, I want my copper anyway" - and after getiing really paid it would go to "I am not bad person and cheater, and if they get it, there really must had been something looking like flying ship" - and we are there - "flying ships" are "reality", the problematic part is only if what was seen was they or something else )

So next round are schollars writing lot of reports of some sstrange things seen in the wind and childs are presented with the fact, that many poeople reported so seen something similar. And instructed to study all those report and make opinions about that and raport anything similar they thing they had seen, even if not totally clearly. Soon each child would strongly beleive to seen something and all people in vicinity are informed, that the Guild is heavivily studining small flying ships with many probable reports written down. And anybody is encouraged to help and report what he thinks about how that ships do manuevre in the wind (with usual copper coin for report).

Next round there is a lot of interesting possibilitiess, how to navigate ship in wind and childs are working on (and counting and voting), what is more usual navigation method. (Hey, now we have all childs beliving in small flying ships, lot of people around beliving they hade "seen something", everybody around knows, that guild is seriously researching small flying ships and had a lot of reports and witnesses, and according to their research the most common method of manuevring is this and that - as reporters say to anybody, who is willing to listen.)

In the guild childs do paper models of most popular (voted on) design, and drop them to wind to see, if they fly (and they do, partly as they are light and wind is strong, partly as everybody around is starting to believe, that is is possible). Reporters talks about "many ressearch projects, whit different result in practice (and do not talk about the reluts ranges from 1cm to 2m before hitting groud and be destroyed). Also offers "artistic pictures" of most promissing models (drawn in bright collors and decorated stylized silhouets of Guily-Where and his friends - just to fill free space, not to exact proportions) - there will be voting on popularity of such artistic impressssionss, and from those, who will voted for most popular design, would be draw 3 random "winners" which will get ssilver coin each - so there will be probably lot of people voting (and half believeng in possibility of maybe small-men-sized flying ships - hey I really wish to be a winner and get a silver coin).

There is secretly build ramp in woods near a lake and the winning model is made large to fit a child. With high enought (an long) ramp, collected winners and child and more enthusiastick commonners it can be done "prototype testing", which results of (balistic) flying those ship say from 1 meter bottom of ramp to the lake, where it would hit watter after like 2 meters, but we will measure also the place, where the model would stop moving against watter. With local 100% majority we should be able measure like 10 meters for winner (winning big cake) and say, the testing was generally successful, it have stil some small problems, but principially it WORKS. (not yet much magically, but anyway) - reporters would talk about Guild testing attacked two digit distances of total fly, name the "pilot" and talk about his/her bravery. And that Guild is deciding much larger ships to release soon, just when found small problems will be solved.

And now we have lot of eye witness, much more, who had hear about it from many sources and all know, that airshipss can fly and Guild is working on much larger and better models.

So we build at least one, hide it under tent with all events pictured by artists (based on reports of direct eye witnesss) and we can start travel around near vilages, presenting, what our "scholars" are "developing" in the Guild and what may be soon used in everyday life (when we fix out all small glitches)

And we did not even lied, just used sugestive questions, precissely directed missinformations (ommiting inconvenient details), exgregations and positive loop for getting better results (and cummulating convenient errors). We have lot of believers, many eyewitness, some pilots and nearly working model ready to use, when we reach majority on large enought local scale.

We are sure, that it will work, because we know, how the magic works here (so the knowledge works for us, not against us) and even now it works "somehow".

Few such action and we get to the point, where "everybody knows", that "everything Guild does" would work. Then we can start round corners and skip smaller steps. It would work anyway, because "everybody knows, it will". And we believe in our success too.

Next we just need improve reporters and learn better to write ideas from "maybe it happened one time somewhere without witness" to get faster to "they sasy it works in Guild hidden test Area 42" and finally "everybody is talking about how big success it will be, when presented for real"

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I feel like the lore and the magic system from the roleplaying game Mage: The Ascension could help you (see the Wikipedia Article).

A makeshift summary would be that everyone is secretly a mage. Those mages are called sleepers and they enforce their view of the world by subconsciously using their magic. The sleepers outnumber the actual mages and they unconsciously determine what is "normal" and what "requires" magic to work. (Check the article for details as implied by the bold part)

In your world, the Guild seems to be comparable to the Order of Reason where they allow the common folk access to helpful magic by showing them how it works and that it is "normal".

Since the Guild is renowned to be good at making new stuff it is more believable when they do "invent" something new. As such, people will want to pay the Guild for the "research and development" or whatever it is that they do.

To answer : "Why doesn't knowledge of how magic works break magic in this world?"

Honestly, I do not know enough the system to properly explain it but a mage's paradigm is essential in allowing him to use magic. A mage without a paradigm simply can not comprehend how to use magic and that mage well could not be a mage and would be a sleeper.

People might plan an elaborate hoax to convince the masses in the hope that they believe it but if everyone knows it can happen then everyone will be on the lookout for signs and it will be a lot harder and a lot more costly to make it work. Which is why people go to the Guild when they have a project worth doing.

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  • If there are airships, it's plausible we can introduce the idea of existing and dangerous sort of intelligent people and then there are the rest. The plausibility of them just appearing isn't a relationship of that danger escaping. And, yes, in a world of lies they would be intelligent just as in a world of belief. Their mentions aren't an outliers claim that something is in fact manufactured, the escape method to any routine in this is that the reality they base themselves in may be shifting in and out of existing beliefs they have. As they.

  • They have a belief of setting reality and then on top of that they want to create a common factor for any reality based sensation to kick in. What happens in being aware also happens in being only in belief and then that is them failing to lies as a standard rule of their own model of instant gratification. What fails in this is their ideal to actually creating a living model using only belief.

  • The existing ideal that they have for any kind of realizing partnership, whether in the alienating aspect of their life, lies, or in the actual resolute common of their totality being in norms and not simply in the things they have in the common districts of their lives, airships and transportation, and even the actual living and real design of their belief being a more than descript ideal to our own modern district of reality, they can make magic real by believing in it.

  • What this does to the common belief is stagger what it creates by creating action in it. What that does is offer the outliers, or out-liars, the often common opportunity to trim the hedging of the operation in place to allow them to create a very common modality for something to "naturally" occur that it isn't common "to me" that they can alter anything that is in existence by choosing to believe in place where they are rather lying to inspect and then interject with a model of a basis in reality. That model can signify a means or it can actually destroy the existing model to help destroy what common creation is to the natural observer, in the model of anything capturing the essence of real and unchangeable desire. What happens then is basic and common routine, like needing a 5 fold of two-ply rather than two sheets folded gently into the center.

  • In the break for any casual advantage, the discipline, and that's your current and most modern excise for this formation, the persons that haven't enabled themselves enough thought to actually create a necessary change of common factors, "victims" of these working lies, and the general favor of these guilds readying these lies for them as a possible trait, the existence of models for creating lies often then exist in traits by which these heroes promote and or practice that they are in offering generally just causing themselves the strains of other people to help promote that they define a belief system. That character is not a model of belief. That ideal is also not a model of belief. What these traits can identify then would be a significant amount of model behavior to territorialize a model of existing and lasting, real life, defined behavior. This might model we have an existing trait of ethical behavior to base this existing discipline around, but without a generative basis for this cohort we have only the generation of disaster we have in existing to parties that are parallel to us, which is a common guild trait to achieving to. If existing. The enemy could simply decide in magic what it wants to cater to, like a 7, to know that they have a series of 1 instilled traits that seem to back them into a wall for the sake of keeping a definition of traits in a rather exclusive design.

  • What then, in product, the official sense of the articulate matter of the design, some sincere and constant form of satisfaction might be able to help them register they have a model for themselves in a belief system that may articulate to them they have a single and more standard model to defining character traits into a real and significant basis of the model for quid pro quo actual and lasting definitions, to say that a standard can be free if you learn it but not good enough if it isn't defined to actually help what is the movement of any real and rich living standard for conditions.

  • Just the possibility that lies could define an origin to those of them that can't actually occupy what is in mind necessary for them to "NEED" what is in often the most catered to thought. In this case it wouldn't be belief. That's just for infrastructure. What failed in this basis is the need of what people in those airships then would need, and that also is in a creation the basis of a new infrastructure.

  • What the infrastructure might yet define, and this is all entirely the first time you'll hear this, the model here is best defined by an existing model as you may have it defined. You were VERY specific, IMPRESSIVE, even and that made it look like the model was never specified from the top down. What might inflict that model on the liars is the ability to add a possible life of extraction for lies in a life of beliefs that modeled a lie system that allows them to simply tell a lie that won't reach anywhere but in a realistic model's, like that cartoon heroes aren't afraid of bullets, so that the breaking point of the inflicted design, cartoon heroes can do the impossible, will not affect the existing lies. That way they can help benefit their common traits rather than their existing ideal to actually create common and exacted traits in each other that will create a benefit to a slavery that the liars, which are for the benefit of the magic, can actually create a realistic model to or for.

  • If that realism isn't exact, they will fail to anything in the underlying realizations of that fact of belief that the persons using it to learn are only going to be able to learn when there aren't any lies in trait that will allow only the specific traitists, not traitors (that would be a lie and that might be even be spelled traiter) to actually occur. What that devotion is in light to the disguise of a realization of life.

  • That series of events between lie and belief in the basis of their existing common traits would be the definition of that exercise to creating a common and known abject of any representation of that exact and common reality to mean they have exact definitions to actually model a useful, and act filled, reality of what things like the words "actual", "usual" and "existing" really mean. So that they can define what is the most common principle of that tangent for reactions in reality to actually "mean", and the word mean there means create the means for, for the exact and most promising feature of that abject to settle a quieted nature rather than one that constantly exists in settling a dispute in public by the means of belief and through the actual modifications of lies.

  • I carry that the guild will only be evil when it encounters a greater good? That sounds like leading children with the aid of a mother of the actions of prior principles. Like when Americans needed to know what it meant to be in confederate names. To make sure no one ever actually exited the union without signing for something else that would lead back to Europe. As a thanks from those that weren't intelligent there, but suddenly, in the US, found that they were.

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