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As a more detailed follow up question to my earlier one ( Which types of firearms would be damaged or broken by a global change in combustion intensity? )

There is new magic entering the world(approximately present day tech level or higher) that allows for a number of fantasy-like spells to be cast. This magic works by a person using their "Life energy" to pierce a dimensional barrier, and draw energy from a parallel "Magic" Dimension to cast a spell. As the barriers between dimensions are pierced more often, background magic energy dissipates into our dimension.

One of the side effects of this background magic energy is that it disrupts detailed electronics as well as some types of combustibles and explosives. Computers, firearms, and many types of advanced technology no longer work properly. Living entities are not impacted by these effects because their "Life energy" passively nullifies the reality altering side effects of magic background energy. The effect is localized to the areas where magic is used often. The effects are subtle enough that they don't disrupt large scale geological activities.

With all of the background details taken care of, the actual question: What would be a way for this to be explained without too much abuse of logic or scientific law? What specific changes would this magic background radiation need to alter to get the desired effects of nullified technology, with the smallest number of other side effects?

I'd like to have a better explanation for these side effects than just saying 'Because magic'.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like an Idea Generation question, which would make it off-topic. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jun 3 '15 at 23:46
  • $\begingroup$ If it is magic, then the mechanism is "Magic", If it is science, it won't happen that way. There is no distinction between the signals in our brains and nerves and the electricity in wires and lightning. If you disrupt one, the more fragile life force would be hit first. And one more thing, you could only quantify the "magic points" after long study in real life, as opposed to reading a rule-book. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jun 3 '15 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, both valid points to an extent, I'll edit out the "Magic points" part as it is a superfluous detail. While I get that the question may be vague to the point of being an idea generation question, could you clarify in what ways this is the case? I may be able to edit the question to make it specific enough to be relevant. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Jun 4 '15 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Jonathan I think that the thing is simply because it doesn't have a specific idea in mind already. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jun 4 '15 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ Personally I just like the really simple idea that magic somehow just get everything around it wet. Ofcouse everything could be waterproofef and you said I couldn't use the excuse that its magic. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Jun 4 '15 at 21:38
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There is new magic entering the world(approximately present day tech level or higher) that allows for a number of fantasy-like spells to be cast. This magic works by a person using their "Life energy" to pierce a dimensional barrier, and draw energy from a parallel "Magic" Dimension to cast a spell. As the barriers between dimensions are pierced more often, background magic energy dissipates into our dimension.

Ok. So we already have a basis for people using magic energy to create effects.

What if having background magic means that people use it subconsciously? Let's say that everyone has at least some ability to manipulate magic. And unless they're explicitly trained to control their thoughts, this ends up being expressed as a small, low-level modification of probabilities around them.

For the most part, this is neutral. The universe doesn't really care if a specific electron goes left instead of right. But in computers, this tends to result in occasional extreme power surges, and ones that tend to bypass most protections (because they occur directly in the delicate software). So computers are actually fine most of the time, but if they're on while someone is near them, they tend to break in a couple of hours.

A couple of additional implications of this explanation:

  1. People would probably be able to influence chance events without realizing it, if they're happening right in front of them. This would have obvious impacts at say, a casino. It wouldn't be a guarantee - it doesn't mean you'll always end up hitting a 7 if that's what you really want in craps - but it would increase the probability of it happening. This effect wouldn't apply to card games (since it's unlikely someone would have enough knowledge to impact shuffling the deck), but dice games and roulette would get interesting. Another less-obvious impact would be sporting events - what happens when you have several million people who really, really want the guy to catch it, and another several million who really, really want him to drop it?

  2. A specially trained operator who meditates and orders their thoughts could probably still use computers. By the same token, a computer system that was isolated from humans could still operate. So this leaves room for some computer use, but nothing like our current day-to-day.

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  • $\begingroup$ That answers my question quite well. Thanks. There were some other awesome answers, but yours was most like what I was looking for. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Jun 6 '15 at 8:46
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The best explanation I've seen for this sort of thing is from the computer game "Arcanum" which has magic and tech factions in conflict. Paraphrased: "Magic works by causing physical laws to randomly fluctuate in useful ways. Picture putting a block on an inclined plane, so that friction provides just enough force to keep the block in place. Now, bring a magic item of any kind near this plane. The item will make forces vary slightly, including the coefficient of friction for the block, so the block will now randomly start sliding every so often." If there's an effect like this, then the more complex the machine, the more kinds of physics are likely to go wrong. See also the Harry Dresden novels, in which Harry's tendency to jinx machinery makes him unable to use a semi-auto pistol but he can still use a revolver, whose mechanism is simpler. So, you can justify the general idea that "complex machines don't work around magic" or (slightly different) "complex machines spontaneously break even if they're off, near magic".

If you want a more specialized effect in terms of breaking specific physical laws, think about your magic radiation as being from some other universe that has its own physics that still apply to it. That's basically what I used in a story to say "there's a zone where deadly weird stuff happens, and outside that zone magic interacts with this and this kind of material to do X."

If you want to talk about specific laws to break, good things to look at would be density of materials (making critical pipes/airtight seals leaky) or the energy involved in the various orbitals of an atom. Eg. the Challenger exploded because of three leaky gaskets letting fuel out of where it should've been. Many of the properties of water come from the shape of its orbitals, which make the molecule polar, so playing with an effect like that could justify a whole lot of chemical reactions not working right. Messing with electrons' behavior can break electronics too, or justify fancy alloys or plastics rapidly breaking down.

A cool possible side effect of this thinking is... aw, someone suggested it already, but imagine equipment being made of living wood &c. to protect it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Really great answer, you bring up a few the things I was considering(And even more I'd not thought of), and yet you've laid it out in a much more concise and sensible way than I would have been able to. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Jun 6 '15 at 9:01
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I can think of things that would cause initial problems, magic fields could chaotically induce currents and voltage spikes, produce erratic bursts of radio waves and microwaves ( at semi-random points anywhere throughout the field so it could happen inside any shielding).

But no particular effect is going to be a permanent barrier. Electronics will be made that are hardened to such interference. If living tissue blocks the effects then people will start embedding chips in living wood or coating boards with slime molds.

People are attached to their technology and they're not going to give up on it just because it becomes harder. While your mages are throwing fireballs there will be geeks working out workarounds and developing ways to generate power from the effects of the background magical field even if it takes 4 cc of mouse blood or even a fresh egg and two small sticks.

The harder problem is people. If you want to totally nullify technology then your magical field would actually have to make people disinterested in technology or affect their knowledge of it or somehow apply group punishments to those who use it. If magical fires or deadly magical plants and beasts start attacking people anywhere that people use technology inside a magical field then you'd start getting mobs hunting the geeks unwise enough to tinker with electricity/computers thus bringing death and destruction to their neighbors.

Which could be fun: angry mobs in half the world trying to keep the magical fields at bay by hunting down witches before they can contaminate the local area while in the other half mobs hunt geeks for fear that they'll [call down judgement]/[disrupt the local magical flows]/[attract the magical beasts to the village].

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  • $\begingroup$ I liked the idea of magic being something that tech can work around to some extent, but like you mentioned in your last paragraph, people who embrace magic will want to destroy those who use tech, and vice versa. I think that makes an interesting setting to work with. One question that your answer brought up for me(Not sure if I should make this a separate question?) Would people be able to make workarounds for magic adapted tech without a tech based infrastructure? Hmm, It'll take me a while to phrase that well enough to make it a separate question. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Jun 6 '15 at 8:58
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During WWII, magical beings known as "Gremlins" were invented as the cause of various otherwise inexplicable failures in mechanical devices and war machines.

If your magic universe supports some form of life, they could instantiate on Earth as Gremlins and live here by eating or otherwise disrupting technology in various ways (those key gremlins are the worst, stealing key rings for reasons that only make sense to them...). If they feed of electrical energy, then electrical devices will suffer from voltage spikes and fluctuating current whenever a flock of these things happens to be nearby feeding. You can tailor the effects to support the story, so long as they are reasonably consistent (Gremlins won't be able to feed off electrical energy and doughnuts, for example).

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To answer the question, What would this background radiation need to alter to nullify technology with the smallest number of other side effects, you'll need the magic energy to present as some form of constant Electromagnetic Pulse... This would disable electronic technology effectively enough, with minimal side effects to biology or geology...

However, the main problem you'll still have in this scenario are explosives and combustibles. (I imagine you want motor vehicles to not work anymore?) In order for that to happen, you'd need to change the way some basic chemical interactions happen, setting a cap on the rate and pressure at which certain fuels burn, at least, in an area of space local to Earth. Determining a mechanism for that may be a bit more tough... Perhaps you could chalk it up to dimensional instability?

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  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, a constant EMP field does not necessarily present a threat to human life, since the energy in the pulse does not have to be ionizing. "An EMP typically contains energy at many frequencies from DC (0 Hz) to some upper limit depending on the source. The whole range of concern is sometimes referred to as 'DC to daylight', with optical and ionizing ranges usually being excluded." - Wikipedia $\endgroup$ – Ayelis Jun 4 '15 at 0:38
  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, he never mentioned it as being a threat to human life. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Jun 4 '15 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification. But I had thought that when he'd said "with the smallest number of other side effects", one of the side effects he wouldn't want would be people dying from ionization of their organs. And even though he said "Life energy passively nullifies the reality altering side effects of magic background energy", adding a new type of energy to the scenario may come with unknown side effects, which I felt the need to clarify as not everyone necessarily knows. Just trying to be informative. $\endgroup$ – Ayelis Jun 5 '15 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ I think that EMP (of some variety or another) and Chemical Pressure Changes(Isolated to non-living entities) would cover most of it, although i may need to look into each of them to learn more about how both of these mechanisms work. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Jun 6 '15 at 9:05

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