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Let's say that a mage is standing outside and world-renowned scientists are standing all around them, and this mage wants to prove beyond a doubt that they are casting a spell that is based on magic. To do this they must clearly and unambiguously violate the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. with no way for a trickster to ever replicate their feat.

Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" must go right out of the window; when this mage is done, their demonstration must be so decisive that a rational scientist will have to admit that magic exists.

Assume here that said scientists are open minded and will accept proof as it is, even if they understandably regard what they see with rational skepticism based on scientifc knowledge.

Edit to answer Tortliena: Thanks! I am talking about an Arch Mage-level magic user, they've already demonstrated they can do crazy things like stopping time and crossing dimensions from theirs to ours. But science could possibly do this. The spell they would cast would answer "You literally cannot do that according to physics" with "I just did that." But it has to be quick and easily recognized as doing what is impossible. What quick and simple thing does physics say is flatly impossible?

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    $\begingroup$ "Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" must go right out of the window" - how do we define magic that there could be no science to explain it? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Aug 3 at 0:09
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    $\begingroup$ Cast a spell.. That's easy.. what about changing the scientists' wife into a mouse ? Bet he is convinced when he picks her up, and he sees her desperate little mouse eyes looking up to him and the magician, begging them to end the experiment and change her back. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 3 at 0:10
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WB:SE :). Without saying what kind of magic you are building, I'd go with : "Recreate the universe so that everyone know you're a mage". Or to a lesser extent "mind-altering everyone", which isn't really worth a full answer :/. You should describe a little bit what kind of magic your mage can do and to what extent they can do it. As it is, almost any answer is good, therefore you probably won't obtain an answer which meets your needs. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Aug 3 at 0:13
  • $\begingroup$ You can question yourself what Clarke means with magic. It should at least conform to physics, in that cintext. Can anything conforming to the laws of Nature be magic? Sure! But not technology. It are the conscious creatures in our world and the world itself. Not some weak reflection of this in technology. I would even argue that the high tech as envisioned by Clarke is fake magic. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 0:30
  • $\begingroup$ you can't violate the laws of universe all you can do is show that the laws are not what we think they are. Also there is nothing you can do that could not be explained by technology that can induce specific hallucinations. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 3 at 5:16
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Use the philosopher's stone

Spend enough time in this site and you will see questions about magically turning some atoms of some element into atoms of some other elements. Usually lead into gold. Usually while also upholding realistic physical consequences of doing so too. Spoiler alert: in most cases the end result is similar to the two disasters related to the Demon Core, but far more intense. Thanks user 2012rcampion for mathing it out for us:

If we want to achieve a maximum lead-to-gold ratio, we can simply emit all of the excess neutrons as neutron radiation. On average, each atom of lead will produce 1.04 atoms of gold, 2.76 neutrons, and -12.4 MeV of energy. That minus sign is a Bad Thing: it means that we have an energy deficit, i.e. we will need to put in that much energy for the reaction to take place. How much? About 50 Megawatt-hours per ounce of gold. You would also absorb on the order of tens of Sieverts of neutron radiation per ounce of gold produced [note from Square-Cubes: lethal radiation is usually between 4 and 8 Sieverts in short exposure]. This is probably not good for your wizard.

If your mage manages to turn lead into gold without killing himself and everyone around him spectacularly, he will impress scientists more for the part about not dying than about the transmogrification itself. On top of that he will also be playing the oldest trope in Magic since Hermes Trismegistus.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to have to go with this. My wizard in question could easily turn a large heap of lead into gold in a closed room without an ounce of heat or radiation. Just one question, though... would there be a way to sequester the heat and radiation so no one detects it with modern equipment? $\endgroup$
    – Lupo2021
    Aug 3 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ Lead into gold would work, but a polymorph of one living creature into another living creature of different size would be more instantly impressive. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Aug 3 at 1:40
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    $\begingroup$ Polymorphing a creature would absolutely qualify. I wish I could mark two answers as correct, that's as good a solution as transmuting. $\endgroup$
    – Lupo2021
    Aug 3 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ so you are going to change the color of a metal bar? its not as if slight of hand cannot do the same. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Aug 3 at 5:12
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    $\begingroup$ @John Colour, density, reflectance, hardness... it would actually be fairly straightforward to verify that the block of lead was now a block of gold, and not just lead painted gold. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 8:22
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The scientist would conduct experiments using the scientific method of which the Mage would then participate in.

Any experiments would be done in a strictly controlled manner where every potential variable can be accounted for and controlled. Equally so, any magical effect would have to be both observable and measurable. Finally, the experiment would have to be done in a way that could be recreated by other scientists in order to verify the results.

So how a scientist would conduct an experiment would largely depend on the type of magic the mage claims they can do.

Let's say for example the Mage an conjure a spell that causes any object they can see to self-combust. A way to test such an ability would be to put an item inside a sealed, see through box.

The atmosphere inside the box would be controlled and have instruments to detect the presence of flammable liquids/gasses. the box would also have instruments to detect temperature, smoke etc.

The item going into the box would also be tested for flammable chemicals.

At no point would the Mage be able to access the item or the box.

Once setup, the scientists would ask the Mage to enter the room, stand at a marker on the ground and then be asked to ignite the item in the box.

After the Mage has ignited the item, the scientists would then study the data to conclude whether or not there is a scientific explanation for the item combusting.

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    $\begingroup$ Änd if there is no explanation found? Wouldnt they invent a new theory? Even magic has to obey rules. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ @DescheleSchilder Not all of the forms of magic in fiction obey rules; but that also makes magic incredibly dangerous, and as you can probably imagine, the fiction that does that usually doesn't see magic as a good thing :D You could hardly demonstrate that kind of magic properly (not to mention safely) anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Aug 3 at 9:34
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You can't, really. There's absolutely no reason why someone would believe magic is at play, unless they're already primed to believe in magic (which, mind you, plenty of scientists are guilty of!). Heck, if magic was real, we would simply let it join the rest of the stuff we call "science", because science is not any particular set of technologies or tools - it's a toolset for learning about what is real. Real magic is no different. No cheap tricks like transmutation or FTL communication are going to change that - it would require us to take another deep look at the things we took as fixed (or what the magic actually did, as opposed to what we observed it did - e.g. is it really a violation of the conservation of energy, or did the energy come from somewhere else?).

The magic that would be by far the hardest to swallow would be something complicated. Transmuting a chunk of one element into a chunk of another element doesn't qualify - it's interesting, but simple. What would be really complicated, but is taken for granted as simple in human imagination? Minds and bodies. People take them for so simple that they routinely "grant" human-like minds to rocks, animals and weather effects. But in reality, they are insanely complicated.

So for the most plausibly magical trick, I'd go with a polymorph. Change a human into a cat. Have the cat send a message while being a cat. Change it back. Have the human report back. Give the opportunity to every other scientist who claims it's just a trick. Is it fool proof? Hell no. Humans are susceptible to suggestion, and it's plausible enough that you used a drug to enhance that. We already know drugs who do something like that. It's also a lot more plausible you used some illusion (a perfect free-floating 3D hologram is far beyond what we can do now, but far more plausible than magic). You will always have people who couldn't experience it on their own. And even if they did, how could they trust their own experience? There's just too many ways that people routinely fool themselves, even without assistance. But at least it's something really complex, and not just something that could be answered with a simple technological device. Not impossible, but complex. Almost all magical tricks are really, really simple. This isn't.

Really, in general, go for things that sound simple to a human (because our brains do it automagically), but really aren't. Things like "walking through walls" sound really simple to humans (and are common magic in both fantasy and soft sci-fi), but answers to questions like "how are you walking in the first place if you're intangible?" are very easy to answer in human-language ("the spell knows the difference between a floor and the wall, duh"), while being nigh impossible in reality-language. But rather than just scientists, you really want practicing magicians (the trick-making kinds of guys, like James Randi) in on the demonstrations. You need people who are as non-gullible as humanly possible.

This still doesn't guarantee anything, of course. There's nothing you could do that would be absolutely unexplainable with science. Again, science is just about finding out how the universe works. If magic works, and it has rules, it will become a normal part of science. That's one of the points of Clarke's Law - and of course, Agatha Heterodyne's corollary, that sufficiently analysed magic is indistinguishable from science ;) In the end, if magic works, and people can use it... who cares whether you believe it to be supernatural? It clearly isn't, no matter how weird it is.

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Pull Apart a Black Hole

Alchemy? Transfiguration? Polymorphing? These are all difficult, but I don't think any of them are actually outright impossible. With sufficiently advanced technology, I believe some of the more skeptical scientists might instead believe you've achieved teleportation tech (note that FTL isn't even required for this, it could be "boring" teleportation), which would allow you to perform all of those tricks.

Unfortunately, having a Black Hole handy is both irresponsible and ill-advised, so we'll take a shortcut and look at the closest known (??) Black Hole in HR 6819, which is only 1011 light years away.

Of course, tearing that apart wouldn't exactly be very timely, would it?

That's fine. We have magic. Just tear it apart 1011 years ago, to the second, and watch as it breaks apart in real-time. Use the matter to paint colorful nebula, write one of the scientists names in the stars, have some fun with it.

This is a triply layered impossibility. If your scientists have the courage to acknowledge that no, they're not dreaming or hallucinating, the only viable remaining belief is that yes, magic is real. In one fell swoop, it:

  1. Broke the laws of physics by pulling matter out of a singularity
  2. Broke the laws of physics by 'time-travelling' 1,011 years into the past, with casual precision.
  3. Remotely manipulated past-matter to create something that could only be known in the present.
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  • $\begingroup$ Given that the black hole is far away, it could also be just some kind of illusion. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 12:12
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[The question was edited so I'm replacing my answer. Original text is left below the new answer.]

Demonstrate FTL transportation or communication

To the best of today's knowledge, no practical procedure permits movement or even communication faster than the speed of light. There are hypotheses that would permit it but they involve phenomena that are themselves currently believed to be physically impossible (e.g. negative mass). This would be an upending of known physics to an extent that could only be described as cataclysmic, which is what the querent has asked for ("You literally cannot do that according to physics").

As for the mechanism of demonstration, the moon is about 1.3 light-seconds away and even amateur radio operators with the right equipment can bounce a radio signal off the moon. Open a portal to the moon, place a receiver there, transmit a moon bounce signal toward moon, and observe through the portal that the receiver on the moon detects the signal as soon as it traverses the 1.3 seconds to the moon but before the 1.3 second return trip could possibly have completed, proving that the portal is FTL transport.

(Should scientists reject the demonstration, note that the wizard could also become quite wealthy by outracing high-frequency traders on the stock market, who already use the fastest communications links possible to execute their trades in order to profit from them. Even the most hardcore skeptics will not withstand an unambiguous demonstration of that magnitude.)

[Original answer]

Float in midair without any mechanical or other external aid

Science does know how to make flying machines and how to levitate an object using external magnetic fields or acoustic fields. However, countering gravity itself, one of the 4 fundamental forces, without any external support would be considered quite remarkable by physicists and would spark keen interest in proving or disproving it.

(That being said, it makes no sense to speak of magic being opposed to science. Any phenomenon that can be replicated on demand is itself subject to investigation using the scientific method so magic would eventually become a scientific field of study itself.)

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    $\begingroup$ Well, maybe they've just invented a FTL communication device - we have science fiction stories about that which are not considered magic. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Aug 3 at 1:11
  • $\begingroup$ @causative Stories containing FTL are considered "soft" science fiction because they have no basis in currently known science. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 1:17
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but it's the kind of thing where the scientist is more likely to think "well I guess there's some way to communicate FTL after all!" rather than conclude magic is at work. The Alcubierre drive might be a way to do it even with our current understanding. It's not unambiguously magical. Polymorph a horse into a mouse, that's a lot less ambiguous. $\endgroup$
    – causative
    Aug 3 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ @causative The mention of negative mass in the post was a subtle dig at the Alcubierre drive, actually. Barely anyone in the physics community takes it seriously. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ Quantum entanglement aka FTL communications is still controversial, not disproven. A wizard who pulls it off would be well within the range of ambiguous. FTL could also be cheated by folding space somehow, which would be considered way far off technology but still not magic, also within the range of ambiguity. I am highly intrigued by your comment about the relation between the scientific method and investigating magic. My story has scientists who actually are both for and against accepting the existence of magic based on exactly that. $\endgroup$
    – Lupo2021
    Aug 3 at 3:46
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Mind magic.

Of course, if our Mage is impatient, they could enchant all the scientists to just believe, period.

Alternatively, other spells that change the scientists' individual perception would be convincing, one by one. Perhaps body-swapping all the scientists' consciousnesses around to others, or even moving their minds into mice and birds, with full memory of the experience.

Of course, if the Mage wants the scientists to be able to make an authoritative statement about what they observed one may wish to put their minds back in human bodies. But which one goes where?

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  • $\begingroup$ I think "enchant everyone to believe" is the only possible way. The best part is, it doesn't even matter if you actually use magic to do it. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 at 13:11
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Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" must go right out of the window; when this mage is done, their demonstration must be so decisive that a rational scientist will have to admit that magic exists.

You can't.

Magic is just science that hasn't been explained yet. Eventually it gets explained, and then it's not magic. Scientists know this. They won't think for a second that it's magic, just unexplained science.

If the mage can stop time, that just means we need to add time-stopping into our understanding of physics. We might not know exactly how to cause time-stopping, but we can study the effects, and we can also dissect the mage's body after they die, to see if they have any weird organs or chemicals that allow them to do this. Perhaps if we stimulate this nerve it stops time. Okay, where does that nerve lead to?

If the mage can transmute lead into gold, we know he has to remove some number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of the lead atoms - that's the definition of lead and gold - if that doesn't change then it's just an illusion. What happens to the left-over ones? Do they go flying off to the sides as The Square-Cube Law suggests? Do they just vanish? Do they fall out the bottom in a pile of atomic goo? If the mage can vanish neutrons and protons, can he also conjure them when turning gold into lead? Can we make a perpetual motion machine and solve the entropy problem?

You know, we do already have magic spells in our world. A magician can cast lumos and seal light in a portable plastic tube, and then any old fool can activate the spell by flicking the conveniently provided switch to let the light out one end. Making one of these takes a fair bit of skill and commands some payment, but any old fool can use it. Eventually it runs out of magic, but the magic is conveniently contained in sealed metal canisters that can be swapped out to replenish it. In case you didn't figure it out already, I'm describing a battery-powered flashlight. A visitor from the 1600s would probably describe it this way. What else is a lightbulb, but a lumos spell that requires a continual supply of magic juice?

The scientists know there's no such thing as magic, not because they won't believe their eyes, but because they know they'll eventually be able to understand it fully and develop it into useful technology. The transmutation did happen, but it wasn't magic, just a research opportunity.

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First, ask the audience for a short message about something highly improbable that happened recently (the last five years or so is fine). A mundane example might be "President Trump - double impeachment, no conviction". Alternately, use your magic to gain some currently unknown insight into physics, math, or the like; or you could just predict the near future.

Next, grow a large tree in your open field. While growing this tree, encode that message into its growth rings in Morse code. For bonus points, encode different messages in different branches of the tree.

Finally, for added flair, you can then summon a sustained bolt of lightning out of a clear sky to show off those rings. Because it's cool.


There are a few reasons this defies traditional scientific explanations.

  • This could not possibly be sleight of hand, because it takes a team of people and some heavy equipment to move a large, living tree.
  • Tree rings grow predictably with climate and vary in thickness with growth conditions for a year. This is so accurate and consistent that a piece of wood from the northern hemisphere can be dated back any time in the last 12,310 years. A living sample of a tree that doesn't match this record would be very notable. On top of that, carbon dating would show the whole tree is equally young.
  • To encode an actual message in rings like this, you would need a carefully controlled greenhouse and a century or three. A provably modern message (news or knowledge) would have to start the encoding process before the industrial revolution began.
  • The content of the message could also be solid evidence of magic. Advancing a science or two by a nice margin these days typically takes a large team of researchers years or lifetimes. Correcting several leading experts at once is extremely unlikely, making it good circumstantial evidence for your case.
  • Lightning is caused by an imbalance of electrical potential. It balances in a fraction of a second and then the lightning is gone. Sustaining a miles long bolt just doesn't happen in nature, and would take a power plant's worth of energy if done by man.
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  • $\begingroup$ So your scientist gathered some data, Used a matter replicator to build a facsimile of a tree, and threw some energy around to make it look good? I could do that with EARLY startrek level SCIENCE gadgets. Merely moving matter around and reorganizing it breaks no laws of physics as we know them, it merely requires mechanisms that we happened to have not invented or built yet. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Aug 3 at 8:21

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