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I am imagining a Harry-Potter-like magical scenario: A secret parallel society of magic wielders in our modern-day era, only known to those, who grew up in it or those, who got initiated.

I find it rather hard to believe, that in this scenario, there is no digital evidence of people doing magic or magical creatures. Could there be a physical or technological reason for this?

In my (very) limited understanding of science, I imagine "magic" as some kind of particle that somehow affects the process of recording with modern-day technology? But if so, why could human eyes perceive "magic" nonetheless? Or maybe "magic" has some kind of low-key EMP qualities, that mess with technology?

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  • $\begingroup$ But then you just have to record them with things that don't have circuit boards inside them. If you can't use digital scale then you use a mechanical scale, if digital camera don't work then you use old school film camera. And certainly a mechanical volt meter don't use circuit board. $\endgroup$
    – Faito Dayo
    Oct 21 '21 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ This issue has been dealt with by a couple of prominent urban fantasy fiction authors like Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files) and Ben Aaronpvitch (The Rivers of London series). Basically any significant use of magic by a practitioner such as casting a spell 'EMP's/fries/disintegrates any modern electronics within a defined range of the caster or incident depending on how 'powerful' the spell is. So unless someone happens to have digital equipment monitoring a particular event from long range at precisely the right time they're out of luck, whatever they managed to record is toasted. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Oct 24 '21 at 8:37
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If magic just jams technology, you will end up with lots of recording devices breaking down just at the moment when a guy with a pointed hat started waving his hands. Suspicious.

That leads me to a different approach, still close to "physical or technological", I hope: Magic is inconspicuous by default. There is no lightning bolt or fireball, magic itself looks more like electricity going through a wire, or radioactivity, or the thing that keeps Earth in its orbit.

A witch may just focus on a spell, touch an artifact or so, then something happens that cannot be directly traced to her. Maybe it could just as well happen anyway, except it would not. Of course, this is more difficult if the effect is a levitating house or something. On the other hand, people, for instance, do a lot of strange things on their own, even without a witch waving her hands nearby, right?

Now, why people DO see lightning bolts and fireballs? Because certain spells were engineered to be visible for them. Say, for safety reasons. The spell, besides doing its thing, will enter your brain and tell it: Caution! Magic is happening here. Which you perceive as a fireball, obviously. These spells were not designed for cameras, either because there were no cameras at the time, or because wizards thought easier to develop their own devices to detect magic, rather than tweak the muggle ones.

This also means you can still have invisible magic, like you can have an odorless natural gas, when you put some effort in obtaining that.

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For several reasons.

For "Magic" itself, because you do not know what to look for. Let me expand on that: To measure something, you first have to observe its effects, whether you know it's there, or not. Gravitation was discovered by looking at an apple falling from a tree, and wondering WHY it started falling. Then measuring the change in speed as time went, etc.

You measure electricity by using things which react to it. Else, you do NOT know there is electricity in a wire, or a battery, whatever. You know when it interacts with something (a lamp lights up, or someone gets shocked, etc.)

You do not "see" the wind. You only notice its effects (trees/plants rustling, clouds moving, mills turning, your skin getting chilly, etc.)

So, as for magic, maybe we merely didn't find anything to record its presence, or it IS known (mostly, or exclusively, by magic practitioners), and guarded with zeal.

Now, for the effects of magic, like a sudden fireball, teleportation, a house growing from palm-held size to mansion-size in seconds... there are several possible explanations.

The most plausible is... magic ! Spells which have been cast in order to keep the muggles (err, sorry, the "people not-in-the-know") from noticing things, or recording things. How do they work ? Magic ! The general principle, however, would be that the magic either foils your attempts at recording it, and/or even better, at noticing it.

A guy is flying a dragon near you ? No problem, you're really interested in that flower, or the latest game on your mobile phone, whatever. A wizard pops-up a few meters away from you ? Well, he definitely was here before, right (if you even notice it). Either your mind will be too fogged-up to notice his arrival, or the spell will make you think that it happened differently. Like create a memory of him walking there. A fuzzy memory, probably, because you weren't paying attention.

You were recording a video, and a spell pops out in the recorded area ? No problem, the magic "edits it out", both from your mind and the media, so it cannot be broadcast, and you cannot even testify about it.

So, yeah, all-powerful spells already in action, which protect the magic world. Either cast by wizards, or maybe even a natural magical phenomenon (after all, who knows how Magic works ? Maybe it's because nobody believes in it that it gets "erased" from memories and physical mediums ?)

Another possibility is a sort of "secret police", Men-In-Black style, which comes and erases evidence (including your own memories). When something starts getting shared, they come, erase the internet threads, posts, tweets, stories, whatever, and send a team to the location to also take care of the people who saw. It would be nigh-impossible with our technological means, but with targeted spells, like "everybody who saw this", it could very well be doable.

However, it cannot be as simple as an "emp" effect, as that would lead to visible consequences (like, damaged equipement, a record which goes "blank" before coming back on, etc.) Plus you'd need a way to explain why before the blank, the scene looked normal, and why after, it looked like a bombing occurred.

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Censorship.

One of the wizard spells removes all physical evidence that would document a particular assertion - such as that magic exists. In the name of 'ethics' most wizards use a spell that spares human minds, at least. But for those without direct recollections, all the evidence is consistent: it never happened.

At least, until some heroic wizard turned defender of the people starts teaching the masses how to interfere with the spell...

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Agreed with Kzwix (human) perception is very relevant. Some change takes place..

Q: "In my (very) limited understanding of science, I imagine "magic" as some kind of particle that somehow affects the process of recording with modern-day technology?"

The answer for this one is imho a multiverse-explanation: recorders and instruments only observe one time line, they can't hop their "mind" to alternate universes, like we do, when affected by magic.

How does this work..

Suppose you'd have all time lines

Suppose we have all parallel universes available, for every possible fork of events related to any particle above Planck size. Time-trees rather than time lines. Anything is possible somewhere. There are googols of parallel universes, containing googols of available, independent realities. These realities do not interact, nor does there exist any magic, all branches behave according to the laws of nature. There is no way to move across these universes with Einsteinian means. We just fork and ride along with our time-tree, until we fork again or die. Every nanosecond or so. We remember the past (our own path) as a time-line. And everything remains possible in the future, for every individual. There are many of you: some places (branches of the tree) you'll end up a beggar, other branches of the tree you will become a millionaire..

Time weaver - example: Disappearance trick

What's a Magus.. this is someone who can perform observable magic. He can appear, or disappear. He can make things change, appear, disappear. Say the magus can weave people's time trees together with other, near resembling time trees

As an example, take the - real - disappearance trick, Magusses love that. They suddenly appear or disappear. When the magus could drag along the witnesses (people) to a very similar time-tree, only difference is, it contains the result of his magic, the Magus NOT being present. These witnesses will have their own world in their memory and they remember seeing the Magus disappear. They ended up in a time tree that is exactly the same as theirs, except the Magus was absent at that point. A camera present will show a plausible sequence of events, because its past did not change for the camera, in the time-tree the witnesses entered. The camera has never seen the Magus.

For the other people, residing in the new time tree there is no issue. They remember the magus was not present in the first place ! so he did not disappear.. These people do not think anything changed.. only the witnesses that observed the disappearance know of that change.

The people left behind, or instruments that stayed in the previous, abandoned time-tree, will still see the Magus. He did not disappear in the original time-tree. Camera's will not see any change, detectors will not measure discontinuities, the Magus is still present.

Bad weather is an imperfection

While moving people to another time tree, the Magus has to choose a near-resembling branch in the tree. Often, he does not take everything into account. When e.g. the weather is different, the witnesses see storm and lightning occur. Weather difference was ignored by the Magus, so clouds collide, temperatures rise rapidly, or air pressure differs. The witnesses see the result, because things got mixed up in this time-tree, causing bad weather.

Magic potion

Even low power Maguses like Druides can brew magic potions. The working of these potions depend on the Magus' intent and the patient's issue. Most are trivial. Some substances affect time trees. Asterix does exist, somewhere, in some time-tree you have a person drinking magic potion and beating up enemy armies. But in most cases, a magic potion will invoke a curing experience.. there will be zillions of time-trees where the substances was not taken and you die earlier. Not much power is needed, and there is chance involved. Modern medical treatment is far more effective !

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I think you'd need to define what 'magic' or spells you are using more precisely to get a reasonable answer to that. For instance, if the magic has some visual output to it, then it could be recorded by a camera. If there was noise, then a microphone. These results, technically, would most likely be due to the resultant forces of the spell (e.g. lights or vibration of the air particles). Though what if particular spells give of particular patterns or frequencies off light or sound? This would allow identification of particular spells through sound analysis or spectography?

If you deliberately want to make a condition for the magic that prevents it from being monitored by scientific methods, you could consider the One Ring, LOTR; this ring slipped the user out of the current world and into a shadow realm. This could be applied to all forms of magic. For instance, firing a fireball through a shadow realm, to hit an enemy elsewhere could be a possibility.

Alternatively, you may want to consider just what is being detected. If you consider telepathy, then that is the force of a mind moving an object without direct physical interaction. Electroencephalograms can monitor brain waves, but would they be able to pick up such power? What if your 'telepathy' is caused because you have a psychic link with a poltergeist?

Some RPG games implement channelling as a method of casting spells. Channelling is the use of a deity or spiritual realm that provides spell power.

So, things to consider:

  1. What spells are available?
  2. Would the spells naturally affect the environment?
  3. Are the spells separated from the current plane in some way?
  4. Are you going to use some form of proxy as the vehicle for the spell?
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(I think this is roughly how it works in Ars Magica):

Magic is more difficult to cast when people are watching

Magic tells the world to be other than it should be. It is much more difficult to convince the world that a fireball just appeared when ten cameras and a hundred people are watching. So most magic is either done in a way that looks like it can be explained by natural phenomena, or when there aren't people/cameras around to notice. Undisguised magic that is recorded is rare enough to be explained away as freak accidents or hoaxes.

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Magic is a living and thinking force. In fact magic must be that way, how else it would know how to apply magician's incantation to very specifically pick some atoms and not others and alter them in very specific way? HP actually alludes to this, such as when a Muggle approaches Hogwarts, the spell (the living thinking magic) comes up with some very urgent errand to send them away. So in this way magic actively hides itself, detects any recording equipment and removes any evidence of stuff outside classical laws of physics. Unless

  1. the magician wants otherwise
  2. there's some clever triple-blind experiment setup. Triple blind means the experimenter writes down the hypothesis and plans double blind experiment involving magic, and then completely wipes down his memory. Or it makes him/herself believe different completely plausible explanation for the experiment. Later only after the traces go completely cold, it's possible to return to hypothesis and analyze the data. Or make somebody another do it.
  3. there are statistical anomalies, such as in accounting it's possible to detect cooked numbers using statistics. This also must not be too overt.
  4. it is possible to distract it somehow - the more complicated the spell itself is, the less thorough is removal of evidence
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Magic looks like cheap CGI

There are plenty of videos where people claim to have filmed some unnatural phenomenon, but almost no one believes them because they obviously feel like faked videos. If the magic in your world looks like some kind of cheap CGI, almost no one would believe digital recordings of them.

Magic still can be cool-looking;

enter image description here(from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5EDORs8Jkk&ab_channel=CaptainDisillusion)

The "magic" here looks pretty cool, but it doesn't really look "real". This is just an image; for extra fakeness, magic can move in an inconsistent-looking way. For example, a fireball wouldn't fly smoothly, but instead "teleport" small distances. This would look like someone was too lazy to edit all the frames.

The digital recordings of actual magic would just be treated like any other fake conspiracy-fishing video. But, if anyone actually sees magic, they would have to believe it.

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