In a world where everyone could cast spells, and had at least some magic potential, how would technology progress after that of the middle ages?

How this magic works:

  • Everyone has the potential to cast spells
  • Spells require energy and mental focus
  • No words are required, but can be used to focus
  • Using too much can be fatal
  • Some are better at it then others
  • What you can do is limited only by your mental energy and imagination
  • Magic is usually reliable (losing focus can have unexpected results)
  • Simple things require very little focus/time

Considering this, how would technology and science look in what we now call the modern era?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you want it to progress? The details are where that question is decided. For example, how repeatable is magic? Technology is very reliable, doing the same thing every time. If the wanderings of imagination make the results of each attempt at magic slightly different, there will still be things you want to do with tech. Also, how do they interact? It's a really interesting world when you can use technology to improve magic, and magic to improve technology. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 25, 2015 at 0:31
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ I feel like this has already been covered by: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/3953/… or: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/8/… or: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/11019/… $\endgroup$
    – James
    Sep 25, 2015 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your edit, would you mind clearing up your last sentence? I think you're missing a word or two. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Sep 28, 2015 at 16:26

3 Answers 3


Simple things require very little focus/time

So magic can be used to improve technology. To make and use a research laboratory on any science topic is really easier than in your world than in our.

Some are better at it than others

I think this is a key point. The weakest men and women would feel useless if they cannot try something else than magic.
So I think they would be the best engineers/scientists, eager to prove their values. They would use their little power to increase their potential and making experiences to make technology progress.

Spells require energy and mental focus

... Where technology doesn't. Take one of the technology improvement that ended the middle age: navigation. If I understand your world, magic can be used to cross large water bodies. But to travel - and transport commodities - through oceans is not at all a "simple things", so if it is possible, it would be only by the magic masters of your world.

On the opposite, a caravel made by engineers (who, once again, could have used magic to make it) would be able to travel as many times as it want with less energy. And on board, sailors can use their own power to make the ship travel faster, or the travel itself more comfortable by making food appear, etc.

So finally, I think magic and technology can help each other to progress. They are complementary, as technology is longer to prepare for usage but magic is an energy eater.

So yes, technology and science shall evolve to modern standards, and probably further.


Technology would develop to fill the voids that are inherent to magic.

Magic requires a personal expenditure of energy and active concentration? Technological devices work the same way all the time, no matter how you're feeling.

Magic is dependent on skill? Technological devices can be designed to reduce the amount of skill required.

So, technology would evolve, but for applications that magic could not serve (such as highly intensive processes that would exhaust most people via magic), and would largely be supported and developed by people who were less competent with magic.


If magic satisfies all of humanities needs, then no, technology won't progress. It doesn't need to.

This question addresses the competition between magic and technology. In an evolutionary system (which human culture most definitely is) the tool that is most useful and most adaptable usually wins. Since everyone can practice magic, everyone uses it for their daily tasks. Make the dishes wash themselves and the floor sweep itself.

Physics vs Magic

The magic specified in the OP doesn't make any references to conservation of energy, conservation of mass, force, acceleration, friction or any of the other pesky concepts and ideas that physics and technology must contend with. Why would you use technology when it's an inferior system to magic? A comparable comparison would be, why ride a technological horse to go a 1000 miles when you can drive the same distance in a magical air conditioned car in less time and far greater comfort?


Building castles is easy with magic. A few stone masons clean up the stone then the architect places the stones by levitating them into the air and placing them where they need to go. Stone not strong enough? No problem, just put an invulnerably spell on the stone and it will hold up the world. Compare this with building a castle with technology. Cutting the stones is hard, shaping them is hard, moving them into position is hard. Getting the stones wrong means the collapse of the castle, forced retirement and lots of accidental deaths.

Sure, there may be some things that tech does better than magic and in those areas it will function. But, as long as magic provides free energy, technology just won't ever catch up.


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