As previously noted, magic would most likely be able to be studied by the scientific method. Indeed, science would likely at least try to understand magic, if not incorporate it. My question is, what would prevent scientists from studying magic?

Namely, I imagine that, for one reason or another, scientists refuse to study magic and magicians refuse to study science. Of course there are some people who study both, but these are generally on the fringes of both communities. Indeed, scientists try and dismiss magical discoveries, and magicians dismiss scientific discoveries (I haven't determined the specifics of this dismissal (perhaps they claim that the other group is falsifying their claims, only doing tricks to make it look like they discovered something)).

Out of story, science would correspond to phenomenon that occurs in our universe, and magic to phenomenon that don't occur in our universe (think fantasy magic).

Of course, you can argue that true science would encompass both "science" and "magic", but the people of these world haven't realized this (besides the fringe people).

Given the last paragraph, I'm looking for a societal reason. If you can, provide a parallel of two areas of study that basically study the same thing with about the same amount of effectiveness, but completely deny effectiveness of the other (sort of like Keynes v.s. Austrian economics perhaps?).

One major problem is I want both magic and science to be useful (and even more useful together), and it is hard to dismiss useful things. Solving this issue should hopefully make the rest fall into place.

  • $\begingroup$ See this answer and this one. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    May 30, 2016 at 2:49
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The distinction between science and magic is a modern meme propagated by neopagans (because they can't prove magic exists they claim it's not subject to science) and fantasy fiction (because the writers know basic popular science and use magic as a tacked-on shortcut to break physics). In pre-industrial cultures there was no such distinction: everything was considered magical and magicians were seen as a combination of the way priests and scientists are today. $\endgroup$
    – Anonymous
    Jun 29, 2016 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ Your question is the entire premise of the "Darksword" trilogy of books by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. The answer was basically that whichever of the disciplines dominates will persecute the other to remove any competition for power. The magical rulers of the books' main setting killed all babies with no magic - obstensibly because the babies were "crippled" - but really because they also secretly feared the rise of non-magical scientists. $\endgroup$
    – SpliFF
    Jan 13, 2017 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ Magic splits from Science in that it can (presumably) elicit a change in the laws of probabilities. The extent to which you could do this would be a 'mastery of the arcane'. Can Science cross this bridge? $\endgroup$
    – PCARR
    Aug 25, 2017 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ Why don't scientists stereotypically (reality is different) study the liberal arts, and vice versa? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Sep 4, 2017 at 18:20

16 Answers 16


The easiest reason I can think of is simple: religion. Make either magic or science borderline religious and/or funded by a religious organization, and make the opposing side composed of staunch atheists (or simply another religion). Regardless of whether or not the other side has a point, the polarized nature of the system will keep science and magic apart for decades by petty feuds and heated debates - long enough to tell your story, although not forever and not in every area, just locally, where you want to tell your story.

A more complicated reason: metaphysics. Perhaps magic is intrinsically mystical as a consequence of the way that God/the gods/happenstance made the universe. Every time you try to apply the scientific method to it, it inevitably, wildly fails, because magic is a wild entity in and of itself that only allows select people to access it... and if it doesn't like someone, it might do something entirely unpredictable or even malicious. Most scientists are not welcome to magic because they don't respect it (and because they aren't welcome, they respect it less, leading to a vicious cycle). For that matter, maybe science/the laws of physics is an entity alongside magic, causing people who mix the two to generally have bad luck. Mages who try to interact with science ruin the results of tests by the magic inherently within them. Scientists who try to interact with magic ruin the results of spells by the science and/or lack of magic within them.

There may or may not be religious ramifications if this the case - I'm guessing your culture would have an order vs. chaos dualist dichotomy between science and magic, possibly having names and opposing deities for each of these. Maybe you even want this to be true within the setting - perhaps Magic God and Science God hate each other, and it's hard to follow both.

A very complicated reason: superstition and culture. Maybe there's a Demon of Forbidden Knowledge or equivalent and it's believed that amassing too much knowledge for the sake of attaining knowledge will be disastrous. This sort of reality would, of course, make both mages studying the arcane and scientists studying the mundane rather hypocritical, as both of them seek knowledge. Only the fringe people would realize "this is ridiculous, there's nothing wrong with wanting knowledge" and study both.

A reason that will require a lot more worldbuilding: politics and a cold war. Perhaps magic and science worked together for awhile, but have now diverged because of opposing ideologies. Many would now argue that there are good elements of both communism and capitalism, but during the Cold War, no one would admit that the other side had merit. If you have one group of nations that believe that magic is the True Path, and another group of nations that believe that science is the Only Truth, along with a superpower in each group… it is very well conceivable that one side could suppress magic and the other traditional science.

In other words, you don't have to try to make a rational reason behind scientists and mages hating each other. People aren't always terribly rational creatures. Give them an irrational religious, superstitious, cultural, and/or political reason to hate each other and they probably will (especially if Magic God and Science God also irrationally hate each other).

A mixture of these may provide the best results. Religious differences between the magical and scientific community, ancient superstition and general attitude, and hatred between polarized people may lead society to only acknowledge the effectiveness of one or the other. Adding a latent layer of bad luck and metaphysics may serve to enhance this, even if you never really discuss it in depth.

  • $\begingroup$ Good, in depth answer. One thing about the super powers though: I was hoping that despite hating each other they would live in the same society, and that regular people wouldn't care much about the philosphical differences, mostly results (although if the local scientist/mage says not to trust fringe dude, they'd believe 'em). $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 23:26
  • $\begingroup$ @PyRulez, you don't necessarily have to make them part of different societies. Think Democrats and Republicans in the United States. Both of them have some good ideas (one supports maximized equality, one supports maximized freedom, at least in principle (in reality it's not that simple, obviously, but that's the basic dichotomy)), and both of them are useful, but neither side is willing to talk to each other except on a scant few issues. If you throw religion in the mix, there's little chance of people on the far side of either side to talk to each other. $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2015 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ Also, here is a historical precedent for what you are saying: in the past, Christianity viewed magic as evil, and religious persons often did somewhat scientific things. (Indeed, Harry Potter's magic/science split is based on the witch burnings (and magic messing up electricity)). $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2015 at 1:23
  • $\begingroup$ Even if magic has "thought", that doesn't mean it is immunized to science. Science studies things with thought and motives all the time, it's called psychology. It seems difficult to imagine something totally immunized to scientific methods, and yet which is of major practical consequence. But making it risky would provide a deterrent, which may suffice. $\endgroup$ Oct 17, 2015 at 1:28
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    $\begingroup$ On the "Perhaps magic is intrinsically mystical" point, several real-world occult traditions claim to function by commanding usually-invisible supernatural entities to do the heavy lifting. If your magic system functions in a similar way, you could trivially claim that your "airy spirits" actively work against efforts to classify and quantify magic, because they've been commanded to by a higher power, because it would allow them to be exploited more than they currently are, because they value their privacy, or just because they think scientists are party poopers. $\endgroup$
    – user867
    Oct 19, 2015 at 7:13

If Science and Magic emerged simultaneously within a culture, and if their effectiveness in problem solving were approximately the same, then each discipline would attempt to integrate aspects of the other into its own domain. A fireball casting mage who understands the laws of combustion is more effective than one who does not, simply because of the targets that each would choose. A scientist who can magically slow down time will be significantly better at studying chemical reactions than one who cannot. The benefits of merging the two far outweigh almost any cultural, spiritual or philosophical difference which might otherwise divide them.

Unless the absolutely oppose each other at a fundamental level...

Science is built upon a history of experiments, involving measurable materials and energies, which when repeated without variation, lead to identical results.

Magic is driven by the will of the caster and by the influence of unmeasureable forces which naturally vary from casting to casting. Replication of identical results is not even a possibility when using magic.

So whenever magic is around, science falters. Test results cannot be trusted because any result, whether expected or not, might have been caused by a casting. Scientists get pissed when you mess with their science, and they know many nasty tricks like how to make gunpowder and poisons. Don't let the lab coats and nerd glasses fool you... Scientists are dangerous.

Magic users would be well advised to steer clear of their laboratories and universities.

  • $\begingroup$ That's almost exactly what I was thinking of, and better expressed than I'd gotten to. :-) To complete the answer with the "fringe elements", if I may, it would be a rare person who could use the force of will to harness those vast energies and manage them in measurable and repeatable ways. If you consider scientists as methodical and controlled vs magic-users who are rather more like a bull-rider, you need someone who can make the bull go where you want instead of someone who can just stay on. $\endgroup$
    – NadjaCS
    Oct 16, 2015 at 6:19
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    $\begingroup$ Even without magic scientists have to account for different variables when trying to figure something out. I think in a world with magic scientists would study it's effects experimentally and figure out ways to detect it and figure out how to account for the variable of magic in the same way that we account for variables like temperature, or pressure. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 7:44
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    $\begingroup$ This description of magic in the laboratory sounds a lot like quantum physics to me. Or pretty much any other natural effect before we more thoroughly understood it. And obviously magic isn't a purely random thing, or it couldn't be useful to those wielding it. It works by certain rulesets that are quantifiable and explainable, even if the inner workings aren't perfectly known. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Oct 16, 2015 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 21:55

I can't think of any reason why real science wouldn't investigate "magic", because in this context it isn't actually magic at all. It's like asking why science wouldn't investigate magnetism.

That said, I can imagine a culture with superstitions about one branch of science or another. It's especially plausible if we add in some type of religious viewpoints. Obviously, real science is faith-agnostic. But real scientists have the same human traits as anyone else.

And, let's go a little further. Real science includes things like testing on human slaves. It's our human morality that keeps us from doing it. Not that I think we should do it, but we need to look at the big picture and recognize that even in our enlightened world, we have constraints on science.

So now, imagine a culture who finds fireballs to be inherently immoral. In this culture, scientists would obviously study fireballs, but they would find it wrong to go out of their way to cast those fireballs to study them, so the progress would be limited to accidents and miscreants, and could take a long time.

If your world has gods and such who take an active role in the world, they could have any number of personality quirks, including things like "thou shalt not use fireballs". In this scenario, it would be much more plausible for fireballaphobia to remain part of culture for long periods of time.

If there aren't gods or similar, it would be harder to keep superstitions up, but it's certainly not impossible. Isolation would help tremendously, because opposing viewpoints would be rare and easier to quash.

Then, of course, you could have similar viewpoints for the "magic" group, who might find metal forging and other "science" stuff to be unnatural and unwholesome.

Note that this doesn't really solve the problem of the factions outright denying the effectiveness of the other faction's science. But where there are differences of opinion, there will be propaganda to coincide. A strong enough control over the local media could keep the propaganda in place as the "one true truth", with denouncers being derided, exiled or even executed for something along the lines of heresy.

  • $\begingroup$ You made a tank that shoots fire spells? YOU MONSTER! $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 22:57

What would separate magic and science so much that neither acknowledges the existence of the other? I suggest this hangs on the nature of magic itself. Magic as it appears in most fantasies functions like a form of super-powers. Example: wizard points her wand at cowering victim and a bolt of purple lightning zapped victim into a neat pile of ash. If magic was like that there's no way science could ignore its existence.

Also readily reproducable magic could be studied, eventually the mechanisms for magic would be discovered, then magic could be improved and upgraded. Leading to a civilisation where magic and science would work hand in hand transforming our world for good or evil.

The way magic operates in traditional societies (this means pre-industrial pre-scientific, and pre-modern) was more like this. A tree falls on Fred's house and no-one's hurt. That's an accident. Just nature at work undermining the tree so it fell down. If the tree fell on Fred's house killing him. Now that's sorcery. When unexpected events harm or kill people, then malign intent must be behind them. The sorcery expresses malign intentions, but it may turn up in unexpected and unanticipated ways. Perhaps even the sorcerer cannot predict what will happen. This is quite unlike magic operating like default super-powers.

What a sorcerer might do is perform a ritual and then sometime later harm will come to the intended victim. For example, sorcerer writes Fred's name and the word DIE on a piece of paper and burns it. Two years later Fred dies of a heart attack or it could be his wife who dies instead. Later Fred dies from despair and a broken heart. This isn't the same as Fred dropping dead straight after the ritual.

This model of magic suggests by its very nature magic may be wilful and contrary. So if scientists suspected ritual magic was real and tried to study it, this makes it impossible to get verifiable results. This is apart from the problems in trying to their research approved by the Ethics Committee. Perhaps if the magic they tried to test only was aimed at producing beneficial results. Like poor Fred winning the lottery (his luck had to change eventually).

Anyone who looks at what magic was like historically or how it is perceived by societies studied by anthropologists will soon realise these traditional forms of magic were and are rarely susceptible to scientific study. Magic is often very different from how it is presented in fantasy.

This provides an answer to why scientists would ignore magic. Its influence in the natural world is invisible and not very different from chance outcomes. Also, people who believe in sorcery are obviously deluded because they believe their spells, incantations and rituals can influence the course of events.

Now for the other part of the question: why don't magic users study science, perhaps with the object of improving their magic, or just understanding magic better? I admit this isn't the strongest reason, but here goes. Perhaps there is something about the scientific worldview that undermines the practice of magic. Once a sorcerer studies and thinks of the nature of the world scientifically, this means they can no longer work magic.

Actually this might go the other way too. Any scientist who fully embraced a magical worldview might be unable to do science well. This also means scientists who believed in magic and wanted to study it scientifically would be rubbish at research into magic (as scientists).

This means I've come up with two answers (not what I intended doing, but sometimes the magic works by itself). One, the nature of magic itself may be such that it can't be studied by science. Scientists would ignore magic, because nothing in nature needs magic to explain it. Sorcerers would practice their magic, but even they might not be able to study how it works. Two, magic and science require mutually exclusive worldviews. This is more than sufficient to separate magic users and scientists into distinct and mutually exclusive communities, each effectively invisible to each other.


What's to say they don't today? I know a lot of people who consider birth to be "magic," even though science studies it. In fact, many of those who consider it magical are indeed the scientists!

This is, of course, merely a definitions question. What is the study of magic? What is the study of science? In a world with "real magic," would the two concepts have separate terms? Maybe they would only have one field, which covers both.

Personally, I find it effective to draw the line between them based on how they define their explanations. Science defines rules which, theoretically, cannot be overturned. Magic, if you look back at the history, generally involves invoking powers which don't always do what you say. There's often a sense of agency to the magic, acting of its own accord. You never see science supporting the agency of the particles it defines (except maybe in QM, where I get away with personifying particles more often than one might think!).

Accordingly, if those definitions suit your fancy, magic and science start from opposite extremes and reach out towards the middle. Science wouldn't study deep magic, not because it can't, but because magic is simply better at it. Likewise, nobody would magic anything which is better suited for science and engineering. To do so would be wasteful. There would, of course, be individual tastes. You might really like to summon Zuul to check your email, because, frankly, let's face it: a lord of darkness isn't quite as frightening as digging through spam, Nigerian scams, and women who apparently want to date me but have some all natural supplements to accentuate key parts of my body first.

This also suggests there is a line of things that are hard for both science and magic to explain. I'd argue this exists today. Just look at evolution. Theoretically, science has it licked, and yet we still feel more comfortable personifying evolution in many cases, trying to talk about it as though it has a will of its own. Perhaps there is magic yet.


One way people would tell that magic was real in a universe in which there would be magic is that we could use our understanding of it to make predictions instead of just using it to figure out what is already known. We would in this case be able to figure out equations that describe how it works.

For instance if telekinesis was real we might predict that it's force would drop off with the square of the distance meaning it would be four times more effective on an object ten meters away than something twenty meters away. Also one could predict that if telekinesis was real it would be harder to use it on massive objects than objects with less mass. Also if telekinesis were real then according to the third law of motion someone using it could only either use it to move two objects in opposite directions or if you used telekinesis the telekinesis would cause you to move in the opposite direction of the object you are moving in your mind. Also if telekinesis were real then there would also be telekinetic potential energy between someone who had the power of telekinesis and any object the person could use it on in the same way that there is electric potential energy between two charges. It might also predict that there would be telekinetic waves that would travel at the speed of light that would be emitted by someone who was either turning telekinesis on or off in the same way that there are electromagnetic waves and gravitational waves in our universe.

Magic would also be very useful in a world where it was real and would likely be used in the same way that we use technology in our world. For instance it might be used to regenerate limbs that had been lost and cure diseases that would otherwise be permanent and it would be more powerful than a placebo in such a world. It would in this case also be possible to write equations that would show how quickly it could be used to cause a limb to spontaneously regenerate and so predict how effective it would be on certain injuries.

In a world with magic it might be used as the primary way to stop crime as someone could use mind control to prevent someone from committing a crime by making it so that the person cannot think about harming others.

If someone could use telepathy it could also be used to make very specific predictions such as what the phone number would be of the next person he/she would ask for the phone number of.


If magic depends on an inborn talent, those who are not born with magical abilities would be prevented from any deep study of it, and would have to limit themselves to purely physical interests.


Many years ago, I wrote my favorite Stack Exchange answer to What is the Smallest Change to Physics Required to Allow Magic, which I'm proud to say is still the 5th highest voted answer on WB. I highly recommend it as a frame challenge, which argues that magic is everywhere.

That being said, there are some things that science is just frustratingly bad at.

  • Things that are centered around a willfull "self." Science needs to be able to dissect a situation to predict its results. If the effects of magic are truly tied to a self-aware "self," a lot of the tools we use simply don't work. Consider the need for double-blind studies. The purpose of that is to lock out any awareness. You don't want a medical study test subject to heal themselves with the power of the human body, rather than with the medicine. Contrast this with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in which everything is centered around the subject as a person. No surprise, TCM remedies feel like magic to us.
  • Non-associative things. Science really likes associative logic, which lets us group small pieces, analyze them, and then see how they play a part in the whole. Non-associative systems don't let you do this. You have to start from the "right" point, and work your way out. This is often frustrating for science because the starting point tends to be something rather ill controlled. This may sound like a silly detail, but its prolific. The usual approach to non-associative things is to either focus smaller and smaller until all the annoying bits go away, or to invent an imaginary associative system around it, and then sneak in a constraint after the fact to only work in a small non-associative region.
  • Holistic things. Any time where you have to start with the universe and work your way down to the individual, science falters. The mathematics we base science on are built around assumptions that make this terribly hard (in particular, there are no infinite descending sets). Science can't touch anything explained with The Dao in Eastern thought, because that topic basically defies all scientific inquiry.

Science is the study of natural phenomena and understanding them. The most prominent thing about science is that is methodical and mathematical (as in, you can write equations to explain things).

Magic on the other hand, works by will and force. It is not natural (as in, there is no magic going on in the absence of a spell-caster) and you cannot understand how it works. Magical effects cannot be presented in the form of mathematical formulas.

The natural/unnatural and mathematical/non-mathematical differences are so vast that these can never be united under the same branch of knowledge, unless that branch of knowledge includes everything in the universe.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Magic, in this case, is totally natural. And science is the study of any phenomena that empirically exists. In this case, magic is clearly under the jurisdiction of science. There's no reason you can't present magical effects using math, and there's certainly a lot of methodical properties of magic in almost all stories. And on the other hand, there's still a lot of science for which there aren't any particularly useful formulas. For example, psychology -- you can't just plug some numbers into a calculator and figure out what someone's going to eat tomorrow. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Oct 16, 2015 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ Science is defined as the study of nature. If magic includes stuff that is natural (does not require the authority of a person or spell) then yes, the divide does not exist. And no, psychology is not science like biology, physics or chemistry. It is still a study of natural phenomena, so it's included under science. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ You're mis-defining "nature" in this context. Nature means "things we have access to". Humans are natural, and anything we do is natural. In fact, anything that's real is natural and under the purview of science. Magic, because it's real in the example universe, it's just another facet of nature and therefore a potential field of scientific study. You're right that psychology isn't as rigorous as some other sciences (for example that ethical dilemma of not cutting human brains apart), but it's most certainly a form of science. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Oct 16, 2015 at 20:07
  • $\begingroup$ 1- arachnoid.com/psychology 2- articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/13/news/… All articles presenting psychology as a science are written by psychologists. The very nature of science is that it enables prediction based on laws. Until that milestone is reached by psychology, it cannot be deemed as a science. $\endgroup$ Oct 16, 2015 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ If I walk up and punch someone in the face, 99+% of the time they'll get angry. Prediction based on a model of human psychology. It's testable using empirical evidence. Just because psychology is more complex than almost any other science, and therefore hasn't made as much headway doesn't mean you can't study the human mind scientifically. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Oct 16, 2015 at 23:33

Something I thought of might be based in the scientists' view of magic as being inherently unpredictable and hard to control, even for skilled mages. Maybe enough notable scientists were blown up or teleported into solid matter, or otherwise met a violent end while trying to study magic, that the science community said "enough" and declared it a taboo subject, much the way human dissection was once considered off-limits due to the sanctity of the human body.

Those who manifest magical power, for their part, find that their powers are quite controllable and useful if you don't push the boundaries; magic is ultimately a human quality, and the further you push your limits, the more likely you are to unwittingly exceed them, with disastrous consequences. As they see no need to use science to more deeply understand what they do (they just do it), and the scientists forbid each other to work with mages in this understanding, the two sides soldier on in mutual segregation and distrust.


I am taking this to be a question about paradigms: why do the proponents of one paradigm refuse to validate another? In your case, scientists know magical powers exists and could potentially be modeled and predicted, and mages know that there are good models about the physical world that lead to useful predictions, but neither believes the other is worth a damn. Why would this occur?

My answer is: suffering, and identity. The world is a place where people suffer and die, and people define themselves through the way they deal with these conditions, and how they classify reality.

Ok, everyone is concerned with the real. There's a good argument that all art is an attempt to depict "the real." Religion is an attempt to explain the transcendental reality at a higher level of being. Science is an attempt to understand and predict real events. Your paradigm defines your reality, and your reality defines your identity.

Mages would be interested in the metaphysical. This presumes mutual exclusivity of magical and physical phenomena, but presumably magical phenomena would necessarily lie behind a metaphysical "curtain" that defined it as magic. There would be an inherent unknowability to it. The existence of something like this could convincingly invalidate the significance of physical phenomena and existence. It could make scientific pursuits seem completely trivial in comparison. Why would someone count beans in this world when there is so much power behind the veil, in the realm of magic?

Take religion as an example. Western christians/agnostics/athiests cannot seem to reconcile themselves with certain followers of Islam like ISIS - they disagree to such an extent they are willing to kill and die over their disagreement. The motivation for this disagreement comes from suffering - western rationalists are largely concerned with physical suffering in this life, whereas radical muslims are primarily concerned with the metaphysical consequences of misbehaving in this life, i.e. suffering in the eternal afterlife. Each side founds its identity on its relation to reality and its definition of "real" suffering, and because of the mechanisms of evolution, we are hardwired to avoid "real" suffering as much as possible, and so both sides refuse to acknowledge the other.

Scientists would be interested in the physical. Magic is essentially cheating. Miracles are essentially cheating. You don't see many scientists studying miracles, simply because a miracle by definition is something that defies explanation. As soon as you start investigating, say, Jesus feeding the masses, it quickly becomes implausible, and reduces to "an act of faith," which is essentially a synonym for "you can never know, you just have to accept it." A scientist in a world of magic would see it as a moot point - why study something inherently unstudyable? What foolishness would compel someone to waste their time at a sisyphean task like that when there are "real" problems to be solved like sepsis, famine, and labor?

Most people have suffered in their lives, some more than others. At the very least, everyone is aware that suffering exists and that it is not good. Its plausible that scientists and magicians could be so concerned with ending this suffering that their inability to reconcile the other sides pursuit created a snowball effect that drove a wedge between the two disciplines.


Any system that has consistent, observable rules will eventually yield to science. So your magic must behave inconsitently and actively resist observation. My suggestion is to have magic be granted to humans by gods, who can change the rules as they fancy, and take it away when people try to 'learn the rules' too much.

So instead of casting fireball by learning the words and chanting them, you must gain favor with the fire god, and each time you want to cast fireball, he has to want it to happen, and the size and power of it is up to him. When you try to cast fireball in a laboratory, he doesn't allow it to work, because he personally objects to his followers using him like that. This inconsistency makes hard science impossible. Science can only test what is testable and predict what is predictable.

Yet magic can still be studied in a limited way. Schools of magic would compile stories of encounters with Gods and try to sort the truths from the legends. They would look over records of how the Gods have behaved in the past to try to learn their personalities and motivations. But building a personality profile of a human being isn't hard science. Hard science can not reliably predict the behavior of an individual human yet. A human's motivations are too complex. So the motivations and choices of a magical, likely invisible and vastly old, vastly powerful being who has relationships and histories you haven't seen, that's just heuristic guesswork. The old wizard can predict the Gods' favor better than the young, and studying the Gods will help you earn their favor and keep it, but no one can make any 100% certain statement about magic, because in the end it's up to the gods.


Frame Challenge: Everything Useful is Science

At its most basic level, science is simply making predictions, and applying them. Coming up with a model that makes testable predictions, then testing them, is the scientific method (shorthand). Done badly, with steps missing, these predictions would be often wrong. The scientific method is simply a way to make these predictions more accurate.

Basically, every time you do anything with a hope of a result, you are using science. You swing your arms in a certain way with a ball in your hand, and release at a certain time? You are predicting that you will throw that ball. You are making that prediction based on a model you have about the world. You are using science.

You put weird little pieces of plants in the ground, add water to them everyday, and wait for a few month? You are predicting that things will grow out of the ground and give you things to eat. That's science!

You swing a staff around, chant some magic words, think some good thoughts? You are predicting that what you did slightly increased the chance of something good happening for the next few days! That's science!

So now the question becomes: how come two branches of science don't intersect? Well, we can think of two reasons: Complexity and Cognitohazards. The first is why quantum string theorists don't dabble in Freudian psychiatry. The latter? Well, just imagine if there is some weird effect in place that learning more about how to launch fireballs make a person unable to think about the atom structure.


The Tools of the Archaic

I don't think the separation of Magic and Technology needs drastic pressures.

Example: Right now guns are amazing, but it you told how effective they would be to a medieval knight, he'd just pull a stupid face wondering how a slow-firing, inaccurate iron pipe would ever surpass him.

Engineers: They probably don't know much about magic, the unnatural sciences. They've probably heard stories of horrible accidents. They probable don't know many if any magicians. Plus, they are on the cutting edge of science.

Magicians They probably don't know much about engineering and the natural sciences. They've probably heard stories of horrible accidents. They don't even know many if any engineers. Plus, they are on the cutting edge of science.

Both think their work is superior and the other builds archaic relics. They only really know the worst parts of there profession's creations and disaster, what makes the papers... and report normal news to normal people so strange arcana and new patents are left out entirely.


Modern science is intrinsically cooperative and egalitarian, though it wasn't always that way. You do science, you write a paper, other people reproduce your results. If other people can't reproduce your results, there is a flaw, either in your results or in your description of your experimental conditions. (Theoretical science? Other people use it to make predictions and validate your theory.) With the right course of study, any reasonably intelligent person can do any type of science, or at least check the work of those talented enough to innovate.

Modern magic is intensely personal, and uses personal resources of the caster and/or their unique ability to tap into natural resources around them. You can teach someone with talent to use their talent, and some lower-level stuff is a shared underpinning, but at high enough levels mages cannot share and propagate their skills.

(I believe in Steven Brust's Vlad Talos series, the world had both wizard magic which could be studied and witch magic which was innate, but the same principles should hold true. IIRC Vlad was nearly unique in being both a witch and a wizard, and as a result could do things his peers could not.)

Magic requires TRUST. I can get three engineers to check the design of my mechanical bridge. I cannot necessarily get three mages to check that my ensorcelled bridge will withstand a hurricane. Oh, they can tell it's been magicked, but they don't know where the flaws and weaknesses might be.

As a result, people use science and magic for different things.


Two possibilities:

  1. Magic is like intelligence it is an irreducible emergent property. Science understands the world by breaking it down into small separate pieces that can be studied and proven individually, and then brought together to build more powerful understandings.

    Some properties can't be broken down the individual components won't exhibit the ability unless all are present. Neurons don't exhibit intelligence unless there is a huge number arranged in a brain. The study of these fields is slower without provable theorems. Magic could be like psychology: we study it and recognize trends and do valuable work in it, but lack verifiable theorems.

  2. The other would be that magic is chaotic and not repeatable. If you perform the same experiment 50 times and get a somewhat different answer every time science can't progress in the normal manner.

  • $\begingroup$ "If you perform the same experiment 50 times and get a somewhat different answer every time science can't progress..." Wow. That would describe almost every experiment in chemistry. In fact, it's hard to find lab work of any kind without variability. $\endgroup$
    – user11599
    Oct 20, 2015 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ 1. is one approach to science it is not the the only, many things in science are not studied that way, plate tectonics comes to mind. Is magic repeatable enough a mage can actually make something they want to happen happen then it is repeatable enough for science. Does bob the mage have some idea of how to make a fireball, then it can be studied. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Apr 4 at 16:20

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