Continuation of Why would magic and science be split?

So in this world, magic and "science" are split (refer to the above question), and magicians and scientists view each other with absolute skepticism and dismissal because reasons.

Magic is largely based on intuition, and is somewhat personal. Although it takes a lot of learning to become a magician, most of this is learning how one's self interacts with magic, with your magic master being a guide in this learning. They often incorporate their work with arts of various kinds. Magicians study things traditionally associated with fantasy magic.

Scientists (in this setting) on the other hand, use logic and observation. They try to isolate themselves from a system, and try to make it respond in reproducible ways. They often incorporate their work with mathematics of various kinds. Scientists study things reminiscent of 1800s and 1900s science in our world.

So a magician and scientist need to save their town from trolls armed with cannons. They try on there own to stop the trolls but fail. They are desperate, and so come together.

It starts with basically combining their forces, which is initially enough to reply the trolls. They bring reinforcements. This time, the scientist and magician assist each other in their studies. The scientist provides chemicals that help the magician with their alchemical studies, along with a primer on thermodynamics and electricity so that we can use fire and lightning spells more effectively. The magician can manipulate time and conjure up mechanical parts for the scientist, and also teaches him the weaknesses of trolls.

They push back the trolls again. The trolls come back with giant eagle bombers and monkey snipers. Its looking grim for Mr. Magician and Mr. Scientist.

The magician decides he will try to teach the scientist some magic. He starts with basic symbol magic. Although the magician likes the artistic aspects, which are seen as the most powerful, the scientist focuses on the symbols that, although are often included in more complex spells, are seen as boring and unintuitive to the magic community. The magician thinks the scientist is wasting his time for those "filler" symbols, but the scientist persists.

Those symbols in turn focus on the scientist, and his mind starts to be touched by magic. The magician feels something odd happening, a weird mixture of structured thought and intuition that seems paradoxical to him. The scientist begins to create a spell computer. Although he can't really do much else besides that (the scientist lacks the passion to create fireball spells on his own, for example), the magician helps add scrying and attack spells to the scientists algorithmic spells, systematically accomplishing things that have would take magicians years of trial and error (of course, they aren't all powerful or anything, but they have invented a completely unorthodox approach to magic).

Now the scientist wants to teach the magician some science. What science can a magician excel at?

How can a magical perspective enhance science?

Namely, the magical perspective is based on intuition, whereas the science perspective is based on logic.

Note that I'm not saying that he is literally applying magic to science, but just that he uses science in a way that would only be apparent to a magician. Also, the magical perspective by itself, although novel, should require a scientist to make practical use of it. Also, the magician should come to realization about the value of science; the magician simply using magic to replace science doesn't count.

Note that this world's "scientist" does not necessarily need to match our world's scientists. You can introduce blind spots into this world's science perspective that aren't necessarily true of this world's science perspective, as long as it fits with a impersonal and empirical kind of vibe.

  • $\begingroup$ Harry Potter And The Methods Of Rationality is a great work about putting a scientific mindset into a magical world. And it's worth reading to see how the magical world affects the scientific mind. $\endgroup$
    – Schwern
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 2:39
  • $\begingroup$ How could a 1900s era scientist stop, or even fight, a troll? Wouldn't it be more effective to call in guys with actual weapons (perhaps invented by "scientists")? It seems to me that you're trying to equate "scientists" with "wizard", when it just doesn't work that way. Maybe you should come up with some other word than "scientist" for this concept. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 13:39

3 Answers 3


One point to bear in mind is that science—here specifically the Western-style science that developed over the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries—has traditionally had a lot of trouble being qualitative. It is very good at quantitative; in fact, quantification is generally considered one of the principal founding developments for the scientific revolution.

Magic, in your construction, is intrinsically qualitative. And because it is so subjective, it can be irritatingly difficult to quantify. So there’s a balance there.

Now as for what magic might contribute to science, the first place to look is where the qualitative might be of value but is currently difficult or impossible.

Total Determinism

Back in the early 1960s, Claude Levi-Strauss argued that magic differs from science in part because magic is more deterministic than science, contrary to what one might think.

Let’s suppose there is a high wind one day, and the granary tips over and falls, killing my uncle Herman. Now the scientist goes to explain this incident, and he points to termites, high winds, dry rot, and so forth. But the magical thinker says, “I know all that—I'm not stupid—but that doesn’t fully answer the question. Why did it fall on Herman?” For the scientist, this is not an answerable question—bad luck, in essence. But for the magician, it is the very essence of the issue.

In other words, a magical perspective assumes that there is no such thing as a purely random event, provided that the event in question has meaning. For the scientist, the non-qualitative approach means that he cannot determine whether an event does or does not have meaning—it happened, and that’s all. For the magician, a proper understanding of a phenomenon requires that it be located within a larger framework of meaning.

Meaning and Manipulation

One interesting implication, in a world where magic indubitably works, is that the magician is above all a master of meaning. She looks at the world as a complex web of intersecting meaningful elements. To understand a phenomenon, she tries to grasp how it is situated within that total web. To change something—to perform magic—she manipulates the web by focusing on elements that relate appropriately.

In some cases, she does this more or less by rote: the following procedure always works, but you have to be clear on the exact astrological situation relative to the place and time where you’re doing it, and because I’m me and you’re you, there are elements I use that you don’t and the reverse.

In some cases, however, perhaps especially with magical masters, rote procedures won’t do. So the master needs to construct a new total structure, building from existing elements.

Now the reason I bring this latter point up is that it actually alters the universe. If magic really works like this, then each time a magician creates a new procedure this way, the total web of meaning alters: new connections are forged, for example. But now that they have been forged, they’re part of the total web of meaning. This is why a spell that was insanely difficult 500 years ago is now done by first-year apprentices: if everyone keeps doing it, the connections get stronger and easier to manipulate. You might say there is a kind of momentum to magical effects.

How does this affect the scientist? Well, for one thing, the universe he’s studying isn’t entirely stable. That’s going to be irritating. But you’ve said that science basically works just fine. This suggests that the web of connections that the magicians manipulate are something that stands over and above the physical connections and laws studied by science. And this means that the magician has quite a lot to offer the scientist.

Such As

  1. The scientist wants to study something, but cannot work out a method. Perhaps his tools just aren’t good enough. He could devote himself to endless engineering, trying to develop better tools, but he could also get help from a magician. The magician is not limited by physical law in the same way. Suppose the scientist wants to understand what’s going on inside a volcano, but he can’t build tools that will withstand the heat. Well, the magician can develop a system of analogies, based on what volcanoes mean in this world, and on this basis, can get accurate results by studying what happens with a small rock in a fireplace.

  2. The scientist is getting annoyingly inconsistent results. Clearly there is a flaw in his experimental design somewhere, or he’s misunderstood what’s happening in the system. So he asks a magician to look at the system. The magician sees each element not as a simple functional object—this is a crucible, this is a heat source, this is gold, this is lead—but as a complex structure embedded in larger meanings. This allows the magician to come up with suggestions about what might be going wrong, because his way of looking at things is utterly different. Of course, the magician has to get some practice at doing this, because otherwise his suggestions may be unhelpful.

  3. Following from this, the magician might be able to constrain a faulty instrument. The scientist has figured out that his problem is the way his sealed-up crucible doesn’t retain heat as efficiently as he needs it to do. So the magician seals it up for him, by quite other means that have no impact on the experimental structure. Thus the scientist’s experimentation becomes far more efficient and effective.

  4. More broadly, the magician’s great ability is to make changes, not in how things work in general, but in how this thing right here works. The scientist wants to understand how a given phenomenon works in general—the underlying laws that govern it—but the universe won’t let him have the simple, clean system he really wants. For example, he just can’t do frictionless systems, and this means that every time he tries to study such-and-such a phenomenon, he keeps getting all this irritating noise because there’s friction in the system. Now the magician can’t make friction not exist—it’s a law of nature. But he can make this particular object almost infinitely close to frictionless, at least for a time. Then the scientist does his experimental runs, gets his results, and can focus on making sense of the results instead of correcting endlessly for an extraneous factor.

  5. In the area of medicine, the magician is a great asset to the scientist. This is because everything that happens to a human being is a matter of meaning. My broken leg or tumor is in one sense just an instance of a larger phenomenon predictable statistically. But in another sense, it is uniquely mine, and it has a unique meaning for me and my family. While the scientific doctor works on the condition as an instance of that condition, the magical doctor works on the particular patient. The combined result is going to be enormously more effective than either approach alone. Simply put, the magician can’t cure cancer in general, but she’s got great odds of curing this patient’s cancer.


Right off the bat, the more the magician knows about the world, the more he can fine-tune his magic.

Think of Pokemon. Certain types of Pokemon have advantages compared to other types (for instance, electric type has a bonus against water type). Knowledge of how the physical world works would allow the magician to be able to optimize the type of spells he uses for certain enemies.

He would learn that using lightning spells is probably better than fire spells against heavily-armored enemies, due to metal conducting electricity. He would learn that area-of-effect freezing spells would counter the eagles, as they wouldn't get as much lift.

As far as actually applying science in a magical way, that kind of depends on the limitations of your magic. I honestly don't like most cases where magic and science co-exist, because magic tends to break physical laws (you cast Fireball, I ask where the energy for the fire came from), and so to a certain extent it's up to you do decide how far beyond the physical laws magic can go.

Maybe the magician would learn about Conservation of Energy (as in my Fireball example above) and realize that with a little bit of magic he could make a perpetual motion machine. Or combine magic with the troll's cannons so that the entire town can be armed with hand-held fireball launchers. Maybe the best he can do is imbue bandages with healing magic, so that people are being healed with both magic and antibiotics (antibiotics to prevent infection, magic to close the wound). It depends on the extent of your magic.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying that he will necessarily apply magic to science, but that a magical perspective will help him unlock science that the scientists themselves didn't even know (similar to the scientist unlocking the spell computer, a completely magical thing, but bizarre to magicians). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 1:38

Magic is all about patterns. You chant a spell, you wave a wand, you throw eye of newt, and poof! You have to do all three things together, one or two won't work.

The magician is looking for correspondences. "As above, so below" was the basis of astrology, but it led to astronomy. Alchemy was magic, but it led to chemistry. According to our science, then, magic is looking in the right places but asking the wrong questions.

In your world, however, magic works. The magician understands that patterns have power, even if there's no logical explanation. The scientist understands that, if it works, there's logic in there somewhere, it's just that nobody's found it yet. The scientist can analyze the spell, the wand, and the eye but not understand the gestalt that happens by combining them. By seeing it work, though, you can work backwards from what you do understand.

To put it another way, lightning is like magic. It happens, we see it, but until recently we didn't know what it was or why it happened. With science you can ask the right questions, play around with things, and discover how to generate your own lightning in a bottle. We might not have electricity without the idea of lightning to guide us.

Science is supremely rational. Magic is supremely irrational. They have to work in the same universe. They operate on the same fundamental forces, so they have common ground somewhere, they're just coming at it from different directions.

Perhaps there is something like quantum physics, a more sophisticated model of the universe, that would make sense to both sides once they worked it out.


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