I’m attempting to keep the magic in my (earth like) world from impacting the speed of mundane technological or scientific advancement too much. The argument for this is that ability to do things with magic could keep people from developing solutions through technology. I’ve been trying to do this by limiting what can be done with magic through the perception of the possible and through physical consequences of using magic.

But, intellectual traditions are barking on the door. Now this world has reached its classical age. It is seeing the rise of more abstract thinking and I’m worried that this will also affect how people are relating to magic.

Features of magic in my world important to the question

Original access to magic:

Through meditating on a substance or object in a waking dreamlike mind-state altering and pulling the substance becomes possible.

An example of limits through physical consequences:

Magic in my world is in its raw form unstable and retroactively sympathetic. This means that trying to do something with air runs the risk of either making you more like air or more like something you associate with air. Most peoples in this world treat such alterations as stigma and shun or kill people manifesting such changes.

An example of limits through the perception of the possible:

People couldn’t make fire with magic before they realized it was possible to make fire.

Advanced access to magic:

Through such as incantations, spell writing, dances or songs it is possible for people to begin to distance themselves from the negative consequences. This, however, is notoriously difficult and require years to master and a lifetime to excel at.


With the emerging advance of schools and academic traditions the inhabitants of my world might be on the verge of outsmarting me and my attempts at limiting their magic use.

  • How could I possibly stop them?
  • Or would I need to?
  • Could the changes be interesting enough to keep?
  • $\begingroup$ So you're concerned the people in your world will use the scientific method to figure out how to optimize their use of magic, potentially exploiting a flaw you haven't yet identified? $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ I was more concerened that they will use abstract thinking to figure out new ways to use magic far beyond the current level of mundane technology. But now you've given me another thing to worry about. Life is good. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ You should read all of hpmor.com $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify you're evil. I havn't got time to read that stuff, but no I can't stop. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 16:27

4 Answers 4


There are a number of different ways to view this problem.

Theory is not Practice

Take a hint from mathematics and science. There is a huge body of knowledge out there with very little practical application. For about 100 years, we have known that if a hypothetical space ship travels fast enough compared to a slower observer (say, on Earth), they will experience time differently. This is a very far cry from actually doing it. Thus, it may simply be possible to know or reason out behaviors of Magic without actually being able or willing to do it.

Natural Ability

Not everyone can achieve the mental state required to do magic, no matter how much they study it. Thus, only a small percentage of the population can do magic, and presumably a small percentage of them would be willing to study it methodically.

Magic Is Science

Consider tying magic more tightly to science. For example, a wand made of iron is better than copper, but steel beats both. Alternately, the internal structure of the veins of impurities in the material could impact effectiveness. You may end up needing modern materials technology to get the complex 3d internals of a wand right on the millimeter scale.

This also ties in with your statements about perception limiting ability. Humans didn't know lighting was electricity for most of human history; thus, shooting lightning wouldn't be possible until the 1800s or so.

Fundamental Changes

Consider the possibility that some things are fundamentally different. You can walk to the next hill. You can get there faster by walking on a road, or inventing automobiles. However, you can't use those methods to get anywhere you couldn't walk to, such as the moon.

This could tie in nicely with the sympathetic changes you mention. Perhaps you only change if you exert yourself too much, or in the wrong ways.

The Actual Question

All of that is just observations on the universe. To answer your questions: you can always stop this kind of thing by saying "Because". You both need not and should not stop the people that live in this world from properly exploring it. Lastly, you can absolutely build a world or a story on the kind of tensions between magic and science, tradition and innovation, that you describe here.

  • $\begingroup$ I find your answer the most helpful so far. As for what you write about 'natural ability' this would not serve. However, there is such a thing as time and resources to properly learn the craft and this would not be accessible to most people. And I think you are most correct in your assessment that only few of those again would be willing to put in the time and effort required. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ Glad I could help. I'm going to leave in the Ability section, as it may be useful to other readers. A further thought I had while re-reading this is the "waking dreamlike mind-state" reminded me of Dune, specifically the spice Melange. The terrifying conclusion there is a world where all the mages are drug addicts. I get the impression this isn't the direction you want to go. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ For simple magic this mindstate would only be brief and vague, kind of like the way it feels when a smell make you remember a childhood memory. As things get more advanced and complicated you are drawn into a vaking dreamlike vision of how the changes you are making pull at the fabric of everything surounding it. It is possible to get lost in the mindstate, but also possible to protect oneself from it by making more intricate spells, songs or dances to distance yourself from it. The danger is that you start to focus on the dream itself too much. Then you will only alter the dream, and it you. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ Huh. Seems I misinterpreted "Original access to magic" as a one-time access rite, as opposed to a recurring usage cost. Anyway, it seems you could have some interesting schisms based on how (or whether) you protect yourself from the consequences. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 3:34

Jealously I think this depends on how common magic is. If very few people can do it then I don't think you have much to worry about. Domination is at the core of humanity, as is resentment and jealousy. These feelings will ultimately lead to normals trying to outpace wizards in terms of power, thus drive technological innovation.

You can see this today in the real world. A guy does something to impress others, another tries to do the same. He then finds out he can't or can't do it as good and gets jealous. He then tries to find something else that not only will impress others, but will be better than the other guys.

In your world, there would likely be a considerable group of anti-magic protestors who would seek out technological advancement in order to out compete the magic users.

Fear There could also be a class/power structure where normal people don't like being reliant on the mages. Ever hear of the quote "A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take it all away"? People might not like using the mages as they could fear that one day the mages will become tyrants and harm them. Again driving the need to keep their power in check through technology.

Some kingdoms might even ban mages or try to eliminate magic as the kings might view them as a threat to their rule. This leaves open a vacuum for technology to fill up the spaces the mages once occupied.

Religion Some religions might view magic as evil and work of demonic forces. As such those who adhere to the religion would view the mages with contempt or even try to kill them (and might need new weapons). The priest class could also seek out technology in order to show the masses that their god(s) are truly divine and that magic isn't needed. "The mages try to impersonate the divine with their heresy!"


I think the effect of mixing magic and technology would be interesting enough to keep, most people work hard at keeping the two clear and separate but it could be interesting to see what happened if they did start working in harmony.

The key differences:

Magic: Expensive, bespoke, difficult, available only to a privileged few.
Technology: Cheap, mass produced, easy, available to everyone.

At least that's how it's seen, but technology also starts out expensive and bespoke and some technologies stay that way. It's rare that people stretch their magic to the point of being available to the mass market, but you could consider the technologies that remain expensive and see if magic is cheaper.

Consider the following simple spell.

Rotation: makes an object spin at a steady rate, lasts indefinitely

You cast the spell and the object spins forever unless stopped by another spell. In a mixed tech/magic world, you've just completely removed the need for fossil fuels. Every vehicle, every aircraft, every power station is run by one or more enchanted rotating objects. The rest of the tech is all there, the car still needs development, controls, a radio etc. but it doesn't need to burn oil. Of course it's expensive to buy a personal car running on the spell, but you could buy an electric car. (Electric cars pre-date internal combustion)

The ultimate end to this is a more advanced society because it's not being held back by the need for fuel sources, it's not going to war over oil, it's a quieter cleaner place.

Let your world have a seamless blending of magic and technology and see where it leads. See what happens if you let them compete directly for the mass market.

Are you going to buy Apple, Android, or a Dis-organiser?

  • $\begingroup$ As for the cost of magic being difficult for most people to handle I think you have a good point. But as for the idea about rotation, it is a rather abstract idea. Somebody trying to make a cogweel turn would be focusing on the cog itself, the shape or the material. Sometime in the future with better understaning of physics people might realise that rotation in itself exist as a concept independent of the material, but I think that it might be a but further down the road. Besides, it might do some very unsavoury things to the human body upon first attempts. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @MartineVotvik, the cost of magic is always one of the important factors. Whether or not you get a few apprentice wizards counter rotating their rotating objects depends on how much comedy you want. The idea of setting something to rotate, while quite a strange concept in a pure magic society, would be a key factor in a magic-tech hybrid society. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ ah, I don't doubt the utility of being able to set things to rotate, I'm just unsure at what point magic that is accessed by meditating on material will be able to do things independent of material. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @MartineVotvik, for me to give a judgement on that you'd have to fill in a gap, namely: What does your magic actually do? $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 14:57

Your goal is to limiting the use of magic so that people do not " begin to distance themselves from the negative consequences" so that magic dose not replace technology. To do this you must stop the spread of knowledge of magic If knowledge of magic spreads then people we find the right (incantations, spell writing, dances or songs) to distance themselves from the negative consequences. There are two ways to do this. In the first magic users stop sharing there knowledge with other magic user and the outside (Those that can't or at least don't know to use magic). In the other the magic user still share information with others who already know how to use magic, but they keep there knowledge a secret from the outside world. Details on these two scenarios are below.

  1. war between mages results in most of them dying and their books destroyed. A few still survive on both sides but war has left the survivors paranoid that another war will start so they guarded their knowledge like military secrets only share it with those they trust. The lake of distrust between magic users would slow down the development of magic long enough for us to develop tech.

  2. For some reason the those with knowledge of magic retreat from the world becoming hermits going to live in monasteries in the tops of maintain, or in caves in the desert or form communities in dark forests. Because of their isolation from the rest of the world they develop a tribal mentality and refuse to share their knowledge with anyone outside of the group. Since the rest of world doesn't know to use magic they develop tech.

  • $\begingroup$ "most of them dyeing" they dye their hair? "there books" here books, there books, everywhere books! "tops of maintain" now you're just not making sense. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 3:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz Their books that contain there magic knowledge if you magic users then your going to have magic users wright stuff down. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 3:46
  • $\begingroup$ "Their books", not there. You want the posessive pronoun related the "they", not the location that's the opposite of "here". I was trying to illustrate (with intended humor) how the post reads to someone who doesn't hear the words as spoken but rather reads visually/symbolically. And now "wright stuff down"? Picture blacksmiths at work with hammers and anvils, not the intended pens! $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ This is not the same (good) level of quality as your other posts. It's downright painful to read with homonyms, "phone typing" words, bad grammar and missing words, not as an occasional mistake but pervasive. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure thank you for your effort. As stated in the question magic is notoriously difficult to master in a safe way. Also as stated in the quesiton using magic in an unsafe way is a god way to either die from the exposure or be killed by other people. Consequently public access to magic must be assumed to be limited in the first place as most people wouldn't have time away from making a living to develop their magic skills. Therefor this answer doesn't add anything of consequence to the setting aside from what I'm already doing. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 13:42

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