What would be the impact of my magic system on technological development of human-like civilizations, starting with bronze age level technology and going through to around 1900 level technology (through all this time, no one knows how magic works).

Magic consumes energy from special ATP generating cells that have no other functionality. It can only turn the ATP in those cells back into ADP and a phosphate, using the energy that results with 100% efficiency (or maybe less, as described later). It can not farther break down the ADP into AMP. It also can not use ATP in other cells, so trying to expend too much energy will not kill a person by depriving vital cells of energy. While all people have some amount of these cells, a person's magical ability is determined by the number of these cells (a person with only a few of these cells will not be able to work much magic at a time, but a person with many of these cells can do a large amount of magic).

The energy consumed by the magic would be the same through accomplishing the task through purely physical means at 100% efficiency if the magic is working within 100 yards of the person casting the magic. If the magic is doing anything beyond that range, it will increase in energy with the square of the distance (120 yards is 1.44x energy, 200 yards is 4x energy, etc.), with the waste energy turning into heat (more on this later).

Matter, energy, charge, linear momentum, and angular momentum are all conserved by magic (except for the matter and energy when magic produces matter from energy, where E=mc^2). Any change in charge caused by the magic with result in the body of the person who casted the magic gaining an opposite charge. Linear and angular momentum similarly impact the person casting it. Note that all three will be equally spread out through the person casting it (so high g-forces during the acceleration will not kill or injure the person, though it can put the person in a situation that can harm them) and that, if the person does opposite magic that cancels out the change in those 5 (i.e. giving one object a strong negative charge and another an equally strong positive charge) this will not impact the person.

If the spell works on something farther away than 100 yards, the waste energy heats the person up, so trying to do too much too far away will, if you don't run out of energy first, cause you to overheat and die.

If the spell you cast would start with input energy and produce more (such as an exothermic chemical reaction), you have to input the starting energy and you will not get any of the released energy back as ATP.

The other limiting factor on what you can do with magic is what you can think of doing. Creating a fire would not require any knowledge of how fire works, for example, but it would require knowledge of the existence of fire. Cutting a person's aorta in an attempt to quickly kill them would require knowledge of the aorta's existence (and would not be attempted unless the person casting the magic has knowledge of the aorta's importance).

If a person attempts to cast magic to accomplish something without thinking of how the magic should accomplish it, the magic will automatically use the lowest energy way of achieving it. For example, trying to start a fire will not result in sunlight being focused from near the sun because, as it is so far away, it will take an absurd amount of energy and kill the person many times over with heat.

If a person casts a magic spell to do something, while another person casts magic to prevent it from happening, energy is drained from both people until either one person runs out of energy or gives up on casting the spell.

Casting a magic spell is done entirely mentally and, as such, will only cause what the person meant to happen to actually happen. There are no side effects of magic aside from what has already been mentioned.

  • $\begingroup$ You say that magic can produce matter and energy, but give no details. They do matter. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2016 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ Magic produces matter from energy using energy according to E=mc^2. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2016 at 22:05
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    $\begingroup$ Question: Does possession of tools related to the task alter the magic expenditure needed? I.E. If I have a hammer, an anvil, and a coal forge, it takes a certain amount of effort to make a knife. If I have a Trip Hammer (a mechanical hammering rig) as well, it takes less effort. Having a propane forge reduces the effort even more. So if I have the tools, does making a knife with magic get easier, or is it just as easy to make a knife from a lump of metal with no tools as it is with the full complement of tools? Similarly, does making fire get easier if I hold a flask of kerosene? $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2016 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ 2nd question: Suppose someone figures out how to do something in theory but doesn't know for a fact that it works. Could they try to do it magically, and would it work if it was possible but they don't know for certain that it's possible? I.E. Most of daVinci's sketches that he lacked the material technology to fabricate. Could a daVinci or an Einstein test theoretical science beyond their tech level using magic? $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2016 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ 1st question: Anything that can be done directly via mundane means to reduce the magic needed would help (i.e. using a propane forge to heat up your metal would make working it a lot easier, either physically or magically, although making the fire entirely magically would take a huge amount of energy). Actually doing the hammering with magic would be inefficient as you don't need the hammer to exert enough force to work the metal, you can exert the force entirely via magic. Is this clear? $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2016 at 3:12

3 Answers 3


The obvious effect of this kind of magic is that it replaces many kinds of craftsmanship. For example, I want to make a hole in a piece of wood. I have it on a table in front of me, and I have suitable tools for doing the job. For the same effort as would be expended in doing the job physically, I can do it by magic, and it happens exactly as I desire it to: I can't make physical slip-ups.

So the way technological development happens changes. Physical work is still required to find out how to do things, but as soon as a method is understood, doing it by magic produces far better results. This applies not only to making goods, but making the tools used to make them, and the tools that make the tools. Magic does not replace engineering design, but it replaces production engineering.


Surprisingly little.

If the energy needed to power magic is stored in ATP, the energy density would never be that high. This is why your body only uses it for temporary storage, and generates new ATP during exercise by burning sugars, fats, and proteins for fuel. To explain further:

  1. Hydrolysis of ATP to ADP releases 7.3 kcal of energy per mole. The mass of ATP is 500 g/mole, and its density is roughly the same as water (1.04 g/cm^3). Thus, a liter of ATP only stores about 14kcal (~61 kilojoules) of energy. A liter being as big as it is, I doubt a body could store much more unless your magicians were particularly corpulent.
  2. If your goal is to produce motion, you might be able to get somewhere. Your hypothetical liter of ATP could act as a 10 horsepower engine for 8 seconds. That's enough energy to lift 300 bushels of produce up onto a wagon, but not enough power to mow my lawn.
  3. If your goal is to produce heat, you will be disappointed. That same liter of ATP could warm a half-liter pan of room-temperature water by 28 degrees C, or about 1/3 of the way to boiling.
  4. If your goal is to create matter, your hopes will be crushed. Given the standard speed of light (3x10^10 cm/sec), you would need 90 Terajoules of energy to produce a single gram of mass. For comparison, the atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima only released 63TJ of energy.

The reason we use ATP (and the reason you might find it useful for magic) is that it can be triggered to release its energy quickly. After you do that, though, you'd have to recharge, and that takes longer. Rather than use magic to load your farm produce, you might do better feeding some of it to a farmhand and ask him to pick up those vegetables himself.

  • $\begingroup$ That's a great point, so unless the magic cells also followed the same method of energy generation (using sugars, fats, & proteins ... [don't proteins & fats get broken up into sugars in the process?]), anyway unless the energy production is the same the magic would do little. If the magic cells utilized energy the same way muscle cells do, then a mage could possibly do magic over time (and would experience metabolic effects similar to exercise right?) $\endgroup$
    – MER
    Aug 2, 2016 at 1:25

It sounds as though it's risky to use magic on a process if it hasn't been done before, so mundane methods will likely be perfected and energy expended in using it to do things would be carefully measured.

It actually sounds as though this world will eventually be made up of MAD SCIENTIST MAGES! Who will experiment at every turn. But maybe not. Here's my list of things to consider for each age.

Bronze Age Expect magic to be clouded in superstition. Metalworking may advance more quickly. Medicine may not, since all you have to do is have a healthy person expend energy to get people through illness. Wars may be fought with magically augmented weaponry, but I doubt they will delve much into tech at this point.

Iron Age If, and only if, some mages have worked with metal in the Bronze Age and have not kept their methods a secret, would I expect this era to come a little earlier. Weapons that should not work may be helped along with magic. In the case of medicine, things will not advance but stagnate. The response to the Black Plague and how that's handled will likely determine much.

Dark Ages This is where, I believe, things will get interesting. If magic can be used to create art--to paint exactly what's seen, then, we will have photo-real art. Before this point, it was churches in the real world which advanced things and spread ideas (like, say, the concept of zero and Arabic numbers) during the Dark Ages. Religion will be considerably different with magic thrown into the mix. Much of what we know at the beginning of the Renaissance era is highly dependant on this interconnected society of churches. If mages had the same sort of thing to replace it, we might be in a good place. But if they guard their knowledge fiercely and do not share, this might be a REASON for an extended Dark Age, so this period may, in fact be pushed back, unless that problem is solved. Tech and knowledge is never separated from society, so questions such as these, are important to knowing where tech will be.

Renaissance/Age of Reason This is when, in this world, we started asking questions about our world and testing theories. I actually believe that mundanes, curious about the way things work, may advance things far more than you'd think. Trade and manufacture of goods will highly motivate mundanes to pay mages to advance processes in order to make them money. Look at what made money then, and then figure out how your particular flavor of mages can help with that. You know your world better than I do, but it's a starting point.

The Beginning of the Industrial Age By 1900, this had already kicked off, especially in England, in our world. Again, follow the model used on the Renaissance. What makes money? And how can your magic processes be used to augment that?


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