One of the biggest issues of typical fantasy Magic in most settings seems to be that it is able to easily and freely manipulate, create and destroy energy at a whim.

Teleportation, for instance, generally ignores the momentum and potential energies that something has. And that's before we touch on summoning, creating fireballs and ice bolts and then to suddenly give it mass and momentum without apparent 'cost'

What would be the best way to balance this, some kind of latent power-source drawn on, and from where? Wouldn't that be another transfer of energy?

closed as primarily opinion-based by James, Hohmannfan, John Dallman, MozerShmozer, Aify Sep 15 '16 at 16:06

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    Well, generally people used to call magic what they could not explain. You may explain how a wizard creates fire by just breaking carbon bridges into a combustion with oxygen, but how does he do with only his mind? Well, that's magic – Yacomini Sep 15 '16 at 14:14
  • Welcome Cyberspark, as it stands this is totally based on opinion. What's the best xxxxxx" is a warning sign that you are drifting towards opinions. This is particularly true when there are no conditions to narrow the scope of possible answers. – James Sep 15 '16 at 14:21
  • @Yacomini Yeah, I don't really like the 'unexplained science' explanation, it feels like a cop-out to me, especially when somethings seem to out-right break currently known physical laws. – Cyberspark Sep 15 '16 at 14:24
  • @James Ok, I'm sorry about that. Is there some way I could improve my question to solve that issue? Or would there be a better place for me to take this? – Cyberspark Sep 15 '16 at 14:25
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    If I can promote my own answer, I recommend reading the winning answer for What is the smallest change to physics required to allow magic? I don't think it's a perfect duplicate of your question, but I think some of the answers might help. If not, there are some directions one can take with magic to ensure that the scientific method cannot be used on it, which helps keep the two distinct. – Cort Ammon Sep 15 '16 at 14:28

One of the most powerful tools I have for permitting science and magic in the same universe is to be very cautious about making anything obviously magic. If anything obviously violates the rules of science (such as violating the conservation of energy), it's going to be picked up rapidly.

Of course, your world might not have developed the conservation of energy law, if it's so easy to disprove. This has TONS of implications, as I mentioned in a previous answer. Nother's theorem implies that if you have laws of the universe that are true at all times, there will be something energy-like that is conserved. Physics gets really iffy if you break these rules.

A solution which has proven to be very effective is to include the "self" in any magical act. Science cannot study topics which include the "self" because there is no way to make a repeatable and reproducible experiment if one's own consciousness is part of the act. Obviously this "self" should not be producing energy, because that would be easily detected, but it could produce information. It could have a curiously strong intuition about the configuration of air atoms near the wick of a candle, and the correct set of hand-waves to cause them to just happen to generate enough heat to light the candle. The energy was there in the air all along, as "thermal energy," but it was simply thought to be useless until that "self" pointed out that there was a pattern to the air molecules that everyone had overlooked.

Done this way, you can root magic in a part of the human condition that is currently not divined by science: conciousness itself. It may be as simple as your physical brain having held onto some useful information, or it may be as exotic as some metaphysical "self" tapping into magical ley lines. If it's not clear which is the true cause, then you don't flat out refute science, but science can't refute magic either. They have to exist in a limbo of sorts. Keep that limbo in balance, and you can have as much interesting magic in your story as you please!

Make the magic be observable, predictable and repeatable

Clarke's Third Law

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

We can do things today that are entirely magical... a person that lived, say, 500 years ago. If we went back in time and showed these things, they would say "It is magic". And it is, to them.

Mutatis mutandis, bring technology and science and understanding from 500 years in the future to us, and we will say "Whoa, that is magic!!".

"Magic" is simply a placeholder term for saying "Things that we do not understand how they work (yet)". Once we start investigating it in a scientific manner, and understand how it works, then it is not magic any more, then it is knowledge.

How do we get knowledge? Through the process of Science. What is the process of science?

  1. Observe, and look for patterns
  2. Hypothesize what that pattern might be
  3. Test the hypothesis (experiment)
  4. Check if the experiment gives the expected outcome and the pattern keeps repeating itself
  5. If so, now you know how it works. If not, start over from 1.

Your question is: "How do I make sure Magic is consistent with the Laws of Physics?".

The answer is:

You make the effects of magic be observable, predictable, and repeatable.

In short: your magic is simply new physics that is waiting to be explored.

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    I love that you and I came up with completely contradictory answers about how to permit magic and science in the same world. I swear, these questions are more fun... – Cort Ammon Sep 15 '16 at 16:35
  • @CortAmmon Well actually... we are on the same track... it's just that you choose to keep magic being magical and I say how to turn magic into physics. :D – MichaelK Sep 15 '16 at 20:21

Making magic consistent with the laws of physics is hard, it is much simpler to create new laws that are encompassing and have drawbacks as high as the rewards, but with characters willing to endure the drawbacks.

first, lets take a person with super strength, he may have more muscles than anyone else but he would need to eat more or his bones would be the same as our own and therefore each time he used his strength even for a short time, he risks breaking his own bones and being massively fatigued. This is not "magic" but this is a simple example.

There are books that follow this logic, one of those is "The Black Company" by Glen Cook. The setting is low fantasy and early on the setting is that doing magic is simply expending your bodies calories to do things instantly rather than doing them by hand. For this reason most of the magic done are small things, parlor tricks like illusions and false sounds because those are cheaper than say throwing a ball of fire.

There are also other approaches like adding physics to the magic. The lightbringer novels by Brent Weeks is a good example of this. He places hard restrictions on magic; how to get it, values such as mass and tinsel strength, and even mental tolls. Using magic in his world even alters your body by forcing the magic from your body you cut open your skin and slowly change the colors in your body.

You can even look to dungeons and dragons in adding laws to your magic, such as requiring ingredients to cheapen the cost physically but to limit what can be done and increasing fiscal cost. There is also preparation time to make the sorcerer think twice as their target may kill them before the magic even completes.

Your magic is almost a character itself, there must be consequences for just willing things into place unlike Harry Potter. Whatever you decide, make sure the approach is consistent as a reader can easily tell if your breaking your own rules to advance the plot.

Science part

You may explain how fire is produced, how teleportation is possible, how to materialize ice, etc. in atomic levels. "The wizard combined the oxygen and hydrogen in the air, and lower it temperature by transferring the heat to nitrogen in the air" (this is me rambling not actual science) but there's no possible way to do this without advanced machinery (or even do it, sometimes).

Magic part

Where does magic takes part? Well, in not explaining how somebody with the power of his own mind could manipulate atoms or create the energy to do so. The word magic was always used on phenomenons that we couldn't explain, later on we start calling this lack of knowledge.

As other answer specify about using energy from your body, in Eragon series you can find that magic cannot be done unless you have the psychic energy to do so.

In Larry Niven's "Warlock" series of novels and short stories, magic is a non-renewable resource. If a magic user stays too long in one place, their powers eventually disappear, until they move on to a new place. After many long centuries of magic use, all the potential magical energy, called "mana", on Earth is used up, which leaves us with the non-magical world that we know today.

The fact that magic energy is non-renewable means that its use doesn't violate the conservation of energy. The world comes pre-charged with a finite amount of it, and any portion of it can only be used to power a magical spell once. After that, it's in some form that's unsuitable for further use by wizards.

Just make sure you follow the laws of physics.

Teleportation conserves momentum, and teleporting to higher potential energy requires more energy from the caster.

Ice bolt requires harvesting humidity from the caster or the surroundings.

Fire bolt requires energy from the caster to break molecule bonds and create fuel from the surroundings.

Imagine a way for the caster to harness their own energy into magical energy.

Your best bet, in my opinion, would be to try something similar to the Inheritance Cycle. Shortly put, doing anything by magic consumes the same amount of energy as doing it without. So for example, you can use it to move items from place A to place B in no time at all, but the energy cost is still the same. This way, it is basically just projecting energy from your own body.

Another option would be to use items that need to be charged to power said magic, a little like a magical battery. You'd have to figure out how to reload it, I would suggest ley lines or something similar, but this is not strictly following the laws of physics and thus might not fit your purposes.

  • I'm not adverse to this idea. It's feasible in the least, whether ley lines or some weird background-radiation like energy permeating the universe or something. The later feels a little like a cop-out, especially I don't like the idea of leaving 'holes' where energy can't be accessed. I think I prefer the magical battery of some form to most explanations, but I can't quite make it fit, specifically in a medieval setting, though higher tech settings it's easier to fit. The drawn-from body concept is nice in that it removes some of the down-sides, but I can't get over the eating required – Cyberspark Sep 15 '16 at 14:21
  • You could also try an approach that is a modified version of the first one, where the body acts as a battery and "recharges" magical energy as one rests. That has the best of both worlds in that it does not require any devices or items to be carried, doesn't make things too easy by removing all limitations, but also doesn't necessitate excessive eating. @Cyberspark – FinnishHistorian Sep 15 '16 at 16:13

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