# Why would a society choose to reject technology and use only magic?

In my world, some people discover how to use inter-dimensional energy to change reality (magic) and how to communicate with inter-dimensional beings (magical creatures). This leads to at least one nation rejecting advanced technology, and using only magic and some primitive forms of tech.

Why would they do this?

Magic is very powerful, but takes years of specialized training. Your average person can only use magic to make small changes to reality. Bigger spells can only be done by a person with specialized training. Very Powerful spells (city destroying and/or creating) are very dangerous to do without the help of magical creatures, and even then are still dangerous.

Some other countries have also switched to using magic, but most still don't. In these countries there are a few magic users, but they can do only what the average person can do in high magic countries.

The countries tech level was about the same as ours is right now. Magic was discovered about five years ago.

• Magic is ALSO in category of technology, it only uses other energy types... Nov 25 '16 at 7:36
• Well, my Magic Crystal Ball won't run Fallout 4, so I guess I'm sticking to technology. But in all seriousness, magic would become a complement to technology, not regress humanity to the middle ages. Quite simply, we can accomplish incredible feats with technology. And the comfort, accessibility, and control it gives us over our lives is not worth abandoning. Magic might bring about even more benefits, comforts, etc. but why would a smart phone and magic wand be mutually exclusive? Nov 25 '16 at 17:20
• The answer is simple: magic is cheaper and more common than tech. Nov 26 '16 at 5:39
• nations that want to preserve an aristocracy might find magic appealing, it helps concentrate power in a few hands. Really given your rules of magic a top down enforcement is just about the only way, because you don't need to understand how a car or computer works to use it. But tech will keep creeping in and I expect fairly strong black market for it.
– John
Nov 29 '16 at 19:40
• Magic is also tech! In a world where magic is, there are physical laws in a way that they include those powers. Then tech is just same as our tech - the usage of physical laws for benefit of user. Jun 1 '17 at 13:24

## Magic makes tech expensive and redundant

If magic, with training, can complete the functions of technology, without spending time and money on research; if the average person can train in magic to reach this point; and if these functions are safe; something like a "magic school" system may be set up. Different classes could be set up researching different fields of study, and college-level courses may open up for specialization in a particular (non-dark) art.

Who needs a car when there's the Spell of Short Range Teleportation?

Who needs a computer when there's the Vex of Collective Knowledge?

Who needs space shuttles when you can Astral Project across the universe?

• I get why it makes it redundant but why expensive. If there are less people using the technology then it should become cheaper, at the very least with things that already exist. Unless ofcourse tech needs to be reinforced to make them magic resistant because high levels of magic causes electronics to stop working(like in god knows how many book, harry potter for example). Nov 25 '16 at 23:13
• @Necessity Why put money into designing something and perfecting it if there are known spells? Nov 26 '16 at 0:52
• @Necessity: No, the more people who use a technology, the cheaper each individual unit of that technology becomes. Consider that Intel spends something like \$5 billion annually on R&D. (That's before they manufacture a single chip...) Suppose those costs had to be recovered from a few thousand customers, instead of several billion. Nov 26 '16 at 5:07
• @jamesqf Exactly, economies of scale. Small screens and small rechargeable batteries were insanely expensive back before smartphones drastically increased the need for these technologies. After that the prices fell through the ground. Jun 1 '17 at 13:43
• Realistically, integrating the two is probably the most optimal route. However, different magic systems may make that problematic. Assuming such a system, I think rather than an immediate switch, this process would be more gradual. As time goes on, people rely more and more on magic and scientific research declines. Eventually, there just isn't enough experience or knowledge of scientific affairs and society becomes wholly reliant on magic. Jun 1 '17 at 15:43

Some reasons have been diecussed in older questions.

First, (as explained here) a universe with highly teleologic rules that are what’s needed for magic is not good for the scientific method which is based on simple rock-bottom rules.

If physical law were teleological instead, an attempt to understand physics would be more like psycology or politics. It would have more in common with Madison Avenue than Mathematics.

The nature of teleological rules with regards to making magic possible was a theme across a few of my answers around the same time.

If you had a universe with both rock-bottom laws and some kind of teleological rules, they might interfere with each other (as elaborated on in this Answer).

Experiments get messed up by magic influences. … The same would hold for commercial applications. So, your electronics would go haywire if brought into a household where all the appliances and comforts were based on magic. A household would be strictly one or the other, beyond the most robust physical "simple machines".

In the first case, science may never develop or be possible as we know it. In the second case, different societies might choose one or the other, making for a more interesting world!

• I like the idea that Tech and Magic are incompatible, especially under the premise that Tech relies on Physics, While magic breaks Physics to achieve its results. It does not make sense that they would play nice together. Of course, In practice, it should not just be any magic stops tech from working. For instance, Magical Light Switches might stop electricity from flowing properly, or maybe your magic power storage device sucks it from the wire through the air into it, converting it into magic power. So some tech might be useful for magic tools and vice versa, they are very limited.
– Ryan
Nov 25 '16 at 16:58
• This reminds me somewhat of the magic worlds from Weber's Multiverse, and also of Christopher Anvil's Stranglehold. Anyway, the idea of magic and technology being incompatible is very common... Feb 17 '20 at 18:00

One subject that it would be helpful to research is the Amish (as well as a few conservative Mennonites and the like). They have chosen to reject some forms of technology while accepting others.

This is based around the idea that some technology can lead to temptations that would break apart their current way of life. Specifically, they believe that their current culture encourages salvation of the soul, giving people good odds of going to heaven.

Amish (and other conservative Anabaptist) ideology states that faith is not enough for salvation; people must also do good works. Amish life emphasizes keeping oneself focused on God. This includes avoiding temptations of the world that would distract them.

Fashion and photographs of people lead to "pridefulness" and vanity, circuses and recorded music make us focused on the sensual pleasures on Earth, and too much convenience leads to sloth (as well as less connection to others in the faith community, since it is easier to do things without cooperation with others).

One great source of information would be http://amishamerica.com. The comments section ranges from actual Amish and ex-Amish to people who have never known an Amish person and hold romanticized or demonized views of them. The posts themselves, however, are well-informed.

This leads me to one final point: the Amish do not reject all forms of new technology. Things that are considered helpful or neutral for community well-being are embraced. For example, many communities allow milking machines (involving plastic tubes attached to cow udders during milking time and pumping the milk into a vat) for commercial dairies. The reasoning for at least one community is that, since women and girls are usually not as physically strong as menfolk, the family is apart during milking time. With the machines, everyone in the family can participate. (Hauling the milk by hand would involve several trips carrying 80-pound bucketfuls of milk.)

I hope this gets the creative juices flowing, and this is is just the tip of the iceberg! Happy writing.

A couple of thoughts:

## An advanced civilization requires full commitment in one of the two

Technology how we perceive it is the result of an entire technological ecosystem.

It's not just that someone invented the smartphone, but that we have the means to make it widely available to the population:

• an industry that requires specific materials to produce what economics requires
• economics highly influenced by population\industry needs that relies on communication systems
• communication systems that both power and relies on products of industry
• politics that fights internal end external power games to gain advantage in one or more sectors, using the other sectors as weapons

and so on.

If your tech is based on magic and not on science, the targets and balance of this sectors would shift towards the different needs dictated by the different requirements.

• All of a sudden that mineral exploitation is far less important than the damage to the magical crossroad in the area it is causing : better stop it and start the building of a portal to access that power.
• Having satellites or internet will do you no good if the standard message spell requires another crystal relay to avoid aether saturation.
• The markets boom of guano farms after the last improvements in fireball-powered heating has made go bankrupt half of the traditional farming field: that international agreement about standardization of cereal prices HAS to be made.

Furthermore, every sector requires specialized personnel to keep working. Its not easy to become a senior nuclear engineer or a 12th-level transmutator. Only exceptional subjects could achieve to become both.

A timeframe of 5 years is more a transition period for this kind of scenario and, for the big spells, magic tech would still be considered "cutting-edge tech" for specialized users. Give it a couple of decades, and it will be integrated in society as mundanity, with science tech, and its requirements, slowly fading away.

## It becomes a cultural matter

When something has been made in a certain way for so much time, so much has been built around it and so many people use it, there is no real gain in changing it. Even for the better, if it requires a revolution.

If everyone around me measures distances in imperial units, it would be a questionable choice to keep using the metric system, even if it's more globally acknowledged. And then there's the ones who say Macs are "clearly" better than PCs. I mean, who am i to judge.

Introducing magic, there will be an initial shock and undoubted resistance, but if your magic keeps growing over the science tech, give it enough time and things like interdimensional cooking will be perceived as normal. You could then cook with a microweave, but you will be considered a weirdo or a nitpicking foodie.

It will become so rooted in the society that doing things with magic would be considered the normal, preferable way.

They wouldn't! Magic as you describe is just rebranded science. Technology would be chosen because nearly anyone can use it, a cheap flight on passenger jet is more accessible to the masses than flying spells. While in the real world the ratio of the population that understand biochemistry or quantum mechanics to a useful degree is small, the requirements to use the fruit of that knowledge is minimal (i.e. switch on a computer or put washing powder in the machine).

The whole technology vs magic thing has always struck me as odd (as well as the notion that they are mutually exclusive), because in a word where magic works and does so consistently it ceases to be magic and becomes a natural phenomenon that science can study. In the real world Isaac Newton wrote more books on alchemy than he did on physics, in a world where magic works he would blended the two and magic would be part of physics.

Magic using societies would probably either be wiped out by neighbours, remain decentralised and clannish/tribal or become magocratic. Magic is a great equaliser, if a peasant with no wealth and no army can destroy a castle, or cause a famine by controlling the weather, then they wield power comparable to a monarch....and monarchs would take a dim view of that. The status quo would either suppress all magic or make the exclusive province of the ruling class. That is before you get to neighbouring societies fearing/having taboos about magic.

• "The whole technology vs magic thing has always struck me as odd" - because we treat magic as something new and totally unknown. I believe that it makes a large difference whether magic is a natural part of the universe we're in, or, on the contrary, when it suddenly appears out from nowhere and scares the hell out of the scientists. Most people, me included, intuitively treat magic as in the second scenario for obvious reasons. But yeah, if you think about it, it's just another school discipline after all, if everyone gets used to it. Nov 27 '17 at 9:30
• Something being new and unknown doesn't exclude it from scientific enquiry. As scientific understanding of the world increases, new and unexplored layers of reality are revealed. The discovery of quantum mechanics, neuroscience, modern genetics all reveal things about the way the world works which were totally unknown at the time, operated contrary to what was thought and concerned the operation of the world...none of it was considered magic. Terry Pratchett's wizards are a good (inverted) example of this, wizardry is described in pseudo-physics terms by old men in pointy hats. Nov 27 '17 at 15:12

Perhaps the choice to use magic was not made by the society as a whole but by those ruling it as a means of control. Technology may be outlawed as it presents a threat to the ruling class of powerful mages.

As an example, perhaps a mage can defeat any blade wielding adversary but guns/canons may present a challenge.

Or mages may use their abilities to monopolize services which machinery would make far more publicly accessible, removing sources of great personal wealth. Refrigeration, mills or large excavation as examples, it all depends on where your people are technologically.

A quick google definition of technology is "the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry."

Definition of science "the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment."

I think magic, in most cases, can be argued to be the application of unknown scientific principles. The study of magic is much like science in that it is cause and effect, experiment and observation. Technology is just the application of science, so if magic is science, then technology can utilize that and still be technology. It just utilizes different science.

In this case, maybe the preference for magic tech is intentionally influenced by the government, by subsidizing magic tech studies and universities and research. This way there are more magic technicians, more magic based businesses, more magic based inventions, and more magic based technology. The reason a government might choose this could be lack of natural resources, and conversely less dependence on importing goods or other technology.

Once the issue is less magic vs real life tech you can explore more political and or social aspects of that choice. Maybe religion could be involved, too. Maybe in terms of why other countries don't use it.

Combining two answers to another reason. There could have been a war so devastating for this nation that the goverment curses technology (definitely metaphorically and possibly literally) and forbids its use. For law breakers, death penalty awaits.

Your question has a hidden premise that is false. Societies do not make choices, people do. A society that chose magic is simply a society dominated by people who chose magic. So there are actually two questions here : Why would a significant group of people choose magic? Why would this group dominate a society?

The first question is fairly easy. These people are powerful magicians. Due to natural talent, years of dedicated study, or a pact with magical being their power as magicians vastly exceeds what technology could give them. Or perhaps they just enjoy using magic more.

The second question is also fairly easy. These people are powerful magicians. They made it happen.

Maybe there was persecution and magicians congregated for mutual safety. Or maybe just freedom from prejudice and acceptance. Maybe this place has more mana or a shrine that allows easy contact with magical beings. Maybe magicians joined together for study and information. Either voluntarily or after "persuasion" by a shadowy government agency. Maybe the magicians were deported to remote location where risks were easier to manage. Maybe there was this single very powerful magician others gathered around. Maybe there were simply some magicians with leadership ability who got organized.

Whatever the cause this place had much higher concentration of powerful magicians than usual. And they then "took over" the society. Maybe the location had few non-magicians to begin with. Maybe many people left when weird people and magical beings started becoming common. Maybe there was actual conflict and the magicians won. Maybe the magicians have access to mind control magic. Maybe they made a deal with a powerful government.

Note that the maybes are generally not mutually exclusive. Mix and match as you will.

## "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

-Arthur C. Clarke (more info)

In other words, you should treat magic like another form of technology. Other answers have tried to argue that using magic over technology precludes the need for both education and research, but in all magic systems I can think of:

1. Magic users still need a very high level of education (otherwise Hogwarts wouldn't be necessary, or all D&D characters of all classes would know spells & be able to cast them at any time)
2. Advances in magic only come from hermit-like mages who devote their entire lives to the study of magic (sounds like research to me!)

To an ancient Roman, a car is magic. We know how it works, which makes it technology. Any magic, as soon as you know how it works and how to use it, becomes technology rather than magic.

If you want to have a people who have rejected one type of technology for "magic" (which is just another technology), there are many reasons to do so:

1. Magic is easier to teach than the available technology (is learning casting a teleportation spell easier than driving a car or flying a plane?)
2. Magic is less expensive to use than the available technology (is Floo Powder easier to make than jet fuel -- and the jet itself?)
3. Magic is religiously (think Amish) or socially acceptable over technology (combustion engines require consumption of fossil fuels, which depletes the earth!)

... and many more. Basically whatever you can think of. But however magic works in your universe, it should be treated as an alternative technology, rather than an alternative to technology.

Technology is very dependent on your ability to predict what you will need in the future. Technology always takes the form of a 3 step process:

• Use your willpower to create a technological device that you believe will do what you need, expending energy to do so.
• Wait for the opportune moment
• Use said technology to reap benefits

This approach requires a mixture of two factors to be successful:

• You need to be very good at predicting what you need in advance, or...
• You need to have a lot of spare energy to waste.

In our world, we happen to be very good at predicting what we will need. We construct airbags years before the 75ms where it gets used during an accident. We also have an incredible amount of energy to waste thanks to fossil fuels. If you get the technology wrong 10 times, and then get it right once, you can still come out ahead.

What if this wasn't the case? What if we didn't have a bunch of energy and resources to waste on failed attempts? What if we had to get it right the first time. Also, what if we weren't so good at predicting what we need? Our technological approach today is very dependent on the assumption that our choice to make a technology doesn't noticeably perturb the world in a way that makes the technology useless.

Warfare example: I want to hurt you, and there's a stick on the ground. I can use that stick as technology. I can take the energy to pick it up, grip it tightly, and then look for an opportunity to bean you on the head. What happens in reality? When I choose to make this "technology," you see what I'm doing, decide you don't want to be beaned on the head, and strike me while I'm getting up from picking up the stick. My technology failed me because you reacted to it before I could leverage it.

If your magic can break free of this 3 step process, it would have great value. Perhaps you can weave spells that actually do what you want. Perhaps they take less energy.

And, of course, these are also cultural decisions. Your other more technological countries may have developed cultures which strike a different balance where technology is applicable.

Waxing philosophic a bit, consider the iPhone. The iPhone was a strange invention in that Steve Jobs was very good at predicting what the market would be AFTER the iPhone was in play. All of his competitors looked at that sort of phone and said "the market isn't right for this." Steve Jobs saw that his invention would perturb the market dramatically, and how it would do so. This let him put out a technology that broke the mold. It relied on those perturbations in the market instead of assuming that there would be no perturbations.

Oddly enough, if you talk to people about this decision of his, the wording and tone that they use to describe this choice is almost magical. They treat him almost like a wizard casting a spell because, somehow, he found a way to create a market AS he created his technology. Maybe magic is closer to us than we think!

First off, I assume they aren't abandoning ALL technology, like, even the fulcrum (lever, club), wheel, pulley, swords, bows and arrows. All amazing technologies, revolutionary in their times, and normally present in magic using stories.

Best way to look at your question, IMHO, is that the magic is just another field of technology. So the real question becomes, "What would make a society use one technology and shun another?"

Others above have hit on a couple major points, economic reasons, social convention, and societal control being the major and most plausible themes. Those answer above go into fairly good detail on those routes, so I'll go another.

FEAR

One answer briefly touched on this but didn't take it very far. Some event, perhaps a war, or religious preacher, has stirred up fear in the populous to abandon a specific type/category of technology forcing them to repurpose and utilize the technologies that remain.

In our own history, there are many who fervently called for the complete abandonment of anything to do with nuclear power following the Chyrnoble incident. In the years prior the populace was full of visions of a nuclear future, everything powered by nuclear fission (and maybe someday fusion). There were even plans for nuclear cars and planes.

While some of that was infeasible to begin with, the point remains that the public fear following Chyrnoble and other such accidents shut down a significant portion of our research into the field for almost two generations, and there are still those claiming that we shouldn't be doing any research in nuclear science at all.

So what if the extremists had won out? What if the fear of a given technologies dangers was so overwhelming that they banned it as a society. There would still be those who refuse, those who continue to research and study the banned technology despite any laws or social strictures against it, but the society as a whole would find other ways to live without the banned technology.

One of my favorite webcomics is a very magical world, but the specific category of fire magic is socially banned (in some places the ban is legally enforced) due to the nature of fire being wild and unpredictable. Everyone in their world who uses fire magic burns themselves, burns the world around them, and eventually, they are almost guaranteed to kill themselves with fire and release a raging magical inferno that will take days to extinguish.

Or so we have been told. That is what the people believe, and this fear keeps all but the most sociopathic of people from reaching out to fire magic. It has been hinted in the comic that fire can be controlled if you have a calm mind, but since only the insane ever try, they end up erupting and reinforcing the public fear. Will our protagonist risk the taboo and try to control fire through calm? I've no idea, but it's been fun reading so far.

Perhaps we are a remote tribal agrarian society who never had access to technology anyway (like the ones that actually currently exist) and are happy that way.

We use the magic to greatly improve our lives, but just don't care enough about the outside world to buy into the whole industrial culture.

Our magic is less powerful than currently available technology, so we don't necessarily have big businessmen coming to exploit us for its use, but it provides everything we in particular need or want.

At the same time, our monetary resources are poor and population relatively low, so we don't have big businessmen coming to sell us their technology with any great enthusiasm.

So the only visitors we get from the outside world are hippies who are trying to prove to themselves that our way is superior and the odd documentary maker. Both groups of people make us feel very good about our way of life and we see little technology and have no need to change.

e.g. the hippies tell us all about the noisy, dirty cities where people are starving and exploited by cruel mega-corporations, and well why would we want technology if that's what it brings? And we do get to see all the impressive camera equipment belonging to the documentary-makers, but they are no better than our crystal balls, and we don't need all those big electricity generators, wires, etc. hanging off them.

If somehow technology became a threat to society or its leader, it is likely that they would decide to reject it naturally and automatically. Let's say that the goverment find a way to control and spy on every spell casted by civilians under its power. It is likely that magic ouputs some sort of aura/wave which can be detected and analysed through some sort of device.
If everyone has access to magic, watch and record every action one could make would became an piece of cake for the goverment. Developing and studying technology could be seen as a way to avoid the control over the population for example by doing things without being analysed and thus controlled.

Technology would be used more or less - even not at all - depending on the society and the control over its civilians.

The obvious answer to the question why a society would abandon something that is useful is always "religion".

A society would not abandon useful advances. Even if there were laws against it, it would be used in secret. As long as there is a net benefit, someone will be using it.

Except if there is a religious taboo. This is a topic in Dune, for example, where computers were intentionally abolished on semi-religious grounds. It is a topic in the modern world as well.

If technology were forbidden by religion, it would stop. There would be some low tech done in secrecy, the same as witchcraft. However, any higher technology requires a full supply chain. You need metal works, power sources, fine manufacturing and a dozen other things that a sole inventor or a small, secretive group cannot accomplish. Most of our day-to-day technology would be impossible to build without a full industrial base behind it.

Perhaps magic doesn't pollute the environment or something, and works just as well, so they abandon technology to save the environment.

The only reason people would abandon technology is if they were incompatible.

In The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, the hero is a wizard living in Chicago. He lives in a basement without a fridge and most technology because magic causes technology to fail and the more advanced the more likely magic will cause it to fail. He can get away with old tech such as a revolver most of the time but machine guns or semi automatic weapons jam. He drives on old VW Beetle because modern electronic system in anything built in the last thirty years is likely to die from exposure to his presence. Even so even the Beetle dies regularly.

Now if a nation went magical, technology would fail for everyone living there. Now to take it to next step, a magical nation could use magic to wipe out the technology of any nation they chose. Smart guided missiles are useless with no electronics. Even planes would avoid flying over magical nations. Soldiers with simple guns would lose against wizards that can make shields and throw fireballs.

A magical nation could rend itself invulnerable to modern military forces and have the ability to push a technological country back into the dark ages.

• Tech incompatible with magic is also well-covered in Arcanum rpg game. Most of the fans of this game genre surely knows about this game, so I'd recommend to be careful about using this explanation as some people might find it second-handed. Depends on the target audience, though. Nov 27 '17 at 9:42
• Never played Arcanum so I can't say I knew it used similar mechanics. Nov 28 '17 at 4:15
• I'd say that incompatibility isn't the only factor. If the magic was superior (enough that replacement of existing infrastructure wouldn't matter that much) and incompatible on top of that, then yes. Otherwise I think the already present setup would win, unless the magic was invasive (and not strictly interior) so that maintaining the status quo would be too expensive for the benefits. Sep 13 '21 at 10:16

Magic changes society in a way that is detrimental to technological progress (and maybe vice versa)

Simply put, technology advances when you have high population densities and a great amount of specialisation. If magic allows teleportation or rapid travel, it would discourage the formation of cities and towns, as people can have a farm (and thus a source of income) and also be able to quickly pop over to a trading post to do some business.

Since almost nobody spends all day in a dense city or town exchanging news and ideas, technological concepts don't spread as well as they usually would.

Combined with the potential for magic to appear to have an easier solution than technology, many technologies could die out in this environment.

For example: maybe magic missile is superior to a short hunting bow and outcompetes it. Everyone stops making bows. Because of this, they never develop longbows or crossbows, which would be far better than magic missile.

If you add in a reason that high population density is bad for the development of magic, you create a situation where a society has to choose.