# Explaining where energy comes from to power magic

I'm trying to create a realistic magic system, this may be a lost cause.

Imagine in our story we have a wizard who wants to cast a spell to start a fire.

In some magic systems there are magic words, in others the wizard waves a wand but these are just ways of controlling the spell. What I'm interested in is where the power comes from, the real measurable energy to have this effect.

Someone with better knowledge of physics than me will tell me that you need a certain number of KJs of energy to ignite the wood and start the fire. Forgetting for the moment how the wizard controls this energy what could the power source be?

I'm loathed to have it as a mythical floating store of energy which wizards tap into - the energy to cause wood to spontaneously ignite doesn't just float around in our atmosphere. What measurable battery of energy could the wizard use to start the fire?

• Alternate title for this question "Ah just don' have the power Cap'n!" Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 14:57
• One option (not covered by Aaronovitch, but possibly in that blog post, I don't remember) is to come up with a new fundamental field (in addition to gravity, electromagnetic fields etc.) and give wizards a way to interact with that field. That would allow the field to store the energy. That at least defers the complaints to particle physicists who'll tell you some reason why your field can't exist. ;) Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 15:03
• Lets not perpetuate that terrible misunderstanding of the brain further than hollywood already has @James Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 15:19
• Wheres the quantum physics answer? All possibilities simultaneously exist, the wizard simply chose to observe the one where the fire existed. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 0:35
• Midichlorians (runs away) Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 20:07

What measurable battery of energy could the wizard use to start the fire?

Ignoring a few nifty ones that I don't have the physics-fu to even speculate about...

## Standard Biology

Humans store a fairly large amount of energy chemically in the body. The standard calorie that we ingest is really a chemical kilocalorie - enough energy to raise a liter of water (under sea-level pressure) 1 degree Celsius. That "low calorie" cookie is still enough stored chemical energy to boil a liter of near freezing water. If the wizard has slightly more efficient digestion or ability to convert fat to energy, there's more than enough to get something hot enough to burn - especially if the wizard is fine making a single point very hot and letting the fire move naturally from there.

## Matter!

Entirely far fetched, but more scientifically based than some mythical store. Assuming the wizard has some ability to annihilate matter, then they've got oodles of energy. The average (healthy) human will move .5 liters of air during quiet breathing (per wikipedia). Which is about .65 grams (per link). Plug into e=mc^2 and you get ~58 trillion Joules which is ~14 trillion calories. Even assuming your wizard wants to save some of that air for breathing, that's a whole lot of fire to spread around.

## Piezoelectricity

Piezoelectricity is a chemical mechanism where pressure on some (atomic) structure generates electricity. It's known that certain biological structures can do this, and the idea of piezoelectric shoes is being bantered about for use in wearable computing. It's unlikely to generate enough power to make fires without fantastic story elements, but maybe plausible for large creatures or high gravity environments.

## Magnetic Induction

These are used in wireless charging stations today. Again, probably not enough to start a fire without fantastic story elements, but if the world had very powerful magnetic fields, then the wizard could tap into those fields to do work.

Solar power is the common example here, though any power collected via solar power would need to be stored and then released (see chemical or nuclear above). And it likely wouldn't be enough to light a fire unless the wizard wanted to wait a while.

A more plausible example is the use of directed microwaves (or similar radiation) at more powerful (or focused) rates. This is commonly theorized to be done via satellite to bypass line of sight issues, but doesn't necessarily need to be. There may be a satellite from a forgotten race beaming power down from the heavens that wizards can use wands or staves (read: antennae) to collect and redirect. Or the wizard has their own personal base station (wizard tower?) that they can signal for power to be beamed in.

## Aether

Or, y'know... you can just pull energy from the aether. There's plenty of things we used to believe as real, or will believe as real once we discover them. Making a realistic magic system need not be real (rather by definition). It just needs to be consistent.

note: an earlier version of this answer had a mathematical error in the matter-energy conversion. Oops.

• I think your math is a little off. 0.65 grams converted to energy is 58 TERRAjoules, or over 14 kilotons of TNT! Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 18:18
• @hovercouch - I thought that was low... I missed the "squared" part. Will fix once near a real computer. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 18:31
• Perhaps a little more realistic than completely annihilating air, though of course still unlikely, would be to not make entire atoms disappear but to have nuclear fusion. Only a fraction of the energy, but a fraction of 58 terrajoules is still plenty. And hydrogen atoms are easy to come by. We have trouble building a reactor for nuclear fusion, but stars do it all the time, so in a way it's not 'unlikely'.
– Mark
Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 11:58
• The problem with using nuclear or annihilation is that the energy scales are so high as to make accidents uber-fatal. So in magic terms to if you try and light a match and get 2, well, you have a little flame to damp out. If you lose control of an A-Bomb of energy your city is up in smoke. That's what always amused me about cold fusion. If fusion really happened at chemic rates in a beaker in Utah, the lab would be a crater seconds later. Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 23:26
• +1 for mentioning the aether. If you want to go with the original luminiferous aether, you'd probably have to work out the physics of light having variable speed in the aether, but it would be interesting to consider other kinds of aether, as well, and places on Earth were the concentration of aether varies (for reasons including interference from off Earth (the cosmic), particularly suited to holding aether (the environmental), and the plain "the aether here hasn't been used in magic much so it's still pretty thick") Commented May 14, 2016 at 18:06

To avoid the need for a "magic field" or equivalent solution you can have magic work as a means of redirecting environmental energy (where there is residual power dissipating all the time) into tasks where it can be useful. You can make the difference between time-period or setting-contemporary technology and magic, a difference of efficiency. In essence, the source of magic is application of energy rather than the energy itself, although it can be perceived either way.

In this case, a wizard, instead of tapping into some plentiful source of magic and funneling it into, for example, wood to make it burn (or create fire directly), they have a skill or affinity to absorbing environmental radiation, perhaps even kinetic energy and the like and very efficiently transferring that energy in high concentrations to very small spaces, causing side-effects, which would be what they perceive as magic. They might discover that it's harder to make magical fire at night or that it requires a different state of mind. They might find it curious that when they're surrounded by snow it's easier to create fire when they need it - even though what they usually use as magic amplifiers for fire, is gems or metals that work best when heated. Thinking of this as radiation turned into concentrations high enough for fire, makes these easy to explain (snow reflects light, so there's lots available, but at night there's no sun and gems might works as lenses, metals can be radioactive etc.). To people however it might be that, when the Sun is down -the source of their fire magic- it can't help them much, or the Moon, the Sun's adversary, blocks their fire magic - in the snow, the Sun is shining and is an adversary to cold, so it grants them its aid - Rubies are the Sun's stone so of course it helps with fire magic etc.

The difference in effectiveness would be similar to breaking a rock with a heavy hammer and causing the rock to undergo fission by causing a chain reaction at the atomic level. While fission in real life is usually achieved through rather brute-force means, magic could be the application of such techniques in a highly efficient and deliberate way.

Concentration of energy is also critical. Focus fusion, which uses electrical discharges to generate heat for the process, works with this principle. Instead of heating an entire TOKAMAK to get fusion in a body of hydrogen/helium, you instead focus a small amount of energy very tightly into a plasmoid to generate the necessary heat, causing a chain reaction. The plasmoid is tiny, but its energy concentration is astronomical. This approach is much more efficient and this is what I'm suggesting magic is, in a fantasy setting.

The wizard themselves need not understand how this works in detail. To them it's just a skill they picked up or discovered. All the literature and tradition on how magic works can be elaborate theories, theological mumbo jumbo or whatever you want - it has to only make sense to the people but it doesn't have to be what's actually happening. Technique and the development of it can exist and do the "right thing" without magic users understanding how it really works - they just figure out some things work better than others and put effort in improving their technique in a way that increases the effects. After they're skilled enough, most of what they do would be subconscious rather than conscious. And yes, some of what they do as magic will just be clever stuff that isn't really all that magical - they might chant over a uranium ore to make it slowly kill someone, but no matter how much they chant, it'll be just as harmful depending on the concentration; but to them thats magic.

• @Mourdos Really? Suggesting a different perspective on the problem is calling the question stupid? The ultimate point is to explain the source of magic - I'm suggesting that the source can be structural rather than an energy and that this can resolve some problems which are directly related to explaining magic. Any "hard science" will be forced into sci-fi pretty soon on this question, since we're answering on how something impossible would exist and work. I provide a source - the surroundings - do you really think I can state that without touching upon how the wizard controls it? Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 9:46
• @Mourdos is coming on rather strong. There is the core of what could be a good answer here, however it does need to more directly address the question. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:06
• @Mourdos It seems my phrasing is not getting across the point I want. However, keeping in mind that I do think it answers the exact question, I think this way of presenting the idea makes it clearer, even if it makes its association with the question less clear. I'd rather have my answer be easier to understand than its relevance. I'll try to edit it into something that expresses the same point in a way that makes the relationship clear, once I have some time to work on it. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:11
• I'm sorry I've come across so strongly. I think (after having it pointed out to me) that you are saying that it doesn't really matter about using a single source of energy, its about using the available energy in the most efficient way. In which case, I agree that it is a good alternative point of view. I'll clear out my other comments in that case. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:14
• I hope the downvoter isn't trying to make a point already made in the comments... Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 10:15

So you want a scientific approach to magic? I am going to answer this as directly and clearly as I can.

## Science is Magic

The definition of magic is as follows: "The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces." I have placed an emphasis on mysterious because nowadays we try to provide scientific explanation for mysterious occurrences, however we are not always able to explain things the way they truly are. Back in primitive times wasn't the basic concept of fire magic to us? Our science has constantly progressed through time and so now we can explain the why and how to fire, therefore it is no longer mysterious to us as a whole. Fire is explained by consistent findings(Grossly oversimplified). With the science behind it we can explain why it happens but we can't always prevent it so it is sometimes referred to as a "natural disaster" instead of a sorcerers/gods power.

The phrase "Having it down to a science" is often used to describe mastering something, so if you mastered something unknown wouldn't it become science? If you are mastering something wouldn't you be consistent with it? You would not truly be a master of something if it had unexpected results. We (normally) no longer use the excuse "magic" is involved if we don't understand it, we declare that it can be scientifically proven and attempt to answer the question using what we know to be possible.

The reason I wrote this was to say that science was a concept to prove magic. Because if it is no longer a mysterious/unknown force creating an occurrence than it would become part of science. If you create something to explain a "magician" controlling fire then it could become scientific.

the energy to cause wood to spontaneously ignite doesn't just float around in our atmosphere

Ah but philosophers way back when believed that air, fire, water, and earth where the only elements and were oblivious to oxygen, hydrogen, and other basic elements that school kids now know today. So as examples go, "scientifically" you could leave out the finite details of how certain things are in the atmosphere we haven't found. Even better you could be on a planet or plane of existence where the energy needed to ignite wood is floating around. Even adding that the magician doesn't control the fire, only aim and create its initial intensity could possibly create a slightly more scientific approach due to it explaining that he technically controls nothing but a way of channeling something already there. He could also control it using specific instruments that mold the energy around him instead of him personally being able to manipulate the energy.

I'm loathed to have it as a mythical floating store of energy which wizards tap into

I'm not trying to say make the wizards power come from something implausible just because it is undiscovered or "mysterious" as I've emphasized, it should be something that you can explain in your own way based upon the consistent science and physics of the world you are either making or using. Undiscovered does not by any means include how you can fly or create fire by simply saying, "hocus pocus" and random energy gives you power.

Sorry for the long response just trying to make sure the point is made.

I'll end this with a quote from a sci-fi writer and a futurist

"Magic is just science that we don't understand yet" - Arthur C. Clarke

• I don't think this answers the question - however I think it does a magnificent job of explaining that by definition my question is flawed. "Magic" is only magic because the inhabitants of the world/the readers can't explain it... otherwise it would be "down to a science". IMHO a brilliant think outside the box answer! Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 9:29
• I wanted to upvote this, as I agree with several things you've said...the problem is though you haven't actually answered the question. If "science is magic" then that still doesn't answer how that science/magic is powered. Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 9:45
• Science/Magic is Powered by God. Yah, Yes, Yep, Hey Hey. All power is through Motion/Functionality, Expressing as Electrical or Temperature or Light or Sound or Matter or Magnetic, +++. Governed by Conditional Truth, globalized by Unconditional Truth. Commented Oct 2, 2014 at 20:29

Isaac Asimov (I think it was) wrote a sci fi book in which there was a "leak" between two different universes which affected the physical constants (the two universes had different laws of physics). One universe was using it to power their civilization. Essentially they thought they'd discovered some (almost) magical source of power.

But.... it was risking destroying the other universe.

So, one approach to magic might be that you have access to an alternate universe (perhaps a different one depending on the type of mage/magic you are using). And by creating a small tear between them you can change the physical laws nearby.

You could then:

• Make something catch fire (lower the 'flash point" temparature
• feather fall - change the gravitational constant
• create heat/cold (by siphoning it from a "hot"/cold universe)

You could also have a small amount of magic with a lot of mysticism (theatrics) which would be very interesting. That leaves room for people who disbelieve in magic, etc. Similar to how some races viewed the Jedi they disappeared (in Ep IV- VI), where it was considered a dead "religion" (i.e., all mysticism)

• It was Asimov. Specifically, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gods_Themselves - particularly notable because Asimov was often criticized for having no aliens, and no sex, in any of his works, so he specifically wrote a book with very alien aliens having very alien alien sex :D. (Was a fun book!) Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 20:43

I'm going to try and approach this from the most scientific position I can, so no alternate universes, no mystical crystals, no nothing besides thermodynamics.

You said not to worry about how the wizard controls the energy, right? Good, because I'm not even going to try to figure that one out. For now, it's magic.

We know we can neither create nor destroy energy-mass, correct? Well, it's got to come from somewhere. We could use:

• thermal energy
• chemical energy
• nuclear energy
• Einsteinian energy
• ## Thermal

Let's start with thermal energy. (If I screw up the thermodynamics, it's cause I'm not a chem major) Luckily for our wizard, there is a fortunate lack of stuff at 0K on planets, particularly habitual planets, which is where I assume our wizard would be operating. So, why don't we just drop something to 0K and use the energy from that? If we dropped one cubic meter of atmosphere at 20C, at sea level, to absolute zero, our wizard would have 355 kilojoules of energy to play with. (This is a rough estimation, things get weird around 0K, models stop being linear, we get phase changes, bluh bluh bluh. This is really really rough, actually. Data pulled from here.) That's about 83 food Calories. Not much.

Also, we run into another problem, the reason why nobody ever gets to 0K. Energy won't really move unless it's to a place with less energy. This pretty much rules out freezing type of things, and getting fire type spell from the energy gotten from said freezing type spells. However, we don't know the range within which the wizard can transfer energy back and forth. If it's practically unlimited, why couldn't they draw energy directly from the sun or transfer it to Pluto? It'd give an interesting thing as well, you'd probably get "Sun Wizards" and "Moon Wizards", who use those bodies to manipulate the temperature. But let's try something else.

## Chemical

Good old chemical energy - the most commonly used method of storage and manipulation of energy by spongy organic creatures. Say our wizard is a morbidly obese wizard with 300kg of fat on him. Assuming he doesn't suffer heart failure, if he goes on a magical diet, that fat will give him 11,100,000kJ [source], much much better when trying to cast super-powerful science spells. Of course, this assumes there's a McWizards devoted to getting wizards the raw magical energy they need to preform their wondrous acts.

## Nuclear/Einsteinian

Nuclear energy! Antimatter! Science/magic! Nuclear, like chemical, relies on extracting the energy that's stored in bonds, except nuclear bonds are strong force bonds, not electromagnetic. So: lots more energy, but you already knew that. Einsteinian energy is based on the fact that E=MC^2; it's the direct conversion of mass to energy. However, mass won't just spontaneously flip to energy, you need antimatter and matter to annihilate for that to happen. Of course, if you could do that, you'd have stupid amounts of energy to play with. "Potions", possibly, stored in magnetically shielded vials, perhaps?

This all assumes that the wizard can safely manage this much energy, which I assume they can, given that they will be using it for spells and such.

## Storage

The issue I see as the largest, aside from however the heck you're going to manipulate this energy, is somehow storing it for use. I mean, there's energy everywhere, that's no big issue. But what if you don't want to have to open a portal to the sun every time you want to light a match with your finger? What if the wizard wants to collect their energy and use it slowly, over time. This question is really linked to whatever the mechanism is for using the energy, something I'm going to have to avoid completely due to it being magical.

Chemical storage makes the most sense, and it's rather humorous to imagine a wizard putting on hundreds of pounds before a battle. Antimatter is also an effective storage. Special electrically charged crystals or totems, held in "magical" airtight, magnetic containers, paired with another one, seem like effective and classic-ish ways to do that. Something else to realize is that if there's any wizard capable of containing the energy that would be released by a goddammned annihilation would be more than capable enough of absorbing whatever explosions or weapons somebody else could dish out, and then fire that back at them.

• I've actually read a story where the wizard lost weight consuming his body reserves when he cast spells and was basically eating constantly to bulk up before he might need to use them again. I thought of that story when I read this question but cannot remember the name of it. Commented Sep 30, 2014 at 22:40

If you don't like explanations that sound like ghost stories, and you do like explanations that sound like science, then magical fires could be powered by quantum particles.

According to some loose and hazy notion of quantum mechanics, there are virtual particles popping into and out of existence. A black hole radiates energy because two virtual particles, e.g. one electron and one positron, pop into existence. The electron falls into the black hole,the positron is outside the event horizon and thus radiates.

So the edge of a black hole is always creating energy out of imbalanced virtual particles.

Magical fires happen when the thoughts in a magician's brain imbalance the quantum particles and cause some kind of energetic particles to pop into existence.

Extra credit: Magical clairvoyance works because information is nonlocal and all information everywhere is holistically contained in any information anywhere.

Footnote: All my ideas of quantum mechanics come from Talbot's _Holographic_Universe_ and Amit Goswami's pop physics.

http://www.amazon.com/Self-Aware-Universe-Amit-Goswami-ebook/dp/B001QWDS1Y/ref=sr_1_sc_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1412123939&sr=1-1-spell&keywords=amit+goswama

http://www.amazon.com/The-Holographic-Universe-Revolutionary-Reality/dp/0062014102

There are on the real world only one concept of Energy and four forces that can "affect" it: gravitation, electromagnetism, weak nuclear and strong nuclear.

If you rule that there are five forces instead, the fifth being "magic" and that force being sensible to some materials, in the same way than electromagnetism is affected by some materials and not by others, you have done it.

Electromagnetism can be affected by magnetite crystals, which are diminute imans, and these imans in turn can be affected by electromagnetism. Pigeons have magnetite crystals on a specific zone of their brains, and so they are able to orientate over wide extensions and find the way home.

In the same way, magicians can have "magictite" crystals on their brains and use them to affect energy through the force of "magic". These can be used to manipulate magic and to sense it. The effects would be those you want for your world.

• Why a downvote with no reasoning? Commented Oct 1, 2014 at 7:14

What seems most natural to me is some other world/dimension whith some contact with the "primary" world (where the magician lives). Assuming that access to few more dimension (though limited) can allow access to power fields and other energy sources, this makes magic quite credible in many sci-fi stories. Or, in a fantasy setting, it could be just some mystical "astral plane" - or it may have some scientific explanation, but magicians still think of it as "astral plane".

Or the energy could be taken from the magician himself. This way only small effects are possible and the wizards must "recharge" somehow, or damage themselves. Eating a lot might suffice, or some special drugs might be needed.

Or there may be some "magical potential" in the matter and the wizard just rouses it. This is bit further from the physics we know, but might be possible with some special magical materials. And if the physics is completely different, such as the world really consist of four elements (fire, air, water, earth), then a potent water wizard just needs to unleash the power stored in a lake to destroy a city on its shore.

All ways may be combined. For example, my world consists of "atoms" of four elements, which are usually bound together. Also, there is "astral plane" built from the fifth element "void". Void is least stable of elements, so its "atoms" can be broken, releasing a lot of energy into our world. This energy links to ordinary matter and increases "magical potential", which can be released by magi, who need just a little of their mental energy for this task (they get tired quickly this way, but most of energy goes from the environment).

Depending on how your magic system works, there are more than enough potential energy sources to start a fire. In the Inheritance Cycle, magicians can pull energy from their own bodies or the world around them. In the Kingkiller Chronicles a magician can create a link between a heat source and the magic they want to perform(very simplified). This typically uses fire but can also pull heat and energy directly from the body. Either way, a magician needs a source of energy to perform any magic.

Something like this is plausible explanation for the energy source. There is tons of energy in the world, in our cells, the chemical make up of the world, gravity, light, and on and on. Give a magician any means of harnessing this energy, and starting a fire will be simple. In fact, since a fire generates more energy than it takes to start, if a magician can draw energy from the fire started, you can snowball in available power quite quickly. As long as you give magic the necessary tools to channel existing sources of power, there is plenty of energy to go around.

Should preface that this really isn't going to give you a traditional 'energy' explanation of magic here...use the other answers if you want the Newtonian version of energy.

the energy to cause wood to spontaneously ignite doesn't just float around in our atmosphere

Yes it does...There's enough energy in a square inch of 'air' to destroy most of the solar system, and that's only really using the matter to energy relation that we know of, even completely empty space is never really empty.

But on to the quantum attempt at explaining magic. It is exceedingly abstract, but works fantastic for explaining things such as magic...moves away from the traditional 'energy' explanation. At the core of Quantum Physics is the understanding that the observed and observer cannot be separated (If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? No, if nobody was there to observe it falling, it was never there to fall in the first place and existed in a superposition of both standing and laying down until someone is there to collapse both possibilities into one reality...little humancentric in that the tree cannot observe itself falling over, but you get the point). If you prefer the Schrodingers cat explanation..the cat exists in both a live and dead state until something is there to observe it and collapse the multiple possibilities into one. In this case the wood exists as both on fire and not on fire (and many other possibilities), but it is currently being collapsed by observers into the one possibility of 'not on fire'...'magic' is convincing the other observers that the reality where it is on fire is the one we exist in.

The power source of the Sun was "magic" until it was found. Ideas using known materials and known mechanisms did not work out. Yet, the thing, when it was found, fit with the expectations of our universe, such as concervation of energy and features analagous with other forces, while being novel in other ways and different enough to be outside our experience.

On that scale of energy release, you can perceive the equivalence of mass-energy. But that's beside the point; the real point being that a force is in play. It affects everything but it was outside of experience to take elements apart (hence their name). Normally taking-apart costs more energy, but as with chemestry the existance of more tightly bound forms allows a net gain. Taking apart and putting together trades kenetic and potential energy in a concerved total.

A stone can be lifted out of its niche (a local minimum) and allowed to drop to a lower valley. Electron bonds can be broken so the reactive pieces can find a more stable configuration. Quarks and leptons can rearrange to form a tightly bound alpha particle.

So, we want something that can "come apart" and "put together" in different ways.

But if it's accessible why doesn't it become mixed up with chemestry? With fusion, it's a different energy scale. Likewise, the weight of molecules don't stress the bonds enough to have any effect, but us being > 27 orders of magnitude larger than molecules can lift rocks and craft devices to focus the power of large falling weights onto tiny targets.

So, a much lower energy scale allows the energy to be accessed but only purposfully by large beings. It takes something the size of a person to experience/interact with this power source and either concentrate it to a small area or cleverly use the effects in subtle ways to acheive larger end results (like a spark can start a fire). Other animals may still figure it out and use it in metabolic processes.

So just what thing holds power? Since magical tropes require teleological rules, let's look into dualism. If the spirit realm is where the mind or soul exists, an analogy with gravity or chemestry could be very precise. The "chemestry" of the stuff where the mind exists, what the thinking part of an intelligent being is made of and implemented with, could produce energy. Since the mind strattles both worlds, there is clearly some way for cause and effect to go between the two.

The two regimes have their own rules but are similar in underlying nature of forces and concervation laws. But they can interact, so the combined concervation is the real rule. Extracting power via magic will have an effect and change the state of the astrial realm. It will use up resources, which could become noticable depending on details.

I'm reminded of another Q/A on interdimential beings. They controlled rocks in our realm and lived on hot moons, but I can't find it now. That's the general idea behind making dualism work.

Without going into details any interaction between two universes or realms could plausibility give an energy release. But I think you are after something with more subtle details and subject to control, not just a rough spigot (which makes an effective bomb or high-tech power plant).

One possible explanation of the magical power is that pre-apocalypse an advanced species altered the plants/buildings/whatever in their environment so that they would be able interact with them through thought/incantation/proxy actions/anything really.

Once an unexpected apocalypse event happens all of the people and knowledge along with most of the altered environment is destroyed. However, a certain amount of altered something is leftover and survives the apocalypse. The basis for your world would then be in these altered survivor things (single cell organisms ?).

Fast forward a couple hundred million years and there is a rebuilding society/world. Certain thoughtful people are able to manipulate their environment as they rediscover how to interact with what they think to be an unaltered and scientifically sound environment.

Although many of these seem plausible there are all too narrow you need to expand your perspective.

There are several unseen elements in the world that affect the world. There are the magnetic fields that surround and penetrate the world and everything on it. There are fields of gravity that come from the center of the world radiating out drawing everything towards its core. There are various types of background radiation that emanate through the surface of the world. There are gases and vapors that rise up out of the surface of the world. Then there is the cosmic energies that bombard the surface of the world. All of these have very little apparent effect but when there is an abundance of any one of these the consequences can be dire.

Then there is the individual, from their body radiates an electromagnetic field, flowing fields of electricity with sparks of ions from the brain. These have very little effect on anything outside of the body normally.

But when a person's body radiates the right frequency and sufficient electromagnetically fields and their mind generates that just right frequency and power of electrical energy then that person would be able to manipulate the unseen energies, fields, and gases around them.

There is a number of ways magic can work. Lets just speak of fire for now.

Help from Spirits

To be able to throw fire, you must first speak to the spirit of an already existing fire, and strike a deal. You promise to help it expand it's domain, and possibly shelter it in your own body for the time being, and in return you can get some of it's energy to ignite things.

This would have some side effects:

1. Your spells would be limited by what kind of spirits you can hold in your body ie, cant have both a fire and water, or fire and wood spirit, but fire and stone would be fine

2. In order to cast spells you have to find a way to communicate and host these beings, and feed them some of your own life energy, so each spell would actually shorten your life, wizards would NOT die young.

Displacement of Energy

You can sense the flow of energy, and know where exactly where to focus your mental energy to redirect it. Think of all energy as a bundle of strings, and if you tug in the right spot, you can unravel it. So to cast a fireball, you need a flame nearby, and you just borrow some of its heat.

Side effects:

1. You need to keep the source of energy ready, to even pick a lock with magic, to keep your brain leaking out of your ears you need to keep a bunch of other energy sources nearby, or have a real sense for the flow of energy.

Connection to a Higher plane

This would be more for summoning creatures, and forcing them to do your bidding. In another dimension, just off to the side of ours, there are much more powerful, but formless creatures trying to get in. With the right focusing tools, a wizard can call them to him (wands, crystals, purified ox blood, etc) and with enough mental training, bend them to do his bidding. For example, to cast a fireball, he focuses his mental energies into a his wand, and pictures his chosen aid, maybe calling its name, and if his willpower is strong enough, it will come forth in the form of a burst of flame, and return to it's dimension as soon as he loses concentration.

Side effects:

1. Years of training to summon a creature

2. Failure can result in you being a)enslaved b) killed

3. Your will binds them to this plane, even the smallest distraction can free the beast or just dispel the spell (he he he)

Final Thoughts

It is even possible for all of those to exist at once, great daemons banished long ago by the gods that brave or foolish humans can try to summon and command, while lesser being that need to feed of of the life of others still roam, and the slightly less brave and foolhardy can deal with them, while the wise and patient focus all their energy on learning to manipulate the energy that can be seen with training. All three have risks, but all three give great rewards.

Magic is about a transdimensional resonance. Extra spatial dimensions where waves can be knotted weaved or otherwise loop around one another. The soul objectively exists in this world and it is able to metabolize and redirect ambient arkanium that typically doesn't interact meaningfully with matter. Some sort of bacteria or whatever is Uber efficient at photosynthesis and releases this arkanium as a form of black body radiation.

Thoughts?

In a futuristic setting where magic is perceived as a natural force, magic is actually the result of advanced, mentally-controlled nanotechnology. This concept involves a pervasive network of nano and micro robotic devices, in some settings known as "angel or demon nets," seamlessly integrated into the environment of an inhabited world.

Overview:

• Nanosphere Infrastructure: The environment is suffused with nano and micro robotic devices capable of performing a vast array of functions including information gathering, energy transportation and transmission, and dynamic reaction to human intent.

• Mind-Machine Interface: The nanosphere infects the brains of all inhabitants, creating seamless interfaces that allow for direct mental control over the nanodevices.

• Antimemetic Perception: While these devices are physically perceivable, their recognition is neurologically suppressed via an antimemetic effect—although individuals can see the devices, their brains are altered to censor any cognitive processing related to the devices' functionalities and existence.

Mechanics of Magic:

• Energy Sources and Delivery: The source of energy for these "magical" effects varies based on local environmental conditions and the design specifications of the habitat's architects. For instance, energy can be sourced from renewable setups or more advanced methods like contained antimatter reactions for more potent effects.

• Spellcraft and Illusions: The system allows for the casting of spells through the mobilization of these devices. For example, when a wizard casts a fireball, wasp-like drones deliver the necessary energy, igniting at the point of spell release. The entire process, while mechanically straightforward, is perceived through the lens of spellcraft due to the antimemetic effect.

• Creatures and Characters: Entities such as djinns, demons, angels, or ghosts can be represented by different forms of artificial intelligences within the system, ranging from minor to significant computational powers. Some of these might even be minds uploaded into the nanosphere, allowing for a reinterpretation of mythical creatures in a high-tech context.

World Dynamics:

• Interactivity and Customization: Residents can interact with and manipulate their environment at will, performing feats that range from the mundane, like adjusting the temperature of a drink, to the fantastical, like summoning mythical creatures or casting powerful spells.

• Historical Amnesia: Over time, the knowledge of the nanosphere's true nature may be lost or suppressed, either through societal decline or deliberate choice. This can lead to a renaissance of myth and magic, as the population comes to believe in the fantastical elements of their world without understanding the underlying technology.