Me and my friends were brainstorming campaign ideas earlier and we came up with a setting. Essentially it's our universe but with one BIG difference... Humans can use magic.

The ability to use magic has been around since the first lifeforms formed (protozoa, bacteria, virii, etc.).

The Magic System relies on (some) of that human's metabolic energy . The humans (in this world) have "nodes" scattered across their bodies. These nodes absorb ambient energy within the environment and store it within capacitor-esque cells (like fat cells that DON'T make you fat).

When you cast a spell, some of your metabolic energy (and some of that "capacitor" energy) is expended (essentially Magic is like a muscle, use it and it's strength grows, don't and it atrophies). "Flashier" spells require more energy than "Simple" spells (an exmaple of a "Flashy" spell would be a Lightning bolt or a Wrecking ball-sized fireball. Whilst a simple spell would be a baseball-sized fireball or generating a lightsource).

Note: Here are the Node locations: Chest, Left Hand, Right Hand, Left Foot, Right Foot, Brain (in rare cases), Blood cells (blood cells contain weak nodes that are about the size of mitochondria).

Note: Nodes cannot be removed or destroyed

Think of the nodes as the M-R Nodes from Aberrant:

here's a link:http://whitewolf.wikia.com/wiki/Mazarin-Rashoud_node


So my question is... would the scientists of this universe still call "Magic" Magic? (or would they come up with a different name for it?)

  • $\begingroup$ There’s formal words used in similar stories by Stross, Pohl, etc. but I can’t recall what it is well enough for Google to help. It’s a good excuse for you to read the Laundry novels as research for your own efforts. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ good idea, I think I will get one $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ No, clearly it is a conspiracy theory by a few oddballs who insist that the US military is using magic to be so effective, even though the US government itself insists that the military does not use magic at all. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 19:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ You have never read the story about the MAGIC / MORE MAGIC switch, have you? The mention of the PDP-10 dates it to later than the mid-1960s, which I think most people would call the modern era. (Though truth to be told, that's not really about "magic" per se.) $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ Mathematicians still talk of imaginary numbers .... $\endgroup$
    – nigel222
    Commented Jan 15, 2017 at 14:44

4 Answers 4


Magic is just a word, but its such a fun word to play with!

Linguistically, the citizens of your world can call it anything they want. The actual phonems of a word are generally assumed to not have much meaning (with few exceptions). What matters is the meaning behind the word. If I say something is "science" and someone else calls it "magic," who is to say we aren't both right?

This is actually a major issue for stage magicians. Many are choosing to call themselves "illusionists" rather than "magicians" because they feel "magician" connotes doing something beyond what humans can do. On the other hand, some see a sense of historical connection calling themselves "magicians" like those centuries before them. The word has several meanings in that community, and it generates conflict all the time.

So what do we want to mean by "magic" in this question? It would be easy to just call it "biology," would it not? I'd say the key distinction is that magic is typically involves the unknown or impossible. If our current set of beliefs suggest that it is impossible to guess a card out of a 52-card deck reliably, then we may call it "magic" if someone succeeds.

If we wanted to approach it scientifically, we'd start with rules. Science claims they "understand" something when they can write down a set of rules which predict how that thing will behave. Science would check to make sure your nodes obey the conservation of energy laws. If they don't, I'd call it "magic" right off the bat. Science would look at the communications structure you use to tell these nodes how to use the energy. If they don't understand how that works, "maybe magic." If they can identify symptoms of unhealthy nodes and prescribe treatments to make them better, that's probably "medicine."

Not everyone will call it the same thing. People are permitted to have different opinions about what to call this ability. You might even weave that into the conflict of your story!

A few thoughts which may help you get started by shaking up the definitions:

  • Modern science understands the process of reproduction. We understand what sorts of hormones coarse through a new mother as she gives birth to her child. We even understand how those hormones affect our mind. All that being said, virtually everyone involved in the birthing process will use the same words to describe it: a miracle. Even with all of modern science, sometimes we just have to say "wow!"
  • Penn and Teller have famously been on stage for decades. They understand that everything in stage magic is just a trick. They even know how to spot where most tricks occur. However, once in a long while, even they get surprised. For a moment in this video, Penn gets an opportunity to feel like the 5 year old experiencing magic for the first time. For a moment, he had to rethink his definition of "magic."
  • We put a man on the moon. Because we know this happened, we often downplay just how difficult this was to accomplish. We regularly recognize it as "science" and "engineering," which it was. However, when you look at just how absurd the demands were on everything and everyone involved in the process, you have to start pondering whether it deserves to be called "magic" as well. It is extraordinary what those human minds pulled off, and if we're calling "magic" the things which involve the unknown or impossible, we have to give them credit where credit's due!

    • Did you know that the main computer on board the Apollo spacecraft was just shy of half as powerful as a Game boy? Not the new fancy colorful gameboys; the Game boy from 1989.
  • When LIGO, our gravity wave detector, detected the first gravity wave, the resulting detection was an amazing parade of scales. Two black holes each over 30 times more massive than the sun plunged together merging into one. The resulting collision, for a brief moment, emitted more power than the entire rest of the observable universe. This was detected on the earth with LIGO as the faintest of whimpers. LIGO, with its mirrors 4km apart detected a contraction in space of less than 1/10,000th of the width of a proton! There's almost no sense of scale possible for this. If we were to scale the detector up to the size of our entire galaxy, the distortion detected would be on the order of 1/100th the length of a single grain of rice!

    • At some point, we have to consider Arthur C. Clarke's definition: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Yes, and no...

The word magic is something we've invented to describe a collection of things that we see as impossible/fantastical.

In a world where these things are on the everyday order there is no need for something describing impossible/fantastical things they cannot so.

But they need a word to describe the collection of possible/mundane things they can do.

So they might call this magic, or they might come up with another word.. It's really up to you to decide, magic is just another word that refers to whatever you decide for it to mean.

On the choice of a name:

Using the term magic will definitely benefit anyone interacting with your world, as they will understand that these powers allow your people to do things that we earth-humans find impossible.

The term comes with many connotations reaching into he realm of the fantastical, so another term such as powers, projection, or something along that line might serve you better as it anyone encountering it will not instantly draw comparisons with Gandalf or Merlin.


Yes, or no. Depends on you.

It seems far fetched, but let's talk about science and history of science for a while.

Science as it is today, is capable of understanding phenomena, describing them, and creating predictions based on that understanding. Especially last part is critical, this is what theories are about. Theory is as close to actual fact as science can come (most theories have limits on their scope, and need to be superseded by another theory when exceeding the scope, in turn, superseding theory has to give same results when limited to scope of superseded one), validity is usually tested by making predictions about previously unobserved phenomena that should be possible under theory, and then forcing occurrence of those phenomena. Of course, science also knows where limit of current knowledge lies, and works to actively explore beyond that limit.

Here you can find a brief explanation how transition from occultic alchemy to scientific chemistry happened.

Some especially important excerpts:

Early civilizations, such as the Egyptians[17] Babylonians, Indians[18] amassed practical knowledge concerning the arts of metallurgy, pottery and dyes, but didn't develop a systematic theory.

First major change happened when in 9th century:

He (Jābir ibn Hayyān, known as "Geber" in Europe) introduced a systematic and experimental approach to scientific research based in the laboratory, in contrast to the ancient Greek and Egyptian alchemists whose works were largely allegorical and often unintelligble.

Bolded part, is what is especially important, that's what differentiates science from occult and "magic". That change, set alchemy on the right track, though it wasn't until 17th century that final transitions were made.

Under the influence of the new empirical methods propounded by Sir Francis Bacon and others, a group of chemists at Oxford, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and John Mayow began to reshape the old alchemical traditions into a scientific discipline. (...) Boyle (...) rejected the classical "four elements" and proposed a mechanistic alternative of atoms and chemical reactions that could be subject to rigorous experiment.

At that point, chemistry as we know it today was born. Verifiable experiment took over and theories were made and verified to fit experiment, not experiments staged and picked to fit creators pet "theory". It took further years to verify and catalogue atoms, there was a phlogiston dud on the way, but from that point, they started going about it properly. Scientifically.

All main sciences (by main I mean "root" sciences, not sub-branches like for example Biophysics, which were created by either branching out of existing science, or merging branches from multiple main sciences) went this way, some earlier, some later (soft sciences seem to still be on transition period - obligatory jab at "soft" "sciences").

What does it tell us about world you are building?

You told us that there are no occultic or mystical elements in your "magic". There is something that can be measured, catalogued, verified and counted (midichlorians, eh?). This means that your "magic" is not magic the way we use this word, but it could very well be called so. Just as Alchemy turned into Chemistry, and Astrology into Astronomy (well, there are still "astrologers", but they are nothing more than frauds), at some point, most likely in your equivalent of Renaissance final transition would happen, perhaps along with change of name from "magic" to "magick" or redefinition of "thaumaturgy", maybe "metaphysics" would acquire another meaning or some completely new, made-up word would be used (most likely based on latin, arabic or greek if your world had similar history to our).

For made up ones, here are some examples I could come up with:

  • "vis" (literally "force" in latin, if you want to be a bit too cheeky)
  • "quww" (force in arabic, according to google translate, you would have to romanise the word a bit, though, this is if you wanted to be less obviously cheeky)
  • "extentia" (portmanteau of "externus" and "potentia": external-power)
  • "taqkhari" (slightly modified and romanised arabic for external-energy, according to google translate)
  • "makridras" (modified greek for far-action)

or made your own, whatever you feel like. Just be wary of fact that old-sounding telekinesis was actually made up in XX century.

Disclaimer: all made up words were created with either google translate or dictionary. I know neither latin, greek or arabic. In fact, I can't even read arabic abjad and have only very vague idea how to read greek alphabet.

  • $\begingroup$ You may consider "teledrasi" instead of "makridras", "tele-" is the (ancient) greek word generally used for all distant tech (tele-vision (teleorasi), telegraph (graph- = to write) etc). See also telekinesis (far-movement), but far-action is indeed a nicer name for more general abilities. On a side note, "makri" is more "long" than "far", which may be why it bugs me a bit (as a native Greek speaker with ancient Greek in standard high-school curriculum) $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2019 at 16:18

Most likely, they will call it whatever they called it before. So, if your setting uses English: citizens of your world won't stop calling a phenomenon of creating fireballs magic, even if they learn that they have cells responsible for that.


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