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My planned taxonomy is based on the magic composition (not ability, as all species can use magic) of organisms (what percentage of their cells is magic-based) and whether they are able to process vibes (essentially a type of magical radiation). I currently have three phyla in my animal kingdom--one with two subphyla with those completely made out of magic and those with only nonmagical (ie. made of chemical elements) cellular membranes, and two with completely nonmagical cells. Then there's a plant kingdom (with fully nonmagical cells) of "normal" plants and plants that have varying complexities of nervous systems and a fungi kingdom with the same divisions, and several kingdoms of single-celled organisms that I have no idea to peg down as (purely magical, semi-magical, or nonmagical).

As for vibe processing, the animal phylum of magical and semi-magical creatures can freely process vibes to prolong their lifespan, while the nonmagical creatures can't, and instead "inherit" a set lifespan from their parents, which in turn shortens theirs; plants and fungi can essentially do both, and again with the single-celled organisms I'm drawing a blank.

So, to narrow the question down: what should the last common ancestor's initial composition (magic-based, semi-magic-based, or non-magic-based) and vibe-processing ability (or lack thereof) be, and how could the phylogenetic tree branch out so these species are all related to each other in any of these cases?

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what the question is. It sounds like you have a perfectly valid tree of life, except it's perfectly invalid for some reason. What about your tree is causing you problems? The only real constraint I see here is that you want a last common ancestor, but I don't see why that constraint is getting in your way. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Apr 4 '17 at 1:08
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I added this to the question, but I'll paste it here: to narrow the question down, what would the last common ancestor's last common trait with all organisms have to be in order for them to be related to each other (magic-based, semi-magic-based, or non-magic-based), and how could the phylogenetic tree branch out so these species are all related to each other in any of these cases (with minimal polyphylogeny)? $\endgroup$ – Hawkpelt Apr 4 '17 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ This strikes me as the same situation that our real-life taxonomy deals with. In theory there is a common source of life for all kingdoms, but they are all quite different. Is there a reason real-life solutions to these problems cannot apply to your fictional world? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Apr 4 '17 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ (I'm running down this line of questions because, in my experience, the solution to these sorts of issues is often a matter of reframing the problem and then the problem becomes simple. However, I want to see if I can understand how you have the problem framed right now.) $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Apr 4 '17 at 1:33
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon ...you know, I think you're right. It really might just be a matter of pinpointing a good common trait for the LCA, and I had been looking at from a "magic" LCA, which created confusion when semi-magic and non-magic forms with all sorts of different ways of processing vibes (see above edit) began to crop up. I'll try to reapproach the problem with a non-magic LCA--thanks for your help! $\endgroup$ – Hawkpelt Apr 4 '17 at 1:43
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I would propose introducing a physical element that interacts with magic on a fundamental level to be introduced as part of the molecules that make up a DNA chain, maybe leading to a fifth protein in the sequence instead of just our 4. This element can even be part of a viral structure at the very source of all life in your universe.

This builds into your first single cell organism proto-bacillus aetherans

Your tree builds from there, with recessives (only having the 4 normal proteins) at first branching out to non magical species. Semi-magical species have all 5 proteins in the DNA. Since the magic is linked to a single element, new proteins with the characteristic structure needed for DNA but all containing the magical element Aetherium creates the structure for purely magical creatures.

interesting concept :)

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  • $\begingroup$ This is such a lovely idea!! My only problem is this: your answer seems to imply that only creatures with aetherium can use magic (unless I'm reading it wrong). I intend to have all species in this tree be able to use magic (with the exception of one due to a curse, but that's another story), so how could I adapt this concept to fit that? $\endgroup$ – Hawkpelt Apr 4 '17 at 2:52
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    $\begingroup$ Humans have all kinds of semi symbiotic bacteria in our gut that influence all kinds of things. modern bacillus aethereans could be a part of typical gut bacteria imparting a bit of magic even in the inherently non-magical. That's just an example. Aetherium would have to be pretty common, so an alternative would be that the element in various forms in a species would allow sensitivity to vibes without the creature being magical. kind of like Iron in our blood allowing us to use oxygen. $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Apr 4 '17 at 2:59
  • $\begingroup$ You could also have magic only being available to tool users. A tool with a high Aetherium content would allow the non-magical to manipulate vibes. The best way for this to work is to have the vibes give some sort of effect detectable to the 5 normal senses (light, heat, sound, vibration) Heck, you can even make it taste sort of greenish-purple :) $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Apr 4 '17 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ Ahh, even better! One more (slightly silly) question: any idea how this would fit on the periodic table? It's terrifying how much you learn in AP Chemistry, so this is of course something that would come to mind--a magically-attuned isotope of carbon or silicon, maybe? It would also be interesting if it were an element possible through some weird form of nuclear fusion, given that magic originates from stars in this universe--not sure how, honestly. $\endgroup$ – Hawkpelt Apr 4 '17 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ An isotope of carbon where the charge of electron and proton are reversed? or maybe the quantum states of the neutrons are different from the norm. I dunno, I barely passed regular chemistry :) $\endgroup$ – Paul TIKI Apr 4 '17 at 3:32
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The main question you have to answer here is, how simple is it to evolve a mechanism for magic? More particularly: did magic evolve only once, in a single common ancestor for all kingdoms, or multiple times throughout history?

If the last common ancestor of animals, plants, and fungi was capable of using magic, this implies that the non-magical lineages lost their ability to use magic. For this to make sense, there must be some inherent weakness of magic-users, or this trait would not have been lost.

If vibes are an easily-accessible resource, it is plausible that magic use evolved multiple times. Wing-based flight and eyes appear in multiple unrelated animal lineages, for example. In this case, magic species, even within a single kingdom, may be completely unrelated to each other! This is more plausible if all species have a very weak attunement to vibes, while some species develop this into a much stronger magical ability.

A third possibility, though one I would consider less likely, is that all magical species come from a common ancestor that is separate from the common ancestor of non-magical life. This implies that animal, plants, and fungi each evolved twice - once for the magical lineage, and once for the non-magical one. This would create up to six multicellular kingdoms - a magical and non-magical variant of each.

As for bacteria, a mechanism that is analogous to real-world organisms is to make the ability to process magic dependent on certain organelles that evolved from symbiotic bacteria. Mitochondria and chloroplasts both originated this way - a symbiote that took up residence in the common ancestor of plants, animals, and fungi. Some kinds of bacteria seem to be the descendants of these original symbiotes.

If you want magic use to evolve multiple times, you can make attunement to magic dependent on the ability to form symbiotic relationships with a magical bacterium. For example, the bio-luminescent bacterium Aliivibrio fischeri is found in multiple unrelated sea animals; each of these species independently developed the ability to light up by forming a relationship with the same bacterium.

No matter which evolutionary origin you use, the most important thing you will need to explain for this world to make sense is why magical species have not out-competed their non-magical counterparts. Magical species must have a weakness. Perhaps vibes are only accessible in significant amounts in certain areas or at certain times periods, and the ability to process magic is a useless drain on energy if vibes are not present. This will result in particular places where magical species are more common or times when they are more active; elsewhere mundane species will dominate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Again (and this is a result of poor wording, sorry) I intend to have all species capable of using magic--this is more a matter of magic /composition/. Magic strength is based on how well you can process vibes, though, so I'll give you that. Another lovely idea to consider, thanks!! $\endgroup$ – Hawkpelt Apr 4 '17 at 11:04

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