So You Wanna Mix Science And Magic?

Every now and then I see someone declare how in their story, they're going to mix science and magic. Often as not they carry on about it as if it's some grand new thing nobody's ever thought to try before, or as if they're breaking some gigantic taboo. But perhaps the most glaring issue is that they have next to no idea how either one works, and the way the writer presents it makes next to no sense at all.

Do you mean mixing magic and the scientific method?

As has been explored here and here, science is a method for testing the world around us to figure out how it works and why it works that way. It is not a thing you fire from a fancy aperture device. Science allowed us to produce rocket launchers and MP3 players, but rocket launchers and MP3 players are not in and of themselves "science."

The character who mixed magic and the scientific method would spend long hours doing things like testing potions and taking careful notes of the results. Let's say a botched potion made a guy pregnant - the scientific mage would have to perform dozens of experiments just to work out what went on when Jim drank that potion. Did the potion work because it just makes dudes pregnant, or does it actually do something else such as make subconscious desires manifest? Did the turkey sandwich Jim ate at lunch that day have any effect at all? Does this potion do the same thing for other species, or does it only work on human/orc hybrids like Jim?

And yes, this means that concepts like "science versus magic" or "magic is just science we don't understand yet" are actually meaningless, because science is a method of discovery whereas magic is a force of power, or the act of using that force of power.

Or maybe you mean magical technology?

You're not exactly breaking new ground here. Our ancestors mixed magic and technology when they started putting charms on their weapons to ensure good hunts or survival in battle. All tools are forms of technology, not just those that run on electricity - a candle is no less technology than a fluorescent lightbulb.

You're not even breaking new ground if you limit yourself to electronic technology. Some folks out there use electronic goodies for divination - eg, try to divine answers from other forces by randomly shuffling their MP3 players or visiting random webpages. Some place charms on their laptops so they crash less. The "magic vs. technology" trope is almost nonexistant outside of fiction.

Do you mean technology powered by magic?

Then just say so, because that actually says something informative about what you're doing. Bear in mind, this does raise a few questions - what is magic? Is it some kind of wispy substance permeating the universe that can just be tapped into? Or is magic the act of using said substance? Or do you define 'magic' as something else? Whatever it is, make sure you've worked out just what magic is supposed to be.

And while we're at it, magical wizard tools are still technology.

A magic wand may not have moving parts nor run on electricity, but it's still a tool that does a job, and what's more said tool was produced through technical know-how - in short, the very definition of technology. If people are using controlled experimentation to figure out what kind of materials make the best wands, then they are using the scientific method. A magic talisman that creates a protective shield qualifies as technology. A rug enchanted to fly qualifies as technology. It's not how something works that makes it technology; it's the simple fact that it does work.

See Also:

Things Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Should Know About Science
Keeping Magic From Taking Over Your Story
Magical & Supernatural Tropes To Reconsider (And Tips To Build Up Your Magical/Supernatural Settings!)

Phlebotinum-Development Questions
Tips & Ideas To Write More Believable Masquerades
Getting Science Right In Film: It's Not The Facts, Folks (Offsite)

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