Science of Magic: The Rise of Technomancy
Dispelling illusions that aim to confuse us about the true nature of magic
By Magister Rezenius
I suppose there can be more about magic on this forum, if I write it. You correctly wonder about the definitions of magic and its various kinds because it is historically a loaded issue. There are traditional definitions based on a description of practices that were half misunderstood science or art, half fever dreams coming from imaginations of god-fearing peasants and religious zealots.
Then there are the modern scientific definitions of magic, which make it into either some sort of practical illusion and a trick, or a primitive superstition. Both of these approaches to define magic are of course fundamentally flawed and clearly biased. It’s like when I found in my possession a Soviet Pocket Dictionary of the Atheist, written up by a collective of serious academicians. Its subtle manipulation of meanings of various terms showed in how it defines “God”, the key term of their enemy.
In Czech, there are two words for “idea”, one connoting thought, the other imagination. Guess which one was used. Yes, they defined God as a “basic religious product of imagination”, just by the choice of the right word. You need to ask a mage. I understand that it sounds silly, and that’s why it’s understandable when some people find it detestable to use such a silly notion to speak about serious things, but it’s only silly as a caricature, a straw man.
Definition of magic by mages for mages is the application of will aiming to impact reality, manifestation of something that exists inside of one’s mind into an external objective fact in the real world.
In this accurate and unbiased understanding of magic, technology is actually a school of magic, and all sciences are an integral part of magic in practice, especially magia naturalis, the natural science, and the technologies derived from it. If you wonder who are these mages I speak of and where I’m getting all these ideas, this is a living, contemporary mythology and culture. It’s mostly carried on today by storytellers, at various degrees of seriousness.
As J. Michael Straczynski put it in his vision of the future in Babylon 5:
Future Is Magic
Let me teach you one simple counterspell. Stop and think about the real world for a moment and ask yourself this question — is the world we’ve built recently mundane, ordinary, boring? The correct answer is, most definitely not. We have to live in it, day to day, and so we’re blind to it, but the modern world is profoundly magical. That which prevents us from seeing it is called a disenchantment spell, reinforced by our scientific and political authorities.
We can fly, into space even; we can create remote controlled, autonomous devices; we can destroy the whole Earth if we wanted to, curse it to be dead for thousands of years. We are fast approaching the fountain of youth, and even though it would be costly, we have the technology of the philosopher’s stone to transmute one element into another. We have become real wizards.
It’s reflected in the contemporary geek and nerd culture, the gradual growth in significance of fantasy and science fiction genres, because on some level, even scientists and engineers are becoming aware of it, though they often feel they can only embrace it ironically. It’s most developed and conscious in games, be it Magic: The Gathering card game, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons role playing board game, or RPG computer game series like Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age.
Ironically embraced or not, these stories and mythologies explore very real issues that we need to learn how to deal with, or we risk something like the rise of the necromancers. As George R. R. Martin, the famous author of Game of Thrones, put it in one of his interviews, if you’ve just heard of Nazis in a parallel universe where they never rose to power, they would sound completely fantastical and made up. It was them who made it really apparent what a conscious application of will through technology can accomplish.
Conjuring a Better Tomorrow
It’s one thing to learn how to defend from dark magicks of someone like the necromancers, and that’s what I’ve addressed in my previous article, but it’s another thing entirely to figure out how to create something better. The first step is precisely becoming aware that you have this magical power to reshape the world, to manifest your ideas on the outside, to affect the lives of others.
It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Babylon 5 which is inhabited by the technomages is also a show that asks all the right questions that empower individuals — who are you, what do you want, why are you here. Knowing answers to these is what gives one true magical powers, since all magic starts with a wish. Making a wish or a prayer sounds like doing nothing, but without entering that kind of frame of mind, one can hardly focus their will to do stuff.
The metaphor here is a being of pure magic, the genie. The genie represents the universe in its responsiveness to what one wishes to happen. It’s never entirely straightforward in practice and there’s often a lot of understanding or knowledge required to perform any particular spell. Especially in the natural science category, and that’s why it’s so natural for the various mage guilds in many fantastical stories to closely resemble the real world scientific academia.
Based on the kind of wish that you make, you’d fall under a different school of magic, and thus you would have to follow different “rituals” to make your wishes become reality, but ultimately, anything is possible. Just think of all the pure spells that our everyday existence is driven by — money, laws, ideals, love… There’s nothing mundane about those things, and yet we don’t even notice, we never question them. The necessity of such “illusions” is best explained in The Hogfather by another legend of fantasy, Terry Pratchett:
Ushering In a New Age
In conclusion, the important thing to understand about magic is that by any practical definition of reality, magic is a very real concern, today more than ever. Whether we choose to stand at some measure of ironic distance apart from it or not, we need to understand how it works and master it, or our modern world will spin out of control into chaos and destruction, the demonic goal, or fall under the inhuman control of an evil order, the necromantic goal.
If we must call it fantasy and science fiction, then let’s at least understand what they tell us about the relationship between magic and reality. Fantasy is about the past, the roots of where our wishes come from, while science fiction is about the future, visions of utopian or dystopian worlds into which our wishes may take us. Using their language, we can discuss who we are and what we want, why we’re here and where we’re going, all kinds of magic.
If we do so, and in effect for all intents and purposes become wizards, we will stop being victims of fate and instead rise as free agents, heroes of our own mythologies. Whether you’re a storyteller, scientist, soldier, or salesman, what you do helps shape the world in accordance with someone’s will, as well as it is built upon an edifice of sorcery, ancient and modern. Strive to become more aware and in control of it, own being a mage, and it will empower you.
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