I’ve heard in several places that sufficently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Although this may be true, traditional “magic” and fairytale “magic” seem to differ significantly from technological “magic”.
First though, the similarities. Magic and technology extend the power of the weilder (mage or engineer) to influence the world. Being tools, they are often (both in fable and history) used and misused by both the good and bad. Often too, certain magic or technology carries a sinister weight, derived from its origin. Perhaps the evil witch draws power from un-holy forces, or the evil corporation draws it’s widgets from sweatshops. Nevertheless, both magic and technology are portrayed primarily as wonderous, mysterious, potent, and more than a little dangerous. Both seem to complicate life.
However, despite their similarities (and cursory interchangability) magic is a poor substitute for technology, and vice-versa.Traditionally, magic is primarily concerned with the ilusoury, it is deceptive, vaporous, and achieves unlikely ends. Magic turns straw to gold, princes to frogs, makes witches boil from the ground, and kills without a sound. Magic is calculable, if at all, only in the most rudimentary sense, and relies on spiritual powers. Technology however is often quite coporeal, and most often achieves direct ends. Technology is concerned with the practical; it moves heavy loads, completes menial tasks, provides light and heat, and keeps out the rain. Technology relies on careful calculation, and analysis.
In recent years the concept of magic has become contaminated with technological ideas. Explinations and systems of magic (primarily in the RPG and fantasy genre’s) have arisen. However, going back to the old stories “magic” is never explained, and does things that even forseeable technology would be hard pressed to duplicate, transmogrification for example. Technology, too, has grown more “magical” both in capabilities and expectations. However, the true achievements of technology are quite non-magical, and often downright mundane. Plastic for instance, who ever heard of making plastic with magic? That’s just silly.
The difference, I think, is fundamentally one of origin. Magic draws its power (historically) from spiritual forces, most often of the reprobate variety. Technology draws its power from the earth, the sea, the air, and the Sun. There are exeptions of course, but in the whole technology and magic are very distinct concepts.
On the other hand, there may come a time when machines may be powered by spirits, computers posessed by demons, and truly magical effects achieved by technological means. Perhaps these days are not too far distant.
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