An Excerpt from The Man From Empire on Magic versus Technology

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This is a scene between Grace and ScOsh, after ScOsh has rescued her from local law enforcement by some means she doesn't understand yet. But this is the tension between technology and individual abilities (the operant disciplines) I have maintained through all eleven published works in the Empire of Humanity thus far: technology can be accomplished by anyone with the proper accompaniment. Magic - or its equivalent - requires the active participation of a skilled individual.


He meant imperial seconds, which were longer than ours, but ten seconds or seventeen, I figured I could handle it if ScOsh thought I could. I was curious, though, All my life I've heard that magic is simply technology we don't understand yet. But this seems to be the real thing. Magic, not just engineering.

That's not the distinction we make. I read multiple references to an Arthur C. Clarke, who was a technologist and science writer of note on Earth, as well as a writer of speculative fiction, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." A brilliant man, but we in the Empire would disagree. Technology consists of things anyone can produce using the appropriate mechanism. Magic is what needs a particular human skill or ability in the mix. Technology can be mass produced, warehoused, bought, sold, traded, and it will work for anyone who can manipulate the machine correctly. Magic must be individually produced on the scene, at the time, by someone with a special skill, knowledge, or ability. In the Empire, they can often be substituted one for the other, but that doesn't make them the same. Consider the example of musicians, with which you should be familiar. Some are capable of capturing a crowd emotionally, others who may be technically superior in the production of music cannot. You can put a guitar or piano into the hands of sixty people, even sixty trained musicians, and the ones who stand out will be those with a particular ability to capture and manipulate their observers. It is often correlated with superior technical skill, but any musician in the Empire will tell you that while there is a feedback between technical skill and the appeal added by the special talent, they aren't the same thing. Another example is persuasion. Earth's history is rife with examples of nations and lesser groups being led into disaster by individuals who were telling something known to be false, verified to be false, pointed out by many people to be false, and yet the people as a group chose to follow the persuasive fantasy rather than those who correctly pointed out that the liar's claims did not coincide with reality. Another thing I've noticed is that your society has a notable confusion between the notion of anyone being able to observe a given effect, which has general scientific validity, and anyone being able to produce a given effect, which does not. Both magic and technology are real, scientifically verified concepts in the empire, but one requires an individual talent, the other is based upon some outside mechanism that will work for anybody. Applications of one often turn into applications of the other; for instance in the Empire we have portal technology that allows for instant transport within certain energy constraints - much like what I'm doing to move us . I should mention that I prefer technology because the more widespread knowledge and ability are, the less they are subject to abuse and the more good they can do. We use magic, we know it can be beneficial, we know it can be reliable - but there is a level of unease with it inverse to the number of people capable of producing a given effect. A power possessed by a single individual is highly susceptible to abuse; one possessed by everyone present is less so. Nobody is threatened by your telephones or our datalinks - they work for everyone, so everyone has the capabilities they grant. But if you're the only telepath around, there is potential for abuse in the situation. Yes, Grace, there is real magic, and we have experience with this fact.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

(I do apologize that pneumonia had a hold of me for about three weeks there, and all of the leftover energy had to go into immediate day to day things)

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 24, 2022 7:00 AM.

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