Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The question of magic

Wavelength loves to talk about "magic powers", "sorcery", and "other dimensions". They like asking the Big Question: "is magic real?" Since it's Wavelength, their default answer is "yes". Of course. But is magic real?

To date, nobody has advanced a comprehensive definition of magic as a distinct power. Part of the problem is that for a large part of human history, any competent scientist would have identified superpowers as "magic".

Webster's gives us: "a power that allows people to do impossible things by saying special words or performing special actions". Anything that actually happened can't be "impossible", so that's unhelpful.

Let's try Wikipedia: "magic or sorcery is an attempt to understand, experience, and influence the world using rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language". The original lacked the Oxford comma, so I added it in. 'Cause I'm evil.

Alright, so that's a start. What distinguishes "magic" from run-of-the-mill "superpowers"? It's that last part: "rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language". Magic isn't an invocation of your own power, it's a request to some greater power to do something on your behalf, using some specific protocol for the petition.

Based on that, we can rephrase the question of "is magic real". Instead, it's: "is there any greater power out there to which you can petition?" I will go as far as to say there could be. Here's how it would work.

Let's say hypothetically that some high-Stage super, like 7 or 8 or something equally ridiculous, actually existed. Say that he's got something like Beast-Boss, a thing that sits in the human brain and interfaces with the nerves there. So he can read your thoughts, maybe influence them. He'll certainly have a means of controlling some of the fundamental forces. If you give him a power like Cloud, who can affect liquids and gases at range by broadcast from his own body's cells, maybe he can exert this sort of power from the nano-symbiotes in your head. So you ask for something the right way, the super hears you, and you get what you asked for. That's pretty impressive, and I'd even call it a god-like level of power.

How else could it work? Well, there's the little question of how people originally got super-powers to begin with. We understand the mechanisms of inheritance and propagation, but we have no idea where any of this really came from. Like I talked about awhile back, there's any number of potential explanations. It's just as valid to say, I don't know, that Hitler and Nazi occultists released some potential magic energy into the world and that made superpowers possible or something. In that case, magic would be the true origin for super-abilities, and anyone who could directly control magic would have an edge over "regular" supers. But that just opens the door to questions like "how does magic work", and that's not something I feel like wasting my time on writing about.