And if that world contains magic, I think the writer has to be even more rigorous in thinking out how magical systems work, no matter how much of that appears in the text. Scientists force the truth from reality by interrogating it with complicated equipment and sophisticated techniques, a privilege the spectators of a magic show do not have. As a fellow Psych Today blogger, researcher and amateur magician myself, I really enjoyed your piece, Paul. I think They Might be Giants said it best "Science is Real". We are worlds of blood-and-water existing within a larger but finite network of people and settings, and all of that is constrained by the egg-yolk that is the Earth. A key step to science is replication and verification. One of the biggest debates among people who like scifi — aside from the Star Wars vs. Star Trek thing — is where to draw the line between science and magic. As an example, suppose someone says she can transform lead into gold. To go on at slightly greater length, the reason magic can't be mass-produced is that it usually relies on some subjective quality of the practitioner: her intense concentration, her spiritual purity, something that can't be substituted with another person or with a machine. Let's just call this magic. What scientific research and magic shows have in common is that the spectator of a magic show is like a scientist observing a natural phenomenon. And I don't mean that she's a charlatan; she might actually be able to transform lead into gold. How can one separate science from magic? Magicians have a more developed (albeit less articulated) understanding of much of perception than do us perceptual psychologists. You rightfully nail the fact that in most super-hero stories, both science and magic are each just a kind of lubricant for the story. Some adhere to the idea that magic is simply science that we don't yet understand, others feel that magic represents an essential mystery that can't be understood rationally. A performer of magic tricks presents an alternative version of reality in which the known laws of physics can apparently be broken at the magician’s will. Of course the other big dividing line between magic and science has to do with genre: magic appears mostly in fantasy stories, and science (of course) in science fiction. The only difference between "magic" and "science" is that one has a better set of procedures for predicting outcomes. The theme of the weeklong show was "Science versus Magic.". Science can seem like magic because only the anointed are allowed to do it. Until recently, magicians and "natural philosophers" (scientists) were lumped together for their ability to do the seemingly impossible with physical objects. What do you think? Just because we're careful, doesn't mean that we have to be boring. Yet, at the same time we are inclined to believe in weird things such as mind-reading, paranormal phenomena, and where I live, "earthquake weather." We talked to five authors whose fiction blurs the line between magic and science to find out what they thought of the difference between the two. Then it turns out that experiment A uncovers some imporrtant law governing the physical world while experiment B did not. Ararat last week with "99.9% certainty" by a religious group strained credulity since scientists have made innumerable expeditions up the mountain and had not found the Ark. Paul J. Zak, Ph.D., is a professor at Claremont Graduate University and the author of Trust Factor: The Science of Creating High-Performance Companies. Why does one scientist decide to try experiment A and another equally well trained scientist decide to try experiment B? Science can seem like magic because the impossible suddenly appears possible. The magician, as the prime-mover of his own temporary universe, has a home-ground advantage over the spectators and can direct the spectators' observation, preventing them from extracting the truth from their perceptions. It took the work of very smart people to get us to the point that we can all use electricity, but none of them were magicians, precisely because they were able to make their discovery work for everyone. I can and do, however, believe in huge intelligent squid ponderously pulling themselves through the alleys of a weird city, protecting themselves with helmets full of water. If on the other hand it's something that only she can do, and only under special conditions, then she's a magician. One of the biggest debates among people who like scifi — aside from the Star Wars vs. Star Trek thing — is where to draw the line between science and magic. As well it should. But not impossible. The odds of some "true believers" finding it was slim. Still, I must admit I prefer scientific bullshit to magical bullshit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarke's_three_laws, Where do scienticists get their ideas? Here's what they said. But the process is the same. Here is a scientific explanation of how a magician can toss an object into the air and the audience thinks it disappears from Live Science, http://www.livescience.com/5021-magicians-scientists.html. If you have the imagination to get away with it. In this trick, the magician tosses a red ball into the air two times and on the third throw, instead of releasing the ball, the magician holds onto it. It's about apparently authoritative use of supposed scientific language, or, to put it another way, bullshitting. China Miéville, author of Perdido Street Station and Un Lun Dun: What is the difference between science and magic? Spectators consciously know they are being fooled and will naturally seek out the true cause of what they experience. I can also believe in nefarious mushroom-based intelligent life forms living in bizarre underground caverns. Once one is shown how to do a magic trick, it ceases to be magic. One reason I have no magic in most of my fiction is that I cannot believe in it and thus cannot write about it in any convincing way. The spectator has to observe passively, without being able to investigate everything in detail. Science can seem like magic because the tools scientists use are unfamiliar. The main difference between a spectator and a scientist is that a spectator of a magic show does not have access to a laboratory with the necessary tools to uncover the truth. We generalize from examples using the inductive method. If, for example, the physical laws of a fantastical or SF world are different than our world, there has to be some explanation, no matter how off-the-cuff. Jeff VanderMeer, author of City of Saints and Madmen (and, with Ann VanderMeer, a columnist for io9): The main difference is that science exists and magic doesn't. To compensate for the neural lag, we have evolved to predict the outcome of events. The "discovery" of Noah's Ark on Mt. The more I'm exposed to magic (including Andrew's work) the more I feel that all magic is science, whether the audience or magician wants to believe it. However, study participants reported seeing the magician toss the ball into the air three times before the ball "disappears."". In real life, loads. (or even study different phenomena?). Good stuff. This is because we are used to constraint. Science, art, religion, and magic all derive from mankind's basic impulse to know and predict what tomorrow will bring. Where many people (and even many scientists) fail, is using muddled thinking when seeking explanations. These predictions leave us vulnerable to deception, the researchers say. Skeptic Society Founder and Scientific American columnist Michael Shermer wrote a book called Why People Believe Weird Things that offers an evolutionary explanation for our consistent misattribution of causes and effects. No magic required. Unless the magical bullshit is coming from Ted Chiang, in which case I'm OK with it. And here's where I think that science should think of itself as "magic". How to Get Close to Someone Who Is Emotionally Distant. @Plague: Yeah, I thought he and Stephen both had a good response, which was basically that it's all bullshit so don't pretend it isn't and get on with the story. We try new things and see what happens. Of course, most people do this in a less systematic way than is required by science. However, since this is merely an audacious application of current theory on biology and biological systems it amounts to perfectly good science. Magic is incredibly engaging because magicians seem to break known physical laws. If they had found the Ark, it could be verified by inspection by someone outside their group.