Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic: Arthur C. Clarke
Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology: Alan W. Kellogg
In Superscience and Sorcery the question being asked is, How do you handle a mash up of science and fantasy? My answer is, I don’t.
I don’t see the two has having to conflict with each other. Rather, I see them as different ways of handling things. Science is about using reason to explain the world, fantasy is more about using what we call mysticism. Funny thing is, both can explain matters, and both can fail to explain. You get right down to it, quantum physics involves a fair amount of mysticism, for a lot of it just doesn’t make sense until you understand. That understanding takes insight — revelation, and that means mysticism.
And I don’t see that magic has to mean fantasy, for how you treat magic is all a part of how you can treat magic; just as how you treat science is all a part of how you can treat science. How you can treat either all depends on how the existence is question lets you treat them.
In our reality you can treat science scientifically — that is, rationally for the most part — for here science is rational. But not magic, for here magic is not rational, and as far as I can see, it don’t work. Not in any real, substantial way. And I’m talking about magic that makes physical changes in the world, without the use of any physical instrument.
In a reality where magic does work how would it. Now magic’s functioning could be mystical. That is, understanding it could be irrational. Or it could be understood through reason. Which is to say, there are some existences where magic is a science.
Now before you get all agitated and jump up and down in your seats, please remember this; I said nothing about our existence. I’m talking about an existence where magic can be a science. It works as a science, can be explained as a science, and can and is treated as a science.
Which means one thing, there shall be laws of magic, and not necessarily the laws of magic we know. Just remember what a scientific law is; it’s not so much a ordinance or regulation, it’s more a description of what our reality allows for. Before Newton Galileo noted that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Newton later added the caveat; unless acted upon by an outside force. This is just how things work.
In any existence where magic is a science the laws of magic will be descriptions of what magic allows, of how magic works. Einstein’s relativity — among many other things — said that no object with mass can ever move as fast as a photon, much less any faster. Any object that did would have to be infinite in mass. I expect that in a reality where magic is a science the scientists there would have composed laws that tell us how magic is limited, and that they would make sense.
For the common man this means one thing, magic would be taught as a science in the classroom; likely starting in their equivalent of elementary school. Which means that more advanced classes would be taught in higher grades, college courses would get rather hairy, and that fraud would be rampant.
Just look at all the ways fraud is rampant in our medicine, biology, and even physics. As a whole we are not rational animals, and there are those of us who just have to be right regardless of the evidence against us.
So expect there to be disagreements about how and why magic works, with the understanding among the highly educated that they could be wrong regarding their understanding of the science. But also remember that how understandable magic affects the world will also play a role, and that means that there is more to write about.