What would it take to convince you of magic / supernatural?

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In summary: Some angels being describes as flying wheels with eyes all over them sounds a lot like the way I would build a probe if I had the tech.This is a possible explanation for an observation, but it's not evidence.
  • #1
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My wife posed a theoretical similar to this last night while watching the show Supernatural. I also was thinking about the concept that technology that is sufficiently advanced becomes indistinguishable from magic.

The more I think about it, the more I see that idea as paradoxical. Understanding that idea fundamentally assigns anything magic to being an advanced technology. So once understanding that, is there anything at all that we could see that would convince us that there is some big fundamental aspect of the universe that we don't understand and can't with science?

I keep thinking back through history and there isn't a single thing that I couldn't conceive of some theoretical technology doing. There is literally a Star Trek episode where Picard uses the technology of The Enterprise to take on the powers of the devil. Jesus turning water to wine is just a teleport trick. Zeus throwing lighting bolts sounds like a plasma weapon. Making a covenant with a group of people to bring them to heaven sounds like transplanting the consciousness of someone upon death into a simulation. Some angels being describes as flying wheels with eyes all over them sounds a lot like the way I would build a probe if I had the tech. Even in fiction: mixing franchises, I could imagine The Force actually being some sort of Q technology that a civilization with a 5 billion year head starts eventually manufactures.

So is there anything you could think of that could convince you you're seeing something extra-universal that science or future science can't grapple instead of just some very advanced technology?
 
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*Bright flash of light and a being appears before me*
God: I am god.
Me: Cool... so are you like some billion year old self-improving alien AI or something?
God: ... No... I am the lord.
Me: Oh... Are you a Matrioshka brain?
God: ... You're making this difficult. I created your universe.
Me: Oh, so we ARE in a simulation. And you're like the system admin?
God: ... Why did I give you the ability to talk?
 
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  • #3
I don't see what is so difficult about this. Clearly and transparently demonstrating something that is way outside human ability/scientific possibility would be plenty.

The examples you gave aren't accurate. Science clearly defines limits to what is possible in many cases. No amount of advancement will change those limits (if we are correct about them).

[Edit] This question's framing/premise is commonly used as a way to attempt to discredit skeptics by describing poor evidence and then claiming when it's rejected that there is nothing they (we) would accept. It just isn't true.
 
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  • #4
"What would it take to convince you of magic / supernatural"

For me, it is the same as for new science. Repeatable experiments/observations that produces physical evidence. And with the added guideline "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (Carl Sagan, IIRC).
 
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  • #5
DennisN said:
"What would it take to convince you of magic / supernatural"
For me, it is the same as for new science. Repeatable experiments that produces physical evidence.
And with the added guideline "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" (Carl Sagan, IIRC).
Then of course it would not be magic

just like there is no such thing as alternative medicine
 
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  • #6
BWV said:
just like there is no such thing as alternative medicine

Wait.
WRT corona virus, what about:
  • Ivermectin
  • chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine
  • and all the other crazy stuff some people are calling medicine?
There are lots of alternatives being promoted out there.
 
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  • #7
BillTre said:
Wait.
WRT corona virus, what about:
  • Ivermectin
  • chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine
  • and all the other crazy stuff some people are calling medicine?
There are lots of alternatives being promoted out there.
there is no such thing as alternative medicine: either it works, in which case it is medicine, or it doesn't, in which case it isn't! think this is the original quote by journalist John Diamond
 
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  • #8
BWV said:
there is no such thing as alternative medicine: either it works, in which case it is medicine, or it doesn't, in which case it isn't! think this is the original quote by journalist John Diamond
Well, that's one person's definition, but there are plenty of others who don't appear to use it.
 
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  • #9
BWV said:
Then of course it would not be magic
This touches on something I've been toying with.

Is magic unexplainable by definition? i.e. If it could be "shown" the mechanism by which a wizard's wand caused a demon to appear and do his bidding, would that by definition render it non-magical?

(I've always wanted to write a story that explains how magic actually operates - the cause-effect mechanism.)
 
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  • #10
BWV said:
there is no such thing as alternative medicine: either it works, in which case it is medicine, or it doesn't, in which case it isn't! think this is the original quote by journalist John Diamond
That's a journalist's view. It's simplistic to say the least.

There may be alternatives to the treatment you would get in a modern Western hospital that are partially effective. Mainstream medicine generally would be backed by objective clinical data on its effectiveness - and be more precisely tailored to the condition.

Anything outside of that would generally be termed alternative medicine.
 
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  • #11
The thing that I almost never hear when people talk about this is the fallibility of our own minds. We are full of cognitive biases (i.e. "Thinking Fast an Slow" - D. Kahneman). We also have sensory deficits, like optical illusions and such. Anything you suggest could be a hallucination or the result of fallacious reasoning.

The more dramatic your exposition of god, the more skeptical I'll be, I hope. I want to see a repetitious, consistent, logically consistent, body of knowledge with the concurrence of others that I think are good rational observers and thinkers. Question everything, especially yourself.
 
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  • #12
Would you consider quantum randomness to be magic? Suppose it were deterministic even though we couldn't verify that, would that change the answer?
 
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  • #13
BWV said:
Then of course it would not be magic
What would it be? If you're saying that would make it science, I think that misses the point. Science is a procedure, not strictly a body of knowledge.
 
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PeroK said:
That's a journalist's view. It's simplistic to say the least.

There may be alternatives to the treatment you would get in a modern Western hospital that are partially effective. Mainstream medicine generally would be backed by objective clinical data on its effectiveness - and be more precisely tailored to the condition.

Anything outside of that would generally be termed alternative medicine.
why get pedantic about very common expression? - point is if you can prove a treatment works, then its real, not alternative medicine. Just like if you can scientifically explain a phenomenon then it aint magic
 
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  • #15
Is it reproducible? In Harry Potter it is.

Steve Brust has no fewer than five different kinds of magic in his world. One of them has academics studying it, looking to create new effects. Experimentation is a part of this. Does that make it science? Maybe it does.
 
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  • #16
russ_watters said:
Science is a procedure, not strictly a body of knowledge.
do you really think a discussion of magic requires a formal, rather than colloquial definition of science?
 
  • #17
BWV said:
why get pedantic about very common expression? - point is if you can prove a treatment works, then its real, not alternative medicine. Just like if you can scientifically explain a phenomenon then it aint magic
Add a vote for me not being familiar with the idea that "alternative medicine" is synonymous with "doesn't work". The mainstream does not have a total monopoly on everything that works.
 
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  • #18
BWV said:
do you really think a discussion of magic requires a formal, rather than colloquial definition of science?
I think it requires specifying what definitions you are using, particularly when they cause problems if you aren't using the definitions everyone else is. It's really hard to understand what your point is because of how you are using terms. I think I disagree with your point, but I'm not even sure because of your word usage.
 
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  • #19
russ_watters said:
Add a vote for me not being familiar with the idea that "alternative medicine" is synonymous with "doesn't work". The mainstream does not have a total monopoly on everything that works.
Once a treatment can be proven to work its no longer ‘alternative‘ - which is a different claim than ‘synonymous with “doesn’t work”’
 
  • #20
OK, I'd hazard that the whole alternative medicine thing is a bit of a tangent (though perhaps analogous).

I'd be more interested in concentrating on what, exactly the definition of magic is, what it is not, and where the twain shall meet.
 
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  • #21
DaveC426913 said:
OK, I'd hazard that the whole alternative medicine thing is a bit of a tangent (though perhaps relevant).

I'd be more interested in concentrating on what, exactly the definition of magic is, what it is not, and where the twain shall meet.
magic means the manipulation of supernatural forces and supernatural means outside the natural world. Science is a methodology for describing the natural world. Therefore, if the methods of science can describe a phenomenon it is no longer supernatural and not magic
 
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  • #22
BWV said:
Once a treatment can be proven to work its no longer ‘alternative‘ - which is a different claim than ‘synonymous with “doesn’t work”’
Ok, but I'm pretty sure you just contradicted your prior claim that there's no such thing as "alternative medicine".

I find this argument over definitions off-putting.
 
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  • #23
Slightly off topic, but fun:
I saw a BBC documentary recently about CERN/LHC, and apparently there was/is someone who is a big fan of Queen, and everytime they were about to run some procedure they played a snippet of a Queen song in the speakers. IIRC, the snippet they played when they were about to start up the proton beams was the Queen song "It's a kind of magic." :smile:
I wonder if @mfb can confirm this?

 
  • #24
BWV said:
magic means the manipulation of supernatural forces and supernatural means outside the natural world. Science is a methodology for describing the natural world. Therefore, if the methods of science can describe a phenomenon it is no longer supernatural and not magic
That doesn't follow. Science is a method for examining phenomena. It's not the only method nor is it necessary that the phenomena be "natural" (cue argument over what is "natural").

"Magic" is a different set of rules/capabilities that most people and most of the natural world doesn't follow. It's not necessary to argue about this definition because whether one considers it "natural" is besides the point. The point is that it's different.
 
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  • #25
DaveC426913 said:
OK, I'd hazard that the whole alternative medicine thing is a bit of a tangent (though perhaps analogous).

I'd be more interested in concentrating on what, exactly the definition of magic is, what it is not, and where the twain shall meet.
Well, it's the same logical argument/problem. And it's equally pointless.

This touches on something I've been toying with.

Is magic unexplainable by definition? i.e. If it could be "shown" the mechanism by which a wizard's wand caused a demon to appear and do his bidding, would that by definition render it non-magical?
One thing that annoyed me about the later earlier and later Star Wars episodes was the addition of a scientific/natural definition for The Force.

I submit that for the definition of "magic" to be useful, we shouldn't be doing that.
 
  • #26
russ_watters said:
Ok, but I'm pretty sure you just contradicted your prior claim that there's no such thing as "alternative medicine".

I find this argument over definitions off-putting.
It was not a full claim, just a reference to a common saying I assumed everyone would know

and you started the argument over semantics, not me so not sure what you are put off about
 
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  • #27
BWV said:
It was not a full claim, just a reference to a common saying I assumed everyone would know

and you started the argument over semantics, not me so nut sure what you are put off about
Post #7, with the non-standard definition was made by you, and several people (not just me) pointed out that it is problematic. It's very hard to have a productive discussion if you won't follow the same definitions of terms that other people are using.
 
  • #28
DaveC426913 said:
I'd be more interested in concentrating on what, exactly the definition of magic is, what it is not, and where the twain shall meet.
Early in the last century "spooky action at a distance" might have qualified.

I believe it was used as a kind of slur against certain ideas.
That approach seems to have failed.
 
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  • #29
Vanadium 50 said:
Is it reproducible? In Harry Potter it is.

Steve Brust has no fewer than five different kinds of magic in his world. One of them has academics studying it, looking to create new effects. Experimentation is a part of this. Does that make it science? Maybe it does.
As my other posts indicate I see no reason why the scientific method can't be used to investigate magic. The difficult/interesting question is if science doesn't find the answer, whether it's because we're just not smart enough yet or if the answer simply doesn't exist. There certainly may be people who will never believe in magic because they assume that everything has a natural explanation that can be incorporated into the existing laws of the universe. But in my opinion it would actually be cleaner to accept that magic exists. Then you don't have to worry about fixing the broken laws.
 
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  • #30
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur Clarke

If the "supernatural" phenomenon is reproducible (at least in a statistical sense) we can study it and it will become part of science. If it's not reproducible then you'll have a really hard time convincing scientists.
DennisN said:
Slightly off topic, but fun:
I saw a BBC documentary recently about CERN/LHC, and apparently there was/is someone who is a big fan of Queen, and everytime they were about to run some procedure they played a snippet of a Queen song in the speakers. IIRC, the snippet they played when they were about to start up the proton beams was the Queen song "It's a kind of magic." :smile:
I wonder if @mfb can confirm this?
I haven't heard of that, but it's possible. One of the experiment control rooms uses a toilet flush sound when the beam is aborted.
 
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For me this falls into the category of I'll know it when I see it.

I sometimes have lucid dreams and do things with agency that I know are only possible because I'm dreaming. The most common of these that I choose is flying unaided, kind of like Superman. It's a wonderful feeling and I'm quite certain if there were some way to achieve this in my waking state I would be convinced it was "magic"... or that my mind had snapped. Yeah, that's the tricky part.

How could I be sure that I hadn't just lost it? Except for the fact that I know I'm dreaming my lucid dream flights feel completely real. So if I saw it how would I know the difference between magic and madness?
 
  • #32
mfb said:
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic - Arthur Clarke
I've never liked that quote/idea. I prefer an adaptation of Sagan's thesis from "A Demon Haunted World" that unexplained real phenomena were traditionally attributed to magic/supernatural -- but then the development of science changed that. Today the starting assumption is that any new and unexplained phenomena is attributed to an unknown/unexplained law of the universe. At best I'd consider Clarke's view many centuries obsolete. Indeed, my view is pretty much what you're starting with here:

mfb said:
If the "supernatural" phenomenon is reproducible (at least in a statistical sense) we can study it and it will become part of science. If it's not reproducible then you'll have a really hard time convincing scientists.
Yes, but you're also missing what magic/supernatural is. Reproduction on demand can convince scientists of the existence of any phenomena and subject it to study according to the scientific process ('part of science"). But the method of analyzing a phenomena is independent of whether the phenomena is magic/supernatural or natural/part of the "normal" laws of the universe.

"Supernatural" means the laws of the universe apply to everyone except That Guy. He can re-produce his powers on demand, but there simply is no explanation for them and no way to reconcile them with the laws of the universe that everyone/thing else adheres to.
 
  • #33
JT Smith said:
So if I saw it how would I know the difference between magic and madness?
Internal experiences of the supernatural are impossible to verify/replicate, so impossible to know if they exist only in one's delusional mind. But it isn't difficult to come up with external examples that would be verifiable if they were real.
 
  • #34
I think you define "magic" differently than Clarke.

Sufficiently advanced technology can do things we can't even begin to explain. They look just like the things people call "magic". That's what the law is saying, and so far it has been true.
russ_watters said:
Today the starting assumption is that any new and unexplained phenomena is attributed to an unknown/unexplained law of the universe.
That's exactly the approach we would have for anything described as magic. That's perfectly in agreement with Clarke's law.
russ_watters said:
But the method of analyzing a phenomena is independent of whether the phenomena is magic/supernatural or natural/part of the "normal" laws of the universe.
I don't think such a distinction makes sense. If it's a phenomenon within the universe or some larger structure including the universe it's trivially part of the laws of the universe or that larger structure. A law of "that guy's will changes the universe freely" would be really weird, but we could study it.
 
  • #35
russ_watters said:
But it isn't difficult to come up with external examples that would be verifiable if they were real.
The difficulty, of course, is that some phenom are highly fickle, and can't reliably be investigated.
How many years has ball lightning been on the fence between myth and fact?
 
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