What would it take to convince you of magic / supernatural

  • #1
1,532
633
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?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
1,532
633
*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?
 
  • Like
  • Haha
  • Love
Likes 2milehi, nsaspook, skyshrimp and 2 others
  • #3
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes Klystron and BillTre
  • #4
DennisN
Gold Member
2020 Award
1,809
4,436
"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).
 
  • Like
Likes Mondayman, russ_watters and BillTre
  • #5
BWV
1,032
1,101
"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
 
  • Like
  • Skeptical
Likes hutchphd, russ_watters and Filip Larsen
  • #6
BillTre
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2020 Award
1,898
5,224
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.
 
  • Like
Likes russ_watters
  • #7
BWV
1,032
1,101
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
 
  • Skeptical
  • Like
Likes DrClaude, russ_watters, PeroK and 1 other person
  • #8
BillTre
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2020 Award
1,898
5,224
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.
 
  • Like
  • Skeptical
Likes xAxis, russ_watters, PeroK and 1 other person
  • #9
DaveC426913
Gold Member
20,087
3,397
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.)
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz, russ_watters, hutchphd and 1 other person
  • #10
PeroK
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Insights Author
Gold Member
2020 Award
19,379
10,869
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.
 
  • Like
Likes PhDeezNutz, hutchphd and russ_watters
  • #11
DaveE
Science Advisor
Gold Member
1,917
1,544
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.
 
  • Like
Likes gleem and hutchphd
  • #12
797
679
Would you consider quantum randomness to be magic? Suppose it were deterministic even though we couldn't verify that, would that change the answer?
 
  • #13
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 
  • #14
BWV
1,032
1,101
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
 
  • Like
Likes DrClaude and weirdoguy
  • #15
Vanadium 50
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
27,662
11,889
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.
 
  • Like
Likes xAxis and russ_watters
  • #16
BWV
1,032
1,101
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
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 
  • Like
Likes xAxis and BillTre
  • #18
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 
  • #19
BWV
1,032
1,101
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
DaveC426913
Gold Member
20,087
3,397
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.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes russ_watters
  • #21
BWV
1,032
1,101
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
 
  • #22
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 
  • #23
DennisN
Gold Member
2020 Award
1,809
4,436
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
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 
  • #25
russ_watters
Mentor
21,095
7,855
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.
 

Related Threads on What would it take to convince you of magic / supernatural

Replies
222
Views
14K
  • Last Post
Replies
24
Views
3K
Replies
31
Views
4K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
27
Views
15K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
25
Views
4K
  • Poll
  • Last Post
Replies
24
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
2K
Replies
10
Views
3K
  • Last Post
3
Replies
51
Views
5K
  • Last Post
Replies
23
Views
2K
Top