Book · Film · General · Language · TV

Magic Exclusion Principle

So, one of the things that’s always bothered me in stories (film, TV, etc.) is magical powers. Sure, that can be entertaining. These stories are engaging because of strong characters, their conflict (the essential ingredient of any great story), and the ethical dilemmas over use of such powers.

We expect magic in classical fairy tales (or in Harry Potter or the Grimm TV series). But there seem to be more and more mainstream TV dramas and films centered on characters using magic and magical thinking (psychic powers). Outright mystical dramas like the TV series The Magicians or Emerald City (with the interplay of science and magic).

And then there’re the series and films based on Marvel comics. Take, Magneto, for example, in the X-Men. His magnetic powers appear to be unlimited, lifting and moving huge objects. I really have to suspend belief big time (for the fun of it).

I just can’t see how to balance the equations. Laws of physics. Conservation of energy and all. At least in the animated movie The Incredibles there was a conceit about zero-point energy (to explain Syndrome’s powers).

Maybe advanced technology in the future, eh. But with magic, there’s a slippery slope, as magic often is entangled with the supernatural (and miracles). And there the stories tend to play by arbitrary rules, even within that domain. Great for the imagination, but hardly what we rely on in daily life.

A viable cosmology needs to be open-ended and generate new knowledge, e.g., clarify questions which have been asked and generate others which could not be asked before. Magic doesn’t seem to do that. It’s set in codices. Magic didn’t create the modern smartphone (which might appear magical to a primitive culture).

So, I was fascinated when Sean Carroll (The Big Picture, “How Much We Know”) specifically addressed this topic within a framework of natural limits. Modern physics does not claim to know everything, but “I’m claiming that we know some things, and that those things are enough to rule out some other things.” The universe operates in a certain way. Specifically, quantum field theory says there are no fields (waves and particles) for magic / psychic phenomena: “… we know that there aren’t new particles or forces out there yet to be discovered that would support them.”