1. Drusilla
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    Drusilla Active Member

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    The evolutionary purpose of magic........

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Drusilla, Mar 22, 2011.

    What do you think is the evolutionary purpose of magic? Looking apart from magic being something God given, how do you think fictional people with magical powers developed this genetic trait?
     
  2. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, in my story universe, magic isn't a gift from the gods. It is a science all on its own. The people in my story have developed the ability to manipulate elements around them and influence them. By rearranging those elements or even exciting them, they can change do anything from creating a fireball to putting a shield around an object to make it invisible.

    The film, The Sorcerer's Apprentice had a good interpretation of how people gained magical abilities. The normal person uses a small percentage of their brain. A sorcerer was able to use all of his brainpower, which gave him the ability to use magic. :)
     
  3. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    I like the question!

    Supposedly, our brains evolved thought from a couple of different reasons.

    1. The first is to create "behavioral rehearsals" (B.F. Skinner purposed this) that keep us fairly safe. Example, a monkey doesn't think so much as they just do. So it sees a fruit in the middle of a tree and just climbs up. While walking out on a branch to reach the fruit the branch breaks, because it was dead, and the monkey falls to its death. This wouldn't happen to a smart human because the person would see the branch realize it's rotten and then imagine a variety of ways to get the fruit that didn't involve stepping on the branch. Also, the person might see that there are no clear ways to get the food and just leave thinking it's not worth the risk.

    So, the mind exists to create behavioral plays to test the benefit of behavior.

    2. Sort of related to the first is that idea that the brain exists to outsmart danger. For whatever reasons humans have no real physical defenses against animals with giant strength, claws, fangs and so on. The only way we mastered animal attacks is by a long slow process of "waking up" to reality. Once you can plan and imagine what can happen to yourself, family, and friends, you can then beat the stupid and brutal animals.

    Magic:

    Magic is turning thoughts into matter.

    In a sense, we do that for real in life, but through a laborious process, sometimes. If I invent a recipe it exists in my mind in nearly every way, but I have to physically assemble the item, but the end result is the same as magic. I wished the dish into being and there it is. Also, using tricky arguments and propoganda is also directly like magic. The creator covers his motives in appealing language, images, etc and he wishes to install his motives in the minds of others, and it is. That's mind control and just takes longer and is more hit and miss than a magic spell.

    So, real magic could be explained as being a result of a world of extreme hostility where the laws of physics are just a little bit different. This would allow for an interesting "hell world" where the characters need a very great defense.
     
  4. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    If the trait contributes to reproductive success allow for the trait-carriers to have more babies than non-carriers, who in turn are similarly advantaged by said trait and have more babies, who in turn have more babies, ect, ect - the trait would become more and more pronounced. Evolution in a nutshell is the gradual proliferation of reproductively advantageous genes and the elimination of disadvantageous genes, via environmental forces of selection (predators, illness, ect.)

    So yeah, if an originally marginal genetic ability for magic contributed to reproductive success, it's entirely plausible that the ability would be strengthened through successive generations - from a theoretical fantasy/soft scifi point of view. This is my understanding of it at least. Biology's never been my strong suit.
     
  5. bumblebot
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    bumblebot Senior Member

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    Are you asking for reasonably scientific explanations for how humans could have actually evolved the ability to use magic? If so, what kind of magic do you have in mind, exactly?

    Or are you asking why magic would have been beneficial in the history of our species?

    If it's the latter, it's easy to imagine how anything that gave early humans an edge would be passed on. Pretty much any kind of magic could be easily harnessed to make life easier, even just a tiny bit, and unless it subjected the user to social consequences like ostracism or death, it would have been a favored trait almost immediately.
     
  6. butterbescotch
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    butterbescotch New Member

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    Since I didn't listen to my science classes, I can't understand what you all saying.
    But I do have one basis, as a layman. Well they may get magic through Chemical X (Powerpuff girls) or any radioactive material that alters their genes.
     
  7. nzric
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    nzric Active Member

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    I guess you need to clarify what the magic is in your story.

    If it's innate from some kind of behaviour you should be able to see magical animals in the novel too (apart from consciousness & culture the other animals beat us humans on all counts).

    I'd go for the the "punctuated equilibrium" model. Take flying. You get bipedal dinosaurs with feather-like fur, likely made for mating displays and warmth. Some of them in China mutate to the point where they can jump and glide for short distances (probably after running, or gliding out of trees, etc). This is selected for because it's a huuuge advantage, and pretty soon you get ones that are better at gliding & eventually flying. Since they're the only ones in that niche the population explodes and they start splitting into different species by size, location, food source etc etc. The idea is it's relatively stable until a chance mutation finds a unexplored niche then it explodes.

    So lets say someone has a mutation that lets them use magic (quantum somethingorather, nano-thingy, bla bla whatever you make up). You're going the evolutionary route so I assume plain old genetic bias through reproduction is going to take way too long (tens of thousands of years at least). So I'd go for either a technology, i.e. supplement/brain booster, or a meme (packet of information that spreads & reproduces, like a catchy song).

    So either the magic itself (the idea/rituals) are spreading through evolution through peoples brains, or people have genetic traits that increase their ability to tap into magic.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess it depends entirely on the world you have built mine is a combination of DNA, the position of the planet, hardwork and meditation. Anyone can be magic a persons DNA, and level of work determine how good a person will be and what they can achieve.

    Also because the universe in my story is the Universal Father (God) it is part of how he functions - the firefly streams are like blood cells carrying the energy around the universe and the people are roughly the good bacteria and bad bacteria fighting it out inside his gut. There needs to be a balance or he becomes ill. It is not so much god given as it is part of god keeping his body in check.
     
  9. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I'll have to agree with Elgaisma, that it depends on what kind of world you give your story to. Mine is basically invovling a gift from God and gives them to my Supporting and Main character to explore and find peace in their lives. But I'm not realliy familiar with science fiction though, and I don't often watch or read Sc-Fi.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some of the best fantasy never explains it - I never saw Harry Potter take a class on "why we have magic and Muggles don't" even though the conflict about magical genetics was the keystone to the plot. It was hardly even waved away - she just never went there, probably because throwing in such a complicated explanation leaves so many plot holes you can run over later.

    If you don't explain it in detail, it leaves you free to mess around with it later. Having extremely rigid rules can be fun for plotting, like in Avatar (the cartoon), but in the final episodes (spoiler alert for anyone who actually cares/is somehow coincidentally halfway through watching the series right now) they invented a whole new type of magical power just because there was no way to end the big fight in a satisfying way without it, because the powers they were using were equally matched, and the rules too rigid to develop magic outside of the Earth/Air/Fire/Water thing through the rest of the show. It looked like a desperate arse pull by the writers because the magic had previously been incredibly rigidly defined and explained, and only the 4 elements had ever been previously given as ways of using magic.

    In any case... if you're going to persist with adding loads of science in and making magic strictly contained within an evolutionary perspective, assume there's basic magic that anything can do... Sort of low level universal spiritualism. Magic would have first come about as defensive, so take traits already common to the universe and magic them up. So humans suck at camouflage, so perhaps they developed instead of an external feature to hide them against surfaces, learned how to make illusions in a chameleon-like way to hide themselves against anything. Or learned basic telekinesis or telepathy for the hunting/fighting advantage way back. As we get tribal, you might have women/elders practising basic healing magic by speeding up the healing of wounds or something - aided by herbs and mystic waters and stuff, essentially so perhaps in their hands some leaves with a mild healing property can have that drawn out and concentrated into a super-healing spell.

    As society gets more complex and farming and writing kicks in you get a level of society that can kick back and relax - when writing kicks in, so Egyptian or Babylonian, and at that point you take your pre-existing magic from the early stages of human development, and apply it to what they already did. So perhaps mummification really is such good healing the mummies have energy left to wander around? Perhaps the pyramids really are aligned in such a way as to energise the magic of anyone who walks through?

    And once you hit the Ancient Greeks, BAM! Wizardry as we know and love it: perhaps the science behind it is wrong in places your 16th century people can fix up, but you have a logical development of magic.

    Also, the fact humans were the ones who used magic instead of just being magic - what's to say that, for example, you can't have extremely magical birds or cats, who merely have potent amounts of power but don't understand how to use it, hence utilising them as familiars almost like a spare battery - would explain why we evolved the ability to think the way we do.

    *shrugs*

    I like magical theory. :p
     
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  11. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Explaining the magic in fiction is -- to me -- somewhat paradoxial if not just absurd.

    Magic is inexplainable. If you explained it, it would be reduced to chemistry. That's what happened to magic in the D&D game system. There's nothing weird or wonderful about it, since it makes perfect sense. If you look at old myths and fairy tales, the magic is never explained. It's mysterious, and often dark and sinister.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my book it is indeed a combination of biochemistry and physics. Not everything is explained just the stuff within the ken of the characters. One of my characters uses his knowledge of physics and the energy streams to increase the effciency of the fighting part.

    The goal with my stories is that the magic isn't weird and wonderful it is entirely normal, anyone in the right location with hard work and talent can achieve magic to some degree merely mediation.
     
  13. SashaMerideth
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    SashaMerideth Contributing Member

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    In my story, magic, is achieved by the intervention of a technologically superior secret society, and an evolved human mind, where personal feats of magic take a similar toll to playing chess or swimming, or lifting something heavy.
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Magic has no more evolutionary purpose than gravity or light. The ability to exploit magic has evolutionary advantage if it improves survival or reproductive opportunity. If you can use magic to defend yourself, get food and/or shelter or attract a mate more effectively than a non-magic user then it has evolutionary advantage. More of a question is why not every creature uses magic; it must have an evolutionary cost, too. Part of the evolutionary cost of intelligence, for example, is the need for an extended period of nurture because if the brain were fully developed at birth the opening in the woman's pelvis to allow the child out would be too large to support the woman's internal organs. It's all about compromise.
     
  15. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    From another point of view, magic could be seen as simply an advanced form of technology. :)

    I agree about D&D though. They've ruined magic. I think they have overused it since they explain every single special ability as being magic. Dragon breathing fire? That's magic. A person running really fast? That's magic too.:mad:
     
  16. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Well, that really depends on the story and fantasy world in questions.

    Some stories have magic as a raw force of nature that sorcerers can "tap" into.

    Other stories have magic as a divine blessing from whatever gods exist in the fantasy world and only the "faithful" to the gods can use it.

    Others still, have magic as an ancient and mystical force, little understood, but fading away as the eons go by, so as to explain why the wizards in their fantasy world are few and far between and not just anyone can use magic.

    Yet others, have magic as something you are born with, as in the Piers Anthony Xanth series.

    Then, there are stories where magic is evil, comes from the devil and his demons, and "good magic" is actually "divine blessing" from the almighty and his angels, in an epic story of good vs. evil.

    It really does depend on which story and/or fantasy world you are talking about. Some authors have even written tales of different fantasy settings where magic works differently in each.
     
  17. Frostcat
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    Frostcat Member

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    In my own universe, that most of my stories take place, magic is an aberrant mutation. This stems from my understanding of evolution as being mutations that give us a greater chance of survival.

    The peoples didn't need magic, really. A child was born whose genetic structure was marred by radiation. The marring 'switched off' something crucial for the development of nerves in her feet, so she is incapable of walking. A side-effect, however, was that it also 'switched on' certain energy receptors in her body.

    Magic, as an energy, is very much action-reaction. The young girl uses those receptors to cause a reaction in the ambient energy.

    So, as an evolutionary purpose? I'm not sure there CAN be an evolutionary purpose. Not, at least, in the sense that we developed it because we needed it. More that we developed it and it was incredibly beneficial.

    I don't know if this helps?
     
  18. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    Actually,
    In my world, there are many types of magic.

    Mental or psi; simply using the part of the brain we don't normally use. mental power focused into the ability such as telekenisis, telepathy, messaging, mind reading, etc.

    arcane magic: Using verbal, symbolic,components and gestures to conjure up some force or magic.
    alchemy, enchanters, conjurers fall under this category.

    Stored magic: other source of magic cast into a vessel for later use, such as a wand, or gem, or glyph.

    Religious magic: magic granted by diety, predominately preist or cleric used.
     
  19. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I agree to a point,
    in most cases magic is a study of lifetimes, so there would be no way to explain to readers quickly how magic works. Also any explaination would show the flaws in the thought pattern.

    But an endless uncontrolled magic easily can throw off the balance of the world. So some limits need to be in place so that the world will not be changed with every casting of magic. If magic isn't a big part of your story, then the boundries won't have to be set in stone. But if magic is a big part then you need to figure out why a simple old mage can't just call forth an army of demons and conquer the world, simply because he woke up in a bad mood.
    Also something simple adds flavor to the book. If you tell the reader how some simple magic works in your book, it will seem more real.
    I use mage lights in this way.
    Young apprentices create cheap lights from low quality gemstones to make money. They cast the light magic into the gem, the better the mage the longer it will last, and the more expensive the gem the longer the mage light lasts. The brightness of the light is affected by the mage's ability too.

    Just something simple to explain how people get a light system other then laterns and candles, but also creates a system that shows the level of a mages learning.
     
  20. Frostcat
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    Frostcat Member

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    I suppose it depends on how you define magic though, doesn't it?

    Magic is defined, of course, as the apparent influence over courses of events through mysterious or supernatural forces. Mysterious OR supernatural does lend the concept that it doesn't have to be unknown.

    Supernatural is defined as unnatural, extraordinarily great, beyond scientific understand or the laws of nature.

    Well, for magic to exist, period, it can't be beyond the laws of nature unless granted by God or a Higher Power. If there were a rulebook of sorts to nature, and magic existed, there would be footnotes and addendum's to the rules for magic. Would it be beyond the abilities of someone without magic? Certainly.

    While it can be beyond Scientific understanding, it can certainly be understood on some level. For example, many stories claim that magic has a will of it's own. That instantly creates a sort of gap between science and magic. Creating a house can be scientifically governed (must be), because the same motions with the same materials under the same conditions give the same results. The motions and materials and conditions (usually) have no will of their own. If magic has her own will, science could never accurately reproduce the effect twice unless magic willed it.

    Certainly, however, a mage would know this, and would have to work WITH this will. That, alone, is an explanation of magic.

    As for other points raised by other people.

    Perhaps a simple mage COULD summon an army of demons and conquer the world if he wished it, except that he never would because magic is only granted to those of stable minds. This might ruin the ability of the bad-wizard, though. So perhaps magic only grants her gifts to those of, relatively, stable minds. Thus an evil overlord could still try to conquer the world, but he's going to be relatively sane while doing it. (Which, I think, would make him that much more difficult because he isn't prone to fits of rage in which you can distract him)
     

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