The understanding of Magic & Science

Hand of Fear

Journeyed there and back again
#1
I couldn't think of a better title to the thread so that was the best I could come up with.

Recently I have started reading some SF mixed in with my Fantasy, and I have come to the conclusion that I can wrap my head around magic (which we all know doesn't exist, rather than SF which we know could happen in the future and a lot of it becomes true).

I can quite easily except people walking through a Warren or a Hold to get to A to B, but teleporting from one place to another no way.

Characters being taken over/possessed by someone else I'm all for that, but someones conciseness being put in to a different body.

Mages or Wizards having some kind of shield protecting them, but not force fields stopping laser beams.

I'm sure there would be plenty more examples but I'm having trouble thinking of anymore.

The point I'm trying to make though is why would my mind find magic easier to except rather than science ?
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#2
I find magic fun, too, but my wonder at what might be possible with the tools and understanding available to us is greater. These include the understanding of more esoteric fields, such as the nature of consciousness, telepathy, mind over matter scenarios, etc. - the fuzzy boundaries where it's easy to oscillate between science and magic, where it's harder to pin down understanding in the context of things already known.

Edit

These are very analogous ideas: walking through a warren or teleporting; possession or transfer of consciousness; a wizard shield or a technologically manufactured one. If you don't like the science aspect, but you still want to try reading SF, then just stick to some space opera type novels where explaining technology and science is of near zero concern...essentially, fantasies in space. Or any type of 'soft' science fiction where the main thrust is of a sociological and psychological nature.
 
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Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#3
The point I'm trying to make though is why would my mind find magic easier to except rather than science ?
I think it's just a matter of what you're used to. I bet you have read a lot of fantasy, but not enough sci-fi to feel comfortable reading it.
It will probably take a while, but I'm sure you'll get used to sci-fi if you read more.

I started reading sci-fi recently just like you, but I don't have that problem. I usually accept premise of a book easily; take that reader's leap of faith regardless of the genre. I remember thinking jaunting from The Stars My Destination was weird (people teleporting just by thinking it), but after a few pages, I was reading that book like that stuff is totally possible. Can't help it, I totally immerse myself in the world that I'm reading and I don't sweat the small stuff.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#4
The point I'm trying to make though is why would my mind find magic easier to except rather than science ?
This one is easy for me. But my answer may not apply to others.

Magic exists outside the realm of science so the rules are whatever the author says. The author better make those rules known to us and show a consistent system, or we might still get mad. Can't make them too complicated and/or based on decades of research because there's simply not room (even in a multivolume series like WoT or Malazan). So you are given a set of rules and you see them in use (or maybe you figure them out by seeing them in use).

But with science, even though you're thinking ahead to what's possible here, or may be possible in a different place (I remember an Ursula LeGuin book where there were big flying creatures and I think tall people, but the planet had less gravity), it's possible not to understand -- both on the part of readers without a science background, and on the part of writers who think they know what they're talking about but don't. Here, it is sort of assumed you know the rules. But if you don't have the proper background, you can get lost.

Or maybe the author doesn't think through the whole system. Anathem by Neal Stephenson is a good example. He may have thought about physics somewhat, but he did not consider the implications of his physical system when it came to biology. And so some of his finer points on biology were actually completely contradictory (to the point of being nonsensical).

Then again, I've found that some non-hard-science fiction (i.e., with spaceships and aliens but not so much of a science focus) can be enjoyable because it focuses on story and characters in a way that hard sci-fi doesn't. And technology is usually not explored in depth, so you can sort of wave your hand and accept it as magic and move on. So you might try some less "sciency" science fiction.
 

Derk of Derkholm

Journeyed there and back again
#5
Hmm, I think otherwise.

A force field stopping laser beams at some time in the future? Sure, why not?

(OK, you might be a top scientist explaining to me now that the general theory or relativity and quantum mechanics forbid that kind of thing, and I would then have to agree - I simply don't know enough physics to understand what might be and what might not be possible).

But progress of science has been impressive, so far. I guess 200 years ago smart people also did not believe that electronic computers,atomic bombs and laser beams would be possible.

Best regards,
Andy
 

Laurentius

Super Moderator
Staff member
#6
I usually dont mind if its not believable. Only a very few times has it actually annoyed me. I love magic and fantasy. I love scifi and tech. It does not have to be 100% correct according to science, as long as the writer incorporates it into a great story. As Alucard, I usually get so involved in a story that a few mistakes matters not at all.

Semper fantasius and scifius
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#8
Me neither. The word 'fiction' is a giveaway ..
On the other side, I think it's insulting to the reader when the science is not believable. It's the author saying:

(1) I don't care enough to get it right or
(2) I don't understand this (maybe with a side of "so my readers probably won't either") or
(3) I can't come up with a good enough story if the science works the way it's actually supposed to, so I'm going to fudge some stuff

If they start playing fast and loose with the science (at least in hard science fiction, where the whole point is exploring the possibilities of what could happen based on what we know now), it's no longer science fiction, but something else. If the science is wrong (i.e., will NEVER be possible because it directly contradicts a hundred years of research) based on things your average (pick your major) undergrad would understand today, I'm not interested.
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#9
I think it's insulting to the reader when the science is not believable.
Why would you think that? I don't think many people start writing fiction books with the intent to insult their readers.
Maybe the science even if little skewed is best they can do. Maybe it's there just to enable the story and the characters. If you don't like it, there are ratings for it, but to say that's insulting is pushing it too far imo. I don't think in a million years we will be able to teleport using our minds only, but who gives a fudge when you get to read about a madman called Gully Foyle ;)
 

Hand of Fear

Journeyed there and back again
#10
I think it's just a matter of what you're used to. I bet you have read a lot of fantasy, but not enough sci-fi to feel comfortable reading it.
You are correct with this I haven't read much SF so that could be part of the problem but I also think I should avoid hard SF.

If you don't like the science aspect, but you still want to try reading SF, then just stick to some space opera type novels where explaining technology and science is of near zero concern...essentially, fantasies in space. Or any type of 'soft' science fiction where the main thrust is of a sociological and psychological nature.
This is very good advice for me, and I will give Ready Player One a read as it sounds like something that I would enjoy reading.

@Sneaky Burrito you have put that across really well there.
 

Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#11
Why would you think that? I don't think many people start writing fiction books with the intent to insult their readers.
Maybe the science even if little skewed is best they can do. Maybe it's there just to enable the story and the characters. If you don't like it, there are ratings for it, but to say that's insulting is pushing it too far imo. I don't think in a million years we will be able to teleport using our minds only, but who gives a fudge when you get to read about a madman called Gully Foyle ;)
I actually explained why in my post I think it's insulting to the reader (see the list). I don't accept "this was the best I could do" as reasoning. If a writer supposedly writing about science can't be bothered to learn some basic facts, then s/he isn't worth my time.

As I've said earlier in this thread, there is "non-sciency" science fiction where you can kind of pretend something is magic and let it go (say, Star Wars). That kind is usually more focused on story and characters, anyway. But when someone is writing about, say, genetic engineering 100 years in the future (of Earth) and says you can cross a baboon with a dog, or that pi can have two different values in the same physical space, or that people can breathe the same oxygen but can't digest the same food, that's bullshit, plain and simple. (And yes, I have read books incorporating each of those elements.) If I roll my eyes every 15 minutes because of stuff like this, I definitely feel my intelligence has been insulted.
 

Alucard

In the name of the Pizza Lord. Charge!
Staff member
#12
I actually explained why in my post I think it's insulting to the reader (see the list). I don't accept "this was the best I could do" as reasoning. If a writer supposedly writing about science can't be bothered to learn some basic facts, then s/he isn't worth my time.

As I've said earlier in this thread, there is "non-sciency" science fiction where you can kind of pretend something is magic and let it go (say, Star Wars). That kind is usually more focused on story and characters, anyway. But when someone is writing about, say, genetic engineering 100 years in the future (of Earth) and says you can cross a baboon with a dog, or that pi can have two different values in the same physical space, or that people can breathe the same oxygen but can't digest the same food, that's bullshit, plain and simple. (And yes, I have read books incorporating each of those elements.) If I roll my eyes every 15 minutes because of stuff like this, I definitely feel my intelligence has been insulted.
I understand what you wrote, but you said insulting to the reader. I think you find it insulting, but I don't think many people share your feelings. I also don't think writers go out of their way to insult their readers. I never came across anyone on any forum except you who finds lack of scientific knowledge on behalf of author in a science fiction book insulting.
They may find the book bad, but they don't feel personally insulted by it.

If a writer supposedly writing about science can't be bothered to learn some basic facts, then s/he isn't worth my time.
But the author is writing about science fiction, not science. There are science books ofc, but they are non-fiction.
Basic facts are one thing, I think you expect 100% correlation with actual science facts we know today. I have to ask, where's the fun in that? And even basic facts if skewed can produce interesting results. As long as the book is consistent within it's own logic system, isn't that enough?
 

Boreas

Journeyed there and back again
Staff member
#13
I can understand @Sneaky Burrito's point of view, to a certain extent. I've come across instances where some of the science I know (or think I understand) didn't make sense in some SF novels. That can sometimes be a little annoying, especially if it's supposed to be crucial to move parts of the plot forward, but I don't let it stop me from enjoying the book, if I like the story and/or think it's well written. As long as the author can explain the science aspect to a level that I can comprehend, which allows me to suspend my disbelief where liberties are taken, then it's all good. It's fiction, after all. I have friends who are PhDs or Post-docs in Physics and Mathematics, two also in the Biology-/Chemistry-related fields (all of whom have taken the academic route) who read a lot of SF (including the hard variety) and love it, despite any such problems they might come across. They favour story over a couple of minor mistakes. Sneaky B, you're just extra particular, more so that anyone else I've come across who reads hard SF, to the point where the few inconsistencies you spot seems to remove any pleasure you might otherwise procure from what might otherwise be a great story.

Case in point: "Anathem". I'll take your word about the inconsistencies since you know more about science than I do, but I thought the point of the novel was to be an exercise in arguments in the form of Socratic dialogues, and how to approach conclusions from non-empirical first principles, which might lead to empirical truths. I thought it succeeded. If the errors are egregious, then I suppose it's time to leave. The point you were unhappy with seemed minor in the overall scheme of things. Granted, expertise in a field can certainly dampen the fun to some extent, and you certainly have that.
If a writer supposedly writing about science can't be bothered to learn some basic facts, then s/he isn't worth my time.
If you group, say, Neal Stephenson in this category, then that seems a tad disingenuous to me. I don't know too many SF authors who give extensive appendices in some of their works where they discuss the mathematics and arguments featured in their novel(s). Now, Stephenson does have a problem writing denouements, but many of his books are still great fun, and very imaginative. Many SF authors who write, or attempt to write, very hard SF have extensive science background themselves, so again, I think it's a little unfair to say that they don't try to take care of basic facts.

Also, the point of some science fiction novels is to sometimes examine ideas that may contradict established theory/observation, to push boundaries to what may seem far-fetched and implausible scenarios, and sometimes to move into realms where understanding is practically zilch (that fuzzy area where science, pseudoscience and 'magic' can coexist). That's what makes it so much fun, and that's why they are all flights of the imagination, as much so as in fantasy. Otherwise, one might as well stick to actual, non-fiction science books.

Edit: @Alucard, the bar for good, hard SF is set insanely high, so those authors attempting it should tread carefully, and have their shit together. Still, I'm prone to forgiving minor faults in favour of story, because it's impossible for it to be always a hundred percent perfect.
 
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Sneaky Burrito

Crazy Cat Lady
Staff member
#15

Derk of Derkholm

Journeyed there and back again
#17
I understand your points.

Guess everybody does have his/her own pet peeves, depending on how much you understand about some particular science. I, for instance, would not think twice about the doboon (or badog?), but when I read Dan Brown's "Digital fortress" (supposedly a fiction book, not even "science fiction") which was about a new kind of computer algorithm and security cypher program, I could not read a single page without exclaiming "Seriously??? WTF!!!" a few times.

And I am not even a true developer, simply a humble IT manager...

Best regards,
Andy