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Clarke's Third Law
Behold my propane-powered fire magics!

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

Within many works, the separation between science and magic can be blurred to deceive a bystander. In some cases, one may masquerade as the other. An important justification for many forms of Applied Phlebotinum.

Trope namer for these Corollaries: Sufficiently Analyzed Magic and Sufficiently Advanced Alien.

In case you're wondering, here are all three laws. The first law is partially covered by In Theory and the second by Beyond the Impossible.

Compare:


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mahou Sensei Negima! has one arc where thousands of students are given magic to wield. Then they fight off baddies with it. The catch? They are told it's just highly advanced computerized effect technology and that it's just a game, in order to keep up the masquerade.
    • Electricity can also be used to power magic, as the magic community is quite fine with Magitek. It's even appears to be pretty efficient at it. However, most mages don't seem to have the technical expertise to really take advantage of this, and obviously most people don't know enough about magic to work it from their side either. Chao and Hakase (and by extension Chachamaru) on the other hand...
  • Outlaw Star featured as an important plot point the Caster Guns that fire unique shells that are incredibly powerful. The main theories as to their origin is that they are either a piece of lost advanced technology or magical in nature. It turns out to be a little of both.
  • Full Metal Panic! has Kurz lampshade the Lambda Driver shortly before its first appearance.
    Kurz: If this was a regular battle, they'd be even. But that silver AS... it's got some kind of hidden trick going for it. It bounced my cannonball right back at me and toasted my M9! I wonder what magic he's using?
    Kaname: Magic, huh? No, I'm afraid it isn't that. This guy isn't using magic but rather... technology... The enemy has it, and it's an integral part of his mecha's defenses.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion tends to blur the lines between the scientific, esoteric/metaphysical and divine/spiritual.
  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha uses this to describe their technology. The title includes the word "magic", and everyone there in the anime is running on Magitek.
  • In Zero no Tsukaima there are a number of old artifacts in the magical world that the protagonist was dumped in, including a family's heirloom book that can seduce men, a weapon called the “Staff of Destruction”, and a tale about a dragon, whose blood was collected. The objects are a porn magazine, a rocket launcher, and a plane respectively. The 'blood' was actually gasoline.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the people of Lior view alchemy as being a type of miracle. The only alchemists who can perform alchemy without an alchemy circle are the ones who have performed Human Transmutation and gone inside the Gate of Truth. That fake Cornello guy was able to transmute without a circle because he had a Philosopher's Stone. All alchemists, except a very few handful need circles to transmute.
  • Ichika quotes this in episode 8 of Asobi ni Iku yo! to explain her "magic" scrolls.
  • The "data manipulation" of the aliens of Suzumiya Haruhi is barely distinguishable from Reality Warping; the time travelers from the future ostensibly do things with technology, but they seem to just happen with no source due to computers having advanced beyond having physical hardware.
  • The techniques that Nami devised during the time-skip in One Piece are called "weather sorcery," and do involve Storm-like manipulation of the weather for combat purposes. This "sorcery" is actually based upon the science of the meteorologists who live on the sky island of Weatheria, though it only qualifies as science within the weird boundaries of the One Piece universe.

    Comic Books 
  • The Scarlet Witch zigzags this trope. Her power is to affect probability in order to make wildly improbable events happen. This has drifted to become a general ability to warp reality. Thus, despite her name and the description of her power as including "hex bolts," she is not magical. It was at one point but has since been retconned and later still it became a combination of both: her mutant powers made it possible for her to make contact with Cthon, an Elder god turned demon sealed in Mount Wundagore. Cthon bestowed powerful Chaos Magic to Wanda as part of his plans. The Ultimate Marvel universe tried to explain that in order to make said improbable events happen she had to "do the math" of how likely the events would be before she could cause them.
  • Abra Kadabra, a member of The Flash's rogues gallery, takes advantage of this. His schtick is coming from the 64th century, where the technology is so advanced that he passes as a magician in the 20/21st century. Then he made a Deal with the Devil to get real magic which also exists in the DC Universe.
  • Although Superman's enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk has vast powers traditionally attributed to magic, many interpretations of the character suggest it's due to his access to very advanced technology and the physical advantage that living on the fifth dimension confers over tridimensional beings like Superman. Batman's analogue to Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bat-Mite on the other hand runs on "5th dimensional technology" through and through, doing the same Reality Warping effects.
  • In an issue of Secret Avengers, Bruce Banner quotes Clark's Third Law while discussing Doctor Strange with Iron Patriot.
    Iron Patriot: Did you just call Doctor Strange a scientist?
    Banner: Pretty much.
  • The Green Lantern rings and by extension the other Corps' power rings use light in order to form physical constructs. It's supposedly advanced technology, but because light isn't normally physical, for all intents and purposes the power rings are magic to everyone except Superman because he's weak to magic and this is not magic.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The trope is deconstructed in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which demonstrates that some magical artifacts and effects, such as Animagus transformations and Time Turners, blatantly violate not only the physical laws of science but the deeper laws of mathematics. For example, time travel exists but time cannot be changed, making history not Turing Computable and thereby ruling out any kind of logic we would understand as the fundamental basis of the Potterverse. Sufficiently non-mundane magic doesn't have to make sense.
  • Interesting variation in Shepard's R&R. The Equestrians, who have actual magic, think the technology of the Mass Effect-verse is magical as well. Meanwhile Shepard's crew (and the galaxy at large) invert this and believe the Equestrians' "magic" is some kind of advanced technology. The latter might be right.

    Film 
  • The Wizard of Oz: the Wizard fakes the all-powerful wizard role using a machine. He does it again in Oz: The Great and Powerful: Oscar fools the inhabitants of Oz into believing he is the Wizard prophesied to save their land using technology and parlor tricks from his homeland. His plan to rescue Glinda and retake the Emerald City in the climax hinges on the wicked witches not being able to distinguish his technology from genuine magical ability.
  • In the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes Lord Blackwood's Evil Plan is to fool England into believing that he has Functional Magic and take over England through fear.
  • Outlander: Kainan a soldier from another world is mistaken for a servant of the Gods by his wife-to-be Freya when he smashed the beacon so he cannot be rescued from Earth.
  • In Hocus Pocus this is played with as the witches return to Salem after 300 years. When Max uses his lighter they believe he makes fire with his hands. He trips a sprinkler system and makes them believe it is 'the burning rain of death'.
  • The Kalahari bushmen in The Gods Must Be Crazy discover a Coke bottle and believe it to be a gift from the Gods. Hilarity Ensues. Eventually, they decide it would be best for all concerned if it were returned to the Gods and cast off the edge of the world.
  • The villain of George of the Jungle tried to do this with a Polaroid camera to impress his native guides. They suggested a more classic camera for the resolution improvements, then mentioned they had the equipment on them to clean a smudge on his optics.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe,
    • Clarke's Third Law is actively discussed in Thor, where Thor states that magic and science are one and the same. In the sequel, Jane is actually able to identify an Asgardian medical device based on observed effects. She calls it a quantum field generator while they call it a soul forge, but it's clearly the same thing.
    • There's also a mention in Captain America: The First Avenger when a Nazi agent calls Red Skull's technology magic. Plus, elements in multiple films imply that Iron Man's state-of-the-art Arc Reactor is based on the Tesseract, a powerful Asgardian artifact.
    • This is further reinforced in The Avengers, when Thor fires a lightning bolt from Mjolnir at Iron Man. While the armor sustains some damage, most of the energy is absorbed by the ARC reactor and is fired by Tony straight back at Thor. Also, Captain America says Loki's 'glow stick of destiny' resembles a HYDRA weapon.
  • The aliens in Cowboys and Aliens are never called as such. They're most often called demons and the cast never thinks of them as being technologically advanced. Ella, another alien, says that she came from beyond the stars, giving the impression of an angel.
  • It does appear to be the case in Now You See Me. Where that technology came from, however...
  • Implied in Return of the Jedi: C3PO's programming forbids him from ever impersonating a deity.

    Literature 
  • Demonstrated in Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke himself. The alien Overlords possess technology so far beyond human understanding that they might as well be gods. Humans for the most part accept that it is in fact some form of technology, but characters within the story observe that from the human perspective, Overlord technology might as well be magic.
  • Repeatedly lampshaded in the Animorphs series, in which humans gain the ability to absorb foreign DNA through their skin and replicate it at warp speeds until their entire body transforms (usually into an animal of some sort, though other humans/sentient beings are used for stealth purposes once in a while). This power is obtained by touching a wholly unremarkable blue box.
  • In the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, during a brief period at the outset of the era, as the Empire begins to crumble and local systems begin to lose the scientific expertise necessary for an interstellar society to function, the Foundation dresses up their technological know how in mystical trappings in order to spread their influence and culture while maintaining tight control over the actual technologies and science. "Monks" from planets all over are sent to learn the ways of the Foundation and bring the technological practices back to their homeworlds as "missionaries" of the Foundation.
  • The Dune series
    • Most of the organizations in can fall into this group, but most of them also need spice melange at some point. Even if each group doesn't, cannot or elects not to understand the deepest inner workings of another group's near-magical technology, they accept that there's a rational, scientific basis underlying it.
    • The Ixians emphasize pure technology and can electronically duplicate the Guild Navigators' future-path-mapping abilities and in the process nearly bring about the extinction of humankind.
  • Herbert's WorShip series, in which the ship's computer becomes self-aware and, with its vast surveillance network and predictive processing, effectively omniscient. Whether it has become a god is a question asked by the characters and left open to the readers.
  • Harry Turtledove strongly disagreed with Clarke and wrote the short story "Death in Vesunna" as a rebuttal, in which a retired Roman soldier working as a police investigator figures out on his own that the perpetrator of an inexplicable murder was not a god or a demon, but a time traveller. He inverts the law in several other stories, where industrialized magic has replaced or mimicked technology. The best examples being his Darkness Series, where magic has replaced all the technology of World War II, and The Case Of The Toxic Spelldump, a pun-laden comedy novel filled with Virtuous Reality, Djinnetic Engineering, and similar Magitek.
  • Inverted in Discworld where sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology... for example, when Rincewind first sees a picture box, he surmises it must work by use of photosensitive materials capturing the light off the target.. right up until the magical imp inside complains that he's out of paint.
    "'Advanced' here is usually taken to mean 'shown to us by aliens or people from the future' — like television shown to Neanderthals. But we should realise that television is magic to nearly everyone who uses it now."
  • Disputed by Harry Dresden.
    "Sufficiently advanced technology, my ass."
  • Lord of Light has some characters develop psionic powers through genetic engineering and centuries of practice. They become strong enough that they are mistaken for gods. They take advantage of this by adopting the appearance and persona of Hindu gods and rule the populace via existing Hindu temples.
  • Artemis Fowl both embraces and averts the trope. To an outside observer, most (if not all) Fairy technology would seem to be magical. The story, however, is also told from the Fairy point-of-view, where it's shown that technology and magic are distinguishable, and it's someone's job to distinguish them further.
  • Played with in the Harry Potter series, where sufficiently mundane technology is indistinguishable from magic. For every technological advance non-magical people have made, wizards have a magical equivalent. Many wizards are stumped by Muggle technology, despite being surrounded with it, so they're generally told that A Scientist Did It. It was implied that sheer virtue of growing up in a muggle family was enough to make Hermione more qualified to teach the "Muggle Studies" course than the unnamed professor and that she explicitly said she was taking the course For The Lulz.
  • From John Ringo's works:
    • In the Council Wars series, there are elves, orcs, dragons etc that are the result of genetic engineering combined with nanotech, "spells" are based on high energy manipulation of quantum physics; you name it and there's science behind it!
    • The Mentats from his Legacy of the Aldenata series are capable of Teleportation, 'conjuring up' or modifying items with resources pulled from the surroundings (or seemingly, thin air), with the use of advanced nanomachines.
  • In David Weber's Safehold, Langhorne and Bédard used their technology to turn the last survivors of humanity into their own personal cult. Later, when Cayleb gets his first true glimpse at the technology that was kept from them, he comments that he'd always thought Ridiculously Human Robot Merlin was clearly magical, whatever Merlin said to the contrary. He feels a bit less ignorant when Merlin quotes Clarke's Law for him.
  • The main character of Dean Koontz's The Taking recalls this law at the end and inverts it, noting that to a cynical society magic would appear to be highly advanced technology.
  • Taken to its extreme in The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold and Larry Niven. A planetary scout gets stranded on a primitive world, and has to enlist the help of the natives to get to a place he can summon help. Said natives have to be taught production technology and how to create certain things in order to do this...which makes them regard him as a high-powered magician The story is also told from the perspective of one of the natives, for added humor. The Other Wiki has a page on the story.
  • Enchantress from the Stars: The Andrecians view Imperial technology as magic wands that turn people to stone (stunners), dragons (rock-chewer), monsters with no faces (Imperials in suits) and the examples in the summary. Also, telepathy and psychokinesis among the Federal field agents are stand-ins for advanced technologies humankind can't think of yet.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko's Seekers of the Sky duology is set in an Alternate History, where Jesus Christ was replaced by a mortal man, known as the Redeemer, who was granted a single divine power, the Word (ability to instantaneously transport inanimate matter to and from another dimension known as "the Cold"), to prove that he was God's Stepson. Lukyanenko is primarily known as a rather "hard" SF writer, so his Word falls well within the "too advanced technology" category, and he has a lot of morbid fun subtly playing with the way humans either elevate what they don't understand to the divine status or downgrade it to Mundane Utility.
  • In H. Rider Haggard's She, She Who Must Be Obeyed uses magic that she explains is simply knowledge and technology that are completely unknown to the main characters.
  • In Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the main character's success relies on the 6th Century folks mistaking his 19th century tech as wizardry.
  • In Christopher Stasheff's Warlock of Gramarye series, the inhabitants of the planet Gramarye interpreted abilities like telekinesis as "magic" due to their ancestors' decision to adopt a low-tech pseudo-medieval culture and the passage of centuries without contact from any other planets. Beings such as fairies, trolls and whatnot, according to the main character, were the result of a combination of psychic powers, a psi-sensitive local plant called "witchmoss" and a lot of fairy tales.
  • Late in the Star Trek novel Federation, Zefram Cochrane arrives aboard the Enterprise-D from the Ent-Nil and is reminded of this. He could guess at the basic principles behind the Constitution-class's devices, but the Galaxy-class is so far in advance of anything he's dealt with that, for all he knows, it's magic.
  • Referenced after a fashion by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, when she comments on the Hobbits' tendency to talk about "Elf Magic" while taking Frodo and Sam to look at her mirror.
  • Against a Dark Background has ancient technology that does inexplicable things. Scientists create their own maddening explanations for how something can weight three times as much when upside-down.
  • Jenny Ng and stage magician Calvin McGuirk, in Geoph Essex's Lovely Assistant, invoke the trope by name, with a nod to Clarke himself, in their first discussion of Calvin's incredible props. It turns out to be a bit of a theme, considering what the Big Bads say about the same props shortly before the climax. The actual origin of the items is never fully explained, but based on the nature of the monster they face, probably is technological rather than magical, proving Clarke's pointwhich is ironic, since Jenny herself is probably magical rather than technological, as a Grim Reaper.
  • Isaac Asimov's Azazel series of short stories run on this trope. The titular character is initially described as a demon who does things by magic, but later stories explained that he's actually an alien and is just advanced enough that he can do things that appear to be magic. The stories still generally get classed as fantasy though, and one of the collections is called Magic.
  • In Wicked Bronze Ambition, the Operators kidnap Kip and Kevans in order to steal their "magical talents" in a ritual of sorcery, not realizing that the teens have been using mundane engineering and creativity, not supernatural insights, to invent ingenious devices.
  • Downplayed and partly averted in Sixty Eight Rooms by Mariannne Malone. Jack showed Thomas (from the seventeenth century) a flashlight, but tried to explain how it worked. Thomas, eight-years-old, doesn't understand, but comments that if it was witchcraft, he wasn't afraid of it. Thomas later becomes an inventor.
  • The Book of the New Sun: in the distant future it is often unclear whether phenomena are technological, magical or theological in nature (or just mundane trickery). This is part of the obfuscatory nature of the text and forms a puzzle for the reader, since we can't trust Severian to figure it out correctly.

    Live Action TV 
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Most of the technology of the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens is taken as magic by the majority of the less advanced civilizations in the galaxy.
    • In later seasons, Daniel tries to tell a village that there is no such thing as magic; it is ineffective because no sooner has he finished saying this than he and the rest of his team are beamed away in a flash of light, leaving the villagers baffled. Daniel hangs his head and complains at the timing.
  • This law is directly quoted, word for word, in Season 2 Episode 9 of Stargate Universe, by Eli.
  • Doctor Who.
    • While this is a recurring theme, there are two instances in which he plays with it. In one, he gives a primitive companion a yo-yo, and gives her the impression that she needs to play with it to keep the TARDIS working. Later on he comments "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a yo-yo".
    • A much later episode has him dealing with an alternate universe loosely based on Arthurian myth. After wandering through what looks like a futuristic tomb, Ace is surprised that this is supposed to be magic. The Doctor asks Ace if she knows Clarke's third law, when she quotes it he tells her that it also applies in reverse, and she exclaims "Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology?"
    • The new series uses this.
      • In the first Christmas special, the Sycorax's blood control technology is explicitly described by one character as 'like casting a spell'.
      • An episode with Shakespeare has the Monster of the Week be three crones who appear to be witches that cast spells through incantations. When they use a spell to kill a man, the Doctor warns Martha to keep quiet, otherwise the townsfolk will think it's witchcraft. It turns out that the witches were aliens called Carrionites, who use science based on the power of words.
      • Another episode had girls seemingly being turned into vampires, with sharp teeth, burns from sunlight, and no reflections. It was revealed that the girls were turned into fish-aliens with sharp teeth and a sensitivity to sunlight. Their holographic illusions (which let them appear human) couldn't provide reflections.
    • Time Lord technology in general is this trope. Time Lord founders Rassilon and Omega are particularly inclined towards it. Most of their inventions are outwardly non-technological in design and could easily be taken for magical artifacts.
      • Apparently there were actual magic-workers on Gallifrey in the days before they were Time Lords, according mostly to supplementary materials that don't quite count. There was war between science and the magical regime, and the dubiously canon 'genetic looms' on which Time Lords are made because they can't breed are necessary because of the old dictator's dying curse. "The Shakespeare Code" tried to spin it as magic really being a special kind of applied science, but basically, a lot of the science is magic.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • The season 4 episode "Devil's Due" has the crew trying to discredit a technological con artist who claims to be the devil of not only the planet of the week, but every planet.
    • In "Who Watches The Watchers", Picard deliberately invokes this trope in an attempt to convince the natives that he is not a god.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Willow states that "Magic works off physics" and is often seen messing with the 'mechanics' of spells. Conversely, material outside of the series itself classified superscience (for example, Warren building completely humanoid androids) as a form of magic in and of itself. That is, people like Warren were only able to create such high tech devices because of a latent magical ability that functioned in this way, which may inadvertently explain why Willow was the only one able to repair the Buffybot.
  • Played for laughs by the Observers from Mystery Science Theater 3000, who are an omnipotent race of morons. Show writer Kevin Murphy wrote that, "The only thing Mr. Clarke doesn't take into account is how incredibly stupid any creature might be, no matter how advanced."
  • Babylon 5 has fun with this one. The Vorlons have used their technology for millennia to manipulate younger races into reacting favorably to them, passing off as "magical" beings of light. It is only at the "Dawn of the Third Age" that we finally see who they are, and "They are not Gods." Then there are the Technomages, who use technology to give the appearance of magic, and this famous discussion:
    Elric: Do you believe in Magic, Captain?
    Sheridan: ... If we went back a thousand years, they could only understand this place in terms of magic.
    Elric: Then perhaps it is magic. The magic of the human heart, focused and made manifest by technology
    • Then a trilogy of novels (based on JMS's own notes) reveals that their tech originated with the Shadows and is not being used to its full potential.
  • Quoted outright by Mad Scientist Walter Bishop on Fringe, attributing it to "an old friend" of his.
  • The 1960s series The Time Tunnel had a shout out to this trope one episode:
    "We live in the 20th century. We don't believe in magic."
    "The 20th century, the very heyday of magic! And you don't believe!"
  • Mentioned by Siroc on Young Blades: when a child questions him about science and magic in the episode "Enchanted," Siroc suggests that "maybe magic's just another word for what we don't understand."
  • In Warehouse 13, this seems to held as the mentality of the Warehouse agency with regards to the artifacts they collect, or at least by Artie as he claimed in the first episode:
    ""If a radio landed in the hands of Thomas Jefferson, do you know what Jefferson would do? He would just lock it up, until he figured out it wasn't going to kill him. That's exactly what we do here. We take the unexplained... and we safely tuck it away."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Played with in Warhammer 40,000 -
    • While the technology of every major power in the grim dark future is amazing to some degree, it's hard to tell where the tech ends and the magic begins. For example, the Imperium believes, by and large, that their machines are given life by "Machine Spirits" and are somehow enchanted. They might be right, or maybe they're deluding themselves. Then there's the Orks, whose technology, cobbled together from junk, logically shouldn't work half the time, and yet it does because the Orks think it should. It's not always clear whether the weapons and machines of this setting work because they follow established natural laws, or because "a psyker did it."
      • This depends more on the author than anything else. Some have described Ork technology as unconnected junk that only works because they believe it will, while others have it being entirely normal, if rather crude, and usable by humans. Background fluff, as opposed to actual novels, has generally said that Mekboys are born with inherent knowledge of technology, which suggests that it was intended to be advanced technology rather than actual magic.
    • The Sorcery in Warhammer is projection of psychic energy called Warp, and that energy comes from "condensated" emotions casted by souls and minds of sentient species. Its very similar to Force from Star Wars in principle, only Darker and Edgier.
    • Adeptus Mechanicus Priests revere machines as holy relics, in turn ensuring that whatever they build, they will not skimp on the cost. Their maintenance of it also treats each individual machine as a holy spirit. While this seems outwardly weird by our standards, this means that they will not cut corners on maintenance and will always do a precise job, keeping the machine at top efficiency until the end of it's life.
    • Then there's the Ecclesiarchy in Dawn of War Soulstorm, as somehow a relic (which is usually old bones) blessed by a saint confers invulnerability, with no other explanation given otherwise. Even in Tabletop, the Sisters of Battle faction has ability to use "miracles". These work on same principle as Ork "technology". As the Warp is projection of thoughts and emotions, it's possible, with strong enough faith, to bend laws of physics. As the Sisters are zealots even among zealots, their faith is (with morale boosts by Relic) strong enough to do this.
    • The 40K universe is as much an inversion, as it is playing it straight. By the time 40k rolls around, Humanity had suffered a civilizational collapse some 15,000 years previously where the only technology maintained was either practical and necessary, or picked up by the Mechanicus which developed into a cult as the original source material for development and maintenance degraded and they needed a way to maintain the technology without losing the how to do it. Since their lives depended heavily on keeping their systems working...
    • The Necrons, due to their nature, can't access the Warp and thusly don't have the Psychic Powers that other races do. Instead, they turn to their hyper-advanced science, which is more than comparable in effectiveness; combat scientists called "Crypteks" take the place that combat psykers do in other races, and their various scientific disciplines are named like disciplines of magic. Psychomancy includes blasting an opponent's mind with fear or despair so they die or go insane and teleporting through clouds of darkness. Plasmancy controls Pure Energy, but also can control fire and light. Chronomancy is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Ethermancy is the control of air and lightning. Geomancy, despite the name, is more about alchemy than about direct earth control; Crypteks following this discipline are known as Harbingers of Transmogrification.
    • A sidebar in the Dark Heresy book Blood of Martyrs recounts the story of how Goge Vandire turned the Daughters of the Emperor to his side: to demonstrate that he had the Emperor's grace, he had one of his bodyguards shoot him. The force field in his rosarius absorbed the shot. He gambled that the Brides hadn't seen it before and it paid off: they swore allegiance to him, were renamed the Brides of the Emperor, and became his Bodyguard Babes.
    • Feral worlds are often recruiting grounds for Space Marines, the inhabitants of which often describe the marines as "angels". To them, the marines are demigods who, once in their lifetimes, comes to take those few strong and worthy to join their immortal ranks. For the marines, the reason they only come "once a lifetime" is because most marine chapters are forbidden from mass recruitment and because the entrance "exam" often kills most of that generation's fertile males. They're also viewed as Angels because they often descent onto a planet by drop pod or thunderhawk transports.
  • Inverted in the Hollow World D&D setting, where the Blacklore elves' "advanced technology" is secretly powered by magic. This allows the Immortals who oversee the Hollow World to preserve the high-tech culture of the Blacklore elves (who've forgotten how their own machines work and can't tell the difference), while ensuring that actual technology won't spread to other parts of the HW setting and disrupt other preserved cultures.
  • Inverted in the Eberron setting where mundane technology is all but discarded because magic has reached the point where it could be called a technology in and of itself.
  • In the Savage Worlds system, magic users/spellcasters and gadgeteers/inventors use the same rules to determine the in-game effects of their spells/inventions. If a mage uses a fly spell or a mad scientist builds a jetpack, both work exactly the same way.
  • In Fading Suns, there's usually a possible scientific explanation for anything magical, and contrariwise there's usually magical trappings to anything scientific. But when it comes to the technology of the Anunnaki, this trope is invoked outright; Ur-tech such as the Jumpgates and Philosopher's Stones is effectively incomprehensible magic, plain and simple.

    Video Games 
  • Eternal Champions: Xavier Pendragon was burned at the stake for being a warlock despite the manual saying that his abilities were based in science.
  • Phantasy Star seems to run on this trope, particularly Phantasy Star Universe in which the spells are equipped as programs for weapons.
    • In Phantasy Star IV, for example, the main character can shoot lasers/holy light out of his hands, his partner can summon fire out of nowhere, and a companion that joins early on can freeze his enemies, etc. Your basic fantasy game magic, right? Well, not too far into the story, the characters are joined by a robed character, who (during a cutscene) blasts away some rocks with some sort of fire. The rest of the characters go, "Whoa, was that * MAGIC* ? I thought that the art of magic was lost centuries ago!" Cue the confused player thinking, "wait, you mean the * other* fire spell that the other player can cast ISN'T magic?" It's not really explained what the difference is, but the game has androids ("An droid, the droid, WHATEVER" -Raja, Phantasy Star IV) and spaceships, and such. The trope is varied, though, because the characters seem to be able to distinguish easily between magic and tech, it's just the player that's confused.
      • "Techniques" from Phantasy Star II tend to be described as science (or at least Techno Babble). The manual explains how some techniques do what they do; for instance, Foi "compresses the oxygen in the air until it ignites." The likely explanation is that they're a form of Psychic Powers developed by Mother Brain, and that magic has more or less died off in the age of modern science. Still, Phantasy Star II in general has a lot of Sufficiently Advanced vibes anyway, so you never know.
  • Quoted by Virgilia in Umineko: When They Cry.
  • Invoked in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, when Otacon gives a theoretical explanation of Vamp's 'superpowers':
    Snake: So it wasn't that he had some freak, supernatural powers.
    Otacon: Hey, when technology starts to test the limits of our imagination, what's the difference?
    • Also invoked in a couple of the optional Codec calls in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Otacon compares Snake's artillery to everyone else's unique methods of attack when Ganondorf is concerned, and Mei Ling even directly goes into a spiel about how technology is simply another kind of magic when Zelda's around.
  • Assassin's Creed features Those Who Came Before, Sufficiently Advanced Aliens that created humanity then posed as gods. The technology that they left behind is the driving force behind the plot.
  • Septerra Core does this big time. Both technological equipment and magical abilities are powered by radiation from the Core, a gigantic friggin' biocomputer! Essentially, anything done by a living thing is magic, and anything done by a machine is technology. Then again, the line between lifeforms and machines is blurred too, with the game having both sentient robots and biotechnology (see Living Ship).
  • Biotics in Mass Effect run the whole gamut of Psychic Powers and could easily be mistaken for magic. In fact, biotic characters fill the "mage" role of the game's Fighter, Mage, Thief dynamic. However, given the game's extreme levels of Shown Their Work and hard sci-fi, it's plausibly explained as the result of Element Zero in the body stimulated by electrical currents generated in the person's nervous system. In-universe, there is a radio story in one of the games about how a following on Earth now believes that the God-myths from ancient civilizations were encounters with alien races (likely the protheans) and these encounters fell under this trope.
  • In BlazBlue, there is a clear distinction between science and magic, however the "magic" used by most characters is called Ars Magus, which is in actuality a middle ground between the two. Pure magic is defined as much more powerful, and currently the only known characters to wield it are Rachel, Phantom and her daughter, Kokonoe.
  • The main source of the advanced tech from Asura's Wrath comes from this law, though with a more Hindu and Buddhist Twist.
  • Ether from XenoSaga is advanced nanotechnology but looks and works similar to magic in most other video games.
  • The Might and Magic Ancients' devices belong in this category, not because magic doesn't exist (it does, and not only through their technology) but because their technology is so developed that from the outside perspective it is impossible to say if any of their technologies are Magitek (except in one specific case, which is part of the proof for magic existing beyond the Ancients' technology as used by the barbarian survivors of the Silence), and if it is, where the technology stops and the magic begins.
  • Hinted at in Dishonored, where the Outsider mentions that his existence and the abilities he sometimes bestows upon Corvo and others appear to be magic to them.

    Web Animation 
Strong Bad: The word technology... means... magic. It's basically anything that's really cool that you don't know how it works. And if it breaks, you have to buy a new one.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in The Simpsons when in the future Marge points out how much easier things are since scientists invented magic.
  • The Scooby-Doo cartoons tend to be about seemingly paranormal events caused by scientists or technicians with enough know-how to be able to fake such incidences using advanced technology.
  • Galaxy Rangers loved this one, and often blurred the lined between the two. A great example was the Heart of Tarkon, which the natives assumed was magic, but the Rangers saw as a massive and advanced planetary computer. The truth was that they were both right. The Heart was a vast computer, but required Life Energy to run it. Niko also dismissed another character's explanation of her Psychic Powers as magic, saying they were just "powers of the mind...asleep in most people, but awake in me."
  • Both inverted and played straight in the Young Justice episode "Denial". Kid Flash denies the existence of magic, insisting that there is a scientific explanation for everything. He dismisses Doctor Fate's 'magic' as technical tricks. Understandable because of his experience with the Flash villain Abra Kadabra, a straight example who uses his technology to simulate magic.
  • In Gargoyles, after seeing one of the guns wielded by his enemies for the first time, Hudson says "We must be battling sorcerers!" Tom and Katharine also describe Macbeth's and Demona's guns as "magic weapons."
  • Clarke's Third Law is explicitly mentioned and quoted in the Iron Man: Armored Adventures episode "The Might of Doom", where Doctor Doom's powers are rationalized as incredibly advanced technology rather than sorcery. Doom himself takes this further by saying that Dormammu, a hellish Dimension Lord in the comics, is simply a Sufficiently Advanced Alien that primitive humans mistook for a demonic entity. It later turns out that Doom's armor is based on alien technology.

    Real Life 
  • Several classical civilizations, such as the Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians, used and kept closely guarded technology used in temples to trick worshipers into thinking it was the gods' doing.
  • One of the numerous theories as to the purpose of the mysterious "Baghdad Battery" is that it was used to power a statue of a god, which would shock the people who touched it. Being that this was long before anyone was well-acquainted with the concept of electricity, this would be interpreted as the god's answer to a question. A MythBusters test revealed the voltage created by the battery probably wasn't high enough to cause a proper shock, but they posited that under the right circumstances it might produce a tingle or other unusual sensation.
  • Combined with Religion is Magic in Eric von Daniken's paleocontact hypothesis, and descendants such as the Raelian movement, where primitive humans allegedly worshipped visiting aliens as gods because of their technology.
  • Cargo Cult
  • In an interview on Apple's webpage, a member of the design team for the newly unveiled iPad invokes/discusses the trope; repeatedly mentioning that the feature set may seem like the result of magic. Memetic Mutation ensued.
  • In the 1850s, French magician Robert-Houdin was able to help the French government avoid an uprising in recently-colonized Algeria by using a magic trick that convinced the Algerian people he could take away a man's strength. The trick was performed by asking the strongest man in the audience to pick up a small box that was light enough for a child to lift. The man lifted the box easily on the first attempt but on the second attempt Houdin "commanded the man to lose his strength" and he suddenly could not lift the box. The real magic behind the trick was an electromagnet hidden in the box. Look here for the full story.
  • Any technology of the 21st century when compared to even a few decades ago. We have robots, lasers, and we're working on holograms and energy shields.
    • Remember those plasma balls from the 80s? That was a proof of concept that energy shielding was technologically possible. The only hangup is the prohibitive energy cost to make it worthwhile. The energy required to shield something has to be equal to or greater than the energy released against the shield, and has to maintain that at a constant output.
      • Not necessarily constant. Short bursts of energy would suffice, but only if the shielding's computer can calculate the amount of force applied to the shield at the moment of and duration of impact. Versus projectiles, it would only need to up the energy usage for about a one second interval to allow for errors in calculation.
    • Working Volumetric holograms are there, just expensive due to intense memory and power requirements. hey require data for a third dimension, which instead of the square of how many pixels you need, you now have the cube of the volumetric equivalent. So a 128x128 raw image needs at least 16KB. A 128x128x128 volumetric hologram needs somewhere along the lines of 2MB. Meaning 320 pixel 3D will require as much data as 8k UHDTV, the largest format worked upon for civilian use. In other words, not something that will be available at Best Buy any time soon.
  • A common tactic among European explorers in Africa during the 19th Century was to use technology to convince natives that they were magicians or gods. Cameras trapped people's souls, tinderboxes or matches summoned the Sun into the palm of one's hand, etc. (The camera thing was referenced in Rurouni Kenshin.)
  • Played as a joke with anyone who works with electronics. A lot of times, when electronics are overloaded to the point of catastrophic failure, they burn and release smoke. This smoke is referred to as "magic smoke" and the reason why electronics stop working is "once the magic smoke leaves, it doesn't come back." A similar joke exists among engineers; ask them how a certain part of an engine works, and they'll answer "It runs on FM," which you will eventually come to learn means Fucking Magic.
  • Thomas Edison was known as the "Wizard of Menlo Park" because no one expected the phonograph to be invented and it seemed magical at the time.
  • When one of the first hot air balloons was tested in France a group of farmers tried to attack it after it crashed, believing it was some kind of magical monster.


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