The Source of Magic


This paper is an attempt to show that a large part of Western society no longer operates on the rationalist principles that most of us thought it did, but that it instead runs by magic more akin to that in fantasy works. The term ‘magic’ is not meant metaphorically or in science fiction author Arthur C Clarke’s sense that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ (Clarke 1962), but is meant literally in the sense that Frazer (1890, republished 2003) used the term. This means that instead of trying to understand the present and near future by looking at the works of science fiction creators who put forth a rationalist and technological view of the world, we would understand the future better by looking to the fantasy of authors such as Jack Vance, Matthew Hughes, Ursula Le Guin, Piers Anthony and Michael Moorcock. This magic is manifested through magical thinking and irrational behaviour, where the majority of us use literal spells and incantations in our daily interactions with each other in the networked world, and where we worship capricious gods; most importantly, those spells, incantations and worship actually work, and those gods have actually come to exist. This paper will also show just how the spread of the computer technology propounded by scientists, technologists and SF writers has inevitably led to the creation of this irrational and magical world. This is partly because of limitations built-in to the formal systems on which these systems are based, leading to an extreme example of the law of unintended consequences. Finally, the paper will explain the mechanism by which magic is literally becoming real by reference to Frazer’s two laws of magic: the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion.

How to Cite

Wilcock, S., (2015) “The Source of Magic”, Journal of Performance Magic 3(1). doi:


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Sean Wilcock





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