Mundane Magic

As you may re­call from some months ear­lier, I think that part of the ra­tio­nal­ist ethos is bind­ing your­self emo­tion­ally to an ab­solutely lawful re­duc­tion­is­tic uni­verse—a uni­verse con­tain­ing no on­tolog­i­cally ba­sic men­tal things such as souls or magic—and pour­ing all your hope and all your care into that merely real uni­verse and its pos­si­bil­ities, with­out dis­ap­point­ment.

There’s an old trick for com­bat­ing dukkha where you make a list of things you’re grate­ful for, like a roof over your head.

So why not make a list of abil­ities you have that would be amaz­ingly cool if they were magic, or if only a few cho­sen in­di­vi­d­u­als had them?

For ex­am­ple, sup­pose that in­stead of one eye, you pos­sessed a mag­i­cal sec­ond eye em­bed­ded in your fore­head. And this sec­ond eye en­abled you to see into the third di­men­sion—so that you could some­how tell how far away things were—where an or­di­nary eye would see only a two-di­men­sional shadow of the true world. Only the pos­ses­sors of this abil­ity can ac­cu­rately aim the leg­endary dis­tance-weapons that kill at ranges far be­yond a sword, or use to their ful­lest po­ten­tial the shells of ul­tra­fast ma­chin­ery called “cars”.

“Binoc­u­lar vi­sion” would be too light a term for this abil­ity. We’ll only ap­pre­ci­ate it once it has a prop­erly im­pres­sive name, like Mys­tic Eyes of Depth Per­cep­tion.

So here’s a list of some of my fa­vorite mag­i­cal pow­ers:

  • Vibra­tory Telepa­thy. By trans­mit­ting in­visi­ble vibra­tions through the very air it­self, two users of this abil­ity can share thoughts. As a re­sult, Vibra­tory Telepaths can form emo­tional bonds much deeper than those pos­si­ble to other pri­mates.

  • Psy­cho­me­t­ric Trac­ery. By trac­ing small fine lines on a sur­face, the Psy­cho­me­t­ric Tracer can leave im­pres­sions of emo­tions, his­tory, knowl­edge, even the struc­ture of other spells. This is a higher level than Vibra­tory Telepa­thy as a Psy­cho­me­t­ric Tracer can share the thoughts of long-dead Trac­ers who lived thou­sands of years ear­lier. By read­ing one Trac­ery and in­scribing an­other si­mul­ta­neously, Trac­ers can du­pli­cate Trac­ings; and these repli­cated Trac­ings can even con­tain the de­tailed pat­tern of other spells and mag­ics. Thus, the Trac­ers wield al­most uni­mag­in­able power as ma­gi­ci­ans; but Trac­ers can get in trou­ble try­ing to use com­pli­cated Trac­eries that they could not have Traced them­selves.

  • Mul­tidi­men­sional Ki­ne­sis. With sim­ple, al­most un­think­ing acts of will, the Ki­net­ics can cause ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­plex forces to flow through small ten­ta­cles and into any phys­i­cal ob­ject within touch­ing range—not just pushes, but com­bi­na­tions of pushes at many points that can effec­tively ap­ply torques and twists. The Ki­netic abil­ity is far sub­tler than it first ap­pears: they use it not only to wield ex­ist­ing ob­jects with mar­tial pre­ci­sion, but also to ap­ply forces that sculpt ob­jects into forms more suit­able for Ki­netic wield­ing. They even cre­ate tools that ex­tend the power of their Ki­ne­sis and en­able them to sculpt ever-finer and ever-more-com­pli­cated tools, a pos­i­tive feed­back loop fully as im­pres­sive as it sounds.

  • The Eye. The user of this abil­ity can per­ceive in­finites­i­mal trav­el­ing twists in the Force that binds mat­ter—tiny vibra­tions, akin to the life-giv­ing power of the Sun that falls on leaves, but far more sub­tle. A bearer of the Eye can sense ob­jects far be­yond the range of touch us­ing the tiny dis­tur­bances they make in the Force. Moun­tains many days travel away can be known to them as if within arm’s reach. Ac­cord­ing to the bear­ers of the Eye, when night falls and sun­light fails, they can sense huge fu­sion fires burn­ing at un­think­able dis­tances—though no one else has any way of ver­ify­ing this. Posses­sion of a sin­gle Eye is said to make the bearer equiv­a­lent to roy­alty.

And fi­nally,

  • The Ul­ti­mate Power. The user of this abil­ity con­tains a smaller, im­perfect echo of the en­tire uni­verse, en­abling them to search out paths through prob­a­bil­ity to any de­sired fu­ture. If this sounds like a ridicu­lously pow­er­ful abil­ity, you’re right—game bal­ance goes right out the win­dow with this one. Ex­tremely rare among life forms, it is the sekai no ougi or “hid­den tech­nique of the world”.

    Noth­ing can op­pose the Ul­ti­mate Power ex­cept the Ul­ti­mate Power. Any less-than-ul­ti­mate Power will sim­ply be “com­pre­hended” by the Ul­ti­mate and dis­rupted in some in­con­ceiv­able fash­ion, or even ab­sorbed into the Ul­ti­mates’ own power base. For this rea­son the Ul­ti­mate Power is some­times called the “mas­ter tech­nique of tech­niques” or the “trump card that trumps all other trumps”. The more pow­er­ful Ul­ti­mates can stretch their “com­pre­hen­sion” across galac­tic dis­tances and aeons of time, and even per­ceive the bizarre laws of the hid­den “world be­neath the world”.

    Ul­ti­mates have been kil­led by im­mense nat­u­ral catas­tro­phes, or by ex­tremely swift sur­prise at­tacks that give them no chance to use their power. But all such vic­to­ries are ul­ti­mately a mat­ter of luck—it does not con­front the Ul­ti­mates on their own prob­a­bil­ity-bend­ing level, and if they sur­vive they will be­gin to bend Time to avoid fu­ture at­tacks.

    But the Ul­ti­mate Power it­self is also dan­ger­ous, and many Ul­ti­mates have been de­stroyed by their own pow­ers—fal­ling into one of the flaws in their im­perfect in­ner echo of the world.

    Stripped of weapons and ar­mor and locked in a cell, an Ul­ti­mate is still one of the most dan­ger­ous life-forms on the planet. A sword can be bro­ken and a limb can be cut off, but the Ul­ti­mate Power is “the power that can­not be re­moved with­out re­mov­ing you”.

    Per­haps be­cause this con­nec­tion is so in­ti­mate, the Ul­ti­mates re­gard one who loses their Ul­ti­mate Power per­ma­nently—with­out hope of re­gain­ing it—as schi­avo, or “dead while breath­ing”. The Ul­ti­mates ar­gue that the Ul­ti­mate Power is so im­por­tant as to be a nec­es­sary part of what makes a crea­ture an end in it­self, rather than a means. The Ul­ti­mates even in­sist that any­one who lacks the Ul­ti­mate Power can­not be­gin to truly com­pre­hend the Ul­ti­mate Power, and hence, can­not un­der­stand why the Ul­ti­mate Power is morally im­por­tant—a sus­pi­ciously self-serv­ing ar­gu­ment.

    The users of this abil­ity form an ab­solute aris­toc­racy and treat all other life forms as their pawns.