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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Sean Carroll's Thor connection

H/T Sean Carroll for this. Apparently he was a scientific consultant to the moviemakers of Thor and got to read the script in advance (the bastard!), and is likewise involved in forthcoming Avengers movie. How cool is that?

Sean makes the point that some effort was put in to make Jane Foster sympathetic and believable as a working scientist, and, yes, now he mentions it I can see that. (Jane is a nurse in the comics, but she's an experimental physicist in the movie, and it makes sense the way the original continuity has been rejigged). One of the things that works well in the movie is that the scientist types (basically Jane and her supervisor, though they also have a research assistant who was actually trained in political science) are sympathetic characters.

Even though this is a world in which magic is real, there's no tendency to debunk scientists as arrogant and misguided know-alls ... which could so easily have happened once Hollywood became involved. Much is made of the fact that magic is really continuous with science within the diegesis - it's just that there are some rules about how things work that we're currently unaware of and can't readily comprehend. Sean says:
The thinking here is very much based on Arthur C. Clarke’s “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” In the trailer above [i.e. embedded in Sean's post], Thor basically gives exactly this pitch to Jane Foster.
Kudos to the folks at Marvel Studios - especially, it seems, Kevin Feige - for taking these issues into account and bringing in science consultants, and to the consultants for helping to ensure that this was not (even inadvertently) an anti-science movie. As Sean observes, the magical world of Thor has to integrate with the high-tech world of the Iron Man movies, since Thor and Iron Man live in the same fictional universe and will be meeting in The Avengers. I'm now more sensitised to how the latter will treat the interface between magic and science when it's released next year.

7 comments:

Sean Carroll said...

Thanks, Russell. I should mention that Ash Miller and Zack Stentz, who wrote the final screenplay (as well as X-Men: First Class), are big science buffs, and in fact are shopping another screenplay based on Richard Feynman. There are plenty of science-friendly forces in Hollywood ... we just have to encourage them.

Svlad Cjelli said...

Something about Clarke's law has been gnawing at me. I'd venture that magic is technology. Is there a general description of what technology is which would strictly exclude some kinds of magic or all magic?
Is there a description of magic which does not conform to what it is to be a technology?

This is mostly relevant to fiction.

That Guy Montag said...

Actually that was something I really liked about Thor, the fact that the scientists were genuinely likeable. It was more than anything an honest portrayal and that definitely stands out in recent memory.

March Hare said...

Imagine a true multiverse where every possible thing that is physically possible will, in some universe, happen.

In one of those universes some (and in another just one, and in another all) people's internal thoughts will actually be realised through quantum probability, whether that be the apparently magical appearance of a very confused cow in front of the wand or the disappearance of a jumbo jet from an open runway.

In at least some of those universes physical forces will convince the people there that magic is a reality.

I don't see how we can deny this if we assume the multiverse theory is true. Not that it makes magic correct any more than betting on all lotto numbers means you knew which were going to come up.

Svlad Cjelli said...

It took me almost a week to figure out where I had posted this. :)

I'm not sure if March Hare was addressing me, but the comment still reminded me that "technology" is generally something people do, whereas "magic" is not necessarily so, and I should replace all instances of "magic" with "magical art".
In fact I'm not sure why I didn't from the start. I had that in mind before I started typing, but apparently forgot all about it.

March Hare said...

Svlad, it wasn't directed at you, it was simply a stream of consciousness thought.

The point being that in an infinite multiverse there will exist at least one where quantum probability will act in such a way as to give people the belief in magic. They will for 'science' around it and try to find out which causes have which effects (magic being a given by induction) and who knows what they'd come up with.

Obviously this is an extreme version of the multiverse theory but I think there is a relatively interesting story there for a world that appears to work by magic and one day it stops. Especially if we find that, rather than random quantum chance, an alien civilisation had a machine that read the minds of people and used extreme tech to make it appear to the people as if magic was true. One day the machine breaks and they then have to try to survive in the 'natural' world.

Svlad Cjelli said...

Sort of an JLA: Act of God story, except that one made no damn sense.