World of Wu-Yu
Magic and Technology
Both magic and technology have brought the world of Wu-Yu to where it stands now. Magic has aided intelligent races in decisive moments, while technology’s slow advancement has revolutionized ways of life.
Scholars of Wu-Yu have long debated which is superior, magic or technology. While each has its virtues, each also has drawbacks. Magic can make individuals powerful, but technology advances civilizations.
The roots of magic are lost to time. All known societies use it. The Dwarven Law-scriptures, composed around the 6th century BZY, call magic the “art of all peoples.” Spell effects are similar from society to society, despite differences in casting traditions (shamanic, priestly, or sorcerous). Similar effects are shared not only by advanced peoples but also by nomads and hunter-gatherers. This suggests that magic was diffused at a very early date.
Since this primordial age of diffusion, magic has changed very little. New casting traditions developed along with new ways of life, but basic spell effects remained the same with few exceptions. This fact has earned magic the esteemed title “The Eternal Art.”
Magic has aided people by enabling them to perform feats of the impossible, such as creating light in darkness, divining the location of fresh water, or speeding a hunter’s arrow to its prey. Technology cannot rival such miraculous effects. In this realm the supremacy of magic is uncontested. In fact, one might expect magic to render technology unnecessary. But this is not so. Magic, while powerful, is limited in its power to change society. This follows from a number of observations on magic’s basic nature.
First, spell effects are bound to certain limits. They tend to be constrained in potency and permanence. Only so much rain can be called to a field, and food can only be preserved so long before it returns to its natural state of decomposition. This makes magic inferior to corresponding technologies such as irrigation and granary storage.
Second, the limits of magic are overcome only through the personal advancement of individuals. A highly-trained shaman can call far more rain, but cannot teach a beginning student to do the same. In contrast, a master of technology can invent a pedal-pump irrigation machine that any uneducated farmer can build and use. Thus, the kind of magic that can change the world is prevented from spreading due to the long years of devotion it requires.
Finally, magic offers no discernible means of innovation. This is because it does not appear to behave according to universal principles. Each casting tradition has a degree of internal consistency, but there is no underlying theory explaining magic as such. Ultimately, no one knows why magic works; it is a mystery. Correspondingly, no one knows how to discover new spell effects. When such discovery occurs, it appears to be a matter of spontaneous genius or divine grace. This prevents magic from advancing much throughout history. Meanwhile, technology slowly expands as more and more is learned about the natural world.
These limits explain why it is technology and not magic that has revolutionized society again and again over the ages. Magic has played a decisive role in crucial battles and individual challenges, but technology has been the primary factor behind advances in food production and the rise of civilizations. Individuals advance by magic, but societies advance by technology.
One important exception is magic’s power to advance a society’s body of lore. Knowledge has greatly expanded thanks to divination, which avoids some of the limitations of other magics. While most spell effects wear off in a short time, divination yields knowledge that is permanent. Furthermore, powerful spellcasters can impart what they learn to even the most untrained students. For example, scholars of Wu-Yu know a great deal about the past thanks to postcognition spells cast on archaeological artifacts. These facts once learned are true forever, and can be studied by anyone.
Despite this ability of the Eternal Art to increase knowledge, it remains technology that makes or breaks civilizations.