Elder Scrolls Lore » Discussions

Mages are (maybe) ruining the world

  • July 17, 2017

    Over the past few months or so, I've been noticing this hypothesis floating around that Skyrim is entering a new dark age, and that one of those reasons is because the Dwemer disappeared after they stole a god's heart and never called him back. Ebonslayer hit me with this in the lore questions thread:

    Ebonslayer said:

    Ah, so you're looking for something stronger? Magic isn't affected by gravity, as far as I know, so it's unlikely you can arc a fireball over a wall. Again, dwarves are your best bet. It's not confirmed that dwarves used mortar-esque weapons for sieges yet but exploding bolts were found only recently, there's many more things we could learn from dwarven ruins. As for the sorry state of current technology just look at history, Tamriel is always plagued by war and even afterwards it has maybe 50 years before the next government-toppling crisis comes along. Most of Tamriel's version of "scientists" are just studying arcane secrets, I have a feeling magic would put a huge damper on technological advancement. 

    and it got me thinking -- is magic technology? And are mages partially to blame for the possible impending dark age? 

    Definitions from google (Oxford):

    Technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.

    Industry: economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.

    If it was a game, it would look like this. FromSoftware would help design it. 


  • Member
    July 17, 2017

    This is an interesting subject and, to be honest, is one that requires me to shift my perspective a great deal in order to fully grasp the topic. To put my thoughts into some sort of coherent structure, I think starting with this question is best:

    is magic technology?

    From my perspective, yes. The setting of The Elder Scrolls is one that is a weird fusion of quantum mechanics and Newtonian physics represented in a mythic way. As we delve into deeper concepts like the Enantiomorph, we sometimes come across things such as collapsing waveforms, or to use another example, when we dig into the subject of light and the Magna-ge, we start to see references to the Doppler Effect and the connection between light and time in an Einsteinian sense.

    I'm kind of at risk of waffling a bit, but in most cases when the subject of magic and technology come into any discussion they are seen as opposing forces, which is to me perhaps not the optimal view. This is a setting in which space isn't space as we know it, stars aren't huge spheres of super-charged plasma held together by their own mass, and the laws of nature that we take for granted actually stabilised and came into being by the sacrifices of beings beyond comprehension. Or at least that is one interpretation, we are dealing with mythic events, after all.

    However, these laws of nature - the very physics of Nirn - are mutable. The technology we credit the Dwemer as having are, by and large, world-bending shit. We know of their obsession with all things Tonal, but the root of that digs into the very heart of the topic here. We are probably more familiar with the thu'um as a form of this tonal magic. By Shouting, a Tongue can alter the very fabric of reality. We can dress this up as magic, but what is actually happening is not so much a spell being cast to change the weather, it is actually more like the weather changes because in that moment when Clear Skies or Storm Call is used, reality itself is being changed by the Voice, or Tone.

    Technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.

    So from that perspective, if the fundemental laws of nature are magickal in origin - those things we in real life would define as science - then yes, magic is technology by definition. On Nirn, one could mine for iron ore and turn it into gold by using an Alteration spell. Alteration being the key concept:

    To master Alteration, first accept that reality is a falsehood. There is no such thing. Our reality is a perception of greater forces impressed upon us for their amusement. Some say that these forces are the gods, other that they are something beyond the gods. For the wizard, it doesn't really matter. What matters is the appeal couched in a manner that cannot be denied. It must be insistent without being insulting ~ Reality and Other Falsehoods. 

    Alteration, like Tonal magic or the Thu'um, changes reality. Or makes a new reality by altering the fundemental forces of nature.

    It's only when we come to the concept of industry do things start to become a little murkier:

    Industry: economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.

    When we think "industry" we think of manufacture and factories belching out smoke which will oneday tusk us all up while mother nature shrugs it off as she has done countless times over the last four billion years or so. Industry in our world is something that has a complicated causal tree. The industrial revolution in Britain in the nineteenth century is seen as period where the standards of living improved dramitically in a short space of time as one advancement led to the discovery of another in a domino effect. These things weren't "blue sky" discoveries, but were actively sought out once the ball started rolling.

    In TES, well, to use the definition above with the knowledge above that magic is science, then the College of Winterhold is in a very real sense a factory and the mages within are involved in industry. The magic they harness is the fundemental blocks of reality, so in terms of raw material it really doesn't get any more raw than that.

    So that sort of leads us down the path of social standards of living. If this magic is so powerful that the "very bones of the earth are at our disposal", why haven't those bones been used to raise the overall standard of living rather than have cultures living in mud huts with thatched roofs?

    Which is a question for the philospohers, I think.

  • Member
    July 18, 2017

    From what little I know, I wouldn't say they're to blame, but they could definitely help more. The Dwemer and technology were great because they made stuff that was useful to everyone, while magic seems to be looked at on a grander scale. Like Phil said, magic can (and is used in the Summerset Isles at least) to create higher standards of living, which would make the world a far better place. But it seems that the current mages are more keen to unravel the secrets of Nirn and gain power. Its like our scientists looking at astronomy and nukes when they could be looking at stem cell research and robot cars (which I think we can all agree is the biggest priority of our time).

  • Member
    July 18, 2017

    You raise a good point, Zon, and the example of the Altmer is a nice microcosm in which to look at magic as technology in society. When the Aldmer started to become Altmer, they did have an egalitarian society, but over time classes devolped that placed mages high up in this caste system. The most powerful wizards, perhaps, on the entire continent - the Psijics - are locked away and isolated, rarely engaging in outside affairs. Or perhaps engaging more than we think, who can know?

    In either case, power is in the hands of an elite. The lowly farmer might still finish work with a backache and struggle to pay for repairs. Although in fairness, the Mages Guild sprang up from an Altmer who believed in equal ops and a fair system for the study of magic so that it would be accessable to all. But even that goal became a dream when it devolved into political power games.

    So at the risk of making this political, that to me is why the empire stood for something important. Where once there were these cultures with isolated elites practicing their craft, the empire stood for civilisation and unity, a place where anyone could achieve their potential.

  • July 18, 2017

    God damn. Okay so I have to think about all this for a bit, really wrap my head around it, and carefully articulate my thoughts. This'll just be a slow burner. Check back around new years. 

  • Member
    July 18, 2017

    Legion said:

    God damn. Okay so I have to think about all this for a bit, really wrap my head around it, and carefully articulate my thoughts. This'll just be a slow burner. Check back around new years. 

    Totally fair, but now we're on the societal level it becomes less meta. Why does each society with access to advanced "tech" always tend towards elitism and isolationsim? Consider, the Bretons have a magical elite who tend to honour their merish ancestry, the Nords have Tongues who since the First Era have hidden away up a mountain, the Altmer have an elite caste and the Psijic Order, the Dunmer have the xenophobic and isolationist Telvanni... Why? Is there a common element? Or is it just mortal nature to hoarde power? As Zon said, if that power was distributed, all would benefit. Or would they?

    Edit: I don't have answers, btw. Just thinking out loud.

  • Member
    July 19, 2017

    Paws said:

    if that power was distributed, all would benefit.

    I think this is definitely the case, but given the very powerful national identity many provinces have, which in turn results in long held cultural views, its possible people don't want it, even if it would benefit them. Look at the magical light the College has. Would it benefit a small village in Elsweyr somewhere? Yes, but then you'll be taking away the torch making profession, that might have been passed down from father to son for generations. Magic can be very easily compared to automation irl, and basically results in:

    Image result for they took our jobs

  • July 27, 2017

    I did find something interesting while looking up information about my Lore project about the Planets, Nirn, and such. I don't remember the source, I will link it when I find it again, that stated that Magic doesn't follow the rules of normality or something on that line. That means a well knowledgeable Mage could literally bend magic to do whatever and since Nirn and even time is based in/on Magic they could change reality or alternate it, in theory. Also, the stars and the sun play a huge role in magic, just look at the Dwemer and Ayelids, who could capture Starlight that is said to be the greatest form of magic.

    Think about it that is insane, that a great mage could literally alter the universe or even spells to their benefit. The Dwemer were masters of this concept with Dwemer Tonal Magic and the Dwemer Gyro, which is based on Nirn as observed on their Orrery of Nirn and the planets. If you need another example of this is Sotha Sil and his Clockwork City. Sotha Sil could literally from what I have read in Lore and such bend time to his will.I mean think about that you could bend time,

    I mean think about that you could bend time, stop a spell, separate a spell, and more. I am sure when Davey comes back he will have a lot to say about this subject since he deep into Mages and magic.

  • Member
    August 14, 2017

    The problem you'll quickly find, which is also what separates the living races from the Dwemer is that magic while having the capacity to be a technological advancement is never used as such.

    Let's go back to the definition of a technology:

    Technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.

    When, if ever is magic in TES applied to help the economy or the industry of the masses?

    One of the few examples that come to mind is that Dunmer alteration teacher in Kyne's Grove that helps the miners survive the suffocating heat that forms in the mine because of the nearby volcanic activity by what seems like enchanting the mine or placing fire resistance spells on the mine itself.

    I don't know of any magical application in the field of agriculture, aside from the Sarethi farm where we learn that the right mix of alchemical components (apparently used to regulate soil pH) and magic allows one to grow Nirnroot. Which shows that it is certainly possible (and straight up my alley but whatever :P).

    Yet none of these techniques are taught or used on a large scale unlike for example the ability to cast fireballs. No wonder the continent is constantly ravaged by war. It's a scenario almost similar to Fallout where there are more guns than food.

    I think this is where the genius of the Dwemer comes into play. They didn't simply build automatons but entire mechanical cities, automated mines, and fungal farms that one imagines once stretched the entirety of Blackreach.