This is a truly interesting question that deserves an equally (I hope) interesting answer. That said, I cannot answer it definitively for one side or the other, so instead let me do what I do best and talk about semantics. Let’s consider a few facets of thought and consciousness, and you may take from it what you will (all the while remembering that I have next to no higher education and that I am essentially just someone with a keyboard and access to the Internet.)
- Sentience vs. Sapience
Sentience can be described as consciousness. It is the ability to understand and interpret signals and the ability to act on one’s own. Sapience can then be described as something akin to mindfulness. It is the ability to think in abstracts and theories, the ability to search for meaning rather than purpose. Sentience is being, while sapience is living. Sentience is knowing, while sapience is understanding. Which one is your magic system?
A sentient magic system might have its own knowledge base. It might know that it can start a fire with a stick and proper application of magic. It might know that people yelling portends something bad. It might know that and it might act on it, depending on what it thinks or feels it needs. A sapient magic system might have a greater “understanding” of the situations than a purely sentient one: it might know that sticks make fires, but would also know not to start one on a pencil. It might not approve of or like yelling, but know the difference between a heated debate and an escalating fight.
All of this can be negated if your system of magic has an entirely different concept of what knowledge is. If it operates on knowledge and facts in a way that is beyond normal comprehension, it could stand to reason that it has its own methods of interpreting facts, handling stimuli, and reacting to events.
- Agency vs. Free Will
Agency can be defined as the ability to act independently and the capacity to make choices, where free will can be defined as the capacity to make choices free of limitations and restraints. They are closely related, but not quite the same.
Certain structures can limit agency without destroying it. Things like societal expectations and class, religion, gender, social/interpersonal customs, etc. can limit the available choices without rendering an agent incapable of choice.
A totally free will might be completely free of structures and similar, but might fall into the category of determinism (and possibly go even further into incompatibilism). There are many many many flavors of determinism as applied to free will, but the basic idea of it is that events unfold as they do because of what happened in the past. In this way, determinism is similar to the idea of cause-and-effect: determinism posits that the past has happened in such a way that not only made current events possible, but that made them happen to begin with.
Further than this is the idea of incompatibilism, which states that determinism and free will cannot coexist. Because determinism means that the past has—depending on your interpretation and definition—influenced, created, or even dictated the current state of affairs, incompatibilism would then suggest that free will does not exist in a determinist world. Conversely, in a free will world, determinism does not exist.
Where on the scale of free will to incompatibilist determinism does your magic system fall? Does magic do what it wants when it wants, or does it follow the path set forth by the past?
On a basic level, self-awareness is about awareness of your self: it is awareness of your body, of your thoughts, of your being aware. Self-awareness helps characterize us as individual people as we think about ourselves.
How self-aware is your system of magic? Is it aware of itself as an entity? Does it think of itself as above the people, or a part of them? Is magic as a whole one single unit, or are there different incarnations of magic?
Does your magic have its own wants? How about needs? How does it go about fulfilling these? Does it understand things like delayed gratification and forward thinking?
And then comes the dilemma we are beginning to face with things like artificial intelligences: If your magic system is self-aware/sentient/sapient/what have you, is it alive?
- World Interactions
How does your magic system interact with the world? Some of this may be dictated by the answers to some of the questions and thoughts above, such as whether it has its own wants and needs and whether its path is determined or totally free.
A basic way to look at world interaction would be on a scale of interference vs. observation. Interference would be magic getting directly, personally involved in things, where observation is magic hanging back and watching rather than getting in the middle of it. It (like most people) may have different responses for different things and situations.
Consider also: how do others interact with it? Can magic be communicated with and empirically evaluated, or is it completely incomprehensible? Does it favor some over others? Why?
- Spirituality as Magic
This is a very neat idea, and I hope this has given you some insight. If it has confused you further, please come back and I will clarify.
Reread for Seira
asked by kittiofdoom