This upcoming semester I am teaching the class "Philosophy of Game of Thrones" and I have been through a month long process of trying to establish a universal metaphysic inherent to the story. I have found that if one subtracts the magic from this story all we are left with is the Hobbesian state of nature (life is nasty, brutish and short) as confirmed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

However, the "magic" in the show adds another facet to the story's metaphysics predominately by way of the Lord of Light. This begs the question (as well as my begging for help ;) what are the rules, conditions, and context for magic to become manifest/actualized?

Thank you for the help!

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    Is this class based on the show or based in the books? In either case it may be too soon to provide a complete answer as neither is complete and the further you go the more prevalent magic becomes. Also at least in the books it seems magic by way of the old gods (warging, the Wall, the vow of the Black Watch) is at least as prevalent as R'hllor's even if not as flashy. Then there is the god of the Faceless Men. – Mr.Mindor Aug 7 '13 at 18:50
  • Well, one of their final exam questions requires them to give the most PROBABLE answer to the question I asked above. So while we don't know the story's resolution yet, there must be a non-spiritual explanation (non-spiritual due to GRRM's hatred of LOST's resolution) that reveals the true nature of magic. – Mariovingian Aug 7 '13 at 19:17
  • But @Mr.Mindor, the only god of the Faceless Men is Death. :P (Yes, I am aware the god is called the Many Faced God, but still it's supposed to be the multiple personifications of Death, at least that's what I got out of it.) – ardent Aug 7 '13 at 19:40
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    As there isn't really anything in-cannon to suggest how magic works, I'm not sure how one could claim any answer to this question is more probable than another. I think the best you can hope for is plausible. Any answer that supports the different types of magic present in the story should be equally acceptable. – Mr.Mindor Aug 7 '13 at 23:26
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    What qualifies something as non-spiritual? – Mr.Mindor Aug 7 '13 at 23:27

You can invoke mind-matter duality. Certain mental structures affect matter structures. The classic "what is the mechanism of interaction if they are two separate things" doesn't really work, because ultimately, there isn't any "mechanism" of interaction between anything. I.e. if you say particles interact a certain way because of so and so "mechanism", well what is the mechanism that causes that mechanism to work? What is the mechanism that causes the more elementary particles to interact a certain way? And so forth and so forth -- an infinite regress. The "mechanism" for how 'mind' interacts with 'matter' is that is just does, just as particles interact a certain way 'just because'.

Also, not all metaphysics regards it in terms of black-and-white duality, but rather different forms of subtle energy or numerous planes of existence.

Sound has long been believed in esotericism to have spiritual effects, i.e. mantras.

Different frequencies also can have some pretty neat physical effects that make it appear as though matter spontaneously responds to sound in unique ways (look up youtube videos of cymatics, including the sounding of Aum in the Great Pyramid by steven halpern)

Suppose a certain mental thoughtform manifests when combined with the right sound patterns.

There is also the simple fact that things at the quantum level, according to physics, are random and chaotic. We are told that a particle is basically an emergence from a more fundamental field, IIRC. What is the force that causes a sustained pattern/manifestation of even a single atom? Some esoteric schools of thought call this "fohat". You can call it anything, but it could be used to say that something about a practitioner of magic allows this universal manifestation/sustaining force to flow through/mesh with the practicioner's mind & sound.

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    @Mariovingian Due to the diversity of magic ranging from foresight to alchemy, you really have to have some sort of consciousness or will structure that is intermeshed with the material structure so that it can be manipulated through various means. A simple system of conscious intent manifesting through the universal will might not be enough, given the complex rituals needed to manipulate things in a magical way. You need some sort of structure that is being manipulated other than just the matter. – James Christopher Aug 7 '13 at 18:43
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    @Mariovingian If by scaffolding you mean one is built on the other, not exactly. They would have to be intermeshed, i.e. the influence would have to be two-directional, since manipulating the physical structure is part of manipulating the non-physical, which in turn manipulates the physical. Likewise, it takes a physical practitioner of magic to manipulate the non-physical/magical/will/consciousness structures, which in turn manipulates the physical. More like a tai-chi, or even a multi-network of different aspects. – James Christopher Aug 7 '13 at 19:27
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    I'm sorry, but what does this answer have to do with Game of Thrones? – TLP Aug 7 '13 at 22:43
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    -1 This isn't a real answer. You don't even mention Game of Thrones, when it's in the title of the actual question. This website isn't the place to discuss metaphysics (or for open ended debate, no matter how interesting). Please narrow down the focus. – Andres F. Aug 8 '13 at 22:13
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    @Mariovingian "According to..." doesn't mention anything GoT or GRRM said. Sorry, but scifi.se isn't the place to discuss metaphysics in vague, general terms. It is a place to discuss particular details of specific works of SF/fantasy fiction. In particular, broad literary debate is outside the scope of this website. Compare this answer (which confusingly, you accepted) with Thaddeus' excellent answer: on-topic, with examples and taxonomy from the actual fictional work. – Andres F. Aug 9 '13 at 14:17

Magic in the Game of Thrones universe was once diverse and quite powerful. Though it is currently far less powerful, with the return of the Dragons, magic is slowly making its way back into the world. The effects of magic in the modern world are little more than legend but in its heyday, Magic was responsible for feats of amazing creation such as The Wall of Westeros made of ice and magic over 8,000 years ago.

From the Game of Thrones Wiki regarding Magic:

  • Magic, occasionally referred to as "the higher mysteries" is a powerful but little understood force in the world. In Westeros it is believed, particularly by the Maesters of the Citadel, that magic, if it ever existed, is now gone from the world.

  • Only one in every hundred Maesters, Luwin among them, bother to study the subject long enough to earn a Valyrian steel link for their chains. Nevertheless, in Essos, magic is still practiced, particularly in the eastern corners of the continent, although its effects and the power of its practitioners are frequently questioned.

The best known practitioners of magic included: The Faceless Men, Warlocks, Maegi, Pyromancers and the Red Priests.

Types of magic

  • Blood magic: practiced by maegi, involving sacrifice of both animals and humans. It is forbidden among the Dothraki.

  • Warging: the ability to enter the mind of an animal and experience and/or control its actions.

  • Greensight: experiencing prophetic dreams. Associated with the Greenseers of the Children of the Forest.

  • Shadow-birthing: Red priestesses may give birth to shadows shortly after being impregnated by a man.

  • Bilocation: the ability to be physically present and perform actions in several places at once. See: Pyat Pree, Warlock

  • Kiss of Life: Red Priests have the ability to resurrect the newly dead.

  • Dragon Magic: Daenerys Targaryen resistance to fire is unexplained.

As to metaphysics

Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

  • What is ultimately there?

  • What is it like?

As far as seeking an underlying metaphysical nature to magic, none is ever explained, there is no sign of the Universe seeking to know itself through magic use, or of a supreme power whose origins and powers are clearly defined or understood.

  • Many magicks seem able to be manifest from a variety of sources but no underlying structure, deity or source of magic is evident except for the correlation between Dragons and the waxing and waning of magic.

  • When Dragons are ascendent so is the power of magic. When dragons waned and died, magic became a mysterious mummery, repeated but often without an expectation of result. During those times, magic users were considered little more than charlatans.

In it way, magic functioned like a technology without a power source. When Dragons were not in existence, practitioners of magic might be able to manifest low-powered magics such as divination, but only the most powerful of magic users could manifest magical abilities during the times without Dragons.

  • The question could be asked: What relationship does the ascendency of Dragonkind and the prevalence of magic bear on the existence of magic itself? Are Dragons the source of the magic or merely an indicator that magical power is returning to the world?

  • GRRM does not seem to be painting a relationship of deity to magic, since without Dragons, most deities were quiescent and worshipped because they once appeared to have power.

Magic unfortunately appears to be little more than another means to an end, a technology to be exploited by those who have the power to manipulate it, weaponize it and employ it effectively.

  • It is not seen being utilized to understand the fundamental aspects of the universe or even being used to study itself for a better understanding of the source of magic.

  • Granted we are never given enough time to see magic and its relationship to the world to know for certain if schools of thought were developed around the metaphysical aspects of the origins of magic or whether there was a single or supreme source of magical power in their universe.

  • +1 But, also think the Dany Unburnt aspect and Faceless Men face changes should be mentioned. Bilocation? I don't remeber that one. – RMalke Aug 7 '13 at 18:46
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    How does this answer provide a universal metaphysic, as the OP asked for? – James Christopher Aug 7 '13 at 19:02
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    @Mariovigian a purely non-magical wall of these dimensions is not possible. Can the Ice Wall in Game of Thrones Survive Science? – Mr.Mindor Aug 7 '13 at 19:55
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    And if all we were contending with were an 10 foot wall, that would not be a problem. This is a problem of epic physical contradiction. Without magic, gravity would destroy a wall made purely of ice in short order or render the building of such a structure as useless in the extreme. And yes, I believe all magic is transitory in the GoT universe. Subject to entropy and disorder over time. Magic is just another technology to be utilized as needed. It just happens to be a fairly durable one, if it's done right. – Thaddeus Howze Aug 7 '13 at 20:22
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    @Mariovigian Ice on a glacial scale flows. This flow happens at a molecular level. A structure 700ft tall, 40+ feet wide(at the top) and 300miles long would certainly act like a glacier. It would not only flow downward (in place) getting wider and wider at the base, but it would drift horizontally as well off of the hills Bran built it into to 'strengthen the structure' to fill low points and valleys. After just 1000 years it wouldn't be in the same place, and it wouldn't be a wall anymore. (intially posted this in the wrong place) – Mr.Mindor Aug 7 '13 at 22:54

The correlation between dragons and magic does NOT imply causality-

'Magic' has anecdotally grown in efficacy circa their apparent arrival... But to conclude that dragons generate it rather than simply herald or portend the waxing of 'magical energy' would be erroneous and a reductive fallacy.

Please recall that the white walkers were the first 'magical' or mythical creatures to reappear in this saga- Followed by ominous portents and a reawakening of 'magical powers' in the stark family blood(of the first men) line Then finally the red comet and dragons-

The dragons are merely the most notable landmark on the recent timeline of events that the fallible third person POV would associate to current changes in the metaphysical dynamics of their lives.... As stated by melisandre and the pyromancers, etc.

The name of the saga is " a song of fire and ice " draw your own conclusions about the metaphysical nature of magic in this mythos as it may relate to duality and polar changes of state within the same continuum... But since the word 'physic' is the root of metaphysic perhaps doing a simple wiki read on physical nature of fire and it's typical chemical constituency might help??? (As would actually reading the books-) One eyebrow quietly raised? I'll give you a hint . Fire and water are made of, and require the exact same stuff, as well as products of each other. fuel and oxidizer. Diametric DUALITY of nature? Seems rather like particle physics and physical chemistry in our "non-magical world", doesn't it? Think charged and relaxed atomic states, binary data, two magnetic poles making one continuum field---

You may also recall that it has been said more than once that it isn't known whether 'the white walkers bring the winter or it brings them, but the two are connected' Coincidentally white walkers being made of ice (a crystal with inherent harmonic resonance) can be shattered by obsidian in much the same way as glass can by ceramic. Physics.

Realizing that the seasons are incalculable and erratic, you might deduce this planet to be in a binary star system... Physics and cosmology-

If this isn't coming together for you I'll just spell it out- The "metaphysics" and physics of 'magic' in the world of fire and ice is a literary metaphorical trope for the paradoxical nature of dualities and continuums in our own world, and the way in which many seemingly unrelated or distantly related systems of organization are actually codependent or interdependent in a synergistic way influencing state changes in one another-


This is a bit random and I'm just throwing this in to be taken wherever by whomever. I was just thinking about Arya's training with regards to becoming "invisible" and how that could be related to the notion in quantum physics of the observer and the observed. In order to have the power, one must become no one. In other words. The less one is observed (by others or themselves) the less tethered they are to physical reality. If you have no name then you are not defined. If one is absent from the observations of others, then the only thing able to collapse the wave is ones own observation of ones self.

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