The definition of magic is, in and of itself, an interesting question, and
I don't wish to sidetrack that inquiry, as such.
But the conversation originated in a comparison of magic with science, and
so it is apposite to also clarify what 'science' is.
It seems to me, there are roughly three ways that the word 'science' is
(1) Systematic, rational exploration of the regularities of human
experience of the physical universe by means of empirical observation.
(2) A certain cultural practice originating in the Western intellectual
tradition that works by means of institutions and networks of
practitioners to systematize, formalize, and carry out projects of the
sort described in #1.
(3) Faith in the results generated by #2: that they have actually been
obtained; that they can be replicated; that they are reflective of some
metaphysical reality. Here, the results of science #2 function as a sort
Part of the difficulty that comes up in discussions of this sort is that,
in Western culture as it is now, it is extremely difficult to disentangle
these three meanings, when one utters the word 'science'. Although each
of the three refers to quite different things, they are conflated
The _process_ of science that we have now -- science #2, with our research
institutions and graduate students and peer-reviewed journals -- although
it is extremely successful, it is not the only way to carry out #1.
Indeed, being dependent on culture and institutions -- and, perhaps, a
Kuhnian paradigm -- it is mutually exclusive with other implementations of
#1, that are differently situated. Even Western science of 50 or 100
years ago is sometimes unrecognizable from the perspective of current
concepts and institutions (cf especially psychology).
There are some in the scientific world who do not believe that this is so.
They believe that any _real_ regularity in the workings of the universe
that a person can observe -- at any time and in any culture -- will also
be observable within #2, and so it is meaningless to draw any distinction.
I believe that this is a case of a fish being ignorant of water (ie, the
scientist ignorant of the culture of science and its limitations -- some
of which are deliberately self-imposed). But for this reason it can also
be difficult to make the case, to someone who buys it hook, line, and
In the case of comparison of science with magic, to the extent that magic
engages in #1 at all (which it might or might not, depending on how you
understand 'magic'), it operates within a cultural (or subcultural)
context that is incompatible with #2.
Furthermore, a person who takes #3 to excess, and believes that _only_
things discoverable within #2 are metaphysically real ('scientism') may be
particularly antipathetic toward a more inclusive metaphysical point of