Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future
Also known as Clarke's Third Law, the pithy quote above has always troubled me. We like to think that as our technology advances it should appear more and more powerful and incomprehensible to our ancestors, but I'm not so certain. Many of the historical greats performed feats we would never dare armed only with quill pens. I'm sure Newton would do things with a hand calculator most of us would never consider, and Mozart would have been cursing the limitations of his sequencing software after only a few hours.
Clarke's "law" also foments lawlessness in science fiction literature, authors fearlessly flaunting the laws of physics. Never mind going backward in time, or faster than light (which is the same thing), or cutting steel with laser pistols without the handles ever getting hot; these are venerable traditions of the SF and space opera genre. The worst offender is Drexler's new kid: nanotechnology, which in fiction mostly manages to violate the basic laws of thermodynamics and quantum mechanics while still presenting a lofty air of scientific plausibility. Science opens boundless vistas of what we can accomplish, but it also sets the ground rules we have to obey if we want to get there. Reality is nothing if not limitations.
But what of magic? Perhaps Clarke simply observed that better science and technology means that we can achieve some goals more easily, even things we didn't think of before. In the limit, he reasoned, all goals would be reachable and many would be far outside our current understanding. Dubious as that logic might be, it's not the same as magic. Magic has more to do with desire -- with fulfilling human hopes, dreams and aspirations -- than with any technological extrapolation. Magic comes from faith.
The faith-based rely on magic -- after all, they have rejected cause and effect. Instead of judiciously studying reality and taking action to affect it, they start from their true beliefs and attempt to mold reality by sheer force of will alone. Not that the faith-based would openly endorse magic (they burn Harry Potter books, don't they?), but there is a strong current of magical thinking in their deeds and writings. What they fervently wish for, they believe can be made to come true either through injudicious action, or prayer, or both.
The left wing is not immune from magical thinking either. At anti-war demonstrations, inevitably the moderators or guests will ask the crowd to send "good vibrations" toward the middle east. Lawyers, guns & money, perhaps -- but vibrations? All manner of New Agers, wiccans, or self-proclaimed psychics believe that their will -- in the form of "energy", spells, or affirmations -- can directly alter the fabric of reality. I went to one of those personal enlightenment seminars so popular on the left coast in the mid-80's. The weekend curricula filled with postmodern pseudoscience all lead to the prescription that if we simply state our intentions with sufficient force, the power of our declaration would cause "the universe" to align with our desired outcome and things will start to go our way. As if by magic.
Magic is seductive. We all want to ride our wish horses, but this is idle and hopeless fantasy. Magical thinking, in all it's forms -- Christian, pagan, or pseudoscientific -- is the metaphysics of the faith-based. We should instead cultivate the ethic of the artist. Art is nearly always a struggle against the limitations of the media, and those who embrace these limits find their truest expression.