- Molecular and subatomic physics (also known as the physics of the very small)
- Newtonian physics (the physics of 'normal sized stuff')
- Astronomical and cosmological physics (also known as the physics of the very large)
The branch of physics that is most frequently is the news is the astronomical branch (and by extension cosmological). When you read a news story talking about black holes being discovered, discoveries on the mars missions, or about comets, you are reading about this branch of physics. Astronomy is a dramatic field filled with a great many stunning wonders. A quick review of the photos taken with the Hubble Telescope shows a breathtaking sampling of a tiny part of what is up in the night sky.
Stories about how stars die and are born are often accompanied by vivid artistic renderings. It is something beautiful but confusing to many people. Often, folks are quite contented to look at the pretty pictures and know that something amazing is going on out in space that we can study. It is in many ways a feel good science for the armchair scientists. Astronomy has a reputation for attracting highly intelligent people and having even a smattering of that knowledge is viewed by many to lend you some of that luster.
Molecular and subatomic physics is a baffling thing to most people. It is hard to envision how these tiny particles make up all that we see, let alone how they interact with each other. Most people can quite easily accept that when you press your hand against the wall it is a solid object. Tell them that the apparent solidness of the wall is but an illusion constructed by intricate subatomic forces and you are either given a look of confusion or they will laugh at the premise. It is, however, these subtle and intricate forces that govern how magic operates.
While I can go into greater detail as to the mechanics of this activity, I believe a simple explanation may serve our purposes best. (If one has questions, please reply via comments and I will do my best to answer them or direct you to a source of good information.) The human brain has a vast amount of electrical activity that happens with in it at all times. These electro-chemical impulses are what forms our thoughts. It is our thoughts, when organized and focused, that begin the chain reaction of changing reality as per the function of magic.
By suitably focusing one's mind and aligning it with their will, it is possible to create a sufficient directed influence of the electrical impulses of the brain to affect a tiny change in the world about them. This change happens upon the subatomic level. It is a very subtle change but it will move to create other subtle changes until it finds it's way back to the practitioner who set this chain of action into motion. The success of a spell is determined by how well one has aligned their thoughts.
One must also recognize that magic does not manifest as we precisely envision it. The chaotic path that it takes through the universe before it returns to us changes the energy subtly. As such, a spell to bring one additional money may result in one buying the winning lotto ticket, but it far more likely that it comes by way of getting overtime at work, finding a lost $20 bill in the couch, or discovering that your bills for the month are less then they usually are.
Many people get hung up on trying to force the results of their magic to manifest in one specific way. They, to use our earlier example, want to be the one with that winning lotto ticket. This, however, is attempting to force magic to move upon a specific path. There may be forces at play in the universe that run contrary to that path of manifestation. As such, manifestation will not happen because the energy is blocked into that proverbial channel that has been carved through the flux of the universe. It is far better to focus upon a general result then a specific because you get a higher rate of return in this fashion.
When one is employing magic for a specific purpose, it is necessary to maintain the mental focus of the initial spell craft until the time of manifestation. This gives the energy the additional push it needs to carve out a specific channel towards that manifestation. In many ways, it is pitting your will against the nature of the universe. This is an exhausting thing, but it can be done. It comes, however, at a higher price in the way of mental effort. Here, it is helpful to gain the assistance of others (such as a witches' coven) to put greater energy behind the 'push' for that goal. This requires great coordination and focus by all parties.
* Hard versus soft science is a distinction between the branches of science based in how rigid the methodology used and (by some) as a distinction of legitimacy.