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Musings about the laws of physics' assumed immutability

Discussion in 'Chit Chat' started by Eduardo Letavia, May 21, 2022.

  1. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    Today I stumbled upon an interesting article that speculates about the possibility of hyperadvanced alien civilizations could not just be extremely good at using the laws of physics in their favour, but change or adapt them to their will. Link to the article below.
    This has made me think about how fantasy writers essentially do that in their fictions, like when defining the rules of magic in their worldbuildings (and in such degree of detail sometimes!). Under this perspective, fantasy looks like a subset of scifi, the gods are just members of hyperadvanced civilizations, and any magic is a science (which certainly they always are, regardless of their name, at least for me). So any thoughts about this or the article, my fellow scribes?

    P.D: Just to be clear, I don't pretend here to confront fantasy with scifi to see which genre has "the upper hand" on the other, I don't care about such triviality.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2022
  2. pmmg

    pmmg Istar

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    Who can know? When you get to that scale anything that capable would seem undistinguishable from gods. Perhaps in the end we will find all of this science vs magic and faith vs reason has always been two sides of the same coin. It reminds me of simulation theory which seems to be gaining prevalence. Is it true? I dont know. I am not sure how we would know.

    What if in the matrix movie taking the red pill just shifted one to another matrix and not to what was real? Goes on and on.
     
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  3. RiserBurn

    RiserBurn Acolyte

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    Inceptrix?
     
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  4. Mist Dragon

    Mist Dragon Dreamer

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    but what makes them laws? some things we can accept as reality, and under normal circumstance they are perfectly valid, but even the theory of relativity which is very much applicable to much of the universe breaks down once you start crossing the event horizon of a black hole. There are other place I remember reading about where they are also questioning if it would apply. If we look at our physics correctly, they are all subject to change if you change the environment enough to invalidate the normal given concepts.

    An advance race is unlikely breaking any laws of physics, they are just changing the how they operate in space time to do things that we don't yet understand.

    There was an interesting article (I forget where it was) but it was talking about the 'warp' theory that was the basis for star trek, and what was interesting is that the current math that supports it says that a warp bubble would be more efficient if it is wider over longer. So instead of a long ship, you would want a flatter one...kind of like all the reported sightings of a 'flying saucer'. If the theory is true, then the aliens could be using a warp drive.

    If only I knew all that math. Sigh
     
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  5. pmmg

    pmmg Istar

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    I think a physicist would argue that the laws have not changed, but that the inputs of time and space have. Put through the same machines they would still get predictable results.

    Not sure if you really want a answer to the question, but they are law's because Newton said so. So far, he has not been sufficiently knocked out to think his 'laws' dont still apply. Everything in science is not really 'true' of course. Just what we think is true cause it seems to be and nothing has shown its not yet. It is fair to come and speculate about what if everything was different, but logic is still our best tool for trying to figure out what is true or not. And logic looks for things like laws to work off of. Maybe this is what the Eldritch gods know. That logic is not a useful tool, and we would all go insane trying to make sense of the unsensible.

    But if that's true, I don't want to hear anyone say my plot does not make any sense anymore.
     
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  6. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    The core problem we have with all this speculation is that we're still working on a very limited sample of one not completely understood universe, although scientist have reached the level of being able to simulate universes (up to a point, of course). With those simulations, they've seen what would happen if the known natural constants, like the speed of light in vacuum, were different: it seems that only some "configurations" are good enough to create stable universes. An hyperadvanced civilization could be able to manipulate those values to not just change their own original universe, but even to create new ones that suit their needs or mad eldritch tastes. And certainly, a civilization that has reached that point would be not just godlike, but truly divine (from our perspective at least).

    All this makes me think that in fantasy, as far as I can tell, writers in general haven't really gone that far with the genre. I refer to the usual suspects such as pseudomedievalism, using the usual races, god's behaviours or motivations, or how magic is more or less the same while physics works as usual for normal situations, etc. Again, there's a ton of fantasy out there and I don't know it all, but that's the feeling I get about it and maybe that's part of why I'm usually more attracted to scifi.

    Imagine fantasy settings in which the universe has some sort of dense atmosphere in space, or in which planets are truly living organisms (kinda like in the Solaris novel), or a universe in wich matter tends to organize in geometrical forms rather that in rounded ones (for instance, there's an spanish novel for kids/preteens called Lumbanico, the cubic planet). Of course, proposals such as those could look like more as scifi than fantasy for some, but I think that in fantasy the envelope could be pushed much further than what is usually done.

    If only they had thought that far ahead when they started to work in the script of Matrix 4... That would had explained the powers of Neo over the machines in the "real" world, for instance.
     
  7. Mist Dragon

    Mist Dragon Dreamer

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    Newton called his laws, and Einstein called his a theory. The laws break down in space because they don't actually factor in time, while the theory has proven far more reliable until you hit the more exotic forms of space.

    My point is some person says it's a law, then tell people it can't be broken. I remember something about bumble bees and helicopters breaking the 'laws' so the laws had to be rewritten to account for them. So maybe there are no actual 'laws of physics' just norms of physics that are completely accurate until you move to an environment which forces a new set of norms to be applied.

    When it comes to fantasy, I really enjoy magic systems that are designed, and have a basis and rules. Sanderson has created many and I've enjoyed all of them, I even like the systems Rothfuss added, even though I'll die before he finishes the last book. Many other fantasy books just use magic as a way to do things to replace technology, much of which is never really made clear to the reader how things are made since the main characters who do magic never seem to create anything, or the magic effects them, over them really using it. To be honest, as long as the story is good, I tend to be very forgiving of the rest.
     
  8. pmmg

    pmmg Istar

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    Its not that these things cannot be imagined, its that to have them tends to invite explanation, and in explaining them, they tend to drift more towards SciFi. I could make a world based on cubes (minecraft?), and to the creatures on it, they may never question how or why it works, but he reader would start asking questions. Magic is usually reserved for stuff that happens without scientific explanation.

    It may be fair to say that Newtons laws are not comprehensive, but I don't think they will fail to apply. If I put a black hole in motion, does it not tend to stay in motion? The word law is just semantics. All things are mutable. I am not sure even Newton thought in light of better evidence, it may not stand up.
     
  9. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    I'd say that the custom of calling laws to what were just proven theories had more to do with the mindset in the early days of modern science. You know, honor, pride, prestige, etc.

    I'd rather say they replace some forms of technology with other form of technology, because magic IS technology. It has to be studied, learned, applied in specific ways, etc, just like any other tech, even when it's not explained. Maybe it would be interesting to open a thread about where this idea of magic not being considered technology comes from.

    Yeah, all this genre classification thing is just about setting the sliders of some characteristics on certain values. You want horror scifi? Let's put gore to 9, dark and violence to 8, science to 7, tech to 6. Or maybe you want fantasy? Put pseudomedievalism to 11! And technical explanations to 1.5, or less. The problem is that it seems that what it's sold as fantasy tends to have those sliders in very similar configurations most of the time. I won't deny there has been an evolution in fantasy, but maybe not as noticeable as in scifi.

    As I already pointed out to Mist DragonMist Dragon before in this reply, the "law" thing probably was just a question of human hubris. On the other hand, we are naturally biased to give our own perspective of things a great importance, so we tend to forget about how the universe doesn't care at all about how we deal with it, it just works and sometimes in unexpected ways.
     
  10. I found the article a bit vague and generic. It doesn't go much beyond "wouldn't it be cool if...".

    As a physicist by training, I would have to go with "not possible*." With a big asterix in there. The laws of physics work the way they do. When they stop working it's either that something unknown is happening, or you've stepped out of the realm of applicability of that specific law. Also, do note that the "laws" of physics are just theoretical models that we use to predict what will happen in specific circumstances. No electron ever thinks "let's play around with the second law of thermodynamics." We just developed an aproximation that lets us show cause and effect and gives replicable results.

    Just take Newtonian physics. Einstein and others showed the limitations of those laws. They fall apart when dealing with very large things, very high speeds, and on a very small scale. That doesn't mean they stopped working to predict what's going on when you're well within the boundaries of those laws, just that our understanding of physics was incomplete.

    The same with dark matter. It's purely theoretical at the moment. It just happens to be the best thing we've come up with. It could very well be wrong, or maybe a sufficiently advanced race can manipulate it well enough, or any other option. But that just means our understanding of the universe is incomplete, not that you break the laws of physics.

    As a writer, we break these laws all the time. Anything fantasy and many things SciFi breaks these rules in small and large ways. Magic is the obvious one of course. But how does hyperdrive work? Or even the jet-pack the Mandalorian uses? Where does the energy of a lot of stuff actually come from? How does a dragon manage to fly?

    Of course, other genres are just as guilty of this, they're just less up-front about it. Whether it's the spy gadgets in a thriller, the monster in horror, or even the "rules" of a romance world. It's all made up by stepping outside the realm of real world physics.
     
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  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >[Magic] has to be studied, learned, applied in specific ways,

    No, not really. Some of it is natural--the magician simply has an in-born talent or even just an attribute. A good example is the magic that appears in The Last Unicorn.

    As for the article, it didn't really resonate with me. The author takes a rather narrow view of what is meant by laws of physics, then proceeds to say hey let's imagine being outside that narrow view. Sure, ok. SF writers have been doing that for a long time.

    When I write fantasy (or read it), I'm more interested in examining human (and non-human) behaviors. Setting (including magic) lets me put people into situations not found in the "real" world, but it's still the people that are the most interesting. To me, he hastily added.
     
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  12. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    Yes, Prince of SpiresPrince of Spires , the article is rather superficial but a good enough excuse for a thread like this one, right? On the other hand, I completely agree with you that the universe just works the way it does and it is us who have to rethink, correct and widen our perceptions of it. An hyperadvanced civilization able to reconfigure the cosmos, so to speak, to suit them better would be using a set of "laws" or theories more complete than ours (as they stand today). Such species would only become truly godlike if they were able to create a completely new set of principles, which would imply that they would have been able to escape their original constrains and exist into something impossible to describe which, in turn, would have its own physics, etc... Ending in a chicken and the egg situation of sorts.

    I had to think about it for a moment, skip.knoxskip.knox , but certainly when the magical power is innate or "biological", like supernatural strength or shooting light beams from the eyes, we wouldn't call it technology since is part of the nature of whatever magical creature having such skills. When I wrote that magic has to be learned and such, I was thinking on spellcasting, runes, rituals, and any equivalents to alchemy used in fantasy. All of those fall quite well into the definition of technology but, for some reason, there's a tendency of not recognizing such kind of magic as tech.
    By the way, I concur with you about that what matters are the people in those settings and what they do in them, although sometimes the setting is a character by itself!
     
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  13. Of course any sufficiently advanced technology will be indistinguishable from magic. And it's a very thin line between what's technology and what's magic. Part of it is simply what tools are used to create an effect. If you can fly by stepping on a carpet then we'll call it magic, and if you do so by using rocket blasts out of your hands and feet then we call it technology.

    Another part seems to be the powersource used. If some technobable is used to explain how something works, or even if it's just implied, then we call it technology. If it comes from somewhere else, or we ignore the principle of conservation of energy then it's magic.
     
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  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    And of course, very few people actually understand how things work. People can operate computers and they will say they "know" computers, when what they really mean is that they know how to use a handful--or even a mitt full--of software. Most couldn't even explain how pressing a key on the keyboard produced a character on the screen, much less what's happening down at the level of the electronics.

    IOW, they approach technology exactly as if it were magic. I do a series of things and I get a certain result. Most times. Except for when it doesn't work. I used to do in-person tech support (back when that was a thing). I vividly remember how one secretary in an office would leave special instructions to the next one. Printers were particularly mysterious objects. So it would be along the lines of, if you want to print multiple documents, you can only do it to this printer not that one, and you have to first turn it off then turn it back on again. Or, in another case, the person whose printer simply would not print telling me that they couldn't puzzle it out because the printer was right next to the computer (it wasn't cabled or plugged in). This is precisely how beliefs in magic function. As a medieval historian whose day job was tech support in the 1980s and 1990s, the parallels struck me over and over.

    Put more succinctly, we draw too vivid a line between magic and technology. Exploring that line is one of the particular specialties of the writer of fantasy.
     
  15. To be fair, I have a very decent understanding of how technology works, but even I find printers to be mysterious objects. They do have a mind of their own, and it's usually an eldritch, evil mind, bent on making the life of it's servants (aka users) as miserable as possible.

    Hm, now that I think about it, I still have this magical office setting in the back of my head somewhere. And this is a perfect fit for that setting...
     
  16. Eduardo Letavia

    Eduardo Letavia Troubadour

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    I vaguely remember that, in the 80's, one of the greatest misteries of all time, at least in my country, was about how to program the damned VHS player to record things. That became some sort of a running joke, although I think the problem probably was the clash of an "old" generation dealing with a new technology that came with badly (if at all) translated manuals. So yeah, humans love their magical realism to explain anything.
     
  17. pmmg

    pmmg Istar

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    People programming vcr’s was just another government lie, like bigfoot, the moon landing, and people who drank zima’s.
     
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  18. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >They do have a mind of their own
    This is key to understanding magic. We humans (I wonder if elves or dwarves do this) anthropomorphize (elvenomorphize?) just about everything. Which is sort of funny when you consider how reluctant and nervous we are about artifical intelligence. But I digress at the ingress.

    We readily believe things have a mind of their own. We are also disturbingly ready to believe those minds are generally malevolent in a personal sort of way. When they do what we expect, they're merely inanimate servants. When they do the unexpected or unwanted, they're evil spirits with a grudge.

    With that sort of mindset, I think the line between what is magical and what is "natural" is blurry even in our supposedly enlightened era. How much blurrier would it be in premodern societies. Or, come to think on it, maybe that's progressivist presumption. Maybe they'd be much clearer on the matter.
     
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  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    A postscript to the previous:

    I'm a medievalist. One of my advisors taught me early on about miracles and how to read texts that reported the miraculous. At first, it's easy to be combing through monastic chronicles and hagiographies and just sort of shake one's head at the countless wonders reported. But the texts repay a closer reading.

    For one thing, "miracle" had a particular meaning, not to be confused with "wonders". You don't get so many miracles reported outside the hagiographies (lives of saints), where miraculous things are sort of required.

    Among the wonders, as incredible (literally, for the modern mind) as they appear, there's room for nuance. One sees phrases like "many people reported seeing" and "I heard from" and "the people there said". These sort differently from "I saw with my own eyes" (there are plenty of these, too, for those who wish to emphasize the superstitions of the Middle Ages).

    Once I started looking for those phrases, as well as other less direct expressions and reports, the medieval chroniclers did not appear nearly so credulous nor so simple. Even without physics as a discipline, they were not unaware of the line--however fuzzy--between normal and paranormal.

    The big difference I see in this area between medieval and modern (call it post-Enlightenment, or after Hobsbawm's dual revolution) is this: moderns inquire about the line between science and magic, or technology and magic. Medieval thinkers would speak of the line between the natural world (by which they meant the created world, the world ruled by "natural law") and the world beyond the natural, which would include both the divine and the magical (which usually meant the infernal). Put another way, medieval thinkers drew a distinction between the world God created and and the world where divine forces dwelled. We draw the distinction between what humans create (technology) or can describe (science), and a world that doesn't really exist (or if it does, we'll find a way to describe it eventually). Put more succinctly, medievals acknowledged two laws--divine and natural--while moderns acknowledge only one. That feels pretty fundamental to me.

    And before the lawyers jump in, yes there were three laws, the third being the law of nations--actual legislation. But discussion of that falls outside the boundaries of the current assignment. <g>
     
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