How realistic is science?
I've been going over the notes I have for one of my worlds, and it dawned on me that nature is more weird than I might think. I mean we have strange and adorable species at the bottom of the ocean, so when building up the creatures, species, etc of another world, I've allowed myself to go a bit buck wild.
So I'm curious. For those who are writing in alternate worlds, or alternate realities, how much stock do you put into the science behind your world? Like, do you have characters with no ears that can literally hear a pin drop a mile away? :)
Now having said that, I have found myself recently reading other's work going... "Really? ... how .. just.. no. That's now how a species born on a plan that is pure water would.. just .. no!" I used to have this incredible ability to have a willing suspension of disbelief, but for some reason over the past month my ability to take what was presented to me just nod and accept it as fact for that world, has kind of decreased. I'm kind of torn on whether or not it was the writing style and lack of character development that made me be less willing to accept a species was a certain way due to environment.
As someone who was obsessed with science and biology (and to a degree I still am), I put a lot of stock into science especially within my own world and creation. When it comes to the works of other people, I usually just remind myself that 'this is not my own work, they don't adhere to the same thought process that I do.' However I may sometimes still silently judge. For instance, as a child one of my favorite authors was Tamora Pierce (of whom I still maintain is a wonderful author with a creative mind and world), however some of her creatures made me take pause because her only real excuse was 'lol magic.' She had a species of what I assume was a harpy, that was a large bird with all metal feathers and the head of a human. That one hurt my brain. Stormcrows I think?
How for my own writing, I have two fields of thought. One: is it possible, or at least plausible, with science and biology. Two: is it possible within the realm of laws I've given to my own version of magic. For instance, when creating a species of dragon in one of my books that was able to essentially 'gender swap,' I studied up on the hormonal and chromosomal structures and oddities surrounded some species of fish and reptiles that are able to change their genders under some (admittedly strange or extreme) situations. I had to make adjustments to how the dragon did what it was able to do, and even changed some of the features to be more in-line with our current knowledge and understanding of these known species we have on earth.
The magic side is a little more complicated, and I still have to use a lot of mental science before I can convince myself that the magic seems plausible within the boundaries of my own world. As an example here, I was running a D&D campaign about a year back where one of the players obtained a magical sword with the ability to drain the magic from anything it stabbed. Likewise, there was an amulet owned by an evil boss-like person, that similarly absorbed magic from anything around it. Now since the two items used the same magical faculty on different frequency, my husband decided it was a great idea to...stab the magical stealing amulet with the magical stealing sword. I had to pause the game and study up on the laws of energy transfer, thermodynamics, and eventually the theory of black holes and singularities to figure out what exactly would logically happen in that situation. (Hint: The answer is that because there was already energy that existed in both elements, both of the combined energies reached a halfway point while both objects were trying to absorb one another, which destabilized the energy structure of the magic and created an unstable singularity that ripped outwards into a black hole and destroyed everything. Fun stuff).
Holy cow on that research for the dragon gender swapping. There is something inherently wonderful about how biology can be so unique and weird, and awesome, and even "lol magic" in some cases. I still don't understand the platypus. Also, it cracks me up that you have players at your table who do weird things like that. I have two rules that have yet to be proven wrong by players at my table. 1) Players are their own worst enemies. 2) If players are presented with options, they will test the "what if" before going for something else. ;) Ah tabletop games. I love them. :D
Its interesting how much attention you put into the research for it. One of the things I love about fantasy, and sci-fi is the ability to drop that "lol magic" or "lol tech" into what is possible in world. By having it, it does mean that people can sit there and fully believe something. Though I am not sure I'm the type to dig that deep into the science. I guess the story I read just sat wrong with me because they described a "magic" that seemed to be more a plot mcguffin. ;)
It's like one of my pet peeves. Why tell me someone has an ability, or skill, if they don't use it! Eeep.
Ahhh science. I really should understand more science, since my current project is a science-fantasy. Like @Julie I had a species within my fictional universe that could shift genders (in my case being highly adaptable creatures rather than dragons; basically Darwinism/environmental adaption on crack), and I did end up researching frogs who could make such changes. My problem was that I wasn't sure how they'd become a sapient species.
Fortunately, I solved that by leaving them non-sapient—as they weren't extremely important to the plot—making it not only more plausible (at least in my mind) but also more time and world building efficient by cutting out days and hours of making up an unnecessary alien culture.
Also, this may be just me, but I find it easier to research biology and genetics, as opposed to physics and chemistry. Might be because biology is a 'life science', and I'm simply drawn to subjects like that, but it's far easier finding out whether sex-changing aliens would be plausible than calculating how fast my super-speed character would need to go running on water.
That being said...I'm one of those people who has to balance being rigidly logical in the science of the 'verse, and also being able to run wild with the more fantastical aspects of my world. More often than not, I end up leaning towards the former, and for something that I don't understand and for whatever reason cannot research, I just shrug my shoulders and take a wild stab in the dark.
...I really need to work on balancing it out more xD
@shy_not_fly17 I hear ya about finding that balance. I am okay with things that are odd. Or ever so slightly off kilter. I've read some fantastic books where a species shifts genders between 3 different ones, based on the needs of the species. They were sentient, and it was never questions about why, or how, it just was. The difference between that book and the one I read that caused me to write the original post here, is that there was reason, plot, character development, and it wasn't just a "Hey, we turn blue when we're sad just cause" kind of thing. Maybe it goes back to that whole "If a gun is mentioned in first chapter it should be used by the end of the book" kind of philosophy.
For a second I thought you were going to discuss about how realistic science was in general, not in a story. Just in case you decide to explore that I can give you a piece of advice: don't.
As an engineer I was extremely science oriented, looking for laws and rules, and just blindly believing in science and the scientific method. Then I decided to do sociology, and part of sociology is understanding what science is and what is "real". Philosophy of science, ontology and epistemology are fun topics, but they mess up with your brain. Badly.
@josey The three genders thing is a nightmare because then you have to have a reasonable evolutionary explanation for three genders, and also a system to understand how that would work in practice, and...ugh. The thought of going through all that and making it work makes my brain spin xD
And I agree with you on the "If a gun is mentioned in the first chapter it should be used by the end of the book" philosophy. Too bad I have a tendency to meander off when I do descriptions and exposition xD
@Josey Your rules of Tabletop should be considered Laws, because from my experiences they are as infallible as the Laws of the universe. As far as my research, I think a lot of it stems from the fact that I simply love to research and learn new things. I was one of those weird kids in school who actually read the textbooks cover to cover because I thought it was just a dang good read. I know that I have a tendency to go overboard though, haha.
@Shy_Not_Fly17 A balance is good, but at the end of the day it's your world and you get to say how far the pendulum swings either way. As far as the different kinds of science, I think it's easier to look at biology and genetics because those are quantifiable subjects that have been researched to the point where the average folk (those of us who lack a PhD in biology) can still research and find information without it going a mile over our heads. We don't usually need complex maths to understand why these things work. However physics and chemistry are almost purely based in maths, and to properly understand or apply any research, you need to consider the ridiculous and painful equations and algorithms that come with it.
@jaycano Hah! No, I'm quite content to believe that science is the most realistic thing we have in this universe.
@jaycano Haha. As much as i love science, I love the idea of science not being a thing. :D I mean perception v truth, etc. It can be an insane topic. But nah, in this case, it's more that I am realising that the science behind "why" something is the way it is, is not always important.
@Shy_Not_Fly17 - For one of my books, I wrote out 6 chapters and then sat back and was proud. I then did a bit of a reread and realised it was pure exposition. And while neat to know that there was a talking cat in a store that sold magical implements, there was no plot. It was like a giant introduction to the store, the people who work there, and that was it. No plot at all! I still had fun writing it though, so there is that.
@Julie - GMs unite! I have say we are very alike there. I love learning new things. I was the one in school who could make any subject relevant and interesting. With access to the internet now, I feel overwhelmed at times. Though like any good writer my search history is .. questionable at best. ;)
@Josey Took a long time to define existence within the boundaries of my 13 Realms of Eternity IP. Much of the foundation elements of existence in our reality remain loosely in place within my fiction, but there are huge swaths of the minutia that have been obliterated for sake of 'game balance.' 13RoE began as a game, as such getting too specific with many potentials deviates from the purpose of 'telling a story within a game.' Yet there is the potential for anything, and the misrepresentation of anything, so every individual is welcome to interpret the existence around them in any way they desire. Sussing out the truth (within the fiction) from the deceptions is quite the challenge, but I still like to stick close enough to our known 'verse in order to blur the lines convincingly. Sources of influence over existence, dimensional layers across multiverses of Realms, various soul states for entities and unified connectivity between spirits and objects, there's a lot to consider, so the jargon you end up using becomes very important. In any given story, if the terms are laid out for the specific fiction (which is my method) the hope is that it insulates itself sufficiently to keep the suspension of disbelief in tact. Poorly conceived worlds/fictional universes that borrow heavily from our known reality suffer quite a lot from shoddy research. I reference my own fundamentals for my works since they work within the same fictional space as each other and I can use one project to support or reference others (not that it's necessary).
@Julie I'm with you that metal wings for a creature intent upon biological flight is a bit strange. Also, wingspan for creatures intent upon flight should be pretty extreme from my understanding of VTOL, and there are plenty of winged creatures in fictional works that poke me in the eye with a big stick of NOPE. Side-note, trying to logic through DnD magic always took up an unreasonable amount of time during any of the old sessions. slash sigh at all the players trying to trip up the DM only to make the DM flex the science-meets-magic mental muscles.
@Josey The only reasons I can see to intro an ability and then not use it again would be as a lame out for the writer, or foreshadowing/implication or inference about how abilities 'could' work. Depends how interlocking the fantasy system is being developed and how much they intend the audience to stretch their imaginations. An example from my own mind, off the top of my head: An entity we'll reference as M psychically influences an entity we'll reference as U. I may be demonstrating a specific ability that the audience should know exists in the world and use it to build tension for the MC's future, or I may be asking the audience to imagine how many unknowable horrors exist within the arsenal of characters like M. Either way, my intent is to ramp up suspense/drama, not solve a problem.
@Shy_Not_Fly17 Balance can become an issue if you intend to make the project sprawl out, but focusing on the important bits of how it effects the world and characters can be sufficient if you don't intend on sharing all with the audience. We humans aren't masters of all things, and I'd never consider writing a 'perfect' character a wise move, so a bit of subterfuge and confusion is perfectly acceptable in my opinion. I know how to drive a car and use a computer, I wouldn't know how to fix the internals of either. So too it could be for tech/magic/etc of some of the denizens of your worlds, and it's entirely plausible that the experts don't want to educate the laypeople (job security, elitism, time investment, or whatever).
@jaycano Founding principle of my personal philosophy is that interpretation and belief are valid for the individual, regardless of the basis of truth or predication of fiction. Reality is subjective. Laws, science, provable concepts, and all sorts of fixed variables are researched, explained, labeled, and relegated to 'fact.' I shrug at those 'facts' as plausible, but by no means an exclusive rendition of that facet of existence. An alien mind would likely have an alternate comprehension, and I'm willing to extend my humility to entertain alternate understandings. Then again, I'm very probably no longer sane for sake of insight. Also, I am likely delusional.
@Julie I hated textbooks devised by school, but I've memorized far too many RPG tomes >.> Alternate worlds and laws for each ended up serving me well when designing my own world, but I wouldn't want to subject anyone to that sort of cruelty. I'm with you on the Storyteller's word is the final arbitration, whether or not fair-and-balanced. The universe doesn't have to be subjected to stability or expectations, although I tend toward mercy and order rather than the brutal chaos that is potential when the wrath of the almighty Storyteller is riled and released.
@Josey GMs/STs/DMs (evil masterminds alliance) are forever allied by secrets about the profane exploits into the reprehensible darkened corners of the societally taboo. Search histories and personal memories of the whispered intents of our neophytes and acolytes accumulate into the forbidden lore that grants us the bulk of our dark powers. Although sex magic and blood sacrifices help. . .
@Occi This is a very delicate topic, one I'm always very careful when I approach. The most important thing about science is that it is not about truth, but about certainties. Philosophy and religion are looking for truths in their own ways, but science only looks for ways of being certain about things. The biggest risk for philosophy is solipsism and for religion is blind belief. For science, the biggest risk is believing that what it finds is actually true.
So yeah, I do not think science is true, but I do think that the knowledge it provides is useful and enlightens certain parts of our existence. It's better to have a match in the dark, than no light at all.
@jaycano I admit I'm no scientist, and also that if I'm true to myself I try to understand and accept as much as I'm able. I'm not really fit for public consumption in polite society, so if anything I said offended or came of negatively, I'm sorry for the harm I may have done/will do. That's never my intent (unless the subject threatens one of my loved ones, but that's another tangent).
Sidenote, had to reference a dictionary to verify solipsism, so thanks for expanding my vocabulary retention for the day ^.~ I agree with you for the most part. Any method of thinking that believes they are they exclusive owner of truth or validity makes me wary. I myself couldn't buy into solipsism (I may be a figment of your imagination. . .), blind belief makes me sad and angry at the same time, and while I appreciate science trying to apply reason and deduction to better understand existence, it is but one potential amongst the infinite (of interpretations, not all of which are or should be accurate)
I feel like my tone may be coming across as argumentative, and that's really not what I'm trying to do. >.< Enlightenment and the desire to think upon subject matters (introspection, philosophy, science, and other fields of study) are all laudable in my estimation. I desire for everyone to aspire to view existence from their own perspective and come to their own opinions and conclusions, regardless of how they differ with mine. I don't need to be right, not even sure I desire to be, so much as to motive others to open themselves to their own thoughts and experiences. Difference is good, and I'd get real paranoid if my world ever became an echo-chamber.
As for your analogy, I have to play Darkness' advocate, being the person I am. Some would feel the darkness isolates them and cling to their light to stumble forth to familiar ground, seeking a path of exodus. I see the match as finite, useful for the creation of fire to sustain the needs of my fragile humanity, but unnecessary for the exploration of my infinite expanse. I would wander slowly, in comfort, arms outstretched and senses keen to adapt and understand the surrounding Darkness, to become one with it, and in so doing becoming something new, something interconnected with all. Even if a self-delusion, even if dangerous, my mortal eyes could only take me so far anyways. Shedding one sense does not obliterate existence, no matter how much we may rely upon it.
Obviously, this is my opinion and perception, it does not need to compel or convince you. I'm glad you chose to engage in the conversation, hopefully it reveals aspects of ourselves to one another, and in so doing allows for deeper understanding and friendship. I have no desire to judge or be critical, if my little exercise in advocacy sent that message, I apologize.
If my indelicate tongue offends, I'm sure I have a muzzle stashed away somewhere around here.
whispers to everyone else who shows up Jay has studied sociology! Occi's Darkness comments have a cliffnotes from the things he's created!
Both love deep conversations, etc :D I should set up a popcorn stand. As a writer, I love to observe people talking about perspective, etc. Though, I may force these two further into a different thread. :D Hmm.. what to do? Popcorn.. move... popcorn..
@Josey Let it flow! This is where we were taken, and this is where we will be :P
@Occi I'm not offended at all! I love this type of discussions, and I know how not to take anything personally. I'm just cautious around the topic of science and beliefs, as it's quite delicate and easy to make wrong assumptions. Science denialism is as dangerous as scientism, so striking the right balance is difficult. This is a public forum so saying things like "science is not true" without a careful preamble and assessment of the assertion can mislead people into believing science is a lie or not useful at all. I can also argue that social norms are not "real" or "natural", but that doesn't make them less helpful in relating with each other or less necessary to navigate society.
I agree with your defense of Darkness, there is definitely nothing wrong with that, but in my view science plays at a different level. When you move in the dark with your arms outstretched and senses keen, you are still establishing your own method of knowing. Science doesn't tell you if the darkness is good or bad, there is no judgement, and it also doesn't tell you about what it is or isn't, other than its physical properties. You can still go out with your arms outstretched, groping in the dark, and you are still in charge of giving a meaning to what you are feeling in the darkness. The only thing science does for you is to give you a vocabulary, a structure and some ways of measuring and getting to know things. It doesn't guarantee that you will find truth or meaning, but it will give you a certain degree of certainty about properties of what you are touching in the dark.
You can decide to skip science and go with your own instinct or some other belief, that's a decision you have to make for yourself. Science and philosophy build on their past to enable our mortal eyes to take us further, and when used with a certain degree of critical thinking it can be quite useful; that's why I prefer that path.
But whatever we pick, we will still be trapped using knowledge we got from our environment to interpret our own existence.
But whatever we pick, we will still be trapped using knowledge we got from our environment to interpret our own existence.
This right here is actually the foundation behind @occi's 13 Realms of Eternity, but I'll let Occi dig into that. ;)
My brain is not braining currently, but I'll try to to formulate a proper response in the next day or two. :) I enjoy discussions, especially of the socially inappropriate and/or deep variety.
Context/Preamble/Disclaimer: I do not assert that any of my opinions should be assumed as fact. I exist within the realm of plausible deniability and no amount of reason or conviction from my perspective should be used as a foundation for any other individual. I poke and prod existence (and the minds therein) to stimulate thought, not alter the nature of another's perspective. If you wish to think similarly or the same as me, I'd hope such an individual got there by walking the path of enlightenment themselves and we're just sharing a stretch of road amiably. I often play devils and/or Darkness' advocate, and will at times take a position of opposition out of reflex to challenge the established rigidity of thought/behavior to determine how flexible other minds may be. I am fully aware that my abilities as a debater, philosopher, and critic are insufficient to adequately convey all of my thoughts, yet I still make the attempt.
That said . . .
@jaycano your comment about social norms being useful in helping others relate to one another and necessary to navigate society really gets me riled up. Slavery, patriarchy, abuse, conformity, and countless other atrocities are concealed beneath the socially acceptable 'societal norms.' Our society is the one we're stuck with, and we can try to shed the vestigial and atrophied or outright cancerous growths heaped atop humanity, but those in power benefit by maintaining the status-quo. The system is rigged, and our emergence from this form to a new system is going to likely either be a very slow and painful process of growth and understanding as we bring the majority up into awareness and action, or there will be an event that rapidly shifts the paradigm, but is almost entirely beyond any individual's control. I hope society moves towards equality, love, acceptance, tolerance, and unity without the need to crush differences. We should be able to each be individuals personally yet understand there are communal aspirations and goals worth banding together to accomplish. Strength in simultaneous diversity and unity could actually lift our species out of our current situation, so I do have hope, but humanity often remind me how far away that dream remains.
Science standing in for a method by which to communicate thought into a common language is a good interpretation. Jargon (scientific or otherwise) is meaningless until it become sufficiently established, and once you have the terminology in place, sharing insight and experience is expedited and clarified. I'm good with this concept of 'science' as a basis to work from, and yes the language is inherently bound by the mortal mind (and specifically us humans). Your assertion that knowledge is predicated by experience is somewhat defied by conventional science, as there are methods of extrapolation and deductive reasoning. Some theories have more weight than others, and none have been proven, but there is a method by which to expand creative thinking within the framework of the predictable.
My own diversion into Darkness is a strange sort of philosophy/spirituality. I don't need to prove the existence or a negative in order to accept that the reality I dwell within is subjective. I remain open minded and thoughtful, not easily accepting the view of others as my own, but instead fixing their thoughts to their own rendition of reality. You and I, and everyone else in this world, live in different variants of the same time-space. Some common ground can be found and agreements can be made between some perspectives, but even if I'm the only one that has my unique spirituality, it doesn't make me wrong (or right), nor does it interfere with the beliefs of others. I welcome others to believe the way they desire to, and I genuinely hope they have considered it and put thought to their convictions. I'd also prefer systems of belief that are accepting and loving over those that are exclusive and corrupt, the negative energy generated by such conventions spreads to impact a great many minds. They stand in opposition with my mindset, but I understand they need to exist, although I always selfishly wish them to be weaker.
Not sure if this effectively conveys the point I was trying to make, but hopefully it's an insight to how I process things, at the very least. Science can be very Real, as it can be a bridge between subjective opinions, but how True Reality happens to be changes over time and understanding. Not that there is anything wrong with existing within delusional or altered states of reality. Different perceptions hold wonder and mysteries others might never consider.