Modern Physics and World-Building: The non-Science-Fiction Writer
Excerpt from Modern Physics for Writers, RWA FF&P chapter online class, August 2012
by Val Roberts
The famous Arthur C. Clarke quote says, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He’s basically saying anything you don’t understand is magic.Unfortunately, as writers we need to know how the supernatural aspects work for the story world to make sense. Otherwise, we end up breaking our own rules in the middle of the book and really annoying our readers.Magic and Sorcery
Magic is tricky to define, because it could be anything (per the Clarke quote). So I had to create my own definition: Magic, for the purposes of this discussion, is direct manipulation of matter-energy by sentience.
I know, it’s kind of klunky, but it works for affecting events, changing stuff into other stuff, and for shooting fireballs; and it works whether a character is human or…not, as long as he-she-it is intelligent enough to have consciousness.
A mind capable of sustained concentration generates an electromagnetic field (EMF) that we can measure using an EEG. Since the most fundamental particles are postulated to be strings of energy, the generated EMF of a mind might be able to affect the EMF of a superstring.
The mag-lev train’s propulsion system is based on the ability of one EMF to affect another, so we know this works. Add a (presumably rare) talent for focusing the mind’s EMF on the hypersmall, and you have a mage or sorcerer. And what is a wand, or a staff, other than a tool to sharpen that focus?
Where would Harry Potter be without his flying broomstick? Of course, flying is closely related to gravitons, the closed strings that wander between branes and create gravity. Manipulating gravitons could create levitation and flight.
There are a couple of possibilities for seeing at a long distance, through walls, or across time. Use quantum entanglement to tune into a distant location and see what’s going on. Detach your consciousness from the membrane enough to hop to a different point in space-time and check out the situation.
A portal between our world and a magical world—a common trope of fantasy novels—might be a graviton-created tunnel between universes/branes with slightly different sets of physical laws and slightly different development of sentient creatures (elves, dragons, kitsune, kachina, etc.).
Ghostly phenomena might be caused by any number of things. A phase-shift in the Schrodinger waves of all the particles making up a person would create a disembodied consciousness unable to interact with regular matter—I think Star Trek explored this at some point. A near-collision of branes (actual collisions create new universes) might create poltergeist activity, or an overlap of space-time fabric could create “recorded” hauntings.
Val Roberts writes Science Fiction Romance with an edge. Find her debut novel, Blade’s Edge here.