Back to: New guest blogger: Judith Tarr | Forward to: The Scottish Political Singularity, Act Two

Who Got Fantasy in My Science Fiction?

Not too long ago, someone in the twittersphere asked, "Whatever happened to psi? It used to be all the rage in science fiction."

The answer, essentially, was that John Campbell died and nobody believes in that crap any more. And anyway, it's fantasy.

Now here's the thing. If you accept Clarke's Third Law, which boils down in the common wisdom to "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," you kind of have to ask, "Do we believe psi is crap because it really is crap, or do we just not have the technology to detect or manipulate it?"

Yes, of course, that way lies madness. But with quantum physicists messing around with teleportation, and computer engineers inching toward a technological form of telepathy, are we really that far off from making at least part of the Campbellian weirdness a reality?

And if that's the case, where did the psi go? It's no more improbable than the ftl drive that's a staple of the space-opera canon. Why is ftl still a thing, but psi is now subsumed under "Magic, Fantasy, Tropes of"?

Maybe because science fiction is about the hardware, and fantasy is about the wetware? Faster-than-light travel may be presumed to need some form of machine to happen. Psi, by contrast, is an organic phenomenon. Generally it's considered to originate from some form of human or alien (or, since it's fantasy now, magical or elven or similarly fantasy-focused creature) brain.

When I was a very young writer, a baby for a fact, I sent my first novel--all 987 space-and-a-half 10-point-typed pages of it--to the late, great Lester del Rey. He sent it back with a three-page letter, kindly and reasonably rejecting it, but encouraging me to keep writing, because There Was Hope. The line I remember most clearly from that letter was the one that defined his main reason for passing on the submission: "Fantasy readers seem to be tolerant of science fiction in their fantasy, but science-fiction readers will not stand for fantasy in their science fiction."

This was when Anne McCaffrey's dragons were still mostly considered science fiction, because alien planet and genetic engineering and John Campbell, and Darkover was in full swing and Andre Norton was mixing hardcore nastytech with her Witches. But the lines were already hardening, and the categories were just beginning to set in cement--not least through the efforts of the Del Reys, who were just getting rolling with the fantasy boom of the Eighties. By the time the Nineties rolled in, McCaffrey was fantasy because dragons, and Bradley and Norton were in the middle somewhere but "Boys Write SF, Girls Write Fantasy," and Bradley had done The Mists of Avalon, so there we all were. With Fantasy now a major category of its own, and Science Fiction sticking to its own shelves in the bookstores.

It's interesting that even while the categories separated for ever and aye, or at least until the Publishing Apocalypse changed everything, the writers stood up and said, "HEY! We still want to be together!" And the Science Fiction Writers of America became the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and fantasy started getting nominated for Nebulas (and wasn't that a tempest in the tiny teapot), though science fiction couldn't (and still can't) be nominated for the World Fantasy Award. But horror can, and is, so there's some cross-fertilization there, too.

What happened here was that what used to be all one column had become, for marketing purposes, Column A and Column B. Column A: Future, technology (usually high), time travel (if by mechanical means), alien planets, space travel, and so on. Column B: Past or secondary worlds, low tech (or at least lower than the present day, though there's also urban fantasy, which hits most of the other checkboxes), dragons and elves and other mythical beings, time travel or portal travel (if by magical/nontechnological means), magic--and, as a subset thereof, the mind powers known in earlier science fiction as psi, etc., etc.

So Pern's lost Earth colony was labeled fantasy, between the dragons and the psi. Darkover? Um, yeah. Fantasy. Low tech (albeit voluntary) and psi, despite the central theme of conflict between high and low tech in a spacefaring future. (And yet Dune is still science fiction in spite of the psi and the weirdness. Higher ratio of spacefaring culture to low-tech planet? Post-technological vibe? Male author?)

What this did to younger writers was lock in the categories and make it difficult to impossible to sell work that crossed the lines. Female writers were pushed to heighten the romance and emphasize the fantasy elements, and many were actively discouraged from venturing into science fiction. The freewheeling nature of the old, smaller, still evolving field had both hugely expanded in numbers and sales reach, and distinctly contracted in the range of what was allowable in worldbuilding and storytelling. Categories solidified, and to some extent ossified.

I wonder if Steampunk is in some ways a reaction to this. The closer modern technology gets to Clarke's threshold, the more alluring it can be to focus on gears and levers and automata. They're accessible; they don't spin off into quantum bizarrerie. And god forbid, they don't disappear into the Singularity.

Still, there's psi on the fantasy side of the divide, with the "MAGIC" label slapped over it. The author who gets psi in her space adventure (notwithstanding the Force or the Betazoids) may meet with fastidious flinching and "we can't sell this." The categories are firm, and while there's "interstitial" and "intergenre," those are narrowly defined and equally specific. You can have a science-fiction mystery or a cyberpunk space opera, but a trope from fantasy Column B in your science-fiction Column A? Not so much. Especially if it also mixes up the age groups (YA? Adult? Both? Neither?).

The ebook boom and the rise of independent publishing--now well on its way to respectability--has been a serious game-changer for authors who can't or won't color correctly inside the lines. Marketing categories still prevail, but there's much more choice and far fewer restrictions. If even a few readers will read it, pretty much anything goes. Even science fiction with fantasy cooties. Or technology that's crossed the line into magic. Or psi powers. With or without the help of technology.

So maybe psi in science fiction will come back. We're seeing so many different variations on the genre now, and so much exuberance, and a good amount of crossing over and some work that isn't even categorizable (Martha Wells' Raksura, anyone?). Why not a new vogue for mind powers in our science-fictional worlds?

518 Comments

1:

I think additionally all the Psi-stuff is very much tainted through its begin plundered by all the snakeoil sellers, from Däniken over New Age wonder healing to Scientology.

Not that modern technology is immune from getting buzzworded by the snakeoil community either - water is now holding information because of Quantum effects instead of Psi and nano-coatings makes your sugar pills and water de-magnetizer so much more effective.

2:

Could someone explain to me why the UK Kindle Sci-fi charts have had the Game of Thrones books in them since they became available as ebooks?

It really annoys me for some reason.

3:

Faster-than-light travel permits many models of interstellar civilization. What is psi a necessary prerequisite for?

4:

So, what are Star Wars and Warhammer 40k? There are a lot of books under those brands...

5:

Psionics is maybe out of fashion but it certainly hasn't gone away.

Peter Watts put low level telepathy into Starfish, and he's about as hard on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness as you can get. With a reference and everything. (Sadly he had to withdraw it from the next book.)

David Weber has telepathy in the Honor Harrington series, and that's a successful military science fiction series full of missile technology specifications.

Maybe what's no longer around is the flashy all powerful psionics that played the same role as magic.

6:

Julian May's novels in the 80's and early 90's seems to be the last major series to tackle Psi in a large-scale way. And while the novels set in the modern world are firmly SF, the Golden Torc novels use a lot of fantasy tropes along with the SF technology. I still seem them as SF though.

7:

From the physics side, the answer is yes, we do know that psi is crap and that no future technology will be able to measure it (to the extent that science can know anything, which is pretty far). The cosmologist Sean Carroll bangs on about this in more detail. The short version is that in order to get psi effects of the magnitude that we see in fiction, the potential unknown forces would need to be represented by particles that interact relatively strongly with the electrons and quarks that form our brains. And if these new particles did interact so strongly, we would have seen them in our particle accelerators already. The converse side to the "anything can happen!" part of quantum mechanics is that "everything does happen!". The only candidate force would be the known electromagnetic force, which we can measure just fine with today's technology.

In a sense, FTL is marginally more plausible because no one posits that it's happening every day right now on Earth. We would have to use technology to create the hypothetical exotic conditions for FTL. So we could certainly create psi-like effects in the future with brain implants and the like, and perhaps some aliens may naturally use electromagnetic forces in psi-like ways, but today's humans do not.

8:

Star Wars and W40K are both solidly fantasy, surely? They're heaving with fantasy (particularly the whole forces of darkness) and contain very little by way of SF characteristics.

9:

There is at least one area where the ability to read minds and predict the future exists in an otherwise completely realistic world - the police procedural. Especially the various Sherlock Holmes clones (clones are still SF, right?). You even have one (The Mentalist) where the Holmes is a former 'psychic', and another (Psych) where the Holmes pretends to be a psychic because otherwise why would the police listen to an amateur?

Presumably once you eliminate the impossible whatever remains of sufficiently advanced observational skills is indistinguishable from psychic abilities, no matter how improbable.

10:

I think our esteemed host had an interesting discussion about what made stuff Fantasy and what made Science Fiction.

PSI is fantasy because it's the realm of the Gifted. You don't decide to do or enroll into psionics, you're born (naturally, genetically engineered, or whatever) into it. Which makes it indistinguishable from magic: I'm a Psi because I've got the Gift = I'm a Mage because I've got the Gift.

There's a few people who've made "sci-fi Psi". There was a series whose author I don't remember at the moment where his psionics had implants you got to enable psi. Which had serious side effects so you didn't have everyone willing to get psi-implanted. But most authors use Psi in the same manner they'd use Magic.

11:

Gargh! Mis-fumble and submitted before I finished.

I was also going to suggest that you could take Star Wars (or at least, the original film, that first one from 1977), replace every gun with a crossbow and every spaceship with a horse and cart, and every space travel with driving around a forest, and it's identical. Fantastic!

12:

Well, yes. This is because Lucas was writing off Campbell's "Hero's Journey" template, which is essentially what you get from simmering down "coming of age" myths from a multitude of cultures for stock. It's also the number one template for stories in the fantasy genre, which means Extruded Fantasy Product is full of it, to the point of being positively cliché.

13:

I think it's a well made point that the distinction between science fiction and fantasy is determined by a collection of tropes more than anything else. It's possible for a novel to tick in both boxes but more in the space/aliens/computers list will make it sci-fi and more in the mind-powers/swords/elves list will make it fantasy.

I'd add another distinction in that science fiction tends to regard the future (both real life future and the future of the setting) to contain better stuff, whereas fantasy regards the past in the same way. A lot of science fiction plots include inventing better technology whereas fantasy plots like to search for ancient magic or artifacts.

But there's such a plentiful level of exceptions I wonder if we should really just ditch genre categories all together in favour of tropes lists. A Star Wars novel would be tagged hero's journey/space/ftl/psi and a Lord of the Rings feudal/magic/artifacts/elves etcetera. It might be a bit more complex than a one or two word category and physical shops would find it impossible but given online sales it would be so more convenient.

Until we get into arguing what qualifies as the space tag...

14:

Psi has always been lurking there in the background radiation of SciFi- especially Telepathy or other variants on FTL or Mind to Mind communications. even in mainstream space opera. Take nearly anything by Peter F Hamilton, from the Edenists affinity in Nights Dawn, to the Dreamers in the Void books. Not sure it ever went away - just underground.

+1 for the Julian May mention.

15:

I was reading through the list of Sci-Fi tropes and Fantasy tropes you presented up the page a bit, and immediately my mind went "Okay, so where does Shadowrun fall?" (I've started playing the computerised version of these games about 2 - 3 months back, and it's intriguing). As far as I can tell, Shadowrun as a Role Playing Game environment attempts to tick all the boxes for science fiction, all the boxes for fantasy, all the boxes for cyberpunk, and all the boxes for thrillers. It's a futuristic version of a parallel earth (it has to be a parallel earth by this point, because while it was near-future when the game was originally designed, some of the dates for certain crucial events on this planet have now passed) where magic and magic-using creatures (including elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls and dragons) have returned to the planet. The events of this return intersected with and helped to create a glibertarianesque[1] corporate dystopia in which various mega-corporations have had themselves declared nation-states, and where most national governments as we know them have collapsed. In amongst all of this, there's been a massive upswing in the creation of cybernetics, and AI and near-AI systems have become standards, creating a virtualised environment called the Matrix.

Basically, Shadowrun reads, to me, like someone took the lists of tropes for each of these, and said "yes please" to all of them, as well as throwing in a few thrillers for seasoning. You can play it as standard "sword and sorcery" fantasy (there's are mages and shamans, and a character type called the Street Samurai which is capable of using swords, although most of the game focuses very strongly on guns). You can play it as cyberpunk, with your riggers (drone combatants) and deckers (cyber-hackers) and your cybernetically enhanced Street Samurai to round out the group. You can mix and match between the two (even in the one character type, although it's advisable not to let mages get too much chrome going; it interferes with their ability to throw around magic).

[1] As in, it's the sort of corporate dystopia which shows up in a lot of Glibertarian fantasies - no overarching governmental structures; no effective police forces; no overt political structures; no welfare; no structured charity or similar; and given your group is a set of story protagonists, no need to worry about the mechanisms for the wide-scale supply of food, water, clothing, or soft lavatory paper.

16:

There is some SciFi that posits the only way to have a stable interstellar polity is with the aid of FTL comms indistinguishable from Telepath. I may be misremembering but Piers Anthony's Kirlian series springs to mind.

17:

Cherryh's Alliance/Chanur universe has psychics. I thought that there were psychics in Bujold's Barrayar universe as well, but I can't find a reference now. And there are definitely psychics in Niven's "Known Space" series despite the way his dismissed them in "Niven's Laws", from Larry Greenberg to Teela Brown. David Brin's "Uplift" universe is absolutely classified as SF despite leaking psi from every joint.

The need for "unknown physics" to allow psychic powers is a cop-out. You need "unknown physics" for "tractor beams" and "force fields" and free-space projection (misnamed as "holograms") and time travel and FTL travel and FTL communication and even most high powered slower-than-light travel, and no doubt half a dozen other SFnal plot devices I haven't thought of yet. There's also a bunch of stuff that's real that almost certainly won't work the way it does in much allegedly hard SF, such as "nanotech".

And to complement things, there's plenty of "hard science" magic: Randall Garret's Lord d'Arcy series, Rick Cook's "Wiz Biz" series, deCamp and Pratt's "incompleat enchanter", and Stasheff's "Warlock in spite of himself".

Science Fiction is a subset of fantasy, even most "hard" SF has fantastic elements (already mentioned upthread are Dragon's Egg and early Known Space, but the Cheela are Burroughs-level fantasy and Niven's time retarder, fusion tube, and stasis fields are pure magic).

18:

As far as I can tell, the Dune series is pretty much solid fantasy, set in a post-apocalyptic pseudo-medieval sort of setting.

The difference I think must be in whether the technology is a plot device or not. In the Dune universe, Guild technology is never really explained and any system which needs a drugged wizard to control it isn't really technology so much as magic.

Compare and contrast this with the likes of Alastair Reynolds. This is solid sci-fi; technology is part of the plot so that turning on an engine which makes obviously non-natural neutrinos will wake up the local apocalyptic Grendel.

19:

Harry Harrison's "Stainless Steel Rat" series, too - it goes by psi or FTL-travelling mail ships or it doesn't go at all.

20:

Actually, the claimed proof that FTL is impossible seems to be a
factoid (see Oliver Rackham) - I have asked several (non-eminent)
relativists for a reference to a proof and it's all either "I
have never seen it, but everybody knows it exists" or a proof
that FTL communication between close frames moving very fast
relatively to one another leads to a causal violation. Fine, I
can prove that, too. What I can't prove (because I am too rusty,
and may never have been good enough) is whether the proof can be
extended to ALL FTL communication, or whether some forms of FTL
communication are compatible with relativity.

Also, most quantum mechanics assumes tunnelling takes the same
time irrespective of distance and (to some extent) simultaneity
between events involving entangled particles. Einstein never
did accept that it was valid :-) We aren't yet certain how to
reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics. What will
we discover when we do (if we do)?

Similarly, the claimed proofs that psi is impossible are also
factoids, and depend (a) on the erroneous assumption that we
now know all of physics (as we did in the 19th century!) and
(b) the straw man of disproving the extreme cases and claiming
that disproves the whole. There is a surprising amount of
evidence for some phenomena that could be called psi (e.g.
limited and unreliable telepathy). While I agree that psi is
implausible, that's not the same as it being disproven.

However, none of that negates the question of why one is
permissible in science fiction and the other isn't! But I
would go for a sociological answer rather than a physical one.

21:

Outright wizardry seems more acceptable than less flashy mental powers... stuff like WH40K and Shadowrun definitely fall into that category. I never played the end of the trilogy, but the Mass Effect powers in the second installment were certainly tending towards the more conventionally magical (fireballs, etc).

One of my favourite old computer games, UFO Enemy Unknown had mind control powers, but each soldier's base psionic strength was fixed at creation time and no amount of training would help them, thus playing the whole 'The Gift' thing straight (but later sequels changed that). Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl had psionics as a plot point, but no flamboyant magic and the PC doesn't get psionic powers at all.

So, yeah. Not quite dead; still kicking a little bit.

22:

Why not a new vogue for mind powers in our science-fictional worlds?

I'm too exhausted and post-viral to write a long essay about this right now, but ... yeah. And I can see multiple routes to doing it as hard SF, too.

Route 1: singularity-fic that posits mind uploading into a virtual universe. If you allow that, then you can mess with the virtual universe's underlying laws and anything goes that's compatible with human cognition. ESP is the least of it! Probably, for the sanity of the not-too-posthuman minds living in such a world, there'd be some limits imposed to maintain consistency: but knowing humans, someone would find a way to hack the substratum of reality and give themselves magic powers or telepathy.

Corollary: If Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument is taken at face value, this may already be happening.

Route 2: You got magic in my cyberpunk! Right now, brain implants are very unappealing -- antibiotic resistance makes surgery iffy, and Moore's law is still in effect, so next year's implant will be way shinier than this year's implant. (It's easier to upgrade your mobile phone than to upgrade your brain.) But once our microelectronics tech matures from where it is now -- 19th century steam locomotives -- to about the state of railway tech in the 21st century, and once we have a combination of realtime DNA sequencing of pathogen samples and tailored bacteriophages, then maybe 1980s cyberpunkoid brain implants will be a thing. At which point (a) telepathy, and (b) brain implants meet the Internet of Things. And I guess it's obvious that whackiness will ensue when your botnet-hosting toaster might be snooping on your early-morning libido and reporting back to the Russian mafiya, implant-wearing municipal raccoon-employees take out the trash (but can be hacked by ... er, who would want to hack a raccoon?), and the NSA can read your mind.

23:

High 5 Megpie!! I was having the exact same thoughts! Followed by having similar thoughts about SLA Industries RPG (which you might also enjoy if you like Shadowrun although SLA is rather darker).

24:

Wrt. your Star Wars point, you know that it's widely believed to be a rip-off of -- sorry, "loving homage to" -- Akiro Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress?

25:

I can't find a cite, but I've been told that Stephen Hawking has said "I think that there's a hole in Einsteinian Relativity big enough to fly a warp drive starship through".

26:

Oh, and for a book that is (a) on this year's Hugo shortlist without benefit of a puppy slate, (b) is unambiguous genre fantasy, and (c) takes the whole Hero's Journey plot to the out-house and repeatedly knees it in the groin then holds its head in the latrine until it expires, you might want to read The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (new pen-name for Sarah Monette, who has Form for slaughtering fantasy tropes with gay abandon). Strongly recommended, would be a very plausible Hugo winner.

27:

I thought that there were psychics in Bujold's Barrayar universe as well, but I can't find a reference now.

Ethan of Athos had a telepath due to special genetics.

That's the only one I can think of now.

28:

Again no cite, but I've seen it suggested (along with difficult sums that looked plausible as far as I could follow) that FTL in normal space leads to causality violations but that some kinds of hyperspace/subspace don't give the same problems. Point to point correspondence and the same direction of time flow...

29:

From the physics side, the answer is yes, we do know that psi is crap and that no future technology will be able to measure it ....

This is why psi stuff is not acceptable in hard SF.

Because too many fans are dedicated believers in sciencism.

FTL is OK. Transporter booths you go into one place and come out somewhere else after being converted to energy and then converted back are OK. Tractor beams are OK. Fully sentient computers that are integrated into society and interact with people just like they're people themselves are OK. Antigravity is fine. Battle armor that eliminates momentum from explosions is fine. Battle armor that fully shields against gamma rays is no problem.

But psi doesn't fit into science fiction because too many fans will not suspend disbelief.

It isn't about science, it's about sciencism.

30:

Ghost in the Shell is all about the cyberpunk-style brain-hacking. Has anyone else managed anything like that? The trope pops up in a few other places as a minor plot point, but it isn't pervasive.

31:

> steampunk

Mostly, "steam" is just as much magic as psi or dilithium crystals.

Steam is *established* technology, up against the hard limits of old-school Newtonian physics. (as are airships...) I know just a little bit about steam; I've built a working steam engine in my shop and I have a modest collection of steam engineering books, some of them over a century old, sitting on my bookshelf.

You know something of modern technology; you'd go "wut?" if you were reading, say, a contemporary police procedural, except anything electronic was actually run by small enchanted demons, because the author thought demons were way cooler than electricity. And the author actually expected you to accept that. Because genre.

Steampunk is like that, only worse.

32:

How has Ramex Naam's Nexus ([https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13642710-nexus) series of novels not been mentioned yet? Sure the 'psi' is nanoware (so there's a little bit of 'magic in my cyberpunk' going on) and the core conceit is less about how different 'psions (or w/e)' are from humans but rather about pushing the bounds of what it means to be human (Naam's big on transhumanism). Ultimately though, it's scifi where people talk mind-to-mind... also, it's good.

33:

> corporate dystopia

The megacorps realized it was cheaper to just outsource military operations to national governments...

34:

There are other ways to avoid the FTL issue.

Wormholes have various problems of their own, but a wormhole network could be configured to allow rapid transit between two points without also being a time machine. Matt Visser suggested that any attempt to create such a time machine would cause your wormholes to go poof.

I think Kip Thorne also did some work to suggest that even if you did have a wormhole that allowed travel into the past, it may still be impossble to cause some kinds of paradox (I think the example was an acausal pool trickshot, where you try to bounce a ball of itself in the past and prevent it from entering the timehole in the first place).

35:

Again no cite, but I've seen it suggested (along with difficult sums that looked plausible as far as I could follow) that FTL in normal space leads to causality violations but that some kinds of hyperspace/subspace don't give the same problems. Point to point correspondence and the same direction of time flow...

Well, no. Any kind of mechanism where you get somewhere else faster than light leads to some situations where you can get a causality violation. I was once on a mailing list where this came up somewhat regularly, and while I didn't have time to write a good explanation, some googling found this one: http://www.theculture.org/rich/sharpblue/archives/000089.html

However, the situations where the causality violation happens might not be that easy to come about. In the Traveller roleplaying game (FTL drive takes you out of this world for a week and then drops you parsecs away) getting a causality violation meant high relativistic speeds and might have meant years of time. It was still possible.

As for the original post, I think the Science Fantasy category is a nice one. That's the one where you can put Dune, Star Wars and many other things very easily, while not calling them Science Fiction or Fantasy. I'm not sure I need the labels as a reader, though - I probably would have liked OGH's dimensional merchants even as a fantasy.

36:

That's not necessarily true. If we posit that consciousness can skew quantum statistics ie that it can alter the relative probabilities of the collapse of the wavefunction, then no particles are needed. At least, no more than they are needed as an intermediary to explain entanglement.

As for teleportation, I have a simple scheme.
You have two spheres, source and destination. A person steps into the source sphere and then both spheres are made quantum identical. When they cease to be identical there is a 50% change the person is in the destination sphere. Implementation details I leave to others...

37:

The Bujold psychics would be in Ethan of Athos; I don't think they crop up anywhere else.

There are lots of psychic/magic powers in Lee & Miller's Korval series, which is still ongoing, and also -- with a different slant -- in the Doyle/Macdonald Mageworlds books, which aren't.

38:

CTRL+F "Meatfucker".

Banks' response to the problem of psi powers (i.e. they make any and all conflict virtually impossible due to agency issues) was to make it a cultural taboo; you don't do it because it's crude, icky and unrefined. However, he never did explain why, for instance, the Culture wouldn't break such taboos in times of war. e.g. Idirans attacking? Nearby Mind sucks out general's plans.

As an aside -

After Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, and more recently Anish Kapoor, Julie Mehretu has now created a commissioned piece for the Deutsche Guggenheim. In her spectacular painting series "Grey Area," she investigates urban space, war, destruction, and not least her impressions of Berlin.

Who would have guessed some bankers were secret SF fans?


As a fan of McCaffery I've never placed the Dragons series as 'fantasy', as later books clearly give a SF-lite explanation to the world (including thread). Her telepath series had some issues, mostly due to the advanced categorization and inherent hierarchy to them. e.g. "Oh, sorry, you're only a A3 and can only receive? I guess you could be a nurse or low level social worker". To be fair to her, she did attempt to address this in the early novels but later this seemed to recede in importance (I honestly cannot really remember the later ones, it became very dynastic / romantic).

I can see a reworking of this trope (inherent hierarchy) being interesting.

As for reality? Performance dance has got you covered

39:

It seems to me that a general problem with "psi" involves narrative tension vs. social structures. If you get too close to accurate you start being predictive which gets you into feedback loops with social power structures.

Keep in mind that even in times of peace, people are dying out there - failure modes include old age, disease, violence, and so on... (currently at a rate of something like four per second). And lots of people feel miserable about their life, their choices, and/or their options. There's a lot of despair also, out there, if you go looking for it. Steep in too much of that and you start looking and feeling like the worse mental case ever.

Others, of course, are greatly enjoying their lives. And get caught up in that and you wind up with something approximating a Niven wirehead.

And then there's leadership, and what people apparently expect out of government and its leaders.

But don't worry, because it doesn't matter what you do, some people are going to hate you and hate your choices.

So that winds up with another issue: you've got some deep capacity to understand people. Ethics tells you not to violate their privacy. Actually doing anything with this capability is "showing off", and likely to get all sorts of people into trouble - but things are already so bad it's not like there's any real harm in it. But once you take action you are going to start feeling responsible for the results...

Sort of a conceptual analog there with grabbing a power main or grabbing hot potatoes or maybe some other variation on having your nerves exposed to a lot more than what most people can tolerate ... maybe not everyone's idea of a fun time?

You wind up with people with some sense of responsibility, hating their options, and dealing with emerging others with some sort of combination of wincing sympathy and malicious glee ("now it's *their* problem also, bwahahahaha..." or/ "yeah, ok, we'll try it your way for a while" or/ "Ah, gee, that didn't work out - tough luck, kid, but thanks for trying" or/ "You are so full of shit you squish when you walk" or/ "Ok, that was a bit too awful, even for us" or/ "Ok, we'll stop being so protective ... oops, people killing each other? Who would have guessed?" or/ ...).

Anyways, I guess I'd expect some sort of social correspondence with Newton's Third Law to become evident in this kind of narrative.

40:

Thanks for that reference. I can't say that I am convinced that
the signal can get back to Alice before she has sent it, but it's
a good enough example for me to try to put back into the proper
mathematics and check out! When I get time to brush the rust off
my memory of that :-)

41:

In between Watts and the older examples, Babylon 5 had a strong Psi element in the nineties, and nobody I knew seemed to mind.

It's interesting that it went out of fashion so definitely. I think it got taken much more seriously in general before the Eighties than it has since, and it's probably just a part of that change. Arthur Koestler died in 1983 and endowed a chair of parapsychology here in Edinburgh - it's hard to imagine that happening now.

42:

cyberpunk-style brain-hacking. Has anyone else managed anything like that?

Some guy wrote a novel called "Glasshouse" or something in which this is a key to the plot. I gather it was shortlisted for the Hugo some time in the past decade. Can't think who ...

43:

Coming up next week Ramez will be guest-blogging here about the third book in that trilogy.

44:

A few years back, my NaNoWriMo effort was a Triplanetary-influenced furry adventure centred on two vixens, undercover officers of the Solarian Patrol, with a taste for perverted sexual activities which would start John Norman running away.

I had fun writing it. There were coruscating beams, asteroid miners, corrupt cops, and machine politics. And stealing an inertialess drive ship from the bad guys starts making the politics interesting.

Anyway, I am inclined to think that the proper term for Science -Fantasy is "Engineering-Fantasy". The electro-mechanical computing machinery that was being built in the 1940s worked will. By the time of Surigao Strait American battleships could feed the radar track into their fire-control computers, automatically point the guns and hit the target. The US Navy's fire-control systems had the computer sending trainng and elevation signals into the turret machinery, unlike any other navy.

That whole process of central fire-control didn't really start until the Dreadnought battleship appeared, and it depended on advances in the precision machining of steel. It's not an accident that such things as the best gyroscopes came out of the USA. If you look at air-cooled engines, you can see how the steel-cutting abilities improved. The vanes on a Le Clerget or Gnome of the First World War are very coarse compared to a WW2 radial, or a modern motor-cycle, and that's what you needed to get from 100hp to 2000hp out of the engine.

So when I say engineering fantasy I am thinking of that sort of precision being applied to the machinery of an earlier age. "Doc" Smith was doing that, and his stories were hardly anti-scientific.

45:

Psi is still pretty strongly in fashion in some circles, I think it's just a matter of the SF&F novel-writing culture moving on to other things. Why just the other day, I went to a big budget action movie with a name beginning with the letter A, that had a psi-wielding antagonist character. And this is not just an aberration.

46:


That rang a bell...or triggered a psi response.

Could it have been this?

" Warp Drive

The article in New Scientist seems predicated on the notion that a Starship would be using conventional means to propel itself to light-speed and beyond. However, in the world of Star Trek, impulse drives only move the ship at sub-light speeds, and it is the warp drive that breaks you through the light barrier. And warp drive may not be such a crazy idea. Here is what Steven Hawking says about Star Trek’s warp drive:

' Einstein’s general theory of relativity allows the possibility for a way around this difficulty: one might be able to warp spacetime and create a shortcut between the places one wanted to visit. Although there are problems of negative energy, it seems that such warping might be within our capabilities in the future. There has not been much serious scientific research along these lines, however, partly, I think, because it sounds too much like science fiction.

- Stephen Hawking, forward to "The Physics of Star Trek"


http://trekmovie.com/2010/02/17/rebuttal-to-new-scientist-article-on-impossibility-of-star-trek-warp-travel/

Came upon it as I was contemplating the universe whilst sitting cross legged in the centre of a Pentacle of Power. Getting into The Full Lotus Posture is the difficult part the Psi Powers stuff is fairly straightforward if you have the talent.

47:

Like this ... "Route 1: singularity-fic that posits mind uploading into a virtual universe."

Once all information is crammed into a limited space where it is equally accessible by all users within the same amount of time, you have ESP/mind-reading capabilities. (This is also known as reading a file.) Now, being able to edit that file might be trickier or write-permissions could be limited. (The future of marriage vows? When do parents disengage from reading their kids' minds/files?)


Tying this in with our Guest Host's topic ...

The same can be said about mental illness (as about ESP), both genres tend to ignore its reality or resort to hand-waving whereas an upload scenario might be better able to play with this. Is madness merely a difference in processing, a glitch, a novel/emergent property, or what ...


Would be interesting to see whether the last 30 years of neuroscience research can be tapped to provide some direction to SF&F story creators. Okay we've all heard about neuroplasticity, that the placebo effect is real, that meditating Buddist monks can light up different parts of their brains at will (as shown via fMRI), therefore our thoughts can physically alter our brains.


For a while now, I've been thinking that Fantasy is to SF, as Philosophy is to other academic disciplines, that is, Fantasy/Philosophy are best for identifying what areas of our existence are still unknown/unmapped. SF/science's role is to systematically test this area across all/any attributes.

48:

Coincidentally, the latest New Scientist ran an interview with Edinburgh University parapsychologist Caroline Watt. She mentions surprising results from ESP experiments carried out using the "Ganzfeld" method:

Many such experiments have been meta-analysed several times and most of the analyses have come up with evidence suggesting a success rate greater than chance. [...] The statistician Jessica Utts has pointed out that the Ganzfeld effect size is triple the effect of aspirin on heart attacks. Many parapsychologists would argue that by the standards applied to any other area of science, that's good evidence, but I'm not persuaded that this provides conclusive evidence for ESP. I am in the camp that thinks there is an anomaly, but I am not sure how to interpret it.

There appears to have been a lot of argument about this.

49:

I always simply thought of it as a classical Greek epic.

50:

I wonder strongly if science fiction hasn't become the just the literature of hardware so much as the literature of Progress, with the capital P. It either celebrates it (star flight for continual expansion into space) and/or critiques it (dystopias and post-apocalypses), but it's still about that old expansionist and imperialist thing.

The reason I wonder is because it still seems so stuck in either a) we're going to the stars or in some way transcending our mundane condition (progress continues on a linear extrapolation), or b) we're going extinct due to our own hubris and/or stupidity (progress fails). The future could easily be be option c) neither (progress stops being the dominant ideology), but when do we ever see that in science fiction? Fantasy doesn't go there either, unless it's when the magic comes back in an apocalyptic way.

The other reason I wonder is because the SF readership seems to be declining. Given that we're living in gearhead heaven right now, you'd think it would be increasing. Why isn't it?

51:

That sort of controversy has been going on for most of a century,
with similar results. One hypothesis that fits the facts is that
the laws of physics are, in fact, slightly mutable by the beliefs
of the observers (possibly the massed belief of the population).
But that is serious heresy :-)

52:

Adding to the list ... some females have a fourth color cone enabling them to see into the ultraviolet range.

Within a Fantasy setting, a crone with this 'other sight' could walk into a room and say 'Blood was spilled here and here, and the trail leads to this area of the wall....' (Basically do the CSI thing without knowing anything about wavelengths.) In a more peaceful setting, women with this color cone would be able to tell which plants would attract honey bees, so be more successful at beekeeping/gardening than their neighbors lacking this 'other sight'. Due to general lack of education in village backwaters, any such physically provable (yet difficult to prove without modern tech) abilities would be deemed 'gifts'. Depending on personality and interpersonal/political dynamics, this gift could come from the deity or the demon. (Could also apply to the origin of seeing 'Kirlian auras'.)

53:

Below is my circular argument ... I do agree with you.

Science education has been on the decline in several countries over the past 30 years, displaced by technology education because for many people science is the same as technology. At the same time, religious right-ness has become stronger. Religion and technology can work side by side because both can get by on dogma/instruction manual alone. Therefore SF that is essentially current tech on steroids is comfortably familiar and an easy read especially as such novels seldom deal with any ethical dilemmas, or interpersonal/societal consequences related to truly novel knowledge.

While I enjoy learning some real science when reading SF, at the same time I appreciate that Isaac Asimov was able to write good SF because he focused on the consequences of science/technology (Robot short stories/series).

54:

Adding to the list ... some females have a fourth color cone enabling them to see into the ultraviolet range.

Um, no. This isn't what tetrachromacy is (at least in humans) - ultraviolet is still blocked by the lens. It's all about the low light level vision (c.f. prey/predator specialized eyesight at light boundaries, esp. dusk). Although it's interesting you've picked the blood thing, there's a nice little humorous cross over with Leishman stains. (1922).

Some studies suggest up to 50% female, 8% male possess some kind of tetrachrome ability

Regarding a physical 'explanation' of weirding woo women, look into microexpressions, heatmaps (using extremely high frame rate videos) and so on. The FBI public stuff is comedy amateur hour, but the real tech driven stuff is getting pretty damn good. Also - imagine have the ability to see this type of stuff and being introduced to humans without warning. The equivalent of a constant barrage of subconscious screams that the owner can't even manage. Harmless BBC test which is fun - if you score less than 18, consider never going into poker.

55:

Of course, it occurred to me that part of the problem with SF (if declining readership is still a problem) is that it's mistaken the symbols for the thing. That's kind of the issue with arguing that SF is the literature of progress, or even using the older idea that science fiction is the literature of "what if?"

If the people marketing it see SF instead as the literature of FTL, rayguns and linear extrapolations of existing tech, then that's what they sell. We may talk about SF as the literature of ideas, the place where people ask "what if?" and chase ideas. If, however, it's marketed simply as a literature that has a defined set of tropes and symbols, then the people who want to write "what if" literature outside this box are probably going to start calling their work literature, just to distinguish it. Can't say I blame them.

56:

Squee!
Sorry, I'm a total Naam fan.

57:

Coincidentally, the Ganzfeld effect was Peter Watts' rationale for the telepathic effects seen in his Rifters trilogy - mentioned upthread (in the fifth comment) as an example of psi in hard SF.

58:

Star Wars and W40K are both solidly fantasy, surely?

Licensed works are, as I understand it, their own separate ghetto.

you could take Star Wars, replace every gun with a crossbow and every spaceship with a horse and cart ...

Lucas borrowed heavily from Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. Jedi are basically samurai with a high-tech reskin.

59:

Always good to have recommends from authors I enjoy, Charlie! (You just sold another book for Katherine Addison...)

60:

That seems plausible, and the quote even lines up with my own thought that warp (or $thing_space, "slipstream"...) drives go around FTL in normal space by taking duration to move A-B, so that it's actually more like taking a shortcut to reach B sooner than otherwise.

61:

already mentioned upthread are Dragon's Egg and early Known Space, but the Cheela are Burroughs-level fantasy

Somewhat OT: Aside from Cheela being intelligent -- is the "neutron chemistry" on which Dragon's Egg is based, a real thing? The idea is that at white dwarf pressures and densities[*] atomic nuclei can form what amounts to molecular bonds by exchanging neutrons, analogous to how atoms exchange electrons.

* NOT neutronium densities -- the book takes place on the surface of a neutron star, specifically at the boundary between normal matter layer (Cheela call it "atmosphere") and white dwarf matter layer.

62:

I think most of the reason is that we no longer need to have characters read each others' minds; we just have them read each others' email logs. Ditto remote viewing vs. cell phone tracking and/or security camera footage.

The more subtle, perceptual or communicative concepts of psi have been made obsolete. Pyrokinesis, telekinesis, and the like are harder to justify on a conservation of energy basis.

63:

One of the points I found most interesting was "Maybe because science fiction is about the hardware, and fantasy is about the wetware?" I actually have thought about what most, at the core, separates the two. I think that in most stories, some kind of power is needed to effectuate change. In fantasy, that power is usually personal, and is paid for by personal costs - such as personal sacrifice, fealty to some power-granting entity, ascetic practices, or personal side effects like gaining madness as a side effect of gaining/using power. In contrast, I think most power in science fiction is not personal, it's in the form of technology which typically anyone can potentially use. The cost of that technology is external, often environmental. For instance, the manufacturing costs and environmental impact, the consumption of natural resources.

With regard to Psi powers, they very typically and very easily fall into the former category. I think there have been some legitimate "hard" sci fi attempts to use those powers in an evolutionary context, where the "cost" is sort of personal but could also be seen as a population-level medical issue. The Julian May Galactic Milleu books were, as someone already mentioned, probably the last time someone really went there.

What I think SF has moved on to from evolutionary psi is information technology and consciousness manipulation concepts. The idea of uploading your mind into a new body ala tv shows Dollhouse and the most recent Battlestar Galactica (to my thinking it's the same tech) went there and it was actually pretty effective. Meanwhile the less evolutionary psi has become more or less magic, and the stories are fantasy that just happens to be in alien or futuristic action setting (which is what I think of Star Wars as being). I also have not really seen anything new in these mind-magic concepts for a while.

Still, I don't want efforts like May's Saga of Pliocene Exile or McCaffery's Pern, Pegasus, and Tower series to be marginalized and forgotten as outdated fantasy when they were deliberately rooted in science fiction ideas of the time. The fundamental premise of May's series was "What if aliens crash landed on Earth in pre-history and they inspired the myths of the gods of the ancient Celtics?" Their technologically-enabled psi abilities certainly inspired the idea of magic, but there were social and medical costs to those powers as well--particularly when she brought in technological enhancement and weaponization of those abilities. Likewise, McCaffery put some considerable thought into the dragon premise in Pern and the focus of her books (at least the first few trilogies) was the social impact of technology loss in the face of the challenges of alien colonization. I think she did wrap the science in a fantasy-flavored candy coating and eventually that may have taken over, but let's never forget that Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern, is about the importance of vaccination and how devastating it would be for that particular medical technology to be forgotten.

Overall I really enjoyed this commentary and I actually would not mind to see some psi come back to sci fi if it could be a little less new-agey and have a fresh take. Randolf Lalonde's Spinward series had some interesting takes on AI and consciousness transfer and yet had a lot of space opera feel to it. I think that we are about due for some "retro" flavored science fiction that is really updated with the incredible scope of vision we can now apply to it.

64:

"And yet Dune is still science fiction in spite of the psi and the weirdness."

There is no psi in the Dune universe.

The Bene Gesserit sisterhood "reads" minds by reading body language, breathing, facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, etc.

The Guild Navigators "predict" the future by using the mind accelerrating and claifying qualities of the spice Melange to perform the flight calculations needed to determine the safest path for their heighliners.The human computer Mentats do pretty much the same thing, they just aren't as specialized.

Paul Atreides did not mystically predict the one future, but by using Melange he was able to mentally process the massive amount of information to explore a near infinite amount of possible futures based on available data.

It's all physical, not mystical.

65:

Any kind of mechanism where you get somewhere else faster than light leads to some situations where you can get a causality violation.

Once it looked obviously necessary, physicists gave up on simultaneity and accepted a relativity where different people think different things are simultaneous.

If it becomes clearly necessary, physicists will give up on causality. No big deal.

Depending on the outcome of experiments which have not yet been done, things that today look like proofs may in the future become merely proofs that today's concepts are inadequate to describe reality.

Science fiction fits the concepts of science that its intended audience is willing to accept.

Military science fiction fits the concepts of war and military culture that its intended audience is willing to accept.

Erotic science fiction fits the concepts of sexuality that its intended audience is willing to accept.

Etc.

66:

And Leto II did his father Paul one better by analyzing potential futures out to a much further timeline to find the one path that would allow mankind to never become extinct, the Golden Path, and set his imperial policies to make sure it happened.

In the Dune universe people don't predict, they analyze and project (withthehelp of mind altering drugs) to a very high degree of accuracy.

67:

Also in Dune there are no transporters.

This makes Dune less mystical than Star Trek.

P.S. When will HBO do for Dune what it did for Game of Thrones?

68:

If we posit that consciousness can skew quantum statistics ie that it can alter the relative probabilities of the collapse of the wavefunction

There was a guy at Cornell who was investigating that for a while. He could never get results that were discernably better than chance.

As far as we can tell, quantum events are indifferent to us (the reverse is not necessarily true).

both spheres are made quantum identical

That's just not how QM works at all. Sorry.

In general, if you're looking for quantum effects in anything much heavier than a hydrogen atom, you're not likely to succeed. That's the realm of Newtonian physics.

69:

Probably when the bad taste from the David Lynch and SciFi (SyFy) channel versions leaves everyone's mouths, including whoever has rights to the Herbert estate.

I'd say the bigger issue is that GRRM worked in Hollywood for quite a long time, so it's not too surprising that his work is reasonably filmable. That's not necessarily the case with most authors.

The other issue that I hesitate to bring up is that IIRC, Dune was much beloved in the Arab world after it came out. Nowadays, I don't know how it's perceived over there. Over here, perceptions of the Muslim world have changed radically since 9/11. Dune has a certain oriental exoticism hidden in those great dunes. While I don't think this is a bad thing, I'm not sure how well it plays now.

The other thing is that Dune is very much a product of the 60s, with its focus on human potential as enhanced by drugs. Herbert reportedly got the idea for sandworms from seeing maggots in a mushroom, and his idea for the blue-eyed warrior women from eating some shrooms. The dominant paradigm in religion has shifted since then, and now we're into an era of militant beliefs (either for or against religion) and apocalyptic ideas (either inside religion or outside). Dune, bloody and political as it is, doesn't seem to quite fit. Or am I missing something?

70:

"If it becomes clearly necessary, physicists will give up on
causality. No big deal."

Grrk. Don't bet on it. Yes, such things can be handled
mathematically - but how many people have you met that can get
their heads around acausal logic? And, yes, that's something
that is quite important in several fields, today, including one
I am involved in, as an artifact of other effects. Changing to
a situation where the whole logic is acausal, rather than just a
well-sandboxed instance, is a big deal, all right. That is a
remark about the human mind and not the physics, of course.

What they would easily give up is the concept of an 'arrow of
time', as used in the reference given by Mikko Parviainen.
What I am not sure of is whether that example leads to a genuine
causal loop; I suspect that the breach of causality is an
artifact of the graphical representation used.

71:

Or am I missing something?

I think one of the major reasons Dune is a classic is Herbert's use of ecology. The Fremen are the way they are due to a single major cause and three minor causes: the harshest desert climate; minor causes are the mind altering melange, the seeding of a religious myth by the Bene Gesserit (that then goes 'wild' / unfocused - the last book ends with two beings in a garden, Herbert was just making the analogy obvious at that point) and the actions of the Empire. So, environment - prediction through expanded consciousness (as stated, possible futures are what are mapped), religion, power.

However, Dune isn't purely physical - there's definitely some inner mysticism. The entire point of the Bene Gesserit is that they have access to all the prior female voices/memories down the ages while Paul & his direct offspring have access to both (Alia & falling to the voice of the Baron - abomination is because she's dominated due to spice in the womb).

This was Muad'Dib's achievement: He saw the subliminal reservoir of each individual as an unconscious bank of memories going back to the primal cell of our common genesis. Each of us, he said, can measure out his distance from that common origin. Seeing this and telling of it, he made the audacious leap of decision. Muad'Dib set himself the task of integrating genetic memory into ongoing evaluation. Thus did he break through Time's veils, making a single thing of the future and the past. That was Muad'Dib's creation embodied in his son and his daughter.

~

A cynical viewpoint is that given the current state of the environment people don't want to read Dune in case it becomes actual - it's actually a dystopia that could become real, unlike so many YA shallow interpretations. Witness the difference in quality between his son's collaborations and the originals.


*waves to California*

72:

(Ugh, missed something)

The point of the son/daughter in the series is that while Leto II becomes the God Emperor, he never has children, while his sister Ghanima lives a normal life and continues the Atreides line (who are then constantly improved/altered/tested/shaped by Leto).

The implication being that the sacrifice at the core of the novels is Leto's willingness to forgo his humanity / primal drive (reproduction) in order to save humanity from a future unspecified calamity (that which the Honored Matres run from which is never specifically defined).

So, in this manner, Dune is an antithesis to the identity driven SF currently in vogue.

Or the characterization is weak, your choice.

~

Apologies for the Dune spice verbal explosion.

73:

Dune, Schmoon. I have just two things to say to all this, and whether it's sexist women == fantasy, male == sf, and sf doesn't have psi:
1. The Demolished Man
2. The Stars My Destination
both by Alfred Bester.

Oh, and then there's Randy Garrett & Larry Jannifer's Her Majesty's FBI....

And I suppose Beast Master by Norton was all fantasy...*snarl*

mark "wish Michael Kurland would give me just *one*
of those Little Blue Pills...."

74:

"If it becomes clearly necessary, physicists will give up on
causality. No big deal."

Grrk. Don't bet on it.

I figure it would take one generation.

75:

I’m curious why there is such a relentless need to “slaughter tropes” and engage in cultural deconstruction via fiction in certain circles. Don’t you think human beings need some undeconstructed myths and a sense of the sacred to be healthy and sane? And why the obvious glee at attacking other people's myths? These questions go to the heart of much of the current cultural wars, imo.

76:

There is no psi in the Dune universe.

The Bene Gesserit sisterhood "reads" minds by reading body language, breathing, facial expressions, posture, tone of voice, etc.

The Guild Navigators "predict" the future by using the mind accelerrating and claifying qualities of the spice Melange to perform the flight calculations needed to determine the safest path for their heighliners.The human computer Mentats do pretty much the same thing, they just aren't as specialized.

How about the part where they have all the memories of all their female ancestors? How about when they learn to transfer all the memories of one woman's female ancestors to another woman?

Is there some hard science mixed in there somewhere?

77:

I do find it odd that tropes like ftl travel, for which there is zero scientific evidence, is considered legitimate speculation, whereas psychic abilities, for which there is significant evidence, is considered fantasy.

I think this is part of an old bias against anything strongly esoteric (as in dealing with inner life), mystical, subjective or spiritual in post-Enlightenment civilization. If inner life isn’t measurable via the scientific method, how can it exist? It must be magic! Dune was a brilliant exception; too bad there are so few books like it (actually Star Wars books probably outsell much of the rest of the industry combined, so that’s another example). I agree; more psi-fi! Why assume that technology will advance exponentially, but human mental/psychic/spiritual development is done?

78:

Wonderful comments here while I was, you know, sleeping (US Mountain Standard Time here) and being a horse farmer and dealing with House Disaster (not to be confused with the Houses of Dune).

One thing I used to get into big trouble for when I was a bright young thing (with shiny new-minted medievalist PhD) was my propensity, on panels with scientists, to point to their science-ism. The idea of orthodoxy and heterodoxy has transferred in the mind of Western culture from theology (the Queen of the Sciences in her day) to science, and there's a certain slant of thinking that firmly resists the possibility of a different universe than the currently accepted one.

Physics has gone into some very, very strange places in the past half-century or so, and every time we think we've got it figured out, something new shows up to say Nuh-Uh, or to change the angle of our view.

Science fiction as a genre meanwhile can be pretty conservative (the actual word that means what it means, rather than the political term), and definitions of hard science fiction tend toward the technological and the practical. If things start getting toward the weird or the outre, the Fantasy label gets slapped on. And, if there are certain tropes such as dragons, boom. Fantasy.

Having written mutated humans in a medieval historical setting and had the label "Elves" indelibly attached, I have personal experience of this. Have come past denial, anger, bargaining/blog-ranting etc. to a kind of wry acceptance. They want Elves, they think they're getting Elves, fine. It pays the bills. (But then there's the "fantasy" secondary world that is now continuing as a space opera. Marketing categories be damned.)

Ultimately of course it's all a big giant tent of fiction of the fantastic and the not-right-here-and-now, and where a work sits inside the tent is an artificial concept. I am intrigued by the various comments on what psi is or might be--many story ideas there, and many avenues to pursue.

79:

Whitroth #73: But that's all old stuff. I'm thinking much more recent, like the past couple of decades. After the ossification of the bookstore categories.

80:

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor certainly has some elements to psychic contact with aliens, but not in the classic "mind voice projection" that's the usual trope.

81:

Sounds like you've been reading John Michael Greer. My guess is readership is declining because the central science fictional myths ("Man Will Conquer Space Soon!", "Scientific Man can solve all the world's problems", etc.) is failing. Maybe Westernized civilization is coming to realize that *inner space* is the real final frontier?

Yet human beings will not stop creating myths. I can imagine whole fields of fiction -- "psychedelic fiction", "religion fiction", "spiritual fiction", "occult fiction", etc. that emerge to deal with this crisis of myths. Maybe some of you like the mythology of "The Singularity"; personally, I find it about as appealing as being devoured by Azathoth.

82:

Yes the plot is taken from Hidden Fortress. Lucas also borrowed heavily from Dune and Jack Kirby’s New Gods (“the Source”, Manichean cosmic struggle, protagonist is the son of Vader look-alike “Darkseid”, etc.).

83:

You're right - thanks!.

Re-checking this showed that the condition I was thinking of is Aphakia ... ability to see ultraviolet (as bluish-white light) as the result of damage to the eye.

Could still work in a fantasy setting though: while the crone is 'blind' in the normal way, she is able to see things that others cannot.

84:

Won't work quite the way you think, but it leads to another good story. The problem is that the human lens blocks a lot of UV light.

Back in WWII, the British used this to their advantage early in the war. They reportedly equipped people with UV signal lights, invisible to ordinary humans. However, older men who'd had cataract operations which removed their lenses could see the UV light* and so they could see the signal lights. They used these old men to help guide boats to the French coast to land commandos for the early raids.

*actually you can kind of see UV light, AFAIK. You see it as increased brightness, not as a distinct color. This trick is used in UV brighteners in detergents. These chemicals are basically a UV dye. They increase the amount of "bright" you see and so you think the colors are brighter.

As for things like auras, most people can feel them a lot better than see them, because part of it's stuff like body heat and possibly some electrical interaction. If you slowly move your hands closer to someone's body, you'll often feel the air change a few inches out from their skin. This is the "aura" but it may be either a surface layer boundary condition (e.g. the air isn't moving as much near a person's body, so it's a bit hotter and more moist), or there may be some basic electroperception going on that you're picking up on (in other words, your hands are working sort of like the more organized sense organs of sharks, stingrays, electric eels, platypuses, etc.). It's not clear what's going on, but martial arts like tai chi do train this perception. They're infighting arts, so feeling where a limb is moving when you can't see it directly is a skill worth training.

If you want to try seeing an "aura," hold your arm up against a uniform white wall, and see if you see any shimmering or haze away from the arm. It may be optical illusion (since we tend to see shimmery edges), but it may be the same thing you're feeling, a slight distortion due to a boundary layer effect from hot skin in still air. What it actually is I don't know, but I think the whole "psychic perception" thing is probably overblown. It's more likely to be literal ESP: you're getting signals from your sense organs from phenomena (like heat and electricity) that you don't normally process. Instead of ignoring these sensory data as junk (which is what most people do), you're deliberately trying to learn how to process them on the idea that there's a useful signal in there amid all the noise. Whether there is a useful signal is another question, but I don't think you need to invoke another set of senses, let alone physics, to explain these phenomena.

85:

Dune has a certain oriental exoticism hidden in those great dunes. While I don't think this is a bad thing, I'm not sure how well it plays now.

Funny, I had friends who refused to accept it because of its overt islamophobia (this was before that term had currency, but circa gulf war I).

86:

JThomas mentioned the Bene Gesserit 'inherited memory' thing. I'd add a certain young lady planting herself directly into the thoughts of Muad'Dib: 'Even you cannot do that, my brother.' (I really wanted to see Dune as SF, not fantasy plus, but that kinda crossed any suspension-of-disbelief lines)

Anyway, Dune is a fable more than anything. ;)

87:

" ... The entire point of the Bene Gesserit is that they have access to all the prior female voices/memories down the ages while Paul & his direct offspring have access to both..."

Really liked this about Dune ... using melange as the 'consciousness uplift' modality.

Don't remember how the Bene Gesserit came into their powers apart from the hand in the box (Gom Jabbar) to test their humanity. So, lets assume that apart from being a hallucinogen, this drug/box also contains something to make the brain more receptive/plastic to certain stimuli, including a memory download. (Just because the Bene Gesserit haven't developed any new computational technology doesn't mean they've abandoned all technology. Who knows maybe the BG had been working on nanotech on the side.)

The real question is where/how is all of this collective consciousness really stored? The blue eyes might measure the development of an autonomous and parallel (and occasionally shared) consciousness system. And, if the blue never talks to the grey/white portions of the brain, then original grey/white human brain is unable to tell what the person is up to. Some very weird possibilities here. Don't recall if this mind-collectivism ran only backwards-forwards or across contemporaneous BG.

88:

WHY ? Why isn't it?

Declining that is?

First define " Progress " and then demonstate how the SF and F genre of Literature approaches this Progress Thingy of Which You Speak?

Oh..on earliar Posts on the Subject of 'DUNE ' ?

Yep, know that argument .. been there, done that. I was there at the time when people were hypnotised by the Echologically Wonderfull Hippyness of it all ..with added Crys Knife Fights. Note how the movie of DUNE picked up on the Action Adventure rather than the Echological Balence ..Bla Bla Bla- ness of it all? Thus it was and thus I suspect it always will be as long as we remain a Hierarchies dominated, pack based species.

http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/wolves-cooperate-each-other-dogs-form-hierarchies

Don't you wish that WE were more like Wolves?

And bear in mind the presnt Hugo Wars were, in my 'umble opinion, lauched by those who LONG for TRAD SF the way it used to be when people would have recognised their Staus.


" Combat

Fremen are some of the best hand-to-hand combatants in the universe, the dangerous conditions of Arrakis ensuring that only the strongest survive. In Dune, Paul trains his Fremen forces in the use of what they call the "weirding way", the specialized martial arts of the Bene Gesserit that he learned from his mother. The Mentat assassin Thufir Hawat is later shocked to learn that Fremen have not only overcome some of Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV's fierce and previously unstoppable Sardaukar soldiers, but have done the impossible and captured some as well. Herbert also writes that "Paul recalled the stories of the Fremen — that their children fought as ferociously as the adults." In the novel Shaddam notes, "I only sent in five troop carriers with a light attack force to pick up prisoners for questioning. We barely got away with three prisoners and one carrier. Mind you, Baron, my Sardaukar were almost overwhelmed by a force composed mostly of women, children, and old men."[1]

Most people in the universe rely on personal body shields, which have made all forms of projectile weapons semi-obsolete. Only a slow-moving weapon can penetrate a shield, putting knives and similar weapons in common use. The beam of energy weapons called lasguns react violently with a shield, creating an unpredictable explosion comparable to sub-atomic fusion which can kill the operator, shield wearer, and surrounding individuals. Fremen do not use shields because they also attract the native giant sandworms of Arrakis and drive them into a killing frenzy. As a result, the Fremen have the advantage of being trained to not slow their knives when attacking, as those battling a shielded opponent do. Fremen use different archaic weapons such as maula pistols, lances and crossbows to great effect, but the most deadly and prized possession of a Fremen warrior is the crysknife. "

OH ..and, KINGs? GOD Emperors?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_emperor


..What a GOOD Idea! ...

" Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there underground, waiting to spring up again.

It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: “Kings. What a good idea.” Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees. "

http://www.hjkeen.net/halqn/dscwldc3.htm

Major Fatasy Series of the Moment ? HELLS TEETH! Major TV Series of the moment?

"GAME OF Thrones " ..note the "Thrones " element of this ..dont forget that the series is basically the English Wars of The Roses plus added Dragon Sauce ...

I VERY nearly wrote " GAME OF KINGS " instead of " Game of Thrones " Silly ME.

Can't think why ...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lymond_Chronicles

After all it is Historical Drama rather than Fantasy ..well isn't it?

HELLS TEETH FOLKS ! Royal Blood! Special Inherited Talent ...PSI given to but a few ..Dragon Riders
! Royalty ! Sword in the Stone . BLOOD!!!

This is not so very hard to understand.

Sadly a hell of a high proportion of the Human Race want to be told what to do ..and to have someone to blame if everything goes Squishy.

Come now .. have you NEVER had People line up in front of you and DEMAND to be told what to do?

Never had anyone say to you/ that is to say scream up your left nostril .. " BUT YOU MUST KNOW!! YOU KNOW EVERYTHING!!"

Not had anyone say " You Can't be ILL, YOU ARE NEVER "ILL!!

Never had people say .." You WILL speak up for us Wont You? "

No? Well its not as satisfying as you might think.

89:

LOL it’s a bit of a stretch trying to explain Dune’s mysticism in scientific terms. It also defeats the purpose, just like the introduction of “midichlorians” to demystify the Force did in the Star Wars prequels. The mystery and mysticism is the whole point, and the reason these stories have so much power; de-mystification and rationalization is precisely not the point. Glance at the sales figures for Star Wars or Lord of the Rings vs. any rationalist science fiction you can name, and draw your own conclusions...

90:

Don't remember how the Bene Gesserit came into their powers apart from the hand in the box (Gom Jabbar) to test their humanity.

Sadly, that's a part that is purely physical. Nerve induction leads the brain to think it's in agony, and the test is purely one of the Rational mind being strong enough to overcome flight/fight responses (which is why the needle is at the neck, pulling away / giving into the primal reaction leads to death).

A Bene Gesserit who survives the ritual spice agony gains access to Other Memory, the combined ego and memories of all her female ancestors.

Ingest raw spice water (larva sandworm extract), use internal mind / body control to change the chemical composition into a hugely powerful psychogenic compound, go on the trip of your life and meet all your sisters, then (if wild Fremen) spit it out and let everyone have a massive spice fueled sexual orgy.

This is canon.

91:

Okay, I'll buy that it's probably possible to perceive a tactile/temperature aura in the way you describe it but I'm not buying into the passing of hands inches away from a body has any therapeutic benefit.

Regularly 'see' migraine auras ... not at all pleasant as experiences go.

92:

@SFReader - mis-read your post, my bad. Missed you were translating it to "hard" SF.

The genetic element is the interesting one, in my mind.

93:

I think it is fair to say that improbable innate "powers" tend to be looked at as fantasy, whilst technologically induced ones as SF.

Does this make Superman fantasy, but Batman SF?

Of course there is the marketing angle and the "boys and their toys" aspect too. Given the rich background of PSI in SF as mentioned upthread (don't forget P K Dick), there is certainly scope to reintroduce PSI as a technology, either wetware or external prostheses.

More at issue is why men write SF, and women write fantasy. This seems like a publishers' issue, not a reader one. That Alice Sheldon didn't permanently overturn this back in the 1970's with her excellent SF must be saying something about the genre.

Heteromeles comment reply (#55) is very relevant IMO.

94:

"Of course, it occurred to me that part of the problem with SF (if declining readership is still a problem) is that it's mistaken the symbols for the thing." - yes, agree ... dogma displaces thought.

I've been wondering what an alien race (or our very distant descendants) would be able to tell about us from studying our current technology vs. 'literature' vs. culture/religion (as in any mass gatherings of people chanting a common hymn/slogan: sports, pop concerts, political marches, etc.)

One of the things that seems to get lost in such an examination is the concept of money ... yes, money is pretty equivalent to power, but how to capture and measure it for posterity - removed from its current usage - is very iffy.

95:

@Judith

A more measured response to "why do psi powers have the cooties" is probably caused by the internet. People are facing the reality that not all people are their kind [tm], but worse, that a lot of the Others are rampantly different / poisonous to them. And that a lot of the minds out there certainly appear broken in their eyes.

Text = bad translation of actual mind state however.

If you spend enough time staring into the Abyss, there's few people who would trust in the universe to mind-link to their fellow species, let alone the Lions, Tigers and Bears out there (nod to Dan Simmons, with a splash of sauce). So, as an idea, it's about as popular as suggesting a bare back rodeo on an unbroken stallion or bringing a youngster to its first Intro to Dressage test with a full crowd and tannoy system in place.

(And yes, this is shameless pandering!)

96:

actually you can kind of see UV light, AFAIK. You see it as increased brightness, not as a distinct color. This trick is used in UV brighteners in detergents. These chemicals are basically a UV dye. They increase the amount of "bright" you see and so you think the colors are brighter.

The brighteners ("optical whiteners") in detergents, fabrics, and paper are compounds that fluoresce under UV to yield bluish visible light. The extra blue masks perception of yellow tints that typically appear as white paper and fabrics age.

Perception of near infrared radiation is also interesting. "Near IR" is an arbitrary cutoff point where human perception has decreased a lot. But not vanished. You can see the light flashes coming from a near-IR remote control if you look at it in the dark after your eyes have adapted. It is not the rich red you might expect from something at the lower edge of the red light range. I presume that's due to getting most of the signal from rods under these conditions.

Near IR light from remotes also shows in digital video and it appears nearly white. Electronic image sensors are monochromatic underneath. They reproduce colors by putting color filters on top of the monochromatic sensors. Near IR radiation goes through the visible color filters and triggers all the pixels, leading to "white" when the signal is interpreted.

97:

" .. but I'm not buying into the passing of hands inches away from a body has any therapeutic benefit. "

Really? We haven’t had Modern Medical Treatments for very long now have we? Certainly there are surgical treatments that are age old and some drug treatments that are equally ancient but...before, say the age of, say, “Culpeper’s Herbal”?

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Culpeper%27s+Herbal&client=firefox-a&hs=QYX&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=Kts_Vez4D43mapzVgOgB&ved=0CEkQsAQ&biw=2048&bih=1122


Well, things were ever so slightly chancy, and doctor’s best avoided...unless you had good report of their personal abilities and Secrets? Along the lines of...boasts of tribal medicine man /Witch Doctor et al...Our Medical Technician...er, Witch Doctor/ Doctress can CALL SPIRITS FROM THE VASTY DEEP!!AND cast OUT DEMONS!! Beat that one smarty pants!


http://skepdic.com/placebo.html

Beyond That? OF COURSE ... I BELIVE in the ARCANE POWERS of Our Gracious Host as Attested by his Professional Association of Witch Doctoring Medical Persons...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Pharmaceutical_Society_of_Great_Britain

Charlie can probable still call forth Spirits from the Vasty DEEP ...always provided that they are listed in...


“The British Pharmacopoeia”

http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/opinion/books-and-arts/the-british-pharmacopoeia-happy-150th-birthday-to-the-chemists-bible/11133216.article


98:

One generation? Quantum mechanics has been an established theory
for c. 70 years, and physicists are still having as much trouble
with its acausal aspects as they always did! Seriously. Most of
them have concluded that those effects are not observable, and
decided to ignore them. Others disagree .... A random example:

http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.1214

Me? I know that I am not smart enough, and never was, even though
I was once a pretty decent mathematician.

99:

Re Time Travel, if you travel FTL then you end up outside your light cone and so, by definition, have broken causality. My memory was that if you travel FTL from A to B then there will be observer who sees you arrive at B before you leave at A. However, I think I'm wrong about that. But, certainly, you will beat a light beam travelling from A to B so have information from B's future (information like "there's a GIANT SPACE LASER(TM) travelling from A to B that is about to destroy you").

This paper manages to construct formal time travel (Closed Time-like Curves) using Warp drives (Alcubierre drives). The essential maths is A-level (don't worry about the metrics) but my brain is too tired to engage with it. :( Anyway the trick seems to be two journeys.

100:

I think warm hands make for a more pleasant massage, and I also think that you can learn quite a lot by feeling someone's body. In that sense, these kinds of skills are worth exploring whatever you believe.

As for the healing touch, we'll agree to disagree. I've had it done to me and done it to other people, so I think subjectively that there is some effect, on the scale of preventing bruises and relaxing spasming muscles and similar aches and pains. It may just be placebo, but like a mother's kiss on a child's injury, sometimes it works extremely well.

101:

Getting back to the original question, I wonder if one reason post-apocalyptic fiction (or post-post apocalyptic fiction of the strange new world variety) isn't taking off in the adult SF aisle is that it falls into the gap between SF and fantasy.

On the one hand, it can be truly rigorous SF. On the other hand, it's generally low tech. Perhaps things like this are better written and marketed as mainstream literature, because it's missing both the magic and the rocketships to sell it in existing niches.

If so, that's really too bad.

102:

Perhaps things like this are better written and marketed as mainstream literature

Not sure about the USA, but the Oryx and Crake trilogy is certainly put in the main fiction section of most bookstores, not the SF section.

This is probably due to the author's weight and past however.

103:

Post-apocalyptic literature seems to be doing reasonably well; World War Z and Cormac McCarthy both seem fairly popular. Post post apocalyptic is a harder sell, because people want to read about themselves. There's not a lot of market for stories where the audience's civilization and values have been forgotten and replaced with something foreign, even if it is by far the most reasonable prediction for the far future.

104:

One generation? Quantum mechanics has been an established theory for c. 70 years, and physicists are still having as much trouble with its acausal aspects as they always did! Seriously.

Not seriously. They have no problem about using it to find answers. They have no problem about saying that it is correct, the only correct representation of reality, and that anything which gives a different result is wrong.

If they lack a common understanding about causality, that doesn't really matter. Arguing about such things is more a natter for philosophy than physics anyway.

105:

SF is still the genre of wonder, I think, even when that wonder is grimdark. So postapocalyptic might not be scratching the itches for the readership.

In YA it's dominant. Hunger Games, just for starters. Hits the adolescent Angst and the current, grim Zeitgeist head-on.

Is SF readership really declining or is a lot of it finding its way to YA and the gritter side of fantasy?

I mean SF has been a dying genre since forever, but it manages to keep on keeping on. It's booming in film and games--maybe that's where it's gone?

Or is it all just a factor of declining print sales in general? I certainly see plenty of it away from the Big Five. People are writing and reading it all over the indiesphere. Could it be the marketing categories are defeating their own purpose, and readers are looking for more rather than less?

I have not had any trouble selling a space opera via Kickstarter and the indiesphere, but selling it to agents and traditional publishers was a pretty convincing no-go. One told me "If you were long established in that specific field, OK," and another said, "If you were a 20something guy," and a third said, "one of your protagonists is the wrong age, or both of them are, so we can't slot this." Overall sense being that readers want it but publishers don't (Leckie's success notwithstanding) really have a place to put it.

106:

Since I consider FTL fantasy, Psi didn't seem any more fantasy and so was just as much SF.
There is a lot of psi in SF it just isn't the main plot point any more. Telzy Amberdon's desire not to live as some sort of on demand receiver/broadcaster got a lot more respect from me than McCaffrey's Pegasi.

107:

Telzy Amberdon's desire not to live as some sort of on demand receiver/broadcaster got a lot more respect from me than McCaffrey's Pegasi.


Eventually she teams up with the redhead secret agent Trigger Argee.


I see what you did there.

108:

The Starcraft series uses Psi extensively. While not books per-se it's still sci-fi, no?

109:

Telepathy is passe in today's world, I suspect that's why it's dropped out of fashion in SF and even Fantasy. It's easy to read someone's mind even at intercontinental distances and you can project your own thoughts and even distinct images to any other brain that's receptive.

It's called Facebook and Twitter.

110:

That's interesting, isn't it? Star Trek is quite foreign, and so are any number of classic SF stories. If I remember the mythology right, Star Trek is even post-apocalyptic. Some of OGH's early works certainly also fit the bill as far as foreignness, as do Hannu Rajaniemi's, just to pick recent examples and not revisit Dune or Le Guin's works.

Then there's the "problem" of Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy, who are writing "what if?" stories that are marketed as main stream fiction, much to the disgust of our "ghetto lit" club.

It seems that the difference really is in the trappings. If it's got space travel, alt-history, or ultra-tech, it's SF, even if it's a retread of a cowboy story. If it's merely "what if?" literature, it's labeled fantasy if the what if is demonstrably fantastic, or it's "not for us, dear," if the premise is realistic, at which point it can only be marketed as mainstream literature.

If Ms. Tarr is correct and there's an online market for stuff that editors are rejecting, then it sounds like the problem with SF may well lie in the conventionalized expectations of the mainstream SF publishers, not with either the writers or the readers.

If this is the case (and note all the ifs), then I can't blame someone like Margaret Atwood for saying she's not an SF writer. She's right, but she's responding to her writerly perception of the current constraints of the field, not to the notions we readers have, the ones that were nurtured by the SF books we grew up with in the 1970s and 1980s.

I'd also point out that the YA market of today is the mainstream market of tomorrow. If the SF publishers of today don't want to fade with the rest of the golden oldies, I'd hope they'd jump onto YA subjects and make adult versions of them as fast as they can.

111:

Good luck to anyone using psi to read my mind. Much of my thinking is in multisensory diagrams, sometimes in four and rarely in five dimensions.

112:

Star Trek is quite foreign

Funny. I mostly watched The Next Generation, but I remember it mainly as "liberals in space". It was about as bafflingly foreign as pepperoni pizza.

Ultimately genres are marketing categories. They each promise a specific type of experience for the customer. SF focuses on our hopes and fears for the future. Fantasy is largely a reaction to bureaucracy and social structure; in fantasy works social structures are usually either missing entirely, impotent, or easily eluded. This is most noticeable in urban fantasy, OGH's work excluded, where the almost universal understanding is that the police can't help you (but also won't stop you from helping yourself).

113:

110: Margaret Atwood gave up on that and embraced her science-fictional-ness some time ago. Like me with the Elves and the fantasy. If the label is generally presumed to fit..,

111: That sounds like the sort of mind a telepath/starpilot would fell right at home in.

112: Marketing categories. Yes. If Marketing can't find a niche for it, it's unlikely to be bought by a major publisher. Indies are finding all kinds of niches and subgenres with readerships eager for something other than the standard shelves and boxes.

114:

Ah... actually, talking about ossification, I don't think it's that much, but rather the desire of the multinational media companies to be able to stamp out a "product" that will be like an assembly line, with the same ROI every time. Look at movies, and tv, and music.... Plus, they have their own mindset, and anything outside of the majority of the market gets shoved into a predefined corner via checklist.

Then there's the issue of alternate universes. My wife and I are hooked on 1632, and the series is very much a) no magic, b) the hardware must actually work in the real world, and c) written by both men *and* women. I *think* it's sf....

mark

115:

By the way, one thing that bothers me a lot - and this may be a meta-issue - is it used to be that there was a 10-yr cycle in the field - for maybe 10 years, there'd be more fantasy novels publish, then another 10, there'd be more sf. The last 15 years or so, it's been very heavily fantasy, and if you don't want military sf, stuff is awful thin.

I blame that partly on the near-death of the space program....

mark

116:

I can think of quite a few SF stories I enjoyed that didn't posit apocalypse, singularity, or easy space travel but were compelling and rich in ideas.

Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle*
Pretty much everything in the first Tom Swift series**
Nancy Kress's Beggars trilogy
The Marîd Audran series
The Years of Rice and Salt
China Mountain Zhang
Holy Fire
Halting State and Rule 34
Rainbows End
Flowers for Algernon (the original short in particular)
The Squares of the City and Stand on Zanzibar
Bug Jack Barron
The Man in the High Castle and A Scanner Darkly

I think that these didn't sell as well as the more popular titles following a "the hell with science, we want star systems as islands and space vessels as boats" template.

*Generally high on the Mohs scale of SF hardness though the rare but significant use of magic arguably makes this fantasy.
**I read them when I was really young, ok. The first Tom Swift series was grounded enough in its technological extrapolation that more than half of Swift's fictional inventions have turned into reality.

117:

Funny. I mostly watched The Next Generation, but I remember it mainly as "liberals in space". It was about as bafflingly foreign as pepperoni pizza.

This is why Star Trek drives me crazy. It takes the effects of its material conditions about as seriously as The Jetsons did.

Suppose you live in a world of effectively free energy, strong AI, machines that can assemble any other machine from constituent atoms, FTL travel and communication, and teleporters.

Handled smartly, these common SFnal ingredients produced the Culture setting.
Handled stupidly, they produced the Star Trek setting.

If anything, Star Trek should be more out-there than the Culture, not less. They have time travel for crying out loud. If a story incorporates time travel and it's not horribly confusing then something has gone wrong.

118:

Much of my thinking is in multisensory diagrams, sometimes in four and rarely in five dimensions.

If we're positing hostile entities with mind reading powers, you just lost the game. Let's imagine the difference between 1.0 and 3.0 in Banks' intellect index. (And what, perchance, do you consider the 5th dimension?)

123

45

678

The trick would be to engage with abaptive reasoning (I'll let you find out through research what I'm saying - it's not a spelling error, there's a goldmine once you grok it) and deliberately blind yourself (inner space). Of course, you'd have to be able to split your mind into parallel parts and do some kinky things to your emotional responses (the trick is to keep them and not jettison them and become a socio/psychopath).

Assuming it's a total field attack, you'd also have to start playing around with local causality and temporal effects. And watch out for inscribed chaos such as many of your signifiers that are common in your world. (Ikea furniture and layouts).

But this is just SF, of course.


For the record, 4,5 levels are easy to hack.

House Disaster? Tell us more.

119:

(For the peanut gallery - of course I'm not telling the whole truth. Each strand has its own causal reality and future path with multi-indexing and you'll never feel the horror and pain).


Damage. Organic systems can regrow, that's the trick.

120:

Judith Tarr #105: I think you may have hit it on all counts. SF readership is finding it’s way to YA, it’s booming in film and games, and has gone more indie.

I find myself gravitating to the YA section of the bookstore more and have started reading YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy books. I’ve even turned my nieces on to YA Sci-Fi/Fantasy.

The gaming industry is megalithic (i.e. HALO, CRYSIS, and WARHAMMER). They’ve crossed over into books and movies.

And indie publishing is the way things are trending, especially in the digital online realm. It's growing exponentially. Many traditional publishers may find themselves going out of business like book and record stores after iTunes and amazon came on the scene. And not to forget Kodak filing for bankruptcy after being overtaken by the digital camera.

Space opera appears to be hot right now from the collections I’m seeing on the bookshelves in stores, and I suspect the traditional publishers are saturated with what they already have on the market right now. But I’ll have to say those reasons the agents and publishers gave you were sadly lame.

121:

Star Trek Voyager series, Captain Janeway gets on the wrong side of the time-travel police ... the Temporal Integrity Commisssion. (Don't recall which episode.)

122:

I can cure warts. I sometimes touch the worst wart or sometimes just tell the sufferer which will be the first to shrink.
But I don't believe in it. They do and they cure themselves. I can't cure my own warts because I don't believe in my "powers of healing".
The first time I did this was by accident. In a discussion at work about psychic powers I was the skeptic but I mentioned that my great great aunt could cure warts. A colleague (a biochemist) asked me to try and cure his warts. I looked at them and said "That one will soon go!" because it had a small fleck of coagulated blood on it and from personal experience I knew that happens to warts which spontaneously shrink.
Three weeks later he came up to me, showed me it had gone and asked me to cure the rest. I touched them and after a month they had all gone.
In the years since I have had only one failure (apart from myself) and he was a Jehova's Witness.
But I don't believe I can cure warts. They are curing themselves but don't ask me how! Sometimes gullibility can be an advantage.

123:

Funny. I mostly watched The Next Generation, but I remember it mainly as "liberals in space". It was about as bafflingly foreign as pepperoni pizza.

Strangely I always saw Star Trek as "Americans in Spaaaace" - in that the preoccupations were always with an american slant, and the solutions always as consequence-free as the ideology of american foreign interventions. In the 60s it was "shoot it or shag it", and in the 80s it was "get in touch with your inner feelings".

Only an american would see NextGen as 'liberal' - didn't see much voting on the Enterprise (the name itself a bit of a give away).

Psi died because it got a good kicking from science - becoming about as credible as a politician's promises. Fantasy has always been mainly wish fulfilment and psi is about the protagonist exerting control and power without being able to swing a broadsword. But being magic it loses out to a good old blaster (subclass magical).

FTL has also tended to die off after a science kicking. What the writer and reader want is a solution that gets you to the next galaxy and back for tea - and that's not where science says you can potentially go with FTL. That's tended to make a mess of space opera, when you realise that space is big, I mean really big.

Thing is, we kind of need some good, hard, SF right now - not urban fantasy. We need to invent the future and the scientists/technologists have delivered on the communicator, the access to global knowledge, etc. that they saw on TV in their childhood. We need some enticing utopian SF to aim at - that's particularly SCIENCE fiction. Otherwise we're stuck with mining Dick Tracy.

In short, to OGH, we need near future SF that is aspirational, not american right wing, and hits the problems and fault lines head on (and fixes them).

124:

We need some enticing utopian SF to aim at - that's particularly SCIENCE fiction.

American author - K.S. Robinson, the Mars trilogy.

Zzzzz. FFS, step your game up. The women of woo have been mentioned in public, let alone comment #39.

Or, you know,
Stephenson's own foundation for positive SF. (Let's not mention the kickstarter, ok?)

At this rate I'm going to have to break out the Milton to get a decent conversation around here.


You've no idea.

125:

"Faster-than-light travel may be presumed to need some form of machine to happen. Psi, by contrast, is an organic phenomenon."

There are several series in which ftl was faciliated by psi. The most famous, of course, is Frank Herbert's Dune, which had wetware powered ftl.

Another, whose name escapes my aging memory, involved ftl facilitated by pilots where were intentionally traumatized as children to given them multiple personality disorder, which was necessary for a human brain to management ftl navigation.

126:

Actually, there's a lot of psychic FTL plot devices:

Mass sensor in Niven's known space requires a conscious mind to work. Computers don't work. Neither do Pak. Isn't _that_ interesting?

Hyperspace in Jeffrey carver's universe is psychic.

Same in Vonda Macintyre's Superluminal.

And it seems to be psychic in Franson's "Shadow of the Ship" which is by the way a fascinating and evocative work and I really wish there'd been a sequel or prequel. That kind of psychic power is something anyone can learn.

And of course Cordwainer Smith had all kinds of effectively psychic FTL plot hooks in "Scanners Live In Vain" and "The game of Rat and Dragon".

127:

The problem with psi is less that it's implausible and more that it's implausible in the wrong way. It usually requires some sort of mystic "power of consciousness" sort of thing, which doesn't really fit with the usual sci-fi aesthetic. If you want to include something that's outside of the realm of plausibility, you have to have an aesthetic in which that works. Most far-future sci-fi aesthetics are designed around things that we don't really know about one way or another: nanotechnology, FTL, quantum whatever, etc. We're far enough from being able to use them that it goes under "the unknown." Having everything be based on nuclear fission is out of vogue now because of that. Now that neurology is far enough along that we understand some basic structures of the brain, the power of consciousness gets relegated to mysticism, and you have to use a different aesthetic for it. Since fantasy is the other major aesthetic in these things, it gets shunted into fantasy.

128:

Telepathy = Soundless, textless and invisible interpersonal communication = Advanced BCI (brain computer interface) + Bluetooth or Wifi

There are some very interesting things going on with BCI. Some are even practical now.

http://www.gtec.at/

I guess at some point someone could begin surgically embedding neural interfaces a la George Alec Effinger, but I think its not going to be necessary. Apple will probably make something. Maybe a set of earrings for the trendy.

Long Distance Telepathy = the above plus Internet.

Telekinesis - The above plus robotics, drones, nanoscale devices, whatever.

In other words, Psy is not terribly mystical or mysterious anymore. Unless you want some comm channel outside the electromagnetic spectrum.

129:

The prelude to a decent conversation is actually making sense and not looking like someone threw a thesaurus at a wall and saw what stuck.

As yes, I'm aware of all the fragments you mention - but I'm discussing the why and why not of psi dying and hard SF being on the ventilator.

Oh, and BTW - it's also related to the limitations of narrative structure and why journalism has devolved. Real stories are complex, don't have a nice three act structure, and the important factors don't work well in story form. In fiction, that makes it hard to write about things that matter, and in journalistic fiction, it means the story rarely has much to do with with the real world.

Maybe things are just too chaotic and connected in today's world to fit within the novel's narrative structure? So we end up going for simplified worlds, simplified rules, no question who the good and bad guy are, etc. ?

130:

Maybe things are just too chaotic and connected in today's world to fit within the novel's narrative structure? So we end up going for simplified worlds, simplified rules, no question who the good and bad guy are, etc.

It's true that complex characterization of both sides of an issue tends to undermine drama. If each side has a valid point, it's hard to care much about who wins. This is an even bigger problem in actual politics than in fiction, because it means political motivation tends to be inversely correlated with social understanding.

131:

I dunno, I think the level of complexity and the quality of writing in general has gone up in recent years. Worldbuilding as an art and a craft has come of age all across the spectrum of both fantasy and science fiction. The field has, right now, some of the best writers it's ever had, doing some amazing things.

Not going near the journamalists and what passes for "news" these days. Maybe there was a cosmic brain suck and all the smart got drained into the genre fiction writers?

132:

For me, the difference between Science Fiction and Space Fantasy is that the latter has themes and plot elements that don't require a space setting to work, whereas the former do because the futuristic elements/setting are intrinsic to the type of story. Rendezvous with Rama requires a space setting for it to make sense, whereas Star Wars could be changed from a space setting to a more "earth-bound" fantasy one and the themes and characters would still be viable.

133:

Sorry, change "don't require a space setting" to "don't require a futuristic setting". The key is that the space/futuristic setting is just trappings for the story - there's nothing fundamental about a story like Star Wars that requires it.

134:

I don’t know Ian, we got the communicator, but that’s about it as far as I can see. No humans past low earth orbit in 43 years? Huh?

I guess we were victims of futurist propaganda and myth-making, which turned into an ersatz religion for some of us. It sucks, but so does figuring out that Christianity and Marxism are full of holes too. I’m not sure the solution is to brainwash another generation with sci-fi propaganda.

Having said that, deconstructions of urban fantasy sound rather uninspiring. This entire culture needs an enema imo. Maybe everyone needs to unplug from the Matrix and try psychedelics in the Peruvian jungle or something? It produced some incredible fiction in the 1960s, maybe it can work 50 years on?

135:

Just as idle speculation: Psi has become unfashionable in SFF in part because Some Lab Got Results stories haven't lately hit even the popular science magazines, as far as I'm aware -- except for that one Caroline Watt / Koestler Parapsychology Unit interview/opinion piece raising yet more Ganzfeld claims. Dean Robert Jahn's PEAR Laboratory at Princeton U. School of Engineering closed in 2007 (and their results weren't repeatable), Targ and Putoff are no longer at SRI (since the 1970s, I think, and their results were heavily contested), and parapsychologist Dr. Susan Blackmore not only ceased running the Oxford University Society for Psychical Research but actually became a Fellow of CSICOP in the early 2000s.

That doesn't fully account for its shortage in fantasy, but I gather it's seen as having Been Done.

Which is a pity because there's doubtless mileage left in the old flivver. Any authors who want to see it done right need look no farther, IMO, than James Blish's wonderful 1952 novel Jack of Eagles, brimming with interesting ideas from 60 years ago (General Semantics, anyone?) and taking as premise psi powers being a hidden force in world affairs but also scientific fact. I haven't read it in decades, but I'll bet it's still fresh. And I'd love to see more four-square hard SF like it.

Psi still seems (to me) to be very much part of fantasy, albeit not called psi any more: I could swear it was part of about a third of the urban fantasy tales I've picked up, for example. No lab coats and Zener cards, hence not called psi, and instead midichlorians (ugh) and the like, but it's the same car even with the serial numbers filed off.

Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com

136:

If it becomes clearly necessary, physicists will give up on causality. No big deal.

Yeah, I could have been clearer there. The FTL causality is about general relativity, but there are other areas of physics which are quite separate from relativity.

For example, as I understand it, quantum mechanics quite happily does away with much of causality as we understand it. General relativity, on FTL level, is more about large stuff, quantum mechanics is on the other hand about small stuff.

I think I understand the relativity light cones and stuff well enough that I could explain this face to face with something to draw on, but not well enough to do it in text comments.

137:

"In general, if you're looking for quantum effects in anything much heavier than a hydrogen atom, you're not likely to succeed. "

Not true. There is no known upper mass limit where quantum phenomenon can no longer be observed. So far IIRC, beams of buckeyballs have been shown to exhibit interference and mechanical micromirrors can be put into a state of superposition. Then we have seriously macroscopic systems like superconductivity and Bose-Einstein condensates.

138:

"Pyrokinesis, telekinesis, and the like are harder to justify on a conservation of energy basis."

Pyrokinesis is quite justifiable. If something can burn it is already in a relatively unstable state. All it requires is its quantum tunnelling probability to change radically. The only reason all the paper around you does not spontaneously combust is because it cannot overcome (in reasonable time) the potential barrier between its current state and the state where it is burning.

139:

I always read Dune as "Mohammed in Space"

140:

FTL + Consistency replaces Causality

or

FTL + The Multiverse

FTL on its own does not work

141:

Psi/Telepathy
Coming to you via technology, real soon now.
Ultra-sensitive e/m sensing helmets recording/"reading" wearer's e-m brain-signals & currents.
After "training" ( i.e. years of observation ) known signals have known meanings & can be cross-checked against other wearers of said helmets.
Transmit/recieve said signals to a n other wearer.
Lo
Telepathy.

FTL
Causality-violation avoided by only "straight-line" or very large radius curvature "flight" paths.
Probably an energy-violation limit against tightly-curved paths?
Traveller still arrives back at starting point after they have left, again, especially if it only works well outside a deep gravity-well, so you have to take time to get to the "boundary" & ditto at the other end.

142:

Your first paragraph is what I said: they are closing their eyes
and hoping that acausality can't be observed on a macroscopic
scale. But your second is mistaken, as shown by a fair number of
recent academic papers. We are getting very close to being able
to design an experiment where the acausality IS observable at a
macroscopic scale - and what would we see? I haven't a clue, and
nor have the best quantum mechanics - it's only the second raters
that are absolutely certain :-)

The point here, as people have pointed out above, is that this
uncertainty affects what can or should be regarded as fantasy
versus science fiction. For example, it isn't quite impossible
that emotionally close people share entangled particles in their
brains. Telepathy, anyone? :-)

143:

Ok, my maths is in no way up to producing a formal refutation of your cite, but it seems to me that the cite is effectively arguing that if we treat Time as a 4th axis mutually perpendicular to XYZ, then if 2 objects are moving with Vxyz that are different beyond both being relativistic, then that difference has the effect of rotating Object2'T_axis wrt Object1'T-Axis but there is no proof offered that this is the case.

144:

Ref your reply to #112

I won't name him (but UK con-goers may be able to guess the name) but a few years ago I had an argument with a noted UK literary agent at Eastercon. The basis of this argument was an assertion on his part that fantasy trilogies were better business than stand-alone SF novels (even if part of a series) because they sold better. Mine was that this was a self-proving hypothesis simply because publishers' marketing departments put more effort into selling "major new fantasy trilogy part N" than into "part N of new SF series".

145:

Para 1 - Agreed.

Para 2 - That's somewhat more contentious, but I'd certainly agree that the quality of "news reporting" has gone down markedly in the last 2 decades.

146:

Even better: Mohammed on psi-kedelics in space! Are there any SF authors in 2015 who are even attempting something so visionary and audacious?

That's why I said this culture needs an enema. It needs to lose the mundane politicization of everything and reconnect to the Source. In 50 or 200 years, no one will remember any of the SF-prop and subgenres du jour, but they will remember Dune, and LOTR, and a few others. Why not aim for that?

147:

Franson's "Shadow of the Ship" which is by the way a fascinating and evocative work and I really wish there'd been a sequel or prequel.
Revised edition recently published with a hint of more to come.

148:

I think I understand the relativity light cones and stuff well enough that I could explain this face to face with something to draw on, but not well enough to do it in text comments.
I know the feeling. The link to the light cone discussion is one I'd seen before as the "FTL can't be done in normal space" case. I wish I could remember where I'd seen the "possible with some type of hyperspace/subspace" version, as far as I remember with the right conditions you get discontinuities in the paths.

149:

FTL travel or comms is Science Fiction (Hard) because Asimov and Heinlein et al. That's where the traditional demarkation lines have been drawn since time immemorial*

However, as we know, FTL is actually a rather weird concept (relativity, ftl, causuality; pick two) Hard SF has become rather more cautious about going there. PSI on the other hand ...

The more we know about the working of the mind, and the squishy substrate it runs on, the greater our appreciation of what we don't know. There's space in that un-mapped terrain for any sea-serpents the cartographer wishes to insert. Also, quantum. Otherwise respectable scientists have invoked quantum mechanics as a hiding place for consciousness.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mind

*twenty plus years

150:

Your first paragraph is what I said: they are closing their eyes and hoping that acausality can't be observed on a macroscopic scale. But your second is mistaken, as shown by a fair number of recent academic papers. We are getting very close to being able to design an experiment where the acausality IS observable at a macroscopic scale - and what would we see?

In the long run it doesn't matter. Physics starts with observations, and attempts to create immutable physical laws that fit the data. When they have to change one of the immutable physical laws, eventually they just grit their teeth and do it.

They accepted the earth not being the center of the universe, and decided the Sun was the center of the universe.
They accepted that planetary orbits don't have to be circular, and decided that orbits must be elliptical.
They accepted that the same velocity does not have to be measured the same for all observers, and decided that t^2 - x^2 - y^2 - z^2 is the same for all observers.

They decided that energy is never created nor destroyed. So when under specific new circumstances they had not measured before, they found energy disappearing, and other times they found energy appearing from nowhere, they invented an invisible undetectable particle that carried the energy. This particle is omnipresent to the point that whenever a reaction is ready to happen that would require it to provide energy, there is always one there to do it with no measurable delay. Etc. Everything they discover about the disappearance and appearance of energy gets expressed in terms of the invisible undetectable particle. Whenever conservation of energy is violated, that is taken as a detection of the undetectable particle.

Sometimes they throw out the old immutable law and replace it with a new one. Other times they patch up the old one. It all works out.

151:

"In the long run it doesn't matter. Physics starts with
observations, and attempts to create immutable physical laws
that fit the data. When they have to change one of the
immutable physical laws, eventually they just grit their teeth
and do it."

You are still missing my point, so I shall try to explain one
last time. This isn't a simple matter of changing physical
laws, as with the heliocentric universe or relativity. THAT's
no problem. This is a major change of mindset affecting
almost everybody, more drastic than the concept of variables,
and as drastic than the one which introduced logical thinking
(i.e. causal chains) in the first place. It took centuries
for the use of variables to become mainstream, and millennia
for the (much earlier) use of logical thinking to become so.
It may surprise you, but I have been involved with people
whose thinking predated even the latter - you would clearly
be amazed at how hard they found it to learn, and how few
were successful!

As I said, even good physicists are still having major
trouble trying to get to mental grips with the acausal
aspects of quantum mechanics after 70 years. The same thing
is true with the (partial) acausality in memory models in
parallel computing, where 99% of IT experts simply cannot
get their heads around it.

152:

On 'psi':
We live in a number of fields, electromagnetic, gravitational and so forth.

Consider the atmosphere we all live in. We have an organ, the ear, which can detect tiny perturbations in that 'field', and we call it sound, and it allows quite good communication.

Pigeons have organs which allow them to sense magnetic fields, and i think cows might too, but definitely pigeons.

Our own nervous system is electric, and ergo induces electromagnetic fields, and if I can tie this all together before my brains fail (it's late), then I don't actually have a hard-science problem with the possibility of an ESP or telepathic effect between humans, or any decent sized vaguely smart vertebrate.

Maybe it's there, but it's very quiet, very weak, no longer selected-for by evolutionary pressure, disbelieved-in (nothing like denial that something could be possible to stop it happening!) and/or drowned out by the much more powerful EMF fields we are bathed in by our mains grid?

It would go a long way towards explaining claims of "the power of prayer" (get a thousand minds sync'd and see what you can do) and other phenomena...then get your psi-implant with the hyperamplifier and solid handwavium flux coils, and start moving that glass!

153:

Treating technoscientific development as magic is tantamount to being so open-minded that your brain falls out. You leave vulnerabilities unclosed and eventually the woo starts to creep in, rotting away reason and common sense.

And if you think the sooper-scientific SF fandom is above the ills of mehums (=mere humans), look no further than transhumanism/singularitarianism. It's Scientology, only with computers instead of space aliens, and it's steadily gaining in our milieu.

154:

Resistance is futile - you will want to be assimilated

155:

Maybe you are deliberately oversimplifying, but I don't think your grasp of the history of science is very secure!

They accepted the earth not being the center of the universe, and decided the Sun was the center of the universe.

This was suggested at least twice, probably more often (I know about Aristarchos and Copernicus; I think there may have been some suggestions by mediaeval Islamic astronomers; it has been argued that some Indian astronomers of late antiquity may also have proposed it). Looking at the timeline, Copernicus' model never did gain general acceptance before being superseded by Kepler's – I don't think there was ever a time when the generally accepted picture was a heliocentric model with circular orbits.


They accepted that planetary orbits don't have to be circular, and decided that orbits must be elliptical.

That's definitely not true: Kepler found that the orbit of Mars could not be circular (no circular orbit fits Brahe's observations), and was eventually forced into accepting that it was elliptical when he found that the relation between the minor axis, the major axis and the eccentricity was that expected for an ellipse of small eccentricity. The data prompted the choice of ellipses, not an arbitrary "decision". (Subsequently, Newton proved that orbits under an inverse square law of force are conic sections.)


They accepted that the same velocity does not have to be measured the same for all observers, and decided that (ct)2 - x2 - y2 - z2 is the same for all observers.

That's exactly backwards! The velocity "clearly" is not the same for all observers, and nobody could possibly believe that it was (my spear, in my hand, is stationary with respect to me, but not with respect to you if I am running after the antelope we have picked out as possible lunch). The foundation of special relativity is the realisation that one particular velocity, that of light, actually does have to be the same for all observers. This leads to the invariant spacetime interval you mentioned, except that I've put the factor of c in for you as I disapprove of dimensionally inconsistent equations.

They decided that energy is never created nor destroyed. So when under specific new circumstances they had not measured before, they found energy disappearing, and other times they found energy appearing from nowhere, they invented an invisible undetectable particle that carried the energy. This particle is omnipresent to the point that whenever a reaction is ready to happen that would require it to provide energy, there is always one there to do it with no measurable delay.

I'm a particle physicist, and I simply do not recognise whatever you think you're describing here. The apparent nonconservation of energy in nuclear beta decay, explained by Pauli in terms of the emission of a previously unknown particle (which, incidentally, also fixes an apparent nonconservation of angular momentum) certainly does not postulate a particle which is "omnipresent to the point that wherever a reaction is ready to happen that would require it to provide energy, there is always one there to do it with no measurable delay." Reactions that require energy to be provided from outside don't happen, period, and a damn good thing too (since we really would rather that the proton did not decay, and neutrino interactions do include νe-bar p → e+ n). Possibly you are confused with the Higgs field, which supplies mass (but does not affect energy conservation): in this case, it is the field that is omnipresent, not Higgs bosons per se (the Higgs boson is an excitation of the Higgs field).

Everything they discover about the disappearance and appearance of energy gets expressed in terms of the invisible undetectable particle. Whenever conservation of energy is violated, that is taken as a detection of the undetectable particle.

B******ks. You appear to have been hiding in a cave for the last 60 years. Neutrinos aren't undetectable, and neither are any of the other various weakly-interacting particles that have been proposed to solve, e.g., the dark matter problem. We haven't detected them yet, but most of the proposed candidates have known signatures, and experiments are actively searching for these. Some but not all of these involve missing energy. An undetected particle creates missing energy and missing momentum, in a well-defined relationship (E2 = p2c2 + m2c4): this is how the LHC can distinguish "missing energy" due to neutrinos (common) from "missing energy" due to weakly interacting supersymmetric particles (not yet observed), and indeed "missing energy" due to poorly measured event with particles that went into dead regions of the detector (very common).

(In the context of fantasy vs science fiction, I happen to be a neutrino physicist, and I resent my favourite particle being treated as if it were a cousin of the tooth fairy!)

Final point: some conserved quantities (energy, momentum and angular momentum) are fundamentally connected with underlying symmetries, via Noether's theorem. Theoretical physicists are therefore much more reluctant to dispense with these than they would be with less deep-rooted conserved quantities such as baryon number. There is a definite hierarchy of "laws of physics" – some of them we could lose without too much soul-searching, while others definitely fall into the "new theories are only accepted when all the older physicists have died off" category.

156:

What, only to find myself trapped in a cult that repackages rehashed Christianist dogma into a nerd-friendly form?

http://religiondispatches.org/the-promise-of-immortality-in-a-tech-enhanced-heaven/

"The transhuman future does indeed seem to make many of the same promises as most religions"

Gee, wonder why that is, Mr. "Sirius".

157:

Re: "For example, it isn't quite impossible
that emotionally close people share entangled particles in their brains. Telepathy, anyone? :-)"

Studies have shown that Mothers have some of their children's DNA in their brains which finally explains why it's harder to fool Moms than Dads. (I'm sorta kidding here.)


Re: "It would go a long way towards explaining claims of "the power of prayer" "

One study I read about showed that more cancer patients who were prayed for died than cancer patients who were not prayed for. Sample selection can account for some of this though.


Repeated studies on prayer show mixed results ... the problem is that most individuals have mixed families/friends in terms of religion/religiosity therefore it's extremely unlikely to get clean 'prayer' vs. 'no prayer' cells.


A slightly more consistent finding so far is that prayer changes the prayor. That is, the person who starts praying is likely to change in observable/objectively measurable ways. However, again, it's probably possible to identify quite a few reasons for this.


Comment: Too much of 'research' online is so summarized that it's hard to figure out what was actually done. Which speaks to one of the commentators above ... we've become a society of over-simplifiers. Drowning in data is the alternative. Some choice. We need a Goldilocks data/info template/system. Or a magic info genie, or an embedded AI that will wade through the stuff for us, or grow another layer of even faster-connecting/more crinkled brain tissue, or ...

158:

Re: (In the context of fantasy vs science fiction, I happen to be a neutrino physicist, and I resent my favourite particle being treated as if it were a cousin of the tooth fairy!) - Love this!

Of course you realize that you've just painted a bulls-eye on yourself re: all sorts of interesting physics questions by non-physicists. (Speaking for myself here.)

So - how do you feel about the CERN restart? What was the most interesting finding to ever come out of SNO? Anyone find any new neutrinos/anti-neutrinos? (Sudbury Neutrino Observatory -- the only place I've ever heard of devoted to studying neutrinos. As previously posted - I enjoy Robert Sawyer's stuff and he based one of his stories at SNO, and another at CERN.)

159:

Maybe you are deliberately oversimplifying

Of course! You can't discuss this stuff in a blog comment without oversimplifying. The trick is to get it simple enough to follow without being so simple people object.

Kepler found that the orbit of Mars could not be circular....

Yes, that's what I meant. It couldn't be circular so they fell back to say that all orbits are elliptical. (Or later hyperbolic etc.) If there are variations from that, well, we aren't good at three-body problems so those can be explained. It might be possible to find data about some orbit which shows it cannot be elliptical, but we went a long time without that data so -- orbits were elliptical, like before they were claimed to be circular.

The foundation of special relativity is the realisation that one particular velocity, that of light, actually does have to be the same for all observers. This leads to the invariant spacetime interval you mentioned, except that I've put the factor of c in for you as I disapprove of dimensionally inconsistent equations.

That's fine. If you express time as a distance -- a second is the time it takes light to travel 3x10^8 meters, then the dimensions are consistent. But that's irrelevant for this discussion.

Reactions that require energy to be provided from outside don't happen, period

I probably have misunderstood this. If you explain or provide a link I'll appreciate it -- no obligation, of course. I might possibly persist in my interpretation if I fail to understand. Not sealioning, just a failure to get it.

I heard that there are reactions that happen more frequently close to a nuclear reactor, because the reactor provides lots of neutrinos. That would say I was wrong to claim neutrinos are ubiquitous -- if reactions happen more often when there are more of them, then there aren't enough of them around to let those reactions always happen. If neutrinos are not absorbed to release their energy, what's this all about?

Neutrinos aren't undetectable

The way I heard it, the way you detect a neutrino is when the neutrino's energy and momentum go missing, or when they appear from nowhere. Isn't that what it means to detect a neutrino?

Kind of like how you detect shoplifting + employee theft in a store by tracking inventory-in versus sales. Missing merchandise must have been taken by employees or customers or thieves in the night, because merchandise never appears out of nowhere and it never just evaporates. If it's gone then somebody took it.

Similarly with energy. Since we assume that energy never simply disappears or appears out of nowhere, when we observe energy to disappear or appear out of nowhere, that means we have detected a shoplifter. That's what it *means* to detect a shoplifter that you didn't catch in the act. We assume it's shoplifters and not elves, because "when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not unicorns".

By looking at patterns in the energy that appears and disappears, we can deduce details about the undetectable particle.

There is a definite hierarchy of "laws of physics" – some of them we could lose without too much soul-searching, while others definitely fall into the "new theories are only accepted when all the older physicists have died off" category.

Yes, definitely. Some of them are deeply satisfying, they assume that we know fundamental realities about the world which we assume will never be violated. Others are only based on observation.

160:

The way I heard it, the way you detect a neutrino is when the neutrino's energy and momentum go missing, or when they appear from nowhere. Isn't that what it means to detect a neutrino?

Short answer: no

Long answer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neutrino_detector

161:

At the risk of derailing the thread, I'll answer those:

How do you feel about the CERN restart?

One of my friends and colleagues has just been elected head of ATLAS physics, so he's clearly rather bullish about this one...
The key issue is that the energy has nearly doubled. This makes it very much more sensitive to new physics (to the point that one day's running at 13 TeV will give better sensitivity in some searches than the entire dataset up to 2013). It's our best chance to detect dark matter particles (if they are weakly interacting massive particles and not, say, axions) in a controlled setting. (LHC detection of WIMPs and direct detection of Galactic dark matter are complementary: the former gives you much more information about the particle properties, the latter tells you that they're really out there.) The higher energy will also give us a much bigger sample of Higgs bosons, and will allow better testing of the extent to which the properties of the 125-GeV particle really match those of the Standard Model Higgs boson: it's looking good so far, but the error bars are very large in several important decay modes. But I think for most particle physicists, it's the chance of discoveries Beyond the Standard Model that is the real driver for LHC Run II.

What was the most interesting finding to ever come out of SNO?

SNO was a fairly rare animal in modern particle physics (the species was much more common in the fixed-target era of the 1960s and early 70s): a single-purpose experiment that knew exactly what it wanted to do and how to do it. So the interesting finding was the one they set out to address: whether the total neutrino flux from the Sun (including all three neutrino types) was as predicted by the Standard Solar Model of John Bahcall and collaborators. SNO could do this by comparing the results of deuterium breakup into two protons (ν + d → p + p + e-; electron-type neutrinos only) with the breakup into proton plus neutron (ν + d → p + n + ν: all types of neutrinos). They conclusively demonstrated that although the electron-neutrino flux was only about half the prediction (the so-called Solar Neutrino Problem), the total neutrino flux was dead on. This is interesting, because the neutrinos are produced by the solar fusion reactions as electron-type, so the SNO result proves that neutrino types aren't fixed (neutrino oscillations).

Anyone find any new neutrinos/anti-neutrinos?

We know there are no "active" (weakly interacting) neutrinos above the known three, at least not of the nearly massless type, from the results of Z boson decays at LEP back in the 1990s. Briefly, the Z can decay to a neutrino-antineutrino pair, and the more types of neutrinos (with masses less than half the Z mass), the more often it will do this, and hence the shorter its already minuscule lifetime will be. By the uncertainty principle, shorter lifetime implies greater uncertainty on the mass (ΔE Δt ≥ ℏ). The measured width of the Z mass peak definitively says 3 neutrino types.

However, it is in principle possible that there might be additional neutrino types that don't interact via the weak interaction, e.g. if they spin right-handed instead of left-handed. There are some very equivocal hints that this may be the case: for example, comparison of the observed flux of neutrinos from fission reactors with the calculated flux shows a 3% deficit, which might be electron-antineutrinos (which are what reactors produce) oscillating into non-interacting "sterile" neutrinos (or, of course, it might be that the theorists who did the prediction underestimated the systematic errors). The cosmology results from Planck don't favour any additional neutrino species, though, and set quite a tight upper limit on the total neutrino mass. On the other hand, cosmological results tend to have hidden model dependence. This is a contentious field!

the only place I've ever heard of devoted to studying neutrinos

The experiment I work on is T2K, in Japan. Advertisement: we have a public webpage, http://www.t2k-experiment.org – I wrote the "About Neutrinos" section of it.

162:

Faster-than-light travel permits many models of interstellar civilization. What is psi a necessary prerequisite for?

Mass paranoia?

163:

Actually, I have, but I'm not quite the pessimist he has become.

Still, I think he's got a very, very good point about walking into dichotomies with open eyes. For instance, if outer space isn't the next frontier, it must be inner space. I don't think that. For one thing, I did a bit of soil biology research, and when 20% of the organisms I was seeing were things I couldn't readily classify to kingdom, it made me realize that there are knowledge frontiers all over the place. If you go out in the woods, you're standing on one. Unthinking dichotomies are dangerous, and I think Greer made a good point when he compared the general dichotomy of "escape to space or we'll destroy the planet" to the Book of Revelations with heaven on one side, hell on the other, history ending, and no other possibility. Even if you're not Christian, that kind of dualism gets programmed into you in our society, and it takes some work to break out of it.

As for SF's decline, I'd lay that dead bird on two separate doorsteps, like any cat:

The first is what Ms. Tarr pointed out, which is that the existing publishing industry is only selling certain classes of increasingly conventionalized stories. SF is considered to be like Romance or Mysteries in this regard. In the long run, this problem will cure itself, either because someone gets a clue and changes the model and/or because the clueless go out of business.

The second is the problem of our future. Here's a simple question: what do you think the world will look like in 100 years? How about 1000 years? Back in the 1980s, that was much easier to answer: either we'd be on our way to the stars, or we'd be crawling out of a post-nuclear wasteland. Now it's a lot harder.

I've made no secret that I've been working on writing about a post-crash world, and I can tell you that it's pretty difficult to incorporate mass extinction, resource depletion, climate change, and civilization crash into a coherent narrative of what might come afterwards. The simple case--humans going extinct--has already been written in Alan Weisman's The World Without Us. Greer's tackled the World With Us in The Long Descent, but he only runs his scenario out three generations to his version of the end of the crash. I'm running my scenario out about a half million years (not in much detail, mind you), to cover the start of the next ice age, whenever that happens. I'm doing this in part so I can talk about how long it takes to get a huge slug of greenhouse gas sequestered back underground, and mostly because I'm well and truly sick of people trying to rhetorically kill our species off. We may be stupid and short sighted, but as the most successful invasive species on the planet, we're not nearly that easy to exterminate.

My scenario is far from the only one possible, of course, but I think it's symptomatic of the larger problem in SF. IMHO, one reason SF is struggling as a genre may simply be that it's not dealing with what people increasingly see as probable futures, where we're stuck on Earth and struggling for many generations with the consequences of the problems we've created. In large part, SF is stuck remixing the glory days of the 80s and 90s, no longer asking "what if?" To me that's too bad, and I hope more writers find a way address our present hopes and fears in the guise of the future, as SF used to more often.

164:

As in, it's the sort of corporate dystopia which shows up in a lot of Glibertarian fantasies - no overarching governmental structures; no effective police forces; no overt political structures; no welfare; no structured charity or similar...

Sounds a lot like the US (and I'm guessing much of Europe) prior to 1900s.

165:

In the Dune universe, Guild technology is never really explained and any system which needs a drugged wizard to control it isn't really technology so much as magic.

I always wondered how they got to where they were. If "spice" only existed on Dune how did they colonize their empire prior to finding Dune?

166:

Apologies if I mention something that's already been said. I skimmed most answers, but there's a lot of them by now.

1. ShadowRun: had the same thought. It really falls squarely into multiple categories, if you want categories at all.

2. The only definition of SF vs. Fantasy that ever made sense to me was the speculative fiction angle: is your story predominantly a "what if?" thing, or is it predominantly taking you along for an exciting ride?

I have no issues with either, but at least it's something I can start using to classify stories. Other categories really don't make as much sense.

167:

Beautiful stuff - thanks very much!

Segueing to Judith's original topic/theme ... and what a few posters mentioned.

Shows how difficult it is to suggest new SF possibilities when there are already so many 'known possibilities'. Jules Verne only had to deal with Newtonian physics, Asimov played with Dirac's anti-electron. The contemporary SF author has 60+ particles/fields to mix and match. And as we know from Econ101, the more options, the lower the pay-off per option.

Sorta related ... and an oddball idea. (Feel free to thrash soundly any incorrect physics.)

Seems as though the limits seem to be getting pushed back at both directions for various physical continua .. apart from temperature. I'm wondering whether zero Absolute/Kelvin is in fact absolute zero. I do vaguely recall from undergrad physics/chemistry that atomic/nuclear activity is supposed to stop at this magic number. However, given we still know very little about 96% of the universe, and that 'scale' has impact on how some components work, whether this 'fixed point of a dimension' (temperature) is the next one to be breached. What the properties of anything working in the next-scale-down temperature range might be could be interesting to speculate on.

If I recall correctly, the protons will be achieving about 1.6 quadrillion degrees when they hit at CERN ... about the same temp as the big bang temp. Then we had inflation which also massively brought temps down to about 3-4 degrees Kelvin. Hubble found that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly. So are we about to experience another inflation event/cycle? If so, what's the next temperature near-equilibrium milestone? And what new particles and forces would come out of that? At what point does the weak force get torn apart, i.e., stop working, as the universe continues to pull apart? (How could you communicate across scales?)

168:

It couldn't be circular so they fell back to say that all orbits are elliptical.

No, no, you've missed the point. Ellipses were not a "fall-back position" from circles: they were imposed by the data. Kepler concluded from the failure of the attempt to fit an off-centre circle that Mars' orbit was "oval", but was apparently very reluctant to accept that it was in fact an ellipse (for the perfectly sensible reason that ellipses are such a well-known closed curve that someone would surely have tried them!). It was only when he found that his "oval" had the property that b = a(1 - e2/2), where b is the minor axis, a is the major axis, and e is the fractional offset of the Sun from the centre, that he accepted that the shape of the orbit must be an ellipse (this relationship follows from the properties of an ellipse, provided e ≪ 1).

In fact, planetary orbits are known not to be perfectly elliptical, principally because of perturbations from other planets, secondarily because of general relativity (which explains the excess perihelion precession of Mercury). A particularly foul example is the orbit of the Moon, which is affected not only by other Solar System bodies (mostly the Sun) but also by the shape of the Earth (not a perfect sphere) and the tidal bulge. Huge numbers of extremely talented 19th century mathematicians worked on celestial mechanics, precisely because of the challenge of dealing with the N-body problem (and, of course, Neptune was discovered because of its effect on the orbit of Uranus). We owe several important techniques in mathematical physics to celestial mechanics.

The issue I have here is that you seem to think that there's some automatic fall-back position whenever a theoretical prediction is found to disagree with the data. This just is not true, and what actually happens in such cases is very variable. In some situations, the "solution" is "damn it, this does not work: we will ignore it and hope that something will come up; in the meantime, we will go on as if nothing was wrong." This worked very well for thermodynamics in the 19th century: James Clerk Maxwell knew perfectly well that the kinetic theory of gases was spectacularly incapable of explaining the specific heats of polyatomic gases, but it was so successful in other respects that people just ignored the problem for about 50 years (the solution requires quantum mechanics). In other cases, the solution is already contained within existing theory ("Uranus is deviating from its predicted position. If this is caused by an unknown planet, where would the planet have to be?"). Only in cases where the underlying theory is known to be a bit wobbly does it immediately get junked, and there isn't always an immediate replacement (hot Jupiters deep-sixed the prevailing theory of planetary system formation, which would have required all gas giants to be out at 5 AU – the basic idea of the current model, that planets can migrate inwards from the place where they formed, appeared quite quickly, but the details are still being worked out).

I probably have misunderstood this. If you explain or provide a link I'll appreciate it -- no obligation, of course.

I'll try, but I think there's a fundamental conceptual problem here.

Particle reactions must conserve several important things, including but not limited to energy, momentum, invariant mass (the energy-momentum equivalent of the invariant spacetime interval, given by m2c4 = E2 - c2p2 where E is total energy and p is the magnitude of the vector sum of the momenta) and electric charge. If it is not possible to conserve a conserved quantity, the reaction will not go: for example, you cannot get pair-production from a free photon, γ → e+e-, because you cannot simultaneously conserve energy and momentum. (Pair production will happen in an external electric or magnetic field: the field supplies a virtual photon, which allows conservation of energy and momentum.)

Of course, if the colliding particles have non-zero kinetic energy, this is included in the sum: so, at LEP, an electron and a positron colliding head-on could make a Z boson, which has invariant mass about 180000 times larger than the electron mass: the invariant mass of the e+e- system is equal to the Z mass. What does not happen is that particles miraculously appear from nowhere to supply additional energy for a reaction that is below its energy threshold.

In addition to this, there is no such thing as pure disembodied energy: energy is carried by particles, and particles have other properties besides energy. For example, take the reaction that was used to discover the neutrino, inverse beta decay, (νe)bar p → e+ n. [Sorry about the notation: overline doesn't work with this style sheet.] The antineutrino brings to this reaction:

  • kinetic energy;

  • momentum;

  • angular momentum (its spin of ℏ/2);

  • lepton number –1.


  • Assuming that the struck proton is more or less stationary, all of these are necessary. The neutron is more massive than the proton, so the reaction won't go at all below some threshold neutrino energy. Angular momentum is conserved, and without the neutrino's spin-1/2 this would fail (orbital angular momentum is quantised in whole numbers of ℏ, so there is no way to make up the missing ℏ/2 without an extra fermion). Lepton number is conserved: you can't simply produce a positron out of nowhere, there must be an antilepton in the initial state.

    Neutrinos have well-defined properties (the invariant mass is not exactly measured, but is known to be > 0 and < 2 eV); reactions involving undetected neutrinos have "missing" values corresponding to those properties, particularly lepton number and spin. As I said, an event containing a different weakly interacting particle, e.g. a SUSY neutralino (dark matter candidate) would have different properties: neutralinos have zero lepton number and much larger invariant mass.

    169:

    The other reason I wonder is because the SF readership seems to be declining. Given that we're living in gearhead heaven right now, you'd think it would be increasing. Why isn't it?

    For many of us SciFi was a way to set set neat futuristic gadgets into an interesting plot. To be honest I carry in my pocket and carry bag more technology that I read about in many SciFi books of earlier years. It's hard to get excited about Kirk's communicator when my iPhone or iPad is actually more useful with more features.

    I think that it's harder to get a bad plot published with neat hardware than it was in "the good old days".

    170:

    P.S. When will HBO do for Dune what it did for Game of Thrones?

    Not until all of us who saw the movie have died so we don't pollute the expectations.

    171:

    There is no known upper mass limit where quantum phenomenon can no longer be observed.

    This is true in the same sense that there's no lower speed limit where relativistic phenomena can't be observed. There's no limit, but the phenomena converge toward ordinary Newtonian physics.

    The de Broglie wavelength of a particle is inversely proportional to its momentum, which is mass x speed. Quantum effects are most significant in systems with very low mass that are extremely cold; they become increasingly insignificant as mass, speed, or temperature rise.

    172:

    This sounds like a misconception about the nature of "temperature". What we call "temperature" is actually a measure of the speed (note speed, not velocity, this is important) of vibration of atoms. As T\/ vibration\/, and as we approach 0A vibration>0. 0A Is in fact defined as "the temperature at which the speed of atomic vibration is 0.00...", and obviously, since speed is a scalar rather than a vector quantity, you can't go slower than 0.0.

    173:

    Cheers Susan, the bits of that which I can follow (I've not looked at some of the sub-atomic physics stuff) are correct.

    174:

    Presumably spice was discovered pre-Butlerian Jihad when navigation would have been by computer.

    175:

    Only an american would see NextGen as 'liberal' - didn't see much voting on the Enterprise (the name itself a bit of a give away).

    The liberal bit comes from "we've abolished money war and religion as we figured out we don't need them any more.

    Which is why almost all plots involved trade, conflict, and magic (beings indistinguishable from gods).

    Uhhh????

    176:

    The liberal bit comes from "we've abolished money war and religion as we figured out we don't need them any more.
    Er, isn't that almost pure Marxist communism?

    177:

    Tying together a fad and an observation by our host over the time lag in 'fashions' in SF, and a nifty CTRL+F, I'll do the pop science thing (since everyone else is deep into their particles)

    Mirror Neurons.

    Hot cakes in 2013, now? Although not strictly psi powers, empathy has a major footing (hello J Rifkin) in shaping the narratives in certain fields.


    What We Know Currently about Mirror Neurons

    Single-Neuron Responses in Humans during Execution and Observation of Actions


    Links in with pre-splurg post about microexpressions etc.

    ~

    Regarding Dune = Islamapohiba etc. Although it's certainly there (and, even weirder, a Jewish enclave turn up in book 5 or 6 and have their own Bene Gesserit memory thing of their own), I'd say it's a little uncharitable as a single thread reading. Characterizing the Fremen as Islamic isn't explicit, and probably reflects our own bias more than anything else (?perhaps not?). Much like The Jesus Incident / The Lazarus Effect aren't about Christianity per se.

    The books would probably have been stronger with the OC Bible, Jewish enclaves and so forth, it felt a little too obvious.

    ~
    The Lazarus Effect also brings me to something I didn't post earlier since the topic was purely organic systems: fuzzy boundaries (in processors). There's a specific type of feedback loop whose name I can't remember (parasitic oscillation sounds close, but it has a much better name) - which also ties into up thread wonderings on electromagnetic consciousness -
    CEMI / QBD for example.


    ~

    So, hopefully that wasn't a salad.

    178:

    There's a little more to combustion than that. At least a small volume of the material has to be heated to its flash point (the temperature where its vapor pressure is sufficient to sustain ignition if ignited).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flash_point

    179:

    I’m curious why there is such a relentless need to “slaughter tropes” and engage in cultural deconstruction via fiction in certain circles.

    That's a rather politically loaded position to stake out, don't you think?

    Put it another way: existing genre cliches achieved their status by being easy, facile, and superficially appealing. But there's something unsatisfying about endlessly repeating the same myths, and we can often learn a lot more about them -- develop a deeper understanding -- by turning them on their head. In the case of The Goblin Emperor what comes under scrutiny is the naive idea that you can change an empire from the top down by slaughtering anyone who gets in your way, and that merely being the Anointed Saviour is enough to legitimize any actions you might take.

    Hint: narratives that romantically legitimize violence (as long as the perpetrator is privileged) have a political subtext of their own, and you should never underestimate the degree to which the structure of heroic myths helps propagate a wider culture of acceptance of abuse. By probing this one, Monette does us a great service while also giving us a new mythic form (that may in time become a cliche in its own right, but which for now remains fresh).

    180:

    Er, isn't that almost pure Marxist communism?

    It would be, if the writers were smarter and/or more honest.

    181:

    Trek Problems....

    Life on earth is perfect. And economics is "different" (presumably the result of the Transporter and salaries that take relativity into account, and I expect that's why Voyager didn't go sub-light, get back in a year or two subjective, and time jump back to the time they left.).

    But there is a dark undercurrent, viz the resistance to genetic manipulation, AI, human upgrades and other things I can't recall at this point being fairly pissed in the UK sense. There's a lot the Federation will not (allegedly) do.

    Mind you, I'd like to see The Culture meet the Federation. My money is on the Culture!

    182:

    My take on ST and STNG is that they were almost the only game around at the time. So we watched them in spite of all the plot and settings flaws. I know I have trouble trying to watch them now.

    As to the money issue and US liberalism. Money/profit is evil. Except when it's not. HC is case number one for that right now..

    183:

    Re. psi in SF, I've been saying for years now that you don't see it so much, except in its technological mind implant form, in part because the advance of science (and engineering){and economics} has obliterated certain idea spaces. We can be pretty damn sure now, after all the experiments done on psi powers in the last 60 years, and now we can study how the brain works in real time (albeit at still a fairly crude level) and so on, that telepathy just isn't organically possible. The level of suspension of disbelief required for something billing itself as Science fiction is too high.

    Well that and the other reasons given in the post, and also the movement of fashion.

    184:

    There are militant beliefs, apocalyptic ideas etc, in Dune, but they are only part of the bigger picture as it were. The Butlerian jihad for instance is obviously a militant belief. As is the belief in Paul as whatever it was he was that the Fremen had. Apocalyptic ideas come up in CHildren of Dune, but on the other hand the Dune universe is so big and open, why would you want an apocalyptic idea/ religion anyway?

    185:

    PSI

    No experiment to date has suggested this might be real. Shit, I used to get paid (work) in this area. Even if it is a weak sense, after 500,000 years of evolution I'd expect all survivors to be psychic. So why aren't you?

    Niven, I think, suggested that Neanderthals had empathy that such that we killed them.

    The other problem with PSI is that it's badly defined. How can you find a thing unless you have a clear idea of what you're looking for?


    186:

    Nope.

    American, are you? As I've been saying for a while, what Americans know of any type of socialism is exactly what Good Germans (tm) knew of Jews, or the Roma, in late-thirties Germany.

    In fact, it's a *future*, that's better than the present, or the past. And we're slowly evolving beyond all of that to find something more to do with our lives.

    mark, not a trekkie, yes, a socialist, no, not a Marxist

    187:

    They already did the _Dune_ and _Children of Dune_ mini series. They were solid, and don't need to be duplicated.

    Wiki - Frank Herbert's Dune

    Wiki - Frank Herbert's Children of Dune

    188:

    I used to say, particularly in the early years of Windows, that the continuing good health of one William Gates was extremely strong evidence against the existence of psi. After all, with so many people wishing him to die horribly at any given time, even if only one person in a million were psychic...

    189:

    Nope.

    American, are you?

    I've met Paws. While he might live on Long Island, if he does it's not the one in New York.

    (Did you know that the Outer Hebrides, aka Na h-Eileanan Siar, is so known?)

    190:

    Even if it is a weak sense, after 500,000 years of evolution I'd expect all survivors to be psychic. So why aren't you?

    The endpoint of the Dune series is making humans invisible to... well. It's never fully explained, but it's named: Kralizec – Long-foretold "Typhoon Struggle" or final "battle at the end of the universe." (
    other things are hinted at).

    To use an actual analogy, if you read the social history of the 19th / early 20th Century in conventional (say, 1950's) tomes, you'd be hard pressed to imagine that homosexuality existed or that it had much sociological impact. Yet, of course, this is absolutely untrue (which is why historical revisionism is important): it's just that hiding allowed survival.


    So, there's one reason. Genocidal Jihad speaks for itself, as they say.

    191:

    maybe PSI needs a critical mass! Enough people with the weak talent for it to work for everyone.

    192:

    maybe PSI needs a critical mass! Enough people with the weak talent for it to work for everyone.


    SCNARC & the 10% rule

    193:

    OK. PSI is bollocks.

    That said, Macick works. but like PSI it's not easily predicable as regards results. Too much ellusion, mostlty! OGD, Crowley, for preference, since you didn't ask...

    194:

    Hmm, I disagree. The end point about Dune is making humans various enough in enough far flung places to ensure humanities survival 'forever'. You aren't going by the made up sequal guff are you?

    195:

    I think part of the change is that "magic" in fantasy gradually got redefined from "chanting in ancient languages and reading old books" (e.g. Saruman, early D&D) to "intrinsic mental power of the Gifted" (e.g. Aes Sedai, more recent D&D's sorcerers). The "psi" terrain was not so much abandoned by SF as conquered by fantasy.

    196:

    *maybe PSI needs a critical mass! Enough people with the weak talent for it to work for everyone.*

    Are we absolutely sure it doesn't?

    As the granddaughter of an woman with the second sight, I'm agnostic but there were things she could do that were not easy to explain away. Conversations with people who arrived an hour or a day later and started talking of the things she talked of, portraits of people she'd never met but the person requesting the portrait had (we're talking long pre-interwebs here, like 1920s/30s), the list goes on. She had her scary moments, especially for the teenaged kids and grandkids who Could Not sneak out or lie about why. She always knew. Word for word and straight down the guest list. Then there was the way she could feel colors. Blindfold her, put random paint chips in front of her, off she'd go. I'd love to know the physical basis for what she did. There has to have been one.

    So, well. Hm. There are technologies that were labeled "impossible" or "never happen" until they happened. We have no idea how much we don't know, or how much there still is to discover.

    I know, I know. Heads are spinning here, pea soup is spewing. But if you're writing science fiction, these are the sorts of things that get thrown in the plot grinder to see what comes out.

    If psi isn't in vogue now, it well might come back. (versus pounds per square inch, which definitely exist) I'd say my question is being well and thoroughly (and intriguingly) answered; I've got a list of new links and concepts so far, and that warms the cockles of my beady little writer's heart.

    197:

    Keri Sperring made a case that Katherine Kurtz, with her Deryni series, was the pivotal person in making the changes you describe.

    198:

    The end point about Dune is making humans various enough in enough far flung places to ensure humanities survival 'forever'. You aren't going by the made up sequal guff are you?

    Nope. That's part of the reasoning (against stagnation) but not the main part.

    The end goal of Leto II's breeding program is to make an individual (Siona Atreides) who is invisible to prescience. i.e. a truly free human who cannot be seen by another prescience and so cannot be constrained by inter sectional actions.

    This is the way Herbert breaks the paradox of prescience that he explores in Paul / Leto II.


    [Apologies: Dune fans are boring]

    199:

    Sure, I'd agree with that way of phrasing it, but I don't with the way you previously put it re Kralizec etc.

    200:

    An indirect psi workaround *bypassing the brain*: extreme sleep deprivation overstimulates verbal centers in the brain causing people to hear their own thoughts as if out-loud (they aren't) enabling subvocalized thoughts to be reflected word for word in the vocal cords (which almost touches the brain stem, reminding me of a famous pic), the breathe, the lungs and chest area. The jaw and teeth are in the throat area.

    There used to be a wrap-around metal gizmo that fitted across the chest that was said to be able to pick up a few words here and there that the wearer was thinking. Never tried it but that's the idea.

    I once googled the term "thought broadcasting" common in schizophrenia. The explanation mentioned sleep deprivation causing overstimulated verbal centers in the brain which in turn causes the auditory hallucination of hearing your own thoughts as if out loud. If the above is factual it can labeled magic, or good old fashion Cheney Bush no-touch torture know how.

    201:

    There's a fairly famous story which argues that Psi depends on humans being able to do more than machines. So, while the explanation-target has genuine talent, machines do the jobs with more power. Telepathy or radio? Telekinesis or a JCB? And so on.

    I think it was in one of the magazines of the fifties; what I vaguely recall fits that era, and it may have been in one of those Best-of anthologies. Not long, rather didactic, not a great read, but something stuck.

    Our machines got better

    202:

    And golly, wasn't PKD heavily into psi?

    203:

    CatinaDiamnd I don't think Dune fans are boring but:
    I thought the first book was brilliant and coudn't wait for the second. Unfortunately it was a so-so book with a good ending. When I got to the end of the thrd book I threw it in the dustbin and never read anything else in the series. It ran out of steam in the third book and the ending was so unlikely that I couldn't believe it.

    204:

    Such is the extremely rare case when a person's mouth acts as a
    receiver. The electrical conductivity of the human body can act as an
    antenna. A metallic filling in a tooth, reacting just so with saliva,
    can act as a semiconductor to detect the audio signal. The speaker in
    this case could be anything that vibrates within the mouth enough to
    produce noise, such as bridgework or maybe a loose filling.

    In those cases of extremely strong radio-frequency waves, Hunsucker
    said the receiver effect can be eliminated by surrounding the bogus
    receiver with a grounded, copper-screened cage. Or you may choose to
    sit back and enjoy the music."


    During the Second World War the same phenomenon gave rise to many
    erroneous reports of the "foreign invaders" in areas of Britain close
    to short-wave transmitters. Strange voices in hedgerows at night were
    reported to the police or the Home Guard. On investigation it was
    found that modulated arcs on barbed-wire fences were picking up BBC
    World Service transmissions.

    http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=367925


    Carrots. I really like carrots. Anyone else suddenly need to eat carrots?

    205:

    > As the granddaughter of an woman with the second sight, I'm agnostic but there were things she could do that were not easy to explain away.

    Sure. There are things other people do that I can't easily explain. Even if you believe this stuff, honestly believe it, and many do, and at one point I did, it's nothing more than I used to do at the London Dungeon, cold reading, even when you don't realise you're doing it.

    206:

    Thomas Pynchon mentions psi in Gravity's Rainbow along with trying to predicting Hitlers moves via tarot, along with communicating with the dead as a serious area of esp-ionage. Pynchon is into science not SF but he mixes it up occasionally. He kinda wimps out in GR
    by calling into question whether on not the American lieutenant was psychotic or if he really was able to predict V2 targets by way of his sex urge.

    I emailed Stross concerning this kind of thing a few weeks ago. It was kind of cringeworthy but I hope he read it.

    207:

    Which is to say, self deception is so easy....

    208:

    The real thing about Psi is, well, apart from the uses that are now largely obsoleted by cell phones and instant messaging, what we are left with is telekinesis, which was always even more scientifically stupid than even the rest of the Psi package, and abilities such that anyone who ever used them under any imaginable circumstances is as utterly and irrredeemably evil as evil can get: invasive telepathy and mind control. It's clear that the very existence of mind control is death to any kind of free society or representative government, that the invasive act of mind reading is so repellant and violative as create a right of lethal self defense (and that sufficiently advanced blackmail is indistinguishable from mind control at any rate). Any real thought about the implications of Psi for a just and free society is going to have to lead one to believe that the mustache-twirling villains of 70's and 80's Psi sagas (Stasheff, Kurtz et al) are at the very least less wrong than the protagonists. (It is difficult to view the Jedi, with their culture of casual mental assault and victim-blaming, as innocent victims of Order 66...)

    209:

    Personally, I don't find the idea of mind reading or of having my mind read nearly as repellent as you seem to. It seems to me that a culture that used it routinely would be more honest, if perhaps a bit less beautiful for it. Everybody's egos would take a hit at first as we found out how others really saw us, but we'd get used to it.

    210:

    Antonia T Tiger: "There's a fairly famous story which argues that
    Psi depends on humans being able to do more than machines." Yes,
    The Emperor's New Mind :-) Actually, I am perfectly serious. I
    looked through it to see why he thought that the human brain is
    not subject to a Goedelian limit. Chapter N described that limit,
    and chapter N+1 started "Because human minds are not subject to
    that limit ..." or similar. "With one bound he was free!"

    Therion667: "PSI No experiment to date has suggested this might
    be real." That is not true. Many have - suggested it, that is.
    None have conclusively demonstrated it. There have been just too
    many documented examples of anomalies to claim that self-deception
    is the explanation, and just too many cases of self-deception to
    accept the experiments as reliable.

    But there is also a massive level of hypocrisy by the skeptics,
    because some of the accepted 'disproofs' of PSI data have been
    more fantastic than assuming PSI! One that I saw relied on
    subliminal hearing. Fine, except that I did the calculation
    (unlike its proponents). Subliminal hearing at > 10 dB below
    thermal noise? Get real. It fails on information-theoretic
    grounds alone (and that's mathematics, not just physics).

    I doubt that PSI, as used in SF/fantasy exists, but there is
    assuredly good evidence that our current world view is NOT the
    whole story. And refusing to accept data because it disagrees
    with theory is NOT good science, despite being almost the norm,
    especially in medicine and physics :-(

    211:

    Just as a note: there's a striking similarity in this piece of text and other sentences easily findable on the internet (to the degree of only a couple of word changes - I'm not going to quote the exact phrase due to crawlers linking the two, but it's semantically identical) that lead to forums which very obviously have ill individuals on them, and who are obviously going through extreme amounts of distress, all the way back to 2010.

    So, either silly buggers are being played or this poster is part of said communities, but mixing the idea of psi with reality is always dangerous - and the little nod to PK Dick & his rather sad end.

    Wild drunk splurg theories attract who knows what?

    I'm not going to outright call shenanigans, but there's a current that's probably unhealthy.


    Interesting piece anyhow.

    212:

    Secret knowledge.

    I love you.

    213:

    That's a rather politically loaded position to stake out, don't you think?

    Constructing and deconstructing tropes is always politically loaded. The kinds of stories we're familiar with determine quite a bit about how we see ourselves and what we're doing.

    I haven't read the book, but it sounds like The Goblin Emperor is a story where history is determined by large social forces and individual attempts to change it are at best meaningless. It's worth asking whether that's a story worth teaching the young.

    I'm not saying it's wrong. I'm saying it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    214:

    maybe PSI needs a critical mass! Enough people with the weak talent for it to work for everyone.

    Maybe its the other way round and too many people together deafen each other.

    It would tend to linger more in rural areas, where it doesn't drive people crazy so fast.

    215:

    maybe PSI needs a critical mass! Enough people with the weak talent for it to work for everyone.

    Or maybe it only works when the population is thin enough that psychic people don't deafen each other with their thoughts.

    So it would tend to linger in rural areas.

    Or consider predator prey cycles. Get a whole lot of psychics together and anything that preys on them may settle down and prosper....

    If debilitating memes spread faster among psychics, regardless whether the memes themselves prosper in the long run by doing it....

    216:

    Even if it is a weak sense, after 500,000 years of evolution I'd expect all survivors to be psychic.

    Consider psychic communication.

    There's no particular reason to think it started with humans 500,000 years ago. More likely lots of mammals would be psychic. Mice and cats both.

    Mouse colonies would surely benefit from psychic communication. But then, cats that overhear them would benefit too. There's a question what to communicate, and when. A question when to listen to the cats, and when it's better not to know.

    The details would depend on how the psychic stuff worked, but I can easily imagine that we might have just as much selection for selectively turning it off, as for making it more sensitive. We evolved eyelids though fish did not. We can hold our breaths for awhile.

    And then there could certainly be selection sometimes in favor of not using it. If such a thing exists, it might be something that all survivors could be trained to do, but it's more important to train survivors not to do it.

    217:

    Let's try some Dawkins here and check for convergent evolution. Are there any other beings (animals) that are known to communicate via psi?

    If PSI ever existed, it was lost when we acquired language and civilization led by very large, tough guys who preferred to use their club instead of their psi.

    218:

    "And what, perchance, do you consider the 5th dimension?"

    I know it when I feel/see/body-sense it.

    Note: This is a fifth _spatial_ dimension.

    And it's probably just one of the shadows on the wall of my cave.

    219:

    Just visited Dawkin's site ... CalTech is hosting an interesting conference May 29-31 2015. Seems the topics will span what we generally end up discussing here. And, let's face it -- if they're talking about the year 2525, it's gonna be pretty SF-ish.

    "In the Year 2525: Big Science, Big History,
    and the Far Future of Humanity"

    Topics: "The future of the universe, the solar system, and the earth and its resources, the fate of civilizations and the nation-state, changing economic systems, the expanding moral sphere and progress or regress in morality, what language humans will speak, what race (if any) humans will be, the changing nature of gender roles, the future of religion, conflicts, and wars, how we can (or if we should) colonize the solar system and galaxy, and how humanity can become a Type I, Type II, or even a Type III civilization."

    220:

    Ellipses were not a "fall-back position" from circles: they were imposed by the data.

    Kind of. Noncircular was imposed by the data, the previous dogma could not stand. Elliptical came pretty close so the new data was that they were always ellipses, right?

    In fact, planetary orbits are known not to be perfectly elliptical, principally because of perturbations from other planets,

    Yes, that's what I said. And such things were excuses for the orbits not being elliptical, long before they could be calculated well enough to show that there were no unexplained reasons that orbits are in fact not elliptical although the dogma said they were.

    The issue I have here is that you seem to think that there's some automatic fall-back position whenever a theoretical prediction is found to disagree with the data. This just is not true, and what actually happens in such cases is very variable.

    I agree with you, and I thought I said that. Sometimes the response is that the theory is true despite the data not agreeing, because known but uncalculable forces interfere. Sometimes the response is to ignore the problem until somebody working on something else accidentally resolves it. Sometimes the response is to admit that there is a fundamental unsolved problem and there is an opportunity for somebody to solve it. It can go every which way.

    Particle reactions must conserve several important things, including but not limited to energy, momentum, invariant mass (the energy-momentum equivalent of the invariant spacetime interval, given by m2c4 = E2 - c2p2 where E is total energy and p is the magnitude of the vector sum of the momenta) and electric charge.

    It makes perfect sense that they should conserve these things, and they are observed to conserve them except when they don't.

    I don't want to belabor this too much. I'll give an example from one of my own fields of something vaguely similar. When a gene product has no effect on survival, the gene can mutate freely. So for example in E coli there is a gene product that sits on the cell surface and transports manganese, and it is the attack site for a lethal virus. When there is plenty of manganese and no virus, this has little effect on survival.

    Start with a population that all has the normal gene, and the population mutates at roughly a linear rate. As the number of mutants increases eventually the rate seems to slow, there are fewer normal genes to mutate and more mutants to mutate back.

    But in practice when the bacteria are grown for long periods the rates don't show the expected curve. The number of mutants increases linearly, and then it suddenly falls to a very low number. Then it increases linearly again and suddenly falls.

    Rather than assume that there was something fundamentally wrong with the theory, the researchers decided that there are mutations that are successful in the lab culture, and when they outcompete everything else, most of the "neutral" mutants are lost. They start to build up again in descendents of the adapted mutants, and then it happens again. I would not suggest that the researchers should have thought otherwise.

    Similarly, it makes perfect sense to me to hypothesize that undetectable particles ferry the missing or surplus energy in the specific cases there is missing or surplus energy. It's clearly the best theory. Possibly someday someone might find a better theory, but I'll wait to argue about the other theory when I see it.

    So if I said "Physicists found an exception to one of their immutable laws so they explained it with undetectable particles like so many invisible elves" you would have the right to ask me where's my better theory, and I couldn't give you one.

    It just kind of bemuses me that physicists found an exception to a couple of their immutable laws so they explained it with undetectable particles. And various people (typically not physicists) say "These invisible particles have been *seen*. Every time we detect that energy and momentum have disappeared, that is a time that we have *observed* neutrinos carry away the energy and momentum."

    But I might use similar language. "This spot on the graph where the neutral mutations collapse, that's where we observe selected mutations performing a population changeover."

    221:

    I'm a dead entity walking anyhow, so let's have some fun.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:5-cube_t0.svg


    Stare at the orange dot, tell me where it leads. Either a gremlin or mogawi you be, it's apparently traditional to wait until you're dead. (And why would I think you're in the cave? you might just be in the Sun, but one out of many)


    Laniakea

    222:

    Let's try some Dawkins here and check for convergent evolution. Are there any other beings (animals) that are known to communicate via psi?

    Put it this way, if a pack hunter hasn't developed psi powers, no animal has. With the added advantage that an animal isn't likely to try to fool the researcher with magic tricks.

    223:

    Are there any other beings (animals) that are known to communicate via psi?Are there any other beings (animals) that are known to communicate via psi?

    I can only give a personal observation. One time at the National Zoo I stopped to look at an enclosure of raccoons. There were a bunch of them, mostly lazing in the afternoon sun. I looked at the obvious dominant raccoon, a large older animal, and thought at it. I regretted that I had nothing to offer it, and I politely asked it to walk in an hourglass pattern for me. Like a couple of inverted triangles. It looked at me and then looked at one of the young raccoons. The young raccoon walked precisely the pattern I had envisioned. I thanked the patriarch and thanked the young one.

    I moved on to the dingo exhibit. The dingos were on top of a rock. I thought at them, politely asking one of them to come down where I could see it better. They looked at me and did not move. They seemed scornful but maybe I was imagining it.

    Years later I went back to the raccoon exhibit, which had moved. There were two grown raccoons in it, one a bit larger than the other. I thought at them and they ignored me. They growled at each other, and the bigger one chased the other which ran away. They growled some more. They had no attention for me at all.

    It's always kind of uncertain when you try to demonstrate predictable repeatable behaviors with animals that are free to do whatever they want. if you want to study animal telepathy you might do better with animals that know you are completely dominant, able to punish or reward them at will. Except -- if you could do telepathy and somebody like that owned you, how hard would you try to hide it? Would you want to be in a position where they would say "I know that you understand precisely what I want you to do whether I tell you or not, and you're playing stupid on purpose." ??

    224:

    Put it this way, if a pack hunter hasn't developed psi powers, no animal has.

    But they have, essentially. Not taking "psi" to mean "telepathy", there's plenty of evidence of real 4D perception of temporal/spatial reality in pack animals and modified senses that H.S.S simply doesn't (or no longer) possesses. Not to mention EM senses, magnetic tracking and so on.

    E.g. Scent marking in wolves - territorial but it also has an effective temporal element that allows them to map their territory in 4D. Wolves can also reason in this space, spotting a wounded elk and leaving it for x+n days and then scouting the most likely positions it has traveled to; it's how they can survive in the regions they're in. We'd call that "psi" if humans could do it with their level of accuracy (look at the stock market).

    You're also making a huge assumption about identity. Pack animals literally function as pack, so the identity is more akin to chemical bonds forming a whole molecule than your (western) version of Single Consciousness / Soul in a Body that happens to exist with other-things-like-you. (Fyi Which is why so many zoo animals are psychotic).

    Pack animals - Pack is the identity, not the individual members.


    I could provide links, but frankly, I fear I'll be hunted soon anyhow and am probably outstaying my welcome.

    225:

    As for fooling the researcher with magic tricks, you'd be surprised.

    Then again, that statement makes me feel like a bug on a petri dish, so it's probably best to not give away too much.

    226:

    Magic Tricks

    Post #38, last link, do the research and watch the actual performance.

    Then look at the thread.

    Work out if that's magic or not.

    227:

    You could have sourced similar language I used back to a YT video I commented on made by Michio Kaku. And yes, many of the other comments definitely are off the wall but that is to be expected given the subject. But you didn't find those did you?

    I did make a similar entry on a weirdo forum that was so deliberately insane I thought I would add something resembling sanity on a mind control site set up to replicate psychosis and insanity. You did manage to find that. (There are many thousands of similar bogus sites) I used similar language on a blog of mine that deals fairly reasonably with "psi and reality" among other things. Did you miss that one?

    I am not going to guess what led you to do a search on my wording and I don't believe there is any connection between you and the forum you referenced. The finality and absolute certainty of your comment seems to be the last word in your mind so I'll leave it at that.

    228:

    We do know that, relative to chimpanzees, we have superior vocal communication. We can reasonably assume that either our ancestors lacked telepathy, or it turned out to give less of a survival advantage than speech.

    229:

    But you didn't find those did you?

    Check my comment history - I agreed not to do deep searches on other poster's histories due to some people doxxing me.

    I would add something resembling sanity on a mind control site set up to replicate psychosis and insanity

    It doesn't work like that. It really doesn't.

    I am not going to guess what led you to do a search on my wording

    Psi abilities. Intuition. Smell. The Hunt. Blood in the water. Innate predator senses.

    I might be severely damaged, being hunted, slated to die and a traitor to my kind but I can spot this shit a mile off without even bothering to be sober.

    Did you miss that one?


    You've no idea

    230:

    We can reasonably assume that either our ancestors lacked telepathy, or it turned out to give less of a survival advantage than speech.

    Or maybe it gave complementary advantages.

    We have ears and eyes both. Not that eyes give less survival advantage than ears. It turns out that both are worth having.

    231:

    I am not going to guess what led you to do a search on my wording

    Since this is likely to be an epitaph, I'll make it clean.

    You're inscribing thought onto an electronic medium where there's a ridiculous amount of H.S.S constructed algorithms already running over it and cross-indexing it across the board. That thought gets sent in bits to a server and ends up on a screen where another H.S.S mind reads it, and the usual practice is for that mind to process it through their own subjective filters, and they try and determine truth values, relative belief indexes and .

    You probably should pay more attention to the Dune or Culture refrences already: it's really a lot easier to do it a different way.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjSpO2B6G4s

    232:

    If our ancestors had had useful levels of psi, and it was complementary to our other abilities, we would have useful levels of psi. As it is, we have either no psi or so little psi that a million-dollar challenge for convincing demonstrations of psi (via James Randi) has never paid out over several decades.

    233:

    Sean Carroll's the twit who wants to abandon the falsifiability critieria in order to preserve string theory.

    Need I say more?

    234:

    Ftl is more plausible than psi? Really? Someone needs to have their tropes recalibrated.

    235:

    Sigh. No. The real claim is that there is no evidence that it is possible. You want to claim it is? Fine -- burden of proof goes to you.

    236:

    "Kind of. Noncircular was imposed by the data, the previous dogma could not stand. Elliptical came pretty close so the new data was that they were always ellipses, right?"

    You're fudging the truth quite a lot.

    Keplers laws - which treated orbits as elliptical and says that the area of the ellipse encompassed in each time period remains constant - come very, very, very close to predicting the real orbits. Kepler's simple elliptical orbits explained the data about planetary orbits that they had: they were as close as you *could* measure given the telescopes of the time.

    That such a simple theory explained something as complex as orbits so well is truly extraordinary. When Newtonian mechanics showed that you can derive both elliptical orbits and Kepler's law from an inverse-square law that was very strong evidence for the existence of Gravity.

    237:

    BINGO! Arguing 'unknown physics' to out the gloss of hardness on your treasured tropes has got to be the oldest, hoariest, trick in the book.

    Perfectly respectable, of course. Unless you claim that you're doing otherwise.

    238:

    Magic Tricks

    Post #38, last link, do the research and watch the actual performance.

    Then look at the thread.

    Work out if that's magic or not.

    You've been set some homework, stop with the data smog.


    240:

    The real claim is that there is no evidence that it is possible. You want to claim it is? Fine -- burden of proof goes to you.

    Good!

    "Daddy, are unicorns real?"
    "Yes."

    Bad answer.

    "Daddy, are unicorns real?"
    "No."

    Bad answer.

    "Daddy, are unicorns real?"
    "I don't know of any solid evidence either way. I've never seen one."

    Good answer.

    241:

    Ftl is more plausible than psi? Really?

    While I agree with you, a somewhat plausible argument could be made the other way round.

    Consider -- to get FTL we need new physics, and it can be new physics that's about stuff we have never experienced. FTL might involve undiscovered particles and maybe an antigravitational field exuded by a kind of mass we've never seen (partly because there's hardly any of it here, it tends to escape up) and so on.

    To get psi we need new physics that involves brains. As far as we know brains operate entirely on organic chemistry. No new particles, no new mass, no undiscovered force fields. Ordinary brains would be sensing things that physics has not discovered.

    It's easier to imagine unicorns off in the misty mountains somewhere, than in your kitchen garden.

    On the other hand, many of us have experienced things that fit the psi description, and we have not experienced FTL.
    But it's easier to believe in science than believe in our own experience.

    242:

    This seems ridiculously generous to things-for-which-there-is-no-evidence. If someone provides a big list of mythological creatures and asks if any of them are the real driver of lung cancer in smokers, does your confidence in conventional epidemiology decrease to no more than 1/(N + 1), where N is the number of creatures named?

    243:

    Those who think there’s no evidence for psi may wish to read this book: http://www.amazon.com/Evidence-Psi-Thirteen-Empirical-Research/dp/0786478284/

    Are the authors a bunch of crackpots? Maybe. But Ben Goertzel has a PhD in math, so at least they're smart crackpots.

    244:

    And, of course the horrible mis-fit ( in some areas ) between General Relativity & QM
    That is, at least openly admitted & studied these days.
    Though what it all "means" is beyond me - & I suspect most people.
    Any opinions on that mess?

    245:

    Utter tosh
    I call trolling.
    This is like the "Can't prove a negative, nyaaah, so "God" must exist!" so-called argument.
    And it's still rubbish.

    Incidentally, I would like to ask, politely I hope, of Catrina Diamond ( @ # 229 / 231 )what she means by: "this is likely to be an epitaph" - the wording is so obscure that it is certainly meaningless to me.
    Maybe others understand what's happening here?

    246:

    so at least they're smart crackpots
    Usually called the "Society of Jesus" or equivalents in other religions.
    One of the traps of intelligence is that you can still be fooled by memes & cultural conditioning.
    Ugggg ....

    "Smart Crackpots" are dangerous, very dangerous.

    247:

    I haven't done physics seriously for a couple of decades but my understanding of the problem with quantum gravity is that all the effects involved are so weak that there is no real prospect of getting direct experimental evidence at the micro level.

    Even if gravitons exist we are very unlikely to ever detect one.

    Reproducing something that looks like GR at the large scale without the apparent QM compatibility problems will have to do unless we get access to a handy black hole or two.

    248:

    American, are you?
    Not even close. See #189 for a cite.

    So if you don't see the ST:TNG UFP as Marxist communist, just what form do you see it as being?

    249:

    Nice work on the Gaelic.

    250:

    "Smart Crackpots" are dangerous, very dangerous.

    Oh come on now, 3 out of 5 science fiction writers probably fit this description. Think how boring your life would be without them!

    251:

    As a Scot living in the Islands I'd say that Second Sight (or just "The Sight") is specifically pre-cognisence, with no obvious suggestions of telepathy or telekinesis skills.

    Your grandmother's ability to recognise colour whilst blindfolded is unique IME.

    252:

    Let's ignore the trolls. No, I don't understand CatinaDiamond,
    either, but his/her/its remarks about animal communication and
    other senses are spot on. Magnetic detection in pigeons was
    pooh-poohed for years by the official skeptics, but biologists
    have now found the mechanism. There is some recent data on how
    animals can sometimes 'predict' earthquakes, but it is not yet
    known how. And there are a lot of other anomalous abilities,
    which fall into the psi area. How many of them do we share traces
    of and could develop (by training, evolution, surgery, genetic
    modification etc.)? I stand by my position - an open mind!

    dpb: The problem about all of the quantum gravity theories is that
    they are so much hand-waving, even more than the more extreme
    aspects of currently conventional physics (e.g. 'dark matter').
    All that experimental results would do would be to change the way
    that the hands are waved. Even very high-curvature general
    relativity is like that - e.g. there is no evidence for the
    existence of black holes (as such, not just as very high mass
    concentrations) that does not depend on Einstein's formula being
    true up to and beyond a singularity. No competent mathematician
    relies on extrapolation beyond a singularity without solid
    evidence that the formula continues. When you get down to it,
    what's the difference between a black hole and a unicorn?

    253:

    There are various detectors for gravitational waves, e.g. aLIGO. And recent reading suggests Lunar-Laser Range finding (LLR) could be upgraded to a point where it probes GR so perhaps we could use the Earth-Moon system as gravitational telescope. I'l let you make up your own mind about the rotation curves of galaxies and the expansion rate of the universe and what if anything the CMB might still tell us. But perhaps, in the end, it will be this desire to test our theories by visiting a neutron star or a black hole that will push us into space and across those vast, transhuman voids. To do that, to leave our womb in search of the truth, would make me proud to be human.

    254:

    Gravitational wave detectors are *not* the same as graviton detectors. In optical terms it's the difference between being able to see and counting photons.

    255:

    Model dependent and I won't impose a total order on "plausibility" as it's an aesthetic choice.

    256:

    When was the last time you detected a radio wave photon? :P Let's detect g-waves and then we can have an argument about if and how they're quantised.

    257:

    That actually turns up as part of the masquerade in Lukyanenko's Night Watch - everyone's bad wishes do actually work, but only infinitesimally, so the effect of cutting someone off at the lights on your good fortune is generally undetectable.

    But they add up.

    One characters' back story involves having being Hitler's magical shield, lest everyone's hatred make his head explode and prove magic exists.

    258:

    ...there is no evidence for the
    existence of black holes (as such, not just as very high mass
    concentrations) that does not depend on Einstein's formula being
    true up to and beyond a singularity.

    This does, of course, depend on your definition of "black hole": if you define "black hole" as "object containing a singularity" then your statement is both true by definition and not useful (we can't observe the singularity since it is behind the event horizon). If, however, you define a black hole as "object with an event horizon", which is scientifically meaningful since it can be tested, then there is empirical evidence for their existence: specifically, there is evidence that astrophysical objects whose masses and compact nature suggest that they ought to be black holes do not have a solid surface, whereas comparable objects whose masses suggest that they ought to be neutron stars do have a surface. See Ramesh Narayan, 2003 George Darwin lecture.

    When you get down to it,
    what's the difference between a black hole and a unicorn?

    The former is a prediction of a theory many of whose other predictions have been experimentally confirmed to high precision. The latter isn't.

    259:

    I haven't detected any individual photons at radio frequencies, but certainly have at optical ones. Last time would be about 19 years ago.

    Anyway, my point is that while detecting gravitational waves looks hard but feasible that just leaves us with standard model + GR. No surprises at all.

    Testing quantum gravity is a completely different kettle of fish.

    260:

    Nothing constructive to add to the discussion, just some meta-comments: Some tremedously intelligent and fascinating posts here; some inspired weirdness; some plain weirdness; some scary weirdness. In general, it's been more intersting to read the posters than many of the posts.

    261:

    A sociological observation:

    Astrology, mediums, telepathy, ESP and so on is caught up in the war on religion. To the radical rationalist, it's "woo". Woo is fine in fantasy because fantasy is fairy tales and nobody believes fairy tales. But sf must be "real"---"plausible"---and so woo is no longer permitted. Therefore we find bonkers theist Philip K Dick has writing full of psi while atheist Asimov has psychohistory. (Somebody's going to produce an Asimov psi ref I've overlooked, I just know it.) This is why the discussion has degenerated into arguing about aesthetic choices under the guise of plausibility and why poetry and beauty have been all but banished from sci-fi.

    262:

    Do telepathic robots count?

    263:

    Photons are even easier to detect at higher energies! (And how do we know radio photons exist? Maybe EM behaves completely differently at ultra low energies. :P)

    Anyway, there are points (singularities) where quantum gravity has got to depart from GR. Measuring departures from GR should reveal something about quantum gravity. And if your theory predicts gravitons have a mass (i.e. they self interact) then observing g-waves should show that.

    264:

    Doubly so! Because robots aren't "telepathic" in PKD (at least, not in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)

    So what've I forgotten or not read? And how does he justify it? Anyway telepathy produced by machines is clearly "plausible" - we've been speculating about using brain implants to implement wireless coms. Failing that, a robot can have a nuclear reactor and a source of quantum weirdness to do whatever it needs...

    265:

    Where is the singularity that you think we should look at?

    If you can't detect them directly and you don't have a black hole then what do you have to go on?

    266:

    Asimov had the Mule, psionic mind control superman. Then he went kinda New Agey with the Gaian group mind in Foundation's Edge. Going back to Bulwer-Lytton's vril, science fiction has always been loaded with occult/metaphysical concepts thinly disguised as science. It's a lot of fun, no?

    267:

    Well, the traditional Psi works, similar to McCaffrey's Talents series or Bester's works broke up Psi powers into firm categories that could be used in consistent ways.

    Today we know many of those are implausible, so authors no longer use that particular toolbox.

    That doesn't mean that ESP is not possible per se.

    There are many more senses past the traditional five - sense of balance, of heat, detection of magnetic and electric fields, pressure changes, gravity and humidity.

    It should be quite possible (and in theory straightforward) to engineer or augment a sensitivity to any or all of those in a living organism.

    The key step to true psi powers is then enabling manipulation of the environment, and that is a much harder sell.

    I've seen mental powers used relatively recently in a number of works - how exactly is a neural implant that allows direct interaction with a ship or station any different from telepathy?

    268:

    Since even something so obvious as consciousness has not even been defined let alone detected, ruling out Psi seems a bit premature

    269:

    "Daddy, are unicorns real?"
    "I don't know of any solid evidence either way. I've never seen one."

    Good answer.

    -----------------

    That's a bloody awful answer. You can use the exact same reasoning about goblins, gremlins, psychic powers (which I note you also strongly believe in), the tooth fairy, dragons, dowsing, and basically every other fictional nonsense there is.

    But this one, unicorns? Posit a creature the size of a horse, with a horn growing out the front of its head. It is, effectively, a horse. Posit that they exist but we simply haven't seen one yet. Well, being basically a horse, we'd expect to see it where we see horses, but we haven't. There's nothing like it in the fossil records. A horse with a horn growing out of its head would have to have remained hidden from humanity basically forever; a new species of insect can remain hidden in plain sight forever because people see it and don't realise its new, but a horse with a horn growing out of its head? Not a chance.

    Essentially, what I'm saying is that sometimes absence of evidence really IS, in fact, evidence of absence, and all the evidence clearly indicates that unicorns don't exist. To tell your daughter that they might exist because you've never seen one is utter bunkum.

    270:

    Transhumanist answer: Not yet

    271:

    This is like the "Can't prove a negative, nyaaah, so "God" must exist!" so-called argument.

    No, it is very different from that.

    It's the difference between "You can't prove you didn't do the crime, therefore you did" versus "You can't prove you didn't do the crime and we can't prove you did, therefore it is not proven."

    272:

    I haven't read the book, but it sounds like The Goblin Emperor is a story where history is determined by large social forces and individual attempts to change it are at best meaningless. It's worth asking whether that's a story worth teaching the young.

    1. No, it's more nuanced and complex than that: individual attempts at change do work, with radical results -- they just don't involve hitting people with swords.

    2. It's not a kid's story. It's a very adult novel indeed.

    273:

    "Daddy, are unicorns real?"
    "I don't know of any solid evidence either way. I've never seen one."

    Good answer.

    -----------------

    You can use the exact same reasoning about goblins, gremlins, psychic powers (which I note you also strongly believe in), the tooth fairy, dragons, dowsing, and basically every other fictional nonsense there is.

    Yes, I do. (But I don't strongly believe in psychic powers. I've repeatedly experienced things that could be explained as psychic stuff. But just because I've experienced it doesn't mean it's real.)

    But this one, unicorns? Posit a creature the size of a horse, with a horn growing out the front of its head. It is, effectively, a horse.

    Would you accept a creature half the size of a horse that lives in forests? The more you define down the concept the less plausible it gets. Does it have to be exactly like a horse except for the horn, plus it protects human virgin women? Plus it does magic? Or is it enough to be an animal with a single horn, kind of like a narwhal or a rhinoceros?

    There's nothing like it in the fossil records.

    Come on, look how many species we've catalogued today versus how many fossils we have from any particular 15 million year period. There's every reason to believe the fossil record is incomplete. Lots of rare species haven't shown up yet.

    A horse with a horn growing out of its head would have to have remained hidden from humanity basically forever; a new species of insect can remain hidden in plain sight forever because people see it and don't realise its new, but a horse with a horn growing out of its head? Not a chance.

    Hey, they don't have to be secret from all of humanity. Various people would keep them secret, to protect them. And the occasional sightings would be dismissed as hallucinations -- as in fact the various sightings are dismissed, often by the people who experience them.

    Essentially, what I'm saying is that sometimes absence of evidence really IS, in fact, evidence of absence, and all the evidence clearly indicates that unicorns don't exist.

    I tend to agree with you but you take it too far. The weight of absence of evidence makes it plausible that unicorns don't exist. I'd say it's likely that unicorns don't exist.

    But to go from there to "Unicorns don't exist" requires a leap of faith.

    274:

    If someone provides a big list of mythological creatures and asks if any of them are the real driver of lung cancer in smokers, does your confidence in conventional epidemiology decrease to no more than 1/(N + 1), where N is the number of creatures named?

    If I had no reason to believe in conventional epidemiology, then my confidence in it would not be 1/(N+1), it would be 0 zero. It wouldn't matter how many other hypotheses there were that I had no confidence in.

    But there is a tremendous difference between "I have no confidence in this theory" and "I am 100% certain that this theory is false." Usually I get to the latter when I believe that the theory contradicts itself. If it is self-refuting then I'm confident it is refuted.

    275:

    "But to go from there to "Unicorns don't exist" requires a leap of faith."

    Any sensible definition of "leap of faith" is about choosing to believe (or not believe) in something *despite* the massive preponderance of evidence (or sometimes absolute proof) to the contrary. If you're going to claim that a "leap of faith" is needed to believe even with the massive preponderance of evidence in favour, you're basically redefining language to mean whatever you want it to mean. If you're claiming that a "leap of faith" is needed to believe that unicorns don't exist, that dragons don't live on the moon, that there isn't a tiny dwarf hidden inside my chest of drawers this very second, then you've basically left rationality behind but are presenting it as some kind of smug, considered super-rationality.

    It's not. It's insanity.

    276:

    But if you can't proove any of those things don't exist, then clearly you're relying on faith! (here endeth the sarcasm)

    I think one side in this argument has failed Debate & Logic 101 at some point!

    277:

    Er, non-wired non-verbal communication between machines is normally called "telemetry" and has been going since at least the 1950s. I make my living with this stuff.

    278:

    There's also Slan by Van Vogt - new race of humans with psi ability.

    IMO, one of the most interesting aspects of this book was how family/social roles and models also changed/evolved alongside intellectual development ... something that the large majority of SF/F authors seem to ignore/be oblivious to. (That is: any survival advantage will/must change the inter-personal/social dynamic. Therefore society will/must change in different directions depending on whether Group A (the cool kids at school) or Group B (the uncool but highly individualistic nerds) or Group C (the followers, get-alongers, smoothers of upset egos/ruffled feathers), etc. have the advantage.

    A question for our guest host, Judith:

    As an author published in multiple genres (as per your Wikipedia entry, i.e., Harlequin), has the Romance genre changed in the same way, at the same rate as the SF/F genre? If yes, which components - and what's your best guess for why. (I'm curious about the relative resistance to change by various genres, actually, or more accurately their respective readerships.)

    279:

    If you got results of a medical study* that said 100% of participants reacted in exactly the same way, got the exact same level of relief, suffered exactly the same types of side effects, and all survived the experiment, I'd question your study.

    There is considerable variability among humans, and considerable variability even within the same human being over time. This fact alone is enough to toss out any possibility of 'absolute certainty'. Nature seems to prefer an open-ended and flexible path.


    * From what I've read, most medical study sample sizes are in the range of hundreds to thousands of participants.

    280:

    Any sensible definition of "leap of faith" is about choosing to believe (or not believe) in something *despite* the massive preponderance of evidence (or sometimes absolute proof) to the contrary.

    It isn't your fault. The whole culture has not absorbed probability theory yet, so they persist in this sort of thing.

    If you want to bet that I will see a unicorn today, and I get to take the side that I will not, I will gladly give you 1,000,000 to 1 odds that I won't provided I'm confident you don't know where I live.

    If you want to bet that something that can reasonably be called a unicorn will be found during my lifetime, and I get the side that it will not happen, the odds I would offer are less.

    Are you completely sure that nothing that can reasonably be described as a unicorn will be discovered in the next 20 years? Are you sure enough to bet everything you own against $1?

    To me, that's a leap of faith.

    http://www.bluepicketfence.com/dont-take-that-bet-damon-runyon/

    281:

    Never forget: Million-to-one chances come up nine times out of ten!

    (But you are arguing that your subjective definition of "leap of faith" trumps anyone elses' subjective definition of same -- nothing to do with probability theory. Not even going to start trying to deconstruct your final paragraph, for all the logical flaws it contains.)

    282:

    (Somebody's going to produce an Asimov psi ref I've overlooked, I just know it.)

    "Liar!". (There are excerpts in Deceptology's When a robot reads your mind - Isaac Asimov and "Liar!").

    I don't have the story in front of me, but I suppose this might not have been psionics, strictly speaking, but merely the robot being exquisitely sensitive to the brain's electric fields or electromagnetic radiation, and capable of decoding same. Although The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction classifies it as psionics in its entry on that topic. The entry describes quite a few psi stories, by the way, up to about 1985.

    283:

    There is considerable variability among humans, and considerable variability even within the same human being over time. This fact alone is enough to toss out any possibility of 'absolute certainty'.

    Yes. Epidemiological data tends to show correlations among fairly large groups of people. It doesn't prove causation.

    My old epidemiology teachers used a vivid example to demonstrate that -- suppose that some people are suffering from something that will eventually result in a lung cancer diagnosis, and they find that smoking soothes the early symptoms. You'll tend to find that smokers get more cancer, but it not because smoking causes cancer.

    In more recent years, if I remember it right, they've observed that ex-smokers get less lung cancer than people who keep smoking. That could possibly mean that the underlying cause clears up in some people so they feel OK to stop smoking. But either way, if you smoke and then quit, it's plausible to think that your chance of getting lung cancer is going down.

    I try to go with the odds when I bet, and I try to be cautious about believing in sure things.

    284:

    ... you are arguing that your subjective definition of "leap of faith" trumps anyone elses' subjective definition of same...

    "leap of faith, an act or instance of accepting or trusting in something that cannot readily be seen or proved."

    Something has not been observed by reputable observers, only by disreputable ones. To argue that it therefore does not exist is to trust in something that cannot be readily seen or proved.

    "Reputable observers have not publicly announced that they have seen X. Therefore X does not exist."

    Think about it.

    285:

    For conspiracy theory buffs ... the Industrial-Military-Financial Complex is probably behind the systematic identification and quashing of any emergent psi ability. As a previous poster noted: the capitalistic economy as we know it could not survive psi talent. Although,the transition to e-money might make this feasible.

    (Ticking-off three tropes/strange attractors with this post!)

    286:

    Actually, occult/ metaphysical concepts have been trying to become science for decades. Or rather the authors have been trying to make stuff up and because of the society of the time and their backgrounds, find it easier to draw on occult/ metaphysical stuff than actual science.
    There's also the point that such ideas feed more easily into humans than actual science the method and practise.

    287:

    Oh, why bother. Someone who believes they have the ability to psychically communicate with animals is inherently unreasonable.

    288:

    (Apologies, I know this is wandering far off topic, but I'm genuinely curious now...)

    Are you actually sure that you know what you're arguing at this point?

    You're still drawing an arbitrary line (what does "readily" mean in this context, who are "reputable observers"?) in the sand and saying: Everything on this side has enough proof to be considered real, everything on the other requires a leap of faith. Then trying to say that your line is more valid than someone else's line.

    I'm also fairly sure that your logic is irreparably broken here: "Something has not been observed by reputable observers, only by disreputable ones. To argue that it therefore does not exist is to trust in something that cannot be readily seen or proved."

    Your last sentence badly paraphrases and misrepresents. Rewritten like this might be closer: "No verifiable observations of X have been made, and no physical evidence of X has been discovered. Therefore it can reasonably be said that X does not exist."

    In the end, you seem to be arguing that if we can imagine and describe a thing, then without solid proof of the nonexistence of that thing we must accept that exists, which is obvious bunk. On the other hand, if you're trying to argue that anything we can imagine *may* exist (I suspect this is where you're dragooning probability theory into the argument), then yes, of course you are correct. But unless we can stick out our handy sub-ether signalling device and hop a lift on the Heart of Gold the next time its passing by, then that argument is mostly irrelevant.

    289:

    Normally I'd pass on by, but I'm in a playful mood! (Until someone shouts at me for egregious off-topicing.)

    290:

    "if you're trying to argue that anything we can imagine *may* exist (I suspect this is where you're dragooning probability theory into the argument), then yes, of course you are correct."

    I'd take umbrage with that one. I can imagine a room in my house in which momentum is not conserved (substitute your own personal favourite physical invariant), but I am not willing to accept that it *may* exist. At this point, though, we're really discussing the meaning of the word "may".

    291:

    No, Dirk, the full transhumanist response would be: "Not yet, but if you make a generous donation to my for-profit organization/start-up, you will be the first to have one in just twenty years!"

    Followed by the exact same line if you come back in twenty years.

    292:

    " now we can study how the brain works in real time (albeit at still a fairly crude level) and so on, that telepathy just isn't organically possible. "

    If you can wade through Doug Hofstadter's rambling and roundabout books on consciousness, eventually he makes a persuasive argument about how persons and personalities inhabit multiple minds at varying degrees of resolution or graininess, primarily and most clearly in the "host" individual, but also in a very real sense in the minds of people holding images or impressions of them. These duplicate copies can be activated long after the original is gone, giving the person experiencing such posthumous activation the feeling of communication with a ghost. Or if the original's still around, telepathy. Only it's short range between brain modules, not a long distance call.

    293:

    Not quite. With CRISPR techniques I expect to see seriously gene modded pets on sale within 5 years. Expect this technique to be applied to cats and dogs, starting about now...

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26639-the-smart-mouse-with-the-halfhuman-brain.html

    294:

    That's my point with the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy reference that I threw in there (trying to say that *may* covers a lot of ground!).

    We can imagine anything we like; and clearly that has some level of probability attached; but unless we have access to an infinite improbability drive, we're not going to see it. If we start to say that even something with the most infinitessimally small probability of existing has to be considered as a possibility, that way madness lies.

    And this is where we circle back to the fact that I'm not sure that J Thomas sees the inherent problems with what he's trying to argue.

    295:

    Your last sentence badly paraphrases and misrepresents. Rewritten like this might be closer: "No verifiable observations of X have been made, and no physical evidence of X has been discovered. Therefore it can reasonably be said that X does not exist."

    Yes, I think those are pretty much equivalent, and they are both logically wrong.

    In the end, you seem to be arguing that if we can imagine and describe a thing, then without solid proof of the nonexistence of that thing we must accept that exists, which is obvious bunk.

    Agreed, that's obvious bunk.

    I get the impression that you believe every statement must be true or false. But in modern logic, there are four states, not two.

    A statement can be true.
    A statement can be false.
    A statement can be neither true nor false.
    A statement can be both true and false.

    The fourth one is a contradiction, it means something is wrong somewhere and you can't get reliable results with logic until you track it down. If you can prove something both true and false, then you can use a little dance with the rules of logic to prove *anything else* both true and false. It means you have probably accepted something which is false as true, or vice versa, and you need to find out where you made that mistake and clean it up.

    But there are lots of things that are neither true nor false, starting from wherever you started. Goedel showed a way that -- starting with any finite collection of beliefs -- any number of statements can be constructed that are neither true nor false.

    If there is no way to prove something is true, that does not make it false. If there is no way to prove something is false, that does not make it true.

    (But when you can prove logically that IF a statement is true THEN it is not-true, then that statement is not true.)

    You're running into the problem of induction. Here is an example where it works:

    Somebody says "There is no king of diamonds in this deck of cards." You lay out the cards in four rows, spade heart diamond club. You put the aces to the left, the twos beside them, and so on. When you are done you have 51 cards and a blank space where the king of diamonds should go. You have demonstrated that the deck has no king of diamonds. There is a small chance that you are mistaken, that the king of diamonds is stuck to another card and will soon become unstuck. But probably you would have noticed.

    Here is an example where it does not work:

    It is 1636. Every swan you have ever heard of was white. You conclude that all swans are white. Later in the year a ship comes from Australia carrying two black swans.

    You can look at the whole deck of cards at one time. The world is so much bigger there's some room for doubt. The universe is bigger still.

    At what point is it proper to say "I have never heard of anybody finding X for real. Therefore I am 100% certain that it is impossible for X to exist anywhere"?

    I say it is proper to do that when X is something that cannot exist. For example, a pure-white swan that is also pure-black. A vegan who eats meat every waking hour.

    If by definition X does not exist, then X does not exist. If you see something that looks like X, then by definition it is actually something else.

    296:

    ST, "Marxist Communist"?

    Excellent demonstration by you of what been saying for years now: what most Americans know of any variety of socialism is what Good Germans in the thirties knew of Jews, or Roma ("Gypsies"), etc.

    Just to start with, Marxism, or Marxism-Leninsim, predict the withering away of the state. Since the Enterprise is a military vessel (Roddenberry was strongly thinking of the Beagle with Darwin on board), and represents the United Federation of Planets, there's no "withered away" state.

    How useful do you think, a few hundred years from now, with inexpensive energy and replicators, big money's going to be? Or that society will be with 99% of us busting our butts, many way over the 40 hour weeks that our parents won, and we lost?

    Or are you one of those folks who finds their only self-worth based on how much money they have?

    mark "Go, Bernie Sanders!"

    297:

    all the evidence clearly indicates that unicorns don't exist.

    I don't know, these look like unicorns to me: http://www.lair2000.net/Unicorn_Dreams/Unicorns_Man_Made/unicorns_man_made.html

    (The wizard in the 2nd pic is Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, founder of the Church of All Worlds)

    298:

    Mr (or Mrs) Thomas, my dear sir (or madam), you are indeed attempting to have your cake and eat it.

    Attempting to hit a moving target is most challenging: are we arguing faith, probability theory, or logic? I guess all three, and whatever else might be thrown into the mix next.

    I get the impression that you believe every statement must be true or false

    I am afraid that your impression of me is very much incorrect. I don't really see the need to say anything about the rest of your post, other then to congratulate you on more or less proving my point for me.

    299:

    Dredging up my high school algebra .... there's a way that n can equal 1 or 0 with both being equally true.

    n= 1 - 1 -(1-1) ... =0

    vs.

    n=1-(1-1)-(1-1) ... =1

    The point of this demonstration was (I think) that the brackets which we most often use merely as a convenience (say when looking at/compartmentalizing a long formula) actually possess a specific function. Therefore if you get two wildly different but otherwise 'true' (internally logically correct) answers, you're not understanding the power/limitations of your inputs.

    However, quadratic equations also gave you two very different, mathematically correct answers. Which is why the only way to 'test' for the 'real' solution is to solve the quadratic equation with both solutions so that you can reject the clearly 'wrong real-world' correct answer. (My note-to-self from this was: quadratic equations have only one correct 'real' solution.)

    Then in stats testing you got into the realm of commutable vs. non-commutable operations ... where the answers change depending on the order in which you handle your variables.

    300:

    " ... specifically, there is evidence that astrophysical objects
    whose masses and compact nature suggest that they ought to be
    black holes do not have a solid surface, whereas comparable
    objects whose masses suggest that they ought to be neutron stars
    do have a surface."

    That's a straw man. There is a published (somewhere!) paper that
    describes a alternative formulation where there is neither a
    surface nor a non-trivial event horizon, and is indistinguishable
    from the standard formulation at low curvatures (i.e. anything we
    can observe directly).

    301:

    How about "We have billions of more-or-less reliable observers, poking around the regions where X would have been expected to be and doing the sorts of things that probably would have led to the discovery of any Xs that happened to be around. Heck, one guy offers a million dollar prize for proof of X that has gone unclaimed for 30 years, so if X was demonstrable some greedy bastard probably would have by now. In the absence of reliable reports of X, it's likely that X is either nonexistent or vanishingly rare."

    302:

    In the absence of reliable reports of X, it's likely that X is either nonexistent or vanishingly rare.

    That looks good to me.

    There is the possibility that X is merely hard to observe, but your "likely" loophole is sufficient.

    303:

    "But this one, unicorns? Posit a creature the size of a horse,
    with a horn growing out the front of its head. It is,
    effectively, a horse."

    No, that is not what unicorns were originally described as, and
    they were often more goat-like. Let's ignore the fact that we
    are still discovering new species, sometimes quite large ones
    (e.g. saola).

    Consider a family or species of artiodactyl that had reduced
    to a single horn, in narwhal fashion, and which went extinct in
    early historical times. There are lots of extant animals with
    no fossil record because they live in environments which are not
    conducive to fossilisation, such as deserts[*]. Yes, I am
    hypothesising something like a single-horned oryx. Possible?
    Surely. Probable? Not really.

    http://www.eos.ubc.ca/courses/Dist-Ed/EOSC116/eosc116-Lesson22.html

    But to make an absolute assertion about the non-existence of a
    biologically quite reasonable animal is as incorrect as making
    an assertion that it must have existed because of the tales
    about it.

    304:

    ...are we arguing faith, probability theory, or logic?

    If you want to use logic, you start with the things you believe and draw conclusions from them. What's "true" depends on your assumptions. Inductive logic is fraught but people use it all the time, and often use it wrong.

    Probability theory is the careful application of inductive logic. It never gives you "P|X = 0" from observations, except for finite populations. (If you have 3 marbles and you sample them without replacement 3 times and none of your samples are green, then you can say that none of your marbles are green. Different from "there are no green marbles anywhere".)

    Faith is mostly what people use when they want to say something is certain or impossible. I would have thought that science fiction readers would know better, and probably most do.

    But even some of them say "Science has proven X. We know absolutely without doubt that X is true and that science will never progress to something that says X is not completely true, because we know absolutely that today's science is absolutely correct."

    305:

    Drifting back to the OP

    I do think there has been a categorical sort of "this is SF, this is fantasy" as positied. But the criteria I suspect is less what is present in the scenario and more how it is used. One of the big examples people point to of a mix of both is Star Wars. But Star Wars has clearly drifted between the two, and the drift was dictated by prominance of things in it, rather than presence.

    Looking at it from a timeline, the big post RotJ resurgence got kicked off with Zahn's Heir to the Empire series. This is also when it was in the SF category, despite having Jedi magic in it. Why? Because Zahn split the magic from the technology. Quite literally - whereas the film's had the threat be the leader of the technocratic military forces and a space wizard, Zahn split them in two. Thrawn, the antagonist, was nothing particularly special, just an unreasonably good military commander. C'boath was the space wizard. But the actual threat that the heroes must overcome was saving the New Republic. Meaning the threat was that Thrawn was offering a superior society, delivering more to his constituents and amassing a superior military force. C'boath (and the Force) was a side detail - he got wrapped up as an unexpected side goal in a real attempt to undercut Thrawn's military strength. And what really stopped the Empire was old fashioned political assassination.

    Magic was present in the forms of the Force, FTL drives, and cloaking devices, but the real conflict was independent of all that - it was one civilization against another.

    Contrast that with the post 2000/ post AotC swing where Star Wars is now overwhelmingly (if not solidly) in the fantasy camp, right down to physical incarnations of the magic interacting with heroes. Now the conflict is what school of magic will triumph. The technology and civilization is secondary to the magic.

    The other one people mentioned, Warhammer 40K, has gone in the other direction. In the 80s through mid 00s it was full on tongue in cheek fantasy set in space, with "space-" versions of everything - vampires, elves, werewolves, demons, etc. But since bringing in Dan Abnett it started taking on more and more of a "real" feel to it with technology gaining more and more traction. Then they started their Horus Heresy series where they started to play around with "oh yeah, the magic warp used to be fully understood and manipulated by technology, all of which has been lost except for these MacGuffins you are tripping over". Finally Aaron Dembski-Bowden came onboard and you've been getting a lot of "it isn't magic. The Warp is another dimension, host to cosmic horror intelligence. It isn't a case of demonic possession, it is an alien invasion. Yes, fine, you can used blood in your "spell", but you want to use it as radiator fluid to handle the waste heat not paint, and even then that is hideously un-optimized." Now "the forces of Chaos" are transhumans that have made extensive use of this alien technology, biology, and its intersection with traditional physics, and it isn't magic but lost understanding and the whole thing has a Bernard Cornwell feel. The conflict went from a fight between the Emperor's magic and the Warp god's magic to a fight of who will rule the galaxy, those who adhear to the Emperor's vision, or those who adhear to the vision of their various ruling polities.

    So where I'm going with this long rambling is that it isn't the presence of a trope or idea that makes something SF or Fantasy, but its role in the central conflict. If it is which kind of magic is stronger, then it is fantasy. When it is which type of real thing wins out, it tends to get shuffled over into SF.

    306:

    It's interesting that nobody seems to be mentioning OGH's tendency to elucidate this boundary by writing obvious sci-fi using primarily fantasy tropes in certain series. (The Family Trade takes the cliche fantasy premise of being transported to a feudal world, and turns it very sci-fi; ditto Laundry for the new breed of Butcher-style Lovecraft-influenced urban fantasy).

    Here's a free hard-SF psi concept for you: since studies of intuition have shown that it's consistent with pattern recognition from experience, abilities indistinguishable from psi can be generated by next-generation education tech (a person who is at an expert level of skill in a wide variety of fields will have expert-level intuition in those fields, and thus can intuitively jump to conclusions in a wide variety of situations in a way similar to someone with psi).

    307:

    That makes a lot of sense.

    So if anybody can do it, and you have armies with lots of interchangeable men using interchangeable weapons, then it's SF. But when a few specialists are irreplaceable then it tends to be fantasy.

    In that context, early SF where the genius scientist creates inventions that nobody else could think of, the scientist was basicly a wizard. But the SF/fantasy split had not happened yet so he was thought of as science fiction.

    308:

    That sounds plausible. And it's probably because in a magical worldview, will and imagination are supreme, and conflicts are largely contests of will. In a scientific worldview, intellect and knowledge are supreme, and conflicts are largely contests of ideas.

    Star Wars is fantasy because it’s about a battle of wills between two magical orders. Star Trek (which contains all kinds of fantastical beings and powers) is science fiction, because it’s a battle of ideas, to show the galaxy the superiority of Federation civilization and to prove that James Tiberius Kirk and friends are the apex of cosmic evolution. Basically, SF reflects the arrogance of the Enlightenment cult; fantasy reflects the arrogance of various pre-Enlightenment religious and magical cults.

    309:

    I don't want to derail again (since things have orbited back towards the actual topic), nor do I want to sound like I'm barking out on the ice flow. I'm not going to disagree with anything you said, but again, in a rush to show off you rather missed the point I was making.

    You gotta slow that big brain down a bit, my man.

    310:

    However, quadratic equations also gave you two very different, mathematically correct answers. Which is why the only way to 'test' for the 'real' solution is to solve the quadratic equation with both solutions so that you can reject the clearly 'wrong real-world' correct answer. (My note-to-self from this was: quadratic equations have only one correct 'real' solution.)

    Your note-to-self was wrong: sometimes only one of the solutions of a quadratic is physically meaningful, but quite often both of them are. For example, if I work out the time at which a projectile launched with speed v at angle A to the horizontal reaches some height h, I will get (neglecting air resistance) a quadratic. Solving this will give one of three possibilities:

    Both roots are imaginary (this height is greater than the maximum height reached by the projectile).

    Both roots are the same (this height is the maximum height).

    Both roots are real (the first time corresponds to the time that it passes this height going up, and the second one to the time that it passes this height coming down).

    Either neither root is physical, or both are. (Adding air resistance would give you something nastier to solve, but it would still have no, one or two real roots corresponding to the three cases above.)

    There are lots of other cases where both roots of a quadratic have physical meaning.

    311:

    I'm not going to disagree with anything you said, but again, in a rush to show off you rather missed the point I was making.

    I thought I probably got your point, but it didn't seem like something I'd want to respond to.

    Basicly you were saying "I'm not going to argue with you about the topic, but me and my buddies are the majority with the Social Consensus and the Common Wisdom so that makes us right and you wrong no matter what."

    I got it, I really did. And there isn't much I can say to that. I can say eppur si muove or whatever, but give my goals the best I could do was hope you'd drop it.

    312:

    That comment chain hadn't anything to do with gene manipulation, but I'll humor you. CRISPR is fundamentally a repair technique, as it's designed solely for monogenic traits. You can wait a long time for GM unicorns, horns and related add-ons are polygenic.

    And transhumanuts said that for years too, that GM pets will become huge. Any minute now! Now go look at the sales figures of those glow-in-the-dark fishes and, well...

    313:

    The Family Trade takes the cliche fantasy premise of being transported to a feudal world, and turns it very sci-fi

    Ahem: it was only ever marketed as fantasy because my Ace contract had a pesky option clause -- effectively a no-compete -- giving them my next SF novel.

    314:

    According to the USR man, "We've produced a positronic brain of supposedly ordinary vintage that's got the remarkable property of being able to tune in on thought waves. It would mark the most important advance in robotics in decades, if we knew how it happened. We don't and we have to find out. Is that clear?"

    And according to the robot, "I see into minds, you see....and you have no idea how complicated they are. I can't begin to understand everything because my own mind has so little in common with them - but I try, and your novels help."

    I guess it's the 40s equivalent of a walking NMR, interpreting the electric field produced by the human brain. There's no transmission of thoughts, TK or precog. Anyway, it's a First Law story: the robot tries to stop the emotional humans from hurting by telling them what they want to hear.

    315:

    278: You'd have to ask someone who writes or reads romance. I did a pseudonymous secondary-world fantasy trilogy for Harlequin Luna at one point (they outbid Roc for it), but the romance reviewers didn't like it much. I don't hit the tropes properly for that genre.

    My fiction writing and reading is all sff and historical with much sliding between and among them.

    316:

    On the topic of fantasy that should be sf, I was always genuinely surprised that Zelazny's first Amber series was seen as fantasy. It always seemed like serious speculative fiction about parallel worlds and alternative cosmologies. I suspect I am unique in this opinion.

    317:

    Hm. My apologies. Thought we were merely having a lively exchange of views, but I appear to have misread things myself. I shall let it drop since it's bothering you to that extent.

    318:

    So that's why tin foil is in this season! It's to stop the robots picking up on human telemetry. Or have the NSA finally bitten the bullet and injected us all with nano transmitters? No matter, once the frozen ruins on Yuggoth are revealed to our flying eyeball we will know who the NSA's real masters are!

    319:

    Thanks for the info/correction. The only time I recall using quadratic equations was to calculate something to do with fictional throw rugs. Some of my teachers were firmly entrenched in the teach-to-the-test camp, and the QE question was often somehow related to rugs.


    Another example of what that 5% that one is likely to remember about a course/subject might look like. Seriously though -- if adults in our modern society actually need to understand math (subjectA) more advanced than arithmetic (topicA) either we need scheduled remedial math courses, or on-going life-time review, preferably designed (sugar-coated) as fun games.

    320:

    "But to make an absolute assertion about the non-existence of a biologically quite reasonable animal is as incorrect as making an assertion that it must have existed because of the tales about it."

    I can tell you a tale about a completely biologcally reasonable creature called a fasmagram. It has four legs, is typically bright pink in colour, and is about the size of a Morris Minor, and it lives on Wimbledon common in herds of a dozen or so. That is completely biologically reasonable, and I assert that is does exist.

    You have just told me that an assertion that it does not exist is as incorrect as me asserting it does exist. That is such self-evident nonsense that I genuinely do not know how to converse with you. It is impossible to reason with someone who does not arrive at their conclusions by reason.

    321:

    That sounds plausible. And it's probably because in a magical worldview, will and imagination are supreme, and conflicts are largely contests of will. In a scientific worldview, intellect and knowledge are supreme, and conflicts are largely contests of ideas.

    I'll take it a step further, that the "science" part of "science fiction" is taking those ideas that are the center conflict and examining them in a scientific manner.

    Take The Family Trade - its setup is your Narnia style hidden world. But Charlie then games out "ok, what are the implications of it" to get the part that makes it science fiction.

    In the case of Wars vs Trek, in Star Wars it is more fantastic because "ok we have competing orders of magic users loose, what does this do" has steadily faded from being something they actually look at in recent years, instead accepting it as "the same, but with this twist". Thought out, the existence of the Jedi Order still makes a bit of sense, but it would be much more evil, more something akin to Jim Butcher's Council of Wizards. But they don't look at that, or that the Jedi Order might be terrible, or that a monarch, a pair of drug dealers, a wizard and his slaves climbing a mountain of bodies to bring it back bight be terrible. It is instead reduced to a question of will, and resisting temptation.

    Star Trek actually does this, to a degree. Yes, the people in it don't behave like what you would expect products of their civilization to act like, but that is because it is being used to examine the core idea in a different fashion, as a political criticism. Each Star Trek series can be said to have a theme extending from the core idea of having ended scarcity and how people with plenty (and the US has always had plenty) should behave (contrasted with how we have behaved).
    TOS: "You have all the power to answer your needs, what do you do now?" Answer: Explore and meet new people and ideas with open arms. "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations"
    TNG: "You have all the power, how do you behave?" Answer: try to minimize interference (The Prime Directive being a rejection of imperialism and American foreign policy, and many episodes revolving around "to what extent is interference good"
    DS9: "You have none of the power, how do you behave?" Answer: Struggle to keep your identity against assimilation, resist without becoming monstrous (the former the conflict of the Bajorans entering the Federation, the latter the Federation fighting the Dominion)
    Voy: "You have lost all the power, how do you behave?" Answer: Go watch Battlestar Galactica, we lost this vision as Moore got shuffled out.

    But yeah, I think SF is more about conflicts between ideas. Ideas are the animating factor of organizations. Examining the implications and power of those ideas gives shape to the organizations. Fantasy tends to have it be conflicts of will and imagination, and will and imagination are embodied in a specialized individual. The individual, only being an individual, doesn't necessitate mass systemic changes in worldbuilding, doesn't intrinsically require the scientific consideration of how this contest of will changes things that a contest of ideas does.

    322:

    "But yeah, I think SF is more about conflicts between ideas."

    Very much so. I've always had a lazy rule of thumb; sf is about idea exploration, fantasy is tropes. Breathtakingly lazy, but it seems to work a lot of the time. I'm now trying to think of counter-examples to shoot myself down.

    323:

    There was a guy at Cornell who was investigating that for a while.

    Princeton, no?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princeton_Engineering_Anomalies_Research_Lab

    There is a whole history beginning in the mid-1800s of more or less sane and competent people trying to apply scientific methods to psychic, spiritual, paranormal, psi etc. matters. Nothing persuasive seems to have come of it in the way of positive results.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_for_Psychical_Research

    324:

    You are using a strawman argument.

    I could equally well say that making the statement that I have a
    box full of black holes in my workshop is clearly bogus, and
    therefore black holes do not exist.

    325:

    In the nicest possible way (which isn't really very nice, but it's not actively malevolent), you're wasting your time on me. I now skip over your posts in the same way I skip over those of two other regular posters. Save your arguments for people who want to spend their time on you.

    326:

    "There is a whole history beginning in the mid-1800s of more or
    less sane and competent people trying to apply scientific methods
    to psychic, spiritual, paranormal, psi etc. matters. Nothing
    persuasive seems to have come of it in the way of positive
    results."

    Well, it depends on what you mean by positive results. There has
    been a lot of evidence that our current model of what is going on
    is not the whole story, but it is most unclear why not. It's like
    the phenomenon of spontaneous remission in medicine - it assuredly
    exists, but no research has led to a clue of what causes it.

    327:

    If you want to hurt a physicist, hit him in the dogmas :-)

    328:

    That comment does make you sound like either a gullible new ager or someone who doesn't like to seem to lose. A smiley doesn't change how it looks.

    329:

    Wow. Things *are* turning snarky on this thread.

    330:

    To me the difference between science fiction and fantasy all comes down to handwavium.

    Science fiction attempts to keep the handwavium to a minimum and run the world on rules that are broadly scientifically plausible (given what we know right now).

    Fantasy can run the entire world on handwavium, so long as it's logically and internally consistent.

    Where exactly the line of tolerance for handwavium gets drawn is almost completely down to cultural and personal preference.

    331:

    That's the great thing about science, you can change your mind and people won't think worse of you for it.

    332:

    The FTL causality is about general relativity,

    Er, no, it's special relativity. Of course, GR is SR-compliant, so you could say it's both.

    333:

    HAvent read all teh comments yet, just a quick thought - Could it be that we don't have Psi anymore because finally, a reductionist view of brain etc has sank in with everyone who cares? This is not in the sense of belief (everyone knows that (FTL/Ps) is impossible), but in the worldview - we, or maybe our consciousnesses and the under/over/sielying stuff are emergent phenomena from icky, sticky biochemistry. Of course, some posit a soul but that's so transcendent ...
    Look at it - while esoterics are booming, they are methinks mostly booming in the selfoptimization field. Find your inner tiger chakra to release your inner tiger in the next board meeting etc.
    Religion (as been remarked upthread) is maybe more ... monotheirs, trancendent, less mystic these days than a few decades back. Now back to comment 123

    334:

    So does that make David Weber's Honorverse fantasy?
    After all, as per the previous discussion, ftl travel is impossible by current standards and spaceships don't work that way.

    I think you need a multi axis scale for SF vs fantasy, and handwavium is only one axis.

    335:

    My apologies. Thought we were merely having a lively exchange of views, but I appear to have misread things myself.

    I also apologize. It's partly me. I recently noticed that I have tended to fit a Till Eulenspiegel archetype. I tell people the literal truth in an unconvincing way and with an unsympathetic personality, and then when they reject the truth and reject me I sigh with some sadness but no surprize and do it again. I resolved to become somebody else, and then here I am doing it again.

    You quit exchanging views a couple of rounds ago and settled for telling me that I'm wrong and there's something wrong with me, but you aren't going to go into any details. I don't much blame you for that. It's par for the course.

    336:

    the wording is so obscure that it is certainly meaningless to me.
    Maybe others understand what's happening here?

    Seemed perfectly translatable to me.

    The comments are only a fraction of those who are reading: you've got people commenting who have certain strange histories (one even isn't apparently using the same login interface as everyone else) and amongst the readers (not commenters) there' a whole other load of weird. And a few of the dangerous.

    Some tremedously intelligent and fascinating posts here; some inspired weirdness; some plain weirdness; some scary weirdness.

    As a personal note, I've no idea where I fit on your scale, but this is the limited version, made sense safe and with actual links to back things up.

    @Peanut gallery. Nope, you don't understand, and you never will using said tactics.

    Yubitsume (指詰め. In Japanese swordsmanship, the little finger's grip is the tightest on the hilt. A little finger-amputee was therefore unable to grip his sword properly, weakening him in battle and making him more dependent on the protection of his boss.

    Still got em.

    337:

    For those without poetic sensibilities:

    In ancient Greece, the playwright Aristophanes referred to Athens as the “Violet-Crowned City,” because Ion, the legendary founder of Athens who was crowned there, was an exact match of “ion,” the Greek word for violet...

    Persephone, the daughter of the Earth Mother Demeter, was picking violets when Pluto kidnapped her to live with him in the underworld...

    Both Greeks and Romans associated violets with funerals and death. Violets were routinely scattered around tombs, and, as symbols of innocence and modesty, children’s graves were routinely so blanketed with violets that the grave was completely covered.

    http://comenius-legends.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/legend-of-violet.html

    338:

    I found your comments to be _highly_ offensive on a previous thread -- especially coming from someone who claimed he was better able to comment on the scientific method than most anyone else. It is not within my power to give you a red card or ban you for your crap arguments, so I'll just mostly ignore you. I'm guessing you'll revert to form soon enough.

    339:

    > I suspect I am unique in this opinion.

    For what comfort it may give you, you are not unique. There are at least two of us who think that Zelazny's product is pure SF, though of a very advanced sort.

    340:

    Just as a formal comment:

    Surely commenting on prior threads with a brand new identity is somewhat unfair?

    You're not only pulling references that the poster may not understand ("previous thread"? when? three years ago? which statements?) but you're reveling in an identity that did not argue in said thread.

    Cave quid dicis, quando, et cui.

    Added to that, as a personal opinion, your contributions here have been... parsimonious in their quality and tone.

    341:

    Model dependent and I won't impose a total order on "plausibility" as it's an aesthetic choice.

    I know models are all the rage these days, but models need neither a) be accurate (or even realistic), or b) be about something that exists out there in the real world.

    342:

    Surely commenting on prior threads with a brand new identity is somewhat unfair?

    I don't think so. The name is so similar that it's clear who he is implying he is.

    You're not only pulling references that the poster may not understand ("previous thread"? when? three years ago? which statements?) but you're reveling in an identity that did not argue in said thread.

    He is explicitly claiming to be the same person. So it's clear which thread he means. We were having basicly the same argument. It was rude of me to continue it when it upset him before. Just, his comment was so perfectly stated that it seemed to me the best one to respond to, to continue the discussion. Of all the people who said that, he said it best.


    I'd like to say about scientific method. To me, the data is central for scientific method. If you can control most of the variables and vary just the ones you are interested in, and get reproducible results, then you have something to work with. If there are variables you have not noticed that mostly don't vary while you collect data, you still get reproducible results. Without reproducible results it's much harder to do science.

    Given data, you can come up with theories that are compatible with the data. Then when you start changing the variables you kept fixed before, you can make new theories or maybe the old theories will mostly still work. But the data is primary, and the theories are secondary.

    A lot of people want to use science to bolster their feeling of certainty. They can use religion for that, or astrology, or science, or whatever. "Scientific theory always gets the right answer, so it isn't really Theory, it's really Truth. There cannot be another way to think about it, because if there was another theory that always got the same answer it would basicly be the same theory, and if it ever got a different answer it would be wrong. Since Science is True, I am right to believe in Science. I know the Truth. Anybody who thinks there's another possibility is Wrong because I am Right."

    I am pretty certain that the need for certainty comes first, and the theory is secondary, and data is at most tertiary for such people. And the culture is so steeped in that way of thinking, that people can take it up even when they aren't driven by that need, even when they put it aside to practice good science.

    To me, reality -- whatever happens -- comes first. Theories that predict what will happen or that describe what it means are responses to past experience and might or might not keep working, and might be replaced by better theories at any time.

    I like it that way, because my life is sufficiently grim that I welcome the possibility that a lot of what I know might in fact not be so.

    "Where there is doubt, there is hope."

    343:

    Try ScentOfViolets (for some reason I can't log in with that id now). Not that hard. As for parsimonious . . . a) this has all been hashed out many, many times before, and b) if you want me to clarify or elaborate on a point, just ask. There's a lot of comments here and anything that's longer than a paragraph or three I just skip over.

    344:

    Try ScentOfViolets (for some reason I can't log in with that id now).

    Ok, for newer visitors to this blog, you can perhaps understand the confusion.

    So, why "scent of violets" ~ crushed under your
    heel, permanence?


    (If this unfolds correctly, it's going to be beautiful).

    345:

    >perchance.

    Sigh.

    346:

    I think I know which posters you're talking about ;-) Dunning-Kruger of course. Interestingly, they have all fallen back on how us mere PhD types (a lot of who are actually, you know, paid scientists and mathematicians) are 'blindly following convention' when it comes to -- of all things -- frickin' proof standards. The 'they all said I was mad defense', IOW. I think John Baez has something to say about that one.

    This has a direct bearing on this post: they are displaying a 'magical' type of thinking. And the thing about magical thinking is that it takes you nowhere. Sure, there's no evidence that we aren't living in a simulation. And I'll certainly grant it's mathematically possible. Anybody care to run with that one and make something productive of it?

    347:

    'Scent of violets' was a nineteenth century thermodynamics problem. How did the scent from a bottle of perfume go from one side of a room to another, and why did it take so long. Close and careful reasoning not only pointed to atomic theory, it gave some pretty good answers to the size of molecules and how fast they moved. You don't have to have a lot of fancy apparatus to come up important results; your best research tool is behind your eyeballs and between your ears.

    348:

    I'm partial to Bujold's thesis that fantasy and science fiction are fantasies of political agency. Roughly then, something like spooky mental powers are a good fit to stories that are essentially about putting right what has gone wrong, restoring order in a system based on hereditary privileges and obligations, while technology is more about imagining a better future for the proles whose hands wield said technology.

    Put that way, psi seems to be better suited to fantasy, technology to sf. With certain notable exceptions, of course.

    349:

    'Scent of violets' was a nineteenth century thermodynamics problem. How did the scent from a bottle of perfume go from one side of a room to another, and why did it take so long.

    Got links?

    Firstly, molecule diffusion was already a solved problem in 1827. Brownian motion, you might have heard of it?

    Secondly, violet perfume was notorious for a very unique property - the scent doesn't immediately affect the sensory glands, and "pops up" later on. This is why Josephine (Napoleon's mistress) is famous for it.

    Thirdly, thermodynamics have nothing to do with perfume or scent, barring minor evaporation and/or uptake in receptors due to mucousity (i.e. a dryer nose senses less smell).

    I'm thinking you're blowing smoke.

    350:

    Sigh. Point one: 1827, is in what century, exactly?[1] Point two: was Brownian motion observed in 1827, or was it explained? Point three, maybe some fellah named Einstein explained Brownian motion . . . in 1905. You did know that Einstein's explanation was considered to be the definitive proof that atoms and molecules exist, right?

    This stuff isn't hard to look up, you know. Google is your friend.

    [1]And in point of fact, Brownian motion was first observed in the previous century.

    351:

    I can provide links, but I'll let you work for them.

    Brownian motion is so obvious I'm unsure why you're trying to make it sound sexy.

    Violets, Josephine and delayed reaction in olfactory senses is a little bit obscure. It's true, however.

    One from their side, one from yours.


    I told you I spot this a mile off...


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mln0RciE2o0

    352:

    Btw - given the level of depth on subjects such as CERN in this thread, attempting to be patronizing over Brownian motion and missing the harpoon that's about to rip your stomach and liver out is a little naive.


    Blood in the Water.

    353:

    Sigh. You said, Firstly, molecule diffusion was already a solved problem in 1827. Brownian motion, you might have heard of it?. I provided a link that says you are flatly, unequivocally, no-way-out-of-it wrong. Since you won't admit it (indeed, double down),there's no point in talking to you any further. And I shan't, until you do.

    And BTW, it's the first time anyone has called me patronizing on the strength of what moniker I chose ;-)

    354:

    Brownian motion is so obvious I'm unsure why you're trying to make it sound sexy.

    I like that story. Once you know what assumptions to make, and you know enough of the rest, then you can predict how long it will take for a perfume odor to diffuse across a still room. A whole lot of physical chemistry wrapped up around theory of atoms etc.

    He's right, there were physicists who did not believe in atoms in 1905. It took 80 years to get an explanation of Brownian motion that really worked.

    It was so simple, and obvious -- after you saw it.

    In 1826, or in 1904, physics explained a whole lot of things. There were known unsolved problems that would bring some glory to the people who solved them, and looking back we can see questions that perhaps they should have asked and did not.

    There could be better way to understands things we already sort-of know today. Maybe tremendous simplifications that make sense out of situations that look complicated. Waiting for somebody with the right insights and the right credentials to discover and publicize them.

    355:

    The rhinoceros is a horselike animal with a single horn.

    There's a lesson here. When fantasies become real, they're never quite what you hoped for, and they're usually a bit disappointing.

    356:

    The rhinoceros is a horselike animal with a single horn.

    There's a lesson here. When fantasies become real, they're never quite what you hoped for, and they're usually a bit disappointing.

    Another lesson the rhinoceros provides:

    When fantasies become real, sometimes it matters less how you feel about them, and more how they feel about you.

    357:

    A better lesson: some rhinos have two horns. Also, anyone who thinks that being related to horse and being horse-like are equivalent needs to spend some time at the zoo where both animals are on display.

    358:

    " if you score less than 18, consider never going into poker."

    In most poker games, there is at least one sucker.

    If you are playing for stakes you care about, look around the table. If you cannot see the sucker, then stand up and leave.

    359:

    And the special case where there is one, repeated root, of course.

    360:

    Thermodynamics has to do with everything, so why are you saying it has nothing to do with perfume etc?

    361:

    Returning to CERN, I assume they are sweating bullets hoping for something more from their X Billion Euros than finding the long expected. Because if nothing turns up it's the financial End of the Line in sight for Big Physics.

    362:

    Since you apparently can't retain any comment that doesn't suit your prejudices for more than about 2 minutes, or show the courtesy of answering a direct question, I won't waste any more effort on you than observing that there's a silent "nation-" in every use of the word "state" in Marx.

    363:

    I get where you're coming from; I felt distinct similarities between Merchant Princes V1 (of 6 US publication) and Zelazny's "9 Princes in Amber". OGH discusses the reason for this in #313.

    364:

    Perhaps I was over ambiguous before; I was referring to communications between 2 robots as telemetry. Having said that, given sufficiently sensitive sensors, there is reason to think that wireless electro-encephlography is possible.

    365:

    Re. Brownian motion, I happen to have here a 1948 edition of "An introduction to the kinetic theory of gases" by Sir James Jeans. It says that Brown had discovered the peculiar dance of pollen suspended in water in 1828, but at first thought it evidence of some vital force in the pollen, the true explanation not being worked out until 1877 by Delsaux and again by Gouy in 1888, Einstein and von Smoluchowski doing the full mathematical treatment of the movements in about 1905.

    366:

    Re, isn't the transport of scent around a room more to do with convection currents and/or drafts than with Brownian motion?

    367:

    In this case, I think Catina is referring to a specific peculiarity of scents extracted from violets, whereby most people do not immediately notice that a second party entering their presence is wearing that scent. I'm not sure what (other than probably biology) to classify that phenomonon as, but it sure isn't thermodynamics!

    368:

    "To me the difference between science fiction and fantasy all
    comes down to handwavium.
    . . .
    Where exactly the line of tolerance for handwavium gets drawn is
    almost completely down to cultural and personal preference."

    Yes, precisely, but you can also add temporal factors. Even in
    my lifetime, a lot of things that were known for certain are now
    known to be false. As one example of a huge number, it was known
    that no life could exist at temperatures above 60 Celsius. So
    the boundary between SF and fantasy has changed :-)

    The point that most posters seem to be missing is that certainty
    is only valid in (pure) mathematics. In true science, all
    theories that fit the observed data and do not predict things
    that are observed not to happen are equally valid, though some
    are more plausible (a loose form of probable) than others. And
    using absence of evidence to prove evidence of absence is, at
    best, statistical. Overall, whether you consider something as
    SF or fantasy depends on how radical you are prepared to be in
    accepting alternative theories.

    369:

    My argument in favour of the sf/f divide being solely down to handwavium is that any story with any trope, theme or setting can be told as either science fiction or fantasy -- just with differing levels of handwavium. Even sf-nal stories that are driven by specific technology developments can be recast in the fantasy mold, simply by removing the science-based explanations -- it might make the story less interesting or believable, but that's mostly down to subjective preference and adequate world building.

    I think you could develop a multi axis model, but the more factors you add, the more subjective it becomes, and therefore the less useful it becomes in defining the sf/f boundary for anyone but yourself. (This isn't a criticism of the idea, I'm exploring my thoughts on its limits and where it's most useful.)

    To pick up your first question: I'm only passing familiar with the Honorverse stories -- I've never read them, so I don't know the details of the world building. Therefore, I can't really say whether I personally would drop them in the sf or f camp (I tend to give ftl tech a pass, but it's very dependent on how it's used and explained).

    To pick other examples I am familiar with (that have already been mentioned): Star Wars is fantasy in traditionally sf settings -- the universe and all the tech pretty much run on "woo"; The Merchant Princes is science fiction in a traditionally fantasy setting -- there's very very limited use of "woo".

    I want to take the time to tie this back into the whole "psi in sf" question, but real life beckons!

    370:

    "So does that make David Weber's Honorverse fantasy?
    After all, as per the previous discussion, ftl travel is
    impossible by current standards and spaceships don't work that
    way. I think you need a multi axis scale for SF vs fantasy, and
    handwavium is only one axis."

    You have a good point, but it is HIS use of FTL (i.e. FTL at
    high velocities) rather than FTL as such, as well as many other
    aspects, some of which are mathematically inconsistent but covered
    with some pseudo-scientific jargon. So it's fantasy? But it is
    also very much part of the hard science fiction tradition.
    Whatever. They are entertaining stories.

    371:

    I can understand that.

    I think your handwavium idea correlates roughly with the traditional "Hard/Soft" divide, both in SF and Fantasy.
    Hard SF being heavily based on what we know *now* and not allowing much handwavium at all, say Alistair Reynolds, or Ben Bova, or the series Planetes.
    Soft being spaceships and derring do across multiplanetary settings, like David Weber or Alan Dean Foster, or Star Wars/Trek.
    Mccaffrey and her dragons imo definitely move from Fantasy to soft SF once Dragonsdawn comes along, because she makes an effort to ground her setting in genetic engineering and the rediscovery of technology.

    For Fantasy you get hard being a strong internally consistent world with an awful lot of thought gone into the social and political systems, and attention paid to geographical factors and weather distribution. Magic usually obeys consistent rules for the setting. I'm thinking Steven Erikson, Terry Pratchett or Daniel Abraham.
    Soft on the other hand tends to be whimsical, or simply borrows the trappings of Elves and Dwarves. Magic does what is needed by the Plot. Simon R Green, Terry Brooks or David Gemmell spring to mind.

    I think where Psionics falls into the line depends on how it is used in the story. Some authors may find the need to harden it by making reference to aditional nerve clusters in brains, or genetic modification, or simply giving alien species the abilities. Others may want to make it more prevalent by softening it - Alfred Bester made planetary teleportation common, but telepathy extremely rare. But that doesn't make it belong to one field or the other.

    Anne McCaffrey made a scientific case for psi powers in her Talents series *in the universe of the books* and then kept things internally consistent from then on.
    Compare that to the equivalent in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books, where Mind Magic is commonplace.

    Both effectively want the same abilities to be available to the characters, but one series is definitely SF, the other fantasy. Both write plots around specific powers, so the arbitrary nature of Gifted people is minimised in favour of the Right Gift being there when needed.

    372:

    Yup. My thoughts very much in the same direction.

    I tend to think of the whole SF/F genre as one long continuum, with what you term "soft fantasy" (which I can't think of a better name for) at one end and hard SF on the other. The exact dividing line between SF and F is a matter of personal judgement.

    Conmpletely agree with you re "psi" -- how it's used and explained within the world determines whether it pulls a story twords the SF or F side of the line (again, personal judgement abounds).

    My take on "psi" falling out of fashion in SF is that there are two key factors: 1) Societal changes; 2) Feedback loops.

    The first has been touched on by a lot of posts in the thread so far. Changes in techology make "psi" in the classical sense seem closer to magic and more at home in a fantasy setting, because we now have technology that can be used to explain many of the uses/effects of "psi" in differetn (tecnology based) terms.

    The second is the old self fulfilling prophecy of big company marketing policies. Suppose big publishers see a drop in sales on SF stories featuring psionic powers; editors are disuaded from buying stories featuring these elements; fewer SF stories with psionic powers appear on bookshelves; sales drop further. This cycle continues until psionic powers in SF are a complete turn off to editors in big publishing. It's been mentioned that self-publishing could disrupt this kind of feedback system, and to some extent I agree with that; I can't imagine that the market for SF featuring "psi" has disappeared entirely.

    373:

    Agreed on the temporal factors. But my own thought is that this is more to do with how you define handwavium/woo/unobtanium/etc, rather than how the presence of same effects your own personal classification of fiction (while also accepting that over time you might find yourself metally reclassifying stories as your personal tastes change).

    374:

    But speculative fiction is just fiction that takes a model or axioms and explores them. It can be dragons if you like: I'm fine with handwavium for the biology, just make the ecology plausible. But when the dragon is there as a metaphor or narrative device, then that's fantasy.

    (Aside: do we actually produce fantasy that is allegorical any more? I'm reading up on Christina Rossetti and there's a lot of "typology"; i.e. Christian symbolism. The death of religion means there's no need for it and we have no types to allude to, and I think we've become a lot shallower for it.)

    375:

    Suffice it to say, from post to post you move around that scale significantly!

    376:

    I have let it drop. End of story. You interpretations of my intentions and personality are yours and yours alone. (I intentionally shoot wide of the mark here, Faramir-style.)

    377:

    Mccaffrey and her dragons imo definitely move from Fantasy to soft SF once Dragonsdawn comes along, because she makes an effort to ground her setting in genetic engineering and the rediscovery of technology.

    It's been a long time since I read those. If I remember, her dragons

    1. Do telepathy.
    2. Fly.
    3. Teleport.
    4. Breathe fire.

    #2 is difficult, a flying animal that can carry a human passenger? What kind of wingspan and muscle does that take? What does it eat, and how much?

    #4 is worse, but possible. If it generates a lot of methane it could burp it. But these aren't just little methane burps, these fireballs are big and hot and they have a lot of distance.

    Maybe they have genetically-engineered biological fusion reactors? And maybe the fireballs are plasma?

    The biological matter transmitter is no worse than mechanical matter transmitters, and genetically-engineered biological telepathy is just biological radio, no trouble at all except for telepathy with low-tech humans.

    I guess if we already accept matter transmitters then it's picky to worry about the calories for flying dragons. It could be a low-G planet with really thick air, they live on mountaintops and never have to do a running take-off, maybe there are other animals that eat lots of grass and beam the power to the dragons with biological masers.

    After I get used to the idea, it doesn't take a lot more handwaving to believe in biological fusion reactors than to believe in practical mechanical fusion reactors.

    OK, it's soft SF.

    378:

    You interpretations of my intentions and personality are yours and yours alone.

    Yes, certainly. Especially when people are deep in their own personal stories, they tend to fit other people's actions into their narratives independent of the others' intentions.

    What you did was not completely incompatible with my interpretations, but there's little reason to think that your intentions matched up to that at all.

    Best wishes, and I apologize for misunderstanding you.

    379:

    So the dragons are effectively genetically modified scaled up versions of a native alien life form "fire lizard", given enhanced intelligence.
    The Telepathy is a development of the innate ability to send rudimentary pictures, and most likely the result of larger brains leading to more complex abilities.
    Teleportation was also innate.

    Flight was enhanced, I seem to recall something about their bones based on carbon tubes for lightness, and they were designed to get bigger over time - the first ones were barely horse sized.

    The firebreathing was caused by chewing a natural phosphine rich rock in a secondary stomach, which caused them to breathe a spontaneously flammable gas. Presumably Calcium phosphide, which reacts with water to release the gas.
    They have to vomit up the waste products soon after use or it damages the stomach.

    She did take quite some time to explore how everything worked, but yes, it is definitely soft SF.

    380:

    Maybe the conversation was ambiguous, but I thought we were discussing robots reading human minds. I treated your response as point scoring via pedantry because, as you say, computers talking to computers isn't news, unless they're on the edge of the solar system or buried in crater waiting to be suckled by the sun.

    But psychic robots are interesting. IIRC in "Blade Runner" the humans have a transcendent/psychic experience that the Andies can't replicate; in effect, the Andies are outed as p-zombies. The Asimov shows how unintentionally destructive a robot with too much empathy can be and how defenceless it is against a vengeful Susan Calvin; it's a tough call which of them is the more monstrous. Every time I go back to the Susan Calvin stories I'm shocked by how fresh and intelligent they are.

    381:

    "It's been a long time since I read those. If I remember,
    her dragons
    1. Do telepathy.
    2. Fly.
    3. Teleport.
    4. Breathe fire.

    #2 is difficult, a flying animal that can carry a human
    passenger? ...

    I did the calculations a while ago. Realistically, under
    earth conditions, no. But reduce the gravity, increase the
    air pressure, improve the bone strength etc., even if only
    a fairly small amount, and it becomes possible.

    #4 is worse, but possible. ...

    Combine something that sprays oil with bombadier beetle
    methods, and there's no problem. Hugely expensive in energy
    terms, though. Your point about how to feed the damn thing
    is the real difficulty - they virtually HAVE to be obligate
    carnivores with a very high prey/predator ratio.

    382:

    Yes! And a corollary of the political agency model for SF/fantasy is that it's possible to have a story with high fantasy wallpaper and furniture, even characters, but an SF model of political agency -- or an SF setting (an empire in a galaxy far, far away ...) with straightforward imperial autocracy and wizards.

    This also explains why SF as a genre works both as a native form in the USA but was also publishable in the Soviet Union, today in China, and so on: while the US capitalist/oligarchic-with-democratic-forms system pays lip service to the idea of Edisonian genius changing everything (it's one of the founding myths of capitalism, that anyone can get rich if they're smart enough and work hard enough), it's also compatible with orthodox Leninism or even Stalinism: the people can work together to change the world and make it a better place. (Stalinism had room for worker-heroes, too, just as long as they knew their place.)

    Of course it'd be rather hard to test this hypothesis. Ideally, given a time machine, one would write a novel with a science fictional sensibility then go back to France some time prior to the 1780s and see what the Ancien Regime's court censors made of it ...

    383:

    A possible reason that Psi is an area of disputed claims. From Prof Richard Wiseman, member of SCICOP, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire

    "I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do."

    384:

    You forgot:

    5. Travel in time. (!!!)

    385:

    Firstly, molecule diffusion was already a solved problem in 1827. Brownian motion, you might have heard of it?

    Ahem: Brownian motion was identified in 1827 but the mechanism wasn't understood until it was solved nearly a century later by Albert Einstein in 1905.

    Identified != Solved. Right?

    (Kept reading.)

    WRT. your later comment: I submit that the 80 year gap between identification and solution in the case of brownian motion, and in particular the identity of the person who finally nailed it, is just slightly suggestive that this was a non-trivial problem! (I know, I know, appeals to authority: but ... for 80 years the likes of Boltzman and Maxwell didn't work on or solve the problem, then Einstein comes along ....)

    386:

    I get where you're coming from; I felt distinct similarities between Merchant Princes V1 (of 6 US publication) and Zelazny's "9 Princes in Amber". OGH discusses the reason for this in #313.

    Ahem: see also.

    387:

    To clarify -- regardless of the actual historical reasons, you've managed to take fantasy-wallpapered stories & turn them into SF very effectively, in a way which I feel like illustrates the boundary between (good) science fiction and (good) fantasy quite well (where I must specify 'good' because there's a lot of stuff that gets classified because of the wallpaper but really is just adventure).

    (Transporting to a feudal world by itself is not *necessarily* fantasy wallpaper, though choosing a feudal society rather than, say, ancient Egypt is a good indicator. But, using a locket or a sigil as the mechanism *is* -- because the sci-fi wallpaper version would be a little black box with a button on it, or a door made by aliens, or something else with semiotics connecting it to technologically advanced societies.)

    Specifically, you've managed to transform fantasy into sci-fi by explaining things in ways that ground them in known science. Sci-fi wallpaper operates by associating things with the semiotics of science and/or technology (rather than magic runes, lightning; rather than the astral plane, outer space), while non-wallpaper sci-fi grounds things functionally rather than thematically (it's a sigil but it works because of neural networks; sure, it's psi, but it operates via radio waves and has this particular range). While the functional grounding may not age very well (our sense of what lies within the realm of the possible marches on as research grinds down at which things don't exist because of physical limitations versus path-dependence), the attempt at functional grounding is one thing that heavily differentiates sci-fi from fantasy (because in fantasy, you can say that something *just is* or that it's the way it is *because of magic* and expect absolutely nobody to complain, because fantasy allows the author more leeway to gut out information about the function and mechanism of action of things in favor of making a more satisfying story. A very satisfying story that depends on FTL travel is borderline OK in sci-fi these days, but a very satisfying story that depends upon the akashic records is not going to be acceptable. We want our vampires to be microscopic parasites, and our radioactive spiders genetically engineered.)

    388:

    So the dragons are effectively genetically modified scaled up versions of a native alien life form "fire lizard", given enhanced intelligence.

    The Telepathy is a development of the innate ability to send rudimentary pictures, and most likely the result of larger brains leading to more complex abilities.
    Teleportation was also innate.

    The handwaving is not easier when you make it something the alien life already had instead of something the biologists built into them. It's still telepathy, teleportation, and firestarting.

    The firebreathing was caused by chewing a natural phosphine rich rock in a secondary stomach, which caused them to breathe a spontaneously flammable gas. Presumably Calcium phosphide, which reacts with water to release the gas.

    Yes, the first time I used a carbide lamp I asked where the carbide comes from. They said from the carbide mines. Deep in the desert. It's fantasy geology.

    The cline between soft SF and fantasy is pretty gradual. But as SF, this is not soft like talc. It's soft like butter. In July. On the beach. In Miami.

    Regardless, the stories are popular. It doesn't really matter whether it's SF or fantasy.

    389:

    Your point about how to feed the damn thing
    is the real difficulty - they virtually HAVE to be obligate
    carnivores with a very high prey/predator ratio.

    Plants tend to have a lot of cellulose etc which is slow to digest. Animals have bones or chitin, but not as much.

    Carbs and protein have the same calories per gram, fats have more but take more volume.

    So maybe the dragons go out into the desert and find the natural rock candy formations and eat those.

    Or -- oil wells. They find a place where oil is seeping out of the ground, and suck it up. I wanted to figure that it's thermodynamically unlikely to have geological formations made of phosphides or sugar, without even thinking about coal and oil. I just naturally start thinking that my own prejudices are scientific, that I know the only ways that alien worlds can be constructed, that anything which looks unscientific to me must be fantasy.

    It's easy to slide into.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4322360/

    Ha! Natural phosphides discovered on earth, as of February of this year. If we'd had this discussion in January I wouldn't have found it. Science marches on.

    390:

    I'm not going to get into a Hard SF is the only true SF argument with you, I was providing the explanation from the text which you admitted you couldn't remember.

    The key point for me that makes it SF over Fantasy is the desire to provide an in-universe functional explanation for the handwavium. Do that, and you're on the SF side of the dial.

    Whether the explanation works in *our* universe, or is something we've proved impossible due to advances in technology is irrelevant - it is the attempt to explain or justify the inexplicable that is one of the primary characteristics of SF.

    See Keith Laumer and his intelligent Bolo supertanks - he supplies a detailed tech history at the end of one of the books providing a vaguely plausible evolution from our equipment to his, and then wrote stories back and forth in his future history to elaborate on interesting models. Are they possible? No, not as far as we know. We've recently covered the issues with AI and Fusion, let alone the problems of tensile strength. But he wanted intelligent supertanks, and wrote entertaining SF using them.

    @Fangz
    The travelling back and forth in time in Pern is pure handwavium, but at least it is written in a logically consistent fashion to avoid paradoxes, and they initially use the stellar drift of constellations as a guide, which seems a good enough proxy over moderate distances. The later developments are rule of Plot.

    391:

    We've recently covered the issues with AI and Fusion, let alone the problems of tensile strength.

    Do you have a link? I would like to read it.

    392:

    I'd suggest it's not even worth arguing what's hard SF, simply because it varies over time. If you really want the science to work, read mainstream novels and (some) thrillers. Those are the hardest of SF, in that they use only the science we know to work.

    Anyway, I was thinking about EE Smith's Lensman series as an object lesson.

    Back when he wrote them, 1948-1954, they were, to quote my engineer parents, wish fulfillment fantasy for engineers. Stuff worked the first time, technological progress turned out some really neat gadgets and grew on to a scale that few writers have really wanted to deal with subsequently: massive numbers of sentient races, planets being destroyed in some crazy ways, intergalactic travel, and so forth. It all depended on alien magi-tech, that being the lenses, devices that provided telepathic communication to law enforcement officers.

    The Lensmen did become a standard pillar for hard SF, and the tropes went everywhere. Smith's ideas turned up all over the place, from the Uplift Universe to Darkover to Star Wars to I don't know how many space operas of the 1950s-1990s. I also suspect that some of Kirby's craziness in the comics (looking at Avengers) may have been inspired by Smith's multibillion year struggle between good and evil.

    There are two interesting trends here. One is that what was speculative fiction in Smith's time is woo in our time. There's no obvious way the Lenses would work, and his inertialess drives probably won't work either. Among other things. This is one of the problems with hard SF: science is a shifting frame, and speculations that are thoroughly plausible in one decade may fall off the reservation in another.

    There's a second, equally interesting and corrosive trend: superficial copying. Smith was a food chemist by trade and training, and there's a certain element of pure goofiness in some of his books where it looks like he was having fun with stuff he wished would work. Unfortunately, his tropes were swiped by writers who didn't get the jokes, and they became the standardized trappings for hard SF.

    Getting back to the originally posted topic, I think we've got the same problem today. When a scientist plays with ideas, sometimes the results are just that: playful. The trouble is, if the results of that playtime become popular and sell well as fiction, publishers want more of the same. Marketers assume that the particular tropes are what sell, and the whole thing gets bundled up as "science fiction." Science fiction isn't alone in this, and we could look at Harry Potter setting up the "Young Adult Fantasy" field equally well.* There's a certain ridiculousness in the whole commodification of a set of conventionalized tropes, but that seems to be the way publishing works.

    *The ridiculous part for me is that I read E.E. Smith in my early teens, during the "Golden Age Window for SF." Science fiction is now seen as "adult" literature, and there's a separate YA category where the language is dumbed down, excuse me, simplified for kids, and SF is getting ossified for aging baby boomers.

    What's up with that? If I can end with a rant, I did really well on the SATs precisely because I spent so much time reading SF and fantasy. Hell, L. Sprague de Camp probably raised my verbal scores 30 points all by himself. It really pisses me off that YA publishers want authors to simplify the language for kids at a time when they're most receptive to absorbing it and even need to do so to get into a good college. Talk about mind blowing, full-on cranio-rectal inserion fuckwittedness. If the people who hold publishers' leashes had any clue, they'd let the chains slip off and tell people writing for teens to get *fancy* with the language, then tell the publishers to assuage parents' fears by marketing it to them as crypto-educational material (see? It's Science! And language! Make your kids read more SFF so they'll get into a better college, with a scholarship and everything. It's cheaper than a prep course too. Don't want SFF? Try historical fiction using real historical words that show up on the SAT!)

    393:

    Domo arigato Charles-sama; I didn't know any of that when I was reading the book; I just had feelings of similarity between the World-walking, and to some extend between Corwin and Miriam.

    394:

    then tell the publishers to assuage parents' fears by marketing it to them as crypto-educational material (see? It's Science! And language!

    I heard that's how young Issac Asimov convinced his parents that reading science fiction was not a waste of time: "science" part meant it was educational.

    395:

    The key point for me that makes it SF over Fantasy is the desire to provide an in-universe functional explanation for the handwavium.

    Star Trek TNG scripts used to start out with dialogue like "Oh no ... the tech teched the tech. Wait, if I tech the tech I can reverse the process.". Later, the consultants would add actual handwaves to the parts that basically said "wave hands here".

    Would you call that an "in-universe functional explanation" or just babble?

    396:

    I love your rant. But pulling on the cynical hat for a second, I suspect that it's a futile hope that those who hold the publishers' leashes give a damn about anything other than this quarter's bottom line (no intelligent readers left, well that's what the media arm cranking out the reality TV shows is for!)

    397:

    Sure, providing it sounds vaguely appropriate. Reconfiguring the primary power coupling sounds suitably high technology and futuristic. Turning it off an on again is more IT crowd.

    So long as the script doctors make the in universe explanation internally consistent, it is fine by me as it becomes one of the underlying assumptions of the universe the fiction is set in.

    If it changes every other week it annoys the hell out of me, but it still makes it SF because they are attempting to explain how the tech teched the technical fault, but it's softer SF because the script doctors don't care.

    Saying a wizard did it makes it fantasy, but other trappings may bring it back the other way.

    398:

    "Carbs and protein have the same calories per gram, fats have more but take more volume."

    Not much. On earth, meat and a VERY few plant seeds provide
    enough fuel for very high energy uses, so it's feasible.

    "Or -- oil wells. They find a place where oil is seeping out of
    the ground, and suck it up."

    Yes :-) Except that it's hard to think of an environment where
    there is adequate seepage over a long enough period.

    One can just about fit the size, flight, fire-breathing and
    intelligence to be compatible with existing science on a
    not-unreasonable world, but that's all.

    399:

    "I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that
    remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher
    standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do."

    Which is reasonable. But it doesn't answer the strange question
    of why people are happier with LOWER standards of evidence when
    discovering the finagle factors needed to make the currently
    trendy theories make sense. And I don't mean just lower than the
    paranormal, but lower than even when introducing a new theory in
    the same field. I don't think that any of this is rational - it's
    purely emotional tribalism, with the tribe being the believers in
    the One True Theory.

    400:

    I'm not going to get into a Hard SF is the only true SF argument with you, I was providing the explanation from the text which you admitted you couldn't remember.

    Yes. Did it sound like I was being aggressive? I apologize. I have a lot on my mind just now, and it's affecting my intonations. Thank you for telling me about it. No, I don't want an argument with you either. I was just having fun.

    401:

    I don't think that the actual trappings and tools of the mythological architecture of a story are really all that important.

    What always rubbed me the wrong way about certain fantasy genre; is that "magic" is a very convenient tool for deus ex machina. Often, it comes of as very transparent and unimaginative. And I guess my emotional trigger there, is when some author is considered "imaginative" - - just because they recycle old well-worn fantasy tropes. And then I bother to read, and the story becomes very predictable, and at the same time, unbelievable. It's insulting, actually.

    This honestly happens in a lot of Sci Fi; and the perfect example is our beloved Star Trek NG and Voyager series, where we see repeated "rotate the deflector dish frequency" - type solutions as convenient ways to close a plot in a 48 minute episode. You can actually SEE the injection-molding flash from the story-mass-production process. Tired, reprocessed formula just gets old. (on the other hand, I watched every single one of those because I was so comfortable with the characters, sets, and the complex universe).

    In Fantasy; this was one of the painfully tiresome things about the Harry Potter series. (still, I came to love the mindless, senseless, formulaic stories, because of the compelling character development).

    I think that it's just easier for a Fantasy writer to be lazy when they don't have to explain the underlying mechanisms that drive the story - and just call it "magic". (or "sufficiently advanced technology").

    The truly great sci fi and fantasy writers tell a good story. The story is engaging. It's unpredictable. It pulls me in, and keeps me hooked, and not wanting to put the book down until I'm done, (and also, have gone back and re-read parts, just to make sure I "got" it). The story has interlocking dependencies on the mechanics of the world in which the characters live. (not convenient, lazy storytelling). The setting, the tools, mythology, names, and history, don't really matter. Prose also counts for a lot. The artistry of the writing. (ie. one of my favorite things about Tolkein, and Stephenson).

    As an engineer, and lover of technology - I do tend to gravitate towards sci fi that talks in detail, about the technology, and how it drives the story. (why I can't ever get enough of Asimov, Clarke, etc - even Crichton's earlier stuff).

    402:

    Well, yes, but I can hope.

    Part of my grumpiness is that I tried to get a niece to follow that strategy about four years ago. Unfortunately, she got hooked on watching videos on her tablet, her parents shelled out for a prep class, and she still ended up with mediocre test scores.

    My plea to parents and relatives is to get your kids hooked on "adult" fiction as early as possible, especially stuff with polysyllabic vocabulary and mind-expanding situations. In the long run, it is the cheaper way to go, and the world needs more nerds anyway.

    403:

    > I was also going to suggest that you could take Star Wars (or at least, the original film, that first one from 1977), replace every gun with a crossbow and every spaceship with a horse and cart, and every space travel with driving around a forest, and it's identical. Fantastic!

    You left out the change from "light saber" to "pet dragon".

    Where was that description of Eragon again? Oh yea ... darn, TvTrope's history doesn't go back far enough, maybe Wayback machine ... No, that doesn't work either.

    Oh well, something like a young boy receives a plot coupon from an old master, has to leave home, only to find that his older relative is either the big bad or the man behind the big bad, etc, etc. Perfect summary of the star wars plotline.

    ===

    Here's a different look at psi. I'm going to take a fairly "real" look at something here. First, a bit of a background. I think that there's something real to homeopathy. I submitted a "here's something to consider" letter to the skeptic society years ago, pointing out that their test methods were flawed, and that here was a testable, reasonable concept to test that fits all of the original idea of homeopathic medicine, that was beyond my ability to conduct any tests in. Their response was basically, "our test methods are perfectly fine, you are crazy". The idea? Test with bacteria-laden water, instead of pure water; dilute slowly enough that if any bacteria survive the poison, they have the time to dominate the water. Essentially, turn it into "See what bacteria are immune to poison X, then see if their immunity can be used by others (something that they excrete, for example).

    So take the same idea -- that the existing tests for psi cannot succeed because they want to test for something impossible. Look instead at the mechanics of the "what is".

    Take a human arm, stretched out (not folded). What do you have? That's right, a bunch of wires with some bad insulation on it. Nerves with a mycelin (spelling?) sheath. What does that make?

    It makes both a receiver and a transmitter. Tests showing their ability to function as a receiver have been done -- even Mr. Skeptic himself (Randi) did an experiment where it turns out that people walking past things known to change the local EM fields can detect that change. The physics of this is simple -- a wire moving through a changing B field generates electric charge; that becomes a nerve activation that travels the length of the nerve.

    So if you have a wire, that can be a receiver, then it can also be a transmitter. The question is strictly
    1: Genetics: how well does your sheath insulate?
    2: Genetics: How strong can your signal be, at best?
    3: Training: How well can you synchronize the nerve pulses in all the many wires in your arm to make your signal strong?

    That's measurable.

    At the other end,
    1: Training: How well can you hold your arm straight, with as few muscles in use as possible (so as many nerves are idle, for use as receptors, as possible),
    2: Training: How well can you detect the actual signal (your sensor nerves will provide one signal; your motor nerves will try to move muscles which will in turn provide feedback on sensor nerves).
    3. Genetics: again, the strength of insulation will affect your ability to receive.

    It's not just arm nerves. That's the classic "water divination" (detecting the change in B fields from nearby water, when all the showmanship is removed). In theory, it can be done with leg muscles.

    Heck, what if it could be done with normal brain activity while thinking ...

    Now, that fine-tuning, that high degree of sensitivity and transmission to be able to send thoughts, instead of just morse code or on/off signalling? Sure, that's probably pure fiction.

    But note the implications of this model:
    1. It's based on existing observed behavior of people being able to detect B field changes as they move through them,
    2. The better you are as a receiver, the better you are as a transmitter (insulation affects both),
    3. Both are subject to training/improvement
    4. Both are genetically restricted.

    And it starts by moving away from "Psi means X; X is impossible; so, Psi is impossible", and instead looking at "This is what can be done, this is very possible, here's how you can at least signal at a distance, if not maybe more".

    404:

    If you are playing for stakes you care about, look around the table. If you cannot see the sucker, then stand up and leave.

    Oh, I'm well aware of that trope: I'm also aware of the trope that "the house always wins".

    WRT. your later comment: I submit that the 80 year gap between identification and solution in the case of brownian motion, and in particular the identity of the person who finally nailed it, is just slightly suggestive that this was a non-trivial problem! (I know, I know, appeals to authority: but ... for 80 years the likes of Boltzman and Maxwell didn't work on or solve the problem, then Einstein comes along ....)


    Ok, I'll come clean. It's a joke, although one that would amuse only the chemists in the room.

    I've still not a ref for the "Scent of Violets" being a label for a Brownian motion discussion in the 19th C, so I'll have to take it on faith.

    However, just a few decades earlier, a woman was not only taking advantage of the property, but was so famous for it that it became a signal for revolution! Joséphine de Beauharnais June 1763 – 29 May 1814 - She lived at Malmaison, planting a famous rose garden, but continued to wear violet-scented perfumes. Napoleon had her grave covered in violets, and shortly before he was exiled, is said to have picked flowers from it, which after the Emperor died were found in a locket he always wore around his neck…
    Reputable Source
    .

    Bonepart loved her (and by extension her symbolic flower) so much that:

    While he was unable on Elba, Bonaparte told his confidants that he would return to France carrying violets. Followers of Caporal Violette took up the imagery with a vengance. Their secret decoder rings carried the violet in enamel. When the emperor landed for Act Two in Ferjus, the markets in Paris were suddenly filled with the flower which were bought as a means of distinguishing oneself as a partisan. “Aimez vous la violette?” (The proper answer was not “Oui!” Too obvious, but “Eh Bien. Eh, bien! reparaitra au printemps. “Excellent! They return in spring.”

    Reputable Source

    And, interestingly, this infatuation continued with his second wife,
    Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, and lead to 'Italy's most famous perfume', although the discovery and separation of
    ionones would take until 1893 to complete, allowing a virtual monopoly:

    But it was for the violets that she is remembered. Marie Louise adored the scent of violets and prevailed upon the monks at the Monastery of the Annunciata to use their alchemy to distill an essence of the lovely flower. This they managed to do, distilling essence of Parma violets into bottles for the Duchess' personal use.

    Marie Louise died in 1847, and was buried in accordance with her wishes in Vienna. Even today, she is associated with the flowers she loved so much and gifts of violets are left at her tomb.The monks jealousy guarded the secret method of distilling the fragile essence of Violetta di Parma, but it wasn't until 1870 that it finally left those hallowed walls.

    Reputable Source


    And, lastly, that whole delayed olfactory property - well, I won't spoil that for you.

    I will point out that
    Robert Brown was a botanist and also a member of the Royal Navy - so tales of old Boney's activities would certainly have been part of his dinner talk.

    Enough clues for now, too long a post.


    Let's just say posting a single Wiki page doesn't mean you "get it".

    405:

    And, I guess I need a /snark label for hyperbolic statements such as "was a solved problem". I too know about the history of the theory, and I think a little bit of charity and fuzzy reading might be in order (although that's why I picked the whaling analogy).

    Let's just say this will (eventually) return to psi powers with a bit of a snap n crackle (if it works - sugary confection and booze often means the towers crumble).

    Pay close attention to the symbolism of the violet, however.

    406:

    Hope is good. I'll hope with you.

    One anecdote that *hopefully* will raise a smile. Upon hearing of the death of Pterry, my 9yo daughter's response: "But he can't be dead! I love his books!"

    (I think I'm getting the parenting thing right somewhere!)

    407:

    Even worse than that with things like String Theory. They are not even science. They make no testable predictions. As for the Standard Model, I forget how many parameters have to be put in by hand to get the right numbers out. Maybe 20?. Epicycles...

    408:

    Yep, that's a good response. Somewhere in that desert, PTerry's probably smiling.

    409:

    And so, the turn.

    Re, isn't the transport of scent around a room more to do with convection currents and/or drafts than with Brownian motion?

    Diffusion by air currents was so close.

    It's both.

    Since I've presented some links, I'll do this short
    form:

    1) Perfume is economics, politics and sexual / gender dynamics all rolled up into one. I do hope casual readers can see the linkages of just why the science was applied to the problem. (Money, Money, Patriarchy, Breaking old Religious monopolies).

    This is why the problem is called "the scent of violets" if it indeed it ever was.

    2) Persephone, the daughter of the Earth Mother Demeter, was picking violets when Pluto kidnapped her to live with him in the underworld

    To say that science alone cannot explain the history of violets and their sociological impact is so crass a statement to be laughable. Only a fool could have presented and fall back on a botanist for a defense.

    3) It could be said that violets were the 19th C version of advertizing - a 'secret' weapon (and the darker side, propaganda, it's all in the links) that no-one really knew how it worked, but there was profit and power to be made (and also intellectual satisfaction) by doing so.

    And so, we come to "psi powers". (Bene Gesserit say hello).


    You'll have to work out the delayed olfactory response first.


    Hint: Sing or Shine.

    410:

    Coming somewhat late to the party again, and going for the usual low hanging fruit...

    If you assume the simulation argument is correct, of course there is nothing saying the simulation is perfect, and there are likely some glitches, analogous to the (in)famous rocket jumping.

    Of course,
    a) creating something like a buffer overflow in some local context might make for some other effects. The walls of reality veer thin here...
    b) overusing said effect might interest the local version of the Auditors of Reality. In extreme cases, use last backup, write patch to folder, removal of offending party optional. Might be funny if said restores are not perfect and you're not sure if some of you future self are on some sort of watchlist.

    Might sound like a dour setting, but it might get better than it sounds.
    Question: Science-Fiction or Fantasy?

    411:

    Maybe the publishing houses know something about GRRM's master plan we don't... ;)

    I have seen quite some argumentations for "Game of Thrones" being set in a Deep-Future/Post-Apocalyptic/Posthuman setting. The White Walkers might use some kind of nanotechnology for their un-spoilered deeds, and their vulnerability to certain substances might stem from said substances interacting with said nanobots. The Children of the Forest, OTOH, might be more into geoengineering and biotechnology, with the weirdwood trees acting as some kind of data storage/communication devices. And the prophecies, well...

    The "humans" in Westeros and elsewhere are a deliberate back breeding to Humanity 1.0; of course, this has not worked perfectly, as usual with breeding back, so giants and mammoths (wild elephants also became extinct somewhere along the way). But as we know, history is seldom static, and long-term observation showed some common failure modes. So the reasons those prophecies seem eerily fitting it has all happened before. And the next backup to restore is already waiting.

    412:

    You'll have to work out the delayed olfactory response first.

    I'll try. Your olfactory sense includes proteins that interact with stuff in the air. They change shape and that eventually results in a neuron firing to announce the scent. Over time the neurons fire less plus your nervous system ignores them more, and so you don't notice the odor.

    Apparently violet scent includes something that interacts with those particular proteins in a special way. It interacts with them but it doesn't change their shape. While they interact with it, they can't also interact with the stuff that does make the shape change.

    So when you first smell violets, you maybe don't smell it as much because this inhibitor stops some of the sites from being triggered, but you do smell it. And then when those sites get exposed, they get triggered late and you keep smelling it, and meanwhile other sites are getting protected and have time to recharge, so the smell persists longer than other smells.

    That might be enough to explain it, but it's an explanation I made up that might not be right. I could imagine something more complicated, like the inhibitor only attaches to sites that have already been triggered, so instead of random triggering you'd have a cycle. But the lazy approach is to stick to a simple explanation until you find out it isn't good enough. I feel lazy today.

    413:

    All science promises is models that allow for accurate prediction of experimental results, and it delivers on that promise rather well. If the models seem aesthetically or metaphysically unsatisfying, that's your problem.

    414:

    I'm sure that the whole epicycles thing delivered the goods as well. However, it was a sign that something was very wrong with the model. And that's your problem.
    I see you omit commenting the whole String Theory et al claim of mine that it isn't even science. When your super-dooper model gives you 10^500 answers and no way of testing them I would say it's seriously fucked up. No doubt very aesthetically pleasing though, as mathematics or theology.

    415:

    "Hard science" is used for several kinds of sf:
    1) Based solidly on current science.
    2) Based on scientific theories postulated but not yet proven or disproven.
    3) Based partly on current science and partly on theories the author made up.

    4) Military science fiction.
    5) The story has spaceships in it.

    416:

    Again, close. (Tired, poison is never pleasant, in all its forms).

    But it's missing an element - minds worked differently in those days, and olfactory senses were of a more naive hue, toned to a more robust reality (and certainly lacking our diverse assaults that we do daily). The apocryphal (and probably untrue) tale of buckets in the Sun King's palace being changed once a week is only the half of it:

    Je voudrais que celui qui a le premier inventé de chier ne pût chier, lui et toute sa race, qu'à coups de bâton!... Soyez à table avec la meilleure compagnie du monde; qu'il vous prenne envie de chier, il faut aller chier. ... "Ah! que cela serait joli si cela ne chiait pas!"


    Crude complaints

    Why did I say minds? Memory, of course: functioned differently, where a perfume soaked letter, a locket with a violet in it, a scent, could revoke and crystallize the memory of a person in an age without instant communications. Tokens, amulets and symbolic treasures; let's just say it's something that has lessened in our time, or been mass commoditized into perversions such as diamonds. (Aah, the wolves).

    However, there's a different note here - violet flowers smell completely different to the oil (leaves and ionones): so there's a duality to this tale hidden away. (The City, The City).

    And so then, cast back even further - Egypt will do, or the great Silk Roads where scent was a premium economic good. Or to the ages where Persephone, the spring bringer, picked violets, and they were left on graves to remind the mind that the memory hadn't faded and Winter would end - kept, constant, until at least Victorian times.


    A platitude in the refrain: senses dulled, how would you return them? Being coy, but singing into the wind and facing the bench alone is all so tiring.


    To foreshadow - the cocoon; you cannot detect something so atrophied?

    417:

    Not revoke, invoke.

    But we have to be careful of such language with players such as Therion667 around, don't we?

    418:

    I didn't reply to that part of your comment because I agreed with it. Quantum mechanics makes testable predictions; as a chemist I used to use it all day long. The rules aren't deterministic on a micro level, but averaging over a statistical sample they're as inflexible as Newton's rules. String theory (rather, the nigh infinite set of string theories) makes no new testable predictions and may as well be theology.

    419:

    Peter Watts popped up a few timese upthread with his rifters and vampires, now we are talking predictive power of science and betting ... Funny that Peter wrote explicitly about the latter in Echopraxia. Or go find the Colonel on tor.com, some of the ideas are explored there also.

    The basic gist is that we don't belive in what is called science because pure logic tells us so - no discussing a recent scientif theroy bothers to check all the claims going back to what is easily observable*, somehweere along the lines we choose to believe in the institution of science, in the authority. Why? Because it works.

    No suppose, someone takes a leap of faith and sicovers another way of thinking about nature that also works, but is not communicable because there's nothing of sciences language there. With language, I'm talking proofs, positivism etc ...

    In Echopraxia, Watts also supplies a cosmology in which these ... faith based systems make sense - that was hinted upthread but I won't spoil here. A connection I actually only understood after starting to type this comment, so thanks all of you - this has been enlightening in a most pointless way.

    The simulation hypothesis is weird. Not because it's weird in itself, which it is. It's weird because it allows a certain kind of thinking. It would be logical to say "gee, the universe sure looks simulated to me, but if it continues to behave the way it did over the observable past, where's the profound consequence?" But. What if you want unicorns and psi? The you can suddenly believe that all bets regarding how the physical world works are off while at the same time believing in a rational (more or less) clockwork universe. Put another way: The simulation hypothesis allows atheists to be religios without cognitive dissonance. Doublethink scares me.


    420:

    no discussing a recent scientif theroy bothers to check all the claims going back to what is easily observable

    Some of us do (or have done) this for a living, and yes, we do. We start with laboratory exercises in high school and college, and get deeper and more specialized with further training.

    421:

    I minded the psi right in the first episode of Babylon-5. But I watched anyway.

    The various life force stuff was annoying too, even more so was JMS's attempts to defend that as plausible, on the newsgroup.

    422:

    We start with laboratory exercises in high school and college, and get deeper and more specialized with further training.

    Yes, which leads to its own problems.

    Plate tectonics, anyone?


    >There are other ways of processing information.

    423:

    "Would be interesting to see whether the last 30 years of neuroscience research can be tapped to provide some direction to SF&F story creators"

    That's a large chunk of Greg Egan's output. Some of Ted Chiang's, too.

    424:

    Okay! Being an engineer, I often ask myself "what has worked the last time" and don't bother with first prinicples etc. My boss would not appreciate i I did. But coming from there, I found it easy to believe Echopraxias claim that science is faith based too, in the way described above.

    See a text called "the engineering method" by someone named Taylo (I think), he explains why engineering is not science, not even applied science. Described the way of working I observe in me and others around me quite well.

    425:

    I always considered Pern SF. The first book I read (Dragonsong) had a prologue detailing out it was a lost colony with genetically engineered dragons to fight spores from an eccentric planet! The colony ships are visible in the sky!

    As for psi's decline, I think SF likes to pretend to be stories of possible futures. FTL partly gets a pass as "necessary for our stories", but also lots of people still think it might be possible, human ingenuity and all!1! (I see this a lot in some space discussions.) Lots of gushing over the "superluminal neutrinos" EM Drive, as opposed to skepticism. Psi, I'm guessing, was actually thought of as possible by more people. "Humans evolving to a higher state" and "humans use only 10% of their brains" and all; in screen fiction, I saw this as late as the WB's "Roswell" series around 2000.

    But with more skepticism for whatever reason -- decades of James Randi, more knowledge of the brain and of how evolution actually works, fashion -- generic psi isn't 'possible' any more. Might as well have unabashed magic, as in the 'wizards' of the Liaden books (who are living in a post-Singularity basement universe, not ours)(and which started in 1988) or in the Saga comic gonzo space fantasy series, or the 'magic' of the Nanoha anime series (magical girl Starfleet.)

    (Generic psi vs. something with detailed plausible mechanisms, like brain implants for radio 'telepathy'.)

    426:

    Actually, to be more precise, I think Pern falls into the old "Sword and Planet" school of SF, which was off-world but low-tech, not high tech. There are still a few books in that vein (Jane Lindskold's Artemis series comes to mind), but it's not nearly as popular as it once was.

    As for psionics, that term is sooo John Campbell. However, telepathy (or telempathy) is still possible with treecats in the Honorverse, among other places, so the whole thing's scarcely dead.

    As for when and why, partly it is James Randi's work. People were much more open to studying parapsychology decades ago, just like they were more into electric anti-gravity. This was simply speculative science that hit magazines like Popular Science. And there was also the 60s. As the negative evidence piled up and the human potential movement morphed into something a bit less appealing than it promised to be, the whole secret science of psionics lost its luster. Having Mythbusters build a psionic amplifier to spec and try it out on a barista (didn't do anything) was (unfortunately for psionics) a good way to mock it.

    As for magic, there was that neo-pagan revival in the 80s and 90s, and I think that the aura from that carried well past urban fantasy into Darkover and many other soft SF venues (MZB was on the edges of the movement, for example). If that area's having trouble, in part it's due to the culture wars, where both US science and religious tolerance have been under constant attack from conservative evangelical churches and dirty businesses.* As a result, I think, scientists have gotten a lot less tolerant of "woo" and a lot more outspoken about what science says about reality and what's BS than we used to be. This is understandable, but it means that some stories that would have done well 20 years ago don't suit the modern mood.

    *I'd suggest that the whole fight over climate change feeds into this, not to derail the discussion, but because so many people have gotten so furious over the whole denialist world view that we get a lot less pleasure in speculating about new age-y stuff than we used to. Dealing with the consequences of deliberately distorted science for a few decades can sour anyone on what-if, and it's too bad.

    427:

    Yes, I heard that too. There were also speculation that the world of Westeros/Essos is on the inside of a Dyson sphere, and that Varys is actually Haviland Tuf.

    428:

    As an aside:

    Anyone who has empirical knowledge of MRI scans or 'cutting edge' genetic research who imagines you know much about the mind/brain is...

    Deluded.

    It's a vast forest and you're still looking at the roots without knowing the fungi.


    Much posturing here, and it has no scientific base.

    429:

    Fair enough. A lot of people do take a faith-based approach to science, and even specialists tend to when thinking about something outside their specialty. I personally have a fairly detailed understanding of why metals conduct electricity, and a reasonable understanding of how field-effect transistors on a microchip work, and a half-assed understanding of programming plus a touch of polymer chemistry, but there are still about twenty more graduate degrees I'd need to completely understand the computer I'm typing on.

    430:

    Anyone who has empirical knowledge of MRI scans or 'cutting edge' genetic research who imagines you know much about the mind/brain is...

    Deluded.

    Sure, most of the details haven't been filled in yet, but neurophysiology etc have shown us the big picture.

    Everything that goes on in your mind is nothing more than an interplay among neurons. Science has proven that there is no soul. Consciousness is nothing more than a pattern of neuron firings, and has no other existence. Empathy is nothing more than mirror neurons.

    Anything special you do by thinking is nothing more than emergent properties of a complicated system of electrochemical interactions. There is no such thing as transcendence. Religious feeling is just an electrochemical state that's built into us and cannot have any meaning, and has no connection to anything outside of a single brain. Basicly there is no such thing as communication between brains.

    These fundamental truths that science has revealed are vitally important even though we don't yet understand the details well enough to control people's thinking very well using that science. Someday maybe we can compel loyalty, and prevent people from thinking thoughts we don't want them to think, etc.

    But even without the practical benefits, it will surely turn out to be the most important scientific discovery ever, that science has proven there is no meaning to anything, that nothing really matters. That your thinking is entirely electrochemical and you are capable of nothing except what your FPGA brain provides to you.

    431:

    "But coming from there, I found it easy to believe Echopraxias claim that science is faith based too, in the way described above."

    This isn't 'faith based', until one dilutes the meaning of 'faith based' until it covers all of life. When you got up in the morning, did you check for gravity before you got up?[1]

    [1] An astronaut who had been up in Skylab for a while said that on his first morning back on Earth, he woke up, and pushed himself 'out' of bed, or rather, off of the bed onto the floor.

    432:

    Everything that goes on in your mind is nothing more than an interplay among neurons. Science has proven that there is no soul. Consciousness is nothing more than a pattern of neuron firings, and has no other existence. Empathy is nothing more than mirror neurons.

    No.

    I've lead you by the nose so far, but you're missing the point.

    Descartes - the mind is a clockwork orange, animals are automatons and feel no pain ("and if I'm wrong about the heart, all my philosophy is also false" - he was wrong about the heart)

    Dawkins - the gene and cells are like a computer and memes are just self-replicating examples of this...

    No.

    The greatest fallacy is to fall into the τέχνη / techne of your current limited understanding and to pronounce, with a lot of hubris, that "this is how it works". It's a category error, where you do techne > analogy rather than vice versa.

    Tired.

    Put simply: All that above, all that stuff about Josephine and so on? It was a demonstration.

    The point was: I knew none of that when I made the call, I just... well, that'd be telling. Suffice to say, life is much easier when you can 'call it' and then dip into the collective unconscious and prove it all correct.

    Fucking Apes.

    I asked you to do some homework, this crowd can't think outside a paper bag with big black markers on it.


    J'accuse.

    433:

    And yes, "we're not allowed to do that", but tbh - it's so easy seeing the strands and I'm a little miffed at the way I've been treated.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBzVPXr8SNY

    434:

    A worse error is to pronounce something an essential mystery when we actually have plenty of evidence for how it works. If you want to understand something of how the brain creates consciousness, and how consciousness falls apart when the brain is damaged, I suggest a book titled The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat/

    p.s. That feeling that you can see the threads but can't communicate them (among other things) is suggestive of schizophrenia. If you haven't seen a physician, you probably should. I say this not in cruelty but out of sincere concern.

    435:

    CatinaDiamond, I have just removed four of your comments. I hope I don't have to remove more.

    Read the rules of moderation, and -- in particular -- run with the idea that other commentators are to be debated with, not insulted or attacked.

    436:

    Yes (no?)
    I often come across religious tossers who go on about ... "but your science is just as faith-based as our religion!"
    They are either terminally stupid or lying, IMHO.
    The only "faith" in science is: "As yesterday, so today & again tomoprrow" actually.
    The example of checking for gravity is, in fact the exact correct test to make.
    Yup- it's still ( Practical test ) working ... carry on as before.

    437:

    The greatest fallacy is to fall into the τέχνη / techne of your current limited understanding and to pronounce, with a lot of hubris, that "this is how it works".

    Well, that seems superficially reasonable. I guess you kind of have a point.

    But -- if that's true then the whole thing doesn't really mean anything. All our science would basicly just be a distillation of our past experience, and not really definitive.

    There's a great big difference between "The iron laws of economics say that X is the only system that can ever work" versus "People have tried a lot of stuff and X tends to happen".

    There's a humongous difference between "Physics has determined the limits of what's possible, we know that X can never ever happen under any circumstances" versus "We haven't come across X yet, and it would upset a lot of our ideas if we did".

    It would mean that science doesn't give us any absolute truths, it only distills our experience so far. In practice, science works completely dependably and it's never wrong. But that would mean that in principle, science could be wrong about things.

    That would be horrible. It's unbelievable. So it has to be wrong.

    438:
    There's a great big difference between "The iron laws of economics say that X is the only system that can ever work" versus "People have tried a lot of stuff and X tends to happen".

    Well, yes, the second sentence is somewhat more dependable, while the first one says more about the ego of the guy formulating said law. ;)

    Incidentally, most Iron Laws have quite a few loopholes:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law

    Oh, and BTW:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability#Falsificationism

    439:

    I've had these discussions too, with fans of homeopathy and the like. usually very late, ver drunk and somehow it never occured to me to say "just because I can't disprove your stuff right now does not mean your right."

    Anyway, it's not my point that science is authoritarian or faith based in this way. It's one point of Echopraxia and continues the great tradition of Pwete Watts telling stories, where I disagree strongly with many statements implicit in the story but which I enjoy much.

    440:

    Fantasy has been around as a genre for as long as humans have told stories. Science started in Europe during the Renaissance and created our modern civilization. Science fiction grew with it. The name "California" first appeared in a 16th century science fiction novel. In the early 19th century, science was changing the way we thought about life, so we got stories like Frankenstein. In the late 19th century, science was remaking our physical culture, so science fiction was more associated with technological change.

    One would expect the science fiction of an era to reflect the scientific concerns and developments of that era. Jules Verne wrote science fiction in his day, but his stories would be considered techno-thrillers if modernized and re-released. I think psi dropped out of favor in science fiction as part of the reaction against the 1960s and our more modern attitude towards mind altering substances. After WWII there was a lot of work done on mind altering drugs. There was the more popular stuff with Timothy Leary and the like, but also the more scholarly and scientific Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved (and its sequel TIHKAL).

    Then came the reaction and the war on drugs. There is extremely limited and careful exploration of the edges of consciousness these days. The mind was moved off limits. Look at the war against pain relief and drugs like marijuana. There are still people exploring the chemical space, but their goal isn't understanding the human mind. Their goal is to get a Chinese chemical house to crank out a batch and sell it before it gets outlawed. This reaction also created the New Age ghetto, cutting off the true believers in a certain type of psychic mysticism and isolating them.

    Psi got kicked out of science fiction because a certain type of scientific exploration got kicked out of science. Let's face it, science fiction has come a long way since "Las Sergas de Esplandian".

    441:

    secret_quirrel:

    Not to mention the Greg Mandel books, unless those are too far into detective genre to be considered SFnal...

    - CJ "putting the psi in pscience fiction" H / esper

    442:

    "Sure, most of the details haven't been filled in yet, but
    neurophysiology etc have shown us the big picture."

    Er, no, not even remotely. Firstly, we still have only a
    VERY crude idea of how the brain actually works, and it's not
    just neurons firing. There are also chemical factors, and
    how and why neurons and other brain cells change with time.

    There is a far deeper issue. Consciousness is an emergent
    property, and anyone who knows about complex systems (as in
    computing and chaos theory) knows that it is impossible to
    predict all of the emergent properties and their details.
    Penrose's claim that we are not subject to a Goedelian
    limitation are, as far as I know, entirely unfounded. And I
    am more than a layman in that area.

    The reformulation of Goedel/Turing relevant here is that a
    computation engine (i.e. our minds) cannot predict all of
    the powers and limitations of that engine. And that applies
    both to a single human's brain, and to the set of all humans
    that are or ever can be born. What sort of powers and
    limitations? The rule makes it clear that we can't even
    answer that :-)

    443:

    There's no real contradiction between the statement that I can't know the full set of all computations my computer (or brain) is capable of, and the statement that I know it stops computing when I unplug it.

    444:

    Some of the comments are impressive. Many seem convoluted and overdone. I've seen them before. Without wanting to I avoid sounding anything like them. Thank golly for that!

    I see an incredible amount of dancing around the question of telepathy. I add a comment that posits a simple way of possibly avoiding entanglement problems, an indirect way of accessing thoughts bypassing the brain. This invites CatinaDiamond to go off into the void with "blood in the water", epitaphs, and "you have no idea" kind of nonsense about dark and murky secret forbidden knowledge blah blah blah.

    She said that the actual process is not as elaborate as I described. My comment was about doing a simple work around that sure as hell didn't originate with me. Is all the contrivance in some of the comments deliberate? Seems so.

    445:

    "Sure, most of the details haven't been filled in yet, but
    neurophysiology etc have shown us the big picture."

    Er, no, not even remotely. Firstly, we still have only a VERY crude idea of how the brain actually works, and it's not just neurons firing. There are also chemical factors, and how and why neurons and other brain cells change with time.

    Sure, but we have the big picture. We don't understand all the details about neurons firing and chemical signals, but we do know that there is nothing else to it. There is no communication between your brain and anything outside your skull, except through your usual senses. So we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that people who talk about mystical woowoo are just wrong.

    Like, one time I dreamed that I was at a club meeting, and a guy I knew at the club came up to me and said, "J, I hate to tell you this, but your eye is a toilet! Jeez, I mean, your eye is a toilet!" I woke up and remembered the dream, and it bothered me because it didn't make sense. Why would he possibly say such a thing?

    A couple months later I came down with diplopia. A muscle in my eye stopped working and I had double vision so bad it was hard to do anything. The opthalmologist gave me a black eyepatch which would not fit under my glasses. My ex-wife was an optometry student and she gave me a piece of off-white plastic that clipped onto my glasses and kept my bad eye from confusing me. I went to the next club meeting wearing it, and the guy I'd dreamed about came up to me. "J, I don't know how to tell you this, but that thing looks like a toilet lid. Jeez, I mean, that looks like a toilet lid over your eye!"

    I could interpret that as a precognitive dream. But science has proven that's impossible. I have lots of dreams and most of them don't come true, and I put a lot of emphasis on the few that do. It was just a coincidence. Science has proven that every other interpretation is wrong.

    Science has proven that there is nothing in the universe except physics and chemistry. Physics and chemistry always follow rational, understandable rules. We may not completely understand those rules, but we understand enough to put strict limits on what we don't know. There is no possible way that the unknown parts of physics and chemistry could allow precognitive dreams. Science has proved this.

    Anybody who thinks there might be a possibility that science is wrong, is a gullible superstitious fool.

    446:

    "Anybody who thinks there might be a possibility that science is
    wrong, is a gullible superstitious fool."

    I am sorry, but I am an old enough to remember how often 'known'
    science has turned out to be wrong. For example, just in the
    biological area, I remember when DNA was 'known' to be the same
    in every cell in the body and when psychosomatic disorders were
    'known' to be purely imaginary. But let that pass. My main
    point is that anyone who claims that scientific knowledge is
    complete is making the same mistake that was made in the 19th
    century.

    We know that the action of the brain can be detected outside the
    head, and that the brain can detect certain outside events; we
    BELIEVE that the magnitudes are too different to allow any form
    of 'telepathy', but we have not proved it. We know that mental
    processes can affect pheremones, skin temperature etc., and that
    other people can detect those; we BELIEVE that the bandwidth is
    too low for any form of 'telepathy', but we have not proved it.

    Long-distance telepathy and precognition need unknown but not
    wholly impossible quantum effects, and I can't see a physically
    possible mechanism for telekinesis, but that's a very long way
    from saying that they have been proved to be impossible.

    No, I am not asserting any of them exist - just that the claims
    that they have been proved to be impossible aren't valid.

    447:

    Quote #1, @445:
    Sure, but we have the big picture. We don't understand all the details about neurons firing and chemical signals, but we do know that there is nothing else to it. There is no communication between your brain and anything outside your skull, except through your usual senses. So we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that people who talk about mystical woowoo are just wrong.

    Quote #2, @304:
    Faith is mostly what people use when they want to say something is certain or impossible. I would have thought that science fiction readers would know better, and probably most do.

    But even some of them say "Science has proven X. We know absolutely without doubt that X is true and that science will never progress to something that says X is not completely true, because we know absolutely that today's science is absolutely correct."

    I invite those who would to draw their own conclusions.

    448:

    My main point is that anyone who claims that scientific knowledge is complete is making the same mistake that was made in the 19th century.

    Yes, but they were wrong then. This time they're right.

    No, I am not asserting any of them exist - just that the claims that they have been proved to be impossible aren't valid.

    No, science has proven that they are absolutely impossible. More than unicorns.

    Look at my example. There was no way I could have known a month ahead of time that I would get diplopia, or that I would get an eyepatch that admittedly looked like a toilet seat lid, or that that guy would comment on it. But my dream predicted that last one. That would be like my brain calculating some complicated mathematical function and finding the correct 20th decimal part of the solution without calculating the higher digits. Utterly impossible. Can't ever happen. It had to be coincidence.

    We may not understand all of quantum mechanics, but we know beyond any shadow of a doubt that quantum mechanics is True. It is the only possible true way to look at the world. Therefore we know that there cannot possibly be any kind of spooky action-at-a-distance. Even if that kind of thing could happen with elementary particles, it can't possibly happen to molecules, and your brain which is nothing more than a biological computing device cannot possibly collect quantum events at some incredible bandwidth and process them to predict the future.

    Even more important, science has proven that human beings have an implacable need to believe that they understand what's going on around them. Without that belief they are inevitably frozen in fear. If science doesn't fill that need, something else will. Therefore science is right about everything.

    449:

    I invite those who would to draw their own conclusions.

    Thank you, Dave_the_Proc. You have been keeping track.

    450:

    I am tweaking your nose a little here (although I suspect that you enjoy the argument for the argument's sake more than anything else).

    But my point is that your original statement is more correct, stating an absolute is risky, even when saying something like "we know the big picture, we just need to fill in the details".

    As the old saying goes: The devil is in the details.

    451:

    I suggest a book titled "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"

    I'd suggest something a little more robust:

    Hence, we investigated whether the MTL-P300 and the AMTL-N400 are based on an event-related activity increase, a phase reset of ongoing oscillatory activity or both. ERPs were recorded from the hippocampus and rhinal cortex in subjects performing a visual oddball paradigm and a visual word recognition paradigm. With wavelet techniques, stimulus-related phase-locking and power changes were analyzed in a frequency range covering 2 to 48 Hz. We found that the MTLP300 is accompanied by both phase reset and power increase and that both effects overlap partly in time. In contrast, the AMTL-N400 is initially associated with phase locking without power increase and only later during the course of the AMTL-N400 we observed an additional power increase. In conclusion, both aspects, event-related activation of neural assemblies and phase resetting of ongoing activity seem to be involved in the generation of late ERP components as recorded in cognitive tasks. Therefore, separate analysis of event-related power and phase-locking changes might reveal specific insights into the mechanisms underlying different cognitive functions.

    http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/0898929042568514

    Phase resetting is important in the formation of long-term memories. Due to synchronization within the gamma-frequency range has been shown to be followed by phase resetting of theta oscillations when phase-locked by a stimulus. This shows increased neural synchrony, due to connections within neural networks, during the formation of memories by reactivating certain networks continuously.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase_resetting_in_neurons

    Threads = strings = vibration.


    I apologize that you don't understand metaphors.

    452:

    I am beginning to wonder if you aren't satirising the scientific
    dogmatists.

    ''"My main point is that anyone who claims that scientific
    knowledge is complete is making the same mistake that was made
    in the 19th century."
    Yes, but they were wrong then. This time they're right. ...
    We may not understand all of quantum mechanics, but we know
    beyond any shadow of a doubt that quantum mechanics is True.
    It is the only possible true way to look at the world.
    ... Therefore science is right about everything.''

    That is, indeed, a correct statement of that dogma, but as I
    have made clear, I am not a member of that religion.

    453:

    I'm not sure that everyone got the memo about not insulting fellow posters?

    When do passive-agressive intellectual versions of "I know you are, but what am I?" cross over into actual trolling.

    This is fascinating.

    454:

    Neurons generate action potentials resulting from changes in the electric membrane potential. Neurons can generate multiple action potentials in sequence forming so-called spike trains. These spike trains are the basis for neural coding and information transfer in the brain. Spike trains can form all kinds of patterns, such as rhythmic spiking and bursting, and often display oscillatory activity.Oscillatory activity in single neurons can also be observed in sub-threshold fluctuations in membrane potential. These rhythmic changes in membrane potential do not reach the critical threshold and therefore do not result in an action potential. They can result from postsynaptic potentials from synchronous inputs or from intrinsic properties of neurons.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neural_oscillation


    You can all now jump to the example of Buddhist meditation and control over such things:

    Another example, which indicates changes in perceptual style, is Field Independence (43,44), which increases considerably (22). This study was remarkable because the advanced subjects, all teachers of TM, completed the Group Embedded Figures test so quickly that it had to be given in half the normal time, with 10 of the subjects (17%) still answering 100% of the problems correctly, operating at 200% or more of the maximum speed the test was originally designed to measure.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1697747/

    A gamma wave is a pattern of neural oscillation in humans with a frequency between 25 and 100 Hz,[1] though 40 Hz is typical.[2]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamma_wave


    Of course, it's all about sleep deprivation and madness, and my wanderings were pointless.


    Please return to your scheduled sleep patterns.

    455:

    I'm not sure that everyone got the memo about not insulting fellow posters?

    A fellow poster directly suggested that I was suffering from Schizophrenia. A comment, I might add, that wasn't removed or sanctioned.

    So, did everyone get the memo?

    I'm not sure how posting information links that directly show that we're still in the process of understanding even the EM (physical) models is "passive-aggressive". Please enlighten me.

    456:

    There were of course several ways to read that post regarding schizophrenia: it could have been a genuine attempt by someone to understand something that they could not fit into any other explanation; but it could also be a snide attempt to discredit your posts as the rantings of a madman. (Aside: I don't think that you can "accuse" someone of having schizophrenia, I'm fairly sure it's a diagnosis, however misinformed or amature.)

    As to "enlightening" you about passive-agression, you really do crack me up! It's certainly got nothing to do with the links or quotes you post (which I do find informative and interesting).

    In any case, I risk the ire of the moderators myself by straying into the debating-the-debater territory here. I shall retire once more to my lofty eerie.

    457:

    madman

    Let's watch the genders, shall we?

    As to "enlightening" you about passive-agression, you really do crack me up! It's certainly got nothing to do with the links or quotes you post (which I do find informative and interesting).

    I'm glad we're on the same wavelength. (Badoom Tush)

    I strongly suspect the next big thing [tm] will be analogies revolving around the EM field side of mind/brain. The 'refrain' mention wasn't a throwaway comment.

    Refrain: a rhythmic regularity that brings order out of chaos.

    http://www.andrewmurphie.org/blog/?p=426

    'Every milieu is vibratory, in other words, a block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component'

    Sing or Shine wasn't a throwaway, either.

    *shrug*

    I'll just put this here: She doesn't speak our language.

    RNG Markov tryptic:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33igphJatzs
    http://malakoff.com/skld.htm
    http://www.jerryandmartha.com/yourdailyart/uploaded_images/HippopotamusHunt2-762803.jpg


    (The last one is a little unfair: to unpack it you'll probably need a guide - http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1049&context=ojur)

    Anyhow, things to do.

    458:

    Ugh - that last link is broken due to the way it's parsed.

    >Fixed version:

    http://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/ojur/vol5/iss1/1/

    (And yes, it's an undergrad paper ~ I told you it was a beginner's guide)

    459:

    It was my comment, and yes, it was well meaning. I'm not a doctor and I don't diagnose illnesses, but I do occasionally suggest that someone else see a doctor if something seems notably off.

    If I failed to understand metaphor and inadvertently gave offense, sorry. I do that; it's the Asperger's. We've all got our problems.

    460:

    I am beginning to wonder if you aren't satirising the scientific dogmatists.

    I'm trying it on to see how it fits.

    i was surprised how well it works. The claim that what we don't know can only have small effects is logically wrong, but it feels so reasonable.

    I can sense the attraction. The idea that there are truths we can depend on is satisfying.

    I think I personally have too much xenophilia and not enough fear. So I'm predisposed to the other side of it. But that doesn't make me right! I'm right because reality happens to favor my arguments, and it's only a coincidence that those arguments are the ones I prefer. ;)

    461:

    but we know
    beyond any shadow of a doubt that quantum mechanics is True.

    Except where it runs up against General Relativity, which we also know to be true ... & they disagree, violently ... something on the order of 29 or 32 orders of magnitude IIRC ?
    I believe the comment "Oops!" is specifically required in situations like this?

    462:

    Precisely. I was pointing out that I did not agree with that.
    One of the reasons that I regard much current research funding
    as stupid is that it is going to places where there is no
    disagreement, rather than in trying to get some data on what
    happens when there is.

    463:

    One of the reasons that I regard much current research funding as stupid is that it is going to places where there is no disagreement, rather than in trying to get some data on what happens when there is.

    Agreed! That research is useful for technology development, find out more precisely what to expect and you can get better weapons and consumer electronics etc.

    But it doesn't lead to new science, which may in fact be one of the intentions. Maybe a lot of people are tired of having new science.

    464:

    Maybe the political class has noticed that scitech is a massive destabilizing force in the world

    465:

    I suspect it is more along the lines of following the Almighty Dollar (better weapons/electronics = $$$$$$!); avoiding destabilizing/upsetting new breakthroughs is a second order benefit for the political class (and their puppet-masters).

    466:

    I'm an USAmerican who doesn't like the two Big Business parties we have here. But I'm scared about what could happen with more parties thinking of how the minority Nazis got in power in Germany.

    Could a minority party take over in the UK?

    467:

    But I'm scared about what could happen with more parties thinking of how the minority Nazis got in power in Germany.

    Could a minority party take over in the UK?

    Yes, someday.

    And the more people that have been driven desperately crazy before it happens, the worse the likely result.

    468:

    Can't ever happen. It had to be coincidence.

    Correct.

    It wasn't a causal connection: rather, what happened is a classic example of confirmation bias. Any number of other events happened to you over that ~2 month period that did not result in spooky precognition-or-what? musings, but you don't remember them: you just remember the weird coincidence.

    Because if there's one thing mammalian (hell, vertebrate!) brains are optimized for, it's detecting coincidences. That's at the root of theory of mind, and without it some long-extinct predator would have found one of your not-actually-an-ancestor(s) crunchy with or without ketchup.

    Jay