November 08, 2015

Meaningless Noise

A long time ago someone asked a philosopher a question, and his response was "That question is a meaningless noise." The point being it was a string of words which didn't make any sense.

A lot of science fiction double-talk is meaningless noise. I've run into a few lately. One was "temperatures below absolute zero". Temperature is a measure of the amount of randomized kinetic energy possessed by the atoms in a mass. If it's a gas, that resuts in pressure on the container. At Absolute Zero, there is no energy at all; the atoms stop moving and the pressure is zero. How can there be anything less than that? It would require negative energy which is another meaningless noise.

Another was "anti-graviton". Three of the four forces have now been united, the triumph of modern physics. The Electric Force, the Strong Force, and the Weak Force are all mediated by particles, respectively the photon, the gluon, and the weak vector bosun.

Physicists would really really like to make gravity fit into the same model, with a hypothesized "graviton" being the mediating particle. But in the only theory of gravity we have, General Relativity, gravity isn't actually a force. It's a side effect of non-Euclidian distortion of space time caused by the presence of mass.

In other words, there is no such thing as a graviton. Anyway, the mediating particles for the three forces don't have anti-particles, so even if there is such a thing as a graviton, why would it have one?

I myself made up one a long time ago: polarized sound. See, thing is, sound is a longitudinal wave, and you can't polarize longitudinal waves. (Light, by contrast, is a transverse wave and those polarize nicely.)

It ain't a term, but ice power (e.g. Gray in Fairy Tail) has always bothered me. Cold isn't a thing, it's the absence of a thing. To warm something up (Natsu) you add energy to it. All well and good. Making heat is not only completely acceptable, it's impossible to avoid at least some of that happening. (See the Second Law of Thermodynamics.) But freezing something means draining energy out of it. Where is that energy going?


The usual handwave is, "Well, it isn't our universe so our physical laws don't apply." Yeah, right. Or if not that, then "Shut up and look at the boobs, you nerd."

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Engineer's Disease at 11:41 AM | Comments (14) | Add Comment
Post contains 399 words, total size 2 kb.

1 The boobs will wait, so we can nerd out in the meantime.

If you've got magic that facilitates the transfer of energy, then adding heat (generating fire) isn't fundamentally different from removing it (generating ice, though of course there's more to ice than just the cold). You're taking energy from one place (wherever the magic comes from?) and moving it to another place. It doesn't even necessarily have to violate the conservation of energy, though it's not like most magic in the show holds to that principle anyway.

It may even be easier to move the energy in that direction. Grey can make a LOT of ice and has very fine control over it; Natsu has plenty of oomph but still can generate fire only in limited ways.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 08, 2015 12:29 PM (v29Tn)

2 Yeah, with most of the universe at a few degrees K above absolute zero, freezing things ought to be easier than heating them, if you can just create a link capable of transferring heat. Producing heat would require directing that link to someplace hot, which is much less of the mass of the universe, and a tiny, tiny fraction of the volume.
"and the weak vector bosun."
It's a naval force.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore at November 08, 2015 12:49 PM (l55xw)

3 Clearly the energy goes into the destruction of their clothes.

Posted by: Wonderduck at November 08, 2015 05:32 PM (a12rG)

4 The ice magic sucks the energy into the same pool that fire magic draws from, of course.  Humans might be net heat creators, but we're only good for 75 watts or so.

Now I'm imagining a story where the "good guys" and their deities have a secret, vested interest in letting the "bad guys" exist, because they need the users of death & destruction magic to keep the mana in balance, so they can keep using healing & creation magic.  (I would be unsurprised to find out that someone has written a world like that already.)

Posted by: Mikeski at November 08, 2015 11:01 PM (hAtXl)

5 Yep, it's been done.  Although it's termed Chaos, it's pretty evil in that world. 

Posted by: ubu at November 09, 2015 11:14 AM (SlLGE)

6 The problem I've always had with Gray's magic is how he does damage to people by momentarily freezing people, and then breaking the ice he's encased them in. I mean, I can see how a giant ice hammer hitting you in the head might hurt, but why would I take damage from being frozen for a second or so?

Posted by: Jordi Vermeulen at November 09, 2015 12:42 PM (9BWts)

7 So if they grab magic from this certain place and dump remainders like heat or cold there, it must have a lot of angry citizens.

It's like Leprechauns watching the pots of gold disappear and getting heat, cold, wind and rain in place. "We have weather already, thank you. Stop taking our magic!"

Posted by: topmaker at November 09, 2015 04:03 PM (6stZH)

8 I suppose that depends on how deep he freezes you; A few seconds encased in ice at 0C, but with your own tissue's temperature only brought down by contact with it, probably wouldn't be too bad. A few seconds in contact with ice at -80C? Try whole body frostbite.
For that matter, suppose the cooling effect doesn't stop at your skin? Instant hypothermia, you could be almost completely incapacitated, and even die without prompt care. Just a few degrees would be enough to render you unconscious.
Likewise, raising an opponent's body temperature a mere 5 degrees C would almost instantly incapacitate them, and very quickly lead to brain damage unless reversed.
Really, when you're playing around with magical heating and cooling, and not littering the area with corpses, you're looking at something just as selective as the MCSA. Something that's heating and cooling inanimate objects, but very carefully NOT heating or cooling living flesh.

Posted by: Brett Bellmore at November 09, 2015 04:09 PM (l55xw)

9 Thinking about it, in a world where magic is part of the physics, maybe most living organisms have homeostatic control over internal magical effects, which is fairly difficult to overcome? That would also explain the MCSA; Direct magical attacks mostly don't effect living tissue!

Posted by: Brett Bellmore at November 09, 2015 05:50 PM (l55xw)

10 Hmm. I always thought the simplest way to freeze something with magic would be to induce a sudden, massive increase in localized entropy, which by the laws of thermodynamics would result in an equally abrupt lowering of the localized temperature to maintain equilibrium.
The way I worked out involved opening a portal to the bottom of the deepest trench in the ocean, and letting some of the hyperpressurized water spray through it into the terrestrial environment. The sudden pressure release would make gases trapped in the water vaporize, and the abrupt absorption of heat energy to enable the gases' expansion would chill the area to near or below the freezing point of water, most likely freezing the water itself into ice, and probably anything else nearby.
Anyone with more scientific knowledge than me care to speculate if such an act, were it possible, would in fact cause the spray of ice that I envision? I'm certainly not a physicist, and have no idea if there is some gap in my understanding that would result in a different effect, like a disappointing stream of very cold but not actually freezing water.

Posted by: Tatterdemalian at November 09, 2015 10:56 PM (4njWT)

11 I think your thermal effects are going to be swamped massively (and literally) by the pressure difference your portal is dealing with.  (All the following numbers are from The Internet, and therefore absolutely true.)  

A typical fire hose is rated for 200-500 psi.  You can use it for crowd control, pushing people around.

A typical water jet cutter is rated for 30,000-90,000 psi.  You can use it to cut things out of steel plates.

The bottom of the Marianas Trench is about 16,000 psi...

You won't be so much "coating people in ice" as "making instant Soylent Green."

The last thing you'll get is a "disappointing stream"...

Posted by: Mikeski at November 09, 2015 11:29 PM (hAtXl)

12 As expected, Randall has dealt with this situation.  A few times.

"[...] the pressure would easily be enough to fold it up and suck it through. Cooool."

Posted by: Mikeski at November 09, 2015 11:43 PM (hAtXl)

13 Dead catgirls everywhere... the horror, the horror...

Posted by: Wonderduck at November 10, 2015 06:35 PM (a12rG)

14 How do you suppose he disposes of all the dead catgirls?  It is really beavers who keep clogging up the creek behind his apartment complex?

Posted by: Siergen at November 11, 2015 01:09 PM (De/yN)

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