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The laws of the Universe are not set in stone. Impossible does not exist. Everything, absolutely everything, is possible given that enough people believe in it.

Centuries ago magic was as real as electricity today. Dragons, fay, unicorns, and other mythological creatures roamed the world. But as beliefs in magic started to lose popularity with the general population, the magic began to dwindle and a couple of centuries ago ceased to exist completely. Fay, unicorns, kobolds, and many other magical species died out. Their bodies and bones dissolved without magic to support them. Dragons fared better, but they grew smaller and less intelligent. Without magic, they transformed into unremarkable reptiles.

Magic was not the only thing affected by the change in beliefs. The very structure of the universe was completely altered. The flat Earth transformed into a sphere. The stars became glowing balls of fire and later immense nuclear fusion reactors. The cosmological constants changed to fit the most popular cosmological theories.

The world as we know it now is a result of our beliefs. It is a perfect case of the tyranny of the majority: Only the most believed ideas gain the power to change the universe.

It is still little known how beliefs and universal laws are connected. The scientists and philosophers are still working on it. However, the most pressing question of the day is how to prevent populists and demagogues from altering reality in a significant way (for example, changing cosmological constants or reviving magic).


Notes on beliefs' mechanics:

This premise is an exploration of the Sorites paradox applied to society, its values and beliefs. The paradox can be summarised in 'How many grains of sand should be removed from a heap for it to become a non-heap?'

The same as with the grains of sand in the Sorites paradox, it is not possible to say how many people precisely are needed and how strongly they should believe in something to trigger a change. Yet, it is possible to say when the beliefs affect the structure of the universe or not:

  • the universe conforms to beliefs that are a part of common sense (people cannot fly like birds);
  • the universe changes to accommodate the most accepted cosmological theories (i.e. theories taught in schools, university or the ones considered to be common sense, 'natural', part of general knowledge);
  • beliefs of one small group of people (a tribe living in a remote location, a religious sect, etc.) do not affect the laws of the universe, however, they may alter the members of the group in ways consistent with the universe in general (i.e. all females are very good hunters [but within the constraints of human abilities, no magic or super-natural luck is possible if magic is non-existent] because the tribe believes that Gods created women to hunt and gave them better hunting instincts and skills);
  • god(s) can and do exist if many people believe that gods exist, and if this is the case, gods have the powers as they are believed to have;
  • only sincere beliefs (including all kinds of implicit and explicit biases) affect the universe (i.e. if you go to church but question the existence of god(s) you do not contribute to the existence of gods in the universe).

It is no more possible to say when the critical mass of believers is achieved to alter the universe as it is to say how many grains of sand exactly are needed to make a heap. Moreover, the changes do not happen overnight (as belief systems do not change overnight). They follow the changes in belief systems and accumulate over time.

For those who have difficulties imagining how it works, please think about the exact day you became an adult. Unless there is some kind of an initiation ritual in your society, it is very unlikely that you woke up one day and everybody, including you and your parents, suddenly started to treat you as a grown up. The change was (or still is) gradual and almost unnoticeable at the time. However, if you look back 10 or 20 years ago you see dramatic differences.

Please feel free to ask for additional details in comments.


Good answer criteria

  1. An answer focuses on society, social and psychological mechanisms of populism and crowd control (this is not a question about physics).
  2. The current state of the universe (almost identical to our real universe) is preserved.
  3. The society does not have to resort to totalitarianism and mind control.
  4. The technological progress is not arrested.

A great answer will have links to scientific evidence and relevant scientific papers.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jan 14 '18 at 3:56
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Ideas, good and bad, move at the speed of their media.

To add friction to the spread of demagogic power, you must slow the spread of their word and their ideas.

If you have instant (electronic or optical) communication, you can spread ideas far and wide quickly from a single source. This encourages the spread of demagogic ideas, so you should consider making it more difficult. For example, you can make fast communication harder than it is in reality, or you can magically limit the use of fast communication to folks who are not in a strong emotional state.

When limited to slow physical communication, idea spread is limited to the speed of the printed word by aircraft/truck/horseback/elephant/foot. Ideas have time to mutate and change; opposing views have time to develop and spread (slowly) as well. You will obviously want to find ways to limit fast physical communication like trans-oceanic aircraft.

Example: "Poor Aunt Jodie, ever since she came back from Hypno's World Takeover meeting, she's been too excited to Telepathically Broadcast or to Teleport. All she does is peck at her typewriter and bore us at meals with her endless harangues about Class Struggle."

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  • $\begingroup$ Since the Question had been edited, and changed in ways that specifically exclude this answer, all hail our coming magical demagogic overlords! $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 8 '18 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ the original question also stated that magic was gone from the world. However, it is still a good start. And as such, I upvoted this answer. $\endgroup$ – Olga Jan 9 '18 at 2:27
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You would need to inculcate two beliefs into the minds of enough people. Belief one: That demagogues should not be listened to and their beliefs accepted. Belief two: that the beliefs of demagogues do not influence the nature of the world.

Each of these beliefs is designed to neutralize the power of demagoguery to shape reality.

The way to spread these beliefs to the mass of the population would be through religion. The majority of beliefs related to the nature of the cosmos are related or enshrined in religion.

The Academy could work on developing a secular model of cosmological reality that mirroring what we would call science. Effectively maintaining and enhancing a universe like our own.

If this is a case of society defending itself against demagogues who might usurp reality, then support from the government and its institutions will help the status quo. Surprising enough, most of the population still has sufficient trust in their governments to believe the ideological frameworks of their societies.

This helps explain why the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China were so full of true believing communists (not really communists they just thought they were) and the Western Democracies like the USA and UK were equally fully of democratic true believers.

In emergencies, governments could employ their cadre of demagogues to spread the preferred consensus belief systems to counteract those of any rogue demagogues. However, since the power of demagoguery is a potential threat to good social and cosmic order it most probable there will be laws concerning public speaking and the right to assembly. Sadly, this will result in speeches at public gatherings to be monitored. Licences for public speaking could be revoked if they threaten the nature of reality.

This proposal isn't mere authoritarianism. It is a reasonable response in a world where belief systems can influence reality. Legislation is a modest form of social control. Regulating belief systems in this way is little different from regulating road traffic or food hygiene. The objective is to keep people and society safe.

Above all, society should propagate the two primary beliefs intended to neutralize the power of demagogues. Once any malefactor is identified as a demagogue, their power will be leeched away as the belief grows that they are mere demagogues trying to spread 'wrong' beliefs.

Always remember: Think good thoughts and believe in the universe revealed by science.

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  • $\begingroup$ I love the concept of government-sponsored demagogues! $\endgroup$ – Olga Jan 9 '18 at 2:37
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Those who make this discovery will quickly come to a grim realisation: the dragons used to dream, too. And one day, we too could go the way of the dragons.

And with that realisation would come an urgent imperative to not irresponsibly use such a power, lest you accidentally destroy yourself and everyone with you when the universe tilts just enough that there's no place for humans anymore.

You would be looking at a kind of religion, either its own or added to the existing major religions.

Its central tenet? To believe in the world as it is. To assert the world is as it is, to reinforce the existence of those they love and care about. "I believe I am. I believe in my family who loves me. I believe in my neighbours beside me, I believe in their little house with the red roof, I believe in the sparrows in their front yard..."

It wouldn't stop demagoguery outright, but in everyone reinforcing their beliefs in the things they know and care for, the impact of a demagogue is less likely to change the world into something unrecognisable.

Peter Pan would gain a whole new significance.

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The OP wrote:

While I expect answers related to psychology, sociology, and philosophy, I would be especially pleased if someone could think out of the box and come up with the way to free the universe from the whims of human beliefs. The question is not about people, it is about the integrity of the universe.

Now if it's about the integrity of the universe that's reasonably straightforward. But first, let's consider a universe created out of mind. because this seems to be what this question is about.

It would be unexpected to find such a cosmos in a state of total chaos. With reality warping and twisting into some new shape at every new thought. This is clearly not the case. Assuming our world could be such a world.

Now there could be hierarchies of minds shaping reality. lesser minds thinking humbler thoughts making humbler levels of reality. toms, molecules, dust, bacteria, viruses and cells. More complex minds will build higher levels of reality. Because chaos is unfriendly to active cognition these minds will eventually arrive at a consensus of sufficiently stable cosmos in which they can function. This would start to resemble our reality.

However, there is one ingredient that will ultimately stabilize creation into the scientific model. That most powerful of powerful intellectual tools. This is, of course, mathematics. Because mathematics depends on a logical framework independent of quotidian reality, or so it seems, and yet we know physical reality slavishly follows the dictates of mathematics.

Once the minds embodied in creatures like ourselves, human beings or other sapient lifeforms, and they began using mathematics the absolute integrity of the universe was guaranteed. Add two plus two and you confirm arithmetic. Describe Riemann geometry and gravitation as general relativity is reiterated.

With the framework now embodied in and incorporated in the minds creating the universe this stabilize reality according to the rules and logic of mathematics. This will be a universe of the kind we know and it will be stable and its integrity mandated throughout eternity or until we reach the end of the natural numbers and then some.

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They should spread the "scientific proof" that people's ideas can't influence the universe. And then they can't.

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