I'm trying to get down a list of philosophical components of the universe, the elements The ones I have found so far,

Update: The element list is now: Fire, Water, Air, Electricity, Earth, Metal, Light, Shadow, Life, Death, Aether

I have a few questions that relate to this. Is there any way I can simplify these? Is there any elements I missed? And is there any ways I can apply science to the list? Please don't put anything that counts as powers more than elements.

  • $\begingroup$ The elements your asking about come form the Humors of the ancient Greeks. After that, stuff got made up. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 '18 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! The consensus regarding bonus questions here is that they need to be directly related to the original question, which yours isn't. It's also off-topic, as questions about what to name things are considered too broad/opinion-based here. I'd edit this down to just the main question, if I were you. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 5 '18 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ This is a good first question, though! If you have time, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about WorldBuilding.SE, and I hope you enjoy your stay! $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 5 '18 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand what you're asking. What do you mean by "how many elements are there"? That entirely depends on the metaphysical system you're using. According to Plato there was fire, water, earth and air. According to Aristotle there was an extra one: aether. In chinese philosophy there are five elements, wood, fire, earth, metal and water. In taoism the two "elements" are yin and yang. So what I'm saying is the complete list of elements depends on who you ask. The only "objective" list of all the (not classical) elements that make up the world are those found on the periodic table. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Apr 5 '18 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget the element of surprise. $\endgroup$ Apr 5 '18 at 12:46

An @AngelPray noted in the comments, "How many elements are there" depends on which elemental system you're using. It seems like you've already decided on an elemental system, so I'm going to focus on the question posed in the body of your question:

Is there any way I can simplify these?

Let's go through these one at a time:

  • Fire: This one's fine.
  • Water/Ice: Ice is just frozen water, so you can simplify this one down to just Water.
  • Wind/Air: Again, wind is just moving air, so you can simplify this one down to just Air.
  • Lightning: I'd change this to Electricity, so it encompasses all forms of electrical energy and not just lightning.
  • Earth/Metal: This is a tricky one. Personally, I'd separate these into two separate elements: Earth is (comparatively) soft, and nurturing to life, whereas Metal is cold, hard, and used to construct weapons of war.
  • Energy: I think this is too nebulous a concept to be an element in its own right. Energy comes in several different forms - light, heat, electricity - and you've already given most of them their own elements. So I'd remove this one.
  • Creation/Life/Plants & Animals: Assuming this is all supposed to be one element, I'd simplify it down to just Life. Plants and animals count as life, after all.
  • Destruction/Death: I'd narrow this down to just Death. Like energy, "Destruction" is a nebulous concept that comes in many forms, many of which are already covered by other elements (particularly Fire).
  • Time: I'd say this violates your own rule of "no basic universal powers". Besides, if there's an item in your story that that lets people control time, this will open up a million potential headaches for you. Look at Harry Potter and the Time-Turners. I'd just get rid of this one.
  • Form: Form of what? Your own form? If the Form Amulet lets you control your own form (i.e. shapeshifting), that's fine. If it lets you control anyone's form, that's kinda overpowered and, like Time, you may need to rethink this one.
  • Speed/Sound: Sound could possibly be grouped under Air, as it's really just vibrating air. As for Speed, I'll come back to that one.
  • Light: This one's fine.
  • Shadow: Can't have light without shadow. This one's fine too.

So the definite ones so far are: Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Metal, Electricity, Life, Death, Light, Darkness. Notice how they form neat, contrasting pairs: water puts out fire, metal conducts electricity, and so on. This is why I haven't included Form, Speed, or Sound: I can't think of anything that any of them would pair neatly with, and so they'd break the pattern.

I'd recommend either sticking with just those ten elements, or adding another pair of opposites for a total of twelve, like the zodiac. I'm afraid I can't offer any suggestion for what that additional pair could be, however. Maybe I'll come back to this answer when I don't have a migraine.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, I spent way too long typing this out. Didn't realise the question had already been put on hold. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Apr 5 '18 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @RewanDemontay Form is pretty broad and other elements could plausibly be able to perform this. Light, and Shadow in particular could be used to perform this feat. Also if users can combine elements they could also do something similar, i.e. Water and Earth could be used to change someone's form since essentially that is what people are made of. Of course, it really depends on how deep you get with your Form magic. Is it more like Summoning and/or Binding magic? Sometimes you can make it a sub category and sometimes it needs its own. $\endgroup$
    – Dtb49
    Apr 6 '18 at 13:53

What about the human body elements: according to the Ancient Egyptians this was:

  • yellow bile
  • black bile
  • blood and
  • phlegm.

Ancient egyptian doctors commonly considered good health to be a careful balance of these.

Buddhism the elements are:

  • cohesion
  • solidarity
  • inertia
  • expansion
  • vibration
  • heat

Of course though, I think no culture can lay claim to the most poetic interpretation of the elements as China. I know many Chinese people, and I love hearing their cultural stories - everything seems to have a meaning or some deep-rooted story.

Here are their five 'movements' - a different word to 'elements' with a subtle twist:

  • Growth (Wood, or life)
  • Swelling/flowering (Fire, or energy)
  • Moderation (Earth, or balance)
  • Collection (Metal)
  • Stillness (or Water, or storage)

They then organise the above 'movements' into various laws, such as Wood parts Earth, Water extinguishes Fire, Fire melts Metal, and Metal chops Wood - and this then leads on to 60 sub-elements a small sample of which is:

  • Sea metal
  • Forest wood
  • lighting fire
  • Rapid water
  • cave water

Amazing and astonishingly quite articulate.

  • $\begingroup$ can you give a source or point me in a direction for information regarding the Chinese movements. I am genuinely intrigued to learn more about them. $\endgroup$
    – Dtb49
    Apr 5 '18 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Dtb49 Have a look at iep.utm.edu/wuxing - wu xing is the prevailing philosophy. $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Apr 6 '18 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Rewan Demontay - I wouldn't worry too much about using science to inform philosophy (of elements). Over time, human cultures have tended to create theories to match observations, and when they encounter a discrepancy they tend to add a new theory. This is why theological interpretations of the world are so complex, as this layers over centuries to adapt to new observations. In contrast, scientific thought seeks to find a common denominator, the most simple theory possible, to explain as many observations as possible. This is the more correct approach. $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Apr 7 '18 at 13:05

This started as a comment but it answers more than it asks for explanation so I put it here.

Considering you have "fire" as an element rather than a reaction, perhaps you should look into similar reactions that might be conceived as elements. Congealing, turning to a gas, that kind of thing.

You could also add stuff like solid, liquid, gas and plasma, and then expand it (if you want) with things like non-newtonian, honey/molasses type stuff etc. Its not scientifically accurate, but neither is adding fire to the elements so if you can make it believable that the people believe in a certain elemental set you are good.


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