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I lack the knowledge of basic or advanced physics to say that I know what I am asking, but there is a story that I am working on where I want to try to make super powers follow the laws of physics as we know them. I understand that superpowers are fictitious in nature, but it's been fun trying to think of ways for them to work.

However, I am always willing to revert to placing superpowers in a modern world without strictly following the laws of physics. I mean, it is a fictional story after all and I might be making this too complicated than it should be.


Humanoid physiology:

Let's say that you're gifted with super strength and endurance. Your body is the closest thing to a human, but it functions in some fundamentally different ways. In order to punch someone across a wall, you don't need to eat a certain amount in order to perform this act... But you do bounce away from the target. I'm not sure how the heck you don't.

But what about pushing a civilian away from falling debris in the last moment? How much force would be required to not break their spine or their limbs? Everything around this person would seem fragile.

If you want to save someone from a falling building, you would have to be strong enough to cause shock-waves that would act as propellers in order to cushion for the non super powered individual. However, it would be more practical to just have a gadget. These shock waves would require a certain amount of force that, at close range, would probably cause internal damage to the civilian and would cause property damage.

For powers like these, I've created some kind of 'battery' or an activation factor. I have a character who relies on an organ that moves like a pendulum. Once it moves at a certain rhythm, he can access his enhanced physical strengths.


Manipulating Nature:

To not complicate things, the object you would like to distort to your liking has to come from somewhere. If you want to manipulate fire, you need a source first. Generating your own kind of fire or cold sounds extremely complicated, even if I propose using your own body temperature or the surrounding area. Would the results here be more complicated than simple?

Like the 'battery' explanation, these guys could have some kind of nuclear fusion reactor for an organ if they can produce or manipulate heat/cold or other forces of nature. Even with enhanced physiology, that wouldn't justify how their DNA or their entire being doesn't evaporate away or melt from existence.

They would also be ticking time bombs, since there is no guarantee of stability.

To an extent, I feel like these powers fall in line into some kind of distortion of electromagnetism. But even if they can do this, why are they only limited to a specific kind of manipulation? I could maybe get away with photokinesis, solidifying light doesn't sound something so far off now. But for fire, water and the ground itself?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Renan, kingledion, ArtificialSoul, Ryan_L, Gryphon Sep 19 '18 at 15:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. When you have time please take the tour and read the [intro]. Are you aware that not even conventional firemen or policemen are too worried about damages to property when it comes to saving human life? Why should a superhero be different? $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Aug 18 '18 at 9:35
  • $\begingroup$ By all means I would use quantum tunneling as your catch all reason for how powers work. How does he produce heat without burning his own calories? A quantum entanglement that allows him to tunnel energy out of a parallel universe. How does he produce cold when the only way to make cold is to reduce energy in a given object? He's tunneling the energy into a parallel universe, possibly the same on that heat guy gets his heat from. There is a lot of bs that happens on a quantum level, like tunneling, wave-particle duality, and other stuff like that, so it's a fairly good handwavium. $\endgroup$ – Clay Deitas Aug 18 '18 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Kind of by definition superpowers don't work within the laws of physics. I would suggest establishing rules for them and glossing over any underlying mechanisms. $\endgroup$ – eyeballfrog Aug 18 '18 at 17:31
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It is illogical to show, for instance, a person falling and the super hero flies under him/her and "scoops" or pulls him/her just inches above the ground. The shock to the body will be equally devastating to both. The best way is to hold the person high in the air and decelerate the fall rather than blocking it abruptly.

Superman flies with reactionless drive which is impossible. He should either have wings, a jet engine, a tractor beam (to pull himself towards a target by attracting to it) or silk threads like Spiderman. The best choice for scifi may be an alcubierre-froning (AF) drive! The AF drive is not kinetic energy, so a jetpack or wings are better at decelerating a falling person.

Telekinesis (moving object with power of the mind) is impossible because the object you move must exert an equal force back at you. In scifi telekinesis this does not happen and there is no conservation of momentum. You can make your hero use a force-transmitter channel which is bi-directional. The hero feels the weight and inertia of the object he manipulates as if he is holding it directly.

Violating conservation of momentum leads to strange scenarios: when Superman punches someone across the wall, he cannot remain stationary as in the film. He should bounce back just as a shotgun bounces back when firing a bullet. Instead, He may charge with an initial speed. He hits the victim and transfers his momentum to him. This is like the balls in the Newton's cradle toy.

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    $\begingroup$ IOW, the short answer to, "How would super heroes operate, save lives and minimize damage to property without breaking the laws of physics?" is they can't. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Aug 18 '18 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ Superman could remain relatively stationary if he's a lot more massive than the person he punched. Do we know what Superman weighs? $\endgroup$ – eyeballfrog Aug 18 '18 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @eyeballfrog i have found this answer quora.com/How-heavy-is-Superman and it seems quite alot, though I don't know where the data comes from. Seems large enough to fit the task. $\endgroup$ – Christmas Snow Aug 18 '18 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ Agree with most, but it is possible to handle telekinesis "plausibly" if the manipulator is using 2+ uses of the power simultaneously to anchor him/herself. See chapters 11 and 12 of Magicians Gambit by David Eddings for an amusing example of how this lesson gets learnt the hard way. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 Aug 19 '18 at 1:15
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There is just one thing you need.

The ability to manipulate acceleration.

Super strength?

Just accelerate whatever you need moved.

Pushing someone?

Accelerate them or decelerate the “bouncing back“.

Shoving someone out of the way or stopping their falling without killing them?

Decelerate every particle in their body and around them equally. What kills you in sudden deceleration is your brain banging against your skull. Your blood cells straining due to unequal acceleration and ripping apart, the movement of your organs against each other, etc. If however you were to uniformly accelerate or decelarate, there should be no problem.

Fire?

Accelerate a few particles very fast, friction does the rest.

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