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Malevolent Spirit: Malevolent spirits are swarms of barely visible machines that have accidentally been imprinted with a deceased person's memories. They posess swarm intelligence and communicate with each other through acoustic vibrations. They also share their energy through electromagnetic induction. The power source on this scale is usually the Sun and the alterating magnetic fields of electronic devices.

These "spirits" are capable of moving around small items (shoes, your collector's edition games, basically anything a cat can) at normal speed, larger objects at a slower pace. An ordinary wooden chair has to be moved for several hours to reach the other end of a room. These swarms are also capable of inducing hallucinations, supressing the immune system, and creating small wounds.

Typical ghost stories and creepypastas feature incense burners as a way to get rid of malicious entities (though tax collectors are too powerful for them). I wonder how could a regular incense burner effectively hamper these "scientific" spirits' aility to do harm?

I see you're getting creative with the answers, so we're gonna employ Occam's Razor: The simplest is the best.

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    $\begingroup$ Really wondering about the autocorrect on your phone, though... $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ Will normal smoke disrupt spirits or does it specifically need to be incense smoke? $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Oct 17 '19 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence Incense, the flavor can be "unique", though. $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:42
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By design.

A swarm of intelligent, interconnected nanomachines doesn't sound like a natural formation. Whoever designed and built them - whether that's the gods or R&D at ConGlomCo - quite sensibly put in a backup in case their normal methods of communications failed. This backup channel consists of a surface layer that reacts with certain organic particles in the air, forcing the nanomachines to obey certain directives (maybe "shut down" or "return to base").

Keying the nanomachines to react to incense particles has a couple of advantages. One, since reacting to organic particles is basically how we smell, incense consists of particles that are easy to spread easily and widely. Two, they can be found pretty routinely off the shelf. Three, they're rarely being burned without people knowing about it, so you won't get so many accidental encounters.

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  • $\begingroup$ I mean, it doesn't make sense for ConGlomCo to use something that someone might stumble across accidentally though. If you make 'poltergeist' nanomachines, incense is pretty likely to be an environmental hazard for them unless you don't want to target Buddhists, Confucians, Daoists, Hindus, Catholics, or anyone else who normally uses it religiously. Does Islam use incense? I'm sure they must, so we're just haunting Atheists and Protestants, then... $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ @MorrisTheCat The OP's description said that the nanomachines were "accidentally" implanted with the memories that make them act like malevolent spirits, so presumably they had some other (industrial or household) use that people actually want. In that case it's probably not such a big deal that you can't burn incense and use your wall-scrubbing nanobots (or whatever) in the same room. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Oct 17 '19 at 20:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence They probably weren't designed with a household purpose if they also have a household "off switch". Imagine if a consumer had to choose between their Alexa working or their house smelling nice. $\endgroup$
    – Muuski
    Oct 17 '19 at 23:00
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Lasers. The answer is always Lasers.

In this case, the solution that immediately comes to mind is that your malevolent little nanomachines function via distributed processing, and use laser light to communicate with each other at the necessary bandwidths to maintain intelligence and intent.

The smoke from the incense degrades the signals between nanomachines sufficiently that they lose cohesion and just drift around until the smoke clears.

EDIT: Ok, BOO, the answer isn't lasers, but I think the idea still works.

Keep in mind that your nanomachines are roughly on the same scale as the smoke and ash particles coming out of the incense burner, so those particles would ALSO interfere with vibrational communication.

Although honestly, some good Gregorian chanting might be even better... Either way if you're chanting AND burning, it should get the job done.

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  • $\begingroup$ But fam, they communicate via vibrations... $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ The lasers create sound via photoacoustics. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Oct 17 '19 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ Aww nuts, I missed that part. Maybe the answer isn't lasers then... $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ I figure blasting Rammstein on max would be better... $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:48
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    $\begingroup$ or Beach Boys. Get some Good Vibrations to drive out the Bad. $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:49
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Fight fir... I mean nanomachines with nanomachines.

If the ghosts are tiny machines, then the incense can have tiny machines baked into it. They harness the thermal energy of the burning incense around them to turn on/charge up and then are carried up with the smoke where they encounter and disrupt the "spirits".

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  • $\begingroup$ He said it's 'normal' incense though... $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:47
  • $\begingroup$ @MorrisTheCat I guess I'm being pretty rules lawyer-y here. The question says that the burner is normal, and the OP mentions it's ok if the incense has a "unique" flavor. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Oct 17 '19 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, no nanite could survive direct contact with the flame $\endgroup$ Oct 17 '19 at 19:52
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Option 1: they were meant to be controlled through various means including chemicals. Incense accidentally fits in a chemical receptor of these machines in a way that causes them to not execute their more harmful functions.

Option 2: something released during the burning of incense chemically reacts with them. This could be dangerous causing the mechanites to go dormant or get away or could prevent them executing certain functions.

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