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I am trying to build a fantasy world which is not made of matter, but of raw imaginative power. This world has an overall fixed shape, bound to the memories of a sleeping godlike being, but everything else is quite unstable and constantly shifting.

Some sentient creatures live in this world, unaware of its true nature. Every creature unconsciously has the ability of "fixing" the shape of the world around it based on his personal idea and perception of it (more or less like the observer in the Schrödinger's cat paradox). On an individual level this effect is really limited, and creatures with contrasting ideas tend to cancel each other's effect. But when many creatures with an overall similar vision of the place are gathered together, it definitely works.

For this reason, villages and cities are quite stable places. All their inhabitants are used to see their surroundings in a certain way, so there's no risk that streets and building would shift suddenly into something else. But the more one is distant from those settlements, the more he risks to encounter subtle changes that can make him lose the way.

The big problem is entering the wilderness. Animals don't have the power to affect the shape of the places they live in, so vast uninhabited places like the sea, the biggest forests, the deserts or the higher mountains are mainly a huge mess of constantly shifting nature. Venturing carelessly into those places means becoming trapped in a sort of dreamlike natural labyrinth. The overall environment doesn't change - everyone expects to see water into the sea, trees and rocks into the woods, sand into the desert - but paths tend to change and disappear, and the perception of distance is definitely unreliable.

I could depict this world as composed of very secluded territories unable to communicate, but I'm trying to think if there are some ways its inhabitants could have found a way to travel when needed, albeit in a limited way.

So my question is: how could short-distance and long-distance travel be possible in such ever-shifting territories?

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    $\begingroup$ You might read “Flux and Anchor” for inspiration. Anchors are your cities. Flux is the space between that shifts with thoughts. $\endgroup$ – SRM Nov 28 '19 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ To make this question a better fit for StackExchange, I suggest removing your suggestions and simply asking readers for theirs. Any of yours could work, it's your story after all. $\endgroup$ – thanby - reinstate Monica Nov 28 '19 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ "The Gone-Away World" covers similar topics, and might be an interesting read. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Nov 28 '19 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of Murphy's World. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 28 '19 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ Smells a lot like the shadows of Amber. You might want to read Roger Zelazny's "Nine Princes in Amber" and follow-on novels (of which there are at least 9). $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Nov 29 '19 at 0:36
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Incredibly creative idea, I really enjoyed reading the question alone so I do hope you'll mature this into actual narrative work sometime (keep me updated if you do !).

With that being said, here are my suggestions, focused on travel first and navigation second :

1. Travel

Given your premise allows for its inhabitants cognition to alter the (pseudo ?-)physical shape of their universe, one very simplistic and instinctive means of travel I could think of is this :

If you know what the location you are trying to reach looks like and how far away it is, you could just meditate hard enough until it either forms in front of you or the physical space between the two locations is reduced.

This brings immediate advantages to mind, like the fact that travelling would be pretty fast and easy this way, with minimal risk from the everchanging surroundings. Just summon your destination intensely enough, and it's there.

As far as how to do that goes, you could gather a sufficient amount of people to collectively summon the destination (maybe as a civic duty ?). Or it could be an ad hoc summon, for example once the King has gathered an army he wants to send off somewhere, that army medidates collectively to reach its target. Alternatively, you could also have an order (of clerics maybe ?) dedicated to meta-meditation, who train during their entire lifetime to be able to summon geographical locations or "erase" massive swaths of land.

2. Navigation

The matter of navigation is a bit more tricky, because all forms of navigation (except the sense of orientation maybe) relies on physical phenomenoms used as comparative landmarks (the position of the stars, magnetic waves, GPS location, radiolocation, etc).

However, in this universe there could be a total absence of physical, permanent elements to base your landmarks on.

Maybe instead of physical rules navigation could then function using logic or instinct. For example, maybe someone eventually discovers that your universe's constant evolution is in fact cyclical, and that certain locations are reported to regularly find themselves in one specific place. Given that, you could simply keep the directions these locations are in inscribed in an almanach, giving you the location's position depending on the time of year.

Or maybe some people are born with an innate sense of orientation, that allows them to guess the destination and then point the travellers into the specific direction. We could elaborate on that, and imagine a "profession" of sorts in which people from a given country/province have a constant instinct of where their home province is whenever they're abroad. These 'compasses' could serve the King as directional advisors, pointing him towards where they feel their homeland currently is. They could be foreign ambassadors, or maybe slaves captured for the purpose of orientation.

Otherwise, your ideas with the stars or the magnetic pole aren't bad at all, but the problem I have with them is that they are physical markers but somehow uninfluenced by your universe's constant fluidity unlike all other physical things, which means you are bending your own rules a little. That's completely fine, but I thought I would try to think of alternative ways to solve this problem.

Really looking forward to wherever you go with this !

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  • $\begingroup$ You definitely got the point: I had the same feeling about my suggestions (which I removed by now, following a comment's advice): they tried to find exceptions to the rule instead of exploring its implications. Thank you for such a long answer, it definitely gave me a lot of interesting ideas! $\endgroup$ – Soel Nov 29 '19 at 8:34
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I think it's an excellent idea and your thought pattern based mechanism of fixing the world to a greater or lesser degree has huge promise. The closest existing work I can think of is H. P. Lovecraft's "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath", which I would highly recommend you read - it's different enough that I don't think you would risk contaminating your own ideas, but relevant enough that it might well prove a fruitful source of extending your world creation.

One mechanism that people might be able to use is the very shape-affecting power of their own minds: perhaps if they can meditate hard enough they can force the landscape to mould to what they want, so the labyrinth of paths in the woods might become a nice straight path to the town you are headed for, but only if you can think calmly and forcefully enough to bend the terrain to your will. That ability might result in a profession unique to the world, navigators who shape the roads to lead to their passengers' destination through the force of deep meditation.

I'd be very interested to read the story when you finish it, I hope you will pop back here and add a comment to this answer once it's released.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! I will definitely check that Lovecraft story. Having the navigator as a profession is definitely an interesting suggestion. At the same time, according to the rules of that setting, it's extremely hard for an individual to be able shape the world to its will, otherwise you would have reality warpers here and there. At the moment I am more inclined to consider the individual effect so weak that people are basically unaware of it. Nevertheless I can envision the need for such a role in the society. I just need to find the way to depict it in a balanced way. $\endgroup$ – Soel Nov 28 '19 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Better yet: have teams of navigators dedicated to creating/maintaining roads. If they make, study and commit to memory ‘maps’ then they can force paths into existence and keep them there through the shared delusion that the roads actually exist. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Nov 28 '19 at 16:48
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    $\begingroup$ Your answer strongly reminds me of the Amber novels by Roger Zelazny. The Amber multi-universe has endless parallel universes (called shadows) with small differences. Adepts can travel between them by concentrating on the traits/aspects they desire. If they stay very long in a given shadow that shadow becomes more stable. You only need to read the first book ("Nine Princes in Amber") to get a good idea about how this works. And they are a very good read. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Nov 28 '19 at 23:34
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Any group could be lead by a good storyteller, someone who credibly claims to have traveled the route before (enough that the other travelers believe). The storyteller each night spins a tale of the last time ne traveled the road and shares nir visions with the group. The next day, they all expect to see what the storyteller spun.

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If a society has a well-known network of popular roads, then wouldn't this stabilize those roads enough to allow people to travel on them? And as more people travel them over time, wouldn't this serve to stabilize the roads even more?

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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, in a big and civilized society it could work like that. Thinking about it, once the road network has been built and stabilized, even distributing free maps to the citizens could help a lot to mantain it in a fixed shape. $\endgroup$ – Soel Nov 28 '19 at 15:57
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I find your world concept very interesting and hope to see more of it in the future. But to answer your question, I don't think that you actually have a problem. Atleast not a problem that can't be circumvented with the same belief-based world you describe.

Wilderness

Towns and villages are stable places because everyone living there have sort of the same idea of how it looks. The wilderness is unsafe and easy to get lost in because people don't have set expectations of what it looks like. Well some people will have clear expectations. For example a hunter or tracker who regularly ventures into the woods to hunt deer beliefs that he knows the trails and how to find his way back. Even if his own belief isn't strong enough to make that a reality, the rest of the village can probably help with it unknowingly.

"I never go into the dark forest, I would get lost and starve to death!"

"Good thing we have Jack the Huntsman! He knows the woods like the back of his hand and always manages to catch something!"

A normal villages who tries to explore might very well get lost because that's what he expects to happen. But a seasoned hunter would face much less risk of that because he has belief invested in him.

Long Distance Travel

The same thinking can be applied to travel over larger areas. The trade caravan or messenger expects to be able to reach a destination (after all, they uses the route regularly). The traders' guild or the king expects the trip to be possible, and the collective belief makes it so. As long as the idea is planted among enough people it will be doable. Sure the scenery may vary from time to time, but the path will lead them to where they expect to go and the trip will take as long as they expect it to take.

The great part about your setting is that you could come up with any manner of solutions to problems like this, simply get enough people to believe it and it will come true. Like in Kaloyan's answer maybe a few people have the ability to navigate, because that is what the rest of the world expect of them. Or maybe the King recently made promises of improving the roads and infrastructure of the realm, and now people have an easier time to travel because they believe him. Endless possibilities!

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