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Scenario:

Human technology has advanced to a point of having faster than light travel, solving Alcubierre's engine energy requirements by tapping energy from subspace. (I know it's not the only unsolved problem, just bear with me please)

A spaceship with colonists (mostly farmers and the such), end up in an habitable planet, but lose the vessel in the landing, only carrying a few tools with them. As generations come and pass, they discover that living in this planet confers magic powers to creatures, first seen in the local fauna and later in themselves.

In one moment in the story, an AI theorizes that the planet itself is the cause, by constantly tapping into the same resource FTL drives do.

Problem:

Alright, now...I dislike the idea of using "crystals" of "rare metals" to justify this effect. What else could be channeling energy from subspace that is specific to this celestial body, not found in any other visited so far?

Thanks for the help!

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The planet is a leaky FTL space ship

I want to riff on Willk's answer: It's an FTL drive that's tapping into subspace and producing the magical effects. But it's not just the colonists' crashed FTL drive generating magic; the planet itself is a massive FTL space ship. Its biosphere is the ideal life-support system for the crew, which may or may not still be around. Perhaps the gigantic FTL drive is leaking somehow and that's how come magic is found there. Or maybe FTL drives always infuse magic into the world around them but the effects are not noticeable without a planet-sized drive.

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    $\begingroup$ This could actually work, if an alien ship crashed there and is leaking energy since thousands of years it could explain the rare effects. Humans don't have millenia of experience in FTL travel, just a hundred or so years. $\endgroup$ – maxisalamone Feb 25 at 18:17
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The lost ship itself.

What channels energy from subspace? The drive of the FTL ships these folks use. Maybe something else does too and they can spin their wheels looking for it. But maybe their ship or parts of it are still intact - maybe deep in the planet? The planet is tapping the FTL drive they brought with them. Possibly complicit in this interaction is the AI that governed the ship and the drive, and has found itself in strange but not unwelcome company in its weird new home inside this planet.

This means that the magic aspect of the planet is not some longstanding thing. The strange magic they perceive started when they showed up. Other things on the planet will be surprised and changed by this too.

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Subspace Energy Density

No one says that the energy used by FTL drives has to be evenly distributed throughout the cosmos. It could be that whatever produces that energy is particularly dense in the space around this planetary system in particular (perhaps a twin "star" in subspace?).

In that case, there doesn't have to be anything materially different about the planet to justify the effect. Ordinarily, FTL drives tap into what is effectively the cosmic background radiation of subspace, so as far as scientists were concerned, energy density was flat, but different parts of subspace's equivalent to the EM spectrum vary in energy density wildly, and no one from Earth has had experience with what happens when you marinate life in a space with unusually high "epsilon-band" subspace energy density.

(The answer to "what happens" is, naturally, that they develop means of channeling that energy to useful ends, ie. magic.)

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Magnetic monopoles

A magnetic monopole is a single, isolated magnetic pole: A North without the corresponding South, or vice versa.

Electric monopoles (electric charges) are well-known and ubiquitous. Magnetic monopoles (MM), on the contrary, have never been observed: if you break a magnet in two, the two halves will still have a North and South pole each. This remains true even when the division reaches the subatomic level (indeed, the magnetism of macroscopic magnetic objects is caused by the spin of electrons which are themselves analogous to magnetic dipoles).

For long time, physicists have thought that MMs could not exist in nature as their existence would violate Gauss' Law, which is one of Maxwell's equations and the law of conservation of energy for Electromagnetism.

In the first half of the 20th century, however, physicist Paul Dirac theorized that MMs should exist, based on symmetry arguments and on the nascent Quantum theory. Nowadays, many current theories in high energy Physics predict or imply the existence of MMs, and research is ongoing on ways to create or find one.

According to some theories, the reason why we have never observed a MM is because their creation requires a great deal of energy, much more than we are currently able to produce in particle accelerators and in the same order of magnitude as the energy density in the early universe. So, only a few were produced before the universe cooled down; inflationary expansion intervening since these times means that those few are far between. And I mean faaaar.

What does all this have to do with your story?

Your future society could have found a way to artificially produce magnetic monopoles and use them to power Alcubierre drives (I know...I'll get to it).

Now it just so happens that the planet they crash-landed on is where one of the feeew naturally occurring magnetic monopoles (the original ones created when the universe was still young) is buried. Disclaimer I'm not a high-energy physicist so I have no idea if a magnetic monopole could sit happily in the middle of an habitable planet in an ordinary star system, but

  1. planets can be electrically charged
  2. we don't know much about magnetic monopoles anyway

so I think you could pretend that it does.

It could also be that this (the fact that the planet houses a magnetic monopole) is the reason why their monopole-powered ship malfunctioned and crash-landed.

I bet all their instrument were giving out crazy readings in proximity of the monopole but they are more likely to have thought of another disturbance/breakdown than of a naturally occurring MM. It's likely that, since they can create them artificially and the natural ones are so rare, humans have altogether forgotten that they may occur naturally and thus wouldn't even think that they have came across one.

The biggest problem in this idea

or, something for you to write your way out of:

  • magnetic monopoles do not mean energy for free.

If MMs do exist, this means that there is complete symmetry between electrical and magnetical forces. So you can't get endless energy out of a magnetic monopole any more than you can get it from electrical charges.

So what remains for you to explain or handwave is how magnetic monopoles can power an Alcubierre drive and how it is related to magic powers of biological creatures.

...

Thinking about it, I am not sure that this answer solves more of a problem than it creates :D

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree this doesn't begin to answer the question. On the other hand you might accidentally have written a new episode of Star Trek so well done you. $\endgroup$ – Daron Feb 23 at 22:50
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A Natural Reactor Exists

An interesting fact is that Earth had a natural nuclear reactor at one point in its life cycle. It did not really have a high output and it was not constant, but the conditions existed in nature to create a crude nuclear fission reactor.

So extending that, this planet has a natural reactor within it that tapped that same energy source from subspace. It might not pull a lot of subspace energy, but it has been a constant low pull for a unknown number of years. As such, it suffuses the flora and fauna of the world in this energy.

On its own, it is not quite enough to trigger the spontaneous development of overt magic. This is why the colonists do not observe anything right away. But this energy does affect the ecosystem in ways that are not quite familiar. Plants grow and turn not towards the star but to something near its star's direction. Animals are just a bit more than they seem. An additional wind blows in the atmosphere of the planet that the humans can feel but not measure.

Overall, this is not something blatantly obvious, especially when the colonists might not have Earth specimens and/or the scientific capacity to compare what is seen to what they know. However the AI does know how to measure what is going on somewhat it as it probably would have code and sensors relating to keeping the engines stable. It is this piece of data that only it could gather and the knowledge that the humans do not seem to perceive the energy that leads it to the conclusions that it does.

The ship, or its remains, has provided that little bit of extra subspace energy to catalyze full on overt magic in the world. How that is could be different -- it might be a resonance effect with the planet, or the engine reactor is still running, but at a very low level, emulating an additional natural reactor (or a second).

The magic starts to flow up the food chain. The flora would develop something first, though minor due to a lower concentration. Ancient trees might develop something impressive comparatively. Herbivore would be next, then carnivores as the concentrations of subspace energy increase as animals eat the plants, then predators eat the herbivores. Humans are last because they are new and aren't born infused with traces of subspace energy from birth, though the travelers might have been exposed to the energy from the engine(s) of the ship itself.

Admittedly it does touch on your dislike of special materials to handwave it, but the point is not that the plotinium crystals can do it and that is that. The point is that the conditions that we created artificially can exist naturally in the universe, though to a smaller degree. Nature can get weird, and that is just on Earth.

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The planet has a Mother Goddess AI

They have never found a natural subspace power well before because they do not exist. The world's core was hollowed out and replaced with a massive subspace generator by an ancient and advanced civilization long ago. The entire planet emits low level subspace radiation because this generator is still functional.

One issue you will want to figure out though is the issue of how raw power translates to magic. Just radiating things with tons of exotic energy does not create super powers, and if it did, humans who spend too much time on starships would have discovered magic long ago. This means there is a thing on the planet that is guiding the "magic" independant of the radiation.

One solution to this is that this planet has a global AI that was created to terraform or maintain the planet for the builders of the core, but they either never showed up to claim it when it was done or they died out long ago. The AI sees all life, takes care of it, maintains the balance of nature, and even fosters personal relationships with the living things it cares for because this is what it was designed to do.

When humans first crashed on the world, the AI saw us as a curiosity, but had no idea what our needs or wants were. Over time it studied us, figured out our biological imperatives, figured out our language, and as it learned more about us, it began helping us out here and there just like it does with other living things. A bird needs to fly; so, the AI gifts it with updrafts. The horse need to eat; so, so it sows seeds and guides the rains so that it can eat. What do humans need? Well human's are tricky. They seem to have this deep need for power and control; so, when one points his finger and exclaims "Fireball!", that person clearly needs one; so, the AI conjures up the fireball. Thus we seem to have magic.

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What if the planets magnetic field is not fully non-existential, and has a sole pole, due to which the energy is being constantly pulled by the sole pole(doesn't matter which direction), and giving the effect or illusion of the mysterious / enigmatic powers to the Flora and Fauna on the Planet, and who knows the colonists that settled there might inherit these powers after a few generations/ Centuries.

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We call it Magic

There is a force, there are abilities which we don't understand, so we call it Magic.

But there is no Magic

The planet, however, is not endowed with Magic. There is an unknown dissimilarity from what we know here. Scientists analyze the source, and have determined that it is related to what seem to be infinitesimal insects living in the soil.

There are Tiny Machines

But the insects are not insects. They are nano-machines which live on subspace energy. They consume subspace energy and in the process consume some previously unknown entropy found in the 11 spacial dimensions of M-Brane string theory. In effect, their waste is a local reduction in that entropy.

This lowered entropy decreases the background noise level that ordinarily jams the brain's natural ability to interact directly with the physical world.

It takes time for the brain to adjust to the lowered noise level and effective connection with the physical world, but humans are have amazing neuro-plasticity, and amazing science. What was considered as supernatural became natural as science studied, measured, and quantified the phenomena.

But there are Problems

Most are the usual banal problems you'd expect. Some inappropriate thoughts result in unfortunate actions. Especially in the beginning, there are low-level criminal activities, some gender exploitation, some brilliant stunts and hacks. Over time, the society comes back into self-regulation.

But, there is another problem. Working with the lower entropy re-introduces randomness into that same M-Brane. The more "magic" is used, the less there remains. Even this resource is finite.

Is Something Killing the Nano-Machines?

The density of the machines is getting lower. Why? What does this mean to the society which has grown dependent on Magic?

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  • $\begingroup$ If these machines aren't made out of atoms, but manipulate subatomic particles then they really are pico-machines. $\endgroup$ – John O Feb 25 at 17:53
  • $\begingroup$ Very small, but they could be detected without depending on Magic. Something that an electron microscope could see. I started with flea sized and shrank them to be invisible to unaided vision. I wanted them to need to be discovered -- and to be initially unexplained. $\endgroup$ – cmm Feb 25 at 18:53

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