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Title pretty much says it all honestly. I wanna design a character for my fantasy story with abilities that are not only shown to break the laws of thermodynamics (the first and second laws specifically), but are even explicitly stated to break them as well. Most fictional characters do this through magical/divine means such as Chi, Spiritual Energy or some kind of connection to a sacred, all-powerful deity (or maybe the character IS a deity him/herself, or at least the mortal reincarnation of one). I on the other hand wanna achieve the same feat without having to rely on such easy... uh... let's just call them tropes, ok (plot devices and crutches sound a bit too harsh)?

Obviously, the source behind such a power and the way in which it is obtained WILL be unscientific in nature (can't explain EVERYHTING in my world through science), I’m just looking for a way to justify the existence of a non-thermodynamic abiding character in a thermodynamic abiding universe. Like, the first law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy in the universe remains constant and that any and all instances of energy spontaneously materializing into existence must be met with said energy returning to whence it come from before it can be harnessed, while the second law of thermodynamics establishes the concept of entropy and makes things such as 100% efficiency, heat flowing from cold to hot environments and energy be extracted from regions of space in thermal equilibrium impossible or so unlikely that we'll all be dead long before we can see it happen. Just what exactly makes these two laws function the way they do? Do they rely on time to function? Are there any instances in history where they've been temporarily violated? Are they laws in the sense that breaking them would have consequences for the entire universe?

Also yes, I will admit it does seem rather strange that I'm actively TRYING to design an ability that goes against the laws of physics, even though I've also been trying to make as much sense as possible out of all of my other ideas posted on this forum. I also agree with the notion that trying to come up with a scientific explanation as to how to break the laws of science is, in of itself, a bit ridiculous. My response to both of these things is the same response Sonic the Hedgehog would give you if you asked him how he manages to race down a hill in the form of a perfectly spherical ball without killing himself or making him sick. It's just how we roll (does this pun make sense? Let me know if it doesn't).

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  • $\begingroup$ Does this character have any limits to this abilities use? If by spending energy you gain more energy than spent you might run in to issues with having effectively unlimited power. $\endgroup$
    – Kezat
    Aug 30 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't this an excellent example of an XY problem? Unless you are writing a story about physics. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 30 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a reason you can't simply make it so? As an author, you're not obligated to explain jack--if you want your protagonist to be able to do something supernatural, just let them do it. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Aug 30 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek - No, there's nothing holding me back from just writing the story anyway I choose to. I just wanna resort to the "It works the way it does because that's what the plot demands" as little as I can $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ You should change your title to "How do I break the rules of physics without breaking the rules of physics? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:26
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There are no isolated systems.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_law_of_thermodynamics

The law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system is constant; energy can be transformed from one form to another, but can be neither created nor destroyed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics

The second law may be formulated by the observation that the entropy of isolated systems left to spontaneous evolution cannot decrease, as they always arrive at a state of thermodynamic equilibrium, where the entropy is highest.

Now that the background is laid out let us consider my favorite perpetual motion machine: The Cox Timepiece.

cox timepiece

It was billed as a perpetual motion machine - a mechanical clock which ran and ran and never needed to be wound. No pendulums. No electricity. No falling water. Not a scam. It did run for decades - a bona fide perpetual motion machine.

The clock was actually wound by changes in barometric pressure. What seemed to be a isolated system - a clock sitting on the floor - was actually part of an open system, connected invisibly through the air to its power source.


This is how to "violate" the Laws. An isolated system is an abstraction useful for thought experiments. In the real world, there are always ways in which things are connected to other things. If the connection is sufficiently subtle, as with the Cox Timepiece, the Laws seem to be violated.

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Extra-dimensional Support

Warning, MAJOR spoilers for Worm by Wildbow.

Worm is a darker superhero setting, and the most "rational" superhero setting out there (fight me). In it, there are a wide variety of superpowers--everything ranging from classic flight and super-strength to more esoteric abilities like precognition and various different flavors of mind-control. In the story, many abilities that the "capes" exhibit also seem to violate thermodynamic laws. For example, one character, "Sundancer" can summon a sphere of superheated fire and telekinetically control it at no apparent cost to herself. With this sphere, she can melt stone, destroy property, etc. In universe, the scientists and capes have no clue how to explain this--Sundancer appears to be summoning energy from nowhere.

In "reality" though, no thermodynamics are being violated. Instead, a massive (somewhere between the size of a continent and a planet), crystalline bio-computer called a "Shard" is housed in a separate dimension--in this case an alternate-reality Earth where life never evolved--and by using a special organ in Sundancer's head as the anchoring point for a miniature wormhole, uses advanced clarke-tech to a) scan Sundancer's brain and use its computational power to interpret her wishes and b) project additional wormholes through to wherever she wants to summon the fire-sphere. Then, the Shard slowly consumes its vast energy stores (presumably matter-energy conversion) to create fire and pushes it through the wormholes it creates.

Basically all superpowers in the setting boil down to these Shards meddling with reality through micro-wormholes from the macro to the micro scale. In the micro scale, there is the protagonist of the series, Taylor, who has the power to control anything she considers a "bug" along with infinite multitasking. In the story she uses this to do things like wrap people in spider webs, run insects down their throats, or blot the sky out with swarms of bugs. What's happening "mechanically" in the background to achieve this effect is that her Shard copies her consciousness and by simulating thousands to millions to billions of instances of her (stripped down and modified) consciousness on its crystalline computational matrix, it is able to achieve the "infinite multitasking" portion of her power. Then, to control the insects, the Shard simply opens micro-wormholes into the nervous systems of the insects, and by transmitting the appropriate electrical impulses, puppeteers them around.

Using a system similar to these Shards could be how to make your protagonist appear to break the laws of thermodynamics and fly in the face of everything that's considered "magical" or "divine" conventions:

  • Create a ridiculously big extra-dimensional supercomputer. Maybe it's a Dyson sphere surrounding a star or maybe it has access to an alternate-universe most matter is anti-matter and uses this for power.
  • Grant this computer the technological ability to create micro-wormholes which it can use to punch into alternate universes/realities/planes of existence.
  • Link this super-computer to your protagonist somehow. Maybe they have a special organ in their brain or maybe the computer was observing a chunk of reality with centillions of micro-wormholes and just waiting for someone to identify themselves with the admin keyphrase and latched onto the protagonist from there
  • By reading the mind of the protagonist (eg manually observing every neuron with a micro-wormhole) the super-computer can interpret their wishes and attempt to make the protagonist's wishes reality
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  • $\begingroup$ Technically, this doesn't violate the conservation of energy in a closed system. What it does is demonstrate that (in this setting) the universe as we know it isn't a closed system. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Aug 30 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence Well, technically it could be a closed system if you view the "multiverse" as the system. The amount of alternate universes/realties/whatevers is an unfathomably large set, but still finite. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Aug 30 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose I could've made that more clear. In that setting, conservation could still apply to the "multiverse" as a whole (e.g., energy manifests on our Earth, but to do so it must be removed from Alternate Earth), so nothing is technically broken. We've just discovered a whole bunch of new space we didn't know about before. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Aug 30 at 16:29
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You can always exploit quantum physics. A bit cliché, but if your character can control the billions of quantum events that are random for the rest of us, they could teleport matter/energy from random locations around the universe to the character's vicinity, giving the appearance of breaking law 1. Reversing entropy (law 2) is similarly easy, by just controlling the random quantum decisions that produce entropy. Of course, your character probably doesn't do these calculations at the level of individual atoms, rather interacting with it at scale, much as we all move entire limbs' worth of atoms at will.

Neither of these options would break any other physics. It's just that the character can make unlikely (but not impossible) events happen.

A possible explanation could be something like the "Quantum Mind" take on consciousness, which posits that soul-like entities control the physical world through quantum interactions in the brain. In your world, this could be reality, and this one lucky individual happens to have control of quantum events that extend beyond his/her own neurons.

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If you're actually going the "hard fantasy" route, I want to go out on a limb and say there's no way to break either law without totally redesigning the universe. It can be shown that energy conservation arises from the axiom, "the laws of physics don't change over time," and the second law comes from the more basic axiom "likely things happen more often". If you break either law, you also have to break one of the axioms.

If you break time-translation symmetry, all of a sudden the equations of motion for the universe are different at the big bang to what they are today. This 'exploit' affects everything, everywhere, for all time. There is a way out -

The universe's equations of motion are mostly time-translation symmetric, except for some bizzare particle that is not. Your character eats this particle in some questionable haggis, giving them inadvertent access to limitless energy.

If the first law goes out the window, the second law does too. The standard way of doing thermodynamics is to maximise entropy subject to the constraint of constant energy - if you can change the energy of a system at will, entropy is no longer a useful concept and equilibrium no longer exists.

The existence of such a particle is not really something we can disprove now, apart from stating that it's highly unlikely. We'd need to specify some rules for how it works, but it's hard to say what they should be without more details of the plot.

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  • $\begingroup$ This sounds like a WAAAAY more well thought version of Sentry's origin story and I love it $\endgroup$ Aug 31 at 11:44
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They found the missing numbers.

One, two, three, four, five, six- and then this. Normally when you count up, you get seven. They've found several hidden numbers among the normal ones that we use.

When they show others, these numbers make absolute sense. Like, isn't it obvious you would go six, **** seven, and that this number would exist.

And when they do calculations with these numbers, they can break the laws of physics. They can count their energy as a bit higher, convincing the universe that it missed a few numbers. They can boost their energy by redoing the maths.

It's just simple maths, recognizing that there's a missing number between six and seven, equidistant between the two as two and three are equidistant, along with other missing numbers. Maths grants them power.

It makes the laws of physics work better.

When they explain their numbers to others, the models work better. Predictions are more accurate. Calculations more reliable. They have a superior model of physics, and they will force the universe to follow it.

Physics wise

They basically found an altered model of physics that includes other numbers which lets them duplicate things, like false vacuum decay. and they can force other things to obey the laws of physics of their new ideas. Their ideas let them change numbers and break the normal rules of the universe.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not entirely following what you're saying if I'm being truthful. Please could you slightly reword your answer a bit (not saying your answer's bad or anything like that, I just suck at math's lol)? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ I added an explanation at the end. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 30 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Just saw it now. Thank you :) $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Professor Giuseppe Peano wants to record his vehement protest... By definition, one is the successor of zero, two is the successor of one, three is the successor of two, four is the successor of three, five is the successor of four, six is the successor of five and seven is the successor of six. That is how the natural numbers are constructed. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 30 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ This is a like something from a dream. That other number! It has been there this whole time? $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 30 at 23:07
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Authorial fiat and meta-narrative elements

Your protagonist's power is either knowing that they live inside a fictional universe or that their universe operates under story or game conventions to at least some degree. This can be limited to this one character specifically, or they might simply be the only one aware of this fact. Whichever it is, by leveraging this knowledge, they can "force" reality to bend in different ways to comply with narrative or game elements.

For example, lets say that this character operates under (bastardized) Dungeons & Dragons rules which are interpreted as, for every action they can attempt, they have a 1 in 20 chance of "rolling" a critical success and succeeding automatically, no matter how unlikely the probability is. Simply have the protagonist be aware of this fact, and they'd quickly leverage the reality that automatically succeeding on anything 5% of the time is a ridiculous rate of success.

Similarly, the protagonist might become aware of the fact that they have "plot armor" or that "rule of cool" applies to them somehow, which results in them always eking out victory and surviving against seemingly impossible odds or realizing that if they make cool poses, reality bends to favor them. For example, they might use this fact to safely survive explosions by simply not looking at them or guarantee a critical hit by speaking an appropriately badass one-liner before hand.

Notable S-Tier stories that contain such elements (to varying levels of extent) would be: A Practical Guide to Evil, Worth the Candle, and Harry Potter and the Natural 20

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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea a lot, but I feel like that would work better for a Matrix-style story, or something involving a similar plot. The universe my world resides in is to the characters just as real and tangible as our world is to us $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:05
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Then, don't break the laws!

Parallel Universe

Your hero has a bottle which contains a whole universe. All the power you'd need you extract it from the bottle. All the power you remove, you put back into the bottle. That way it seems you're breaking the Laws of Thermodynamics while in fact you're not.

Time Travel

Your hero sources it's power from the future. Officially you're not breaking the law, but simply "borrowing". Once the time point where you sourced the power becomes the now, all checks are balanced.

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    $\begingroup$ You cannot blame Newton for thermodynamics. He is completely innocent of this. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 30 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Micha - Funnily enough, the parallel universe idea is basically how every power in my world save for two (this one and one more involving striking deals with a demon) functions. Not entirely sure about the time travel idea, but it still seems like an interesting thing to consider. Thx for your answer $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ You're absolutely right, @AlexP! Fixing it.. $\endgroup$
    – micha
    Aug 30 at 17:12
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Future science

We used to think that phlogiston was a thing, that the Warth was flat and that objecta heavier than air would never fly. In all accounts we were wrong.

It may be that with all the evidence and devices we have a perpetual motion machine might be impossible, but it actually is possible. Your protagonist isneither from the future or has had contact with future technology, stuff that would make quantum computers obsolete by comparison. He uses such technology to perform feats that we modern cavemen take for miracles.

Remember, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

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