This is partially a followup to my question on ancestral guidance.

Suppose you have a species, or a subset of a species, that has a particularly interesting mechanic, like the above mentioned ancestral guidance or several other mechanics from . You need an Applied Phlebotinum (warning: TV tropes link) to explain why this superpower is real. However, due to the setting and type of story you're trying to tell, you want to avoid anything to do with magic (because it doesn't fit the sci-fi theme), evolution (because it's such an easy cop-out) or interference from ancient aliens (because it's such a tired cliché that's been used so often you'd rather not use it).

How can you explain the superpowers in your story in a (semi-)scientific way? With semi-scientific, I mean that it can include hypotheses that aren't fully proven yet, but might have scientific merit.

  • $\begingroup$ Is time travel allowed? $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 22:37
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure what you're asking. Do you want a general technique for explaining a superpower without resorting to magic or any of the other typical causes of super powers? $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ If they have a natural origin, they are no "super" anyway (in the same way that birds do not have the "superpower" of flight), and your question seems to bar supernatural origins (and natural origins, too). Throw them in a natural nuclear reactor and make it so that (instead of the habitual result of death by radiation poisoning) they get superpowers. I think it will look like an easy copped-out tired cliché, but maybe you like it. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 1:10
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    $\begingroup$ Another usual alternative is training dormant powers (the old guru in the mountain that knows that ages ago everybody was able to throw fire from the eyes, but somehow that ability was deemed "unhelpful" and forgotten, and nowadays you need to remember the magic -sorry, ancient- words to activate it). But, in my book, is more or less the same than magic. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 1:13

2 Answers 2


Here are a few ideas:

  • Genetic engineering (gene splicing, selective breeding, synthetic genetics)

  • Cyborg technology

  • Pseudo-sciencey microorganisms (e.g. midi-chlorians)

  • Magic by another name (e.g. the Force before all the midi-chlorians nonsense)

  • Quantum handwavery

  • Simulation manipulation (e.g. bullet time)

  • Stolen technology from other aliens (e.g. U.N.I.T.)

  • Confined manipulation of the laws of physics

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    $\begingroup$ psionics & telekinesis $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 20, 2015 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ You could do a lot by being able to change law of physics in a confined space. In my opinion it is probably the greatest superpower of them all in that answer. Think of how all the formula in physics/chemistry/engineering/etc are inter-related and what changing some of their constants would do. Here's an example: kinetic energy, change the formula in a confined space and you could blow up a whole universe just by dropping a feather. $\endgroup$
    – Mystra007
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 20:34

Quantum manipulation can be your figurative magic (sorry, the word just works) bullet, but I think it works best on physical rather than physiological phenomena; it could be used explain how one can shoot energy beams by streaming a "beam" of quantum gravity that converts matter to energy, but maybe not so much for how one can remotely create toxins inside their organic targets.

In theory both would work, but the toxin example assumes a lot more, such as selective molecular-scale quantum conversion, knowing what toxins work against the targets, and so on. The energy beam on the other hand can be a internally-latticed extensible cylinder of some higher-level energy that somehow polarizes / converts all matter in its path to have common quantum properties, in particular those that define some sort of ablative energy.

I suppose it's a matter of how precise a level of control you want to grant your character(s). It may be a little more believable if they can wield their powers like hammers rather than tweezers, if you get my gist. It also leaves you some future paths for "advanced" powers -- i.e. more skill, better control, different applications.

But if you're going to ask how said characters acquired the power to emit quantum-polarizing energy, then we're back to square one, unless said characters were extensions of higher-dimension beings into the set of dimensions that define our particular universe.


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