2
$\begingroup$

This is a distinct question from the one I just asked. In a world where magic can be controlled simply by believing something will work, what is stopping someone from just believing they have ultimate power over everything?

Here is the plot point that led me to this problem: the world has airships that fly around. These airships only fly because people believe they can fly. In the world before airships, no one believed such a thing was possible except one dedicated individual who ignored everyone else, built himself an airship in secret, and got it to fly. Once his airship flew, everyone saw the airship in the air and therefore it was easy to believe it was possible. Suddenly, airships can fly.

So here's the problem: if one person believing something hard enough can make it happen despite the unbelief of everyone else, what is stopping that person from just believing they are a godlike superbeing with ultimate power over everything? Although such individuals might be rare, I believe there are many documented cases in our own world of people believing they have god powers.

$\endgroup$
8
  • $\begingroup$ The real problem, of course, is that in a very short time all the people in the world would be able to do magic without any effort and without having to believe anything, because very quickly somebody will strenuously believe that they can confer the power to do effortless magic to another person, including the ability to transmit it. Very quickly, everybody is a natural magician, who can poof! their way away. Just as quickly, the distance between nations becomes irrelevant, as the natural magicians magick magical gateways. (Magic is generally very hard to do right.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 30, 2022 at 13:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Another problem is anyone who has mental problems (delusions / paranoia / etc) or ends up in an altered state of mind (alcohol / drugs / hallucinogens / etc). They can fall into believing things that are wild or nonsensical. Seemingly it would only take one not-in-their-right-mind person to destroy the entire world. So, you need to put some kind of limitations in your magic system. Probably at least to the power of any one person's belief to have an effect. $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2022 at 14:06
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question is poorly formed. Are you asking why most people aren't omnipotent? That's easy to answer, humans are sort of screwed up in the head. Why did you flunk that math test, or get fired from a burger-flipper job? Certainly those things are easier than talking yourself into believing you are a god, and the stakes are higher too... yet failure. Are you asking how absolutely none manage to become omnipotence? Much more difficult to answer. Are you asking how omnipotence isn't even theoretically possible? Your constraints answer that, it is possible. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Sep 30, 2022 at 14:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MichaelStachowsky So your question boils down to "when omnipotence is possible, why is it impossible?" Is this some sort of play on "Can God microwave a burrito so hot He Himself cannot eat it?" $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Sep 30, 2022 at 16:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How does this differ from our reality? No one believed humans could fly, so no one bothered to look for how it could be done. Only when someone believes it is possible, does one look for a way to make it possible. That has always been the human history of innovation. But there have always been things that were impossible, no matter how hard we believe. That's not magic. $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2022 at 18:24

6 Answers 6

9
$\begingroup$

Any unbounded power, unchallenged, will generate these issues. You either need to bound it, or challenge it. From the sound of your premise, you would like this to be an unbounded ability (the sky is the limit, quite literally), so we need to find a way to challenge this belief power. If this was Writers.SE, it'd be worth noting that this is actually a very useful thing from a narrative perspective. It gives the protagonist something to overcome.

I would suggest having some nuance to the "believe it and it can happen" approach. We have very generalized beliefs, like "I am a god," and we have very specific beliefs like "I am Fenrirson, firstborn of Fenrir, with the particular ability to bite down and never let go!" Let people's generalized disbelief ("You are not a god") oppose this individual's belief. This would be very effective against the generalized belief of "I am a god" but less so on the specific one. In my head, I am seeing it as a sort of mechanical advantage sort of system. If you are believing something very specific, you have a lot of mechanical advantage over those believing something opposing that is generic. Your belief is more focused than their disbelief, so you can exert more "pressure" to make the thing real.

This would make the journey to an airship become a journey to find that one very specific sliver of an idea to believe in, and then make that sliver a reality. Once that sliver is your reality, then you can use it to start beating back the dis-belief of the masses.

As a side note, I would expect that in such a world one would be taught from an early stage a set of things to strongly dis-believe. These would keep one protected against a casual magic user dominating them as they are raised through childhood. That fabric of disbelief would be quite rich, given the need to focus the disbelief correctly across a multitude of generic and specific disbeliefs. This would form a very useful backdrop upon which the protagonist hones their belief in airships.

$\endgroup$
2
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ These are some great points. I love the idea of mechanical advantage being what enables the belief system, and it naturally constrains things quite nicely. Thanks! $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2022 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ This is great. I do think one consequence of this framework is that a focused belief will become a much easier target for disbelief once it manifests in the world. So, in the lifecycle of a belief, there is an early stage when it is particularly vulnerable not only to broadly-skeptical people but also any established, "oppositional" disbelief whose description matches the new belief. This will lead to strange and noteworthy social behaviors among people who wish to launch a new belief. Kind of like real-world startup companies. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Oct 1, 2022 at 22:42
4
$\begingroup$

Reality consensus

This is an idea that is part of the Mage: the Ascension RPG premise. It is very close to what you describe but in short:

  • In Mage reality is shaped by belief. What normal humans believe is how reality is. And overall the vast majority of people believe that throwing something up will still fall back down. That engines work. That with aerodynamics and a flying contraption, even humans can fly. This shared belief and the resulting reality is called "the Consensus". It can vary slightly in different areas but overall the result is stable.
  • Changes to the Consensus can be done slowly and deliberately. In-world in Mage: the Ascension flight was achieved after there was enough evidence that people could fly. It was not an on-off switch for the belief to take hold. It took years and years of investigating and seeding the idea that maybe it is possible into the minds of the masses. Then the Wright brothers managed to fly. For a few seconds but enough to be a catalyst for even more belief into the concept. Until it was an accepted fact by the Consensus.
  • Going against the Consensus is near impossible for normal humans. The titular mages can do it - magic is the ability to impose one's will on Reality. When that goes against the Consensus, for example, shooting lightning from your eyes, then that causes the magic to be unreliable and dangerous. It is the Consensus actively holding back the will of just one person. There is also magic that works with the Consensus - causing an electric surge is something that people overall will believe is how reality works. Such magic is in some cases more limited but is less dangerous to the mage.

A very similar approach can be taken.

Without "mages" (or otherwise people who can "dissent" from the overall belief), a single person cannot affect reality by themselves. They can only work with what they have, so if they happened to get a breakthrough and produce a flying ship, it is only because enough people were ready to believe in this.

With "mages", a single person can dissent and produce something nobody believes in but there is going to be repercussions. And the farther they stray from the vision of the world in the minds of the masses, the worse it would be. Maybe small deviations from known reality are tolerated. And might even be accepted (eventually). But "I am a god" is too far out. It might fail to produce any effect or might just wipe out the new "god" from the face of the world.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Other people who believe they have the duty and the power to destroy any omnipotent people. So anyone who uses magic to become too powerful will be hunted by the magic police.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Because they do not know they have this power

It is simple - in the real world, before people saw airplanes, most were convinced that humans would never fly. The Wright brothers believed the opposite. Now, it was not belief that let them fly but let's assume for a moment that it was. Would they then believe they were godlike beings? No, according to them, they just followed the physical laws of the world and got the result that was obvious to them but not many others. Flight.

The logical leap from "Wow, I found this thing is possible, despite others thinking it is not" and "I must really believe I am a godlike being" is a non-sequitur. Despite the grandeur of some inventors and thinkers, they do not really believe themselves as gods.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Red Tape

Sure, as long as you believe hard enough, anything is possible. But you need to have the right license, and to get those license, you need to fill out forms (in triplicate) and have the right stamps. The more powerful the magic, the harder it is to get the right license. The mountain of paperwork you need to do for omnipotent magic? Noone even wants to contemplate wading through that.

More generally, magic which comes at no or little costs will always be very disruptive. Add a (significant) cost if you want to have it spiral out of control.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Nothing

Anyone who believes that they are a god, effectively becomes a god.

Except, they're not the first...

There is a pantheon of gods in this universe made up entirely of ascended magic-users. Or perhaps just one god. If it is a full pantheon, it set up a system of checks and balances within itself eons ago, to keep the world from being destroyed (again).

New gods who are seen as threats are...dealt with...by the existing god(s). Let's just say that you can't believe you're a god if you don't have an intact brain to believe things with.

Better yet, perhaps the existing god(s) work(s) in secret to prevent new gods—or at least the "wrong kind" of new gods—from arising in the first place.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .