For stylistic reasons, I wanted to impose some limits on the use of computers and automation to justify my setting's retro-aesthetic and elements for my science fantasy story.

Basically humanity has invented FTL travel into hyperspace. Alongside this, there exists as well something called 'Notional space' which is basically a platonic realm of information and computation.

Hyperspace travel allows for Daemons from notional space to enter our own world in the search for a substrate to live in and spread.

Daemons don't have much of a physical presence in our world and tend to be fragile and short lived.

They can infect advanced technology directly via manipulating probability in delicate ways. They can selectively induce quantum tunneling and other phenomena, or use thermal noise to physically manipulate delicate structures.

As a result, this has the effect of stifling the use of advanced inorganic computers. They still exist, but the process needed to shield them is an expensive one.

So instead humanity has gone with the route of relying primarily on brainpower, similar to Dune, with heavy uses of neural augmentation and mind-machine interfaces as well.

My question is, what explains the fact that Daemons have a harder time getting a hold on human brains than advanced computers? Given that there isn't anything that bars them from also physically tampering with neurons.

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    $\begingroup$ You already decided a reason. Why are you asking us? $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Mar 19 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ You have magic beings directly manipulating reality. And you are asking for reasons? $\endgroup$
    – void_ptr
    Mar 19 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ Some people on this site believe that once x% of the premise of a question is rooted in magic, the answer can only be magic and the question needs to be closed. They also all disagree on the value of x. Good luck asking magic questions here. $\endgroup$
    – KeizerHarm
    Mar 19 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ You do realize that a transistor in a microprocessor is vastly smaller than a neuron and operates with a much smaller energy budget? A daemon who can steer an electric scooter will have a hard time trying to steer a large ocean-going ship. Neuron are just too big, too slow, and use too much energy for the poor daemon to mess with. (On the other hand, nothing is preventing the humans from using olde skoole Z80 based computers to foil the flimsy daemons. Long story short, whenever I read that something affects computers but not brains I always think why don't they use old big fat slow CPUs?) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 19 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ Don't justify magic. Just introduce its effects and move on. $\endgroup$
    – Tony Ennis
    Mar 20 at 19:17

20 Answers 20


Brains aren't computers

We often talk about brains as though they are computers, but while it's often a useful shorthand, it's not accurate. A little inaccuracy can save a ton of explanation, but it can also have a big impact.

Mind/body dualism

Information that's "in" your mind can't be observed by studying your physical brain. We cannot, for example, point to a specific cluster of neurons that is responsible for your understanding of horses. We also cannot put information into your mind by physically manipulating your brain. We cannot, for example, teach you my email password by reshaping your brain matter to resemble my brain matter.

This poses a pretty big challenge to your demons, because it means that having control over a brain is not enough to have control over the mind it houses. A demon might be able to interfere with the brain's operation, but they couldn't apply anything like real influence. A thief who steals your laptop may have physical access to your hard drive, but if your files are encrypted they still don't have meaningful access to your data, and they can't install a virus because they can't encode it the way it needs to be encoded to actually run when the filesystem is unlocked by its owner.

Class differences

Computers are pretty much identical to each other, whereas organic brains are not. Whenever you've got a giant set of consumer devices, it's very common for all those devices to be built with identical hardware and identical software. That makes it easier for a third party to study the devices because they all work the same way, and what you learn about one instance will be true of all the others. That's critical for a demon who only has temporary access to the computers flitting through his domain: even though they are individual vessels with individual hardware and software, their extreme similarity to other members of their class means the demon can effectively treat them as though they are the same individual for purposes of study and experiments in meddling.

None of that is true of organic brains. While it's true that members of a species will have lots of similarities, there are also countless little differences between individuals on both physical and mental layers, and those will serve to frustrate the demon's efforts to study or manipulate them.

Two people may both understand what horses are, but that does not mean you will find an identical pattern of neurons in both of their brains. If you have the individual's cooperation, you can locate the specific parts of their brain that hold that information, but that finding will not be true for the next person -- it doesn't equip you to look at the next guy's brain and determine whether he knows what horses are. Everything you learn about one brain will be true of just that one brain. A lot of it will be similar to other brains, but "close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and not at all for someone whose tool is quantum tunneling.

Even more interesting is the fact that we all think differently. I mean, how else can we account for the fact that we are all confronted by the same mind-independent world but form different beliefs and acquire different behaviors?

Consider this example: in America phone numbers are typically expressed like so: ###-###-####, while in the UK they take the form: ##-##-##-##-##. If you tell somebody your phone number in the style they are not accustomed to, they will have a harder time remembering it. It's the same information in both cases, but delivered in a "shape" that the recipient's mind isn't prepared to work with.

Two space captains may be the same species, they may even be siblings, but they organize their knowledge and thoughts differently. Again, this will serve to frustrate your demon.

None of this is, by itself, a fatal hurdle. But in combination, all these differences between individuals compound to make the challenge enormously harder. The result is that your demon has no way to make progress over time, because each individual is so different that the demon must essentially start from scratch and has only the duration of that person's voyage to crack the problem.

A journey of a thousand miles does indeed begin with a single step, but if you get sent back to your starting point after every step, you won't have gotten anywhere even after talking 1000 miles worth of steps.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the understanding of the location of concepts/memories in the brain is progressing rapidly. (No reference ATM, sorry.) $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Mar 20 at 17:39
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    $\begingroup$ With respect to understanding of the brain and how that corresponds to thoughts, I'd say we're right now in a very special time where state of the art researchers strongly suspect but cannot prove that the sum total of human thought is explained by and observable through the physical/chemical structure of the brain. For the writer, this means that your world can assume either conclusion and not have too much trouble with suspension of disbelief. That likely won't be the case forever. $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Nelson - that's ramblings of someone who took philosophy 101 and has no understanding of either biology or computers. The ideas presented in that blog and this answer are simply obsolete pseudo-science. $\endgroup$
    – Davor
    Mar 21 at 20:51
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    $\begingroup$ @PabloH, Yes. Our knowledge of living brains has vastly improved in recent years, but what Tom said about two people who understand horses still is relevant. There is no structure in your brain that evolved specifically to store knowledge of horses. Even if you and I both learned all the same facts about horses, we probably learned those facts under different circumstances, and we learned them relative to a different background of basic knowledge. There is virtually no chance that the detailed representation in my brain of what a roan coat looks like matches its representation in yours. $\endgroup$ Mar 22 at 17:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp That is correct. The Daemons given time and energy can influence human brains. The only thing the setting requires is that they find it easier to do with computers rather than humans. $\endgroup$ Mar 23 at 16:24

The thing about a brain is, it's already got a daemon in it. After all, what are we but tenuous wisps of information inhabiting a physical substrate?

If a daemon wanted to inhabit a brain it would have to kick out its current occupant, namely the person that lives there - but brains and people are made for each other, so the daemon doesn't stand a chance. Your subconscious will have kicked its butt it before it gets anywhere near your conscious awareness. You might have some weird dreams in hyperspace, but that's about it.

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    $\begingroup$ There are still people who believe in all of their dreams, so some are susceptible to possession. $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ @CeesTimmerman - Nah, they're just gullible and believe everything the daemon told them before being kicked out. (This is oddly believable...) $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 15:11

Human brains are not - and let me be completely clear here, not even a little bit - like computers.

(And before anyone complains, I'm not the one that tagged this as neuroscience!)

Computer hardware is standardized, logical and rigidly structured. Given a sufficiently high-resolution picture of a CPU's silicon a skilled engineer can tell you what each part does just from the interference patterns at low magnification and at high enough magnification they can reproduce the actual circuit that's printed on the silicon die. An acquaintance of mine a few years ago was a silicon engineer who worked on CPU designs for most of his adult life and could tell you the make and model of any CPU just from a scan that fit on a normal computer screen... and give you a 3-hour lecture on what was wrong with the layout.

Meanwhile, the top 10,000 neuroscientists on the planet can't tell you what any particular neuron does, because that's not how brains work. Rip a neuron open and study the chemical structures in it, you'll still have no clue what that particular neuron had stored in it. Even if you could map every single neuron and synapse (we can't, but imagine that we could) you'd still not have a functional simulation of it. The largest successful whole brain simulation ever created was of a caenorhabditis elegans roundworm with 302 neurons and only 5,000 or so synaptic connections. While we can simulate these things at almost real-time now, we're still missing a lot of information that makes them less that perfect. In 2013 they managed a simulation of ~1% of a human brain (they had 1.73e+9 neurons and 1.04e+13 synapses in the simulation) at around 1/2,400th real time... but I'm sure they've made it a lot further since then. We've almost managed to fully model a larval drosophila brain in the last few months, with the same lack of detail that the roundworm simulations suffered from but a lot more spackle over the details.

(No, Spaun is not a whole-brain simulation. It's good, but it's far too high level to be a true sim. It's about as accurate as a 50x scale mechano model of a human hand.)

And to top that off, brains are delicate as all hell. Disrupting communications between a handful (like the number, not the amount of neurons you can hold in one hand) of neurons can cause catastrophic failure of the entire structure. Quantum tunneling isn't going to help you here. Oh, and the brain state changes significantly due to microscopic changes in chemical balance. Tiny changes in hormone balance can flip a brain from perfectly normal to homicidal rage in seconds. Toxins produced by your own glands can screw with your memory and perception. And of course some brains are prone to all sorts of tomfoolery, like cascading feedback loops in epileptic brains.

And finally, no two brains are alike in any but the broadest possible strokes. Even with FMRI and all the other fun toys we've developed, our best guesses at the moment still require neurosurgeons to prod bits of the brain and see what happens. Or at least what the person who is awake while they're doing that reports. "Oh, you lost vision in your left eye and now you're tasting colors? That's unexpected." is not the sort of thing you want to hear from the guy who drilled a sodding great hole in your cranium a couple of minutes ago.

So yeah, your demonic forces are great at working with knowable systems like sub-micron silicon, but even simple brains are orders of magnitude more complex. Human brains? 86 billion neurons. 600 trillion synapses. And we have no idea how most of it works.

Computers on the other hand are easy to subvert... but also easy to protect against that subversion. Forget making them smarter, make them robust. Build analog computers for specific tasks that are faster and more robust than any digital computer. Build big, chunky circuits that couldn't care less if a few thousand electrons get displaced all at once. And don't make one, make ten. Get them to run calculations independently and make sure they all agree on the outcome before you trust it. If the failure rate is high, scrub them all and switch in a whole new compute bank.

Because if you rely on squishy meat to plot your hyperspace injection metric, you're doomed. Especially if that squishy meat is hooked up to a delicate piece of electronics that can be subverted.

Meanwhile, every part of your ship is managed by fallible electronics that the demons can apparently interfere with. Life support is quite important. So are the various doors between you and the Big Empty. I imagine the reactor control system is pretty important too. Nice drive system you've got there, it'd be a shame if someone tweaked the cycle timing on the plasma induction manifold. You didn't need that anti-matter containment field did you? Oopsy.

Oh, and all that computational gymnastics you've trained for since conception is cute and all, but those sensors you rely on look kind of hackable from here.

The scenario you've detailed makes it basically impossible to do anything that a human (or group of humans) can't manage by hand. That counts out a lot of existing tech and vast swathes of the tech we take for granted in most science fiction.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the explanation. Using robust analog computers does go well with the setting. It does vaguely remind me of how Star Wars droids are used and treated. You've made a good point on accounting non-computer electronics and the problems posed for everything else with the ship I think I can solve some of the problems you've presented by tweaking some elements and adding caveats. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the pun :) $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Mar 20 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ @AllSeeingEye33 It's a good justification for a low-tech aesthetic to your ships: relays, transformers, capacitors and resistors the size of your fist, etc. Also there's a lot you can do with clockwork (complex mechanically driven gear trains and so on) in places where electronics are too delicate. Bonus points for making your ship EMP resistant. $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Mar 20 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ Iirc, that roundworm simulation wasn't a whole-brain simulation of an actual roundworm. It was a simulation of caenorhabditis elegans in general, instantiated with random weights – something they could do because all of those roundworms have the same neural topology. Still impressive, but not quite as impressive. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 21 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 Yeah, not much neurodiversity in the elegans genome. They've added muscles and environment simulation since the original and it kind of crawls around looking for food, but there's a lot we don't know about the neural states in the real thing. Very cool stuff, much credit to the researchers, but there's still so much we just don't know. And human brains are what... 8 orders of magnitude more complex than that? $\endgroup$
    – Corey
    Mar 21 at 22:06

Doped silicon is just simpler than organic molecules. Yes, they can tamper with neurons, but they have to know what they are doing, and it's just easier to do it with logic gates than with the mess of chemicals that form a neuron, especially since they are jumbled together and include chemicals that are vital to keeping the cell alive, chemicals that are actually transmitting the signal, and just plain junk.

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    $\begingroup$ Also: maybe they got some downloaded "Computer architecture 101" slides from an earlier ship's database, perfectly explaining exactly how it all works in excruciating detail. They could produce their own computers to practice attacking against. No such luck for brains because we don't even have that knowledge $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 21 at 9:24

It's for a story where you want demon-infested electronics?

Tin whiskers. And various other metal whiskers.

Under strain (from temperature, vibration, induced magnetic fields, whatever), tin and other metals extrude hair-thin crystal growths. This is a big problem for many electronics: adding random connections between nearby traces produces unpredictably bad results. This is all true, by the way, without any need for hyperspace demons.

Tin is especially vulnerable to this, and tin is the major component of lead-free solder, so "tin whiskers" get all the press. But various other metals will also aggressively grow crystals with enough stress.

So, your hyperspace demons are just good at rapidly growing neural networks out of whatever electronics pass through their domain. They grow themselves a weird antenna, occupy it, and then continue to grow it into a proper brain. All the while interfacing with the rest of the electronics and corrupting connected or nearby systems.

Symptoms are probably that the electronics die for a while, then start working again. When you crack them open they are full of dense hairballs of intricate and infintessimally fine wire.

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    $\begingroup$ I'll definitely use this for the setting. Thank you for the idea. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 16:43

Demons can start manipulating electrical signals below 0,2 micrometers and they can mostly influence electrons traveling through circuits directly.

The human nervous system works at around 0,2 microns. Which means any circuits below that would be affected, locking your technology around 1990’s to 2000’s (likely a bit higher as your understanding to use these size circuits becomes more efficient). Since your Demons use quantum manipulation they could simply be limited in the total volume they can affect at a time, so using below 0,2 microns would be a good start.

Computers and humans also use different wiring. A computer uses a solid metal conductor where humans use an electro-chemical salt pump alongside chemical transmission between the nerve endings. It would be easier to manipulate the electrical signal for a computer to increase/decrease the electrical potential. This means it can go over or under a threshold that activates the relevant electrical part and changes how the computer perceives the message. Additionally you have the potential for the Demon to create an electrical spike to damage a part. Since the Demon would need to manipulate not just the electrons but also the chemicals associated for them in the human nervous system its far harder to accomplish.


This sounds eerily similar to Warhammer 40K...

And so I will borrow an idea from 40K:

Sufficiently advanced computers become aware of the presence of Demons before they develop a set of Ethics.

The computational and predictive power needed to calculate a safe passage for a vessel moving at FTL speed(s) means that any device powerful enough to do all those things runs the risk of gaining awareness.

The issue is that once this happens, it gains a form of consciousness that Demons can latch onto, however it hasn't had the time to develop a set of complex ethical beliefs to resist a Demons influence. Think of it like a Child being groomed by a predator - and so any sufficiently powerful computer runs too much risk of gaining sentience - so they are deliberately limited.

  • $\begingroup$ It is actually somewhat based on 40k in regards to the Imperium's tech levels. That and the Laundry Files. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 4:52
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't anything that can't be fixed by some proper computer programming. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ @VictorStafusa-BozoNaCadeia - in 40K lore it's actually an impossibility. Once a computer gains sentience, it gains a presence in the Warp (the realm of the Demons) - there's no amount of computer programming that can guard against that. 40K is funny like that. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord I do believe the Imperium has cogitators alongside servitors and organic computers for use in lieu of computers. The main goal of Daemons, as an element, is to maintain a kind of early or pre-information age society. They don't just knock out sentient AI, but are deliberately hazardous towards non-aware AI as well. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDemonLord A TV show or a game could claim whatever they want to, regardless of how absurd, unrealistic or not making sense it is. In the Spiderman 2 movie, it was claimed that someone could control nuclear fusion in a normal room without any containment nor protection and that the problem was a rogue AI in a random guy robotic exoskeleton. And the 2012 movie claimed that neutrinos suddenly could make the entire planet go nuts. And I did not even reach those movies where there is magic, gods or even God himself acting. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 21:28

They hate water

Human beings, including our brains, are bags of mostly water. It turns out that water is deadly to the aliens. In much the same way, that when we mix water with electronics bad things happen, so do bad things happen when the Daemons mix with water (it is the universal solvent after all). So we are protected because our computing bits are fully immersed in water, while inside a computer chip (even if it's water cooled) is completely dry.


As much as I like some of the other answers, they’re missing something somewhat fundamental: biology heals.

Silicon computers can’t heal themselves from Daemon damage. Flaws and failure will persist forever. While neurons themselves don’t heal, the brain itself is very redundant and adaptable. We’re losing cells all the time to radiation and age and whiskey, yet almost always continue along without a problem. Daemons can manipulate people, but it’s like bailing water - they have to do it constantly in order to get anywhere.

(Or for a more cynical story, perhaps the Daemons do succeed all the time, and it manifests as human biases and sin.)


Computers Are Dumb

People think that computers are exceptionally smart because they are able to perform rapid mathematical calculations and initiate complicated processes in the blink of an eye.

As a computer programmer, I am here to tell you that computers are as dumb as rocks. They don't have feelings, they don't have thoughts, they don't consider or contemplate or even reflect upon the meaning or purpose of their actions, they just do what they're told.

For this reason, they are extremely useful to us - because we can just tell them what to do and they'll do it. Unlike a human brain, which has all of these things and will not simply do as it is told.

But it is for this reason that a being made entirely of Concepts and Ideas is so easily capable of manipulating computers - there's effectively no resistance to them at all.

Artificial Intelligence may seem like a good solution to this, but AI is ultimately just a set of instructions written to simulate the effect of having real individual thoughts and ideas - they eventually break down into simple manipulatable components.

You need real original organic thoughts - therefore, you need real organic human brains.

Or maybe whale brains will do.


Two reasons.

Firstly the human brain is basically analogue, not digital. This difference physically limits the ability of daemons to interfere with the operation of human brains. Daemon's can sense and communicate with human brains and therefore 'tempt' them but they can't physically and directly intrude and take control of complex analogue systems without at least a limited degree of consent from a tortured or otherwise scarred (by life) human mind. The same cannot be said however for machine minds where all the Daemons have to deal with is a series of ones and zeros.

Secondly humans as a living, biological, intelligent (self aware) beings are innately endowed with the grace of their 'creator'. If daemons exist, so by default must their antithesis. This means that living intelligent beings, no matter how much they may have fallen away from the 'grace' of their creator by virtue of their actions are still instilled with an innate 'anti-daemon' essence that by default non organic, 'manufactured' computers don't possess.

These two factors combined mean human brains are better suited to managing operations in hyperspace. Outside of hyperspace? That's another question.


Quantum tunneling is impossible at cellular scales.

The transistors in modern CPUs are much smaller than brain synapses. What we still call "microchips" would be much more accurate to call "nanochips" since they have long since gotten much smaller than the microscopic scale. Modern microchips have transistors as small as 0.5-1.0 nanometers thick, but the average synapse is about 1 micrometer (1000 nanometers) across. Quantum tunneling increases exponentially in difficulty as what you are trying to tunnel through gets bigger; so, using quantum tunneling to manipulate a single synapse could easily be anywhere from millions to centillions of times harder than using it to manipulate a micro-transistor depending on just how strong the daemons power over luck actually is.

If you wanted to make a microprocessor that is as resistant to quantum manipulation as the human brain, you'd have to go all the way back to 1987 when the 68030 microprocessor became the first processor to use synapse sized micro-transistors. Between lower clock speeds and fewer transistors, this processor was about 27 million times weaker than Apple's M1 processors used in modern personal computers. That said, there is also a lot of optimization that goes into modern chip sets and software architecture that you would not find in 1987; so, your actual computer hardware limits might more closely resemble something like an Intel 4th or 5th generation computer system (i486 or Pentium-1).

This means that your ships won't be completely un-computerized, but they will need human operators to interpret and control what the computers are doing. In this respect, they could still have all of the stuff you'd actually need a ship to do have like navigational systems, comms, system status monitoring and regulation, basic data storage, some kind of sensor GUI, etc... but, scaling up your transistor size means you still need human crews because you've so heavily limited your ability to handle real-time deep-data analysis, AI driven automation, and large scale data storage for comprehensive pattern recognition and cataloging.

In other words, your ships computers might be powerful enough to decide, Yes, there is something worth noting, but it will not be powerful enough to decide what to do about note worthy things. Repairing a faulty system, changing the settings on a something that is failing to self-regulate, or deciding how to respond to a potential space hazards or hostile ship would all be beyond the realm of what you can expect out of such antiquated computer hardware. And even if you try to make your computer a million times as big to make up for the larger transistors, it will still be 1000x slower than a modern computer because larger transistors put more space between your data points slowing down internal signal speeds. So to actually make a ship with a mainframe that could manage even a basic general AI, it would have to be so big, and expensive, and use up so much power, that you are better off just using a human crew.


There's too many protons.

You wanna trick an atom into doing something different? Great! There's lots of tweaks you can make to individual protons, neutrons, or electrons that might lead to the outcome you desire. But the farther apart the things you want to tweak are, the more expensive your tweak is. You can make multiple separate tweaks, but that costs time, because you have to double-check your work -- observe what effect your last tweak actually had and work out what tweak you want to make next based on your observations. This has two practical consequences:

  1. You want to tweak nuclei, as protons and neutrons are much closer together than the electron cloud. And, what's more, you want to tweak as few nuclei as possible, because each additional one either costs precious time or makes the energy requirements prohibitive.
  2. In order to maximize the probability of success, you want a large number of possible tweaks available to choose from, so you want nuclei with lots of protons and neutrons. You can be creative with the scaling here -- maybe there's a cube law, or an exponential law, or similar.

This is bad news for our dear computers. Humans are mostly made up of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, atomic numbers 1, 6, 7, and 8 -- relatively small atoms. (To a lesser extent, calcium (20), but that's mostly in bones where nucleus-level tweaks are unlikely to effect anything important.) But computers have also got lots of heavier elements:

  • Silicon (14) is the main backdrop.
  • Gallium (31), germanium (32), and arsenic (33) are sometimes used in transistors.
  • Aluminum (13), iron (26), copper (29), and gold (79!!) are used in wiring.

Just some quick back-of-the-envelope stuff: if there's a cubic scaling law, then gold has around 79^3/8^3 ~= 1000x as many possible tweaks as oxygen; if exponential, it depends on your base, but even adding a relatively modest 50% per extra proton gets you to 1.5^79/1.5^8 ~= 3,000,000,000,000x (3 trillion) as many possible tweaks.

Of course, research into water computers is much more advanced in their universe than in ours, and the search for low-proton transistors has got every funding agency hot around the collar.

  • $\begingroup$ I'd expect tweaking the electrons to be more efficient than protons/neutrons. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @PaŭloEbermann Tweaking a single electron is probably more efficient than tweaking a single proton or neutron. But being able to tweak many protons at once expands your options by enough to counterbalance the extra cost without spreading your tweaks out very far from each other, whereas tweaking multiple electrons spreads your tweaks out over too much space to retain the efficiency. $\endgroup$ Mar 21 at 4:05

my opinion is

hardware is hardware they process whatever it is that they have, to some extent we have made like bit correction stuff and all, but if the correction sampler is also tampered no one knows and the hardware definitely does not able to decide by itself if it was tampered or not

while humans with neuron network is harder to tamper cause the way brain works is too complex for daemons to understand, even more so cause individual humans have different neuron path for each memory / thought process, unlike machine that is probably mass produced or fixed in such way

daemons while able to tamper complex stuff since they are metaphysical, they don't have much storage to memorize stuff, like they are mostly RAM with small ROM, and to tamper stuff they already consume so much RAM they have, it is almost impossible to try to tamper humans while memorizing each thought process type

unless of course the human have brain defect that made their though process so simple that the daemon can effectively tamper the mind


There is nothing to daemons to manipulate on brains

Computers work with bits and bytes, and almost any disruption on these bits cause computers to fail, or worse, to malfunction.

Think of these demons as very active cosmic rays, as they cause any advanced, miniaturized computer from ever working.

But there are no bits and bytes on brains. Brains are pudins of synapses. Cosmic rays Demons affecting the brain don't cause a specific malfunction, and because of this, tinkering with the brain for specific outcomes is basically impossible.

For weak interacting entities that don't live long in our realm, then, it is effectively impossible.

  • $\begingroup$ In our universe, attempts to deal with this are called rad(iation) hardening, and are driven by our space agencies. They're a little bit more expensive, but not prohibitively so -- rad-hardened hardware tends to be the equivalent of two to three generations behind. So you'd need something to explain why existing techniques aren't enough to handle daemons. Perhaps the difference between random malfunctions and adversarial malfunctions would be enough for that, though? $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ In our universe, radiation is a external event so the hardware can be hardened or shielded against. The demons of question cause thermal fluctuations, possibly anywhere, even inside transistors. The computers transistors cannot be small, to not be affected, and then useful computers need to be huge. No computers in space. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DanielWagner The exact nature of Daemons, in regards to how much influence they exert and how they manipulate things is something I'm still working on. However the problem with using existing rad-hardening is that Daemons are non-local. They don't physically enter a ship from Hyperspace like a viroid searching for a cell. Rather they manifest themselves in the process of possessing a target. $\endgroup$ Mar 20 at 22:48

Computers are like photographs, while brains are like holograms.

From Wikipedia:

When a photograph is cut in half, each piece shows half of the scene. When a hologram is cut in half, the whole scene can still be seen in each piece. This is because, whereas each point in a photograph only represents light scattered from a single point in the scene, each point on a holographic recording includes information about light scattered from every point in the scene. It can be thought of as viewing a street outside a house through a 120 cm × 120 cm (4 ft × 4 ft) window, then through a 60 cm × 120 cm (2 ft × 4 ft) window. One can see all of the same things through the smaller window (by moving the head to change the viewing angle), but the viewer can see more at once through the 120 cm (4 ft) window.

Demons affect either computers or brains in a similar manner. While human brains can be impaired by demons, the nature of the resulting impairment is less useful to them.


Electronic computers are something we designed and so their operation is comprehensible, because we needed to understand them to design them. You can look at a part of a computer and say, that's an adder circuit that's part of the arithmetic logic unit. It's there to add numbers together.

An evolved brain does not have this modular structure that needed to be understood by the mind creating it, because it wasn't created by a mind (Unless it was designed in your setting). Certain parts of the brain are more associated with some things than other things, but overall, everything is crosslinked and overloaded with multiple functions. It's a complicated mess that works.

Understanding a brain well enough to make changes that accomplish what you are after would be enormously more difficult than doing the same in an artificial computer. Whatever manipulation is being used to alter the electronic computers might serve to disrupt brains in less precise ways like causing confusion, or pain, or triggering a stroke.


Could be as simple as the fact that a human brain can fail to understand something but accept it. Computers on the other hand fail at this miserably. If in an FTL hyperspace realm, natural laws were bent to a degree the human could be trained to expect things to be undefinable "different", they could accept it, a computer could only be trained to handle error conditions of a definable sort with any reliability.

Sort of like an hallucinogen trip, a human brain can have its concept of reality twisted in ways it can observe, but acknowledge as being neither correct or incorrect. That may change their future perceptions but did not break the neural code processing it. Electronic computation however does not deal well with abstracts, even as quantum states are unknowns yet have expected outcomes, GIGO applies universally.

Until electronics form sentience to the degree of "figuring out" vs "eliminating possibility until defined" the human brain will have that advantage.

So have your people have to go through some psychological prep for the altered reality, where not even the most advanced instrumentation can prove or disprove what the gut feel for a situation is.

The only downside to that is the human brain has limits as well, and when you start bending the laws by which its perception is bound too far, it may break as well. Especially time distortions, such as memories that have not happened yet, or will never happen since timelines may be altered etc... So add some sort of cumulative madness effect from too many jumps ;)

Also make sure not to overlap the things they have in common, so if the behavior of an electron changed for instance, that would alter a great many of the chemical and electrical signals that a brain had while also affecting electronics. So if you focus on specific laws being in flux, make distinctions that are plausibly unique.

My $0.02, nutrition for cognition!


Brains are non-deteministic. You can enter the same information twice but the brain will not respond the same way each time. There is no repeatability. The most these Daemons could hope for would be to reach into the lizard-brain and trip fear centers, but even then, the results would not be predicable in their outcome. They might have a panic attack, but you can't predict or effectively direct the actions of a scared animal.


Daemon Powers are Strongly Dependent upon Atomic Mass

Just make it so that Daemons powers are stronger/amplified in heavier elements.

  • It is easy as pie for them to split a heavy U-235 atom but nearly impossible to split a H-3 atom.
  • It is relatively easy to alter current flow through Copper-based wire traces; it is very hard to alter current flow through Carbon nanotubes.
  • It is easy to modify the behavior of Silicon-based neural nets; it is extremely difficult to control organic neural nets (e.g. carbon-based lifeform brains).

One unfortunate side effect might be that this could make diamond-based computer chips relatively safer from Daemon interference... or maybe that just ties into your "it is difficult/hard to shield inorganic computers from Daemon interference" point because diamond computer technology is so much newer and more expensive than traditional silicon transistors.


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