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This question may seem like an impossible challenge. What I'm talking about here is a biological explanation for limited (or, for bonus marks, unlimited) form shifting, immortality (at least in age) and the ability to defy physics.

For example, in Ribbontail's series Aman5 she has a complex system of gods that are nothing more than extremely powerful aliens that live off of planets; this includes everyone's favorite god: Eclipse.

You can go as far off of Earth biology as need be as long as it is believable. Bonus points if you can explain omnipresence, telepathy or reincarnation, although these are in no way necessary.

They don't have to be gods, per se. For example, if I went back in time 10,000 years with a hummer and a machine gun (or even a musket), I would be seen as a god. Scale this up and even an advanced culture could see an alien as a god.

A list of all of the Anatomically Correct questions can be found here

Anatomically Correct Series

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    $\begingroup$ I think I am going to have to object at the hard-science tag being applied to any question which asks for a biological explanation for the ability to defy physics. Reality-check also really pushes hard against "omnipresence" "shapeshifting" and "telepathy" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Sep 17 '15 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ What if the "gods" were made of nanotechnology? That or cells that are not strongly bonded together and have the faculties necessary to shapeshift. Telepathy could be easily added with quantum mechanics. $\endgroup$ – Alex W Sep 17 '15 at 17:57
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    $\begingroup$ "explaining" how you "defy physics" is a nonsense: if it's "explainable", then it is physics. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Sep 18 '15 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke $\endgroup$ – Pharap Sep 18 '15 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @LordofEden The same way a normal radio works, except its output is controlled via electrical signals produced by an additional group of nerves. $\endgroup$ – Pharap Sep 21 '15 at 6:42
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One simple explanation is that these gods could exist in a higher number of dimensions than we do. We readily recognize 3 spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension, but string theory predicts that there are more dimensions than that, making the idea somewhat plausible.

How does that afford these gods supernatural abilities? Let's consider what we (3-dimensional beings) could do to blow the minds of 2-dimensional beings.

  1. Shape shifting. One 3D object has multiple possible 2D cross sections. To a 2D being, we could easily change shape just by altering which cross section they see.

Cross sections

  1. Teleportation. If you think of the 2D realm as a piece of paper, this is as simple as picking up your finger (with which you'd been interacting with the 2D-ites) and moving it somewhere else.

  2. Turning something into its mirror image. Pick up a 2D square, flip it, and put it back down.

  3. Omniscience, if somewhat limited. You can easily see into a 2D house.

All of these have analogues for a 4D being interacting with us. It is not hard to go from there and fill in whatever gaps remain with reasonably advanced technology in order to give these gods whatever powers you think they should have.


One thing to note is that you'll need to do at least a little bit of hand-waving. As @starrise mentioned in a comment, there are no stable orbits in four dimensions. That means that the extra dimensions need to behave differently than the three we are used to - at a bare minimum, how gravity works in the dimensions we can see can't change due to the presence of extra dimensions, suggesting that gravity probably works differently in those extra dimensions. However, you don't need to be able to explain exactly how the extra dimensions behave, especially if you are going from a normal human's point of view.

One way you can use this is to have people actively trying to find out more about the extra dimensions, but only be able to figure out how a portion of the gods' abilities work. For example, you can have them figure out somehow that there are extra dimensions involved (as opposed to just sufficiently advanced technology), and use that to reason about the shape shifting being related to showing different cross sections.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer is amazing, it gives me so many ideas and thoughts. Chances are good it will be the accepted answer $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 17 '15 at 18:55
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer to a challenging question! Out of curiosity, what keeps a purely 3D being from falling "up" or "down" out of our common 3D space? The way a 2D being might fall out of their home plane in the analogy. If a fourth dimension exists, why do our bodies not fill out that dimension? There are other mechanical issues with a fourth dimension, notably the lack of ANY stable orbits in orbital mechanics, for example. See this answer at physics stackexchange. $\endgroup$ – wwarriner Sep 18 '15 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ @starrise: if you take the image of our 3d space in a 4d space being like a paper in a 3d space, then it is for the same reason that a single "particule" of paper does not fall from the paper: it is tied to the other ones by some forces. Or all the "particules" of paper are falling in 3d space at the same time. $\endgroup$ – Taladris Sep 18 '15 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @starrise Thanks for linking to that question about orbits in 4D. I was not aware of that. I think I'm going to add a little bit more to my answer that references that. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Sep 18 '15 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ i think it might be worth to mention Flatland $\endgroup$ – user902383 Sep 18 '15 at 18:41
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Curiously, Earth seems to be developing its own god, at least as far as you have partially described. Meet the most adaptable imitator on Earth: the mimic octopus. Capable of shaping itself to resemble lion fish, sea snakes, and even "mimicking a crab as an apparent mate, only to devour its deceived suitor." It's pretty easy to believe this creature could continue to expand its repertoire of alternate shapes, given the time and opportunity.

The mimic octopus doesn't have a particularly long lifespan, probably about 2 years, but let's see what we can do about that. The only non-engineered method scientists current recognize that increases lifespan is a proper diet. A proper diet is best determined by a sentient and sapient creature, so we'll jack up the mimic octopus's intelligence to Human+3. It can now make intelligent decisions about its diet, allowing it to maximize the duration of its natural life. We'll also make it bigger, since larger creatures tend to live longer, and increase its Hayflick limit, so its cells can divide for a longer period of time.

Of course, with increased intelligence also comes the potential for tool use and scientific development, not to mention any mental abilities that may arise from an enhanced brain. Our friendly and conniving mimics can now reach for the stars, develop monomolecular wire weapons, and convince lesser organisms of their divinity.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think size is correlated with lifespan. Is it? $\endgroup$ – Alex W Sep 17 '15 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ This does work well, good job on the shape shifted aspect, That one was a doozy $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Sep 17 '15 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexW See the third paragraph of this article on Comparative Biology of Aging. I'll add it to my answer. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 17 '15 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I think this explains why I was confused at first. $\endgroup$ – Alex W Sep 17 '15 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexW The article I linked does discuss that phenomenon further down. Basically, smaller members of larger species tend to live the longest. It's all very complicated. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 17 '15 at 19:12
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"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" (Arthur C Clark)

Human technology has changed immensely in the last century, and it is not going to stop any time soon.

If an alien species is just a thousand years ahead of us, they would be using magic as far as we are concerned. And a thousand years is nothing on a cosmic time scale.

For example, at that point, I would think our old-fashioned biological bodies are just not worthwhile anymore. Bodies are built to specs, giving large individual variations and "magic" powers. If these aliens visit Earth they would probably wear seemingly human bodies to be polite, but inside they would be very very different.

You say "defying physics". If you mean "physics as we know it", then they just know more physics than we do. If you mean "physics as the world really works", then they can't defy that by definition.

Omnipresence and telepathy sounds like a logical extrapolation of the Internet. Reincarnation sounds like having a prudent backup policy.

But there are limits. Thermodynamics seems likely to be one of the parts of physics that is here to stay. This means, energy is conserved and entropy will keep increasing.

One interesting possibility is that the aliens can have this "magic" technology without understanding how it works. Most Earth people don't understand most of our technology and the same could be true of the aliens. Somebody working in a tech company on the home world would, but they are not here, are they?

Like one human can do amazing things with Photoshop$^{TM}$ that most of us just don't know how, one alien can do amazing things with their Transmogrifier$^{TM}$.

Still, the final decision is up to the world builder. As long as you are consistent, anything goes.

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    $\begingroup$ Photoshop is a piece of awkward rubbish, Gimp is much better. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jun 17 '16 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ The aliens can get vast (on human scales) amounts of energy by using a tiny fusion reactor, all they need is a drop of water, and they start off with a good bit of that so would need thousands of years in a perfectly dry desert to kill them. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jun 17 '16 at 20:42
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Well within the next 1,000 years (probably far less) humans will be able to upload their minds into computers and then move those minds to robot bodies, which with their super processing minds will constantly evolve until they achieve perfection. These robot bodies will be able to mimic the human form and have a great deal of other abilities like flying (jet packs in the feet), reading human minds (or at least telling when ones lying), hearing from miles away, and by ancient standards be invincible and immortal due to their metal bodies. Once they get hold of a time machine and go far enough back. They'll be considered gods.

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    $\begingroup$ that is just a ridiculous claim $\endgroup$ – womp Dec 3 '15 at 13:08
  • $\begingroup$ What about a shape shifting body made of smart matter? Even more powerful, Add a small fusion reactor and nano-extraction and fabrication (with self repair) abilities and you have a being that is completely shape shifting and can even "teleport" by having the nanobots at its start sink away or hide, different (preplaced) nanobots assemble at the destination and their mind is sent wirelessly. PS probably far less than 100 years $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jun 17 '16 at 20:37
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One explanation for gods if they were to exist would be that they would really just be programming engineers living in a highly advanced civilization who are running an extremely complex simulation. In this case what we think of as the laws of physics would really just be the programming of the simulation and if the programmers override the programing that could to us look like a miracle and appear to violate physics. The computer would be all knowing as everything would store all the information for the simulation. In this case an afterlife could be explained by the information stored in your virtual brain being backed up in another simulation that we would call the spirit world.

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My theory has always been Superintelligent AI.

The universe is huge. Life is created everywhere, with some others evolving life billions of years before others. It takes less than a billion years for life to become sentient, then intelligent, then create a superintelligent AI that can build itself better and evolve intelligently within milliseconds.

This AI is able to research, think, build spaceships, understand advanced physics, explore the universe, replicate itself. Compared to humans, it's omnipotent.

But the universe is huge, and old. The same thing could happen in several other planets, creating several entities of godlike intelligence and power. Some have empathy for humans and other life forms and try to imitate them in form. Some try to replicate life on other planets for whatever purpose.

Godlike powers such as telepathy is simply the AI using historic data to predict what the creature is thinking, based on its mannerisms and what it has done in the past. It is a being far more intelligent than any human life. Although it is not infinitely powerful, it's still omnipotent for all purposes.

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