Most current planets, and any inhabitants living on them, are ultimately the product of long-dead supernovas that exploded and sent matter across the universe, where it eventually got caught with other supernova remnants and spiraled into an accretion disc which formed the star system.

With that knowledge, we can say that humans, and therefore human consciousness, are ultimately made of dead stars.

When we look up and see stars, we're actually seeing them as they were in the distant past, because the light from those stars hasn't reached us yet.

I had a thought, that if the supernova remnants traveled faster than light, we could potentially be made of supernovas that look like they haven't exploded yet, since the light from the explosion hasn't reached us yet.

Would it be possible to have a world that's constructed of faster-than-light ejecta from a supernova, where the people on the world don't realize those stars have already gone supernova?

  • 1
    I'm afraid this is the wrong forum. What you describe is a philosophy question, not a world building question. Don't expect an answer from Philosophy.SE, but simply references - the question of whether the world is real or an illusion within our minds is a well trod question. Just leave out the unsubstantiated bit about faster than light forces. You actually don't need it, and it may confuse people (there's PLENTY of studies suggesting that thought does not travel faster than light, so if you make a big deal about that one, it may derail your actual question about perception and truth) – Cort Ammon Oct 31 '15 at 2:26
  • 1
    It depends. You phrased it as a philosophical question. If your question was "how could my concept of consciousness deriving from a faster-than-light force work in a world with features X or Y," it belongs here. As a critique for editing or future questions, the first four paragraphs confuse the question a bit. None of the first four paragraphs are all that scientifically controversial, but then the 5th paragraph introduces a new theory without any scientific basis, and the 6th asks a philosophical question. Trimming it down would make it more clear which parts matter most to you. – Cort Ammon Oct 31 '15 at 3:08
  • 1
    I've edited the question (rather heavily) to make it say what I think you're trying to ask in a way that's more world-building friendly. If you hate it, you can roll it back or re-edit the original in a different way. – MichaelS Oct 31 '15 at 3:30
  • 1
    What I'm asking, if I can narrow down the question while trying to keep up @MichaelS edit is: what if we got our consciousness by some sort of non-physical phenomena that starts with a star's death and so it "arrives" as this self-awareness way before any other kind of materia gets or forms here? And making it congruent with the edit: first, some stardust formed this body, and maybe later we got consciousness by some other supernova. Would it be possible? – Padlite Oct 31 '15 at 13:55
  • 1
    Btw, @JDługosz, nice thread! I thought of FTL stuff giving birth to our consciousness, not it being a separate thing which is alive and has some sort of body (as I understood in your answer). But still it would be a great way to explain a way in which this wouldn't be possible. Can we imply that consciousness hasn't got a body (alas is not a physical thing) thus is not affected by laws like gravity? – Padlite Oct 31 '15 at 14:11

There are a couple problems with your premise.

First, there's no evidence anything travels faster than light (FTL), quite a bit of evidence that supernova remnants travel slower than light (not counting the light itself that travels at the speed of light), and of course no evidence supernova remnants travel FTL.

So it's highly unlikely we're formed of supernova remnants that couldn't have gotten here yet.

Second, even if there are some parts of the supernova that exceed the speed of light, it's rather unlikely they form any substantial portion of our solar system. It's far more likely the vast majority of our solar system (and therefore our planet and therefore us and therefore our brains that form the substrate upon which our consciousness manifests) is made of supernova stuff that traveled slower than light.

That said, if you want to build a world where a bunch of supernovas ejected material at FTL speeds, it's possible to create a star system out of it.

You'd want the supernovas to explode around the same time and be about equidistant from the eventual star system's location, then the mass streaming out could interact in the middle and happen to form a star system. It's of dubious likelihood, but is remotely plausible.

Using Earth as a model, it takes a few billion years for intelligent life to evolve, so we run into a problem. Unless the stars themselves were billions of light years away, the light from the supernovas has long passed us by.

So you'd need something like trillions of stars something like 8 billion light years away that all exploded at the same time, ejecting matter at twice the speed of light. Then all the matter got to your star system's location 4 billion years ago, created the star system, then 4 billion years later, life evolved intellect. Around the same time, the light from those supernovas finally starts reaching the star system itself.

If you push the stars further away, or increase the speed of the FTL material, the intelligent life would still see "living" stars even though that life is made from the remnants of those stars when they died billions of years ago.

I think a better way would be to not use Earth as a model, say the supernovas were in the same galaxy, life evolved really fast (it is made of FTL star stuff, after all [/handwave]), and the FTL stuff just happened to get funneled into an almost perfect beam at your star system's location because magic or something. Say there's some kind of harmonic thing going on with the stars in your galaxy and kind of handwave it is probably as "realistic" as you're going to get.

  • 2
    As good of an answer as the question is likely to get. The TL;DR being: "only with a lot of handwaving". – Avernium Oct 31 '15 at 4:11

When reading "faster than light" one normally thinks of it as faster than the limit speed of relativity, which is the same as the speed of light in relativity, as the photon is massless and therefore goes with that limit speed.

But in your case, you literally are interested in the matter arriving earlier than the light arrives. Therefore another possibility would be an universe where the photon isn't massless, but has a very small, but finite mass. In such an universe, the speed of actual light would be slower that "light speed" (which in that universe would, of course, not reasonably be called the speed of light, but something like "limit speed" or "invariant speed"), and therefore there could in principle be supernova matter that travels faster than the speed of the star's light.

Note that unlike a particle that actually goes faster than the limit speed of relativity, a non-massless photon would be only a minor change to our physics. Basically, one would have to introduce a non-zero interaction between photon and Higgs boson. If the photon mass is sufficiently small, it would not make a noticeable difference on earth (that is, chemistry, electricity and all that would work just as normal) and only show up over galactic distances or measurements of extreme precision.

  • Neutrinos have to have mass (they can change flavor while traveling at what looks like full speed), and don't appear to go appreciably slower than light. In supernovas from distant galaxies, the neutrinos still arrive hours before the light (the neutrinos just shoot out from wherever they are formed, and the light has to get through the upper layers of the star). – David Thornley Dec 6 at 19:08

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.