In a steampunk/futuristic world, the apprentices of a cyberneticist (ex: Dr. Soong from Star Trek: TNG) are involved in a serious accident that requires the use of prostheses in place of large parts of their bodies. Created by their mentor, the prostheses make use of a specific solution in order to maintain their complex processing power. When the apprentices are separated from him (and his notes), however, they aren't entirely sure how to replicate this solution but do come to understand how to implement blood in its place. Therefore, the apprentices are pretty much cyborg "vampires", minus the traditional curse.

I was curious, though:

Following in the theme of "synthetic vampires", would a byproduct of the cybernetic prostheses cause a mirror to not reflect their images, but allow them to still be visible to the average person? What would this side effect be and how would it cause this occurrence? If it is necessary for a reasonable answer, only obscuring the reflected image is fine. Other metallic/etc. objects with reflective properties should likely have the same issue mirrors do, but pools of water are not a major area of concern. Too, if something needs to be added onto the systems for an answer to work, I wouldn't mind as long as you explain it (for example, adding light absorption as a backup power system, but how would that cause the entire person to become invisible to mirrors alone, and wouldn't that be a better alternative to a solution based system? invisibility would be a last resort).

Please, try to keep magic out of this, as this leans more towards science fiction than fantasy. Edit: Magic would be defined as a power that comes from within a person or living and/or organic being, while technology grants power externally. For example, fire magic comes from the life force or specific energy/mana connected to a soul or spirit within a being, and the strength and size of the fire rely on just how much of this specific energy or strength is present within the individual. On the other hand, the ability to produce fire using a flamethrower does not count as magic, as it relies on some external, nonliving object's properties rather than the individual's abilities alone. Even though you pulled the trigger, you technically didn't light the already flammable gasoline with some kind of power within you, you just were a factor in the function of the object. I hope that cleared things up a bit.


Edit: I was thinking that the reflection would be invisible to everyone, including the cyborg, though I am curious as to why only the cyborg would not able to see itself. I realize this question gets a little impractical with the current criteria, so the current answers given are highly appreciated.

I am intrigued by Philipp's brilliant answer to a similar question regarding vampires of the magical sort, but I'd prefer answers regarding glass mirrors.

If you're curious about the solution/blood as a power source, here is an interesting related article from Wired.

Thank you for your help.

  • $\begingroup$ My intuition is that it would be a form of camouflage, but being it hidden from reflections but not the naked eye is the issue. $\endgroup$
    – Theraot
    Jan 16, 2016 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ Two questions: first is what is your definition of "magic" to keep out of this? It's a very broad term, and some of the answers so far already push the limits of Arthur C. Clarke's "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The second: does it really need to be invisible to everyone, or is just invisible to the cyborg themselves good enough? There's actually some really nifty mathematical reasons a cyborg might be unable to see itself, if they are useful. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jan 17, 2016 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Fixed. Thanks, I should've defined magic when I first asked the question. $\endgroup$
    – Wylia
    Jan 18, 2016 at 0:32

8 Answers 8


There's no physical way to achieve this. Whatever you see in a mirror is what you would see if you were in the position where the cyborg sees you in the mirror. The light that is reflected by a mirror is physically no different than the light reaching your eyes directly.

Well, unless the mirror is not a true mirror, but actually also some holographic nanotechnology that actively produces the "mirror" image. Then the software could detect cyborgs and omit them from the mirrored image, replacing them with extrapolations of what should be seen if there were no cyborg there. An interesting effect would be that there might be errors in the mirror image behind the cyborg when the software incorrectly determines what should be there (for example, if there's an object behind the cyborg the software doesn't know about, it will be invisible until it is no longer covered by the cyborg, at which point it will suddenly "spring into existence" in the mirror image).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If we are allowed "not real" mirrors; a polarising filter over the mirror is all we need. The human eye can't differentiate polarised light so if the cyborg gave off only polarised light we wouldn't care but the right polarising filter (basically that allows only the other polarisation through) would filter the image out. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2016 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @RichardTingle: Good point. However that way the cyborg would still appear as dark blob in the mirror (as there's no light from behind that it could reflect). So the cyborg would not exactly be invisible, but basically reduced to a "shadow". $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Jan 17, 2016 at 22:31

As @celtschk correctly points out, if your droid is visible to the naked eye, so will be its reflection, meaning if this were a (hard-science) question, there wouldn't be much hope! However, in the spirit of your chosen (science-fiction) tag, here is what I would suggest:

Phase shifted vampires

Due to the immense density of circuitry required to create advanced, compact humanoid cybernetics, the cybernetics expert had to take advantage of singularities (black holes) for compact information storage.

Real science: (or at least my limited understanding of very complex, new theories) in 2015, Stephen Hawking published a paper that makes progress on the black hole information paradox, which (essentially!) means that (in theory!) it is possible to reconstruct information that went in to a black hole. In practice, we have no idea how this would be done, and it's likely to be extremely difficult, to say the least.

Back to sci-fi: That theory is just the kind of thing you can let your imagination loose on: several decades or centuries from now, it seems believable to me that physicists could crack that riddle and actually come up with some sort of practical means of using black holes for information.

The black holes would have to be massive enough not to evaporate, and that's just a wee bit more massive than your average vampire could carry around in his shirt pocket, so they do one better: "store" the black holes in deep space somewhere and use a revolutionary phase shifting technology to allow portions of their circuitry to oscillate between our normal spatial dimensions and higher orthogonal dimensions that we can't perceive directly, so they can essentially vibrate between two places at once, to take advantage of their black hole circuits (perhaps a "singularity processing unit" or SPU).

Mirrors. What does this have to do with mirrors?

Since the vampires are oscillating between spatial dimensions, their appearance would be illusory, ghost-like, possibly with distorted flickering to make matters even more interesting. (Fine, fine, energies would be interesting, too...)

In order to combat these visual artifacts and appear more normal, the vampires augment their appearance with embedded holographic projectors that use precisely-tuned streams of photons at harmonic and sub-harmonic frequencies to counteract the ghost and flicker artifacts.

But there's a catch: holography has a lot of problems (personal black holes are one thing. Getting photons to stop in mid-air is quite another.) The best technology available to your scientists is holographic projectors that send a narrow beam of light directly into the eyes of each nearby observer, for a kind of augmented reality, so they see the vampire normally.

The observer's eyes are located using advanced real-time facial recognition and eye tracking software (we have limited versions of such software today; it's very plausible to think that technology would continue to improve).

The punchline, finally!

The limitation of that eye-projection hologram software, though, is that it wasn't designed to calculate reflections or refractive indexes of transparent materials, which is why your vampires appear distorted in mirrors or other reflective surfaces.

"Distorted" is one of your options. To make them "invisible," just stretch the above description I gave about how ghostly they appear to the naked eye without their projection system.

Other ideas that result from this

Shadows could be equally problematic. Any idiot with a flashlight can project light, but it's impossible to project "dark"! Therefore, to create (or enhance) shadows that the vampire ought to be casting, perhaps the most straightforward method would be to project more light; basically light up the entire room more, except for the surface(s) that have been darkened by the shadow. The observer would see a brighter room, but their eyes/brain would quickly (and somewhat unconsciously) adjust, and they would see a shadow.

However, the shadow might not fully work around corners, which could provide some interesting fictional opportunities indeed.


A little similar to type outcasts answer, but it could be that the cyborgs are always invisible. Phase shifted or 4th dimensional or made from a nano particle cloud that's to fine to see or something else.

When one is present it leaves a mental image to anyone in the room, kind of like when you catch something out of the corner of your eye that looks like one thing, but when you look at it directly it's something else.
Or when you quickly glance at a paragraph of text on a page and see a word that's not there when you actually read it. (hopefully that's not just me)
If one is in the room with you your mind knows it's there and tries to reconcile it with reality by causing hallucinations, but this doesn't extend to reflections.

If it was more fantasy I'd maybe suggest it being a psychic effect or glamour, but it's not really needed. Our brains are pretty good at filling in blanks with things that aren't really there when it needs to.


While my answer is a little bit round-about, I think I've come up with a somewhat-scientifically-plausible method of incorporating almost all of the major vampirical characteristics into your cyborg characters.

Problem: Vampires burn in sunlight

Solution: In order to prevent infections following their cybernetic procedures, the vampires' immune systems were enhanced to circulate some futuristic disinfectant, including some intensified version of the modern disinfectant Sulfonamide, which is known to increase the skin's sensitivity to sunlight. Presuming that the futuristic disinfectant was sufficiently enhanced and properly circulated throughout the body, this could potentially lead to the vampires burning when exposed to sunlight or intense ultraviolet radiation.

Problem: Vampires have adverse reactions to garlic

Solution: Keeping that the key feature in the enhanced immune systems of the vampires is Sulfonamide, perhaps the artificial immune system's maintenence mechanism would identify this chemical simply by testing for it's sulfur-base. This would give other chemicals sharing the same base as well as a similar structure (for example, the allinaise chemical which gives garlic it's smell) an opportunity to enter the system without being rejected by the maintenence mechanism. Consequently, if enough of these substances made their way into the vampire's immune system, they could imbalance it, causing a server, artificial allergic reaction, possibly killing the vampire.

Problem: Vampires are often portrayed as being extremely attractive.

Solution: Following their cybernetic procedures, the vampires found it almost impossible to blend in amongst non-cybernetically-enhanced humans. Consequently, they made the decision to equip themselves with small, personal holographic devices, which would function as follows: the first 1/3 of the projector would maintain a bulk-concealment field (a photonic field which traps incoming photons and releases then at their original trajectory on the opposite side of the concealed object). At the same time, the second 1/3 of the projector would maintain a constant photonic field surrounding the vampire, while the remaining part of it repeatedly scanned for people toward which the vampire's pseudo-appearance would be projected.

Problem: (finally) Vampires don't show up on film or in reflections.

Solution: While the photon-targeting & target-recognition systems utilized by the holographic projector would be good enough to target another human in the room (say by their heat-signature), they would be unable to compensate for targets such as a mirror or a camera, as neither of those are recognized as human. Consequently, the vampire's holographic disguises would experience a wired glitch, where while their projection would not be visible in their reflection, their bulk-concealment field would prevent an onlooker from distinguishing their true firm in the mirror either.

While my explanation for this strange phenomenon may be a little bit excessive, I hope you find it useful in solving your problem.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome! Decent answer, although your points about garlic and sunlight don't seem to have anything to do with the question being asked. ("Attractive" is tangentially related since your answer uses the same technology to solve both.) A little bit of unrelated "extra" information is fine (and even welcome, in many cases), but just be careful to keep the bulk of your future answers on topic and consider saving your other ideas for future questions! Two other answers use "holograms," but I feel your approach here is novel enough. $\endgroup$ Jan 17, 2016 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ I apologize if my answer wasn't to-the-point enough. Initially, each of the aspects which I mentioned were interdependent upon one another, but as I revised my answer, they grew more independent. In the end, I left them where they were in hopes of helping to answer the concept in addition to the question. In other words, I opted to include my ideas in the hopes that they might prove useful, rather than let them go to waste. $\endgroup$
    – user17130
    Jan 20, 2016 at 4:00
  • $\begingroup$ I completely understand. No apologies necessary! My suggestion was meant in the feedback sense rather than the imperative sense. Including some extra information in your answer is often a good thing, as long as you tie it back to the question in the end. Sometimes that takes an extra sentence or heading or two. Failing to do that isn't likely to incur anyone's wrath, but the more persuasive, relevant and clear you can make your answer, the better, right! $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2016 at 4:28

Rather than not having a reflection, why not have them be afraid of their reflection? The original vampire myth regarding mirrors was that they were repulsed by them (much in the same way as a crucifix) rather than having no reflection.

The justification could be that the cybogification process is traumatic and being confronted by what they have become by seeing themselves in a mirror causes psychological pain.


The beings might not actually be there. Instead of having a physical body, they create the illusion of presence directly in your brain. But they only do this for those in direct sight of where they should be. They don't bother to create reflections.

This would be especially effective in a nanotech society. If everyone is used to getting information added to their view, then this is just a natural extension.

Note that this works for any of the senses: phantom smells, tastes, sounds, and touches.

In order to get sufficient power, perhaps the nanomachines harvest the blood of those viewing their illusions. This changes the vampirism myth a bit, as they wouldn't be choosing victims so much as feeding on those who see them. The problem is that they are essentially unfinished. They are not ready for general release. Perhaps the original inventor would drink a nutrient solution prior to use so that they would consume that rather than blood.

Perhaps someone could be learning how to make their nanotech more human friendly. Decreasing the power requirements so as not to consume the blood. Appearing to fewer people so as to avoid wide impact.

This is my reaction to the title question. Obviously the story would change a bit from your original parameters. It may be too far, but I figured that was a decision best left to you.


Without some sort of illusion field generator, there's no way a cybernetic prostheses would make the entire body in non-reflectable... Unless the prostheses was the entire body (insert Iron Man quote here). In that case, you could have a device that physically reacts to the location around it, changing colors automatically, to blend in with the background like an octopus, changing colors and patterns to that of surrounding objects. This would be very off-putting, so you tie in a holographic decide that projects the "skin tone and clothing" to other people in the area. However, to save power consumption, the illusion is compressed, like the difference between live music and an mp3, but in a visual sense, almost like a polarized lens. It just so happens that mirrors are also slightly polarized due to their construction, so they don't reflect the projected image, just the camouflaged one... Basically the effect of looking at a tinted car window through polarized sun glasses makes it opaque, executed in reverse. The reflection of vampire prostheses in the mirror wouldn't technically be invisible whilst moving, as the camouflage would refresh and show something obscured moving, but as soon as he or she stands still, the reflection vanishes. This would have an interesting effect that it would only work with mirrors that are mounted or otherwise upright... Reflective surfaces on the floor, such as pools of water outside, would show the prostheses in stark contrast to the sky. The wielder could also turn off the illusion to become mostly invisible if need be.

Again, this explanation only works for full body prosthetics... If you have it for any less than 100% portion of the body, the camouflage wouldn't apply to the remaining amount. For example, if the prostheses only covered one from the neck down, mirrors would show a floating head.


Since a mirror not reflecting light only coming from certain objects that is otherwise visible to the human is not a possibility in our universe, the possibility exists that your universe is a simulation, and a bug in the simulation means that light reflecting or emitting from certain classes of object cannot reflect again.

I.e. Light comes from a light source and reflects off all objects in line of sight. We can see this light. However, due to the universe's bug, light from the prosthetic - or light from the whole 'vampire', depending on how objects are classified - cannot be reflected again, and hence cannot be seen in reflections from any object.

Depending on the nature of the bug, the simulation might leave a black space where the vampire should be, or it may substitute light from behind the vampire, rendering it invisible in reflection.


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