This is a parody I designed after reading this question. The real point is to explain to the general reader exactly what "makes sense" or not in terms of the counterfactual hypothesis.

Clearly some things are plausible/believable to some audiences and allow for good story development without killing suspension of disbelief. But trying to work things out in a "hard" way brings you flat up against the underlying contradictions rather than working out useful details.

So really, what makes sense in a literary manner, in terms of working through consequences of an initial worldbuilding idea? On one extreme we have that the only universes that work out are our own and bizarre utterly different things we can't grasp; any isolated change breaks everything in physics. On the the hand we have common tropes such as FTL travel and fantasy worlds.

If the underlying problem with a worldbuilding exercise is trying to work through something that can't be worked through, how do you characterize that, and how do you explain it to the writer? (Well, pointing to this post will be a solution once it exists!)

Also, as a subset of characterizing it, what should it be called?

  • $\begingroup$ For the record, I put opinion based, but unclear what you're asking is alright too. I don't see how the moon being cheese would change anything about electronics $\endgroup$ Mar 14, 2016 at 3:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Should this be in Meta? What are you asking? $\endgroup$
    – Mikey
    Mar 14, 2016 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ @XandarTheZenon would the same comment apply to the referenced post and others making the same issue? Should all such posts be flagged with this same reason? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Mar 14, 2016 at 7:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I don't know enough about science to judge the other question, but in this one you are simply asking for a funny parody of something. When I looked up maxwell's laws, I got something to do with electricity called maxwell's equations. I don't think the moon being made out of cheese has to do with electricity. So I'm slightly unsure how they are related, but assuming they are not, that means that one person's idea for your parody is just as good as anyone else's. $\endgroup$ Mar 14, 2016 at 13:42
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think you could do with making it clearer how this is a worldbuilding question. The answer is good but the question is...unclear. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Mar 17, 2016 at 15:30

1 Answer 1


Clearly Maxwell's laws would take the form of a series of hard and fast rules that cheese makers must abide by if they want truly radiant cheeses that brighten up the day of whomever imbibes in them!

Over and over, I find myself turning to Brandon Sanderson's First Rule of Magic.

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

Sanderson originally phrased it with respect to magic, but I find it to be a powerful general purpose tool which has great applications in science fiction scenarios as well. The only difference is how we understand magic or science. One is expected to understand the magic on their own, while with science we readily accept the words of the "grey beards" who tell us from on high the rules of science. Why do we accept this? It's a survival trait in this world. Science has gone so far beyond what the average person can understand that they have no choice but to accept it on faith.

Accordingly, the first step I would have with such impossible to work through worldbuilding exercises is to rephrase it in terms of Sanderson's law. The particular exercise they are exploring has a purpose. They're trying to sell a story, or grapple with some other idea in their head, or any number of reasons for the exercise to pop into being. The writer needs to be given a chance to come to an understanding of what they are actually trying to do. Without such an understanding, it will be hard to explain to them why they should stop wanting the impossible.

After that, for many literary scenarios, Sanderson's law can be brought into play. For many scenarios, the purpose is to either solve conflict or create conflict, both of which are covered by Sanderson's blog regarding his laws. Suggest that a modified version of Sanderson's law is valid in this scenario, such as "An author's ability to create enjoyable worlds with the adjustment of equations is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said equations." In general, many of these kinds of questions involve a writer that doesn't really understand the equations themselves, so this becomes a very valid argument: how can you depend on your readers to understand that which you do not?

In the case of the linked question, the assumption appears to be that reality is dictated by the equations, not the other way around. The real need of the writer is described in the words: "...so as something would move very quickly, it would appear to be harder to accelerate, but there would be no cosmic speed limit..." that described the actual need for their world, rather than simply the equation. From there, one can start to tug at the question of why the author is exploring such a world and what they intend to get out of it. Maybe then, a magic like effect can be put in play.

On the other hand, Maxwell's laws may refer to something about the proper etiquette when consuming cheese and coffee at the same table. After all, Maxwell's House is owned by Kraft, and J.L. Kraft started his empire on a cheese business.


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