I have in mind a world where a small colony of humans are isolated within a cylindrical force field in a desolate land of clay. With no tools their only option is to dig and, upon finding food (presumably some sort of dry desert tuber), they keep digging.

I would like this to go on for some generations, as the lack of ability to make permanent structures due to clay being their only building material (with limited rainfall), presents a lack of permanency that would result in these people losing any notion of culture or ambition, only the 'tradition' of digging. An interesting place to start with a protagonist that potentially finds a way out of the field.

This obviously puts constraints on how small this colony could be and thus cylindrical field must be - but the big constraint is what they can do with their waste clay as they dig, as well as their own waste.

My idea is that the walls of the force field could violently react with mass that touches it, sublimating it, with the mass being carried away as gas. The reaction could also provide a light source for the colonies when they are deep into the earth too.

My question is is this a feasible process? Is there a better way a colony could dispose of waste in this isolated system? And also is the current solution too deus ex machina?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sounds to me like they would just throw it at the force field ... $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    May 31, 2016 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ That's the idea I'm presenting, my question is more about feasability, and whether there's a less 'convenient' solution. Thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Robin
    May 31, 2016 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by feasibility? You're presenting the character's situation as fact: they live inside a cylindrical force field which they can't touch because it vaporizes anything that comes into contact with it. If I were you I'd be less concerned with waster disposal than more practical matters such as how will these people make tools for digging, or get anywhere near the sort of variation in their diets needed to survive. Also, you seem to be envisioning them digging their way deep into the earth, but realize that unless the diameter is very small that won't happen. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    May 31, 2016 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Robin. If you have questions about the site check out the help center and feel free to visit Worldbuilding Chat $\endgroup$
    – James
    May 31, 2016 at 13:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That kind of force field would also be a very effective "unwanted people" disposal system... $\endgroup$
    – Cyrus
    May 31, 2016 at 14:40

1 Answer 1


Well, lets start with some clarification...first, in a completely closed system by definition you can't gain or lose whatever it is that is in the system.

While waste disposal is one issue in your system I can think of a few others that may be even more concerning.

  1. You need a minimum viable population. Check out this question and its answers for more details on that. Minimum viable population

If the place is as resource poor as you mention you are going to need a massive space to support that many people, particularly if they are required to forage for their food. There would have to be enough space that they could nomadically roam around giving the plants time to regrow...otherwise they eat them all then all starve to death when they eat them to extinction.

  1. Diet and nutrition are going to be a problem.

If the only thing available are these tubers you mention your humans aren't going to last very long. We are omnivores for a reason, our bodies are so complex they require many many different nutrients...tubers aren't going to cut it long term...your child mortality rates are going to be really really bad and many mothers probably die as well...in short, you likely run out of humans after a generation.

  1. If you do burn up your waste material in this force field...

Its still going to be inside the force field...which means in the air the people are breathing...which likely leads to all kinds of illness.

  1. Clay is a pretty decent building material, particularly when it doesn't rain all that much. They could definitely build shelters.

  2. Several generations of people digging in clay is a whole lot of clay...it seems implausible that they wouldn't run into anything else...you put enough pressure on something (I.e. the weight of the clay above it) it is going to change states.


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