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In most relevant fiction, if a character has strong telekinesis, they can fly. If they can lift anything, they can lift themselves. If they can only lift some materials, they can make a suit out of that material and lift themselves by lifting their suit.

This makes just having the inherent power of flight almost useless.

For comic writers, this is convenient so is used heavily. In what I am starting to work on, it creates problems.

I want different characters with psychokinesis (umbrella term for moving matter with the mind) to exhibit the power differently with varying strength levels and still be useful. Powers can already be limited by material, range of interaction, and type of interaction. While someone may have levitation, it would be special.

How can I explain a power-set where characters who can continuously lift 500 lbs of X with their own minds can't lift themselves and a smaller amount of X in order to fly?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by sphennings, Slarty, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica, Vylix, Separatrix Nov 3 '17 at 9:00

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ There are many different ways to explain this the only way to assess which one is better is by personal preference. $\endgroup$ – sphennings Nov 2 '17 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ To close voters. I am actually concerned not that there is not a single possible answer to the bold question much less multiple. Every answer so far is either not fully explained or has a clear flaw that contradicts the details in the bold question. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ How your psychokinesis works? Where the energy comes from, for example. The key to this question lies there (how it works). Unless you provide that detail, this question is too broad. $\endgroup$ – Vylix Nov 3 '17 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ If they can lift anything, they can lift themselves. That's not true. The strongest man in the world cannot pull himself up by his bootstraps. $\endgroup$ – Flater Nov 3 '17 at 8:54
  • $\begingroup$ I would have gone with the "you need an anchor point", but let me try something else... Psychokinesys doesn't work on close range, because you need to see the object you want to move. You need a combination of both distance and angle of view tthat lets you see what you move $\endgroup$ – Dan Fernandez Nov 3 '17 at 9:52

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Make the telekinesis operate only relative to self as fulcrum. You can't pick yourself up no matter how you try. For instance, if one tried to push against the earth to lift oneself, only the earth would move - no reaction on self due to telekinetic push. Inertialess, from the user's point of view.

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    $\begingroup$ So if I have lactokinesis and try to lift a giant jug of milk equal to my weight from 1m in front of me to 1m to my right, what happens to me. Trying to understand how this works. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:50
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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this is a world destroying mechanism $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 2 '17 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @kaine I want to know where to find a giant jug of milk equal to my weight... $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Nov 2 '17 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I was trying to be funny. All joking aside the more I think about this answer the more I don't understand it. If I'm the fulcrum, what is the other side of the lever? How is the earth moving away from me different from me moving away from the earth? If the force is inertialess and I'm only moving one object, doesn't that mean that object just doesn't move or change velocity relative to me? $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @kaine The point is that most people have less mass than the Earth, so the same force that would give you super sonic flight would when applied to Earth do nothing detectable. I think louis was using "fulcrum" figuratively? $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 3 '17 at 1:39
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Is Acrophobia - fear of heights - a viable options? It does not need to be very high for the phobia to kick in. And the affliction itself could be some form of side-effect of having a psychokinesis abilities. (Or going a step further, you could have a range of random phobias as a side-effects).

The other option could be as simple as limiting the abilities to a dead weight only - the living organism doesn't take well the "force field" the psychokinesis creates around objects in order to lift/move them, and simply gets injured or even dies in the process (depending on the force of the "field"). That would also disqualify the lifting-inside-armour option, as - still - the armour would have to be in the "force field" in its entirety, and that would include a person inside it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I... actually really like the Acrophobia. But it can't work for every character who can't fly but instead just 1 or 2. 1 character whose main ability is to fly but is too scared to is oddly fitting for this project. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Unless the gene that causes the potential for Acrophobia also causes the potential for telekinesis. This is a very good answer! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Nov 2 '17 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ I might as well address the "living thing rejecting field" idea here. This would prevent my clothes from carrying me as my clothes and the field would both surround me. It would not, however, prevent me from riding on a rock I am carrying or lifting a rock with a rope tied to it while I am holding the rope. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ If you make the force field spherical, it could prevent you from riding on a rock, as your feet/legs would be inside the field itself and still get hurt. But yes, indeed you could hold on to a rope attached to said rock, but for how long would you be able to hold it, that's another question. It could be good for lifting oneself up a few meters, but fully-fledged flying would be doubtful, I think. $\endgroup$ – senemedar Nov 2 '17 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ If the limiting factor is grip strength, I could tie the rope to a chair. I'm sorry if I sound pedantic; I really like your answer. It looks like the answer will have to be "everyone can fly but it is hard" and then I'm going to have to introduce factors that make it not worth their while. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 21:02
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One possibility is to have a subtle change to psychokinesis.

First, in order for a psychokinetic to cause matter to move let's say they have to internalize the things weight. For example, to move a 2000 pound car I mentally transfer that weight onto myself. The car now weighs effectively 0 lbs while I now weigh 2150 pounds.

Because of this a normal psychokinetic could never cause themselves to fly because transferring their own weight to themselves would result in a net change of zero...

Second, let's say advanced psychokinetics know how to transfer weight both directions. So instead of just being able to take on that weight for themselves, they are able to transfer weight from themselves to something else...

This leads to quite a few interesting challenges for the psychokinetics. Such as having real testable limits on their power. Sure you can move that car through the air .. but you can't do it while standing on rickety scaffolding as it wouldn't support the additional weight.

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Make it so that they can only lift things as long as there is an anchor point to they "mind hand".

You can easily lift yourself over a ledge or pull up bar. The thing is anchored to the ground and you are lifting yourself of that thing which is anchored and can support the weight.

You can however stand in an open room and lift your own feet off the ground and float in mid air even though you have the strength to do so. You can't attach a rope around your waist and grab it above you and lift yourself off the ground.

There has to be a point anchored to the ground that can support the thing.

This still allows the character to launch themselves in the air though, but they still have to deal with falling and landing.

Even if they want to abuse this constantly and jump repeatably in quick succession, therefore being "flight" you can limit the range to something that makes sense. Then the character can possibly hover buy pushing off the ground, but only to whatever range you set. This also makes it quite difficult to actually move while doing so, and you couldn't cover gaps this way either.

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  • $\begingroup$ Super jumps is fine. Setting is a populated area so not wanted to risk danger to civilians is sufficiently limiting. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ So basically magneto style flight is still plausible, but that's cool $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 2 '17 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ @anon Magneto Style flight? He uses the magnetic field as the anchor? In my answer I'd still limit that. It needs to be something you can do with your bare hand even if you mind is stronger. No matter how strong a human he can't grab a magnetic field. $\endgroup$ – oxide7 Nov 2 '17 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ Magneto style flight is not ok. That is exactly what I want to avoid. I don't think this answer allows that. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:29
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't this also inherently limit the range of their ability. That they can only lift things in reach of their hand. So its basically just a range limiter. Otherwise whats to stop them from just continuously throwing stuff in the air to walk across. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 2 '17 at 17:45
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Their powers can have a minimal range. Or maybe they just don't like flying. Or they can't control their powers well enough to not hurt themselves if they were flying.

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  • $\begingroup$ wasn't a bad thought, I guess op just didn't like it $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 2 '17 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @anon I'm "op" but am not the one who keeps downvoting people. I've not downvoted anyone. That being said, range relevant to what reference frame. The stone guy is using his ability on stuff at range 0. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:40
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Have you ever been touched by telekinesis? It hurts!

You would think that it would be soft and gentle because it is only thought energy, but that isn't what it feels like at all.

It's more like a pulling or burning feeling...

Like the thought energy is trying to move each molecule of your body separately and isn't being very careful about keeping the relative distances between those molecules constant.

A strong kinetic might be able to life a person (especially someone they don't like). They might even be able to lift themselves a little bit in a pinch. But keeping it up long enough to call it "flying"...

nobody is masochistic enough to do that.

Some have tried to get around this limit by using their power to lift their clothing. This inevitably leads to disaster... because the molecular displacement issue (and resulting heat) is cumulative over the length of your "flight" and every fabric is flammable if you expose it to enough heat.

Also, clothing tends to get pretty close to your body, especially when you are being carried around by it. There is always the chance that the thought energy will mistake some of your skin for fabric, which will lead to a rather distracting sensation for the skin's owner. Getting distracted, when your concentration is the only thing holding you up a hundred feet in the air... it is not good.

With such discomfort and inherent risk, most telekinetics just stay on the ground.

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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't stop "Magneto style flight" (aka lifting your suit made of something you can lift). $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know, it would have to be a pretty severe burning sensation for me to not want to fly like a bird a few times $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 2 '17 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @kaine, thanks for pointing that out. I think I fixed it. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Nov 2 '17 at 17:46
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Vertigo, as in Anne McCaffrey's Talents series (well eventually a character debunked that, but still). It's just too confusing and disorienting to perform telekinesis while you yourself are moving within your frame of reference.

The ability to perform telekinesis requires a lot of subconscious mathematical calculation (like the math a typical human does when throwing a ball at a moving target); doing it when everything is in motion is just beyond human abilities.

(This answer also leaves you the wiggle room of allowing extraordinarily talented people to pull it off. Or to pull it off under easy circumstances and then fail spectacularly when that will advance the plot.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I was going to post something like this until I saw your answer. This is very similar to louis's answer, except in that answer having yourself as a stable reference point is unavoidable, while in this answer it's a matter of ability. $\endgroup$ – jaxad0127 Nov 3 '17 at 8:04
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Your version of the telekinesis power could come from the localized ability to manipulate gravity.

The power has two parts:

  1. generating a "bubble" around the target
  2. the manipulation of the gravity exerted on the bubble in 3D

A negative vector compared with earth gravity would cause the bubble to elevate and if vector is exactly equal to nature gravity, then the bubble would float weightlessly. Apply a sideways vector and it starts to fly.

(NOTE: the bubbles are invisible and do not have a physical form. A person is able to move in and out of bubbles without having any physical side-effects other than possible queasiness that comes from weightlessness. In other words, forming a bubble around a rock to lift it off the ground does not tear up the hard-packed ground because its only gravity that is affected. If the rock is partly submerged, moving the bubble does not break the rock free.)

One of the limitations is that the caster must be outside a gravity bubble. Something about being inside a gravity bubble (theirs or someone else) causes enough distortion or static that they becoming disconnected from the ability to manipulate any gravity from outside.

In a battle between two telekinesists, you are able to break the connection simply by forming a larger bubble around the target. Encasing a bubble with another bubble will immediately revert the gravity back to its natural state, but you still have to deal with the existing velocity. In other words, in order to "catch" a boulder thrown at you, you need to encase it in a bubble and match the bubble's speed and position to the rock before you can start manipulating the bubble's gravity. Misaligned and your target will fall out of your bubble and revert to natural gravity.

Compare this with the ability to fly:

The person who can fly functionally has the same second ability but the behavior of the bubble ability is different. It is firmly, permanently and subconsciously attached to SELF and cannot be changed. Something about how the bubble is saturated within themselves allows them to still manipulate the bubble.

(NOTE: there may be other abilities that grant flight such as wind control)

So can a telekinesist catch and hold someone who can fly?

Actually because of the way bubbles work, the person who can fly only needs to escape the bubble. It would require a serious amount of skill and concentration beyond the abilities of most telekinesists – given that both opponents have the same strength of abilities, the flyer will win.

So since a flyer can also manipulate bubbles, does that mean that they can affect other already formed bubbles?

Perhaps. Each bubble has a distinctive signature and it may be possible to learn how to manipulate the gravity of other people's bubbles. The effects would be significantly weaker (maybe at 20% strength of their ability to manipulate their own bubbles). Again it depends on the strength of each individual.

In fact some telekinesists may be able to make dozens and even hundreds of bubbles, but the strength of manipulating them is far weaker. Paired with a strong mover or even a flyer with that ability, they could make quite a combo team.

Inspired by Brandon Sanderson, the Lasher ability in the Way of Kings

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Just imagine the psychokinesis as an invisible arm and hand that extends from the user. So to move an object the user extends this arm towards the object, grabs it with the invisible hand and then moves it however they like. Just like a real arm (but probably with more flexibility and can extend).

In this way flight would not be an option as you cannot grab air. You can however still possibly allow for some advanced user to fly by imagining them being advanced enough to either:

  1. Produce lift by grabbing a lot of air with their invisible hand by making it thinner and larger, much like flapping wings.

  2. By pushing off the ground, advanced users may be able to extend their arms longer than most people. Or similarly may be able to produce multiple arms and could just 'walk' around. Or it may be just a matter of distance, the longer your arm is the less strength you have (just like a normal arm; holding something close to your body is easy than holding it at arm length) (work = force * distance)

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I don't think it's possible. There are so many loopholes to the problem, I just don't think there's one solution that can close them all. Can telekinesis move air? They could wear a wing suit. In a combative scenario, what about a dedicated person using telekinesis on another person to mobilize them or give them flight, if it is that an individual cannot fly themselves? If I move a box towards me, can it hit me? Can it move me? If so, what if I move a box upwards towards me and let it hit me? What if I move a box with a tether attached to it attaching to me? What if my telekinesis spins the blades of a helicopter and I ride it from the skids? What if my telekinesis moves the entire planet around me, giving the illusion of flight?

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What if the telekinesis had a special sight limitation? You can only move something if you can all or most of its outline. Directly see it, so mirrors won't work. Or at least make it harder or weaker. Thus you cannot lift yourself, because you cannot see your head.

This would also have a secondary use of otherwise limiting what a person can lift, because it is too large or too close.

Of course, neither this, not most of the other answers, prevent two people from flying each other. So you could also make it so that a Teke's powers automatically interfere with another person's TK.

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In theory they can, it's just a terrible idea

I can see most people with strong enough psychokinetic powers attempting to lift themselves and it not turning out well. Say that psychokinetic have to have an image in their head of what they want to happen, that's easy when you're looking at something you can imagine it going up and down like a big hand is grabbing it. So you just imagine a big hand or something wrapping around you to lift you up, great how do you picture that in your mind? You picture yourself going up relative to things around you. I can see two problems with that, one when you get high enough there isn't much to imagine you being lifted relative to, and two do you really know in exacting detail what you look like?

If you don't have a good enough picture of yourself, your own dimensions, your current pose, etc you might apply force to the inside of you or you may over estimate how big you are and have "dead space" in your psychokinetic field that isn't touching or applying force to you. This would be a problem in that you might be trying to accelerate different parts of you at different speeds and directions. For example let's say your psychokinetic is accelerating but his legs are longer than pictured he has to pull the parts of him that aren't in the field which might hurt. Now think of this as every hair you don't picture, every bit of fat you don't picture yourself with, every part of you that you don't know the exact size and location of now feels like it is pulling away from you when you fly which might be uncomfortable at best and painful at worst.

The second biggest problem is loss of focus means that even if they have everything right a moments lapse in attention will cause them to start falling at which point they have to construct their complicated mental image again perfectly and arrest any downwards inertia they have built up or fall to their death (or injury or embarrassment depending on height). Or the other likely course of action is they try to hold themselves up by a part they can see like their arm or leg, they imagine it stopping or going up when the rest of them is going down which could easily dislocate arms or break bones as all of your weight is now on that limb.

After a few bad experiences I imagine most psycho kinetics would give up on flight or be dead. A few may continue teaching themselves how to fly but they would be the exception and not the rule. Why fly when you can super jump which is almost as cool? Some may learn to levitate but that could be pulled off by fixing the distance your clothes/shoes are from the ground in your mind. But I don't like the idea of flying through the sky be wedgie power alone so I think that method isn't really a gateway to flight

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Telekinetic flight would likely require prolonged mental focus where as hurling a 2 ton object would be momentary.

Mental endurance can be the limit here.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hence the "continuously lift" requirement. One well received character so far just uses tactile kinesis to wear oversized stone armor. That too requires endurance but would not be thematic to be able to fly. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @kaine the continuous lift thing I see just means they can lift it multiple times, flight is like 30 mins of prolonged concentration at least. But there isn't really another way around this, because they could hack flight a bunch of different ways. $\endgroup$ – anon Nov 2 '17 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ lifting multiple times would be repeatedly, periodically, or frequently. $\endgroup$ – kaine Nov 2 '17 at 17:29
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Effort required. You'd have to make it so that use of telekinesis is like the mental equivalent of Olympic power-lifting. Sure, you can pick up 500lb with your mind but sustained effort results in a mental version of a hernia.

Otherwise, even if you couldn't directly lift yourself, all you'd have to do is find a suitable "vehicle" to sit in/stand on and you could fly about by moving that. Even so, it could still be possible to "hurl" yourself a certain distance - like a shot-put or hammer thrower, as that's a quick "flex" of the mind. Of course you might want to have some brain power left to slow or control your descent!

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The ability to lift objects might require 'mind-eye' coordination, in the same way as using ones hands. trying to lift things that you can't see would be very difficult in either case.
Unless you have some way to 'see' yourself with another psychic ability, you probably couldn't do it very easily.
Limiting telekinesis to your field of vision would effectively prohibit flying, but leave the door open to it for select individuals with additional powers or exceptional spatial awareness and practice.

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