Pythagoras Would Be Proud
Physics and the Paranormal in Fiction
This is perhaps one of my favorite parts of this lecture, no matter how many times I give it.
We’re all familiar with superheroes like Superman. Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound (which has evolved over the years into pure flight, rather than the actual leap of early incarnations in the 1930s). Over the years, first the comic book industry and then, in an odd twist, the paranormal fiction industry, have taken this to mean that the laws of physics cease to exist. What everyone forgets is that Superman has always been an alien, no matter how human he appears. In being alien, he has a different physiology, and therefore different laws of physics apply to him than to anything which is born, created, or risen from the dead on Earth.
Earthbound paranormal beings must operate by Earth’s physical boundaries. This isn’t to say that magic isn’t available or usable, but that even magic has certain natural laws by which it must abide. There are very few paranormal beings credited, through either historical evidence or mythology, to have the ability to fly unaided by wings – in fact, only spirits (which includes any non-corporeal being, not just ghosts) are given carte blanche to come and go as they please, and levitate unassisted by either incantation or wings, and this is explained by spirits being non-corporeal in the first place. If you can reach through it, and still see it clearly, then a different set of rules are naturally going to apply. However, even ghosts do not arrive as fogs, mists, sandstorms, flights of bats or birds, or swarms of insects of rodents. Nor do they turn into these things before your eyes or when attacked.
Let’s take the vampire as our example again, here (although the recent surge of mummy-oriented movies has left a similar bad taste in my mouth to that of Dracula). Everyone who’s ever read the book or seen the film of Bram Stoker’s Dracula can likely recall at least one of the transformations I just listed as taking place. What few people take into consideration is that not only is Bram Stoker’s research questionable (namely, whether or not he did any, as he appears to have totally botched some of the historical facts surrounding Vlad Tepes), but he also lived and wrote in an era that had a very flawed understanding of physics or the mechanics of flight, or even physiological limitations. Today, we watch the stage magicians that so awed the Victorian age, and we’re aware that the things they do are illusion and distraction. We may not know how they do it, but we know there is an explanation. If someone is sawed in half on stage and still waves at us, we know it’s an illusion, because if a person was truly severed at the waist, they’d die a very quick death of trauma-induced shock.
The same concept holds true for paranormal beings. If this planet, with its very specific physical limitations, gave “birth” to the being, then the same basic laws of physics that apply to us must also apply to them. The only way to break this connection is through use of the astral, or spiritual, realm, where anything truly is possible. Be careful, however, when using this in fiction that you thoroughly research what it involves, and also that you make the distinction between what happens on the physical plane and what happens on the astral plane clear in your work. As long as you follow the rules, and understand that physics and natural law still apply, this is a very easy mistake to avoid.