In the real world, the “vaporise” setting in SciFi ray-guns comes from a desire to make extras disappear quickly when their characters are killed off.
As countless of pedants have noticed, a real-life weapon which vaporised a target would have all sorts of unpleasant side-effects, from the merely icky of inhaling your enemies to the potentially fatal of suddenly adding 80 cubic-meter-STP of (lethally hot) gas to your room in less than a second. There are also, shall we say, artistically convenient behaviours such as one scene in Star Trek VI where a pan is vaporised while the mashed potato inside is untouched.
None of these things ought to spoil your experience of Star Trek or similar — they’re character-driven space soaps, not hard SciFi. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to invent some plausible-sounding rationale for how it fits into the in-universe technobabble.
So, phasers, with a digression via subspace.
In the Star Trek universe, “subspace” is treated as an extra dimension — not up-down, not left-right, not front-back, not future-past. If you’re “deep” in subspace, you’re “further” from the reality we know about. How this works precisely is never described, so let’s pretend that there are a bunch of different stable layers that matter can occupy, one for normal space and one more for each different integer warp speed; and lets assume that in the absence of anything pushing you between layers, you just stay on your current layer.
What if the “rapid nadion effect” is a nudge in the subspace-realspace direction?
All the atoms in your body are connected by relatively strong interatomic forces, while the interatomic forces between different objects are much weaker (not zero, but much much weaker). Let’s say you’re hit by a beam which nudges you in the direction of subspace: if its a weak push, the atoms hit by the beam are briefly a little bit outside normal space, but they rapidly return. This effect propagates through your body in exactly the same way that a sound wave would — each out-of-place atom drags nearby atoms with it, but they’re quickly restored to their original place. This could stun you or kill you, depending on how much it interferes with the chemistry that keeps you alive, in much the same way that a punch or a grenade both send waves through your body yet have very different impacts on your life expectancy.
If this nudge is strong enough to push your body to the next subspace layer, the part of your body first hit by the beam will seem to disappear entirely, without the inconvenience of exploding! All the atoms bound to the nudged-into-subspace patch of flesh will be dragged with it onto the next subspace layer, which does not have any air. If this happens at the speed of sound in water (5336 km/h), a 2m humanoid hit in the middle would disappear completely in about 0.7 ms. The effect you see on screen is a far more prosaic 8-15 km/h — again, don’t worry to much about that: Trek has very little in the way of scale or time consistency, but even if it did you should pretend it’s a dramatic slow-mo.
There’s no narrative requirement for subspace layers to be limited to three spacial dimensions, so we can also posit that subspace is (e.g.) 4 spacial dimensions. In 4D, a creature like us built in 3D space would fall to pieces in much the same way as you might expect a creature built out of a single layer of atoms sandwiched between two plates would almost instantly disintegrate if you took the plates away. One idea which would allow “being pushed into subspace” to be much more dangerous than “being in a starship when the warp drive is switched on” would be another fairly ambiguous piece of Star Trek tech: the inertial dampeners. The inertial dampeners are supposed to be space-filling forcefields which push every atom in your body at the same rate the ship accelerates so that you don’t feel any G-forces — vitally important when you go from zero to 0.25c (74,770 km/s, full impulse) in one second. Those very same force fields could (with enough technobabble) keep the crew from disintegrating even if they were in a 4D (or 5D or 6D or…) subspace domain.
It is important to keep track of one’s mistakes — you can’t learn to be better if you don’t.
Here is one of mine from 2016:
“Trump and Clinton are both equally awful”.
Ye gods, how I wish that was so. I saw each as just two more in the same mould as all other American politicians: a rich narcissist, out of touch with the lived reality of the average person.
Here’s another, also from 2016 — my reply to a blogpost asking various questions about Brexit, with my 2020 annotations as emphasised text:
The UK votes to leave, Cameron resigns. One half of the population hates the other half.
Redacted person name very happy. Correct.
France very relieved, they didn’t much like us anyway. Comme ci, comme ça.
France tries to set up a financial centre to attract all the business currently in the City of London; mostly this fails and they go to Zurich, Luxembourg, Geneva and Frankfurt in that order. Eh, close enough.
House prices collapse as Russian oligarchs move to New York, Frankfurt (or Zurich, if they are able to buy property there). Nope!
German citizens regard us as kids who threw our toys out of the pram. Politicians treat us accordingly. Correct.
Politicians, by necessity, have a number of sociopathic traits. Therefore they take a brutal approach to us in order to discourage other nations from leaving. (Our politicians are no better, and would be as obtuse as possible to Scotland if Scotland left the UK!). Greece is terrified, stays where it is. I’d say ‘wrong’, but it is notable that the most vocal Leavers say this is exactly what has happened.
We remain in NATO, Interrail. We probably don’t stay in EUHIC. Still in NATO, left Interrail (though this is apparently not Brexit-related?), will leave EUHIC at the end of the transition period, so 1.5/3 correct.
Businesses campaign to keep our standards in sync with EU standards to keep their costs down. Hard to tell. I keep hearing that Businesses are afraid to rock the boat, but hate everything that’s going on. How true that is, I do not know.
After 2 years, we leave EU. We stop paying into the CAP, receive no rebate. UK food producers upset their goods no longer given “protected region” status (or whatever the name is) in the EU. Two years? Incorrect. CAP/rebate? Correct. Geographical Indications? Looks like the UK is keeping them, despite some news stories saying otherwise. Either that or the UK government is giving incorrect advice, a possibility which I only even mention because of how it is acting throughout the Corona virus pandemic. 1/3.
Welsh economy collapses further as it no longer receives money from EU as a “severely deprived region”. Hard to tell, what with the Corona virus being a much bigger problem for all the economies everywhere.
British Islamic fundamentalist terrorists find it more difficult to reach EU countries, commit acts in UK instead. Again, hard to tell because of the Corona virus.
Britain replaces Human Rights Act with something that doesn’t mention the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to free association, or the right to trade unions. I still think this will happen, but after the transition period is over.
Commonwealth states further away than EU, not as rich. This makes for less effective trade. I still think this is the case, but no way to tell until after the transition period is over.
Fish stocks replenish as Spanish no longer allowed to fish in UK waters. This is enforced with at least one gunboat, leading to Spanish newspapers calling for the Spanish government to kick out all the Brits living in Spain. The Spanish government debates this, to the surprise of nobody except the English (on the one hand they no longer need to allow us, on the other the expats might be the only ones preventing further house price collapse). I am surprised to find I wrote this, so count this as “false” even if it later comes true — nobody deserves points for predicting a coin toss will be “either heads or tails”.
All those “twinned with” signs disappear, from a combination of vandalism and a lack of will to replace them. I think this is plausible, but less than 50% chance that more than a handful will be so affected in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, rapid automation messes around with every economy at once. This is blamed on Brexit, despite having nothing to do with it. (Alternative: we remain, the economic mess from automation is blamed on the EU by the UK and the UK by France). Corona virus doesn’t count. Check again around 2025.
One of several reasons I no longer talk to the person I was replying to back then, is that their response to this was:
“Given your general stance seems to be that everything is doomed whatever anybody does, it’s hard to take seriously your claim that one course of action will doom us more than any other. :-p”
As anyone who has spent any significant time with me will know, I have a genuinely problematic relationship with coffee. If I don’t watch myself I can drink nothing but coffee all day, sometimes even double strength — 4 cups is one thing, 2 litres of double strength is too much.
Because of this, every so often I try to cut it out entirely. This time, I’m trying to keep a diary.
Day 1, Saturday
A bit tired, nothing special.
Day 2, Sunday
Really tired, bad headache, took ibuprofen.
Day 3, Monday
A bit tired, occasionally tempted to grab a coffee from the machine at work.
Day 4, Tuesday
Working from home along with everyone else because of Coronavirus. A bit tired, very unfocused. Not sure if the loss of focus is from the switch to home office or from the withdrawal. Definitely feeling like a coffee would help.
Leg ache developed in the evening, feeling like I’d run 5 km.
Day 5, Wednesday
Arm and leg muscles ache.
Day 6, Thursday
Brief kernel of an idea:
- Societies deem certain ideas “dangerous”.
- If it possible to technologically eliminate perceived dangers, we can be tempted to do so, even when we perceived wrongly.
- Group-think has lead to catastrophic misjudgments.
- This represents a potential future “great filter” for the Fermi paradox. It does not apply to previous attempts at eliminating dissenting views, as they were social, not technological, in nature, and limited in geographical scope.
- This risk has not yet become practical, but we shouldn’t feel complacent just because brain-computer-interfaces are basic and indoctrinal viruses are fictional, as universal surveillance is sufficient and affordable, limited only by sufficiently advanced AI to assist human overseers (perfect AI not required).
This list was created November 14th, 2015. In retrospect, mum was already starting to show early symptoms of Alzheimer’s even before this, but we only became sure of her condition in late 2016.
Mum was born in ’43, in the UK town of Horsham, and this is what she remembered of her childhood years:
- “Poland” sounding like “coal-land”
- Coronation day, “quite a lot of cars by then”, but not by today’s standard
- Only 2 teachers had cars. At least one of them was a 2-income family.
- If you had a car radio, the antenna was really visible. Coronation meant flags on the antenna.
- TV was rare. Tiny, square, black and white screens.
- Life was quiet. People didn’t get excited, being excited led to comments and funny looks.
- Locked doors were very unusual
- No health and safety
- Very lax drug testing rules
- School was quiet, but not boring.
- Teachers were all female bar one, all single
- Almost no men due to WW1
- Women ran “everything” (all-girl school), general assumption was that they could
- Games/gymnastic/country dancing every day; ball-room dancing once a week with boys school; dating done via dancing
- Netball, tennis, relaxed about sports; could do this on weekends without staff because no locked doors
- Discus, javelin, hurdles, high jump
- Cross-country running
- “Denn park” and “Denn hill” (what size are those places?)
- Every morning was a bible reading and a hymn
- School dinners. Everyone had them, they were “hearty”.
- Normal to learn how to swim
- Horsham had an open-air, unheated pool, school took everyone there to learn to swim
- O-level courses:
- [Needlework optional at O-level, mum didn’t do it]
- Physics with chemistry
- [Mum took German as an extra in the 6th form]
- Art [mum didn’t do it]
- Music [mum didn’t do it]
- History [mum didn’t do it]
- No national curriculum, every school was different, no teaching qualifications needed
- Church attendance was almost universal; most had youth clubs
- Self-segregation of which church, often on a class basis
- Everyone was trusting and trustworthy
- Ordered and orderly
- Big events:
- Old Vic theatre in London, organised by school
- Local concerts
- Clothing was sober, boring, dull. Plain colours, few or no patterns
- Men and women both wore suits
- Most people made their own clothes. Almost no clothes in the shops, but fabric and patterns.
- Tweed very common due to the cold
- You were not properly dressed without a hat and gloves (because it was so often so cold)
- A lot of women went to the hairdressers every week
- Straight hair was considered a great misfortune. Curly hair had a fuss made of it.
- Curling done with chemicals, not tongs; clearly artificial, but most liked it
- High-heels were smart, flat were a no-no
- Fastidious neatness
- Not respectable to talk about sex
- Not much contraception
- Babies before marriage was shameful, hushed up, mothers disappeared without discussion
- Food boring, limited variety
- Shops were all separate; no supermarkets combining them
- Ironmonger (kitchen utensils)
- Everyone cycled everywhere; shopping, church, school
- Almost no obesity
- Eating out was very rare
- One or two cafes, no restaurants in Horsham
- Nobody bought sandwiches, everyone made their own packed lunches
- Most houses don’t have central heating, therefore very cold
- Open fires very common
- “Spring cleaning” was needed because of the dust from the open fires; called “Spring” because you waited until winter had finished and you no longer needed to burn fires
- Chimney sweep needed to stop chimneys from catching light
- Few houses being built. Council houses boring but very solid.
- If you wanted a new house, you bought land and materials and hired a builder. When builders finished, they put a union jack (in UK, other symbols elsewhere) when they reached the chimney.
- No spare money
- Everyone put money into savings accounts
- Shabby houses
- Nobody bought stuff unless they had to; mend instead of replace
- No built-in obsolescence; stuff bought new lasted
- Rained a lot more. In any trip, people invariably packed raincoats in their bags
- Men worked, women ran households
- Running a house was much more time consuming than it is now
- In the 1940s “laundries” was a service that took your clothes, returned them cleaned and ironed the next week.
- By the 1950s people had washing machines in their homes
- Cats and dogs very normal to have
- Fed scraps; tins of dog/cat food not available until 50s
- Mum saw dogs crossing roads on Zebra crossings
- Lots had a budgerigar or two
- Lots kept chickens. Couldn’t necessarily buy eggs, things in shops often sold out because the supply chain was no good
- Battery farms had not been invented (invented in the 60s?)
- Vegetarianism was almost unheard of; archetypal meal was “meat and two veg”
- Main meal at midday, light meal (bread and butter, perhaps a slice of ham) in evening
- Home baking was the norm; if you want a cake you bake it, store bought cakes were rubbish
- Tea was normal drink; coffee was instant not ground
- Foreign food was unusual/unknown (no restaurants)
- People might have their own fruit trees
- No snack food available, apart from crisps
- Helpings much smaller than modern days
- Everyone caught measles, mumps, chicken pox; vaccination done by infection parties when as kids (as they are less serious when infecting kids)
- Diphtheria was pretty much eradicated; smallpox vaccine was new, disease in the process of being eradicated; TB vaccination had started;
- Appendicitis was serious
- Eye testing rare, people did badly at school because nobody realised they couldn’t see the blackboard
- Smoking very common; seen as sophisticated and not as anti-social; cinemas stank of cigarette smoke so badly that watching films required one to change clothes afterwards because the clothes picked up the smell
- People didn’t drink very much.
- Pub once-or-twice a week for a glass of beer (but only men, it was a men’s drink not for ladies); larger hadn’t reached the UK
- Smart people had gin, brandy, whiskey and offered small glasses of sherry (in particular) to guests
- Rum was for drunken old sailors
- Extremely drunk people was pre-WW2, 1920s-1930s ish?
Take all of this with a few pinches of salt. The thing about vegetarianism being “almost unheard of”? Although it might well have been extremely rare, she previously told me her brother was ‘officially’ vegetarian during WW2 because vegetarians got better rations.