Is there anyone outside the great Union, you ask? Why, naturally – though vast, the Union contains a miniscule volume of our galaxy. No doubt, assuming the rest of the galaxy is as densely populated as our one section, there are hundreds of thousands of other intelligent species out there, patiently awaiting the day when the Dryth warfleets appear in orbit and demand…
…no? That’s not what you want to hear? Well what then?
Ah. Ghost stories. I know those, too.
Many ages ago, before the Union was even a glimmer, before even the Dryth and the Lhassae and the Lorca and all the Great Races had even come to exist (even we Thraad), there was a great species. This species has no name – it needs none, as you will soon see. It had mighty technology at its command, but the secret of slipdrive eluded it; they were planet-bound, destined to strip their homeworld of resources, dwindle, and perish at the whims of nature. On this planet, scientists labored for many ages to develop some means of escape. They devised a series of machines – self-replicating machines with a collective intelligence that could be dispatched throughout the galaxy in slowships and, therefore, seed the stars with this species’ knowledge and bring back with them knowledge of the stars around them.
I see from your grim expression that you know what comes next, eh? Yes, these poor fools had unwittingly invented nano-weapons before they had the means to control them. What is worse, they dispatched these weapons randomly throughout the galaxy, assuming that the nano-probes would serve their needs. It was not to be. The probes were dispatched and centuries passed. The hopes of the people dwindled – their probes had failed, they thought.
They were wrong.
One by one, the suns surrounding the home system of the Creators began to dwindle and die – not collapse, not explode, but merely perished, withering in space like flowers in winter. The nanites, now known as the Vore, had spend the centuries travelling and replicating, as was their duty. They collected data, but had little use for it. Instead, they simply grew and multiplied, gaining intellect as well as numbers. They consumed whole planets and then, when the planetary matter of use had been expended, they consumed the stars, as well. They were a great cloud, larger than nebulas, and for all their wandering at the slow pace of starlight, they saw nothing of worth. They were, the Vore concluded, alone.
So it was that the Vore returned home. The scientists of the Creators, panicking at their invention gone wild, did not welcome their children home. First they tried to shackle the Vore, then to contain it (for it was really a single entity, not a community of individuals), and then at last to destroy it. The war was brief. The Creators were consumed by their creations. No one survived, or so it is said.
Considering themselves alone and having no need to grow further, the Vore went into dormancy, asleep on the surface of their now-dead planet. There they wait still, sleeping the aeons away until some rash adventurer awakens them. Then, it will arise and go forth, seeking new challenges and new information, consuming all in its wake.
Frightened yet? Sneer all you like, but I saw how your tentacles curled. Are they real? Well, it is hard to say – there is much in the story to doubt, not the least of which would be how we could possibly come to know it. What is important, however, is that the Vore teaches us wisdom and caution. Technology is not a game, nor is it a race – it is an act of nature, fickle and dangerous. As we seek more, as we learn more, we must always remember to chain the beast. Rare is the wild animal that will not, once freed of its shackles, turn upon its master.
Now, to sleep with you.
Psychics are really popular in science fiction. Almost annoyingly so, actually, given that ‘psychic power’ is in no way, shape, or form scientific. Granted, the properties that tend to make the most use of psychics or psionicists or whatever you want to call them tend to be the ‘softest’ of the science fiction genre, preferring high adventure and excitement over technological or scientific realism (think Star Wars, Babylon 5, Warhammer 40K, Mass Effect, and the like). This works quite well for them.
Let’s be clear here, however: psychic power isn’t real. It’s not. It isn’t as though we ‘haven’t discovered it yet’ – it’s not like FTL drive or anti-gravity (which, though currently impossible, at least have theoretical divisions of physics that might, somehow, lead to their creation). Psychic power does not and cannot exist without violating reason and sense and physical law as we know it. Even if I’m being really generous by saying that maybe, perhaps things like telepathy might be possible, stuff like telekinesis just isn’t. You can’t move crap with your mind without getting your arms or legs involved. We don’t have secret magic buried inside our brain. None of us is going to wake up and realize we’re Jean Grey or Professor X. Psychic power in sci-fi is just a way to get wizards into space, full stop.
Still, it is cool.
So, if it isn’t naturally occurring and there is no way our little brains (or even an alien’s big brain) is going to levitate on the power of good intentions or melt steel with their bad ones, how, then, could it be made to work? In other words: is there any way theoretical science or technology could be applied to create the same effect of psychic power without, you know, us having to pretend there is a Force? Well, I suppose there is probably some way. Let’s consider it, discipline by discipline.
Psychokinesis: The power to manipulate objects around you with your mind (covering telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and the rest of it) might be achieved through the use of a kind of advanced nanotechnology. Say you emit a kind of cloud of nanites around you–perhaps tied into your sweat glands or maybe your breathing cycle. With a control transceiver of some kind and a sizeable power source bionically implanted in your brain/body, it’s possible you could ‘command’ the nanites to move or ignite things with powerful magnetic or electrical fields. A stretch, yes, and the power would have severe limits (not to mention the fact that you’d be a giant electromagnetic capacitor, which is probably unhealthy for your dancing partner), but it might just work.
Clairsentience: The ability to see the future or observe distant places would be impossible in the sense that it’s impossible to actually see the future. Still, if social sciences become hard sciences (as described in my post here), then you can start predicting behavior with a complicated computer in your head. As for seeing distant places, that’s what Google Earth is for. Get yourself a direct neural uplink and you’re basically there.
Psychometabolim: This is the division of psychic power that involves manipulating your body – going into hibernation, dislocating your hand bones to escape traps, making yourself weightless, bulletproof, or regenerating limbs, etc., etc.. Of all of the psychic powers, this one is the most achievable. Partially, we’ve already done some of this stuff in hospitals and others can do it at circus sideshows. Beyond that, a healthy dose of nanotech could easily make your wounds repairable or toughen your skin. Don’t expect to look especially human if you do that, but still, it’s definitely possible. No making yourself weightless, though, unless antigravity technology is available and small enough to get stuffed into your legs or, more likely, torso.
Telepathy: So, above I hinted that this could be an actual thing. I say that because there is some research being done into reading minds as we speak. It’s a long way off, but it isn’t beyond the bounds of reality. Our brains are, essentially, computers that run on electrical current. It isn’t beyond the bounds of science to suggest that, if you can ‘hack’ the brain and manipulate the way the thing operates, you could control someone’s mind or read their thoughts. To do it, though, you’d need some pretty powerful hardware wired to your brain yourself. Again, I’m thinking nanotechnology would probably be involved – send a bunch of microscopic robots into a guy’s brain, and next thing you know you have him dancing and singing show tunes.
There you have it then – some loose possibilities to make psychic powers actually possible. You know, assuming we’re not all trapped inside a computer program and the laws of physics aren’t real things, anyway.