Today we have a somewhat off-the-wall ponies question – and one that’s more about world setup than ponies themselves. Still, the “scientists trying to find an explanation” notion does pop up in a lot of settings. Given that that makes this pretty generally applicable, why not?
Lets say some people started turning into ponies in the real world or ponies just started appearing and – over the next few days – displayed their basic abilities. How would scientific explanations like “mutagen” or “biowarfare agent” hold up? How long could they be seen as natural creatures existing under normal physical laws?
In both cases, for an intellectually honest, competent, scientist… until a couple of minutes after they get a look at them.
A poor scientist might manage it for a few hours. To hold on to theories like THAT for longer than a few hours you’d need to be either utterly incompetent as a scientist or to have serious mental problems.
To start with, Mutagens – including radiation, metals and chemicals, atomic decay, retroviruses, and the uptake of random DNA fragments (whether originating from Transposons or from the environment) – are random. They get into some cells and not others, they may or may not be expressed, and they change the production of various proteins in random ways – often differently for each affected cell.
That won’t cause an existing human to turn into another creature. That’s possible in theory, but it would take a total understanding of the human body, carefully and individually tailored doses of thousands of different proteins, weeks or months for cells to multiply, migrate, and develop into new tissues, and would almost certainly go hideously wrong in the vast majority of cases. Even if it worked… it would have to include massively rewiring the victims brain. So much for most of their personality and memory.
Yes, some creatures do undergo metamorphosis – but it’s very specific, never changes them into a new kind of creature, involves all kinds of special adaptions, is only seen in much smaller and simpler organisms which already have the seed-structures for the parts they’re going to develop ready to go, they start off with the mechanisms for it built into every cell, it takes a rather long time, and has a substantial failure rate. “Mutagens” and such simply will not work outside of comic books.
Going with “Nanotech” sounds plausible for a few seconds – but these speculative nanites would have to be capable of storing all the information that goes into making a wide selection of both humans AND ponies, coordinating with each other, analyzing a human body, and basically dismantling and rebuilding it while its still alive (adding another level of even greater complexity to handle keeping it alive during all the stages of the process). If the new ponies are going to be functional, the nanites have to be capable of installing memories (of how to use their abilities at the least) and reflexes too. Even more importantly, they have to be capable of finding – from somewhere – the energy necessary to do all this from within the victim’s body without producing enough waste products or energy to kill the victim and while bypassing the immune system – in itself a formidable collection of micro-machines that normally stops such intrusions.
So these “nanites” have to be able to analyze their environment, manipulate materials, manufacture an immense variety of exotic chemicals, communicate and coordinate, store massive amounts of information, generate plenty of internal power without significant waste heat, and posses more computational power then any supercomputer that’s ever been built. All in a package the size of a bacterium.
You know, bacteria are amazingly sophisticated nanites, and they can’t do anything like this. They just don’t have room to pack all of those functions in. That neatly lets out biological agents too.
Fundamentally, if you can create “nanites” or “bioagents” that can do all of this they can do pretty much anything else (except possibly time travel and FTL) – and you’re already close enough to being God that you might as well just claim the title.
There really isn’t any way to make this kind of transformation work in reality without throwing out most of what we understand about the universe or making it an incredibly elaborate, externally-supported (via surgery, organ cloning, and so on), and seriously slow process. Once you do throw out most of what we’ve come to understand for several centuries – which is pretty awkward, since that tells us that most of our gadgets shouldn’t work and that everyone has been missing all the evidence of these forces for centuries – you’re left with “mysterious forces that, with no apparent causal link to the rest of the universe, do incredibly complex stuff in defiance of all prior observation of reality”.
Which is really just a complicated way to say “Magic!” After all… “Magic” is just a word for “a selective set of exemptions from normal physics”. It’s in disrepute with scientists because no such thing has ever been observed – but scientists LOVE new discoveries. If anything like that ever turns up… they’ll be all over it. For that matter, every even remotely sane organization on the planet would be trying to recruit ponies. New abilities means new ways to try and solve your most intractable problems – and if you don’t find them first, it means losing out to whatever you have in the way of competitors.
There would be more irrational actions too, but for any really large organization to react that way a lot of the people in it will need to be irrational. Even more importantly, people are rarely all irrational the same way – so I’d expect at least as much “we love them!” as “we hate them!” – and a lot more caution on the “we hate them!” side. Most people are cautions about new creatures with unknown capabilities anyway, and will be even more so if they think that they’re hostile.
OK, so we’re forgetting the “transformed human” part and are just going to watch ponies in action for a bit?
We’ll ignore the fact that their bones seem to be capable of stretching, and that they can pick up things with their hooves, store items somewhere around their bodies with no apparent sign of where, show massive resistance to injury, and so on for now. A lot of that COULD be explained physically, even if the explanation would need to be pretty convoluted. Lets just look at some of the more blatant pony capabilities.
Pegasi, with very tiny wings for their size, can easily hover in the air in enclosed areas, without even creating much of a disturbance. They can stand and walk on clouds, move them about, and can produce massive amounts of rain and even lightning from clouds that aren’t much bigger then they are.
Where are they getting their lift? For that matter… a cloud isn’t even an OBJECT. It’s am ill-delineated region where temperature and humidity conditions are sufficient to cause some of the water in the air to condense as tiny droplets. A nice dense cloud contains about half a gram of water per cubic meter (although some have been seen with up to six times that). A 20-ounce bottle of drinking water would suffice to make more than a thousand cubic meters of normal cloud (not very big by cloud standards, but impressive enough when brought down to ground level). Lightning is the result of a charge differential generated across several thousand feet of altitude.
So… after watching a Pegasus Pony for a few minutes we can say goodby to Newtons Second and Third Law of Motion (and, for that matter, to Conservation of Momentum, Conservation of Mass-Energy, and most of the rules about Electromagnetism), just to start.
The clouds can be moved or molded, dissipate or bounce as required, and provide traction. When a Pegasus gets to them they have clearly defined edges too. So we need to throw out most of the rules about gases, and about how small clouds should be see-through patches of mist, and more. As soon as we see a Pegasus pulling an aerial cart or executing one of those high-speed sharp turns they like to make even more physics goes out the window.
Honestly, this goes on and on. “Physics” isn’t something that happens in distant laboratories. It’s the UNIVERSE. There are demonstrations of its principles all around you if you look – and those blasted Pegasus Ponies are… just ignoring it.
Unicorn telekinesis creates quite a lot of the same problems for any scientist that sees it all by itself – and that’s not even counting more advanced spells and effects or the way that they’ve been known to burst into flames without hurting themselves.
Earth ponies… well, they might be able to pass for a little while. Applebucking, manipulating items with their tails, bouncing (much larger and heavier) buffalo away, and dragging a train for miles should still set off some serious warning bells in a scientists mind, but they don’t INSTANTLY say “I get to ignore the “laws of physics” whenever I want to!” the way that Pegasi and Unicorn antics do.
Unless, of course, they’re watching Pinkie Pie or Cheese Sandwich or some other “party pony”, or Maud Pie tossing boulders, or Big Macintosh towing a house, or watch the super-strong kids from Crusaders of the Lost Mark (the one lifting the seesaw by one end in his teeth and the girl lifting a building to retrieve a ball) ignore leverage and structural requirements. Those will sort of give things away.
As for Celestia and Luna. They takes us into things like casual and reliable time travel (think about speed of light delay versus the instant response to Celestia wanting to move the sun), dreams escaping into reality, and so on – right on top of all the existing problems with Pegasi, Unicorns, and Earth Ponies.
Now a genuine scientist will keep on studying whatever laws this mysterious new force obeys, and trying to come up with a good theory – but it certainly resembles a lot of the depictions of “magic”, so there’s no reason not to use the word.
Ponies make a good example for the “supernatural/psychic/unnatural monstrous beings on modern earth” genre simply because many of their abilities are blatantly obvious – but many or most “aliens”, “mythical creatures”, and “monsters” will give away their supernatural nature to an observant scientist almost as quickly. Scientists do not simply ignore apparently inexplicable observations. They discard their disproven theories and start trying to figure out what is going on. If you want irrationality… stick with the cult leaders and such. They’re good at it.