The title is awful but I couldn't come up with a better one, feel free to edit

What I'm wondering about is this: when presented with question such as this, this or this, where the answer is most likely a resounding NO and there are strong reasons as to why what is questioned is impossible or extremely unlikely, should we, by default, also try to present possible workarounds to make it at least possible?

The reasons this is different here, compared to more strictly technical sites, such as SO, is because:

  1. These are imaginary worlds and they're not obligated (nor can they) conform to reality 100% (so workarounds are always possible, if not always good)
  2. This is a Q&A about building worlds and ideally it should provide help in building worlds, not just stating that imaginary situations are impossible or possible (which feels more appropriate for a science or technology-focused Q&A)
  3. While many questions are asked by people with some sense of the related subject matter of their question, it's unlikely we'll be getting questions on whether imaginary situations are possible or not, from people who are already experts on the matter. Lacking expertise, it's also unlikely they'll be able to come up with plausible solutions to their worldbuilding on their own. The obvious question a lot of them would ask in real life is "Under what conditions would it be possible?". It would make sense to expect the same from those who search for said questions.

Some questions state this in the question body already, but should we consider this follow-up query on how to squeeze the impossible in there to be an implicit part of these questions always? Should we expect the asker to add this side to the question themselves? or is the answer of "No, here's why" enough considering the scope?

edit: The tag idea was a joke, only placed here for completeness, yet answers seem to be focusing on that part entirely - so I'm editing it out for clarity. Making a note here for future readers: huge success.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually I disagree with pretty much all of your examples here being impossible - so that makes it hard to answer the question :) $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB Well consider the examples bad then, as they may well be. Is the question unclear without them, because if so, I'll have to edit it. - Or here's an alternative way to read it: if one finds themselves in a position where the question appears to be just as impossible as I claim the examples to be, what is the appropriate treatment? $\endgroup$
    – mechalynx
    Commented Oct 3, 2014 at 22:42

3 Answers 3


On reading the edited question, I think it's an important issue. I'll rephrase, in case I don't understand the question.

I don't think this is really about the "impossible" situation or proposal, but rather about fishing.

In your view, we are seeing a good many questions posed thus:

  • Given X conditions that differ from our own known situation, would Y known phenomenon occur?

(or some variation on this basic structure).

The questioner lacks a good deal of foundational information with respect to the relevant fields of knowledge, and thus is effectively fishing for whatever information might be relevant. This is problematic, because it makes a strong, clear answer impossible.

But in all likelihood, the questioner means something like this:

  • In my world, X conditions differ from our known situation, and I do/don't want Y known phenomenon to occur. How can I make that plausible?

Perhaps what's called for here is simply an awareness on the community's part that this kind of formulation tends to lead into shallower speculation than is desirable. Thus the best thing to do is to write a comment suggesting the reformulation.

For example, the spaceflight without weapons question, or the flying civilization without the wheel. In the former case, I suspect that the question is whether the author can plausibly develop a spaceflight culture without advanced weaponry. In the latter, I don't know whether the author wants wheels or not -- and that confuses the issue a good deal. Both questions could be narrowed to specify the desired outcome, leading to more productive and authoritative responses.

Another example is the "ban on computers" question. Granted a ban on computing, what then? That's far too open-ended. What does the questioner want to happen? The issue here is to connect the dots: "I want a ban on computers, but I also want some kind of artificial intelligence thing like HAL-9000, and I want to be able to have starships. Is there a way to make those things not mutually exclusive?"

(And no, I don't think tags are relevant, but neither does the OP.)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I think we're on the same page now (damn you tag joke!) - What you're suggesting is that, unless I'm mistaken, we should, by default, treat such questions as requiring a workaround, but the proper avenue would be to request clarifications from the OP as well, to facilitate giving a useful answer. This is pretty much what I think we should do as well and the comment is a good thing to keep in mind. $\endgroup$
    – mechalynx
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ That's very well put, @ivy_lynx. $\endgroup$
    – CAgrippa
    Commented Oct 4, 2014 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ I wish I had read this before I posted my own question. I think something to this effect should be included in the help center, about how best to form questions that will create a useful answer for the asker. $\endgroup$
    – Bokai
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 16:21

I am opposed to the idea of having a tag to invite alternative solutions. The asker will often not realise that what they originally ask for is not possible or not ideal, so will not know to add the tag. Unless an asker explicitly states that they are not interested in anything but a very specific answer, any answer that attempts to solve the askers problem is welcome. The votes will judge the alternative solutions.

For example: Is it possible to advertise on the moon?

Answer: Not by the suggested method of projection, but it is possible using physical panels on the moon.

I believe this kind of answer (both a no and an alternative solution) serves this site well.

(Disclosure: the answer I refer to is mine)


I think it varies per asker. Some may be trying to add legitimacy to a plot point/other establish feature of their world, while others are testing the grounds to see if an idea is plausible.

I, personally, find it difficult to find a way to state "well, if this question presupposes something that wouldn't work, please suggest something similar in vein or a workaround or an easy, only-slightly-handwaving justification or something like that, please" in my questions. I know we don't like metatagging, but perhaps in this case it's justified?

Already, we have , previously . We could continue with that, but perhaps another tag, such as (eww) or something of that sort could be introduced.

Still, we don't want unnecessary tag proliferation.


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