# Suggestion: allow questions about theoretical physics

Here I've found this question which, on my opinion, shouldn't have been closed.

I suggest to extend the border of the site topic into the area of the modern sciences.

My arguments:

1. This site is largely about sci-fi. Scifi means: scientific fiction. It should be obviously ontopic here.
2. The quality of scifi is significantly better, if it has strong scientific background. This site is for world builders. If you have also a stronger scientific flavor, it will improve the quality of the site.
3. Allowing questions like this would be also a possibility to get more highly qualified experts in different scientific areas, which has always a very positive effect. I citate the Area51 FAQ here: "To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site."
4. The answer would be interesting. An answer to this question wouldn't be an opinion, but it would be the result of a calculation. It would be an objective answer. I am now quite curious, what is the answer, and I would find it very useful, if an expert of the theoretical physics could answer it. And I am probably not alone with that.

Of course, I am not for allowing every scientific question. Questions should be also about world building, i.e. from hypothetical constructions of alternative worlds.

• I don't think the content of the question was the problem, it was just that it was a bad question for the site. It's far too broad, it'd probably take a series of books to adequately answer, and even then it'd be nearly impossible to build anything with it without an unhealthy dose of speculation and opinion. May 23, 2016 at 1:23
• @DaaaahWhoosh Theoretical physicists are playing with similar questions everyday. Of course it needs a series of books and some years of learning to answer, but this why the worldbuilding site exists. Maybe an expert can answer this question. But it doesn't really need an academical level theoretical physics knowledge, I think a well-informed layman can also answer it (unfortunately, I not, although I suspect that it would make the Schwarzschild radius also smaller). May 23, 2016 at 1:59
• @DaaaahWhoosh Btw, if a scifi writer wants to validate his story elements by scientific experts, I think this is exactly this site for. May 23, 2016 at 2:01
• @MorningStar did you know that there's a scifi.stackexchange.com?
– Aify
May 23, 2016 at 5:12
• But SciFi.SE is about existing works, not future works. We are the one and only speculative site on StackExchange. Asking that question on SciFi.SE would likely get migrated and might eventually end up here. Their help explicitly mentions that writing science fiction is off-topic there. May 23, 2016 at 5:31

I think alternative worlds is a valid subject for WorldBuilding, given its name. However, questions in the form of "What if we had exactly the same world we have today, except ________" where the blank is some new law of physics pose problems. I'd say at least half of them I have seen, if not more, are fundamentally broken in their understanding of physics to the point where asking for a physics based answer is like asking which cut of steak makes the best lemonade.

Others are simply ill researched. I am no expert on the topic of black holes, so I spent a mighty two minutes researching the topic on Wikipedia. A Schwartzchild black hole, by definition, has no charge. Electric charge cannot shrink the Schwartschild radius because if it has a charge, it is not a Schwartzchild black hole. Instead, you need to use the Reissner–Nordström metric, which works for charged black holes. This suggests either the author failed to research the topic in the least, or my two minute Wikipedia learning session was two wasted minutes.

I think there's room for well worded physics questions about alternate worlds. However, I personally get really nervous thinking about answers to physics based questions when it is clear the author asking the question is way over their head. Physics has this nasty tendency of declaring itself the authority on reality, unless you know enough to beat it back. I can easily see questions like that decreasing creativity, rather than increasing it. I like to give a lot of leeway to questions that inspire creativity, but I'm not a fan of those which go the other way.

If questions like these are fair game, as you recommend, I think they should be subject to a "homework rule," similar to that on Physics.SE or Mathematics.SE. If you come with a physics problem, you should also come with enough work done so that we can see where your understanding falls shy, and help with that part of the problem. Like on homework problems, its not the answer that is helpful, but the process. If the author had come in with "I want to add some fictional force to my world, which has an effect on charged black holes, but I don't understand the Reissner–Nordström metric, and how it might be manipulated by a disruptive force" we might be able to do something.

I do have to give this question credit for having a specific question. Many of the fill-in-the-blank physics questions are simply "what would happen if____". If there's any reason to reopen this question, its because it actually asked something specific enough to answer (which is clear because it was specific enough that I could note issues in terminology!).

Update: Since I think this is an important metaquestion for WB to deal with, I've been giving it more thought since my answer. I realized recently that this question gives an excellent example where asking an apparently simple question about an apparently well defined new law yields dramatic unexpected results.

The author of the original question is clearly patterning the fictitious "species charge" after electromagnetism, with a minor change that opposites repel and like charges attract. Every single sentence in the question uses electromagnetic terms to describe what is going on, down to the point of suggesting using protons and electrons as example entities with charge.

From Columb's law: $F=k_e\frac{qQ}{r^2}$ where q and Q are the charges of two particles, and r is the distance between them ($k_e=\frac{1}{4\pi \epsilon_0}$, though I wont need that here). Clearly to get to the "species charge, we just negate that constant, yielding $F=-k_e\frac{qQ}{r^2}$. Simple right? Just like electrostatics, except now like charges attract.

However, it turns out this is the end of the similarity between electrostatics and this new force. The equations "look similar." However, the result of this is so completely and utterly unrelated to electrostatics in every way that I wouldn't even consider electrostatics to be template for how it behaves. In electrostatics, because like charges attract, there is a natural tendency for opposite charges to come together and act as a neutral charge. This effect is so pronounced that, even though gravity is immensely weaker than electrostatics by many orders of magnitude, gravity is still the dominating force in the universe. In this new fictitious force, nothing encourages its "species charge," as it was called, to neutralize. In fact, it would encourage the universe to rather rapidly divide into two halves hurtling away from each other incredibly fast. Thus, the universe will rapidly evolve into a state where you can effectively divide it in half and deal with each half-universe separately. Each half would be "similar" to our universe, only charged with like "species charges."

So how bad is this? From the original question, " This 'species force' between two electrons would be about 1,000 times less than the electric force between them - so it would be still far stronger than the gravitational force between them." Electrostatics is actually 39 orders of magnitude stronger than gravity, so that suggests this "species force" is 36 times stronger than gravity. Because nothing is encouraging cancellation, the result will be an attractive force that is immensely more powerful than gravity. Instead of finding ourselves pulled towards the earth at $9.8 m/s^2$, we would find ourselves accelerated at $9800000000000000000000000000000000000 m/s^2$! The resulting tidal forces would easily be enough to cause spaghetification, and the general collapse of the universe into two black holes. There would likely be no matter outside of the black holes.

Nothing in the question is concerned with the rest of the universe, but the rest of the universe literally got Bulldozed to support this "species charge." Whatever world was being built here is destroyed by its own forces. A single minus sign is the difference between the world we live in today, and a pair of supermassive blackholes containing all the matter in the known universe.

This is an example of why these questions are so tricky. There are so many unintended consequences to pay attention to when you decide to change the laws of physics.

• I actually did know that it's Reissner-Nordstrom Black hole when it has an electric charge and not a Schwarchild Black Hole however the reason I called it the Schwarchild Radius is because I wasn't sure what to call it because I had in mind the size an object would need to be in order to be a black hole and not necessarily an actual black hole so I wasn't sure if the term outer horizon would still apply in this case considering that it may not be smaller than the radius needed to be a black hole. May 23, 2016 at 6:17
• I have done more research on charged black holes before posting the question than it may look like from my calling it the "Schwarchild Radius." If you read more about charged black holes you will find that increasing the charge of a black hole decreases the radius of the outer horizon which I got correct in my question even if I may have described it using the wrong terminology by calling it the Schwarchild Radius instead of Outer Horizon. May 23, 2016 at 6:40
• Nearly every question here is "some like our world, except ...", physics questions aren't exceptions. The Reissner-Nordström metric is for electrically charged black holes, this question is for hypothetical interaction significantly different from the electromagnetism. Homework is clearly not a case here: this would be at least an academic level "homework", but then the OP would use a quite different terminology. May 23, 2016 at 10:38
• @MorningStar Physics questions are unique because as Cort Ammon said, they easily lead to inconsistencies; changing, say, the main language of the US won't lead to those impossibilities.
– HDE 226868 Mod
May 23, 2016 at 15:06
• @MorningStar of the 10 questions I've asked, 0% of them are physics questions, and 0% of them are "some like our world, except ..." questions. Please don't generalize the questions on this site.
– Aify
May 23, 2016 at 15:51
• Rarely do answers on Meta make me laugh but the cut of meat to lemonade analogy was amazing. May 24, 2016 at 17:16
• @Aify That is because you don't build worlds, you validate/optimize different scifi scenarios here (which is, on my opinion, also offtopic). May 25, 2016 at 10:55
• @HDE226868 I am quite sure that the cause of the surprisingly vehement resistance isn't that maybe the result would be different using different quantum gravity models. And also not yours. The non-quantumgravitational solution to this problem isn't inconsistent. May 25, 2016 at 10:57
• I just added an update, because i've been thinking about this and I finally thought of a good example of how this sort of question degenerates unless you are immaculately careful. May 25, 2016 at 15:00

I agree mostly with Cort Ammon; His first 3 paragraphs pretty much sum up how I think about these questions. However, I don't think questions like these ("Like these" as in too broad and requiring a book + a phd to answer) should ever be fair game.

I disagree with your arguments; and here is why:

1) This site is largely about sci-fi. Scifi means: scientific fiction. It should be obviously ontopic here.

I'm going to stop you right there - This site is not "largely about sci-fi". This site is about building worlds, and sci-fi is only a small portion of building worlds. There are many non-sci-fi questions on this SE. Also, I'd like to point out that the sci-fi topic itself is already considered on-topic here.

2) The quality of scifi is significantly better, if it has strong scientific background. This site is for world builders. If you have also a stronger scientific flavor, it will improve the quality of the site.

Who are you to judge that the quality of scifi is "better"? "Better" than what? We can improve the quality of the site in many ways, having a stronger scientific flavor is one of them, but not the only possible method. In fact, we have a tag specifically for this reason.

3) Allowing questions like this would be also a possibility to get more highly qualified experts in different scientific areas, which has always a very positive effect. I citate the Area51 FAQ here: "To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site."

4) The answer would be interesting. An answer to this question wouldn't be an opinion, but it would be the result of a calculation. It would be an objective answer. I am now quite curious, what is the answer, and I would find it very useful, if an expert of the theoretical physics could answer it. And I am probably not alone with that.

No, the answer would probably not be that interesting; "interesting" is subjective to the reader (also, refer to above point). Also, the answer to this question would most definitely be an opinion because the calculations to obtain the answer would have to be made up (of opinion), because the calculations and formulas to deal with new forces that act a certain way simply don't exist. If the premise is false then all answers using that premise can be considered true; this is basic logic, if p->q.

• 1) Maybe we define the word "largely" a little bit different. Anyways, a significant part of the site is about scifi. 2) High quality, enjoyable scifi and realistic scientific background correlates, and I think the majority of the readers and also the writers think so. 3) A scientific paper would be maybe too complex answer here, but their essence and result could be explained in some sentences on an enthusiast level. 4) I am quite curious to the answer and probably I am not alone with that. If you aren't, you can ignore the question, but there is no need to VtC it. May 23, 2016 at 10:45
• 5) I say again: particle physicists are regularly dealing with such hiphotetical problems. For example, the calculations of the recently found gravitational waves were around a century long so hyptethical as this new force. There is a lot of current hypotheses in the physics about similar new particles or new forces, most of them won't be ever proven. May 23, 2016 at 10:48
• If you VtC the question, it doesn't mean that you don't find it interesting, it means more: it means that you think, most of the visitors/users of the site also won't and thus it should be offtopic. May 23, 2016 at 10:49
• Also there is a "hard-science" tag for questions like this, which I find as an evidence that scientific questions shouldn't be inherently offtopiced. May 23, 2016 at 10:51
• And finally: I also said, questions answered by expert physicsists (and biologists, geologists, etc) would improve the site, as the Area51 FAQ also states. The community should attract them, and not fight them. They are few, and their content is useful and attracts laymen/enthusiasts as well. May 23, 2016 at 10:53
• @MorningStar First of all, particle physicists are able to "test" their hypothesis and theories in order to prove their calculations. That in itself is a process that takes many years to do. What they deal with is completely different from questions like the new force question. Secondly, you can't simply explain a scientific paper "in some sentences on an enthusiast level" - the whole reason why the question requires a scientific paper is because it would be too complex to answer otherwise. As you've noted, scientific paper answers are not suitable for this site...
– Aify
May 23, 2016 at 15:33
• ... so what you're saying there is a bit of a self contradiction. Even if the question was tagged hard-science, the question would still have required a book to answer properly, and as such would be off topic. The mere fact that the hard-science wouldn't be enough to handle the question, IMO, is reason for closure on a question dealing with a facet of the world like this. Thirdly, if I VTC a question, it doesn't mean that I think other visitors/users of the site won't find it interesting. If I VTC a question, it means that the question is unsuitable for this SE for a particular reason;...
– Aify
May 23, 2016 at 15:36
• ... whether or not the question is interesting has no effect on if I VTC the question. For example, I thought the towels for military combat question was very interesting - the majority of the community thought so as well, however the question was still closed as off topic because of the content, not because of the popularity. Close votes are not a popularity contest, please get that through your head. Fourthly, I don't care that you're interested in the question or that anyone else is interested in the question - I look at the questions on their own, in their own little box. As part of the...
– Aify
May 23, 2016 at 15:39
• ... community, I regularly open links to questions that I don't find interesting whatsoever in order to judge the quality of said questions. I find it to be part of my responsibilities to VTC off topic questions, regardless of the popularity of the question, so no, I can't just "ignore the question". And finally, your final comment is a paraphrasing of your 3rd point in your original post which I have already answered in my posting 0 you haven't added a new point or anything, do you mind reiterating it if there is one?
– Aify
May 23, 2016 at 15:41
• No. Particle physicists have tens of thousands of papers written about never existed and untestable particles. The Higgs boson was 40 year long such a particle. The gravitational waves were 100 year long such untested (ok, not particles, but a phenomenon). May 25, 2016 at 11:01
• I replay: I checked your questions and I think, you don't build worlds, you are thinking in scifi scenarios (which are, on my opinion, also ontopic here). May 25, 2016 at 11:02
• @MorningStar SE is not a place for people to write scientific papers to answer overly broad questions. I don't care that X years ago Y was unproven and had Z papers written on it, because this is not the place to write papers on topics. If something requires a paper to explain, it's too broad and therefore off topic. Oh, and I do build worlds, I just don't ask questions that are off topic for this site here. You can try to change the entire scope of the site if you'd like, but as that's next to impossible... good luck.
– Aify
May 25, 2016 at 20:32

To try and be more concise.

The subject of that question is absolutely fine. Physics questions are asked and answered all the time, whether theoretical or otherwise.

The problem with that question is that it's too broad and/or not narrowly enough described.

If it can't be reasonably answered in a non-essay-length question then a question is most likely too broad.

For what it's worth I think this one is not completely clear-cut as too broad, I've seen far worse, however the consensus seems to be that it is. Rather than arguing with the consensus though how about looking at what can be done to constrain the question so that answers do fit within this format.

Remember that "closed" is "on hold", not "this question sucks". On hold questions are on pause and if they are fixed to solve the problems that brought them to this they can and will be opened again. Many questions go through this post-close-edit-open cycle and it's entirely normal.

We have a sandbox in meta and a worldbuilding chat room, I'm sure you can get advice there on how to make the question fit better into this site's scope.