My first question on this site has been put on hold because I am "asking questions about a story set in a world instead of about building a world". I read the linked explanation on meta, but I don't understand how what is said there relates to my question.

My question asks about the limitations of a fictional or future technology: If transplanting a brain would be possible in general, what makes it technologically impossible in some cases?

The answer to that question is a part of how that world functions, and not dependent on any events taking place in that world. I therefore understand it to be about worldbuilding.

Could you please explain to me how my question is not about building a world?

  • $\begingroup$ The support tag is for when you need technical help with a feature of the site. This is about explaining the reasoning behind a question closure, which is more of a discussion question. I also added some other tags to help categorize this question. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Aug 13, 2019 at 15:12

4 Answers 4


I didn't vote one way or the other on your original query, but in reading it, I would likely have voted to close for being story based. This is why:

  1. You mention the centrality of narrative no fewer than four times in your question. In fact, you introduce your question In the near future Science Fiction novel I am writing; which is followed up by narrative necessity and plot hole and In my story. These phrases indicate to us that you're having a writing difficulty of some kind rather than a worldbuilding issue per se. Especially narrative necessity: when you admit to that, you are very squarely focusing your question on matters of plot rather than nature of the world itself.
  2. WB.SE doesn't accept queries about plot holes or how to arrange the narrative elements or a story. Nor does it help people with issues of narrative necessity.
  3. Our purpose is to help worldbuilders, and even (would-be) authors such as yourself!, with the fundamental systems and functionality of their worlds.

As I read your query, you've already got a good hold on point 3, so there's really nothing for us to answer. Also, for points 1 & 2, you've already answered yourself to my satisfaction: in this instance, there must have been some kind of fatal error (some kind of trauma perhaps) that would preclude implantation of the original brain. I don't see any point in going further along those lines.

So, what can be done about this situation?

Well, the main thing is to edit your question so that it is no longer about the story you're writing. You mention medical, technical, ethical issues in passing as potential lines of enquiry and you tagged your question "science based". I think if you were to remove all mention of your story as irrelevant (we assume that people either make invented worlds for fun or they make them in which to set stories); leave in the background data on what's possible in your world; and then focus on what the real problem is, you'll have at least one and perhaps two related but much more SE friendly queries.

The medical morality & ethics line of enquiry would be fascinating to explore in an answer. Medical technical issues would also be quite interesting. Plus I can show pictures of damaged brains and surgeries. ;)

  • $\begingroup$ Ah. I see. Thank you. $\endgroup$
    – user67090
    Aug 13, 2019 at 16:36

Technobabble is part of the creative process

The question is asking the community to write the technobabble for you. This is problematic, for two reasons. First, most of the participants on this site do not like the idea of supplying artistic creativity; among others, all user contributions to this site are licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 (that's Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike) license, which means that should you use such artistically creative snippets in your work you would have to give credit to the original author. Second, it allows an infinite set of possible answers, and the general rule of Stack Exchange is that questions should be crafted in such a way as to make it possible to select one best answer.

Let's consider the following possible approaches, which, I would say, are quite obvious:

  • You may choose to avoid the technobabble entirely. Just say that while the brains of the vast majority of persons are transplantable, there is a significant minority of people whose brains are not transplantable. For example, in David Weber's Honorverse they have regeneration technology, so that any wound which is not immediately fatal can be repaired perfectly; however, a minority of people do not regen, and this is quite important for the plot, because two important characters belong to this minority. We are not told how regeneration works, we are not told why it doesn't work for some unfortunate few: this is how it is and that's it.

  • Or you may go with elaborate technobabble, as they did in Star Trek before Discovery. That such elaborate technobabble is clearly part of the artistically creative process is proven by the passing of several stock phrases from science-fiction shows into common speech, for example, "reversing the polarity", "flux capacitor" or "Heisenberg compensator". Some technobabble ideas have even become genericized, and are used freely in science fiction; for example, inertial compensators or tractor beams.

    Mindless surrealist automatism: as any neurotransplantician, brain transplant in subjects which carry a double Polyarnoff mutation of their Hox-3 gene presents unsurmontable risks of severe personality alteration; brain transplants plain don't work in subjects which present multichiral isoglutamate receptors in their modifiable synapses; post-transplant theta wave ringing occurs in subjects which had received ultramielinisation enhacements in their youth (fairly common with members of the Fast Reaction Forces); a small but significant minority of subjects present unusually well-developed association cortexes which simply cannot be kept alive long enough during the transplant procedure; and I could continue for quite some time.

  • Or else you could go for over-the-top technobabble, approaching myth making; in my mind, the silliest example is the space travel by means of magic mushrooms featured in Star Trek: Discovery. Maybe the lineal descendants of Odin are blessed with hyperintelligence, allowing them to forsee the immediate actions of any person in their immediate vicinity, but on the other hand their brains have a built-in anti-tamper mechanism which detects attempts at transplant and shuts down cerebral functions; meybe there is an unbreakable taboo against transplanting the brains of Vermillion Prize laureates; maybe it is known that each brain transplant decreases emotional intelligence by 5 to 10 percentage points, and the characters is already a borderline sociopath; and so on.

  • Or you can go with plain in-universe explanations; maybe there was no suitable brainless body immediately available, and brains can be kept alive for no more that two hours; maybe the surgeon scheduled to perform the transplant slipped on a banana peel and no other qualified surgeon was available in the allowed timeframe; maybe there was a purge of neurosurgeons and the characters happened to need the transplant before new surgeons could be vetted for their political reliability. Etc. etc.

Now, how could you (or the community) possibly choose between the answers? We do not know how brain transplant works, so it would be unreasonable to expect serious failure mode analysis. We don't know the rules, so we cannot be exepected to indicate the best and most capacious loophole.

As a conclusion: yes, obviously, the question is story-based, and, as such, it cannot be answered within the conventional boundaries of this site.


I did not vote to close, but I would have

Why did the physicians decide...?

  • World building is about systems and rules.

  • Story building is about choices, actions, and plot.

It's technically true that you were looking for a systemic reason that would justify the physician's decision, but you did not provide anywhere near enough detail about the rules and systems of your world to let us extend those systems and rules to solve your problem.

What we were left with as simply helping you write your story (choices, actions, and plot), which is expressly forbidden in our Help Center.

When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story.

It is regrettably difficult for new users to learn how to separate "help me build my world" from "help me tell my story." They are, after all, interrelated. But we all had to climb that mountain. We are here to help you devise rules for your world that would physiologically limit the transference of a brain into a human body. We are not here to help you figure out how to justify the decision of your doctors.


I am not among those who voted to close the question. However I see that you ask:

But this narrative necessity creates a plot hole:

If the brain was intact (so that the personality and their memories could be 'read out') and transplantation to a new body would have been possible, why did the physicians decide to implant an artificial brain instead of transplanting the original?

  • In our real world brain transplant is yet to come
  • In your world this is possible

The way I see it, it follows that, whatever explanation we can come up, it is just about your plot, not about the rules of your world. As such the question is story based.

  • $\begingroup$ I see. But isn't the same true for almost all other questions on this site? Their authors all want a certain outcome because of the story they are writing. I understand worldbuilding to mean building a world for a story to take place in it, so if the fact that I need a world with certain properties makes a question not worldbuilding, then most questions on this site aren't about worldbuilding in the required sense. $\endgroup$
    – user67090
    Aug 13, 2019 at 11:07

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