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Bucking Nonsense


A Little Nonsense Now And Then Is Relished By The Wisest Men.

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Dec
4th
2016

I wrote this while I was sick, and refined it while I was better. · 4:49am Dec 4th, 2016

I feel I could work a story with this as the prologue. What do you guys think?

From The Collected Musings Of Starswirl The Bearded

We know so little about magic...
I've spent over a century of my life studying magic, and yet, for all I've learned, I still feel as if I am little further along than a colt who has just cracked open his first spell book. Why, you might ask? Simple: While I know a thousand spells and more, I have no real understanding as to the why's and how's of how magic works. The mysteries of a spell, any spell, have eluded me.
Oh, I know plenty about the biological aspects of spell casting: I know how our horns work in converting magical energy into magic spells. But can any pony tell me how and why, exactly, a certain set of thoughts and images, when focused upon in our minds, cause a growth of tissue and bone jutting out of our foreheads to convert magical energy to create exactly the effect we intend? More precisely, how do spells work, and why do they work without any real hiccups?
I mean, take the spell that transforms apples into oranges: Can you even begin to grasp how insanely complex a change that spell causes, on so many different levels? The peels, the flesh of the fruit, the seeds, those are just the start. When we go down to the cellular level, and look even further using more advanced magics, we see ever increasing degrees of complexity, and yet the spell perfectly performs the task to the point that I, years ago, took a seed from an apple that I transformed into an orange, planted it, and took seeds from the fruit, and planted them to get perfectly ordinary orange trees. I am up to five generations thus far... and counting. Not a single leaf is out of place. The orange, fifty years later, remains an orange, as do all that came after.
And then we get into the mind-numbing complexities of the spells that can be used to change a living, flesh and blood creature into another living, flesh and blood creature. If a fruit's structure is mind-bogglingly complex, it cannot hold a candle to the body of the average pony. And worse, everything is constantly in motion, and any effort to still that motion can be fatal. And then there's the whole matter of mass: How can you change a pony to a breezie, and not have a huge pile of unused pony messily littering the floor afterwards? Let that image sink in for a moment before I continue. Yes, well, I'm glad I skipped breakfast, too. More to the point, when you change the breezie back, where does the mass come from to do so? Why aren't you left with a just a tiny pony, or just a tiny part of a pony? Another wonderful mental image. My gift to you.
And let us not even start on teleportation, especially given how much we know about how everything in the cosmos is constantly in motion, at velocities that are beyond our ability to fathom, let alone measure. When a unicorn teleports from place to place, how does that pony not end up in the vast reaches of space, or inside a solid object? Or colliding with the ground or a nearby tree at speeds sufficient to render their body to paste? Or with large chunks of them missing or in the wrong place? Why does that pony invariably end up with their hooves planted on the ground, and why is the pony teleported, complete with skin, bones, tissues, organs, blood, and various fluids, along with the contents of their digestive tract, all right where they belong. Not once in the history of teleportation magic has their been an error that could not be attributed to operator error, rather than an error with the spell itself. They should be happening hourly, given how complex the art of teleportation really is.
Our instincts, perhaps, are just too good for our own good. We can do these things so easily, so naturally, that we never had to learn how to do them, beyond the initiation of the spell. We think things, and they happen. That's it. We know nothing of the route from thought to action, just that somehow, we go from point A to point B, and it works. And in a thousand, thousand ways, that terrifies me.
When we cast a spell, it is more like we are pressing a button, and then things happen. The button just happens to be affixed to our heads, and a little more complex in pressing than most. We understand nothing about how spells work, and why. We are little better than a monkey flipping a switch to get a banana as part of an experiment. The monkey knows it gets a banana when it throws the switch, we know we get a result when we cast a spell. Neither we, nor the monkey, contemplate the whys or hows, when any other kind of pony would ponder this in detail, and question it to the point of distraction. We're the only ponies foolish enough to risk our lives using a process whose working we know nothing of without ever considering the inherent danger in that action.
The next time you hear some proponent of the "Unicorn Master Race" philosophy start spouting their rhetoric, tell them what I just told you. Ten bits says they won't be able to give a counter-argument that makes any rational sense whatsoever. Of course, they can't give a rational counter-argument to anything that contradicts them, so that's an easy bet for me to win.
Never delude yourselves, my fellow unicorns: We've been given an impossibly potent gift, and our over-reliance of it has left us stunted, mentally, in ways that I have only recently begun to categorize. Earth ponies and pegasai have proven themselves to know a great deal more about their spheres of competence than we ever have of ours. If earth ponies knew as little about farming, or pegasai as little about the wind and weather, as we do about the workings of magic, we'd all starve to death, if the uncontrolled weather didn't get us first. We are, as a race, SIMPLE in all the most unpleasant definitions of the word.
Imagine if we knew as much about our spells as, say, earth ponies know about farming. You laugh, the lot of you, but that is because you think farming is simple. You think that they just plant a seed, water it, and then a tree pops out. No, it is nowhere near that easy. I've spoken with earth ponies about their work, and the sheer volume of information regarding the subject they maintain in their heads, once you get them started, is nothing short of tremendous.
There's the quality of the soil, for one: Different seeds need different kinds of soil to grow. A dozen different factors based just on the "plain old common dirt" will determine which seed, if any, will thrive in the soil. Then, there's how the plant needs to be raised. Yes, you pour water on it, but how much, and how often? Too much water can kill a plant as completely as too little. You have to constantly check the plant for pests that will eat the plant or its fruit (Which are legion), check it for diseases(which are even more multitudinous), and make sure that the soil is well fertilized, and is getting the right amount of sunlight. And the common farmer has to do this for dozens of plants, if not hundreds, of multiple varieties which all have different requirements to maintain. And they have to get this right for the overwhelming majority of their plants, year after year after year. And they do. When it comes to farming, the margin of error is MICROSCOPIC, compared to that of a spell. And then, after determining when the crops are ripe, there's the means of harvesting the food, and converting it into preserves, baking it into pies, or just properly cooking it so you don't get ill from eating it, like you can from eating raw potatoes.
If you were to compare their works to ours, an earth pony does the equivalent of working dozens, or even hundreds, of spells at the same time, and works them for years on end, and does so with more skill, patience, and above all else, SUCCESS... than any wizard who has lived in recorded history.
If we understood our spells even a fraction as well as an earth pony farmer understood his tradecraft, we'd be able to do far more than throw spells around. We'd be able to make real progress in understanding the universe as a whole...
And if earth ponies had been granted the gift of magic, and unicorns were stuck with managing the crops, they would have unlocked the secrets of the cosmos centuries ago, and ascended to some distant astral plane far beyond our fleshly concerns... while we unicorns were moronically throwing seeds at the ground and wondering why they weren't instantly growing into apple trees. They would be as gods, while we would be lucky if we didn't starve, while the pegasai just pointed at us and laughed at how stupid we were. How stupid we are. And they'd have every right to do so.
Consider all of that, the next time you think to speak ill of an earth pony. We have been granted the keys to the universe, to becoming the ultimate powers in the cosmos, and we're barely competent enough to use them as a poking stick. Were it not so effective a stick that it could potentially wipe out entire cities, we'd be serving them, begging for food, rather than they paying us to move the sun and moon about.

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Comments ( 20 )

I say finish one or two of your other stories then make it so.

Pretty cool concept. I like it.

I would love to read this as a longer story.

I say PLAN THE ENDING OF THIS STORY IDEA FIRST then go full steam ahead!

I would imagine princess Celestia would heavily regulate the study of magic as much as Catholicism and other religions regulates the Sciences.

4328260

Agreed. First rule of writing a story that completes successfully is to make sure you know how it's supposed to end before you start filling in the middle.

(At minimum, just identify your driving conflict and pick a matching resolution to end the story arc.)

I've seen brilliant authors who wrote 700,000 words of delightful character work and then burned out their muse without moving the plot very far because they forgot to keep track of the top-down view of their story.

Interesting. My own head cannon puts it more in the realm of the alar of Patrick Rothfuss or in tune with rings of power of DC comics. I will say that if you continue I would vote for AU as Twilight would have gone completely insane without the benefits of a structure to magic that she could fully grasp.

4328260
4328273
I tried that with What's Your Story, Morning Glory, and people decided that they didn't like where it was going before they even let me get out the starting gate:pinkiesad2:.

4328289

I remember that. The problem wasn't how you planned it, but the expectations set up by The Moon, The Flower, And The Door.

That story set up Morning Glory as an unusually driven child, special purely by the merit of that drive and what it caused her to do, so we had a strong expectation that the sequel would be some mix of person vs. society (Of course a non-Unicorn can't learn magic. What kind of fool is she?), character-developing interaction between her and Luna, and some degree of "coming of age".

Going into it with those expectations, what you wrote felt like finding out that The Two Towers was actually about how Frodo's grandfather (Bilbo's father) was the result of an affair Sauron had while posessing someone... kinda detracts from the specialness of the character, not to mention being tacky compared to the expectations.

EDIT: In essence, we were expecting a Bildungsroman like Without a Hive. (Which, by the way, is still the best Bildungsroman I've found on this site and I've read a lot of fiction here.)

4328289
Well, I really liked the story and I was sad to see it canceled. :twilightsheepish:

My assumption on Magic:

1. Magic operates in more that 1 dimension. That is to say, one does not change an apple to an orange, but rather one exchanges an apple for the IDEA of an orange from an other dimension.

Teleportation operates on a similar principle, folding extradimentional space between points a and b.

I love this! Make this story happen!!

4328289 It's because you told us the end during the beginning. All the biggest surprises were flung out with no buildup.

4328289
Maybe you need a writer friend to talk your endings over with?

Maybe you are one of those rare people who can still write endings to your stories without having to plan them out before hand?

I think that Starswirl is falling for a few logical fallacies; if Earth ponies had been granted magic, and the RULES of magic remained the same, then it's not logical to make that comparison - the science fields are too different, like trying to compare agriculture with quantum mechanics.

It's just not fair to either side of the equation.

4328757
It's more the difference between being the operator on an assembly line (Unicorn) and someone who can make, say, toys by hand (Earth Pony).

A unicorn has a horn that does all the hard work for him, but an earth pony, having no biological advantages, has to construct each spell from the ground up.

Yes, a factory operator can, in his factory pump out dozens, or hundreds, of toys in a day, because he has to just push a button (Like a unicorn uses their horn to cast a spell) to make toys come out of the machinery. Meanwhile, the toymaker has to construct each individual toy by hand, it takes longer to make them. However, if the factory breaks down, the operator can't make squat, due to the fact that all he knows is how to press the button. As soon as the button quits working, all the operator can do is stand around being useless. The toymaker, however, knows all about making toys by hand, so he can keep making those toys without a problem.

Here's something to consider for unicorns, though: They cast the spell, and the results happen, and they have no understanding of how the spell does what it does. Maybe it rewrites reality to make an event occur. Maybe it summons invisible pixies from a phantom plane to make things happen. Maybe it sends a message Cthulhu, and then Cthulhu actually performs the legwork needed for the spell results, in exchange for the magic the unicorn sends their way. Maybe some poor bastard gets raped to death by bulldogs made of white hot barbed wire and his anguish is used to power the changes the spell makes happen, and the spell is just the signal gun to get the bulldogs started. The point is, unicorns don't know how it goes from cast spell to resulting effect, just that Point A eventually reaches Point B.

It's a good explanation for why there's been no new magic for 1000 years: Spells aren't made, they're more or less discovered, and up until Twilight worked off of Starswirl's unfinished spell, no one had found a new spell to use in all that time.

(Part of the idea came from a webcomic I used to read, haven't had luck in finding again. There was a discussion about how magic wasn't quite as simple as folks thought: Case in point, a device that gave the user free food didn't magically manifest it out of thin air. Instead, it stole the food from nearby orphanages.)

4328783

Hmm, I understand what you are trying to say - something I don't get the chance to say very often - but I think that either the way you are saying it is off or there's a leap of logic I don't get.

(Also, the factory operator analogy may work for a grunt-level thing, but even then they have to know things about the machinery)

The comparison between Earth Ponies and Unicorns is NOT OK, since it's assuming that it's the unicorn race as a whole who is at fault, being collectively stupid, and that earth ponies are inherently better and should have been given magic instead. I know that THAT is NOT YOUR INTENTION, but... I had to reread everything twice to make sure it wasn't unicorn bashing, since it reminded me of a few comics and fics that DO bash on unicorns and this came uncomfortably close to them.

The problem, again, is that the two activities (magic and agriculture) are not really comparable, nor are their approaches. It's unfair for both races, since even if you DID, switch them, then that would mean that you merely have to mentally replace "unicorn" with "earth pony" and vice versa, because I seriously do not believe that earth ponies would do any better in this particular case if scholars like Starswirl DO attempt to unravel the mysteries of magic. It's far too much of a stretch to think that not a single unicorn has tried, or to believe that - if they did try and gave up - earth ponies would not run into the same troubles.

It's comparing agriculture to quantum mechanics, since it was not until recently that we as a race even became aware that something that small even existed, much less be able to perceive it. You can't just hand an earth pony the ability to use magic like a unicorn and expect them to discover more than anyone ever before much the same I won't expect a farmer to - for example - find tachyons if given a particle accelerator and the memories and training of however many researchers had used it before.

Unless Starswirl is a hypocrite and saw the diligence that earth ponies threw into everything and DIDN'T bother to even try. Also, it could be that they lack the understanding of science necessary for it - for example, there is evidence that people knew how to make batteries in antique times, but they didn't know HOW or WHY they worked, or even all of their possible uses; it's a more recent development, relatively speaking, and the understanding of it is what powers the tablet I'm posting this from.

Don't get me wrong: it is an INCREDIBLE concept for a more mentally-oriented plot, something that makes you think, but the way it's being presented is a little off-putting.

Come to think of it, it's a little similar to a Dexter's Laboratory/FiM crossover I'm reading, but the boy genius has cartoon super science on his side, that and the conflict comes from discrimination against non-unicorns in the scientific community. It's only tangentially similar to this, though.

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