Suspending Disbelief

There’s a lot of things in anime and sci-fi that appear to blatantly break the laws of physics. By “appear to” I mean that, due to things only being viewed as far as we see them in the show, they do. There may be some sophisticated but physically sound mechanism that causes the effects to happen. For example, a double-jump in a videogame might consist of a displacement of air via some compression mechanism, giving the jumper a ‘push’. There’s no easy way a gamer can test to see if this is true or not, due to the limitations of the game, but for all we know it could be there. Of course, this makes the explanation unfalsifiable, and thus not very scientific, but one could imagine that if the game’s universe was expanded such that the necessary interaction with the environment was capable, one could observe these effects.

This is an element of the suspension of disbelief. You’re looking at a world you don’t have full access to, and assuming that because it looks like it works, it must work.

Another way of thinking about this is in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion. In the first season, every time Zero comes up with a stunning and amazing plan, you see a lot of the groundwork and preparation for that plan. In season 2 (known as R2), sometimes he’ll just arrive on-scene with a plan, and you never get to see how he came up with it. An example that immideately comes to mind is in episode 8 of R2. A friend of mine had complained that it’s less good this way, that he wants to see all the planning steps. I think that this is better, because by this point we know how Zero’s powers work, it’d just be boring to see him use them again because it wastes time that could be used on action. It just feels like a reasonable assumption that he has the capacity to perform such a task.

So when Professor Saotome of the Saotome Institute says he knows how Getter Rays work and he knows how to utilize them, it’s safe to believe him. It’s thereby safe to say that Getter Rays work in such a way that they can be used because this scientist says he knows. And it’s safe to say he’s a scientist because, in his show, his institute is famous, and he has a lot of people working for him. You’d think if he was a quack that some other scientists would come down on him, his reputation would be ruined, and nobody would work for him.

So dispite the fact that Getter Rays are among the more crazy fictional energy sources out there, it can be believed, to an extent, that things on the show are made possible thanks to them.

Now, of course, this sort of thing will always hinge upon at least one or two leaps of faith. In the above example, the leap of faith was that this magical energy source even exists. So, as scientists, we could start scrutinizing at this, looking at how getter rays work, determining that they could never exist, etc..

Or we could not. Because that just makes the show unwatchable. It’s important to be able to, when necessary, separate our personal and professional lives. That doesn’t mean we should do so always, or I’d be a hypocrite for making this blog. But, without being able to sit down and not worry, we can’t enjoy the shows. Shows try to have meaning and give messages, and anyone who gets stuck in the details is missing out.

Scrutinizing over how science is portrayed in fiction is certainly allowable, and interesting and creative discussions can stem from it. But, fiction is meant to be enjoyed, and if you can’t suspend disbelief at least for long enough to enjoy it, you’re missing out.


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