"I've been studying theoretical physics, although at this point I guess it's just physics."The Sci-Fi Counterpart of All Myths Are True, this is when long-obsolete, fringe, or disproven scientific theories are considered true for the purposes of either Rule of Cool or Art Major Technology. Examples should be distinguished from Science Marches On, as in this trope's case the use of dodgy science is quite deliberate. This is sometimes a supertrope of Ancient Astronauts, Lamarck Was Right, Genetic Memory, Our Cryptids Are More Mysterious, Psychic Dreams for Everyone and many other tropes found right here on this wiki, and arguably underpins most modern uses of alchemy in Speculative Fiction. It's also rampant in Steam Punk, which is often set in universes where, for example, the theory of the aether is true. The trope comes in one of two flavors: Obsolete science may be used to evoke associations with the past in a manner resembling Zeerust Canon; alternately, fringe or obsolete science may be used to evoke the notion that all manner of far out ideas are really true in this particular fictional universe. More generally, it covers fringe or obsolete scientific concepts that are just part of a story's premise and aren't used to evoke anything. It does not include plain bad or mistaken notions of the You Fail Science Forever sort, though it can be hard to tell sometimes. The criterion for inclusion on this list is that the concept involved is a real fringe or obsolete theory meant to explain an already-observed phenomenon that the work treats as true for reasons of premise or style. In other words, the explanations are speculative or obsolete; the phenomena explained are, however exaggerated, real. Super Trope for modern uses of Counter-Earth, Hollow World, Pineal Weirdness, and Lamarck Was Right; and for most uses of Ancient Astronauts. Real Life examples abound, of course, but should be avoided unless they have been the basis of fictional works or story premises.
— Gohan, on Trunks proving time travel, Dragon Ball Z Abridged
open/close all folders
- For its part, The DCU has long relied on the parallel-worlds theory, an inheritance from its prominence The Golden Age Of Science Fiction. Writer Gardner Fox and editor Julius Schwartz were heavily involved in that industry before and while they worked in comics, explaining its use as the spine of the comics' cosmology.
- Grant Morrison loves treating fringe science claims as true in his comics, whether it's the "morphogenetic field" in Animal Man or Masaru Emoto's theory that water has feelings coming true in a chapter of Seven Soldiers.
- In the Marvel Universe, a number of fringe theories are quite true, including the Counter-Earth idea and the underlying explanation of nearly all non-magical superpowers deriving from Jack Kirby's use of Ancient Astronauts in the 1970s series The Eternals. Similarly, from the 1980s to The New '10s, Time Travel obeyed the rules of the many-worlds hypothesis as well.
- Lampshaded in an issue of Alan Moore's Tom Strong, where the hero and villain reminisce about a 1930s adventure and are disturbed that phlogiston, liquid heat, was real then... despite having since been disproven as a theory. Tom even pointed out at the time that phlogiston's existence is pure conjecture, and doesn't seem to buy that Saveen has discovered it until it almost kills him. What was more disturbing was how the villain somehow managed to invent a way to create phlogiston, despite the idea being bunk.
- Similar to Morrison, Warren Ellis tends to use "bleeding edge" and sometimes undersupported scientific hypotheses culled from popular journals, with the result that much of his work fits into this trope when it isn't purely Artistic License – Physics. Examples include description theory and the universal structure presented in Comicbook/Planetary.
- Animorphs used this trope sometimes. In the case of Area 51... I mean, Zone 91... it was heavily Lampshaded. It was more moderately lampshaded when an Atlantis-type lost civilization turned out to be real. And there are also the Skrit Na, whose main purpose for being in the books was to be an alien race fitting the description of The Greys. Subverted, though, when Erek is telling the story of how his Chee race arrived at the right time to be Ancient Astronauts. When asked about the concept that they might have been the ones to design the pyramids, Erek clarifies that the Chee didn't interfere with human society in ways like that, just as they don't do things like that in the present day (though he personally did in fact help build the pyramids... as a laborer). Also, the series' treatment of psychic phenomena, and of the question of dolphin and whale intelligence, seems to be based on this trope.
- Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series is set in a world in which the Peripatetic theory of a geocentric universe within a series of nested crystal spheres in which are contained the stars and the planets is true. It is still possible to go to the stars, although obviously the experience is a much different one. One character actually speculates on what, in the world of the story, is the fringe theory that the universe might be a heliocentric one in which the stars and planets float in a vacuum, but rejects it.
- The uses of the ether theory in the Cthulhu Mythos is an example of this trope rather than Science Marches On, as the theory had been disproven some decades before and the Mythos elsewhere uses elements of the relativistic theories that displaced the assumptions behind the ether.
- Discworld has a lot of fun with fringe science. Most notably the way the word "quantum" can be used to justify anything, and the morphogenic field. (The Discworld Roleplaying Game notes that all theories of morphic resonance are true on the Disc, including the ones that contradict each other). Not to mention the whole "the world is flat" thing, y'know?
- As part of its satirical use of Conspiracy Theory elements, Foucault's Pendulum employs a number of fringe theories, including the telluric currents idea. However, the novel is as much a Deconstruction of this trope (and the Conspiracy Theory and All Myths Are True tropes) as anything, so it's ambiguous whether the theories are true or whether some of the characters are simply perceiving reality from an unusual angle.
- James Joyce frequently uses the archaic cosmological ideas of Giambattista Vico in his literary works; ''Finnegans Wake in particular uses vico's version of eternal return as one of its basic structural principles.
- Other Songs, a not-yet-translated novel by Polish author Jacek Dukaj, is set on alternate Earth where Aristotle was right.note
- In one of the Secret Histories novels, Eddie, Molly, and the Armourer visit an arms-dealers' bazaar where weird weaponry is displayed. One of the items on offer is a phlogiston-spewing flamethrower, which apparently used to work just fine, right up until the concept of phlogiston was disproven.
- Several short works by Hugo-winner Ted Chiang follow this formula, including one in which the tower of Babel does in fact reach the sky (Tower of Babylon), and another exploring the ultimate consequences in a world where the preformationist hypothesis is accurate (Seventy-Two Letters).
Live Action TV
- Ditto the short-lived series Dark Skies, based on UFOlogy and other 1960s Conspiracy Theory lore.
- A notable Spiritual Successor, Fringe also uses this trope as its premise.
- In Sliders, the existence of the Kromaggs (humanoid creatures that evolved instead of Homo sapiens in various parallel universes) is ascribed to "Killer Ape Theory," a controversial theory in the 1950s about early human evolution. Notably the real world, Killer Ape Theory tries to explain the divergence between humans and the other apes, while in the show the theory was appropriated to explain the divergence between Homo sapiens and Kromaggs from a common stock. And guess where the name "Kromagg" comes from?
- In Stargate SG-1, Dr. Daniel Jackson became the laughingstock of the archeological community with his theories that aliens built the pyramids. The premise of the series is that he was, of course, right.
- The X-Files uses the premises of innumerable fringe and obsolete theories as the premises of episodes and the show's sprawling Myth Arc. A partial list:
- "Space" - The Face on Mars
- "Eve" - Human clones and bioengineering.
- "Gender Bender" - Human sex pheromones.
- "Young At Heart" - Genetic engineering and animal gene-splicing.
- "Sleepless" - Lack of sleep makes you crazy - and psychic.
- "Firewalker" - Silicon-based life.
- "Dead Kalm" - Free radicals theory of aging.
- "Humbug" - Sentient fetus in fetu.
- "Soft Light" - A man's anti-matter and/or dark matter shadow kills people.
- "Jersey Devil," "Quagmire," "Detour," and many others - Cryptids
- "Wetwired" - Brainwashing via television signals.
- "Home" - Inbreeding.
- "Teliko" - Pineal Weirdness
- "El Mundo Gira" - Bizarre rains with an alien enzyme.
- "Unruhe" - Spirit photography.
- The show also used most of UFO lore, especially the Roswell and Grey aliens theories.
- Wonders look like they work this way in Genius: The Transgression however if you dig deeper it's really a combination of actual science and Mania.
- This is also one of the noted problems of Lemurians and their Brahmins. A Genius can easily cite any scientific theory, bunkum or backed-up, for why their device works, but the members of the Peerage have some understanding that what they're doing is not quite science. The Lemurians, on the other hand, believe that something went wrong with the standing model of the universe, and want to try to "fix it" to support their theories.
- It's also how Bardos work. A theory of the universe is proven to be untrue? Then it simply spins off into an alternate dimension where it is. Certain Bardos include a model of the universe where the planets are crystal spheres pushed through seas of aether by gigantic archangels, a dystopia that demonstrates both the failures and successes of Soviet totalitarianism, a Barsoom-like vision of Mars that came into existence when the Viking rover pictures came back, and the Hollow Earth, which is populated by both every sort of prehistoric creatures and Nazis.
- This is the basis of the GURPS supplement "Fantasy Tech". Everything from the the popular belief that ancient armor was ridiculously heavy to the scientific fact that the sun exerts a strong natural attraction on dew, so if you fill bottles with dew during the night you will rise upward during the day.
- A big part of the Sons of Ether brand in Mage: The Ascension is science that go beyond conventional ideas of the "possible".
- The Spelljammer setting for second edition Dungeons & Dragons, while fantasy, used such ideas as worlds being surrounded by crystal spheres and floating in phlogiston.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert Series previously used Tesla Coils as death rays. Though it used to be thought this was possible, it isn't.
- The Red Alert series plays with a lot of (mostly Cold War-based) myths and failed experiments. The Chronosphere is based on the premise of the Philadelphia Experiment and the psychic units of Red Alert 2 are based on failed Soviet experiments with ESP (and Yuri on the legend of Rasputin).
- While it isn't outright stated, it's heavily implied that the Allies (and later the Soviet's) messing with the timeline has damaged the constancy of space-time, with the laws of physics becoming looser to accommodate the damaged continuity. This has allowed all of the stranger weapons we see in the first and later games, and why things get so much crazier in the third game.
- In Rise of Legends, helicopters follow Leonardo Da Vinci's "aerial screw" drawings, long since proven aerodynamically impossible.
- Team Fortress 2 will occasionally slip on this, mostly since it relies on Rule of Funny and could never, ever be considered serious. Specifically, the theory of phlogiston seems to hold some degree of truth in their universe.
- The SCP Foundation lives and breathes this trope. Not only are they true, but they're also terrifying.
- The Justice League episode "Dark Heart" gives us a working example of a Von Neumann machine, an unproven concept in engineering. Unsurprisingly, the episode was written by Warren Ellis, mentioned above in the comic book examples section.
- This line of Teach The Controversy t-shirts frequently makes use of this trope, including such discredited theories as phlogiston, geocentrism, the demon theory of disease, and the four humors.
- Theories that propose the existence of a multiverse come often under fire due to this as never mind how weird is an idea, somewhere out there it will be truth even if the Universe where that happened would totally be disconnected from ours, thus unable to affect us in any way.