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The Spark of Genius
Cubert: Your explanations are pure weapons-grade bolognium. It's all impossible!
Prof. Farnsworth: Nothing is impossible! Not if you can imagine it. That's what being a scientist is all about!
Cubert: No, that's what being a magical elf is all about.
Futurama, "A Clone of My Own"

Sometimes known as "Super Science", it looks like science, but on a fundamental level it works opposite to regular science.

In most settings, science is a skill that any intelligent person can learn, while magic is a supernatural ability restricted to certain gifted individuals. In other settings, "The Spark Of Genius" is an innate talent belonging to a unique few, much like magic or superpowers in other settings.

One key difference between normal science and the spark is that, in the former, a scientific experiment can (at least in theory) be reproduced by anyone, while the latter only works because the unique gifts of certain individuals make it happen.

In extreme cases, one without the spark cannot do what a gifted scientist can; even if they built a copy from the original blueprints it just wouldn't work for anyone without the spark. Perhaps because those with the spark are Reality Warpers who make their inventions possible. Naturally between non-reproducible results and the spark belonging to an elite few, this is entirely incompatible with the scientific method.

In other cases, a sufficiently Badass Normal scientist could match someone with the spark, in which case the contrast may be one of Technician Versus Performer or Hard Work Hardly Works. However, in works where this trope applies, sufficiently skilled scientists are often much rarer than people who have the spark. While it doesn't automatically conflict with the scientific method, in many works, those with the spark are Mad Scientists and don't often demonstrate scientific rigor. Their toys can be copied exactly, but underlying principles are hard to reuse — these people run on "either you get it or you don't", without stopping to back up their demonstrable results with a good theory, or unable to explain the ideas they use when they want.

Common in Steam Punk. In some settings often or always combined with Science-Related Memetic Disorder or other science madness.

Compare Fantastic Science, which inverts this trope by making magic work like science rather then the other way around. Also compare For Science!, Weird Science, and Emperor Scientist. The products of The Spark of Genius are frequently examples of Magic Powered Pseudoscience.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

  • Ah! My Goddess features Skuld, a child Goddess whose magical powers are too weak and immature to be useful, and who refuses to be treated as a child, so she builds machines to take the place of her magic powers. Her ability to create machines is using whatever scrap metal is at hand, or pulling apart a TV or VCR, to build Ridiculously Human Robots. (Nevermind the fact that her machines are assembled in minutes with only the tools that fit in her pockets have perfectly fitting parts, and discarded tin cans can somehow turn into a circuitboard for an Instant A.I., Just Add Water.) The machines she builds from common household materials also have reality-warping effects, such as the ability to almost-infinitely expand space.
    • The trope really comes into play in a chapter where a professor at the university where Keichi is a student has spent his entire career dedicated to making robots that can walk like a human, and then one of Skuld's inventions happens to walk right by. He then kidnaps the Robot Girl, but can't figure out how to duplicate her.
    • After about 265 chapters of this, the author finally changed his mind and admitted that Skuld was unconsciously using magic the whole time.
  • Whispered, and their Black Box sciences, in Full Metal Panic!.

    Literature 

  • The various Gadgeteer Genius superheroes in Wild Cards explicitly possess a superpower that allows them to create gadgets beyond the reach of ordinary science.
  • In the second episode of The Chronicles of Professor Jack Baling, the reader learns that what Jack and those like him do can never be replicated by regular scientists, and often not even by other mad scientists.
  • In The Grimnoir Chronicles there are Actives who have a magical ability to create machines. Most can be duplicated by regular scientists, but some machines like Buckminister Fuller's Dymaxion Nullifiers can only be built by him. Thomas Edison even built a telephone that could talk to the dead which uses elements that were supposed to annihilate one another on contact.
  • In Wearing the Cape and its sequels, Verne-type breakthroughs are the setting's mad-scientists (and are indistinguishable from Wild Cards gadgeteers.
  • Played With in several different ways in A.L. Phillips's The Quest of the Unaligned. The fire-magic of the aeshes can be used to power regular devices, but it also allows the creation of things that are impossible, like flying cars or anti-gravity. On the other hand, many magic items can also be run on mundane electricity.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain, Penny's powers allow her to create all kinds of crazy shit, which she's not always aware of doing, and can't readily replicate. Most of them don't have any evident power sources and in one case (the zombie ragdolls) they seem to produce the matter needed to reproduce out of thin air.
    • Seems to be a relatively common superpower in the setting, what with there being an entire SOCIETY of 'Mad Scientist', wearing useless goggles as a badge of membership. Penny's ex-superhero father, Brainy Akk, is unique in that he can translate superscience into something resembling ACTUAL science - albeit insanely complicated science backed by headache-inducing levels of ultra-complex math. Unfortunately his blind spot regarding magic means that he usually has to give up once someone starts mixing Magitek into their designs... as Bad Penny does with ease.

     Live action TV 
  • In Alphas, Gadgeteer Genius Skylar has this ability. Most of the machines she assembles are impossible to replicate or go way beyond currently-understandable human science, including the incredibly advanced processor core for a device that can track any human in the world that she built for the NSA. She also designs custom technology that sells at a premium. And her ability is apparently genetic, as she passed on that ability to her daughter.

     Tabletop Games  

  • GURPS
    • Some GURPS modules, including I.O.U., use this.
    • GURPS Supers
      • Supplement Wild Cards. Characters with super powers are called Aces. Ace gadgeteers often create devices that cannot be duplicated by any other inventor, and will not work for anyone but the inventor.
      • Supplement Supertemps. Blacksmith discovered that his card-throwing weapon violated the laws of physics, and that he had been subconsciously using his superpower of magnetic control to make it work. He also realized that this was why his weapon hadn't worked properly during testing unless he was present.
  • The basic premise of Genius The Transgression, though Geniuses are very aware and very unhappy that they aren't really doing anything remotely like science. In an interesting twist Geniuses are unsure which of the two forms of this trope apply to them. Some say they're breaking the laws of nature, others say what they're doing is scientifically possible (in the World of Darkness anyway) but the nature of their condition means they're unable to create publishable research.
    • In fact, the devices created by Geniuses break down and stop working when subjected to actual scientific analysis. Furthermore, Geniuses who cannot deal with the fact that they are making miracles instead of doing science will become unmada - dangerously insane, delusional Geniuses who are convinced that the scientific explanations they invent for their miracles are in fact the way the world works, and the force of their belief is such that they can warp the laws of physics by their very proximity.
  • The dwarves from The Dark Eye have developed their craftsmanship so far that some humans went insane trying to grasp it.
  • Mage: The Ascension: In the backstory and in the prequel Mage: The Sorcerer's Crusade, the entire Order Of Reason runs on this. The Order later transformed into the Technocratic Union, which still uses technology enhanced by magic, but is trying to enforce a paradigm closer to real science - dreaming of a fundamentally democratic world where any mortal will be able to make miracles through technology. In the original version, this was portrayed as an evil goal, but later versions were a bit more open to Both Sides Have a Point. The trope is still played straight by the Sons of Ether, who split off from the Union in the early 20th century.
  • Matt Forbeck's Brave New World supplement Glory Days. The Airborne Aircraft Carrier U.S.S. Liberty is held aloft by engines which only work because of the presence of the Gadgeteer deltas who live aboard the ship. Other supplements mention gadgets that only work for the deltas that created them.
  • Paranoia adventure The Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues. One of the scientists in R&D, Willis-G-EEP-4, has treasonous psionic mutations that cause his inventions to work well on the test bench but fail out in the field when he isn't around. (For the players, the rather treasonous Mechanical Intuition and the uber-Treasonous Machine Empathy mutations fill a similar role.)
  • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, many in the Glass Walker tribe can make "scientific discoveries" at a whim, such as combining random household chemicals into a powerful explosive. This kind of "discovery" costs mana gnosis to make, and the effect cannot be reproduced later.
  • Ork science in Warhammer 40,000 explicitly works in this way. Only orks with the mad science gene (called 'mekboyz') get the inspiration to go out and do mad science in the first place, and their works can never be identically reproduced by anyone. Including by the mek who originally build the first device (orks find repetition boring). This is justified because ork science only works because orks thinks it should, and all orks know that only mekboyz can do stuff like that anyway.
  • A Solar Exaltation works like this for those interested in pursuing things like Lore and Craft. The Solar ability to perform feats of technical prowess that are unmatchable by any other is largely represented mechanically by Charms that break the normal limits on crafting and allow them to manufacture impossible components (as well as a basic setting conceit that Solars can reach areas beyond anybody else).
  • A Mad Scientist in Deadlands is a strong version of this trope that believes it's a weak version. They get the mechanical incite for their inventions stolen from the future by evil spirits and it's most likely powered, made out of, or weaponizing the souls of the damned (AKA ghost rock). They believe they've just made a better steam engine and don't understand why most of the scientific community can't just follow their plans to the future for science.

     Video Games  

  • In Quest for Glory, the local scientists are actually Boomerang Bigot wizards who use their technology to tell themselves that what they are doing isn't magic. The protagonist try to argue that magic is actually a form of science, but they simply refuse to accept that magic even exists... even when he levitates and shows off with fireballs and other magic fireworks before their very eyes. It turns out that they do know that magic works, its just that they consider it to be a crime against reality. So they just ignore him while he's showing off, and try to assassinate him later.

     Web Comics  

  • A Miracle of Science has SRMD as the weak form — mad scientists' inventions go into general use.
  • Girl Genius has this as the basic premise. The world is based on Science! and the "sparks" who create and operate it; the Spark is both an innate intuition for Science and a charisma that influences people to follow them. Really strong Sparks can warp the laws of physics to their will.
  • Riff of Sluggy Freelance is known for creating inventions that can wrap physics around his little finger with little to no assistance. They're next to impossible to reproduce because he often leaves steps out of his notes that he considers "no-brainers". As per this trope, said "no-brainers" involve entirely new theoretical physics or delicate design details that can stump all but the most brilliant scientists or those intimately familiar with his thought processes. Unfortunately for the cast, Dr. Schlock happens to fit both categories.

     Web Original  

  • In the Whateley Universe, devisors are the strong form (their “devises” may or may not work for others but they will definitely not be duplicatable), and gadgeteers are the weak form; the two talents may be combined in one person.
  • Two skits performed by the people at Filmcow include a man named Charles who uses this form of science. For example: He creates a talking cat whose body is so long, said cat has never seen his rear end, and develops an obsession for it, his latest plan involves sending an elephant to hell and when said elephant reaches the chamber of misery, Charles tells the elephant to ask anybody around to sexually molest him (the elephant, not Charles). Once the Elephant, named Bino, returned from hell and demanded why Charles sent him there, after having seeing his own eyeballs falling out, Charles' exact words are "Science Bino, speculative science."
  • The Academy of Superheroes Universe has this in the form of Violation Physics and supertech. It can only be created by Gadgeteer Geniuses and can only be used by people with some level of superpowers. If enough normaltech is incorporated into it, it becomes accessible to regular humans at decreased efficacy.
  • Worm has Tinkers, whose creations work best for them. Simpler creations can be studied and recreated, but most Tinker tech can only be modified or maintained by the Tinker who made it. To an extent, their ability can work in various branches, but each Tinker's specialty is unique.
  • World Domination In Retrospect has Mix N'Max, whose concoctions have odd and impossible effects, but only function because he made them, like a carnivorous brain that attacks zombies.

     Western Animation  

     Real Life 

  • An urban legend claims that the "Mathematical Bridge" at Cambridge University was designed by Isaac Newton and originally held together only by glue joints, and that workers trying to reassemble it with No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup added the nails because they couldn't figure out how to put it back together properly. Cambridge's page on the bridge debunks this myth.
  • Downplayed in real life but much of our technology was not invented "scientifically". When we call technology "science" we're not using that word correctly. Invention involves intuitive leaps to solve specific problems where science, while benefiting from intuition, relies on rigorous observation and is not concerned with inventing new things at all.

Soviet SuperscienceTropes on Science and UnscienceThe Singularity

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