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.
Sometimes known as "Super Science" or mad 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 vs. 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.
Compare Fantastic Science, which inverts this trope by making magic work like science rather than 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.
- 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 Skuld was ultimately portrayed as unconsciously using magic the whole time.
- Actually, Skuld has displayed the ability to build perfectly normal machines. She is from a much highly dimension which got much higher technology, and it happens that they can use magic, thus it would be impossible for human beings to reproduce what she intended to do. However, she can work on human being machines and have the same limit. She can even draw blue prints of a machine and humans can build it without any problem.
- Hotaru, from Alice Academy. The titular "Alice Academy" is a place for students with special powers, with each student having a unique "Alice". In Hotaru's case, she has an "Invention Alice", allowing her to build wondrous devices.
- Whispered, and their Black Box sciences, in Full Metal Panic!.
- Oberon of the Alterien series has the ability to conceive and design virtually any type of machine to perform nearly any sort of function he imagines. His designs always produce working devices. He can also determine how an existing machine works through psychometry.
- 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 Discworld Burgholt Stuttley Johnson has what might be called the "Spark of Incompetence": his creations frequently break the laws of physics in ways even Discworld magic doesn't, but he never intends them to, and they rarely do anything related to what he did intend. As Thud! puts it:
Only Bloody Stupid Johnson could have invented the thirteen-inch foot and a triangle with three right angles in it. Only Bloody Stupid Johnson could have twisted common matter through dimensions it was not supposed to go. And only Bloody Stupid Johnson could have done this all by accident.
- 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 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.
- There are apparently three "tiers" of devices produced by Mad Science. Tier One devices do things that we can do just as well or better with conventional technology. Tier Two is better than regular tech, but still obeys the generally accepted laws of physics. And Tier Three breaks those.
- 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.
- Tinkers from Super Minion. They can create unique technology nobody can understand, and even the less impressive stuff they make tends to be completely incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't been innoculated with benedicci.
- In Wearing the Cape and its sequels, Verne-type breakthroughs are the setting's mad-scientists (and are indistinguishable from Wild Cards gadgeteers.
- 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 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.
- This is Ivy's superpower in Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues. She can create inventions that are far beyond what most are capable of, to a degree that's almost Reality Warping. What stops her from complete domination is that the spark only works in brief spurts- once she's finished her invention, she returns to her average intelligence and is unable to replicate the creation process.
- 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.
- The dwarves from The Dark Eye have developed their craftsmanship so far that some humans went insane trying to grasp it.
- 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.
- In Exalted, 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).
- 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 a normal person touches them. Simple observation alone isn't enough to break them (known as Mulder's Lament). 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Due to the metaphysics involved, they're all (mostly) replicable with training; while an "Extraordinary Citizen" can't perform as easily or intuitively as an Enlightened Scientist, these technomagical "Sorcerers" can learn to replicate most of these miraculous feats. This doesn't actually require any amount of cosmic understanding or enlightenment, and is implied to be entirely possible for anyone - though even most scientists don't get to that level.
- In the Paragons setting for Mutants & Masterminds, they refer to devices created by superintelligent Paragons as "ACME" devices. They frequently bend or outright break the laws of physics, and cannot be reproduced by any means (unless the person trying to recreate it is also a Paragon with enhanced intelligence). Sometimes, the ACME device can't even be used by anyone other than the creator, providing additional support for the in-universe theory that paranormal abilities are partly psychological.
- 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.)
- 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 built the first device (orks find repetition boring). This is justified because ork science only works because orks thinks it should due to the background psychic field all orks subconsciously generate, and all orks know that only Mekboyz can do stuff like that anyway. Even the Mekboyz themselves do not know quite how they do what they do, the requite "know-wots" being an intuitive product of their Genetic Memory rather than education and logical thought.
- 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
managnosis to make, and the effect cannot be reproduced later.
- 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.
- 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. Of course, there are drawbacks as innate to the Spark as genius. And a focused Spark tends to be prone to melodramatics and getting interesting as they do what they do.
- A Miracle of Science has SRMD as the weak form — mad scientists' inventions go into general use.
- Both Skin Horse and Narbonic run on this, since they share a universe. Mad Science is relatively common, but it's explicitly nonsense. In fact, it's a plot point in Narbonic that a nascent Mad Scientist could make an impossible device function. There are VERY rare people who can replicate Mad results through standard science, but it's so rare Dr Lee from Skin Horse is likely the only one in the world who can pull it off. Since her results can be replicated, and she doesn't come with the standard Mad Scientist hangup of Awesome, but Impractical, she is FAR more dangerous.
- 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 interpretations of 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- SCP Foundation, SCP-2801 ("A Dress-Up Box"). A person affected by SCP-2801 temporarily gained the ability to create an anomalous device. Afterwards, it was determined that the device was non-functional and should not have worked. The only reason it did was because of the anomalous power of its creator.
- In the Whateley Universe, devisors are the strong form (their devises can break the laws of physics outright, but may or may not work for others, and will definitely not be replicable), and gadgeteers (who work within normal physics and chemistry, but can patent and mass-produce their creations) are the weak form; the two talents may be combined in one person.
- Interestingly, it's been noted that the 'weak' form of this power is far more dangerous. A devisor will be more personally dangerous, and may have a small number of minions with better tools; but a gadgeteer can field a full army in functional power armor.
- Note that even with a devisor, it is easier to make something that mostly follows physical laws (e.g., a sonic stunner that only hits the target rather than everyone around it) than something which does so blatantly (such as a shrink ray). Such 'minor' devises are a lot more reliable, and more likely to work when used by someone other than the devisor. Also, if a devisor creates something that breaks physical law, but then a gadgeteer finds an equivalent based on the devise but which works within physical laws (the so-called 'Devise test'), the devisor may get to have part of the patent credit. Thus, devising is often a balance between 'do something simple and reliable, and maybe leads to something patentable' and 'screw it, let's turn this Up to Eleven and see what happens'.
- 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.
- 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.
- Meatwad gets this ability as well as Mind over Matter for an episode in Aqua Teen Hunger Force after Frylock gives him a new brain. The only "invention" of his that we see is an eggbeater which somehow allows Shake to pass through walls. It ceases to function after Frylock reveals that it was just a placebo, and that the new brain was Meatwad's old plastic one with some decorations glued on.
- This appears to be how Professor Farnsworth's inventions work on Futurama, as lampshaded in the page quote. It's also lampshaded by Hermes in "Calculon 2.0", who points out the Professor's method to bring a robot Back from the Dead is basically magic (specifically a satanic ritual) with the word "science" inserted.
- The Mad Scientists of Kim Possible work this way. For instance, when Kim asks her parents (a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon) to see if they can figure out one of Professor Dementor's inventions, they study it but conclude that they can only help with real science, not mad science.
- 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 as most 'technology' was not invented "scientifically". By 'technology' we mean mechanical and electric and electronic tools and devices, manufactured substances, and methods of using said devices and substances - virtually all of which were made and refined by teams of people using intuitive leaps and experimentation to create and test specific things for specific purposes. Science, while benefiting from intuition, hinges upon rigorous observation and has nothing to do with producing things. 'Science' would be figuring out the properties of gravity and rubber. 'Technology' would be making a cost-effective, bouncy rubber ball that can be produced at a profit to your employer.