A "Twelfth power" energy field

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A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed May 25, 2011 12:59 pm

I was watching TMP today and I got to the V'Ger cloud entrance when I heard something that has long nagged at me.

Approaching the cloud, Spock says it is "A twelfth power energy field." Sulu reacts with shock to this by repeating "Twelfth power!". Decker later says "That measures twelfth power energy? Thousands of starships couldn't generate that much-" whilst Kirk says "No vessel could generate a power field of this magnitude."

There is no explanation of what "Twelfth power" means, so it could have pretty much any meaning. Two things stuck out to me - first that they pretty freely intermix the words power and energy. There's nothing new in that, of course, Trek messes it up all the time. And actually it's not that bad a mangling here compared to some. Spock later says that V'Ger is radiating energy greater than the Earth's sun (I think this is cut from the special edition).

The other thing that was that it seemed not to be the "twelfth power" aspect specifically that bothered people, but rather that an object so big could be that. Although not certain, the implication seems to be that whatever scale it is, it's a measure of power/energy per unit area or volume, or perhaps radiated power/energy over a particular solid angle.

I often wonder if there is some sort of Starfleet scale of energy fields. Maybe it's like phaser type numbers... containment fields are 1st power, ship's shields are 5th power, etc? That would work with the idea of size being a factor, since we know that larger shields require more juice to maintain than small ones for a given shield strength.

As with many things Trek, there really isn't anything like enough info to judge, but it had me musing and I thought I would put my musings here.
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Mikey » Wed May 25, 2011 1:23 pm

The surprise at the size of the field may be due to the fact that fields always diminish to the point of undetectability, generally diminishing at exponential rather than arithmetic rates. However, (though I didn't just watch it) I always got the sense that the surprise of the crew was due more to the absolute magnitude of the field. I also didn't get the common-enough conflation between energy and power in this context.

Next, let's look at what they meant by "field." Since the metric they used in conversation - "twelfth power" - seems to have meant something to everyone who heard it, without reference to a relationship to any other field or mathematical status, we can reasonably assert that they meant a vector field, rather than a scalar or tensor one. However, I am not nearly enough of a mathematician to say if this is absolutely the case, and the unspecified nature of the "energy" they described could mean something else as electromagnetic fields have two different vector components. Similarly I'm not enough of a physicist to say if this is definitely true, but the use of a non-unitary operator in describing the field would lead me to believe that they are discussing a classical, rather than a quantum, field (since the field was never described as propagating in any way other than in "normal" time.) This is supported by the fact that they were talking about the specific phenomenon generatd by V'Ger, not the underlying conditions of that area of space.

So we most likely have a classical vector field of the "twelfth power." Now that we've simplified the object of discussion, the real problem sets in - we discuss classical fields in terms of field density, not arithmetic or geometric "powers." My best guess, based on what we have from the movie, is that there is a convention describing particular ranges of field density by "powers," though the etymology of the use of the term "power" in that case is a head-scratcher... and is most likely due to pseudo-scientific jargon as a standard feature of 'Trek writing.
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed May 25, 2011 2:43 pm

I'm hesitant to think of Trek "force fields" and "energy fields" and in anything even approximating how we think of things. The writer's conception of a force field is that it's a flat barrier - essentially it's like a brick wall, but invisible and super strong. Energy fields, meanwhile, tend to be glowy stuff that sort of floats around rather like a cloud of smoke. The V'Ger cloud especially - all sorts of strange glowy shit going on in there. Weird but there you have it.
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Mikey » Wed May 25, 2011 3:15 pm

I understand what you're saying - the way terms are used in 'Trek often bear only a nominal resemblance to the way they are used in RL. Perhaps to an extent that's as it should be... there's a reason the genre is called "science fiction," after all. However, to say that we can't really apply our definitions to the terms as they are used in 'Trek is effectively the same as saying that we can't discuss it.
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed May 25, 2011 4:15 pm

Mikey wrote:I understand what you're saying - the way terms are used in 'Trek often bear only a nominal resemblance to the way they are used in RL. Perhaps to an extent that's as it should be... there's a reason the genre is called "science fiction," after all.

Indeed.

However, to say that we can't really apply our definitions to the terms as they are used in 'Trek is effectively the same as saying that we can't discuss it.

Oh, absolutely. But the approach I use is to try and treat the tech stuff in terms of the way the writers use it... I don't so much say "well this is a field and a field is X in real science so this field is probably some variation on that", but rather more "well this is how the writers treat fields in Trek so real science must have been pretty much rewritten."

Your mileage may vary, of course. Conclusions we come to about something like this are massively dependent on where you start from and how you process whatever you consider evidence, both of which are pretty much arbitrary.
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Mikey » Wed May 25, 2011 4:27 pm

GrahamKennedy wrote:Oh, absolutely. But the approach I use is to try and treat the tech stuff in terms of the way the writers use it... I don't so much say "well this is a field and a field is X in real science so this field is probably some variation on that", but rather more "well this is how the writers treat fields in Trek so real science must have been pretty much rewritten."


That's a noble essay, but the pitfalls are multiple. For one, there is a noticeable variance in the usages from writer to writer and from era to era. For another, there is an almost-unavoidable tendency to use terminology - especial the more fictitious/fantastical terminology - from preceding SF, along with all the baggage of incorrectness which that entails. Lastly, such terminology often sounds wrong to our amateur RL scientific dissection because it is written not to withstand even amateur scientific scrutiny, but for entertainment.

So, yeah, they call two-dimensional, inconstant, and bounded areas of some magical barrier a "force field," even though it's not a force and it's not a field. But to try to assemble an alternate Trek-verse compass of field mechanics - based on "their" idea of fields - seems to me a very short path to madness.

In other words: yes, it's very possible that the object to which they were referring was a field to them, but not what we'd call a field. OTOH, to presume that is fine but to try and define what "fields" mean in 'Trek and delineate their physics is a mental Sisyphos' boulder.
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed May 25, 2011 4:45 pm

Yes, it is absolutely impossible to assemble a coherent description of what Trek technology and terminology is and how it works.

But the attempt is fun for me, so who cares? :)
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Mikey » Wed May 25, 2011 5:32 pm

Here's to you, then. :)

In that case, I'd tend to agree with you - "twelfth power" probably refers to a multiple or exponent of same base measurement of field strength or density, common across the UFP. Field strength "x" is a baseline, in common usage or observation, while V'Ger's "field" measured 12x, or x12, or 12x!, or...
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Captain Seafort » Wed May 25, 2011 5:58 pm

Or V'Ger's power output was about a Terawatt, and this is considered stunningly powerful by Fed standards. :P
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Sonic Glitch » Wed May 25, 2011 6:01 pm

Captain Seafort wrote:Or V'Ger's power output was about a Terawatt, and this is considered stunningly powerful by Fed standards. :P

Maybe an isoterawatt?
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Graham Kennedy » Wed May 25, 2011 11:40 pm

Hey now, don't forget it would be a Megaisoterawatt!
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby alexmann » Sun May 29, 2011 7:03 pm

GrahamKennedy wrote:Hey now, don't forget it would be a Megaisoterawatt!


What about a Gigaisoterawatt?
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby RK_Striker_JK_5 » Sun May 29, 2011 11:58 pm

It just sounded impressive. "Twelfth power?!"
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby alexmann » Mon May 30, 2011 5:30 am

It probably a scale of power per unit of area (or should I say isounit)
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Re: A "Twelfth power" energy field

Postby Mikey » Mon May 30, 2011 1:25 pm

Power per unit area? I suppose it could, but measuring anything that can be described as "field" by two different metrics at once - time and area - doesn't seem especially useful. Further, It was described the same way over an elapsed time to different people, with a seemingly static descriptor of "twelfth power," so it seems unlikely that power was an actual part of the descriptor "twelfth power."
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