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Bear with me. When Q snaps his fingers and turns Crusher into a dog, does he just "think it," or is there some scientific "explanation" for how he could do such a thing, that he needs to "think" into being?

When he showed Amanda Rogers how to finish Dr. Crusher's experiment quickly, it seemed to require a focusing of energy or thought. It wasn't just Q acting like a genie, wishing things into existence.

Q also tells Janeway that he's begun to teach his infant son how to knock small planets out of orbit, which implies again that the Q don't simply "think" things into existence.

I don't know. Maybe I'm overthinking this.

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    Not sure our mortal minds can comprehend Q's ways... – Molag Bal May 5 '16 at 2:57
  • I thought it was a good question. I don't think the thumbs-down was warranted. – Ham Sandwich May 5 '16 at 3:03
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    Clarke's third law seems relevant. In the context of Star Trek, the Q are extra-dimensional and posses abilities affecting universal states of nature such as the gravitational constant. Never mind, you were right, it is magic. – Elliott Frisch May 5 '16 at 3:30
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    Short of Q actually sitting one of the other characters down and explaining exactly how it feels to do these things, I'm not sure what kind of canonical evidence would answer your question. – Kevin May 5 '16 at 4:01
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    @T-1000'sSon Of course you though it was a good question and don't think downvotes are warranted. You wouldn't deliberately ask a bad question, would you? Asking why somebody downvoted you is frequently seen as whining, and sometimes earns addition downvotes from the exasperation factor. You'd probably be better of deleting that comment. To be fair, downvotes without comments suck. You'd still be better off looking at the question and trying to figure out what somebody might object to than wasting your time complaining about it. – T.J.L. May 5 '16 at 14:31
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In the Star Trek universe, thought, space, and time are the same thing, as taught by The Traveler and learned by Wesley Crusher.

Furthermore, magic does not exist in the Star Trek universe (canon). Clark's Third Law "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" is often expressed, dealt with as a theme, and taken to be a law. As many times as the crews of the various Enterprises have encountered "unexplainable" phenomenon, they have always (in every single case) treated them as unexplained, not inexplicable. Even in those cases, there's always been at least a shred of explanation.

The Q (both John de Lancie and other members) refer to themselves as "advanced," and describe themselves in terms of knowledge and evolution, not magical/supernatural power (except when being needlesome).

These three pieces of evidence make a pretty conclusive case that The Q are able to do things that any other sufficiently informed entity could understand and replicate. Especially based on the first point, it seems apparent that their understanding of the relationship between thought, space, and time makes it possible for them to "think" things into existence, in a way that is neither magical nor supernatural.

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  • Tangentially, this is a great discussion of why we feel that magic and technology aren't the same thing. It doesn't quite address the Star Trek issue of some species having abilities that others don't, but I think that's an easily bridged gap, from what this article talks about. – Matt May 5 '16 at 14:32
  • Lol "this" = the article I forgot to link: io9.gizmodo.com/… – Matt May 5 '16 at 14:36
  • Hmmm. Not all sorts of magic are inexplicable. The Lord Darcy continuity, for example, is clearly magic rather than technology, but it nonetheless follows strictly logical rules and if anything seems rather better understood than physics is in real life. I think the distinction between magic and technology is a bit more subtle than that. (But I agree that the Q are not using magic.) – Harry Johnston May 7 '16 at 3:50
  • I don't know anything about the LDC, but yeah you run into some problems with shows that create a world in which the rules are different. If they're using the word "magic" to describe "different physics," then does that qualify as magic? It fits better in my brain to divide things into terms of "anyone can manipulate the world, if they know how" versus "people with special innate properties can do things that others can't." But that doesn't necessarily make as much sense to other people. – Matt May 9 '16 at 13:12
  • Psionic powers (telepathy, teleportation, and so on) are also innate abilities that (typically) only some people have, but are usually considered science fiction rather than magic. But yeah, that's definitely a factor. Another one is whether or not gods, or spiritual concepts like objective good and evil, are involved. But really the only answer is that the concept is inherently fuzzy. :-) – Harry Johnston May 9 '16 at 21:35
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It's a higher form of existence or technology, but not one beyond the realm of science. Beyond our current understanding of science, sure, but not to the point of simply "unexplainable magic".

I cite two references that backup the idea of The Q being simply more advanced, not magical. One, in Q's second appearance, in "Hide and Q", Q admits that humans may one day become as advanced, if not more advanced, than the Q:

Q: We discovered instead, that you are an unusual creature in your own limited ways... ways which in time may not be so limited.

Riker: We're growing. Something about us compels us to learn, explore...

Q: The human compulsion. And, unfortunately, for us, a force that will grow stronger century after century, eon after eon...

Riker: Eons! Have you any idea how far we'll advance?

Q: Perhaps in a future you cannot yet conceive... even beyond us.

Secondly, when the Q eventually known as "Quinn" visited the USS Voyager, in the episode "Death Wish," he and Tuvok had a discussion in which he revealed that the Q are not without their weaknesses, not all powerful:

"Quinn": But you mustn't think of us as omnipotent. No matter, what the Continuum would like you to believe. You and your ship seem incredibly powerful to life-forms without your technical expertise. It's no different with us. We may appear omnipotent to you, but believe me, we're not.

It seems clear that while the Q are amazingly powerful, powerful to a point where 21st (or 24th) century humans can't even accurately conceive, they are not magical or mystical. They have limits, and they have learned over time how to manipulate the laws of reality in ways that we simply have not yet.

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  • I think Quinn's comment may have been due to having frustration with the Q. Perhaps he considered an inability to commit suicide to be evidence that the Q weren't omnipotent. Or since the Q can be overcome by the Continuuum as a whole, this may have been what Quinn meant. – Ham Sandwich May 5 '16 at 17:37
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    He made a direct analogy between how the Q seem to the Federation, and how the Federation seems to less technologically advanced civilizations. – Paul L May 5 '16 at 17:41
  • He still may have been lying. Who can tell? – Ham Sandwich May 5 '16 at 17:53
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    Well you could say that about anything, including your own references from the question. Q could have been lying when he said he taught Q Jr how to move planets. Q could have been lying when he taught Amanda Rogers how to focus. If you're going to assume characters are lying, then I don't know what kind of canon source would satisfy you. – Paul L May 5 '16 at 18:16
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    Q brags a lot. I wouldn't take it too seriously. :-) – Harry Johnston May 7 '16 at 3:51
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In The Q and the Grey the crew of Voyager are able to take part in the Q civil war by entering a representation of the Q continuum based on the American Civil War. That is, they were using Q powers in at least a limited way without needing to understand what they were actually doing or how.

While not conclusive, this strongly suggests that the Q do not need to understand exactly how their powers work either (at least not on a case-to-case basis) though this does not necessarily mean that they don't have to practice their use to some extent. It also suggests that the Q's intellect may not be inherently different to our own, i.e., if Q could concentrate on an unlimited number of things simultaneously then Voyager's crew would presumably have been unable to serve any useful purpose.

One possible interpretation is that the Q's powers are implemented by some kind of machine; not a physical machine, presumably, and perhaps another aspect of their nature rather than something separate from them, but nonetheless a sort of machine that responds to their wishes but can function autonomously to achieve their desired purpose without always needing to be instructed in detail.

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