This Is My Gun (Part 2: Target Biology)
Posted by PintofStout on November 12, 2008
A long time ago I wrote a blog post exploring the nature of weapons and the basic mechanics behind them. I called it Part 1: Physics without immediate intentions of doing a part 2. Part 2 was loosely intending to discuss, not the physical transfer of energy to the target, but the purpose and effects of that energy on the target. Physical energy applied to the target creates a change in its delicate function to various ends. The use of chemical and biological agents to affect a chemical or biological change intended to destroy or incapacitate the target are parallels to a physical change that alter the core biology of a living target. I’ll start with this statement from This Is My Rifle (Part 1: Physics) to lay some groundwork for this continuation of discussion of weapons looking at the nature of the target and the effects of various changes wrought by weapons of various sorts:
The function of bullets, arrows, thrown stones, knives, swords, bombs, nuclear bombs, or fists is to transfer energy to a target. The purpose of such energy is to create a physical change of the target, usually to make it cease or alter function. The more precise a weapon is in its transfer, the less energy is needed; whereas the less precise, the more total energy is needed in order to achieve the same energy density at the target; i.e. a low-energy arrow and a high-energy hand grenade.
(Before I go any further and there comes along some smarty-pants physicist (you know who you could be!) to say that all of these changes are essentially physical, I have this quote for you, then I will drop it: “All science is either physics or stamp collecting,” supposedly uttered by Ernest Rutherford after receiving the Nobel Prize in chemistry (I just really wanted to use that quote; what a smartass!). Thanks to Dr. Tabak for having that on his coffee mug while terrorizing mechanics students. Putting this basic truth aside, we shall continue with the aforementioned terminology of the various physics subfields of biology and chemistry.)
I think I have decided to break down this discussion by the desired end result or effect on the target. There is obviously a wide range of possibilities here including mere “flesh wounds” and “fucking snuffing it.” The Black Knight would bleed on me if he heard me say it, but these aren’t nearly as subjective as he would like. Slowly backing away from the scratch and flesh wound categories of Dr. Monty Python, I have thought about it for a few seconds and broken my effects of weaponry into four categories: Deflection/Repulsion, Temporary Incapacitation, Functionality Alteration, and Functionality Termination. I’ll address all these from both a mechanical and a biological perspective, meaning both the mechanical functions of biological targets and non-biological targets.
The categories I delineated typically escalate in severity which, if the delicacy of the target is discounted, also loosely relates to energy density delivered to the target – for mechanical effects. The effects upon chemical and biological function depend almost wholly on the delicacy and stability of the target. Starting at the low end of energy and effect we have deflection or repulsion (180-degee reflection). This could easily consist of a shove or a punch or some act that imparts low amounts of energy to some object in order to change its position or direction of travel. In animals and humans, the pain inflicted by this act may also work as a deterrent with non-lasting effects. These can also trigger chemical and biological effects such as reduced vision or mobility. Weapons imparting this scale of energy transfer tend to be blunt objects not intended to completely destroy the physical structure of the target. Chemicals dispersed with horrible odors or other effects that discourage advancement may be countied into this variation, I suppose.
The next step up brings us to incapacitation, which is also non-lasting. With each step up on this scale, the effects of the lower rungs of the scale are carried throughout (with the exception of the permanence of effect, perhaps). Deflecting or repulsing some thing (the target) with much force may result in the incapacitation of this target. Even with very large mechanical targets, which usually require much more force, one can incapacitate the object without destroying it completely. Mechanical objects won’t heal themselves as humans and animals do, so the temporary nature of the incapacitation depends on the ability to repair it. Stun guns affect their targets in this way, I’m assuming by overwhelming the electrical signals of the brain to the rest of the body. Chemically, tranquilizers could be delivered to incapacitate the biological target. Perhaps the Vulcan Neck Pinch would fall into this category as well. Certain new non-lethal weapons that I have read about years ago (maybe not that new), wherein a super-sticky foam is applied to the target, thus incapacitating them would also qualify to share this category of effect (Spiderman approves).
With many of the weapons achieving this class of effect, dose and/or total energy make all the difference. When the controls of the energy to transfer are bypassed or the target is outside of the “normal” subset of targets the weapon is calibrated for, then higher levels of damage can occur – up to and including termination. Too strong of a tranquilizer or multiple doses of it on a smaller creature can stop the heart and multiple applications of electricity from a stun gun can ultimately end the same way.
So far conventional guns or arrows and other projectiles haven’t entered into our equation. This is because these usually carry much energy concentrated in a small area causing damage greater than temporary incapacitation. (Rubber riot bullets used to protect the state regime from those it is meant to serve, while still not reducing the tax base, are the only projectiles I can really think of that don’t alter the physical properties of the target permanently.) This sort of weapon spans the last two effect categories, depending on the aim of the weapon as much as the weapon itself. Mechanically, the damage done by a projectile means the destroying of tissue which can alter function. For instance, an arrow destroys muscle tissue and arteries and such so that they no longer contain the blood being pumped through them. When enough blood has escaped this no longer functioning tissue, many ill effects take hold. Some wounds alter function permanently, and some of that altered function may result in a fundamental change in the functionality of the target, for instance a once alive target becomes now dead. This effect on non-living targets could be illustrated with the example of shooting the tires of a vehicle or a tank throwing a tread; the target isn’t completely destroyed, but its functionality has been altered.
Biological changes were partially covered with the mechanical aspects of biology above, but the chemical aspects of biological change are important, too. First, the presence of foreign material in the body can have ill effects, such as lead or some other chemical introduced by the projectile. Some chemicals can also alter the functions of nerves and cells of various sorts, sometimes damaging them permanently.
Weapons are designed on several factors, only some of which have to do with the mechanical operation of the weapon itself. Other design criteria include the size and nature of the target(s), the proximity to the target(s) to the weapon itself, and the desired effect on the target(s). For instance, a cruise missile is designed to be used from great distances with the purpose of total destruction of the target (and, collaterally, to other secondary targets in proximity to the primary target); whereas a pistol is designed to be used in fairly close proximity while only affecting a single target to varying degrees. Even the object transferring the energy can be designed for various effects – see armour-piercing and hollow point bullets or the .223 round vs. .308 round. Even as humans have become more proficient in the delivery and amount of energy (chemical or mechanical) delivered to a target in order to destroy it, so too have we been finding more intermediate ways of affecting the target as desired, without actually destroying it. Much of the progress in this latter sense is a result of the knowledge gained about the nature of the targets, especially if human, as much as the mastering of the mechanical science of delivery. In this sense, weapons have evolved with time, but the concepts and goals will continue to stay the same.