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Does Pushing/Pulling Transfer Friction?



The primary focus when we're looking at pushing and pulling on metals with iron and steel always seems to be on the transfer of force, but I think there is reasonable evidence to suggest that when someone pushes or pulls on a metal they also transfer friction as if their person was physically touching the metal.

When a piece of metal is caught between to allomancers pushing on it at the same time, that piece of metal seems to get locked into place until the opposed pushing situation is resolved. If no friction was transferred there would be nothing to stop gravity pulling that piece of metal to the ground at a regular rate as if it had been dropped. However we see when Kelsier and Vin have a pushing match on a coin that the coin stayed suspended in the air for several seconds, long enough for them both to go from regular pushing, to flaring, to Vin being pushed a considerable distance backwards.

In theory the pushing match could have been started when Vin-Coin-Kelsier were not in a perfectly straight line, and the downward force of gravity was being counteracted by the slight upward component of the two pushes with the coin being slightly above the line between Vin and Kelsier, but if that were the case then when they started flaring their metals and the force increased the vertical component would have overcome gravity and the coin would have shot upwards completely breaking the alignment.

If friction is transferred it opens up some potentially very useful options for using pushes and pulls, particularly for someone with the ability to push and pull. If a mistborn were to push and pull on a coin at the same time they would be able to make it levitate in place, or if they were to do the same thing on a piece of metal touching the ground whilst they themselves were airborne they would be able to make themselves hover in place.

Very interested to see if this has ever been confirmed or denied in any WOBs I have missed, or if there are potential alternative explanations to what is going on with the pushing match situation.

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On 12/10/2023 at 6:50 PM, isabigfish said:

The primary focus when we're looking at pushing and pulling on metals with iron and steel always seems to be on the transfer of force, but I think there is reasonable evidence to suggest that when someone pushes or pulls on a metal they also transfer friction as if their person was physically touching the metal.

Since this is more of a discussion point (for which you already have a theory), than a Q&A question, it probably belongs in Cosmere Discussion (preferably with a Discuss Tag). You can ask for it to be moved by an Admin using the report tool described above, or may just consider making a thread there and referencing this thread in that post. 

That said, Sandseron has confirmed that Friction is involved (see WoBs below), but what kind is the crux. From Wikipedia:


Friction is the force resisting the relative motion of solid surfaces, fluid layers, and material elements sliding against each other.[2] Types of friction include dry, fluid, lubricated, skin, and internal.

Friction can have dramatic consequences, as illustrated by the use of friction created by rubbing pieces of wood together to start a fire. Kinetic energy is converted to thermal energy whenever motion with friction occurs, for example when a viscous fluid is stirred. Another important consequence of many types of friction can be wear, which may lead to performance degradation or damage to components.

There are several types of friction:

  • Dry friction is a force that opposes the relative lateral motion of two solid surfaces in contact. Dry friction is subdivided into static friction ("stiction") between non-moving surfaces, and kinetic friction between moving surfaces. With the exception of atomic or molecular friction, dry friction generally arises from the interaction of surface features, known as asperities.
  • Fluid friction describes the friction between layers of a viscous fluid that are moving relative to each other.
  • Lubricated friction is a case of fluid friction where a lubricant fluid separates two solid surfaces.
  • Skin friction is a component of drag, the force resisting the motion of a fluid across the surface of a body.
  • Internal friction is the force resisting motion between the elements making up a solid material while it undergoes deformation.

So the "Friction" in an opposed Steelpush/Ironpull is likely similar to how Time Bubbles use investiture from the Spiritual Realm as a physical force to prevent red/blue shift. A non-physical investiture-based version of Dry Friction comprised of two different vectors of force acting on the same object, is my theory. 

It has also been discussed in many threads, such as this one mentioned in the WoB, and this recent thread by @DrPhysics (which covers a lot of ground on Allomantic physics)




Do Allomantic Pushes and Pulls generate friction?

Brandon Sanderson

Do they generate friction. So... *sighs* I've had to ask myself this because if they didn't generate friction certain things that I do in the books wouldn't happen. I assume if you've seen the physics of it you've noticed. I have to go with yes. But the physics of it I'm a little wishy-washy on. I mean it's pretty obvious from the way I do things that they do.


Yes! I have won the argument on the 17th Shard.

Brandon Sanderson

I mean, you've seen the science of it, right? You Push things up and they stay there. And so if they didn't generate friction, two people couldn't both Push on a coin to hold it in place, but it does get held in place.


I just won a 17 page argument.

Brandon Sanderson

But I have to tell you... Peter is going to have to break his brain making the physics of that work. But I mean, it's canon. I put it in the books so it’s not like we can just ignore the fact.

Firefight Seattle Public Library signing (Jan. 7, 2015)


If a Mistborn is Pushing and Pulling on metal at the same time, would it stay suspended in midair?

Brandon Sanderson

So most likely not. You could make it happen. Because there's no friction holding it in place, even the slightest change would zip it off in one direction, if you're not perfectly 100% balanced.


Wouldn't it be affected by gravity? If you're Pushing and Pulling at the same time, there's still that downward force.

Brandon Sanderson

There is still that downward force but if you're able to do that, you're able to modulate your Push so that you Push slightly harder on the bottom. Does that make sense? You could do it, the real experts can do it, they can vary how much they're Pushing. But the big problem is the lack of friction. That lack of friction--normally if you're holding a coin with two fingers, it's not going to move. But with no friction, you tap it, it's just going to zip away.

DragonCon 2019 (Aug. 29, 2019)


Hope that helps.

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