5 Scientific Theories That Will Melt Your Brain

People think science is all tedious testing and complicated calculations, but those only happen after someone points at the Sun God and screams, "I BET I CAN TURN THAT INTO MATH!" (We did!) Or they point at the Moon and shout, "I BET WE CAN JUMP UP AND DOWN ON THAT THING!" (We did!) Science basically points both middle fingers at the infinite wonder of existence, but the first bit always starts with a ridiculous-sounding idea. Behold, five scientific suggestions so spectacularly silly that they'd make The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy say, "That can't be right."

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#5. Existence Can Ripple


Throw a stone into a pond, and the water ripples. Smash two black holes together at half the speed of light, and existence ripples. They collide so hard that you don't need to hear anything, because space itself is screaming and shaking up and down in a detectable way. But you've got to expect something amazing when 60 octillion tons of spherical singularities slam together like Galactus twerking. Einstein predicted these "gravitational waves" over a century ago, and their banging is so hard that reality is jolted.

Smashing spacetime so powerfully that it wobbles like an old VCR tape sounds like a fresh, steaming plate of hyperbole. But we've already detected it. Two singularities slammed into each other like the ultimate subwoofer, blasting bass notes through the fabric of reality. Three entire solar masses were converted into gravitational wave energy -- a process over 50 times more powerful than the entire visible universe. It was so spacetime-staggering that we felt the effects over a billion light years away. On September 14, 2015, every cell in your body was gently squeezed by black holes getting it on.

Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes project
Spacetime so kinky, it's got holes going into other holes.

The measurement was made by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory -- aka the most impressive anything on the surface of this or any other planet. It's a pair of set-squares for spacetime, two vast L-shaped installations four kilometers long on each arm, and every micrometer is in an ultrahigh vacuum. And they're on opposite sides of the country, so that they can use almost the entire North American continent as a 10-millisecond timing delay. In each, LIGO lasers bounce back and forth between mirrors more carefully isolated than Kanye West's sense of humor. The result is a ruler so accurate that when its reading varies, it's the universe that changed.

Detecting gravitational waves is so staggering that even working out the idea that it would one day be possible earned someone the 1993 Nobel Prize for Physics. And now we've done it. This is the metrological Moon landing. Oh, and then we detected some more a few weeks ago. Because that's science -- "the most impressive and amazing thing we've ever done as a species" quickly becomes "something we can do, so let's do it more. Then see what comes next." Wooo!

#4. Antimatter Is Matter Travelling Back In Time


Antimatter is utterly ridiculous: the evil opposite of matter which annihilates it on contact, with spectacular explosions. Did this stuff escape from a Star Trek episode, and do the anti-bosons have little evil beards and eye patches? The thing is, we've not only detected antimatter, but we can also now churn it out of particle accelerators and hold it in magnetic bottles for 15 minutes. Labs can hold antimatter longer than I can hold a pint.

When these collide with me, I also get annihilated.

Antimatter's most famous application is annihilating matter to release 90 million billion times as much energy (c-squared is a hell of an exchange rate). This spectacular factor might be because antimatter annihilation is everyone losing at a game of time-travel chicken. The Feynman-Stueckelberg interpretation treats antimatter as matter going backwards in time. So when it hits regular matter going forward, it's not just two objects touching; it's a head-on collision in the fourth dimension. It's only one of several ideas, but it's the one most likely to make The Doctor finally install seat belts on the TARDIS.

The best bit about this idea is that it already works in the equations. Antimatter inverts all kinds of important quantities, but instead of inventing a new mode of matter, you get the same effect by multiplying time by -1. After all of our science-fiction and magical fantasies, it turns out the real time traveler was inside our state-of-the-art particle accelerators all along. Though, uh, that's probably where we would have expected to find them. When you tell Doc Brown, break it to him gently.

#3. The One-Electron Universe


Sometimes, you get high with friends, and after you gloriously rediscover the taste of pizza, you ask questions like "What if we were all, like, just one being?" The most successful physicists in history did the same thing, but they did it with quantum mechanics, and came to even more amazing conclusions. Because when they say "high," they mean "imaginary gravity times Planck's constant squared." Which may have a little more weight to it than a session of mediocre joints and a binge watch of Aqua Teen Hunger Force season three.

Though that can also cause serious time dilation.

John Wheeler was the physicist responsible for little things like neutronic reactors, neutron moderators, the word "wormholes," and noticing that black holes maybe had something to do with gravity. The man was a living Star Trek episode, except his technobabble wasn't bullshit. He also came up with the idea of the "one-electron universe," in which every electron in existence -- in your brain, in your ass, in Donald Trump's brain/ass -- were all the exact same electron, which travels back and forth in time to be every single electron. The same negative charges chemically conducting these words up your optic nerve are the ones in the heart of Alpha Centauri, Benedict Cumberbatch's dimples, and Milla Jovovich's skintight zombie-fighting suit (whichever you think is the hottest).

That sexy hydrogen-on-hydrogen action.

Wheeler discussed this idea with Richard Feynman, and when Feynman doesn't call bullshit on the universal electronic reincarnation idea, it's a real mind-blower. Feynman didn't call bullshit so hard that he discussed the idea in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, crediting it with giving rise to the time-travelling antimatter from the previous point. One of the most decorated physicists in history supports the idea that existence is even more electronic masturbation than the internet -- the same particle simultaneously interacting with itself in every possible way.

The idea works because electrons are utterly indistinguishable. We think of subatomic particles as tiny billiard balls, but billiard balls can be told apart. Every electron is exactly the same. They're not built, they're not carved -- they're tiny jewels of solid physics popping out of the fundamental constants of reality. This isn't an obscure point. Huge swathes of the quantum mechanics (aka "reality") running the computer (and brain) you're reading this with are based on this indistinguishability. The only reason this isn't a scientific theory is that it can't be disproved. You can only accept it or ignore it. Man, science, you give the coolest ultimatums.

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