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Thursday 13 May 2010

5 Scientific Theories That Will Make Your Head Explode

5 Scientific Theories That Will Make Your Head Explode


by Michael Swaim

There are generally two types of science: first, there’s the type that makes computers work, allows us to ride around in metal boxes propelled by continuous explosion, and makes it so that milk doesn’t taste all gross. Then there’s the fringe science, the stuff that shoots up your nose like mathematical horseradish and dances a jig on your brain…or brane, as it were (that’s the nerdiest joke in the article, we promise). So kick off your work boots, put on your thought slippers, and prepare for a science course so mind-blowing, it’s written almost entirely in italics.

#5. The Theory: Quantum Entanglement

The Crazy Part: The part where you jiggle an electron on one side of the universe and an invisible force traverses millions of light years and smacks another electron into wiggling instantaneously, which is about a million years faster than is technically possible without time travel.

What It Says: That if two electrons are created together, they are forever “entangled,” much like you and your high school sweetheart according to some shitty poems you wrote in tenth grade. And, also like you and your ex-love, regardless of the distance between the two electrons, a change in quantum spin in one electron will immediately cause the other electron to change spin as well. So like, when she has sex with Bob Feeney, the team’s QB after the first date, even though you’re home alone playing Tetris, your heart will ache with a sudden and unmistakable pain. That’s the pain of entanglement, my friend.

So What Does This Do For Me? Teleportation, holmes. Only really tiny. In theory, you could separate two electrons by as much space as you wanted (say, the breadth of the universe), and they’d still be linked in such a way that actions taken on one would affect the other instantaneously. Meaning information is being transmitted at speeds faster than light. Meaning, if you want to really go nuts, time travel. And though the party pooping scientists have been busy coming up with limitations on the kind of information that could be transmitted (it seems super-fast computers that allow you to play Gears of War against people in parallel dimensions may be a ways off), no one has yet been able to disprove the theory that there is an invisible force in the universe capable of affecting matter millions of light-years away…instantly.
Wait, It Gets Worse: If you subscribe to the whole “Big Bang” thing, then there was a point in the past in which every atom in the universe was condensed into a singularity. Which means everything, even you and that bastard Bob Feeney, are quantumly entangled. Some scientists have even gone so far as to claim that quantum entanglement shows that there is no such thing as space, and that everything in the universe is still touching. Space is just an illusion created by our flawed perceptions, and we’re all one. The hippies were right after all.
Level Of Mind Blowing-ness: A fistful of acid tabs followed by the flume ride at Disneyworld.

#4. The Theory: Evolution

The Crazy Part: The part where the family tree of every living creature on Earth collides at a single point on a single day in the past, making you related to Hitler as well as every insect you’ve ever killed..
What It Says: We’re all familiar with the basics of evolution: that a munificent monkey-goddess birthed us all from Her banana-scented womb. But there are some lesser-discussed implications of natural selection that are just plain weird. For one, scientists have concluded that around 140,000 years ago in Kenya, there lived a woman called Mitochondrial Eve (cavemen had weird names), so named because today, every living human on Earth has her mitochondrial DNA in their body (cavemen were also prescient). And only 3,000 years ago lived a person known as the Most Recent Common Ancestor, who, through exponential growth of the family tree, is the ancestor of every single person on Earth. And did you know that, based on the same principles (and a lot of rape), Genghis Kahn has over 16 million descendants? Who’s your Daddy now?!
So What Does This Do For Me? Well, for one, you can rest assured than anyone you ever have sex with in your entire life is at least your distant, distant cousin. So that’s nice. And if you’re really a nut for genealogy, why not trace your heritage back to the Last Universal Ancestor, the single-celled organism who, about 4 billion years ago, decided to go ahead and give rise to every living creature that will ever exist on the face of the Earth? Talk about a pimp. In essence, the whole of life on the planet can be considered one long, unbroken chemical reaction that is still resolving itself, like the foam flowing out of a science fair volcano.
Wait, It Gets Worse: The genetic chaos continues. The Endosymbiotic Theory says that the mitochondria in our bodies, without which we couldn’t live, let alone write snide humor articles, was at one point a separate organism that invaded our cells and set up camp. They formed a symbiotic relationship so beneficial that we’ve never booted them out. Furthermore, large chunks of the human genome are thought to be ancient retroviruses that managed to transcribe themselves into our DNA and have spent the remainder of their days happily clambering up and down our nucleotides like the McDuck children on a mansion banister. Basically your cells are millions of individual organisms, all huddled together in a you-shaped beehive. Now see how long you can go before wanting to shower.
And lastly, a thought for the right-wingers out there: At some point half of you was an egg in your Mother’s womb. That egg existed in her body from the day she was born. And a long, long time ago, she too was an egg in her Mother’s womb, who had that egg ready for use from the moment she squirmed out of your Great Grandma’s nethers. The point being, technically speaking, there’s no break in the chain of existence, no time when you are not a life form of at least the most rudimentary sort. Your family, at least on your Mother’s side, could theoretically be considered an immortal, constantly-regenerating organism. Of course that would make men, whose sperm has to be created years after the moment of birth, just disposable donors here to fuel the everlasting fire of womanhood. You go girls!
Level Of Mind Blowing-ness: Four Hemmingway suicides.

#3. The Theory: The Copenhagen Interpretation

The Crazy Part: The part where the furniture in your house behaves differently when you’re not around.
What It Says: Besides sounding like the subtitle of The Da Vinci Code II, The Copenhagen Interpretation is probably the most widely accepted explanation for the observations made through quantum mechanics. It came about in part to explain the infamous “Double Slit Experiment,” which is the one your physics professor probably made you do. The Double Slit Experiment shows that an electron, fired at a wall with two slits in it, will sometimes go through sometimes go through one, sometimes through the other, and sometimes it will go through both slits simultaneously (meaning, a single thing will be in two places at once). In short, it goes batshit fucking insane. The twist is, if you try and observe the electron at the moment it passes through the slits—you know, to figure out what the hell is wrong with it—the electron goes back to behaving like a normal electron, and innocently shoots through one of the slits while giving you, and reality, the finger. The details of why this happens are sort of technical, but this simple diagram should explain it:

So What Does This Do For Me? The Copenhagen Interpretation is the result of a lot of smart people trying to figure out what the fuck was going on with these damn electrons. What they came up with is that all particles exist as waves of probability. From the observer’s perspective, there’s only a certain chance that a given electron will go through the left slit or right slit. When you don’t watch, it remains a cloud of probability and sort of does a little of everything. When you watch, the act of observing it somehow causes the cloud to pick a side. So the next time you observe a particle, be warned: they know you’re watching, and as soon as you stop, they’re going to start a party.
Wait, It Gets Worse: If you apply the Copenhagen Interpretation to bigger objects, it gets even weirder. The infamous Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment, the one your physics professor probably got fired for doing, said that if you put a cat in a box and press a button that has a fifty percent chance of filling the box with poison gas, then until you go and look in the box, the cat exists as a cat-cloud which is simultaneously both alive and dead. And there’s more: if everything exists as a probability wave, then that means that technically, anything possible could happen at any time. There’s nothing stopping a big floppy dick from sprouting out of your forehead right now; it’s just highly unlikely. You feel lucky, punk?
Level Of Mind-Blowig-ness: Let’s just say it might be time to invest in a tarp.

#2. The Theory: The Many Worlds Theory

The Crazy Part: The part where you realize that somewhere in some parallel universe you just died while reading this sentence.
What It Says: The Many Worlds Theory rejects The Copenhagen Interpretation’s crazy idea that particles can change their behavior seemingly at will, and replaces it with the much crazier idea that the only reason we think particles are changing their behavior is that we’re only seeing that particle’s action in one universe, rather than the infinite number of universes that actually exist. So an observed particle with two options—say, to pound beers at a Van Halen tribute show or drop E and storm a techno club—actually does both, even though we may only observe the techno club, in some other universe, parallel to our own, that particle is rocking out to “Eruption” instead of rubbing itself ferociously on anything with a body temperature.
So What Does This Do For Me? If you buy into the Many Worlds Theory, the implications are infinite. And let’s be clear about what “infinite” means here. For every action you’ve ever taken, every movement you’ve ever made, even down to the atomic level, there’s a parallel universe out there where you did something else instead. Anything else. Instead of learning guitar, you burst into flames. Instead of opening the fridge, you freebased black tar heroin. Instead of nude rock climbing, you went nude bungee jumping. Instead of reading this article, you worked productively and got a handsome raise. Think about it: in some parallel universe out there, you and your high school sweetheart are making hot, reconciliatory love atop Bob Feeney’s smoldering corpse after you killed a laser-breathing velociraptor with your bare hands. If that thought doesn’t make you feel better about how mundane your actual life is, we don’t know what will.
Wait, It Gets Worse: If you think The Many Worlds Theory is a tad too far fetched an explanation for some electrons behaving weirdly, you’re not alone. In an effort to simplify things, scientists have come up with The Many Minds Theory, which says your brain splits up at the instant you make an observation, and then your many brains observe every possible outcome. Yes, that’s right, an infinite number of parallel brains, existing without universes (let alone skulls) to house them in. Awesome. Much simpler.
Level Of Mind Blowing-ness: A TNT-tipped jackhammer to the eye socket.

#1. The Theory: The Universe Is Big

The Crazy Part: The part where the Universe isn’t just bigger than you can possibly comprehend, but according to recent evidence, billions of times larger than that.
What It Says: That the universe is big. So big, that just that fact, just it’s mere bigness, is enough to blow your tiny ant mind. And it just keeps getting bigger. Let’s examine the famous Hubble Ultra Deep Field image, the most massive photo ever taken:

Right now, on your computer screen, are approximately 10,000 galaxies.
Each of those galaxies contains anywhere from ten million to one trillion stars.
The average star is roughly a million times the size of Earth.
And yet, with all that junk, the Universe is more than 90 percent empty space.
All of that, in this tiny photo. A photo that took 400 orbits and 800 exposures to take.
And the kicker? The photo covers one thirteen-millionth of the entire night sky.
So What Does This Do For Me? If you’re like us, it leaves you alternately awash with spiritual wonder and horrified feelings of utter insignificance. Actually imagining just how infinitesimal you are in the scope of the universe is like autoerotic asphyxiation: it’s not as pleasant as you’d think, and if you do it wrong you can end up a vegetable. And without getting too Douglas Adams on you, can you possibly imagine that much space and that many planets and stars and atoms smashing together without intelligent life forming? Now it’s just a matter of getting around that pesky general relativity and we’ll be chilling with aliens in no time. Or, like, a million years.
Wait, It Gets Worse: So all that shit we just said about how big the universe is (at least 90 billion light years)? Forget it. That’s small beans. The Cosmological Horizon is here to make your day a whole lot more complicated. Since we can only observe stellar bodies that have had some effect on us (usually bombarding us with light), there is an outer limit to what we can see of the universe. Hence, the “observable universe.” What about the rest? The parts of the universe beyond our Starcraft-style fog of war? Well, according to some math we have no interest in going into, the size of the “actual” universe is so large that if the universe we just described (the impossibly, mind-bogglingly large one) were the size of a quarter, the actual universe would be the size of the Earth. Daaaaaaaamn.
Level Of Mind Blowing-ness: The sound of one hand clapping for a tree falling in the woods while no one’s around except a guy whose skull is wired with C4.

In case you’ve still got some bits of gray matter clinging to the shards of your fractured skull, here are some links to information about further scientific theories conceived to make neural cortex dribble out your nostrils.
  String Theory: Including the idea that there are seven spatial dimensions that are “hiding” in the three we’re familiar with.
  The Double Slit Experiment: A CG Mr. Wizard-type guides you through the ridiculousness of the Double-slit experiment.
  The Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image: In full-resolution glory. Perfect for those stoned out of their minds.
  The Supervolcano: Probably the most plausible doomsday scenario currently on the market.
  The Large Hadron Collider: The Scientific Institute that some scientists claim will create a tiny black hole (although apparently that’s fine).
  Quantum Tunneling: The theory that when a particle is slammed against a barrier that it’s physically impossible for it to penetrate, sometimes it does anyway.
  Laser Time Travel: Time travel available within a decade? I can go back and warn myself about Mama Mia!
And, for those whose brains need a quick escape before they implode…
  Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems: A German mathematician proves that all of this is just bullshit anyway.

And, for those whose brains need a quick escape before they implode…
  Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems: A German mathematician proves that all of this is just bullshit anyway.


by Michael Swaim


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  1. This article most certainly is not posted under the Creative Commons license, given that Cracked owns the rights to this article and you have published it without permission.

  2. D'oh! You mean to say that 'copyright' doesn't mean we have the right to copy it? Maybe you'd better have a look at the bottom of the article where this issue is specifically addressed -

    'This material is published under Creative Commons Copyright (unless an individual item is declared otherwise by copyright holder) – reproduction for non-profit use is permitted & encouraged, if you give attribution to the work & author - and please include a (preferably active) link to the original along with this notice. Feel free to make non-commercial hard (printed) or software copies or mirror sites - you never know how long something will stay glued to the web – but remember attribution! If you like what you see, please send a tiny donation or leave a comment – and thanks for reading this far…'

    Welcome to the 21st Century. BTW - are you Cracked?

  3. The original article is copyrighted, not CCC.

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