Why delve into the realms of science fiction when reality is just as mind boggling? Here are three theories from the world of physics that are guaranteed to turn your brain to mush.
Conservation of Mass
The law of conservation of mass is one of physics’ fundamental concepts. In GCSE classrooms around the country the simple statement that matter can neither be created nor destroyed is drilled into the minds of our youngsters. Since matter is immune to destruction, each and every part of the cosmos that was born in The Big Bang is still around today. Heavy elements like carbon and iron are the building blocks of life on Earth, only forged through chemical reactions in a star’s fiery core and then blasted out into space at their explosive supernova end. These particles of stardust, the atoms contained in your body, every constituent that forms your being, will exist in some form until the death of the universe. You will essentially live forever.
Albert Einstein forever changed our view of the universe in 1905 when he devised his special theory of relativity. Starting from two simple theories about the speed of light and the unchanging laws of physics, the young German deduced that nature has an extremely distorted design. Imagine that you’re waiting to cross at a set of traffic lights and a huge 18 wheeler truck flashes by at the speed of light. The theory predicts that the truck would appear squashed flat and that the driver would not only feel very sick, but would also experience a slowing of time, with the second hand on his watch hardly seeming to tick at all. This effect in fact happens every time you move, and even walking across the room will very slightly alter your own experience of space-time.
Quantum physics deals with what’s inside the atom. Protons and neutrons, both subatomic particles, are roughly ten billion times smaller than the width of a human hair; down at this scale things gets very weird, so weird in fact that the laws of nature break down. The double slit experiment, where a single electron is seen to exist in two places simultaneously, has led physicists to the conclusion that particles behave differently depending on whether or not they are being observed. The Many Worlds Theory predicts that all possible alternative histories and futures are real. In other words, there are an infinite number of replicas of you, each living in another parallel universe. If that disturbs you then don’t worry; you’re not alone. Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate and father of quantum theory, summarised the doctrine’s freakishness in his famous remark: ‘If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.’