Cordial Deconstruction

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Archive for the ‘Sci-Fi’ Category

Wormholes, Portals, and Time-Space Travel

Posted by Karl Withakay on February 1, 2013

I’d like to discuss what seems to me to be a fundamental problem with various forms of wormhole/ portal based travel in either space or time as represented in various forms of science fiction.   It occurred to me some time ago, and in fact I started writing this post back in November 2012.  I was reminded of it today while reflecting a little on the last five seasons of Fringe, which led to me thinking about The Observers and the way they can travel through time.

Science fiction frequently treats the Earth as if it was fixed in space relative to all other points and objects in space when we know this is not the case.  Consider, if you will, Back to the Future when the DeLorean hits 88 mph and jumps through time to arrive in the exact same place on Earth, but at a different time.

The Earth rotates on its axis at a speed of about 465 m/s.  In other words, if the Earth was otherwise fixed in space, after standing in place on the surface of the Earth for one second, you’d be about 465 meters from the point in space where you were the previous second.*

However, the Earth is not otherwise fixed in space.  While it rotates about its axis, the Earth orbits the sun at roughly 30 km/s.  So after that one second, you’d be about 30 km from your previous point in space regardless of whether the Earth was rotating on its axis or not.

But wait, there’s more.  The sun and the entire solar system orbit the center of the Milky Way galaxy at around 220 km/s.  This means that after one second, you would have traveled 220 km from the point in space you were at just one second prior, give or take 30 km depending on where the Earth was in its solar orbit and what direction it was traveling relative to the motion of the Solar System.

As the sun orbits the center of the Milky Way, the Milky Way is also not fixed in space.  Our galaxy moves in and with an expanding universe, and is influenced in that motion by various factors, such as the gravitational pulls of the Great Attractor and the Shapley Supercluster.  The Sun and Solar System move with a resultant velocity of about 370 km/s relative to the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation.

So by jumping just one second forwards or backwards in time and arriving in the exact same location in space, you would be several hundred kilometers from the surface of the Earth in space because the Earth, the Solar System, and The Milky Way are all in constant motion in a celestial ballet.

This problem would apply to most wormholes and portals in space (technically space-time) as well unless such portals were gravitationally bound to the locations of the endpoints so that they traveled through space with the planets/ locations of the entry points.  The Stargate franchise gets around this problem nicely by making the wormholes connections generated between two gates rather than two regions of the fabric of space-time itself.

Back to the Delorean- after jumping through time to arrive in the same location in space, it would be stranded in the (near) vacuum of space and the drive doomed to death.  (There’s no way to drive back.)

Interestingly, this brings up another interesting conundrum:  What’s so significant about traveling at 88 mph (or any speed) relative to the surface of the Earth in the first place, and should it matter what direction you are driving relative to the motion(s) of the Earth?  Velocity is relative to some reference frame and not absolute.  The Delorean might be traveling at 88 mph relative to a bystander standing on the ground, but it would be traveling less than that relative to a tailwind and more than that relative to oncoming traffic, to say nothing about its velocity relative to something like the Moon or the Voyager 1 probe.  That DeLorean in free space would be traveling at least 88 mph relative to something; what would or wouldn’t cause it to time travel?  In fact, since there would be no air resistance or friction with the ground, it would likely still be traveling at 88 mph relative to the Earth** as its momentum carried on in space.

I don’t really have a good conclusion or summary here other than to say that traveling in time without also traveling in space may not such a good idea.  Sorry, Doc.

* Note that the net distance from the previous point will be less that the arc distance traveled, but the difference over the time interval used would be minimal.  I’m also ignoring the motion of the Earth as a result of the Earth-Moon gravitational interactions as they co-orbit each other and other similar factors.

** I suppose things gets even trickier here.  No longer being on the surface of the Earth, the Delorean would no longer be rotating with the Earth’s surface as it revolves about its axis, but would continue on a tangent from where the Earth was before the DeLorean hit 88 mph and jumped through time.  This would be further complicated the change in gravitational forces exerted on the Delorean by the various actors due to their changed locations relative to the Delorean, which will be greater the further it has jumped in time.  There are also other complicating factors involved here, but I think I’ve made my point.

Posted in Fringe, Sci-Fi, Science, Space, Television, time | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

Sci-Fi Science and Skepticism Fail on Syfy

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 10, 2010

A couple of months ago, I was flipping through channels on my POOP TV* and caught a few minutes of one of those really bad, direct to cable movies they run all the time on the Syfy channel.  The movie was Savage Planet and before I changed the channel, I chanced to hear the following lines of dialog spoken by one of the characters in the movie:

“I always believed there had to be a scientific explanation for everything.  Science was the only answer.  Since I’ve been here, I’m rapidly becoming a skeptic.”

I hit the record button on my DVR remote so I could preserve that line of dialog for a potential future blog post.  However, I didn’t continue watching the program, and I stopped the recording after the dialog, so I only have a few minutes recorded.

I don’t really know what the character was specifically talking about, but I imagine it had something to do with the killer space bears the reviews say the movie contains.  Regardless, this quote is an epic fail on the part of the writers of the movie.  They apparently buy into the philosophy that “science doesn’t know everything”, which is really a misunderstanding of science, since science is a process, and not a body of knowledge or answers.

To quote the Wikipedia article on science,

“Science is a systematic enterprise of gathering knowledge about the world and organizing and condensing that knowledge into testable laws and theories.”

Science is not the answer, it is the means to an answer; it is they way to provide the explanation.  If it is beyond  your ability to explain scientifically, that is not a failure of science; that is a failure of your ability and knowledge base.  Lacking a scientific explanation for a phenomenon does not make that phenomenon supernatural or paranormal, it simply means you haven’t found the scientific explanation yet.  It can be very frustrating to not have the answer for something.  It can be even more frustrating to know that the answer to that question may never be discovered during your lifetime, but that is no reason to engage in a god of the gaps fallacy and invent some supernatural explanation just so you can have an answer.

The dialog is also a profound misunderstanding of skepticism and the skeptical community.  While the word skepticism can technically mean any questioning attitude, skepticism is about challenging claims lacking empirical evidence.  It is also about challenging and examining the evidence that is used to support a claim.  Skepticism is a crucible for inquiry in which claims are subjected to the fires of scientific scrutiny to burn away the extraneous fluff, leaving only scientific knowledge and/or more questions to be answered.

I don’t really expect any better for a low budget sci-fi movie that likely went straight to Syfy, but I wanted to blog about it because I’ve heard the “Science doesn’t have all the answers” gambit many times before, and I wanted to give my take on why that concept is so wrong.

*POOP TV:  Picture Out Of Picture.  I have a 40” HDTV sitting next to my 60” HDTV.  When I was researching buying a new 60” HDTV, I wanted to get a model with PIP (Picture In Picture) because my then current TV had it, and it was pretty nifty for watching one football game while keeping track of another.  I discovered that it would cost a lot more extra to get any of the current models with PIP, more than the cost of buying a second, smaller HDTV.  So I bought a budget model 32” LCD TV to go next to my new 60” model.  I found that I liked the setup not just for watching two football games at the same time, but also for watching TV while playing video games, especially when I am just performing some boring, repetitive action to level up a character, exploit a flaw in the game to generate endless amounts of money, or get some achievement.  I liked the POOP TV setup so much that a couple years later, I sold my 32” TV to a friend and upgraded the POOP TV to a 40” model.

I have no wife or kids, I have to spend my money on something, right?

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Quotes, Sci-Fi, Science, Skepticism, Space, Syfy, Television, Thoughtful/Random Observation | Leave a Comment »


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