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Five Scientific Theories That Will Blow Your Mind

Written by Kevin Jennings

Science is full of strange, fascinating and downright mindboggling theories and phenomena. As our understanding of math and science increases, so too does the intensity of these mysterious theories. While it once would have blown the average person’s mind to suggest the Earth revolved around the Sun and not the other way around, it takes a lot more than that to astonish people of the modern era. Here are five examples.

Quantum Entanglement
There are a number of laws of conservation in our universe. Conservation of mass, of energy, and so on. These laws make intuitive sense on a macro scale. Within a closed system, things cannot simply be magically created or destroyed, they can only change. When we approach the subatomic level, however, things get much less intuitive.

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Take the example of a decaying subatomic particle. The particle had no spin, but it decays into two spinning particles. Because of the conservation of angular momentum, if one of the particles is spin up, the other must be spin down. This makes sense at first, until you consider that this must remain true no matter where those two particles travel. If the spin down particle travels to the moon 385,000 kilometers away, it must remain spinning in the opposite direction of the particle here on Earth. These particles are quantum entangled, and cannot be described separately from one another.

For a more concrete example, I travel to Prague to meet Simon and present him with two cups with 5 dice in each. He keeps one and I return to Boston with the other. Because these dice are quantum entangled, if I shake my cup, slam it down, and look underneath to see that my five dice all read as 2s, I will know that Simon’s dice must be showing the opposite face and all read as 5s. Yahtzee, motherfucker.

Scientists are extremely interested in quantum entanglement because of its potential applications in a number of fields. The most “basic” uses and currently the most promising are in quantum computing and quantum cryptography. If you thought internet puzzles like Cicada 3301 were hard already, just imagine the nightmare they will be with quantum cryptography thrown in the mix.

There’s also the example we used earlier. A particle here on Earth and a particle on the moon, over a full light second away, quantum entangled such that one can tell information about the other. Information, like all things, is supposed to be constrained by the speed of light, but quantum entanglement has the possibility of enabling faster than light communication, which would be groundbreaking in a way we can’t even imagine.

And if you’re more the science fiction type, this may hold the secrets to teleportation as well. Experiments in quantum teleportation date back to 1997 and further experiments have become more reliable, but so far this only refers to the teleportation of information, not matter. Personally, I think teleportation is scary anyway and I’d be happier with the holodeck and food replicators.

The Collatz Conjecture
The Collatz Conjecture is named for mathematician Lothar Collatz. He introduced the idea in 1937, two years after receiving his doctorate, and he probably immediately regretted it. The idea is simple: take any positive integer you can think of. If the number is odd, multiple it by 3 and add 1. If it is even, divide by 2. Repeat this process until you eventually reach a repeating loop of numbers. It seems pretty simple. In fact, it’s so simple, you could explain this problem to an elementary school student and they would understand the process.

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Let’s take the example of 5 as a starting point. Five is odd so multiply by 3 to get 15 plus 1 is 16. Sixteen is even so we divide by 2 to get 8, which is even so we divide by 2 to get 4, then 2, then 1. We’re back to an odd number so multiply by 3 to get 3, plus 1 is 4, then 2 then 1. We have a loop that repeats the sequence 1, 4, 2. The conjecture is that every single positive integer will always wind up at this same repeating sequence.

On its surface the, Collatz Conjecture, also known as the 3n+1 problem or the 3n+1 conjecture seems simple enough. Even if you hate math with every fiber of your being, you likely still understood the concept. A math problem that a second grader could do hardly seems like it would qualify as mind blowing. There’s just one thing: it’s been 85 years, and no one can prove this theory.
How can it be that a simple mathematical process with only 2 rules is completely unsolvable? Aspiring mathematicians have ruined their careers by pursuing a proof to this conjecture. Computers have checked every starting number from 1 through 300 quintillion (3 followed by 20 zeros), and thus far every single number has reduced down to the 1,4,2 pattern. Still, this doesn’t prove anything. If one of those numbers ended in a different loop then the conjecture would be false and we could all go home, but since that isn’t the case, we’re no closer than we were before. The first 300 quintillion numbers all followed the same pattern, but what if the exception isn’t until 300 septillion, octillion, or even sexdicillion? There will always be more numbers, so it is impossible to brute force a proof in this way, only a counterproof.

It seemed innocuous on the surface, but a simple number game that could have been created by a child managed to break mathematics for nearly a century. Don’t think the Collatz Conjecture is all it’s cracked up to be? Give it a go for yourself! In 1983, Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős offered a $500 prize for anyone who could solve the conjecture. What, that’s not good enough for you? Fine, in July of 2021, Japanese company Bakuage upped that prize to 120 million yen, or just over $1 million, making it the highest bounty for a mathematical proof ever, but just barely.

In addition to the Collatz Conjecture, there were seven problems known as the Millennium Prize Puzzles, each worth $1 million to whoever could solve them. To date, only one has been solved, but Russian mathematician Grigori Perelmen declined the award in 2010 when it was offered only to him and not also to American Richard Hamilton on whose work Perelmen’s proof was built. LEGEND.

Humans Are Descendant from Extraterrestrial Life

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No, you did not just tune into Ancient Aliens. Panspermia is the theory that life exists throughout the universe and is carried to planets, including Earth, by way of meteors, asteroids, comets, etc. Panspermia is a fringe theory, but it is not completely without merit. The idea is not that aliens came and colonized the planet, building pyramids then peacing out to leave generations of mankind baffled, but rather that microorganisms crashed to Earth from celestial bodies and were able to grow and evolve here.

The otherwise outlandish theory began picking up credibility in the 1980s and 1990s with the discovery of extremophiles, microscopic organisms that are able to live or even thrive in inhospitable conditions that were believed to make life impossible. There are various organisms found that prefer sulfuric acid to water, are unfazed by temperatures above 121 degrees Celsius or below -25 degrees Celsius, and that don’t even notice levels of radiation that would kill a human in minutes. For these extremophiles, traveling on an asteroids through the vacuum of space would just be business as usual.

While not considered a true extremophile, there is also the beloved tardigrade, or as they are more colloquially known “water bear”. Water bears can survive any and all of these conditions, but they merely endure them, they do not thrive, hence their exclusion from the extremophile label. Just like they withstood extreme conditions, water bears were able to withstand this derision and exclusion as true extremophiles by becoming the first animal to survive in the vacuum of space.

In September, 2007, water bears were taken to low Earth orbit and exposed to the hard vacuum of space, UV radiation and all. Some were dehydrated and some were not, and after 10 days being tortured for science, it was time to bring these adorable little critters home. Those that had been hydrated when they went into space almost entirely died, but of the dehydrated samples, nearly 70% returned to life after being rehydrated. These seemingly invincible specimens had an extremely high mortality rate following their reanimation, but not before many of them were able to produce viable embryos. In short, if dehydrated water bears were on a space rock that fell into the ocean, they may have been able to colonize the planet.

While it’s not the most likely theory, the evidence suggests that it is absolutely possible that microbial life on Earth crash landed here from beyond the stars. Critics of this theory cite that it is unprovable and untestable, and especially that it doesn’t answer the question of how life originated. Critics also said that the coelacanth went extinct 65 million years ago, but cryptozoologists proved them wrong in 1938, so shows what all these overcritical scientists know.

False Vacuum Theory

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Our universe seems pretty stable, but what if it could be even more stable? That is the question behind false vacuum theory. This one gets extremely technical, so we’re going to stick with a very broad overview.

Put simply, in quantum field theory, a false vacuum is a hypothetical vacuum that is stable, but not in the most stable state possible. In quantum theory, the more massive something is, the less stable it is. The entities naturally want to decay to a more stable state. If our universe is in a metastable state and not a truly stable one, the decay to a stable state could be devastating to say the least

Or maybe it wouldn’t be. We have no idea what a more stable state would look like, so it’s impossible to know exactly what would happen. It’s possible that the elementary particles and fundamental forces of the universe are similar enough to what they would look like in a truly stable state that life would go on largely as normal. It’s also possible that the new laws of gravity in our more stable state would cause the entire universe to collapse in on itself. This extreme scenario is less likely, but it is unfortunately much more likely that all life as we know it would immediately cease to exist rather than us being okay, so I don’t think we’d really care what happened to the rest of the universe at that point. Or maybe I’m just a typical, selfish American.

A theory based on a hypothetical metastable state existing sounds like it would be difficult to measure, but unfortunately that’s not the case. The best way we can attempt to guess whether or not we are in a false vacuum is by measuring the mass of the Higgs boson particle. Infuriatingly, the mass of this particle lands right in the middle of definitely being stable, and maybe being able to decay to a more stable state at any moment.

The universe has persisted in this state for billions of years, and it may just well persist for billions more. Or maybe it will decay to a more stable state before you finish reading this post. The one upside is that if the false vacuum were to decay and the stable universe was not hospitable to organic life, we’d all be long dead before we could even detect a change. No use being filled with existential dread over something we can’t control, predict, or prevent.

The Universe is Unfathomably Large

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This one seems sort of obvious, right? The universe, which contains literally everything, is really big. Good job, Kevin, real mind blowing. But seriously, have you ever actually thought about how big it is?

The one thing that always bothered me about the idea of a ship able to travel faster than light was the extremely high mortality rate that would likely cause. Because you were traveling faster than light, you could not possibly steer to avoid obstructions in any meaningful way. Without the ability to know where every object in the universe was and would be at every moment from the beginning of your journey to the end, surely you would collide with something at such high speed that your ship and all life aboard it would instantly be wiped out, right? It made perfectly logical sense to me, but it could not have been more wrong.

Earth is pretty big, at least relative to our myopic human perspective. The sun is even bigger. The sun is so large that roughly a million Earths could fit inside. Then there’s all the other planets and such in our solar system. But that’s just our solar system. In the Milky Way galaxy, there are estimated to be another 100 billion planets and another 100 billion stars. As technology advances, so too does our understanding of the vastness of the universe. If you were to ask Aristotle how many stars there were in the sky, his answer would likely have been “too many to count”. Telescopes have expanded our knowledge of the surrounding celestial bodies from “I don’t feel like counting them” to “hundreds of billions”.

That’s still just the Milky Way. Current estimates from the Hubble Telescope say that there are 100 billion different galaxies in the universe, but that with even more sophisticated equipment we would likely see evidence of 200 billion. So that’s hundreds of billions of galaxies each with hundreds of billions of stars and hundreds of billions of planets, each of those being absolutely massive. That also doesn’t account for all the asteroids, comets, and other miscellaneous stuff floating around in space.

Going back to my original thoughts regarding faster than light travel, what would actually happen if you could not precisely chart a course to where you wanted to go? Hell, forget about being precise. You could point your ship in any random direction you want, close your eyes, and gun it at multiple times the speed of light. With nearly 100% certainty, you would reach the edge of the universe without even coming close to colliding with anything. There are all those celestial bodies floating out there in space, and if you randomly fire, you will almost certainly miss all of them, and miss them by a lot.

That is how big space is. It is filled with a number of bodies of mass larger than our human brains can understand, all of sizes we can’t understand, and if you randomly travel in any direction, you will never hit any of them. This is a fact rather than a theory, but I hope your mind is sufficiently blown.

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