Larry Niven is a science fiction author. Like many other science fiction authors, he is responsible for citing many rules regarding the world, humorous or not. Niven took to this another level by publishing a series of laws on “how the universe works” as far as he can tell. The following is the revised list as of January 29, 2002.
Never throw shit at an armed man.
Corollary to #1: Never stand next to someone throwing shit at an armed man.
Never fire a laser at a mirror.
Mother Nature doesn’t care if you’re having fun.
Giving up freedom for security is beginning to look naive. (or “F x S = k”, meaning that the product of freedom and security is a constant.)
Psi and/or magical powers, if real, are nearly useless.
It is easier to destroy than to create.
Any damn fool can predict the past.
History never repeats itself.
Ethics change with technology.
Anarchy is the least stable of political structures.
There is a time and a place for tact.
The ways of being human are bounded but infinite.
When your life starts to look like a soap opera, it’s time to change the channel.
The only universal message in science fiction: There exist minds that think as well as you do, but differently.
Corollary to #15: The gene-tampered turkey you’re talking to isn’t necessarily one of them.
Never waste calories.
There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.
No technique works if it isn’t used.
Not responsible for advice not taken.
Think before you make the coward’s choice. Old age is not for sissies.
A gigantic dinosaur monster of 50m height and 20000t weight appears in the centre of Tokyo! The invasion of giant spiders! These are common scenarios in science fiction films. Mankind has always been fascinated by giant creatures. Whether it be a child or an adult, no one passes by the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex without being awestruck. Thus, it is very easy to use such creatures in movies. But the key point of every monster movie is the “stats”. A height taller than a high-rise building and a weight nearing one of a battleship excites people before the movie even starts. The problem is that this is very unscientific (considering it is a “science fiction”).
Let us look at the dinosaur monster first. The moment the monster steps on to land, it will be crushed like tofu. Every structure in its body will collapse and the skeleton will give way, causing 20000t of meat to crash to the ground. Simply put, the monster is just too heavy. Let us hypothesise that the monster is the shape of a gigantic T-rex. Tyrannosaurus rex was 15m tall and weighed 7t. If a 15m dinosaur is stretched to the height of 50m, the height becomes 3.3 times the original. But as the width and depth need to be expanded by 3.3 times as well, the weight becomes 37 times the original. The question is whether the monster can support its own weight. Just as the volume increased by a factor of 37, the cross-sectional area of every part of the body increases by a factor of 3.3 x 3.3 = 11. As muscle strength is directly proportional to the cross-sectional area, the strength only increases by 11 times. Thus, the load on a creature’s body is the same as the factor of expansion (e.g. there is 3.3 times the load on the monster’s muscles). But this is only when the T-rex was simply stretched. According to the stats, the monster weighs 20000t – 2800 times the weight of a T-rex. To support 2800 times the weight with 11 times the muscle, the load on the bones and muscle is 250 times. This is equivalent to having 249 people the same weight as you on your back. Of course, the monster cannot support this and its bones will become crushed and its internal organs will all burst, causing instant death.
Similarly, a giant insect monster also receives the same load as its expansion. But unlike an animal, insects have an exoskeleton instead of a skeletal system. This structure cannot support the load caused by the expansion (also, if you stretch an ant that is not even 1cm to just 10m, the load becomes over a thousand times). Ergo, the monster will collapse instantly. A giant monster is an unscientific creature that can only exist in our imagination.
Is time travel possible? In 1943, a science fiction writer called René Barjavel posited the following paradox.
A man travels back to the past and kills his biological grandfather before he meets his grandmother. Thus, his grandparents would not have sired a son (the man’s father) or daughter (mother), which then suggests the man could not have been conceived. If so, who killed the grandfather? As there was no one to kill the grandfather, he would have had a child and the man would ultimately be born, travelling back to the past and killing his grandfather. This paradox suggests that time travel is impossible.
Some people use the parallel universe theory to argue against the paradox. They suggest that as soon as the man travels to the past to kill his grandfather, an alternate universe is created where the grandmother meets a different man and the course of time is changed. This is a valid theory but the grandfather paradox still holds strong in disproving time travel. However, the grandfather paradox only states that travelling back in time is impossible; it says nothing about time travelling to the future.
Titanic is a film telling the story of the sinking of the eponymous ship, the RMS Titanic, directed by James Cameron in 1997. Most people are entranced by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet’s excellent acting, the cutting-edge special effects and the waves of emotions that it projects to the audience, but there is another component that is just as amazing.
Most films and television shows tend to sacrifice science in the name of drama. Thus, science fiction movies are ironically quite inaccurate in even the most basic scientific facts. However, Titanic is strangely true to science despite being a drama film.
To start with, we can take the scene where Rose, embraced by Jack from behind, spreads her arms wide open like wings while on top of the stern of the Titanic. Here, Rose is seen standing so high that she is above the rails from the thighs up. In this position, even a slight push would cause her to lose balance and make her fall, causing the movie to end prematurely. But on closer inspection, it can be seen how Jack has his arms wrapping under the cables. To be so attentive to detail even in the moment of heated passion – Jack is surely a calm, cool-headed man.
In the scene where the Titanic is sailing, it takes 25 seconds for the ship to completely pass a point. Considering that the ship was 269m in length, this comes to a cruising speed of 38km per hour. This is 21 knots when converted – almost identical to the actual cruising speed of the Titanic which was 22 knots.
The movie is accurate in even finer details. Let us study the climactic scene of the sinking. When the ship is tilting at its highest point, a person took 4.3 seconds to fall and hit the water. This equates to a height of 91m, which can be achieved by a 269m ship tilting at about 40 degrees.
When Jack is bound by handcuffs, Rose bravely cuts the chain with an axe. But can a fair 18-year old girl summon such strength? If the chain is the thickness of two 5mm diameter metal rings, then the blade requires 49 Joules of energy to cut the chain. To achieve this, a 3kg axe must be swung at the speed of 20km/h, which is the same as dropping the axe from a height of 1.6m. Ergo, Rose can create enough energy simply by adding a little more strength to the axe as she swings it down from above her head.
Lastly, in the tragic scene where Jack sinks away, he disappears in 6.4 seconds. If by a rough estimate he sank about 2m, then it suggests that he descended at about 1/100 strength of free falling. This means Jack’s body density is about 1% greater than sea water. As the density of sea water is 1.04g per 1cm3, this is perfectly reasonable assuming that Jack is big-boned.
A film focussing on such fine scientific detail can certainly be called a masterpiece of the century. If only Rose’s voice did not echo in the final scene…