Star Trek

May. 25th, 2009 12:05 am
shirou: (Default)
[personal profile] shirou
I just got back from watching Star Trek. The characterization was really well done, and on the whole I enjoyed the movie. However, being a physicist makes some parts of it difficult to take. I was prepared for all the warp drive/faster than light pseudo-science. I remember that stuff from watching Star Trek as a kid, and somehow it doesn't bother me. Even the time travel I can take. The black hole physics, though, ouch. For whatever reason, this really got to me. First of all, they could SEE the black hole. Light was leaving the black hole and coming to the Enterprise (which was not within the event horizon). Also, they kept talking about a singularity. Yes, the known solutions to Einstein's equations (eg Schwarzschild) do have a curvature singularity, but the singularity is believed to be -- has to be! -- unphysical. Singularities don't make sense, but by the cardinal assumption of physics, the universe does. The problem is that Einstein's equations must have higher order terms that become important very close to the black hole. This is what quantum gravity/string theory is trying to discover. The singularities in the known solutions are a product of our lack of understanding, a product of the incompleteness of the theory. The full theory almost surely will not have singularities, and it drove me crazy to hear the characters in Star Trek talking about singularities as though they were real, physical things.

The funny thing about science fiction is that science fact (and theory!) is much more interesting, and much more bizarre. A back hole does not have a location in space, exactly, although the mass of the black hole does. The hole itself is a hypersurface that has a location in time, although time may be spacelike instead of timelike inside the horizon. I doubt that would even mean much to many people. But if one has the gumption to dig through the general theory of spacetime, what one finds is much stranger than what the Hollywood producers concoct.
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shirou

November 2011

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