Happy Independence Day to those American readers of the blog. I like to celebrate this day every year by drunkenly watching the movie version of the musical 1776, starring Mr. Feeny of Boy Meets World as John Adams.
Take a deep breath, feel that? The air that fills your lungs? Alright, now breath out onto your hand. Feel the breeze, the force of it? Congrats, you now know more than most movie writers/producers.
That’s the lesson for today: the power of wind. The other planeteers can wait their turn.
What film and TV writers forget is that air exists pretty much everywhere on Earth. Air is always there, even when you can’t see it or feel it. This presents a couple of different problems in fiction.
As in my column on inertia, unfortunately, I have to pick on The Flash again. As I mentioned in that article, when the Flash takes off running at mach 3, not only will the force of inertia liquify him, but he has to deal with the friction of the air. He’d be absolutely immolated from the heat produced from the wind resistance.
Now, in modern Flash comics, this has been retroactively explained away as The Flash having a aura caused by the speed-force that protects the speedster from the forces of inertia and air-friction.
Teleporters like Nightcrawler have a similar problem. When they teleport away, they leave a vacuum where they once were. The issue is, wherever they teleport to still is filled with air. They’re no better off than teleporting into a brick wall- matter is matter. This is one of the biggest drawbacks to the transporter technology of Star Trek. If the away team materialized into a vacuum every time, then displacing the air wouldn’t be a problem. But re-materializing into air would present terrible transporter accidents.
The X-Men Nightcrawler actually averts this. His famous sound effect (“BAMF”) is actually the sound of the air filling the vacuum where he once was, and the cloud of smoke when he appears is his powers pushing out the air that would occupy the space.
Though Nightcrawler’s fellow X-Men Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde) runs into some problems with this. Her power is the ability to phase through solid objects (intangibility). While this is all well and good to be able to walk through walls, the ability to pass through solid matter is really an inability to interact with matter. She wouldn’t be able to breath, because the molecules in the air wouldn’t be able to interact with her lungs.
Remember the 2002 movie Clockstoppers? If so, I’m so sorry. But that movie, and others like it that deal with stopping time, present huge issues. Stopping time stops all the molecules, which like the Kitty Pride example means that the user would not be able to breathe while time was paused.
Okay, so in Clockstoppers, the watch doesn’t actually stop time, it just accelerates the user so much that time seems to stop for them. So in THIS case they would be able to breath. But the extreme acceleration causes a whole new slew of problems:
Namely that this movie exists.
For instance, like the above Flash example, moving fast turns up the air resistance and friction to ELEVEN. When your molecules are vibrating that fast, anything you touch would instantly catch on fire because of the friction- including the air around you.
The principle behind the watch is in theory sound, moving at an incredibly fast pace would slow down time, but the principles of relativity would also come into play at those speeds. Moving that fast would actually increase your mass a substantial amount and thus increase your weight exponentially.
This week, someone asked another question using the feedback forms at the bottom of these columns:
Have you seen the movie Gattaca? do you think any of that would be possible?
I have seen Gattaca and actually would really recommend it. But I think that the future portrayed in the movie (that 1. Kids would become genetically engineered and 2. that un-engineered people would be treated like second-class citizens) is very unlikely to happen- especially after the recent Supreme Court Case where it was ruled that “companies cannot patent naturally occuring forms of DNA, but have the right to patent synthetically produced DNA.” It’s kind of a compromise for Gene patenting but it establishes an important precedent that kind of shuts down the future of Gattaca. Also, the humongous trend of “natural” and “organic” (words whose actual meanings have been lost to buzz-words) has cast genetic engineering in a really negative light. At least now, and in the near-future, widespread human genetic engineering is a little implausible- and certainly the kind of genetic discrimination is too.
Great question, thanks for asking it.
Be sure to check out my other column, where I review dumb-ass action films every Monday: Mindless Action Mondays
Have a science-related question? Ask it!
If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.