What happens in the movie “Interstellar”?




In the new blockbuster of Christopher Nolan, a father of two must save the earth kind from impending doom. Okey, we’ve seen this before countless times, but this time, it isn’t that bad. There were many interesting themes, and I’ve been trying to figure out, what happened (please correct if I made some mistakes. I watched the movie in German).



Soo, suddenly a wormhole appears from nowhere, just to be used by humankind to find a new, habitable planet for us. Sound a bit too like Deus ex Machina? Yeap, but there is some solid science backing it.


A wormhole, or a Einstein-Rosen Bridge, would be a shortcut through spacetime, caused by extreme gravitational dialation. It’s actually quite nice visualised in the movie: fold a paper in two, and push a pen through it. Now going through this hole, you have efficiently just made a jump in spacetime.

Image source: David Darling


As the name suggested, Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen actually calculated in 1935, that these kind of shortcuts could and would exist. The problem was though, that these kind of wormholes would quickly collapse after they were born, because of their own mass, before anything could travel through. Kip Thorne in the 80s later studied that wormholes could be travelled, and deducted that it could be possible, but it would require exotic matterwith negative mass. So I would weight -82 kilograms, when made out of these kind of matter. What? Yep, sounds stupid, but then my gravitational force would be just applied in the opposite direction. Think of this exotic matter as the arching of the wormhole, holding it together and making it stable.


Although no exotic matter has been found to date, it is perfectly in the limits of physics. And a weird quantum effect, called Casimir Effect (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-the-casimir-effec/), has shown, that is is possible to create negative pressure. How this relates to wormholes? See here, its too long for me to explain. But I would recommend it, because it will also make things easier to understand from now on.



Extreme time-dialation & super-massive black holes

So, most of you know that the super-massive black hole seen in the movie is actually based on real scientific data – which is AWESOME. However, what struck me is that how could there be planet orbiting this black hole? And how could they land there without being pulled into the black hole by the extreme gravitation?


Turns out, that supermassive blackholes work differently. Their density can actually be lower than waters and the tidal forces are actually so low, that you could most likely reach the event horizon and the planet orbiting it without any problems (Hawkings: http://www.hawking.org.uk/into-a-black-hole.html). Also, a black hole is just massas any other, so it could have a stable orbit (http://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/1h48c4/could_there_be_planets_orbiting_black_holes_what/). Also, the accrediaton disk could possibly provide enough heat to sustain life.




I know, I know. I lost my sleep because of this. But the thing is, that an orbit is only an object in free fall around the gravity well.


Image credit: Virginia's University


Here in the picture, you can see, how orbits are. An orbit is just a route in space, where it actually falls to the same place where it started, thus repeating the fall indefinitely. I.e. the International Space Station is orbiting Earth, but the astronauts are experiencing near weightlessness. Thus, the “gravitation you feel” and the gravitational force actually applied aren’t really causal per se. It is the tidal forces, that would rip you apart, and as already said, they aren’t that big with super massive black holes. (Yes, if the tidal forces aren’t that massive, how could they cause such massive waves? No idea, but we’ll just let this pass, because hey, it is a movie.)


This is a lot of IFs here, but that only brings me to the next part! But first, let’s talk about the five-dimensional beings.


Murphy’s Law & 5D-beings

The central theme of the movie is time – or more likely, our illusion of time. There is the classical Einstein’s twin paradox –  with relative personal timelines, caused by the extreme gravitational differences, Cooper ages only a fraction of what his daughter, Murph, does.


But to me, what is more interesting are the 5d-beings and “the spatial nature of time”, and how according to the movie, these 5d-beings, can see the time not as a linear manifestation, but as a spatial dimension, where you can move where you want.


But how are the 5d-beings and why do they want to help us? Cooper says, in the black hole, that its not “them”, but “we”, who helped themselves. There has been a lot of theorization on reddit (www.reddit.com/r/interstellar), that the 5d-beings are actually us humans, who at sometime in the future evolved into the 5d-beings. But to become these 5d-beings, they have to save us, in order to become these 5d-beings. Sounds like a paradoxal loop? It is.


It starts to make sense, when you give up the idea of causality: that A causes B, in order to cause C. Murphy’s law states that (or as Cooper said it): “anything that can happen, will happen”. But what he should actually say, is “anything that can happen, will not only happen, but has only happened”. Remember, for us time seems linear, but its only your personal linear experience that makes it happen. To the 5d-beings, we would be like a boat floating in a river of time, helplessly floating past, whereas the 5d-beings would be able to stand on the river’s strand, free to walk up- or downstream.


This has caused a lot speculations and theories to revolve around the idea of pre-deterministic future. But to me, that completely misses the point and is too easy. Why? Let’s talk a bit about quantum probabilities.


Quantum mechanics are probably one of the most unintuitive things of all time: the world we see works pretty well with classical mechanistic laws of Newton. However, in subatomic world things start to fall apart. Wave-particle duality, entanglement, superposition and all this weird stuff. Some people might remember the classical slit experiment with laser rays.


Image credit: Wikimedia


What we here observed, is not only light’s duality, of wave and particle, but the interesting stuff that some of the photons actually take routes through both of the slits. Or to make it more precise, light propagates through these slits as a probability wave. And to make it a bit more confusing, the photons actually take all possible routes: the ones going through left slit, right slit, and the route, which goes around Jupiter and then through the right slit after visiting McDonald’s DriveIn. Of course the last one isn’t that probable, so we really don’t observe it. These things are called Feynman Path’s or Path integral formulation and they are awesome. You should read more at LessWrong. Seriously do it and it will also explain this blogpost more (not so speak of the world!). It is Murphy’s Law happening all the time.




Quantum mechanics in your everyday life and how to survive it


You have probably heard about Schrödinger’s Cat at some point in your life: you put a cat into a box, with a decaying atoms that can set up a deadly toxin, thus killing the cat if the atom is decayed. But as decaying nuclei particles are in a superposition – that is, they only reveal their state when observed – how can we know, if the cat is dead or alive?


And this is interesting: Quantum mechanics really don’t affect us in everyday life. A cat will hunt mouse etc. But Schrödinger just extended the quantum superposition to the cat – the cat is actually now both dead or alive.


Although this is just a thought experiment, researchers have actually found out that life actually uses quantum mechanics more than we think. (http://aeon.co/magazine/science/quantum-biology-the-uncanny-order-of-life/)  European Robin navigates through Earth’s magnetic field using quantum entangled particles. These are particles, that are created or interacted so that their sum of quantum states are superpositioned and thus can remain connected even at the far ends of the galaxy.


And what is really interesting here and relating to my theory of Interstellar, are the enzymes. The workhorses of everything living, they are one of most fundamental building blocks of life on earth: enzymes hasten chemical reactions. Reactions that would otherwise take thousands of years, happen in seconds. And how to they do it? Using quantum tunneling. Photons and electrons vanish in one place, and immediately re-materialize in another spot. Spooky, unintuitive, but totally real and functioning teleportation.


Now you might have lost me, and how this all fits into Interstellar, but wait for it: we just need that last block: Isaac Asimov and some classical sci-fi.


5D-Beings: The Foundation


Most of you have likely read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation (if not, shame on you and go read it) so you know about the science of Psychohistory. With Psychohistory, by combining mathematical statistics, history and sociology, you can predict the large scale of history, which is going to happen. In Foundation, this is a major plot instrument, people trying to control the history by using the tools of psychohistory.


Now what if these 5D-beings in Interstellar are like the Foundation in Asimov’s world? What if they’re world, the five-dimensional quantum soup, is on a brink of extinction – in a superposition of dead and alive?


A lot of the people have tried to explain the nature of time in Interstellar pre-determenistic. That everything that has can happen, will not only happen, but has actually already happened. The 5D-beings had to help us, in order to become the 5D-beings etc. But this is not true and it arises from the quantum mechanics. Even though all things are possible, they will not happen, because their possibility is so infinitely small. Also, some things will only happen, after observed, when the superposition is destroyed.


So these 5D-beings and their world is facing a destruction. But why don’t they help themselves? After all, if they can control black holes, surely they can save their own civilization. But maybe not: as I said, the quantum effects are for us, humans, largely uncontrollable and unobservable, but in the end they play out the every little single detail in our lives. Maybe for these higher dimensional, we the little humans are actually like quantum particles for them. Our deeds playing out events in their lives. Maybe they can’t control the event’s, because that so they can risk destroying the superposition – and thus risking destroying the world. Or maybe because with their evolution, they have lost the ability to love.


You remember this part in the movie? About love being the most fundamental force in the world. It sounded a bit cheesy, and it seemed a bit out of the context. But it is a really interesting idea, one that has been toyed around in sci-fi before (recommended reading: Hyperion-saga) and my only complaint about Interstellar: they should’ve focused more on this idea, bringing in some Eastern philosophies with the Western science.


Cooper could contact Murph, because his love for her daughter, they became quantum entangled, able to transmit information across the universe. Cooper could do the very improbable things, because of his love for her daughter, he acted like an enzyme. Doing things, that would be impossible or would take eternity. That’s why Amelia also saw Cooper in the black hole: their love for each other was already taking quantum leaps through the universe.


TL;DR. 5D-beings too technology advanced, need our help. Have lost their ability to love, need us to act, because we are the quantum particles for their dimesions. Cooper awesome because Cooper is a cheesy man and loves his daughter. Love being the fundamental force in the universe. Love being the enzyme, that can catalyze improbable things to happen.


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