The Science of Stranger Things

Richard Kaskiewicz

This article contains spoilers.

Now you may well have seen the eight-episode miniseries full of 80s nostalgia, which has become somewhat of a sensation over the last few months. I’m talking of course, about Netflix’s Stranger Things. And if you haven’t, well… Go! Watch it now! What are you waiting for?

stranger_things_logowikimedia

The show centres on the investigation of ‘who, what, where, why, and how’ relating to a string of sinister disappearances befouling the quaint little town of Hawkins, Indiana. Soon our protagonists find themselves falling deep down the rabbit hole into a world of government conspiracy, mysterious powers, and most importantly, alternate dimensions.

Before we begin, I must clarify that the science I will be talking about is purely theoretical and thus we can’t confirm any of it is true. Nevertheless, the idea that space and time could have some components and parameters that we cannot observe has been the subject of debate for several decades, and has been thought by many to be a real possibility.

During the series, the kids’ teacher explains gaining access to and moving within another dimension using an analogy involving an acrobat and a flea suspended on a tightrope. The acrobat can move both forwards and backwards along this rope in the obvious long direction, in correspondence to the dimensions we are aware of. A flea, being much smaller, can still move forwards and backwards, but can also explore additional dimensions by moving ‘upside down’ on the rope. This is similar to the way theoretical physicists often explain this concept.

This extra direction around the circumference of the rope is so small that it is almost unperceivable to the acrobat, and the underneath is hidden from their view. It is incredibly difficult, nigh impossible for the acrobat to transverse, despite the fact that it’s still the same rope. Another way to think about this is to think of our world as the page of a book. We’re free to move around the surface area of the page but due to our limits, we cannot move from page to page – despite the next page being just a fraction of a millimetre away.

A much larger problem arises if we consider trying to transfer entities between the two dimensions. In order to do this, you would literally have to change the physical reality of space and time, tearing a hole through it. With our current concepts of physics, this would take more energy than the sun has produced so far in its lifetime. In essence, as a civilization we would have to be way more advanced.

So what about other interpretations of alternate dimensions/universes?

Unless you’ve spent the last ten years living under a rock or in an alternative dimension (in which case, congrats for finding your way here), you’ll have heard of Schrodinger’s Cat, a famous thought experiment devised by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrodinger in 1935.

A cat sits in a box alongside a vial of poisonous gas and a radioactive element that decays (emits radiation) randomly. If the element decays, the vial of gas breaks, killing the cat. The radiation emitted by the element exists in what is called a superposition, which essentially means that it subsists in a state of being both ‘decayed’ and ‘not decayed’ at the same time, until the lid of the box is opened and the outcome is observed – collapsing the superposition and resulting in the observation of either a cat that is alive, or dead.

A hypothesis was soon suggested that perhaps two different universes are created when the superposition collapses; one in which the cat is dead (radiation emitted), and one in which the cat is alive (no radiation emitted). Considering the number of observations we make that could have multiple outcomes, this suggests that millions, if not billions, of universes are created every second.

Taking this further, we can apply this concept to decision making.

The ‘daughter universe’ theory says that if you follow the laws of probability, every outcome that could come from one of your decisions, would each create its own range of universes — each of which saw one outcome come to fruition.

For example, if you had the option to wear two different sets of clothes this morning, one universe is created for either choice. Then, for each of these universes, more and more would be created stemming from each parent universe. In one universe, you chose the sequined dress over a shirt and jeans, thus creating two universes. In this universe you might be subject to further decision-making. For instance, having chicken or a burger for lunch, and so on and so forth. Eventually this would create a quite simply unimaginable number of universes.

It is on these notions that we are lead to the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and the beginnings of the multiverse theory, where any and all possibilities can occur simultaneously in different universes. Each dimension is different from our own, some quite subtly, others dramatically.

The point is that any and all eventual possibilities exist in one way or another.

If you are still interested in the possibilities of multiple dimensions and universes, lots of material has been written on the subject – far too much to be discussed in a short article.

So maybe we exist on one page of a whole endless library of universes, stacked end to end and on top of one another, and all we need to do is find a way to turn to the next page. Though, do we want to face the Demogorgon?

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