Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time

Lawrence M. Krauss

Boxtree, London, 1997.

This is the sequel to Krauss's "The Physics of Star Trek", and is just as entertaining. What he comes up with is often much more interesting than the original stories.

The great thing about these books is quite simple: Krauss takes the trouble to take a few steps beyond mere imagination, by combining it with calculation. The results are often dazzling where science fiction is often stupefying.

He has a stab at guessing the mass of the "Independence Day" saucers: 100 billion tons. Pretty big, but why not? Well, try shifting that mass in and out of the atmosphere. Accelerating to half the escape velocity in one minute would cost 50 billion billion watts, the heat output from which would make toast out of our planet. The gravitational attraction of the orbiting mother ship would be 25 times that of the moon, so tidal waves and interference in Earth's rotation would be disastrous enough without any need for firing lasers, death-rays and whatnot.

A calculation concerning the sun has interesting implications: if the sun were only 5000 years old, it would not yet be shining (p.75). For radiation at the core to reach the surface takes almost 10 000 years. It is therefore unworkable for creationists to suggest that the Universe is 5-7000 years old.

Krauss writes about the detection of invisible forces which might be candidates for the conveyance of ESP, and notes how incredibly sensitive contemporary technology is. The Arecibo radio telescope could detect the radio equivalent of a 25-watt lightbulb on Pluto, which is billions of kilometres away. Some believers in ESP talk in terms of waves, vibrations, resonances, and so on, and note that the brain has been shown to have electrical wave patterns of its own. Yet, despite the sensitivity mentioned above, "no one has ever detected electromagnetic waves associated with ESP" (p.99).

Could neutrinos (also discussed in the previous book) carry ESP signals? There's an energy headache:

"the production of enough neutrinos via nuclear decays so that, say, 1 neutrino per second would interact with an atom in your brain, calls for a source at least 10 times as energetic as the Sun, but contained in a volume about the size of a breadbox and situated no more than about 1 foot from your head." (p.106)

There is passing reference to Transcendental Meditators' claims that they can momentarily fly or levitate. A scientist from this group suggested that they are somehow tapping into the vacuum energy of the universe. Krauss figures that,

"to momentarily raise the Maharishi a meter off the ground would require tapping into a cubic volume larger on each side than the island of Manhattan." (p.132)

In the Epilogue, he discusses open-mindedness:

"Often 'conventional' scientists are viewed as closed-minded and conservative, while those willing to bypass the problematic issues associated with experiment are viewed as open-minded and enlightened. This seems backward. I think that people who are willing to force their imaginations to follow the sometimes subtle signposts of nature are the ones with the open minds, not those who are uncritically willing to accept a universe that reflects their own pet theories and desires." (p.175)



Paul Taylor 2001