I was a little kid when I saw Superman, the movie, for the very first time. It was a strange and heady experience. You see…
“There’s an alien who looks exactly like a normal human being.”
“And he can fly.”
“And he’s super strong.”
“He uses his powers to fight crime”
“This makes complete and utter sense!”
“…in a blue and red skintight outfit.”
“All right, I’ll buy it!”
“And he turns back time by flying around the earth really, really fast!”
“….Wait. That isn’t. That doesn’t….Would that work? How would that work!?”***
Like many nerds, my skepticism has always been both deeply felt and a little arbitrary. For the next couple of hours my friends and I debated how, exactly, this would work. Things got heated. There were tears. We weren’t really happy with Superman’s method of time travel. As you may know, either a phone booth or a DeLorean is needed to travel through time.
Everyone knows that science is important. But science doesn’t always address the burning questions you actually need answered. Questions like “If you began rising steadily into the air at a foot a second how would you die?” remain unaddressed by most reliable sources. Thankfully, Randall Munroe, webcomic author and former NASA contractor, steps bravely into the fray. This book is a selection of really ridiculous and interesting hypothetical questions he answered on his What If blog using science, math, and wonderful diagrams.
If you like this book, also take a look at Mythbusters, the television program. They try out urban myths to see if they can get them to work. Their testing process seems to involve a worrying amount of explosions. And check out James Kakalios’ The Physics of Superheroes for a professor of Physics and Astronomy to explain how superheroes do those things they do.
***Even sci-fi aficionados, can’t figure this one out. When Professor Kakalios is asked about this method of time travel his standard answer is “I wish."
Hansen, Liane.“The Science that makes Superman So, Well, Super.” NPR, 25 June 2006. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.