Study Guide

Dark Matter Science

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I can't stop thinking.

Formulating hypotheses and dismantling them.

Struggling to wrap logic around everything that's happened. (3.267-269)

Even though Jason doesn't work as a research scientist anymore, he still thinks like one, using the scientific method to understand the situation he finds himself in. As it turns out, this technique comes in quite useful.

Experimental physics [...] is about solving problem. However, you can't solve them all at once. There's always a larger, overarching question—the big target. (5.174)

Again, we see how science defines Jason's worldview. He might not be calculating the gravitational fields of black holes, creating complex algorithms, or inventing a machine that makes traversing the universe as easy as riding a bike, but he still uses those same skills to overcome his trials and tribulations.

I have to separate myself from the fear, the paranoia, the terror, and simply attack this problem as if I were in a lab—one small question at a time. (5.176)

On some level, Jason clings to his scientific worldview because it's a lot better for his mental health than otherwise. With the scientific method, he feels like he's actively working to solve his problems. Without it, he just feels adrift and confused.

"Imagine you're a fish, swimming in the pond. [...] To you, that little pond is an entire universe. Now imagine that someone reaches down and lifts you out of the pond." (6.57)

Okay—now for the real science stuff. While the book's depiction of the multiverse might be a bit simplified, it's true that quantum physics postulates that there are an infinite number of parallel universes out there. Whoa. Guess those late-night chats in your dorm room weren't so far off after all.

The Many-World interpretation of quantum mechanics says yes.

That when we open the box, there's a branch.

One universe where we discover a dead cat.

One where we discover a live one. (7.158-161)

This is an explanation of the thought experiment known as "Schrödinger's Cat." It goes like this: a cat is hidden inside a box with a vial of poison that has a fifty percent chance of killing it. The theory states that until we open that box, the cat is both alive and dead at the same time, and that it is the process of observation that determines its final state.

What if we actually inhabit the multiverse, but our brains have evolved in such a way as to equip us with a firewall that limits what we perceive to a single universe? (7.323)

In other words, Jason is saying that parallel dimensions are always around us, but our brains are simply not developed in a way that allows us to see them. It's not as crazy as it sounds. After all, when's the last time you saw UV rays? Or when's the last time you took a gander at a proton? There are many aspects of our world that are completely imperceptible to us. You might even say most aspects of our world are imperceptible to us.

In this moment, there is no logic.

No problem-solving.

No scientific method.

I am simply devastated, broken, terrified. (7.491-494)

At a certain point, Jason becomes so shaken by his experiences inside the box that he loses his ability to think scientifically. We can't blame him one bit: what he's going through is way more emotionally taxing than a physics exam.

There's always a boundary, a barrier between the equations and the reality they represent. But no more. Not for me at least. (8.19-20)

Even when he was a scientist, Jason always had some distance between him and the actual reality of theoretical physics. He could write down an equation that describes a black hole, for example, but he'd never be able to go inside one. Now, however, he's facing the complexities of the physical universe in an incredibly in-your-face kind of way.

"Are we standing in a physical location?"

"I think it's a manifestation of the mind as it attempts to visually explain something our brains haven't evolved to comprehend." (8.29-30)

This builds off the idea that our brains aren't evolved enough to comprehend the multiverse. The novel's depiction of the inside of the box—the endless hallway of doors—is there so that we can perceive something that probably doesn't actually exist in a physical sense. Instead, the inside of the box is more likely some cool swirl of mystical space energy, à la 2001: A Space Odyssey. Or maybe not. What do you think?

"This whole time, we've been wondering where the controls are–"

"But we're the controls." (8.535-536)

Okay, so this is probably the most pseudo-scientific part of the novel. We're on board when it comes to parallel dimensions and all of that fun stuff, but we find it hard to believe that our emotions are what guide us through them. But who knows? Stranger things are true. And after all, if it's the act of observation that makes things "real," then it's hard to argue that our emotions are not part of our powers of observation. Ever try observing something without experiencing any emotion at all? Yeah, it's never gonna happen.

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