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I’m With Stupid – December 13, 2013

by Todd Hartley

Todd Hartley-smallAvid readers of this column — and I’m sure there must be millions of you — are by now probably aware of the fact that I’ve always secretly wished I was some kind of space scientist. In fact, back in my school days, I was torn between becoming a snarky humor writer or an astrobiologist. I chose writing because I was under the impression that it paid better. For the record, I was very, very wrong.

But I always thought I’d have made a good astrophysicist. (Right now, I imagine a lot of you are scoffing, thinking that it’s awfully presumptuous of me to think I’m as smart as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein or Stephen Hawking. I’m not; I’m much more smarterer than any of them.)

Actually, I’m fully aware that if Einstein’s intellect were, say, the sun, mine would be the equivalent of a Zippo lighter about to run out of butane. I’m not especially bright — I did choose writing as a career path, after all — but what has always appealed to me about astrophysics is the fact that you don’t have to be smart. You just have to be creative enough to come up with wildly speculative nonsense that no one can ever prove wrong.

The latest ridiculous assertion from the realm of astrophysics came last week courtesy of Yoshifumi Hyakutake and his colleagues at Ibaraki University in Japan. In two papers, Hyakutake and friends offered up a bunch of exceptionally esoteric computations and equations that make the argument that our entire universe really might be just one big hologram.

Say what, now?

I won’t pretend to understand the science behind the papers, but I think I can effectively refute such an absurd claim in language simple enough that even I could understand it.

A hologram, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a special kind of picture that is produced by a laser and that looks three-dimensional.” You’ve seen holograms before, I imagine. In “Star Wars,” when R2-D2 projects the little image of Princess Leia saying, “Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi,” that’s a hologram. When Tupac Shakur, dead some 16 years, performed on stage with Snoop Dogg at Coachella in 2012, that was a hologram.

Furthermore, holograms — if everything we’ve seen in movies or TV shows is to be believed — are made of light, meaning you can walk right through them. Thinking it would be fascinating if such a concept applied to the whole universe, I tried to run through a brick wall yesterday. Perhaps the concussion I suffered is nothing more than a hologram, too.

I will admit that the universe does, indeed, look three-dimensional. I always assumed that was because it is three-dimensional, but like I said, I’m not very bright. Maybe everything around me is flat but I just perceive it as solid because I was born wearing special, dorky glasses that just happen to be invisible and weightless.

The larger problem, as I see it, is the notion of the universe being produced by a laser. I’m sure that God could create a laser large enough to project the whole universe if he wanted to, but where would he put it, and what would he be projecting it on? If the laser and the surface on which the hologram appears are outside the universe somewhere, then, um, they must be in, like, a parallel universe or something. But wouldn’t that universe also be a hologram, and where would the laser be that’s producing that one?

Ow! I just hurt my brain. Apparently the concussion was real.

The beauty of Hyakutake’s idea, however, is that nobody will ever be able to say with certainty that it’s wrong. I mean, it’s definitely wrong, but there’s no way I or anyone else can prove that unless we figure out a way to travel beyond the universe to ascertain that there’s no laser out there.

So I’m not sure about you, but I don’t think this idea of the universe as a hologram — since I don’t believe it — is going to have much effect on my day-to-day life. Obviously, I won’t try to run through walls anymore, but beyond that, I think I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing.

Of course, if it turns out everything really is a hologram, it’s going to make it a little annoying the next time I go to Whole Foods. Even with the exorbitant salary I make as a writer, $30 a pound is pretty expensive for stuff that doesn’t really exist.

If everything is a hologram, why does Todd Hartley weigh so much?

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