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In the 2018 film adaptation by Jennifer Lee of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, there is a scene where Dr Alexander Murry (henceforth Dr Murry even if his wife is also Dr Murry), played by Chris Pine, gives a presentation where he seems to be laughed at. Part of the scene can be found in the 1st 50 seconds here, but the laughing is excluded.


Questions:

  1. Is Dr Murry being laughed at by the audience while he is giving the lecture?

  2. If yes, then why? If no, then what was happening?

I think that whether or not the audience is laughing at Dr Murry is actually either not so clear at first or intentionally a blend of laughter and scepticism, but in the end, the audience is unambiguously or unanimously laughing.


Guesses:

  1. Dr Murry is not laughed at. He is laughed with. The explanation is that he intended laughs because while he makes a correct claim, the claim's assumptions are too unrealistic.

  2. Dr Murry is not laughed at. He is laughed with. The explanation is (fill in blank).

  3. Dr Murry is not laughed at or laughed with. Instead, he is (fill in blank).

  4. Dr Murry is laughed at. This is because Dr Murry makes a claim

    If you can tap into the right frequency, then you can travel 91 billion light years.

    And this claim causes the audience to laugh at Dr Murry.

    Note: In this claim, Dr Murry is not saying tapping into the right frequency is possible but is saying consequences if such were possible.

  5. Dr Murry is laughed at. This is because Dr Murry makes a claim

    You can tap into the right frequency.

    And this claim causes the audience to laugh at Dr Murry.

    • I doubt #5 is the answer because I double checked, and I don't think Dr Murry ever says '1=0'. I think all he says is that if '1=0, then we're in a zero ring.' Or if you're not familiar with rings (you actually are but don't know it. The sets of real numbers, rational numbers and integers are rings), try this: The statement 'if 1=0, then 4=10' is true because the statement is a vacuous truth (unless you're in a zero ring in which case the statement is just regular truth).
  6. Dr Murry is laughed at. This is because Dr Murry makes a claim

    If you can tap into the right frequency, then you can travel 91 billion light years.

    However, the audience is misinterpreting Dr Murry by their thinking that Dr Murry is making the claim

    You can tap into the right frequency.

    And the latter claim causes the audience to laugh at Dr Murry.

    That is, the audience thinks Dr Murry is additionally claiming the former claim which is the assumption of the latter claim: not only is so and so the consequence if you can tap into the right frequency but also can you tap into the right frequency.

    • I suspect #6 is the answer but this would be a mistake by the writers. I suspect the writers intended either that Dr Murry additionally makes the claim in #5 and not just the claim in #4 or that the audience would find a correct claim with unrealistic assumptions laughable.

    • The former is a mistake for the reasons I stated above unless I missed something. The latter is a mistake because physics, much like maths, is theoretical: We talk about necessary conditions of highly unrealistic assumptions.

    • One assumption in math is a concept as simple and elementary as linearity, which appears in linear regression. Lines are the first graphical models introduced in pre-university. Is linearity realistic? I mean, is reality linear? Seven hells no. But we can model reality by linearising to approximate.

    • An example in physics is I think lack of air resistance. I have no idea how negligible this is, but a lot of the scenarios in secondary school physics assumes this.

    • A higher math example is 'If 1=0, then we have a zero ring.' No one is saying 1=0. Of course 1<>0 in the numbers we're familiar with such as the real numbers, rational numbers and integers. But if ever we encounter a place that has something like 1=0, then we would be encountering a zero ring.

    • Or simply, vacuous truths. I think Dr Murry's presentation is like publishing a paper that assumes Riemann hypothesis is true. The paper isn't saying RH is true. The paper is just showing a necessary condition of RH. If RH is somehow false, then any reasons for laughability of the paper must exclude that RH is false.

    • The preceding examples and the paragraph that precedes them is the basis for the maths and physics tags. For example, the 'quantum-physics' tag says that quantum theory

is best known for being highly-complex, non-intuitive and difficult to verify experimentally.

But I assume the difficulty is because the assumptions are difficult to mimic. Idk.

  1. Other
  • I haven't seen the movie, and the scene in question does not appear in the book, but in real life any of 4, 5, or 6 would be likely to be considered crazy. – Harry Johnston Nov 26 '18 at 18:13
  • @HarryJohnston Why is 4 or 6 crazy? The nature of maths and physics is highly theoretical so of course the ASSUMPTIONS are unrealistic. Nevertheless, the claims are true however unrealistic or even false the assumptions are. For example, the claim 'If 1=0, then 3=4' is true whenever the assumption is false such as in a non-zero ring – BCLC Nov 27 '18 at 1:46
  • It would hardly be sane to present a vacuous truth to a room full of people as if it were some important discovery. But I think you are wrong, Dr Murry is asserting that it is actually possible to travel by tesseract, not just in some contrafactual hypothetical but in practice. And in universe, didn't he turn out to be absolutely correct? – Harry Johnston Nov 27 '18 at 4:04
  • @HarryJohnston 1. which part am I wrong? 2. Mathematicians deal with vacuous truths all the time. Different for physicists? Physics can definitely be as theoretical as maths afaik. – BCLC Dec 7 '18 at 16:04
  • Hmmm. I only have an undergraduate degree in mathematics, but AFAICR nobody ever presented us with vacuous truths other than to demonstrate the concept. You are talking about genuinely vacuous truths, proofs that start with, "make this assumption we know for a fact to be false", not just, "we're not sure whether this is true", or "this is only true in some contexts", or "let's assume the axiom of choice"? – Harry Johnston Dec 7 '18 at 22:52
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Dr. Murry is being laughed at because, by any reckoning, he is talking nonsense

Dr. Murry is presenting to a group of scientists, many of whom are likely physicists, and he is essentially claiming that you can ignore all the known rules of physics by thinking about it the right way.

There is more to the presentation in the movie than shown in that clip. After the audience starts to become incredulous, Dr. Murry continues:

...and we don't need rockets. We don't need spaceships. We don't need anything. To utilize a tesseract, all you need is to tap into the right frequency. You just need your mind.

At which points the audience outright begins to laugh.

What Dr. Murry is proposing to his audience is actually a fantasy trope wherein "belief" can have causal effects on unrelated things. To a presumably top-grade physicist (the conference seems to be sponsored by both NASA and the United States Air Force), the notion is absurd at best.

Added to the impossible idea is Murry's enthusiasm, which to a scientific audience can easily come across as that of someone who's lost his grip on reality and rational thought.

Warning: link is to TV Tropes. Proceed with caution.

  • 3
    The technical term for this is magical thinking, and within the skeptical (scientific) community, it's seen as a classic warning sign of a crank. – Kevin Nov 26 '18 at 19:55
  • I believe the TV Tropes link makes mention of that very concept. – Chris M. Nov 26 '18 at 19:59
  • I am a scientist and as something approaching an expert in being one, this is the answer. While physics and math deal with theorheticals, I don’t think the word means what you think it means. Perhaps you are thinking of hypotheticals, but all science deals with these too, as a fundamental step in the scientific process. The point of this scene is to show that the people who do understand the underlying science think that the speaker is babbling nonsense. It would be like someone saying that solely by wishing hard enough, the English language will acquire a 27th letter. – Broklynite Nov 26 '18 at 22:49
  • @Broklynite I have a master's degree in applied maths hoping to start a PhD in pure maths. Does that make a difference? I mean the nature of maths and physics is highly theoretical so of course the ASSUMPTIONS are unrealistic. Nevertheless, the claims are true however unrealistic or even false the assumptions are. For example, the claim 'If 1=0, then 3=4' is true whenever the assumption is false such as in a non-zero ring. – BCLC Nov 27 '18 at 2:26
  • 1
    @BCLC I think you’re getting into semantics about which part of the sentence structure is the ridiculous part, when the point is that the entire argument is nonsense. Or maybe I’m not understanding your question because it’s 4 in the morning. – Broklynite Nov 27 '18 at 9:13

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