In the Futurama episode "A Clone Of My Own", Professor Farnsworth creates a clone of himself, Cubert, to carry on his research after his death. Cubert doesn't share all the Professor's knowledge - it takes a blow to the head before he realises how the ship's engines work - but there's one gap in his knowledge that confuses me.

When the Professor boasts that the Planet Express ship can travel between galaxies in "mere hours", Cubert retorts that that's impossible because "you can't go faster than the speed of light". Prof. Farnsworth retorts that scientists increased the speed of light centuries ago, allowing the ship to move as fast as it does without violating relativity.

This was obviously exposition for the benefit of the audience, but in-universe, it suggests that Cubert understands the concept of light-speed, but only knows its 21st-century value, not the 31st-century value. How could this be the case? How come his knowledge of physics is centuries out-of-date?

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    Probably because the Professor is talking Grade-A Bolognium
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 18:50

3 Answers 3


In this exchange Cubert is acting as an "audience surrogate", that is, a character standing in for an imaginary viewer, someone who might be concerned about the plausibility of the science in Futurama.

The purpose of the scene is twofold: to satirize the tendency of some viewers to nitpick the scientific plausibility and other details of a work of fiction; and to reject the need to accommodate that kind of viewer. Farnsworth, in his reply, thus acts as a surrogate for the writers, his "explanation" being a confirmation that the show "runs on Nonsensoleum": that is, the writers will make up whatever nonsense is required for the plot and the jokes. To make sure no-one misses it, the dialogue calls attention to the fact that it's all nonsense a couple of lines later:

Cubert: Then explain it.

Farnsworth: Now that's impossible. It came to me in a dream, and I forgot it in another dream.

Cubert: Your explanations are weapons-grade bolognium.

Just as the show rejects the idea that it should pay too much attention to the laws of physics, it rejects the idea that it should pay too much attention to internal consistency, as a look at the TV Tropes "Headscratchers" page for the series will confirm. So Cubert can be as ignorant as necessary for the joke, without the writers feeling obliged to explain.

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    Although this addresses the out-of-universe genesis of the joke, OP was explictly looking for an in-universe explanation.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 13:07
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    @Valorum: That's right. I was unable to resist the irony in the OP asking for an in-universe explanation of a scene of which the main point is to reject the need for in-universe explanations! Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 13:36

The most probable explanation is that Prof. Farnsworth is simply a crackpot, talking complete nonsense to cover up the fact that he doesn't fully understand how his invention actually works. Although FTL travel is clearly possible in the Futurama-'verse, there's ample evidence that the speed of light has remained constant throughout the universe.

In FUT: When Aliens Attack, a broadcast that was made in the year 2000 reaches Omicron-Persei VII in the year 3000. Since the planet is stated to be 1000 light years away, it stands to reason that the broadcast must have been moving at a consistent speed throughout the intervening period.

Fry: It's crazy! How could they even know about a show from a thousand years ago?

Farnsworth: Well, Omicron Persei 8 is about a thousand light years away. So the electro-magnetic waves would just recently have gotten there. You see--

And we see that other races were happily achieving FTL speeds well before the year 2208, way back to the creation of the universe and the war between the Brains-spawn and the Nibblonians.

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    However it is possible that the increased speed of light that Prof. Farnsworth mentions only applies to things created after the limit increase. Therefore a broadcast made in the year 2000 would still be subject to the 21st century speed limit. Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 16:21
  • @raumkrieger - That's not how physics works!!!
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 16:27
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    Futurama has always treated the laws of physics as mere suggestions. Commented Feb 6, 2019 at 16:33

This has zero canon-related support but, to take an old Marvel no-prize swing at it, the coding for the cloning mechanism had a glitch due to Fry.

The computer code for the cloning machine had a default setting to extract information from the individual closest matching the Professor's DNA. (DNA can spontaneously mutate so a slight flexibility had to be built in.) It would have to read that person's mind to know what intelligence to insert into the blank mind of the clone (a clone from only DNA would have no memories and only the intellect of a newborn infant).

Unfortunately, Fry's unique brain pattern and his relationship to the Professor caused the machine to malfunction, giving Cubert scientific data from the 20th century and all sort of other mental malfunctions as seen throughout the series.

Short answer: blame it on Fry. Wizards are off the hook for this one.

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    This seems like fan-fiction rather than an evidence-based answer. Is there any good reason to assume that Fry (IQ of a radish) has any idea of the speed of light or whether or not you can exceed it?
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 2, 2019 at 20:46

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