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In the recently released Ant-Man movie, we are told the tale of how Hank Pym created a way to allow for the (partial) removal of the space between atoms to allow people to shrink object or themselves. We are also told that when an object, be it person or otherwise, is shrunk, that they retain their mass, thus their density increases.

My question is this: If Ant-Man was able to use his increased density to deliver powerful punches from his shrunk form, how was he able to ride Anthony (see picture)

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or run up the barrel of this pistol without causing the assaltant to drop it?

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Anything from the movie I might have missed or any interviews that address this would help greatly.

  • I am also curious if this is addressed in the comics, though I'm not sure if he does those things in the comics – Premier Bromanov Aug 5 '15 at 17:23
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    The #1 issue with Ant-Man is that the science doesn't make sense. Just let it go. – scott.korin Aug 5 '15 at 17:24
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    @scott.korin, While I agree that the science doesn't make much sense, I wondered if there were attempts to make thing fit together and work. It would certainly make it easier for me to like the movie (and i want to very dearly). – USFBS Aug 5 '15 at 17:27
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    These are probably just glaring oversights. People add 'scientific' explanations to make things more believable, but then fail to think of basic consequences of the explanations. – Race Bannon Aug 5 '15 at 18:42
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    How can Ant-Man ride Anthony? Very well, thank you. – Paul D. Waite Mar 24 '16 at 15:41
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The short answer: We don't know. It's never been explained in the MCU exactly how the Pym particles affect the mass of the objects under their influence. Out-of-universe, that's because the physics simply doesn't work.

The most logical assumption: In-universe, there is one thing that we can lean on to help maintain our suspension of disbelief: plausible oversimplification.

Put simply, Pym's statements aren't a comprehensive overview of the technology, they're an off-handed remark from an expert to a layman. "It shrinks the distance between atoms" could be literally the truth, but it's probably more like saying that my computer "is powered by lightning." Most scientific and mechanical principles are explained using phrases that aren't literally true: cars don't actually "burn gasoline" (they maintain a self-sustaining series of miniature explosions), space doesn't actually "suck the air" out of an airlock (the air expands rapidly into the lower-density volume of empty space), and nuclear bombs don't actually "split" atoms in half (they use free neutrons to break up the particles within atomic nuclei).

It's possible (frankly I think it's all but certain) that the Pym particles have a MUCH more complicated effect than simply pulling atoms closer together. They probably affect the vibration of superstrings to alter the very structure of matter, or something. We're not witnessing a simple reduction of size, we're witnessing a new branch of physics.

Regardless of any off-handed comments made by Hank Pym to a stranger, we can logically assume that Pym particles act in very complex and totally unexpected ways. Evidently, the reduction in mass with retention of strength is just one of the unexpected phenomena associated with Pym's discovery, a side effect of whatever physical process the Pym particles are instigating.

  • I like your answer, oversimplification seems like a plausible in-universe explanation for the discrepancies we are seeing here. On an unrelated side note: what do you mean that cars don't actually "burn gasoline"? – USFBS Aug 5 '15 at 18:45
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    @USFBS The phrase "burning gasoline" evokes an image of a tank of gasoline with a flame on top, or some sort of continual burning process like in a fireplace. What a car engine does is take a tiny amount of gasoline and (effectively) blow it up, then use some of that explosive energy to repeat the process again and again and again very quickly. It's not a continuous fire, as the word "burning" implies, it's a series of rapidly repeated independent explosions. – Nerrolken Aug 5 '15 at 18:48
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    Oh, to also address a point, Scott Lang mentions earlier on in the film that he has a masters in electrical engineering, so he's not quite a layman. – USFBS Aug 5 '15 at 19:04
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    @USFBS When it comes to science, specializations often don't have a lot of crossover. Hell, a "cellular biologist" and a "microbiologist" can't always understand everything the other is talking about. Electrical Engineering would be of exactly zero help in understanding neutrino physics or superstring theory, which are the two best real-world equivalents of Pym particles that I can come up with. But even if Scott had a formal education in those fields, it was a casual conversation. Even astronauts sometimes say "sucked out" instead of "blown out." – Nerrolken Aug 5 '15 at 19:11
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    I'm not arguing the point that he should have used more scientific terms with Lang, merely pointing out that a background in electrical engineering would certainly help him with a basic understanding. When I was in college, the material I learned from my mechanical engineering courses really helped when I would ask my grad student friend from the physics dept. what the problem he was working on was about. But just to be clear - not arguing a point, just stating Lang wasn't your everyday "layperson". – USFBS Aug 5 '15 at 19:16
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A year late but oh well. Was watching it again tonight and wanted to see if anyone else had the same thoughts.

While watching the movie several times the same issue bugged me a little. I agree with oversimplification 100%, but also expanded on it in my own head.

My rationalization was that the “unexplained to the layman” technology of the suit would control mass/density dynamically based on intent, or under user control (user control would be risky, you could kill a bunch of the flying ants if you forget). With the theoretical complexity of the technology proposed, there would be a TRUCK LOAD of variables that should be available for manipulation.

If we assume the suit uses a computer interface to aid in Ant Man’s shrink/grow abilities it could also use some sort of “fuzzy logic” to determine when and how to apply his full mass/density. Maybe based on the force of his muscles, or some other biofeedback that wasn’t part of the “training montage”… seriously, they can’t fit ALL the training in those things… movie would be too long and boring.

The only issue with my theory is the effect on the wearer of the suit. Going from “size normal” to “compressed” density would affect your ability to walk and move. It would also have other effects such as loss of body heat. Of course there could be other technologies in the suite to address those such as insulation for hypothermia and maybe “stiffening” of the suit to compensate for changes in mass/density.

My goodness, you could probably use existing “real” science to list and address issues within a reasonable range to cover most of the fantasy tech. Reminds me of Larry Niven’s essays on this type of thing. He used real science to explain how Superman might have a child with Lois (well, uh… how he could have “relations” with Lois as Superman, and problems he probably had during puberty), or how teleportation tech could be used for inertia-less drives.

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