We already know that the world George Lucas and company invented for the Star Wars movies isn’t meant to strictly adhere to science.
Nevertheless, we’re still left with wanting to know if science really could explain whether other parts of Star Wars are possible. Which brings us to the latest question: Could physics explain the Force?
If you haven’t seen Star Wars (as it turns out, those people exist and quietly live among us), the Force is the energy of the world that flows through everyone and everything. Lucas’ initial vision of the Force was inspired by Eastern concepts of an energy that permeates throughout the universe. The Force has even spawned its only rapidly growing religion, Jediism.
Of course, the Force as we know it has physical effects, and Jedi are well attuned enough with the Force that they can manipulate it and give themselves augmented athletic abilities and sensory capabilities. It can’t just be a spiritual thing; it must be tied to physics somehow! Is there a universe where the Force might be possible? And if so, what kinds of physics would be necessary to allow it to happen?
Physicist Philip Moriarty at the University of Nottingham tries to answer that in a new episode of the YouTube series ‘Sixty Symbols’:
“What’s remarkable,” Moriarty says, “in this universe and with current existing physics, is that quantum mechanics, at one level…does tell us that my electrons are coupled with that building over there, or with small blue furry creatures on Alpha Centauri.” It’s an idea called “quantum entanglement” — where particles can’t be described independently but must be viewed as part of a system as a whole, where each one’s behavior changes the interactions among all of them. “That sounds very much like the Force,” he says.
In our universe, the effect of quantum entanglement is so tiny that it is “utterly, completely, totally, fundamentally negligible,” says Moriarty. It doesn’t affect anything in the world around us — at least, not in a tangible way.
But if you found a way to amplify entanglement in such a way that small actions could create larger, observable effects, you might be able to give rise to something like the Force.
Moriarty also emphasizes that at the atomic level, different atoms would have to be exhibiting energies at a much higher degree that they could still interact with one-another at extremely large distance (and at the quantum level, an extremely large distance qualifies as just a fraction of a millimeter, let alone the light-year interactions illustrated in the movies). So for quantum entanglement to explain the Force, atomic energies in the movies would probably have to be much more powerful.
Things also get weird purely on a biological level. For humans to manipulate electrons in such a way that they simply “use the Force,” Moriarty says they would have to have altered biochemistry that allows them to interact more powerfully with the atomic world.
Uhh, midichlorians anyone??
Yes, that’s right — one of George Lucas’ biggest blunders with the prequel trilogy could actually be used to explain why quantum entanglement is felt more forcefully in Star Wars. (Midichlorians are microscopic lifeforms that exist in all living beings, and the Force essentially speaks through these tiny bacteria and gives people their connection to its power.) Someone with a higher amount of midichlorians — like, say, a Jedi — would exhibit a biochemistry that makes them sensitive enough to feel more close to the Force and control its powers to a certain extent.
(If you need a few minutes to seethe in hopeless anger, go ahead — you are not being judged.)
Moriarty goes on in further detail about the nuances of physics, and how they might work in a universe that contains the Force. The whole thing is worth watching if you have about 15 minutes to dedicate to the Force.
Hopefully, this might make the whole prequel at least a bit easier to swallow. And in any case, The Force Awakens is almost here to help you clean your sci-fi palette.