In timely generation, we see that the study of the impossible has opened up entirely new vistas, pushing the boundaries of physics and chemistry and forcing scientists to redefine what they mean by “impossible.”
As Sir William Osier once said, “The philosophies of one age have become the absurdities of the next, and the foolishness of yesterday has become the wisdom of tomorrow.”
The serious study of the impossible has frequently opened up rich and entirely unexpected domains of science. For example, over the centuries the frustrating and futile search for a “perpetual motion machine” led physicists to conclude that such a machine was impossible, forcing them to postulate the conservation of energy and the three laws of thermodynamics.
Studying the impossible may have also changed the course of world history. In the 1930s it was widely believed, even by Einstein, that an atomic bomb was “impossible.” Physicists knew that there was a tremendous amount of energy locked deep inside the atom’s nucleus, according to Einstein’s equation E = mc2 , but the energy released by a single nucleus was too insignificant to consider.
Below discussed technologies sit at the very edge of our understanding of the physical world. If they are possible at all, they might be realized on a scale of millennia to millions of years in the future.
1) Force Fields
So what is a force field? In science fiction it’s deceptively simple: a thin, invisible yet impenetrable barrier able to deflect lasers and rockets alike. At first glance a force field looks so easy that its creation as a battlefield shield seems imminent. One expects that any day some enterprising inventor will announce the discovery of a defensive force field. But the truth is far more complicated.
A force field could profoundly affect every aspect of our lives. The military could use force fields to become invulnerable, creating an impenetrable shield against enemy missiles and bullets. Bridges, superhighways, and roads could in theory be built by simply pressing a button. Entire cities could sprout instantly in the desert, with skyscrapers made entirely of force fields. Force fields erected over cities could enable their inhabitants to modify the effects of their weather-high winds, blizzards, tornados-at will. Cities could be built under the oceans within the safe canopy of a force field. Glass, steel, and mortar could be entirely replaced.
Historians have speculated on how Faraday was led to his discovery of force fields, one of the most important concepts in all of science. In fact, the sum total of all modern physics is written in the language of Faraday’s fields. In 1831, he made the key breakthrough regarding force fields that changed civilization forever. One day, he was moving a child’s magnet over a coil of wire and he noticed that he was able to generate an electric current in the wire, without ever touching it. This meant that a magnet’s invisible field could push electrons in a wire across empty space, creating a current.
The force fields of Michael Faraday are the forces that drive modern civilization, from electric bulldozers to today’s computers, Internet, and iPods.
Invisibility is perhaps one of the oldest concepts in ancient mythology.
Since the advent of recorded history, people who have been alone on a creepy night have been frightened by the invisible spirits of the dead, the souls of the long-departed lurking in the dark. The Greek hero Perseus was able to slay the evil Medusa armed with the helmet of invisibility.
Military generals have dreamed of an invisibility cloaking device. Being invisible, one could easily penetrate enemy lines and capture the enemy by surprise. Criminals could use invisibility to pull off spectacular robberies.
H.G. Wells put much of this mythology into concrete form with his classic novel The Invisible Man, in which a medical student accidentally discovers the power of the fourth dimension and becomes invisible.
Teleportation, or the ability to transport a person or object instantly from one place to another, is a technology that could change the course of civilization and alter the destiny of nations.
Teleportation first became prominent in popular culture with the Star Trek series.. Today’s transportation system-from cars and ships to airplanes and railroads, and all the many industries that service these systems would become obsolete; we could simply teleport ourselves to work and our goods to market. Vacations would become effortless, as we teleport ourselves to our destination. Teleportation would change everything.
To teleport someone, you would have to know the precise location of every atom in a living body, which would probably violate the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (which states that you cannot know both the precise location and the velocity of an electron).
The 1986 film The Fly graphically examined what could happen when teleportation goes horribly awry. When a scientist successfully teleports himself across a room, his atoms mix with those of a fly that accidentally entered the teleportation chamber, so the scientist turns into a grotesquely mutated monster, half human and half fly.
The first scientific studies of telepathy and other paranormal phenomenon were conducted by the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London in 1882. The term “mental telepathy” was coined that year by F. W. Myers, an associate of the society.
Historically, mind reading has been seen as so important that it has often been associated with the gods. One of the most fundamental powers of any god is the ability to read our minds and hence answer our deepest prayers. A true telepath who could read minds at will could easily become the wealthiest, most powerful person on Earth, able to blackmail and coerce his rivals.
Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine, began the first systematic and rigorous study of psychic phenomena in the United States in 1927, founding the Rhine Institute (now called the Rhine Research Center) at Duke University, North Carolina.
For decades he and his wife, Louisa, conducted some of the first scientifically controlled experiments in the United States on a wide variety of parapsychological phenomena and published them in peer-reviewed publications. It was Rhine who coined the term “extrasensory perception” (ESP) in one of his first books.
The word ‘psychokinesis’ was coined in 1914 by American author Henry Holt in his book On the Cosmic Relations. It is the ability to move objects with control of mind without physical attachment.
In 1982 parapsychologists were invited to analyze two young boys who were thought to have extraordinary gifts: Michael Edwards and Steve Shaw. These boys claimed to be able to bend metal, create images on photographic film via their thoughts, move objects via Psychokinesis, and read minds. Parapsychologist Michael Thalbourne was so impressed he invented the term “psychokinete” to describe these boys. At the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research in St. Louis, Missouri, the parapsychologists were dazzled by the boys’ abilities. The parapsychologists believed they had genuine proof of the boys’ psychic power and began preparing a scientific paper on them. The next year the boys announced that they were fakes and that their ”power” originated from standard magic tricks, not supernatural power. One of the youths, Steve Shaw, would go on to become a prominent magician, often appearing on national television and being “buried alive” for days at a time.
6) Time Travel
Time is one of the great mysteries of the universe. We are all swept up in the river of time against our will.
Although our longing to travel in time is probably as ancient as humanity, apparently the very first written time travel story is Memoirs of the Twentieth Century, written in 1733 by Samuel Madden, about an angel from the year 1997 who journeys over 250 years into the past to give documents to a British ambassador that describe the world of the future.
But the first serious attempt to explore time travel in fiction was H. G. Wells’s classic The Time Machine, in which the hero is sent hundreds of thousands of years into the future. In that distant future, humanity itself has genetically split into two races, the menacing Moorlocks who maintain the grimy underground machines, and the useless, childlike Eloi who dance in the sunlight in the world above, never realizing their awful fate (to be eaten by the Moorlocks).
Since then, time travel has become a regular feature of science fiction, from Star Trek to Back to the Future. In Superman I, when Superman learns that Lois Lane has died, he decides in desperation to turn back the hands of time, rocketing himself around the Earth, faster than the speed of light, until time itself goes backward. The Earth slows down, stops, and eventually spins in the opposite direction, until all clocks on the Earth beat backward. Floodwaters rage backward, broken dams miraculously heal themselves, and Lois Lane comes back from the dead.
According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, time slows down inside a rocket the faster it moves. Science fiction writers have speculated that if you could break the light barrier, you could go back in time. But this is not possible, since you would have to have infinite mass in order to reach the speed of light. The speed of light is the ultimate barrier for any rocket.
Black holes, Space flight, etc are other impossibilities which could be discussed.