This is about as technical as it gets for a Red Dwarf fansite. There have been a few decent attempts to cover the subject, but nothing has really gone as in-depth as I would like. If you don’t like science, abandon hope all ye who enter here. Keep in mind that much of this is unconfirmed, a lot of it is pure speculation.

If you know of anything that I may have missed, or if you wish to correct anything on the page, feel free to contact me.

Table of Contents:

Series I

Episode: Future Echoes

HOLLY: Look, we’re travelling faster than the speed of light. That means, by the time we see something, we’ve already passed through it. Even with an IQ of 6000, it’s still brown trousers time.

The speed of light in a vacuum is 186,000 miles per second, or 299,792,458 meters per second, and is represented in equations by the letter “c,” such as in Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2 (where E is energy, m is mass, and c2 is the speed of light squared.) Theoretically, nothing can surpass the speed of light, as it is a universal constant. If something were to be accelerated to faster-than-light speeds, it would take an infinite amount of energy.

Episode: Future Echoes

RIMMER: Says me and Albert Einstein, thank you very much. Albo and I happen to agree on this one. It’s called the Theory of Relativity.

A diagram of the effects of General Relativity. Click for more information. There are two theories of Relativity: General and Special Relativity:

General Relativity (1915) says that gravity is a warping or distortion of spacetime around a massive object, such as a planet or star. Imagine spacetime as being a flat surface – there’s nothing on it, so it remains flat and untouched, but once you add an object to it, such as a planet, it will bend, and a certain amount of the surface around it would also bend. Light would be refracted around this curvature, so one would have to calculate for any sort of gravitational distortion of the light you see. If you see a star in the night sky, it’s entirely possible that it could be in an entirely different area from where you see it.

Special Relativity (1905) is a physical theory of relativity based on the assumption that the speed of light in a vacuum is a constant and the assumption that the laws of physics are unchanging in all inertial systems. (Inertia meaning a property of matter by which it remains at rest or in uniform motion in the same straight line unless acted upon by some external force. This leads to the assertion that mass and energy are equal and that there will be changes in mass, dimension, and time with increased velocity.) Basically, all it means is that the laws of science should be the same for all observers, in the absence of any sort of gravitational anomalies.

Episode: Balance of Power

LISTER: Rimmer, I’m going to pass this exam by *knowing* things.
RIMMER: OK, what’s a porous circuit?
LISTER: Don’t know.
RIMMER: How do you calculate acceleration?
LISTER: Don’t know.
RIMMER: Oh, this is sad! What’s Boyle’s Fourth Law?

LISTER: Don’t eat greasy food?

As far as I know, Boyle never had a fourth law, but Robert Boyle’s law (discovered in 1662) states that the volume of a given mass of gas at a constant temperature is inversely proportional to its pressure. If the pressure of a gas doubles, its volume would be reduced by half, and vice versa. The formula for Boyle’s Law is: pressure · volume=constant, or, P1V1=P2V2, where P1V1 represents the initial pressure and temperature of a gas, and P2V2 are it’s final pressure and temperature.

Episode: Balance of Power

RIMMER: My answer: In answering the question, “What does the red spectrum tell us about quasars?” – write bigger – there are various words that need to be defined. What is a spectrum, what is a red one, why is it red, and why is it so frequently linked with quasars? [He pauses and looks puzzled.] What the hell is a quasar?

According to Stephen Hawking’s Black Holes and Baby Universes, “Quasars are starlike objects that must be many times brighter than entire galaxies if they are as distant as the reddening of their spectra indicates.” They emit massive amounts of energy, and were first discovered in 1963 -1964. To put it in perspective, quasars (Quasi-Stellar Object, or QSO) generally produce more light in one second than an entire galaxy does. To define a spectrum, just imagine if a beam of pure white light is shone through a prism – all the different colors will be arranged in order. That is a spectrum, thus a red spectrum would be one that is red. Therefore, the red spectrum can tell us both how large a quasar is and how far away it is.

Episode: Waiting for God

LISTER: Rimmer, there’s nothing out there, you know. There’s nobody out there. No alien monsters, no Zargon warships, no beautiful blondes with beehive hairdos who say, “Show me some more of this Earth thing called kissing.” There’s just you, me, the Cat, and a lot of floating smegging rocks. That’s it. Finito.

Lister is using Fermi’s Paradox as an argument here; Fermi’s Paradox being not a true paradox at all, but rather a question that has no answer. Enrico Fermi came up with a question when the subject of extraterrestrial life came up: if advanced civilizations are common, where are they? The fact that no alien being has so far introduced itself to Earth and its inhabitants is compelling evidence to some that no such life exists.

Additionally, Dr. Frank Drake developed an equation to calculate the number of advanced alien civilizations in our galaxy. N = R* · fp · ne · fl · fi · fe · L, where N represents the number of advanced alien civilizations in the Milky Way. I’ll, erm, let James Patrick Kelly do the explaining:

“(R*) is the rate of formation of stars capable of supporting intelligent life times the fraction (fp) of those stars that have planets times the number (ne) of planets per star capable of supporting life times the fraction (fl) of those planets where life evolves times the fraction (fi) of those livable planets whe4re intelligence evolves times the fraction (fc) of intelligent species that bother to communicate times the longevity (L) of those chatty civilizations. […] The problem with the Drake Equation is that we have no clue as to what numbers we should plug in for some of the key variables, since we have but one example of intelligent life – ourselves […] what the Drake Equation actually calculates is one’s optimism – or pessimism – about the chances of finding intelligence elsewhere in the universe.”[4]

Series II

Episode: Better than Life

RIMMER: Ah – ah – ah – ah. What are total immersion video games?
LISTER: Where? Oh, these are brilliant. [Picks up canister.] You can’t get hold of these for love nor money! These are like Venus’s arms! These are like Brooke Shields’s buttocks!

RIMMER: What are they?

LISTER: Well, they’re computer games, aren’t they? But electrodes are inserted into your frontal lobes and hypothalamus, right? So you actually feel as though you’re really, really there. Yessssss.

The hypothalamus is, if we were to go on this entirely useless entry on Merriam-Webster Online, “a basal part of the diencephalon that lies beneath the thalamus on each side, forms the floor of the third ventricle, and includes vital autonomic regulatory centers.” But since that makes absolutely no sense at all, here’s a far more understandable definition: the hypothalamus controls body temperature, thirst, hunger, water balance, and teh sex. It’s also closely connected to emotions and sleep.

The frontal lobe of a person’s brain is, if we go off of M-W’s entry, “the anterior division of each cerebral hemisphere.” Honestly. The frontal lobe is responsible for higher thought processes, basically; motor, speech and behavior are regulated by this particular lobe.

Episode: Thanks for the Memory

[deleted scene]
What Planck’s Constant could never be more than.

Planck’s constant: A fundamental constant in nature that determines what values are allowed for physical quantities in quantum mechanics. Basically, quantum mechanics deals with the laws of physics that apply on very small scales. The essential feature is that energy, momentum, and angular momentum (a precise measure of how fast something spins) as well as charges come in discrete amounts called quanta, a fundamental unit of energy.

The formula for Planck’s constant is h=6.626 x 10-34 J•s, where J stands for Joules and s stands for seconds.

Episode: Stasis Leak

CAT: [to RIMMER] What IS it?
RIMMER: It’s a rent in the space-time continuum.
CAT: [to LISTER] What IS it?

LISTER: The stasis room freezes time, you know, makes time stand still. So whenever you have a leak, it must preserve whatever it’s leaked into, and it’s leaked into this room.
CAT: [to RIMMER] What IS it?
RIMMER: It’s a singularity, a point in the universe where the normal laws of space and time don’t apply.
CAT: [to LISTER] What IS it?

LISTER: It’s a hole back into the past.
CAT: Oh, a magic door! Well, why didn’t you say?

Where to begin? Right, we’ll begin with the concept of spacetime. Hermann Minkowski said in September 1908 that “…space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.” Put simply, Einstein had said that space and time are relative, meaning that what you may see (such as length, or the flow of time) may be different from what I see. Minkowski said that there was such a thing as spacetime, which was absolute, meaning that both of us would see the same length and the same flow of time.

Next up is the idea of a singularity. There are several types of singularities, but the one that is implied in the scene is a gravitational singularity. This is when the universe predicts a physical paradox of spacetime, like infinite curvature. The term has much to do with the mathematical definition of singularity; where a mathematical object is not defined. I can’t even understand a lot of this, but “…if these two conditions are met, it is said that singularities are located at the “points” where “incomplete” observers start and/or end their existence.” On a phenomenally simple and basic level, a singularity is a region of spacetime that is incomplete.

Series III

Episode: Backwards

HOLLY: It’s perfectly consistent with current theory. Everything starts with a Big Bang, right? And the universe starts expanding. Eventually, when it’s expanded as far as it can, there’s a big crunch, right? And everything starts contracting. Perfectly possible that time starts running in the opposite direction, as well.

The theory that Holly expounds here consists of two major elements: the universe is expanding, and then the universe begins to contract. Based on that theory, it would seem that at the time of the Big Crunch, the universe would cease to exist. However, there is another theory, even if it has fallen from favor. It’s known as kinematic relativity, which states that the universe oscillates, or goes through endless phases of expansion and contraction. Kinematic relativity was developed by E.A. Milne.

Series IV

Episode: White Hole

KRYTEN: Curious. It’s as though we’re experiencing relative time dilation in an amazingly compressed space.

Time dilation plays a very important role in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which states that if someone were to ever travel at the speed of light, time would stop. Time dilation can be explained like this: the faster one goes, the slower time moves. There has been no actual confirmation of time stopping, though, obviously – as no one has yet achieved the speed of light. But let’s say you were travelling at one-tenth the speed of light (which isn’t possible, at least right now), time would only slow down by 0.5%.

Episode: White Hole

CAT: So, what is it?
KRYTEN: I’ve never seen one before – no one has – but I’m guessing it’s a white hole.
RIMMER: A white hole?
KRYTEN: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole sucks time and matter out of the universe: a white hole returns it.

LISTER: So, that thing’s spewing time back into the universe? [He puts on his hat.]
KRYTEN: Precisely. That’s why we’re experiencing these curious time phenomena on board.
CAT: So, what is it?
KRYTEN: I’ve never seen one before – no one has – but I’m guessing it’s a white hole.
RIMMER: A white hole?
KRYTEN: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. A black hole sucks time and matter out of the universe: a white hole returns it.
LISTER: [Now without his hat.] So, that thing’s spewing time back into the universe? [He puts on his hat, again.]
KRYTEN: Precisely. That’s why we’re experiencing these curious time phenomena on board.
LISTER: What time phenomena?
KRYTEN: Like just then, when time repeated itself.

Quite aside from the superb writing here (this is one of the best scenes in all of Red Dwarf, if not the best), the subject of white holes is interesting. Stephen Hawking, from his essay “Black Holes and Baby Universes” from the book of the same name:

“The laws of physics are time-symmetric. So if there are objects called black holes into which things can fall but not get out, there ought to be other objects that things can come out of but not fall into. One could call these white holes. One might speculate that one could jump into a black hole in one place and come out of a white hole in another. This would be the ideal method of long-distance space travel mentioned earlier. All you would need would be to find a nearby black hole.

At first, this form of space travel seemed possible. There are solutions to Einstein’s general theory of relativity in which it is possible to fall into a black hole and come out of a white hole. Later work, however, shows that these solutions are all very unstable: the slightest disturbance, such as the presence of a spaceship, would destroy the “wormhole,” or passage, leading from the black hole to the white hole. The spaceship would be torn apart by infinitely strong forces.” – “Black Holes and Baby Universes,” page 119-120

Episode: Dimension Jump

LISTER: I don’t understand your attitude, Rimmer. He’s you!
RIMMER: He’s not me, I’m me. He’s a me who had all the luck, all the chances. all the breaks that I never got.
LISTER: No, it was just a single incident. And your lives went off in completely different directions. It’s incredible to think that one decision in your childhood could produce such drastically different people.

“Schrödinger’s cat,” developed by Erwin Schrödinger, was an experiment in which a cat was placed in a box with a mechanism set up so that there was a fifty percent chance that a bottle of cyanide would be crushed within the box, killing the cat. Without opening the box, no one would know whether the cat was alive or not. Quantum indeterminacy says that the cat would be in two different states: both alive and dead at the same time. The idea that one decision could alter the course of events in separate universes is known as the “many-worlds theory,” which was developed by Hugh Everett and John Wheeler in the 1950s in an attempt to solve the philosophical problem of quantum indeterminacy. In part, it was created to refute the paradox of “Schrödinger’s cat.” The Everett-Wheeler theory says that the cat would exist in both states, but in separate universes. This would apply to every aspect and decision of life, however, not just cats. Obviously.

Look, just read this.

Series V

Episode: Terrorform

KRYTEN: My short term memory has been erased. This I ascribe to the proximity of the magnetic coils from Starbug’s rear engine. Secondly, due to the proximity of the magnetic coils, my short-term memory appears to have been erased. This, combined with the erasure of my short-term memory, has has left me a little disoriented, disoriented, disoriented.

The loss of short-term memory was perhaps most notably explored in the recent film Memento. There’s not really any way that I can explain it any better than “Making Memories Stick,” by R. Douglas Fields (Scientific American, February 2005), so I’ll go ahead and use some of his research.

“Both long- and short-term memories arise from the connections between neurons, at points of contact called synapses, where one neuron’s signal-emitting extension, called an axon, meets any of an adjacent neuron’s dozens of signals-receiving fingers, called dendrites. When a short-term memory is created stimulation of the synapse is enough to temporarily ‘strengthen,’ or sensitize, it to subsequent signals. For a long-term memory, the synapse strengthening becomes permanent. Scientists have been aware since the 1960s, however, that this requires genes in the neuron’s nucleus to activate, initiating the production of proteins.”

Basically, there’s a part of the human brain called the hippocampus; it, and the adjoining brain regions, have much to do with how memories are recorded. All declarative memory (things like specific people, events, or places) has to pass through the hippocampus in order to be recorded in the cerebral cortex.

Series VI

Episode: Rimmerworld

RIMMER (v.o.): Among the supplies I found two strange devices, labelled “Eco-Accelerator Rockets”. I held out little hope that they might improve my lot, but launched them anyway. For six days and nights the entire planet was wracked with storms, the like of which I had never witnessed before or since.

Based on the information provided by the fine Wikipedia (specifically, this entry), “The term eco-evolution was coined by Donella Meadows to describe ‘the power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure.'” The term is generally used to identify changes within an already-present eco-system, and since Rimmerworld itself was already present when Rimmer landed, it would merely accelerate the planet’s natural evolution. And the mention of “single-celled protozoa” that are already living on the planet, it stands to reason that this acceleration of natural processes would include the rapid evolution of these protozoa into whatever form they would have eventually ended up being. Instead, Rimmer’s plan only seems to affect the plant life, which is strangely similar to that on Earth.

Series VII

Episode: Tikka to Ride

RIMMER: Do you think it’s because the sub-space conduits have locked with the transponder calibrations and caused a major tachyon surge that has overloaded the time matrix?

This means absolutely nothing. It’s class-A bollocks, a la Star Trek. Though it is rather amusing.

Series VIII

Episode: Back in the Red: Part 1

HOLLISTER: We now have a quark-level matter/anti-matter generator, ship-wide bio-organic computer networking, and a karaoke bar on C-deck.

Let’s break this down, first of all. According to this website, quarks are “The basic building block of matter, and the foundation for modern theories of matter and the universe. Quarks combine with gluons to make the protons and neutrons that make up every atom in the universe. There are six varieties of quark: up and down, which make up most everyday matter, and the more exotic top, bottom, strange and charm quarks.”

Cat singing, as nicked from TOS. Copyright © Grant Naylor ProductionsMatter, of which an atom is the smallest unit, is what makes up the universe. Anti-matter is matter made up of fundamental particles (anti-particles) which have the same spin and mass as normal matter, but which have opposite values of other properties. When a matter particle and its anti-matter particle meet, both are destroyed, and energy is released as a result. However, even though anti-particles can be made within controlled experiments, there is no proof of the existence of large amounts of antimatter in nature. Bio-organic, based on a bit of quick and not-terribly-thorough research, has something to do with chemistry. Its definition is, “of, relating to, or concerned with the organic chemistry of biologically significant substances.” Karaoke is a Japanese word for where patrons of a place of business can sing along to pre-recorded music, for the enjoyment of all others in that particular place of business. A bar is a meeting place where people attempt to achieve advanced states of mental incompetence by the repeated consumption of fermented vegetable drinks.

But what do these words mean when placed together in close proximity, one to another? Basically: they’ve got a machine that can create nifty stuff, and they’ve got a new computer system.

Reference Books

1. Doctorow, Cory. “Thought Experiments: When the Singularity is No Longer a Literary Device.” Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2005: 10 – 19.
2. Hawking, Stephen. Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays. Bantam Books, 1993.
3. Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books, 1998.
4. Kelly, James Patrick. “On the Net: SETI and Such.” Asimov’s Science Fiction, September 2005: 12 – 17.
5. Kelly, James Patrick. “On the Net: Singular.” Asimov’s Science Fiction.
6. Sheffield, Charles. Borderlands of Science. Baen Books, 1999.
7. Thorne, Kip S. Black Holes & Time Warps. W.W. Norton & Company, 1994.
8. Upshall, Michael (editorial director). Dictionary of Physics. Helicon Publishing Ltd., 1997.
9. “Gravitational Singularity,” Wikipedia.

4 comments on “The Science of Red Dwarf

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  • So I just finished reading through The Garbage Pod and, with apologies to Mr. Ross, the entry for Terrorform here bugged me. Going into how the human brain stores short term memories is all well and good, but Kryten is an android, and while his brain is part organic, the joke seems to have more to do with the possibility of mechanical hard drives being damaged after exposure to a powerful magnet.

    That said, it would be wonderful to see a sequel to The Garbage Pod come out at some point with a tribute to Seb, as his touch was so indelible on the first book.

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