Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. An Engineer Looks at Superheroes

 

Having an engineering degree makes it hard to watch superhero movies. Antman’s ability to shrink and grow, for example, is supposedly done by changing the distance between the atoms in his body. Therefore, no matter his size, he’s still 200lbs. Fine. Except that this 200lb man can ride on the back of an ant when he’s tiny. And when he’s 80ft tall, instead of floating off into the air like a hot air balloon, he’s heavy enough to smash a passenger jet when he falls on it.

The Six Million Dollar Man and the Winter Soldier had bionic arms that enabled them to pick up cars. Why didn’t their arms rip out of their very unbionic shoulder sockets, or why didn’t their backbones collapse?

And remember the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeves? At the climax, the evil Lex Luthor launches two nuclear missiles – one aimed at America’s east coast and the other at the west coast – leaving Superman with the dilemma of deciding which coast to save.

He destroys the east coast missile (well done, Chris) but can’t quite catch up to the other one, and Lois Lane, along with California, is obliterated. Okay, that makes sense. How does he solve this terrible problem? He flies faster than the speed of light and turns back time.

In other words, he can’t catch up to a missile lumbering along at the speed of sound – a mere 750 mph, depending upon temperature and air pressure – but he can fly faster than 186,282 miles per second, or 670,616,629 miles per hour!

No wonder kids avoid the STEM subjects in school these days!

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  1. JoelB Member

    Ha, ha yeah – Just go with the flow, man. :-)

    • #1
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. Mark Camp Member

    Richard, were you by any chance that guy who always wrote letters to the Editor of Superman comics?

    • #2
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:35 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  3. Doctor Robert Member

    One of the tenets of theater is suspension of disbelief. They’re SUPERheroes, Richard. The physical rules of the universe do not apply to them.

    • #3
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Percival Thatcher
    PercivalJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    Richard, were you by any chance that guy who always wrote letters to the Editor of Superman comics?

    No point. DC Comics didn’t award No-Prizes. 

    • #4
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:46 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Being numerate and logical makes a lot of things painful to sit through. I completely had to give up on Leftist news outlets. 

    • #5
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:49 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  6. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Over the past few months we’ve gone through all of the MCU movies, two each weekend (just three movies left*, but I’m taking the youngest on a cub scout camping trip this weekend). Every time my wife complains about any of these types of things, I just say “Because it’s a comic book movie, that’s why”.

    I’m actually more concerned about how they survive all the blunt-force trauma from being thrown against walls or dropped from tremendous highest. But I know it’s because it’s a comic book movie.

    *We’ve been watching in release order, but she insisted after Infinity War that (in her words) “I don’t give a [redacted] [redacted] about Antman or a [redacted] wasp. We’re watching Endgame next.”

    Then she fell asleep an hour into it and had to rewatch it the next day.

    • #6
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:52 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  7. kedavis Member

    Is it established that Superman flies FASTER THAN LIGHT to go back in time? I don’t recall that being stated anywhere.

    But even if so, perhaps the point could be that he couldn’t do that WITHIN THE ATMOSPHERE in time to get both missiles. 

    And/or he was still following the admonition of his father, not to change the past, before it cost Lois her life.

    • #7
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:53 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  8. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Is it established that Superman flies FASTER THAN LIGHT to go back in time? I don’t recall that being stated anywhere.

    But even if so, perhaps the point could be that he couldn’t do that WITHIN THE ATMOSPHERE in time to get both missiles.

    And/or he was still following the admonition of his father, not to change the past, before it cost Lois her life.

    I haven’t seen the movie in 30-plus years, but didn’t he reverse the earths rotation in order to reverse time?

    Either way, it was pretty dumb.

    • #8
    • September 23, 2020, at 4:57 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  9. kedavis Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Is it established that Superman flies FASTER THAN LIGHT to go back in time? I don’t recall that being stated anywhere.

    But even if so, perhaps the point could be that he couldn’t do that WITHIN THE ATMOSPHERE in time to get both missiles.

    And/or he was still following the admonition of his father, not to change the past, before it cost Lois her life.

    I haven’t seen the movie in 30-plus years, but didn’t he reverse the earths rotation in order to reverse time?

    Either way, it was pretty dumb.

    It’s a relativity thing. He didn’t reverse the Earth’s rotation, him going backward in time would make the Earth’s rotation appear to be reversed TO HIM – and to the film’s audience.

    And if you went backward in time the sun would appear to be rising in the west and setting in the east, but that’s just to you.

    • #9
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:02 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    OK, I’ll try to explain how this works.

    The Ant-Man, Six-Million-Dollar-Man, and Winter Soldier things work because they reversed the polarity. Reversing the polarity always works. Or if it doesn’t, you can always try cross-circuiting to B.

    And about Superman. Obviously, if he’d flown faster than light while trying to catch an ICBM, he would have been traveling backward in time, so he couldn’t have caught it, because he would have arrived before the ICBM got there.

    Except that it wasn’t flying faster than the speed of light that turned back time. It was making the Earth rotate backwards. Everybody knows that the earth rotating backwards causes time to flow in reverse. Obviously. Otherwise, the sun would rise in the west, for crying out loud!

    • #10
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:03 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  11. kedavis Member

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    One of the tenets of theater is suspension of disbelief. They’re SUPERheroes, Richard. The physical rules of the universe do not apply to them.

    Except for the ones like Black Widow who have no super-strength and yet when tossed up into the air from Captain America’s shield and grabbing onto a flying sled thing possibly going 100mph or more, suffer no injury…

    • #11
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:03 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  12. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Is it established that Superman flies FASTER THAN LIGHT to go back in time? I don’t recall that being stated anywhere.

    But even if so, perhaps the point could be that he couldn’t do that WITHIN THE ATMOSPHERE in time to get both missiles.

    And/or he was still following the admonition of his father, not to change the past, before it cost Lois her life.

    I haven’t seen the movie in 30-plus years, but didn’t he reverse the earths rotation in order to reverse time?

    Either way, it was pretty dumb.

    It’s a relativity thing. He didn’t reverse the Earth’s rotation, him going backward in time would make the Earth’s rotation appear to be reversed TO HIM – and to the film’s audience.

    And if you went backward in time the sun would appear to be rising in the west and setting in the east, but that’s just to you.

    Or an NBC news viewer in the early 1980s. (Really obscure reference that I’m wondering how many people will get without looking it up).

    • #12
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:04 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):
    The Ant-Man, Six-Million-Dollar-Man, and Winter Soldier things work because they reversed the polarity. Reversing the polarity always works. Or if it doesn’t, you can always try cross-circuiting to B.

    Just don’t cross the streams. (“That would be bad”).

    Unless of course you really have to.

     

    • #13
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:06 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  14. kedavis Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    OK, I’ll try to explain how this works.

    The Ant-Man, Six-Million-Dollar-Man, and Winter Soldier things work because they reversed the polarity. Reversing the polarity always works. Or if it doesn’t, you can always try cross-circuiting to B.

    And about Superman. Obviously, if he’d flown faster than light while trying to catch an ICBM, he would have been traveling backward in time, so he couldn’t have caught it, because he would have arrived before the ICBM got there.

    Except that it wasn’t flying faster than the speed of light that turned back time. It was making the Earth rotate backwards. Everybody knows that the earth rotating backwards causes time to flow in reverse. Obviously. Otherwise, the sun would rise in the west, for crying out loud!

    Um, but if you make the Earth rotate backwards, the sun DOES rise in the west…

    • #14
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:07 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    kedavis (View Comment):

    It’s a relativity thing. He didn’t reverse the Earth’s rotation, him going backward in time would make the Earth’s rotation appear to be reversed TO HIM – and to the film’s audience.

    That’s what I thought when I first saw it, too. But it’s clear that that’s not what was happening, because a few minutes later he reverses the procedure. He flies the other way around, making the Earth turn the other way (faster than usual), and made time fast-forward. If it were relativity at work, he would have gone back in time regardless of whether he was going clockwise or counterclockwise.

    It’s clear that the filmmakers actually thought — or assumed the audience was stupid enough to think — that the Earth’s rotation controlled the flow of time.

    • #15
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:13 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. kedavis Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    If it were relativity at work, he would have gone back in time regardless of whether he was going clockwise or counterclockwise.

    Prove it. :-)

    I’ll also remind you that in Star Trek (“Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and “Assignment: Earth” episodes, and movie 4 “The Voyage Home”) they went both backward and forward in time, in both cases by flying very close to the sun.

    • #16
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:20 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  17. Full Size Tabby Member

    I don’t care for superhero movies. But I have enough cognitive difficulty with the physics of human action movies. And they’re getting worse, especially the increasing frequency of a 120 pound woman being shown beating up on one or more 200 pound men. 

    • #17
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:23 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  18. kedavis Member

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I don’t care for superhero movies. But I have enough cognitive difficulty with the physics of human action movies. And they’re getting worse, especially the increasing frequency of a 120 pound woman being shown beating up on one or more 200 pound men.

    I enjoyed the first Avengers movie just for camp, I suppose, but I dropped out of all that stuff over hearing – perhaps just a trial balloon they abandoned but still, just that someone might be thinking about it was enough – that they were considering making Captain America evil. Not just that Hydra somehow recruited him later, but that really he always had been part of Hydra, and was just waiting for the right moment…

    • #18
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:26 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Richard Fulmer Member
    Richard Fulmer

    What was the Tom Cruise movie (Mission Impossible 36?) where he and the bad guy (Sean Bean?) play chicken on motorcycles and, at the last second, launch themselves at each other? They hit – body to body – at a combined speed of, perhaps, 100mph. Instead of being mushed into goo, they shake it off and begin hand-to-hand combat.

    I think that my favorite, though, is the Bourne series. In it, the CIA has hundreds of highly-trained assassins sitting around in hotel rooms all around the world waiting for orders. When I’m watching the movies, I imagine real CIA agents looking dreamily at the screen and wistfully saying, “If only.”

    • #19
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:29 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  20. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    OK, I’ll try to explain how this works.

    The Ant-Man, Six-Million-Dollar-Man, and Winter Soldier things work because they reversed the polarity. Reversing the polarity always works. Or if it doesn’t, you can always try cross-circuiting to B.

    And about Superman. Obviously, if he’d flown faster than light while trying to catch an ICBM, he would have been traveling backward in time, so he couldn’t have caught it, because he would have arrived before the ICBM got there.

    Except that it wasn’t flying faster than the speed of light that turned back time. It was making the Earth rotate backwards. Everybody knows that the earth rotating backwards causes time to flow in reverse. Obviously. Otherwise, the sun would rise in the west, for crying out loud!

    Um, but if you make the Earth rotate backwards, the sun DOES rise in the west…

    No, it doesn’t, because time is going backwards. So the sun is setting in the west but it appears to be rising in the west because time is going backwards. It’s impossible for the sun to rise in the west. That’s why reversing the rotation of the earth makes time go backwards. I know, it’s hard to keep track of these things.

    There’s actually an interesting fantasy book series by Orson Scott Card, the Pathfinder series, that tries to deal with the contradictions inherent in time travel. He solves the problem, fictionally and hypothetically, by making reality variable, while the time traveler’s point of view must be preserved.

    • #20
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  21. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily EssentialJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    If it were relativity at work, he would have gone back in time regardless of whether he was going clockwise or counterclockwise.

    Prove it. :-)

    I’ll also remind you that in Star Trek (“Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and “Assignment: Earth” episodes, and movie 4 “The Voyage Home”) they went both backward and forward in time, in both cases by flying very close to the sun.

    Don’t get me going on Star Trek “Physics”.

    • #21
    • September 23, 2020, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  22. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    If it were relativity at work, he would have gone back in time regardless of whether he was going clockwise or counterclockwise.

    Prove it. :-)

    I’ll also remind you that in Star Trek (“Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and “Assignment: Earth” episodes, and movie 4 “The Voyage Home”) they went both backward and forward in time, in both cases by flying very close to the sun.

    Don’t get me going on Star Trek “Physics”.

    Do it! Do it! Do it!

     

    • #22
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:14 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  23. kedavis Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):
    If it were relativity at work, he would have gone back in time regardless of whether he was going clockwise or counterclockwise.

    Prove it. :-)

    I’ll also remind you that in Star Trek (“Tomorrow Is Yesterday” and “Assignment: Earth” episodes, and movie 4 “The Voyage Home”) they went both backward and forward in time, in both cases by flying very close to the sun.

    Don’t get me going on Star Trek “Physics”.

    Do it! Do it! Do it!

     

    I was looking for the video clip of Salem Saberhagen (Sabrina’s cat) saying “Do it! DO IT!!!” but it seems to have disappeared.

    • #23
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:22 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. kedavis Member

    Oh, here it is. Google and Youtube searches can be pretty random at times.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85QRkos630g

    • #24
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:25 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Maguffin Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    It’s clear that the filmmakers actually thought — or assumed the audience was stupid enough to think — that the Earth’s rotation controlled the flow of time.

    Wait…it doesn’t?

    I knew I should have paid more attention in school. Dang public school system.

    • #25
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:27 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  26. Maguffin Member

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    There’s actually an interesting fantasy book series by Orson Scott Card, the Pathfinder series, that tries to deal with the contradictions inherent in time travel. He solves the problem, fictionally and hypothetically, by making reality variable, while the time traveler’s point of view must be preserved.

    Drugs are the key to time travel? That explains a lot about the 60s.

     

    • #26
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:28 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  27. kedavis Member

    Maguffin (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    There’s actually an interesting fantasy book series by Orson Scott Card, the Pathfinder series, that tries to deal with the contradictions inherent in time travel. He solves the problem, fictionally and hypothetically, by making reality variable, while the time traveler’s point of view must be preserved.

    Drugs are the key to time travel? That explains a lot about the 60s.

     

    David Carradine apparently believed he, not just his Kung Fu character, could actually travel in time – backwards, at least – just by thinking about it.

    • #27
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:37 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White MaleJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Maguffin (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    There’s actually an interesting fantasy book series by Orson Scott Card, the Pathfinder series, that tries to deal with the contradictions inherent in time travel. He solves the problem, fictionally and hypothetically, by making reality variable, while the time traveler’s point of view must be preserved.

    Drugs are the key to time travel? That explains a lot about the 60s.

     

    David Carradine apparently believed he, not just his Kung Fu character, could actually travel in time – backwards, at least – just by thinking about it.

    That was the plot of Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve and Jayne Seymour.

    • #28
    • September 23, 2020, at 6:44 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  29. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    I don’t care for superhero movies. But I have enough cognitive difficulty with the physics of human action movies. And they’re getting worse, especially the increasing frequency of a 120 pound woman being shown beating up on one or more 200 pound men.

    Disney, with Rey in “Star Wars”, Captain Marvel and now Mulan, is doing its darnedest to make sure audiences also get enraged at super-powered 120-pound women beating up on 200-pound men, judging by fan reaction and box-office take. Better to go back to the days when feminists embraced the empowering poster image of the roughly 120,000-pound Allison Hayes beating up on 200-pound men and the cars they rode in on…

     

     

     

    • #29
    • September 23, 2020, at 7:05 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  30. OldDanRhody's speakeasy Member

    Much is explained in James Kakalios’ The Physics of Superheroes.
    From the Introduction;

    One trick I’ve hit upon in teaching physics involves using examples culled from superhero comic books that correctly illustrate various applications of physics principles. Interestingly enough, whenever I cite examples from superhero comic books in a lecture, my students never wonder when they will use this information in “real life.” Apparently they all have plans, post-graduation, that involve protecting the City from all threats while wearing spandex. As a law-abiding citizen, this notion fills me with a great sense of security, knowing as I do how many of my scientist colleagues could charitable be termed “mad.”

    • #30
    • September 23, 2020, at 7:08 PM PDT
    • 8 likes