Star Trek Canon Database

Displaying 1 to 50 of 77 records.

Database started: 1999-07-27
Page generated: 2019-08-18

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TNG Season 1, Ep# 1: "Encounter At Farpoint"

PICARD: Reverse power, full stop.

CONN: Controls to full stop, sir.

CONN: Now reading full stop, sir.

Realism: the first example of the nonsensical "full stop" terminology which will be repeated countless times throughout the series run. "Full stop" relative to what? The galactic axis? Earth? Either choice is problematic. A "full stop" relative to the galactic axis would be a very large velocity relative to Earth. A "full stop" relative to Earth could be a very large velocity relative to nearby celestial bodies.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 8: "Lonely Among Us"

TROI: Captain, do you exist in combination with the entity?

RIKER: Is it in control of you, sir?

PICARD: By the time we combined, we had learned much about each other ... our passion for exploration... for the unknown. We found we had similar dreams ... and it offered your captain a way to realize them beyond any human expectation.

RIKER: Captain, I must speak to you

DATA: I understand. As an energy pattern free of the limitations of matter... it might travel anywhere, at any velocity...

Realism: this is the first TNG example of a floating luminescent cloud being described as "energy", even though it is clearly a form of matter (moving at very low speed). Energy can travel slowly, but only when travelling through very specific forms of matter (eg. Bose-Einstein condensates). In space or ordinary atmosphere, energy travels at c.

Since they repeatedly describe phenomena as energy even when they are clearly not energy, we are forced to conclude that the term "energy" has changed between now and the 24th century.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 10: "The Battle"

PICARD: Release the Stargazer from the tractor beam, Number One.


PICARD: The tractor beam.

RIKER: Sir, are you abandoning...

PICARD: No. Her inertia will carry the Stargazer along on this heading with us. Or did you sleep through the Academy lecture on conserving tractor beam power?

Realism: if the Enterprise is coasting through space on its own inertia, and the Stargazer can coast alongside it, then a tractor beam needn't require any power whatsoever, so why would Starfleet Academy teach that they can conserve power by shutting it off? Remember that a tractor beam would only be performing work if it is changing the Stargazer's velocity. Station-keeping at constant velocity could be done just as easily with a really big rope. That obviously wouldn't require any power, so why would a tractor beam require power?

The only power draw would be due to inefficiencies within the tractor beam systems themselves. If the act of turning off a tractor beam while coasting through space causes a significant power consumption reduction, this can only mean that tractor beam systems are extremely inefficient (and energy reserves are not as vast as is often claimed).

TNG Season 1, Ep# 14: "Datalore"

TASHA: My Turbo-sensors say he went to Deck One. Worf?

WORF: Where he examined some microminiature work tools, then some fine grind quadratanium.

DATA: Which is used in our construction. That particular compound is no more suspicious, sir, than a human looking for an antiseptic or an ointment. Nevertheless, I should check it out.

Realism: quadratanium is apparently a "compound". This indicates more rifts between their use of materials science terminology and real-life materials science terminology. In modern parlance, something called "quadratanium" would be an element rather than a compound.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 15: "Angel One"

RAMSEY: How did you find me?

DATA: Actually, it was quite simple. I accessed all possible elements available to the crew of the Odin, cross-referenced those to elements endemic to Angel One, then eliminated the common denominators. Angel One has no platinum. Enterprise scanners did the rest.

Realism: how could the entire planet Angel One have no platinum? I could buy a mineral-poor planet, but it's hard to imagine that there would be no platinum in the entire planet.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 17: "Home Soil"

PICARD: Data -- any analysis of those bolts of light they emit?

DATA: That seems to be their method of reprogramming, Captain. Each bolt of light consists of negatively and positively charged ions. A series of program instructions, as it were.

Realism: more butchered terminology. How can a "bolt of light" consist of ions? Ions are charged particles. Matter, not light.

If a stream of ions glowed in transit, it would accurately described as a luminescent ion stream, not a bolt of light.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 17: "Home Soil"

(Inorganic life form releases a huge amount of energy, shaking the entire ship)

RIKER: If this keeps up, that thing will tear the Enterprise apart!


DATA: Captain -- sensors indicate the microbrain expends a tremendous amount of energy during its reproduction cycle. Yet, there is no discernible power drain from our own systems.

PICARD: Then what's feeding the damn thing!?

GEORDI: Data and I found traces of cadmium salts. Cadmium is a conduit for converting infra-red into electricity.

PICARD: Meaning?

DATA: Meaning the microbrains might be photoelectric.

Realism: violation of the First Law of Thermodynamics. It starts reasonably enough, with the revelation that if the creature "expends a tremendous amount of energy", it must come from somewhere.

Data reasons that the life form must be photoelectric (a hypothesis which is later proven accurate when they shut off the lights in the medical lab and the creature starts dying). But this means that the creature's entire energy supply comes from ordinary room lighting, which can't possibly supply more than ~1 kW/m² (go into an average room, add up the wattage of the lights, and then divide by the floor surface area to get an idea of how intense 1 kW/m² would be).

The creature itself is no bigger than a golf ball, so it would therefore be ridiculously generous to assume that it's absorbing a full kW of power from the room lights. This means that even after a full six hours, the creature would absorb no more than ~20 MJ of energy.

In other words, the creature was able to threaten the entire Enterprise, armed only with the energy of a few kilograms of TNT.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 20: "Heart of Glory"

GEORDI: Commander, a fissure is developing in the bulkhead. The skin of the ship is losing its integrity.

RIKER: Where? I don't see it.

GEORDI: There (looks at wall section, transmitting visor images to Enterprise main viewer).

PICARD: Step closer.

(Geordi complies)

PICARD: It looks to me like a spectrograph indicating metal fatigue. Is that how you interpret it?

GEORDI: Correct, Captain.

Realism: metal fatigue is the cumulative effect of long-term sub-critical loading on structural members. Battle damage has nothing whatsoever to do with metal fatigue, and if a fissure is rapidly developing, then it's not metal fatigue. It's simply an overload.

Unfortunately, most laypeople have no real idea of what metal fatigue really is, and this passage reminds us that the Trek writers are not science experts, no matter what some of their fans may think. They're soap opera writers who use the terminology of science and engineering freely without giving a damn whether any of it is accurate (notice the contrast with TV writers' careful attention to medical accuracy). Their disrespect for science is incredible.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 20: "Heart of Glory"

RIKER: How long before the hull ruptures?

GEORDI: Impossible to be exact. Five minutes -- probably less.

Realism: fatigue failures can't possibly be predicted to within an accuracy of a few minutes, particularly when the magnitude of the loading is not known.

TNG Season 1, Ep# 21: "Arsenal of Freedom"

SOLIS: Hull temperature one thousand degrees and rising.

GEORDI: Emergency power to deflectors.

LIAN: Velocity increasing, sir.

GEORDI: Steady as she goes.

SOLIS: Hull temperature twenty-five hundred degrees.

WORF: Deflectors nearing overload.

LIAN: Helm is growing unresponsive, sir.

GEORDI: Can you compensate?

LIAN: Yes, sir, I can.

SOLIS: Hull three thousand degrees.

GEORDI: Maintain heading.

SOLIS: Thirty-three hundred degrees.

WORF: Number four deflector inoperative.

SOLIS: Turbulence to starboard! Scanners locked --

WORF: Weapons locked!


Realism: Solis calls out hull temperatures (presumably in units of degrees Celsius). However, we could see the hull from external shots during this sequence, and it was no more luminous than normal. Since the nature of radiative heat transfer is well known, the lack of luminosity means that the solid material in the hull simply can't be at 3600K.

Unlike most Trek realism problems, this one does not totally defy rationalization. Three possible rationalizations are:

  1. Their measurements are simply wrong.
  2. Their measurements are not in degrees Celsius.
  3. The "hull temperature" that Solis refers to is actually related to its shields, or the shield emitters buried in the hull. Remember that while we saw no radiation from the hull itself, we did see radiation from the "bow wave" in front of the ship, where its shield was interacting with the atmosphere.
The third possibility merits explanation. The temperature of an object describes the point at which it would reach thermal equilibrium with its environment, and it doesn't matter whether this energy comes from spontaneous radiation or from an active system such as a laser or radar set. It is possible for the ship as a whole to be at 3600K without its hull physically being at that temperature, however paradoxical that may seem.

TNG Season 2, Ep# 29: "Elementary, Dear Data"

WORF: Sir, I can lead a security team to sweep the Holodeck, find the Doctor, and bring her out.

DATA: Captain, I believe that would place the doctor at risk. It is probable that the mortality failsafe has been overridden.

Realism: why is it that "failsafes" on the Enterprise routinely fail? Don't the writers know what a failsafe is?

Of all the times they've ever tried to use the warp core ejection system, it only worked once, and that was on Voyager. An emergency system with a <.200 batting average is not the sort of thing you'd want to trust with your life, is it?

TNG Season 2, Ep# 33: "Unnatural Selection"

PICARD: You said the transporter could be altered to filter out changes in Doctor Pulaski.

RINA: If we'd had the trace...

PICARD: Well it turns out the changes are in her DNA. If we used a sample of the doctor's DNA -- say from a blood test -- that was taken before --

RINA: Could we filter out her genetic alterations? Absolutely!

Realism: even if we suspend disbelief and accept that the transporter can rearrange the DNA of a transported subject, why would it instantly reverse the effects of her accelerated aging? It couldn't "restore her from backup" the way it did with Picard in "Lonely Among Us", because she hadn't used the transporter before.

As an aside, unless my memory fails me, this is another example of a script that was altered before shooting. If I recall correctly, the Rina character was deleted, and Geordi spoke her technical lines.

TNG Season 2, Ep# 34: "A Matter of Honor"

DATA: The substance appears to be a rare form of subatomic "bacteria," capable of doubling every fifteen minutes. It seems to be reacting with two of the compounds present in the Enterprise structure.

Realism: Subatomic bacteria? Tee hee ...

TNG Season 2, Ep# 41: "Pen Pals"

WORF: We are modifying Class One probes so they become resonators. We will then use torpedo casings to protect the probes once they begin burrowing beneath the surface.

PICARD: How do these resonators destroy the crystals?

HILDEBRANT: By emitting harmonic vibrations which will shatter the lattices.

Realism: another example of the Trek writers' foul and recurring abuse of wave physics. I reiterate: resonance does not amplify energy. It merely causes energy from successive cycles to add up in a more efficient manner. Furthermore, resonance is a characteristic of the target rather than the weapon. If a piece of material has no strong resonant frequency, then the game is over. But the writers obviously think that everything has a strong resonant frequency. Morons ...

TNG Season 3, Ep# 49: "Ensigns of Command"

RIKER: Tau Cygna Five is in the de Laure belt -- heavy concentrations of hyperonic radiation.

PICARD: Humans can't survive in such an environment. Exposure to hyperonic radiation is fatal.

Realism: the entire "de laure belt" (presumably a star cluster which forms a belt-like constellation) is bathed in "hyperonic radiation?"

What is this "hyperonic radiation?" It can't be ionizing radiation because there's no way for any lifeform to adapt to high levels of ionizing radiation (even metallic objects are embrittled by high level ionizing radiation over time). Not only did the Tau Cygna Five colonists survive, but there was also heavy vegetation on the planet (remember that plants are life forms too).

The Star Trek writers like to simply invent new classes of element or radiation randomly, and then assign mysterious characteristics to them. This is clearly another annoying example; what sort of radiation could possibly be fatal to all human beings, but harmless to plant life and certain "adapted" humans?

Ted Collins notes that the Sheliak weren't worried about this "hyperonic radiation". One could argue that they would use shielding to protect their colonists, but surely there are planets for them to settle which don't require enclosed habitats. It seems much more likely that the hyperonic radiation is harmless to them, just as it is harmless to the indigenous plant and animal life on the planet.&nbsp; Hyperonic radiation seems to be incredibly selective, affecting humans and Federation technology but precious little else.

TNG Season 3, Ep# 49: "Ensigns of Command"

GEORDI: Captain, we can do it! We can modify the transporters.

PICARD: Excellent.

GEORDI: It'll take fifteen years, and a research team of a hundred --

PICARD: Mister La Forge, I believe we will postpone.

Realism: since when can someone accurately estimate the time and manpower required for a totally unprecedented research project, or guarantee its success?

TNG Season 3, Ep# 54: "Booby Trap"

PICARD: After the shields fall, how long for a fatal exposure?

BEVERLY: Thirty minutes. After that, there's nothing that can be done.


PICARD: How long do we have shields based on current calculations?

WORF: Under two hours, Captain. And the radiation field has increased by seventeen percent.

PICARD: Impact on fatal exposure?

BEVERLY: Down to twenty-six minutes.

Realism: the health consequences of radiation exposure are not predictable enough to assign precise "death dosages". Moreover, they seem to act as though the fatal exposure is some sort of binary "on/off" proposition; if they can get out one minute before the deadline, they'll all be fine. One minute after, and they'll all be dead. That's beneath stupidity; radiation damage is a random process; its effects cannot be predicted with such accuracy.

TNG Season 3, Ep# 55: "The Enemy"

WESLEY: We could build a portable neutrino source and send it in a probe to the surface. It would be like a beacon.

DATA: A neutrino pulse would send non-charged particles back up through the atmosphere... and would be detectable by Geordi's visor.


GEORDI (tapping visor): It translates a wide range of radiation into neural impulses. Allows me to see.

Realism: huge numbers of neutrinos shoot through every square centimetre of your skin constantly. They pour out of any active star. However, this scene was written and shot as if neutrinos are not a naturally occurring particle, so their presence would immediately tip off Geordi to the probe's location.

Furthermore, it is implied that the particles are so highly interactive with their environment that they release radiation which can be picked up by Geordi's visor. This is also nonsensical; neutrinos are virtually non-interactive with normal matter, having a mean free path of something like six thousand light years through planetary solid matter.

The beam's strong interaction with the atmosphere, as well as its strong contrast with the natural environment, both indicate that it was actually emitting some particle other than neutrinos. Perhaps it was sending up a collimated neutron radiation beam.

TNG Season 3, Ep# 55: "The Enemy"

BEVERLY: We've finally found a compatible ribosome match for the Romulan. But only one. You.

WORF: That is impossible. I am a Klingon.

BEVERLY: Different species, yes. But Humans, Romulans, Vulcans, Klingons, Betazoids -- we're all genetically similar. We have comparable cell structures. And you have what this Romulan needs. There's absolutely no risk to you.

Realism: the statistical probability of life forms evolving separately on different worlds but reaching such incredible biochemical similarity (even if we assume common "seed DNA" billions of years ago) is so small as to be utterly laughable.

The writers apparently subscribe to the common creationist notion that there is only one suitable configuration of intelligent life, and that the evolutionary process must always move toward that particular, specific target. The fact that the writers subscribe to this popular creationist strawman distortion of evolution theory is proof that they may pay lip service to evolution, but they don't understand how it works.

TNG Season 3, Ep# 56: "The Price"

RIKER: Leyor, the Federation would like to negotiate a trade agreement to acquire your planet's rich deposits of Trillium 323 which we will add to our bid, Premier Bhavani...

Realism: the writers seem to be suggesting that a planet might have rich natural deposits of some material named "trillium", with an atomic number of 323! Such a large-nucleus element would spontaneously fission in nanoseconds.

TNG Season 3, Ep# 57: "The Vengeance Factor"

DATA: Noranium alloys. Their salvage value is low.


(the away team is attacked by Gatherers armed with Rigellian phaser rifles and they're pinned down, hiding behind some rocks)

RIKER: Data... noranium vaporizes at... ?

DATA: Two thousand three hundred fourteen degrees. Of course, noranium carbide alloys vaporize at a slightly higher temperature.

GEORDI: Phaser setting seven ought to do it...

SCREENPLAY: Riker, Data, Geordi, and Worf fire at the pile of noranium. The noranium quickly bellows huge clouds of smoke -- filling the area almost immediately.


(the four officers make a break for it, using the smoke as cover)


SCREENPLAY: Brull turns his attention to the rising smoke. He grabs a bucket of sand and pours it on the noranium. The two others Gatherers follow suit. After a beat, the smoke ceases.

Realism: more awful butchery of materials science terminology. Data makes reference to "noranium carbide alloys", but carbides are ceramics. Also, they act as though the melting temperature is the only thing you need in order to estimate vapourization energy. Anyone familiar with the physics of melting and vapourization will know how silly this is.

TNG Season 3, Ep# 61: "Deja Q"

GEORDI: We can't change the gravitational constant of the universe but if we wrap a low level warp field around that moon, we could reduce its gravitational constant, make it lighter so we can push it.

Realism: conservation of energy dictates that the permanent acceleration of an object cannot possibly be accomplished without inputting the requisite quantity of energy. There is no way to push that moon back into a stable orbit without having to pay the piper sooner or later, and no amount of technobabble can change that fact. There are two possible solutions:

  1. The warp field's own power requirements made up for the difference, so that it wasn't really any easier for the ship's power generator but it split the load up among the warp nacelles, impulse drive, and tractor beam rather than putting it all onto the impulse engines.
  2. The warp field solution was illusory. As soon as they turned the warp field off, the moon's mass would return to normal and its velocity would drop accordingly, to a value commensurate with its true kinetic energy. If this is the case, then the power levels calculated here are actually gross overestimates.
Obviously, the writers never thought of this problem, but it's the job of the fans to paper over the writers' foolish mistakes, right? :)

TNG Season 3, Ep# 73: "Transfigurations"

JOHN: Captain -- my species is on the verge of a wondrous evolutionary change... a transmutation beyond our physical being. I am the first of my kind to approach that metamorphosis.

Realism: the Star Trek writers butcher the term "evolution" by applying it to a sudden and dramatic metamorphosis, even though a metamorphosis is actually the opposite of evolution. It is the Creationists who describe metamorphoses: dust turning into a man, a spare rib turning into a woman, etc.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 83: "Final Mission"

GEORDI: The radiation levels coming from that ship are off the scale.

RIKER: Mister Data, could that be leakage from their engines?

DATA: No sir. Engine reactor elements appear to have been inactive for approximately three hundred years. The vessel is carrying various unstable waste products.

GEORDI: You mean... it's a garbage scow.


GEORDI: I don't like the idea of getting close enough to that barge to tow it. The radiation levels are so high we'd be risking contamination of the entire crew.

Realism: there are strict limits to the intensity of decay radiation, because there are no violent conditions to accelerate particles to highly relativistic speeds or produce ultra high-energy photons. The idea of hazardous waste material producing enough radiation to penetrate the Enterprise's hull (never mind its shields) is utterly laughable.

There is no conceivable material which could produce radiation of such high intensity, especially since a few metres of water are more than adequate to block the radiation coming from high-level nuclear waste in real life. The "exotic element" excuse doesn't work because the stability curve of nuclear binding energy does not permit long-lived elements beyond the known periodic table (magnetic repulsion eventually overcomes the strong nuclear force).

TNG Season 4, Ep# 83: "Final Mission"

BEVERLY: We're projecting that the bulk of the radiation will affect three small island groups ... fortunately, they're sparsely populated. We'll start replicating hyronalin now and be ready to transport it to them if it becomes necessary. Please coordinate with the medical personnel on the planet.

Realism: how could decay radiation from an orbiting garbage scow affect people on the ground? The writers clearly don't understand the limits of decay radiation or its propensity for interacting with intervening matter (which would include both the hull of the garbage scow and the atmosphere).

TNG Season 4, Ep# 83: "Final Mission"

COMPUTER: Warning. Radiation levels at one hundred fifty millirads per minute and rising. Lethal exposure in thirty-five minutes.


COMPUTER: Warning. Lethal radiation exposure in thirty seconds.


COMPUTER: Warning. Lethal radiation exposure in fifteen seconds.


COMPUTER: Warning. Lethal radiation exposure in ten seconds.

Realism: radiation exposure randomly damages physical objects at the molecular level. It is a matter of probabilities rather than absolutes, and it's utterly ridiculous to be able to estimate it to such fine accuracy that they can take half an hour of exposure but be safe if they pull away ten seconds short of the deadline.

There is no way for "lethal exposure" to be precisely quantified because the probabilities dictate that some will suffer fatal radiation poisoning earlier than the average, while others will last longer.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 88: "Clues"

PICARD (to Troi, carefully): Who are you?

TROI/PAXANS: You know of our existence. We have no choice but to destroy this ship.

Realism: how many "possessions" have we seen in Star Trek? Not only isn't there a shred of scientific evidence that such a thing is possible, but the same Trekkies who watch stuff like this will turn around and point fingers at Star Wars for being too "mystical" to be "true" sci-fi.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 90: "Galaxy's Child"

GEORDI: All matter in space vibrates in a specific radiation band.

LEAH: Twenty-one centimeters.

Realism: they are obviously talking about the cosmic "background radiation", but it is totally untrue that all matter in space oscillates at the same frequency. The frequency of oscillation is dependent on energy level, and varies for different objects regardless of whether they're in space.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 96: "Half a Life"

PICARD VO: Captain's Log. Stardate 44805.7. For generations, the people of Kaelon Two have been working to revitalize their dying sun. The Federation has offered to assist in testing what may be a solution to this problem.

TIMICIN: The basic theories for helium fusion enhancement have been discussed for over a century, but there's been no method of practical application until now.

Realism: I have never heard of any remotely possible theory for accelerating the rate of fusion in a star, since the rate of fusion is fixed by the star's elemental composition and mass.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 96: "Half a Life"

(after launching torps into the star)

GEORDI: Shock wave patterns within predicted range. 1700% rise in gamma radiation levels. Helium fusion rate increasing...

TIMICIN: What about the heat and pressure levels?

GEORDI: Steady so far. Density at 1100 g/cm³. Temperature approaching 60 million degrees Kelvin.

TIMICIN: We want it to stabilize at 220 million.

DATA: Pressure wave harmonics dispersing. Temperature in target zone increasing... to 81 million degrees.

GEORDI: Still rising. 90 million degrees Kelvin... And now one 110 million. Looking good ... 137 ...

DATA: Radiation and pressure levels still stable.

GEORDI: Temperature 160 million degrees Kelvin ... 170 ... 190 ... now 200 million ...

TIMICIN: It's happening.

(the star shrinks in size by ~30% and changes colour from red to yellow)

GEORDI: 207 and rising ... 219 ... and twenty! Two twenty! And holding! Looks like congratulations may be in order.

PICARD: Mister Data?

DATA: Turbulence patterns are within predicted parameters.

GEORDI (quietly): 222...

DATA: Temperature is rising in the core again, Captain. 230 million degrees Kelvin...

GEORDI: Now 251. Still rising. 260 million degrees.

DATA: Rate exceeding critical levels. Core density becoming unstable.

RIKER: Let's get the hell out of here.

PICARD: Warp two, Ensign; now!

(the star undergoes a violent release of surface material, resembling a nova)

Realism: there are lots of realism problems here:

  1. The life of a star has predictable stages which are defined by its mass and chemical composition, as well as the physics of nuclear fusion. The idea of altering that progression is patently ludicrous. It would require magic elemental transmutation of the star's core. Of course, I'm sure they can always think up some silly "protomatter" or "subspace" technobabble to explain how it's actually possible, probably involving a magical chain reaction of some sort.
  2. Why are they trying to heat it up? An increase in the stellar core temperature would only make the star grow even bigger, rather than making it shrink. As a star ages and shifts from hydrogen burning to helium burning, its core shrinks and gets hotter and hotter, while its outer surface is pushed outward and gets cooler. If you want to make the star's surface shrink and heat up, you should actually cool down the core.
  3. The speed at which the star shrinks is ridiculous. Even if you could cool down the core and make the star shrink, it's not going to shrink 30% in a matter of seconds. Just look at the numbers; an aging red star, more than a million kilometres wide, is supposed to shrink hundreds of thousands of kilometres in diameter in a matter of seconds, which means that its surface is being accelerated to a sizable fraction of c! It's supposed to be a star, not a black hole.
  4. If the people of Kaelon Two live on a planet orbiting a red star, it must have been that way for many millions, if not billions of years. There is no reason to believe that changing the star back into a yellow star would improve their environment, which must have adapted to the red star. In fact, one would think that the change would make their world uninhabitable.
  5. Earlier in this episode, Timicin says that they've got 30 or 40 years left. That is utterly ridiculous; the stages of a star's development take place on enormous time scales, where 30 or 40 years would make absolutely no difference whatsoever. The only rapid event would be a supernova, and a star which is in the helium burning stage is eons away from that.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 96: "Half a Life"

BEVERLY VO: Finally got an actual letter from Wesley... topped the class in exo-biology, but he's still struggling in Ancient Philosophies.

Realism: the writers obviously believe in the "Renaissance Man" paradigm of scholars who understand all aspects of academia. However, while that was admirable in its time, it was only possible because of the narrow scope of science and technology.

Times have changed. The fields of science and technology have exploded since the Renaissance, so much so that one man cannot possibly hope to understand it all. The idea that one man can "generalize" and simultaneously study physics, chemistry, engineering, astronomy, military tactics and strategy, philosophy, literature, history, and biology to the point of achieving even a modest familiarity with them is utterly laughable even today. With three more centuries of development in those fields, it would be even more ridiculous. The phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" leaps to mind. Such a person would gain the ability to engage in cocktail-party discussions about those subjects, but not the ability to do any productive work in them (actually, that reminds me of Captain Picard, who's a classic example of a multi-disciplinary dilletante).

Even within science or engineering, people specialize. Someone who specializes in robotics will have only the most superficial understanding of quantum mechanics. Someone who specializes in quantum mechanics will have only the most superficial understanding of metallurgy. Someone who specializes in metallurgy will have only the most superficial understanding of biochemistry. The engineering or science student specializes in a narrow field and takes electives only to add superficial knowledge about other subjects. When he graduates, he should have detailed knowledge about one specific field, a firm grasp on the basic methods and philosophies of science and/or engineering (this might actually be the most important asset), and some superficial knowledge about technical fields in which he didn't specialize. There's no conceivable reason that this will change as we learn even more about the universe.

TNG Season 4, Ep# 97: "The Host"

ODAN: I've been studying the information you sent... If I understand correctly, the people of Alpha moon have found a way to tap directly into the magnetic field of your planet, and now rely exclusively on that energy source.

LEKA: Yes. But the Beta moon seems to be suffering some environmental damage as a result.

Realism: Numerous problems:

  1. How are they supposed to sustain themselves on the planet's magnetic field? Magnetic fields only perform net work under one condition: net change. Generators produce current because a magnet's position changes relative to a coil. The solar wind is deflected around the Earth because its particles are heading straight toward the Earth's magnetic field, and they exchange magnetic potential energy for kinetic energy. But while a moon in a stable orbit may experience temporary fluctuations, it will all cancel out in the end because its motion is cyclic. I suppose one could postulate that the planet's magnetic field fluctuates wildly, but that seems a questionable theory.
  2. Let's suppose that the planet's magnetic field fluctuates so much that they can use it to induce current. How much current would they induce? In other words, how strong are planetary magnetic fields? If our planet is any example, they're not very strong at all. A large horseshoe magnet can produce magnetic fields of as much as 0.1 T surface magnitude, which is 2000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field. Don't believe me? Try putting a magnet next to a compass and see who wins: the magnet's north pole or the Earth's north pole.
  3. Let's suppose the planet has a remarkably fluctuating magnetic field, which is also remarkably strong (and which somehow doesn't impede the activities of the planet's inhabitants). How is this going to affect the moon, since it undoubtedly orbits at an altitude of many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of kilometres? Are the writers aware of the effect of distance on magnetic field strength?
  4. How is any of this activity supposed to affect the other moon? A magnetic field is just an intermediary for action between charges, much as a gravity field is just an intermediary for action between masses (the field can almost be thought of a rationalization mechanism for the light-speed propagation of the underlying forces). In the case of a planet and its moons, it's hard to imagine that the activities of one moon's inhabitants might significantly affect the planet's magnetic field, because that would mean they're somehow affecting the source of the magnetic field itself, ie- they're altering the movement of material inside the planet.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 104: "Silicon Avatar"

DATA: Sir, the Entity is beginning to resonate... vibrations increasing rapidly...

PICARD: Doctor, stop the transmission! That is an order!


PICARD: Mister Worf, take charge of the Doctor. Mister Data, shut down that transmission.

GEORDI: Vibration amplitude is increasing... it can't last much longer.

DATA: I am unable to stop our graviton signal, Captain. Doctor Marr has isolated the access code.

GEORDI: Maybe I can create an override sequence... shut it down from here.

DATA: Resonance is approaching critical...

GEORDI: I can override her program, but it's gonna take time --

Realism: it seems highly unlikely to me that a natural organism would have a resonant frequency. In the real world, a resonant frequency in a complex structure is inevitably the result of faulty engineering.

Simple objects usually have resonant frequencies, eg- most speaker cabinets are rectangular boxes without internal bracing of any kind, so their resonant frequencies are defined by their length, width and height. However, more complex objects generally don't have a strong resonant frequency because they will incorporate more structural variability, either by design or by happenstance (as in the case of a living organism). For example, modern bridges are designed with slightly unequal-width spans, to prevent standing waves from forming the way they did in the Tacoma Narrows disaster.

In the case of the giant snowflake, the only way it could have a resonant frequency is if all of the sub-branches coming of its main branches are spaced at precisely the same interval. I reiterate that this seems highly unlikely; natural organisms are never so structurally predictable, and an engineered organism would not incorporate such a stupid flaw (I would submit that anyone capable of engineering such a beast should know how to build a decent bridge).

TNG Season 5, Ep# 105: "Disaster"

TROI: Yes. How big are these quantum filaments?

O'BRIEN: They can be hundreds of meters long, but they have almost no mass... which is why they're so difficult to detect.

TROI: So, it's like a... cosmic string?

O'BRIEN: No... that's a completely different phenomenon.

Realism: with almost no mass, how much destructive capacity could such a phenomenon possibly have? If it has an event horizon, it should quickly evaporate into gamma radiation (that's what happens to black holes when they get too small), instead of floating around and doing inexplicably severe damage to starships which happen to pass by.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 105: "Disaster"

RO: We've got a problem. The quantum resonance of the filament caused a polarity shift in the antimatter containment field.

O'BRIEN: When the filament hit us, the ship was momentarily charged... as if it had... come into contact with a live electrical wire.

RO: That weakened the containment field surrounding the antimatter pods. The field strength is down to forty percent and it's still falling.

O'BRIEN: If it falls to fifteen percent... the field will collapse and there'll be a containment breach.

TROI: Which means... ?

RO: The ship will explode.

Realism: remember the basic laws of electromagnetism. If the ship's internal structure is conductive, then any net electrical charge will migrate to the outside of the ship. If that charge is imparted to the ship from the outside, then it should stay on the outside. There's no reason it will move to a point deep within the ship.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 105: "Disaster"

DATA: If the energy flowing through this arc were interrupted by a non-conductive material, it is likely that the circuit would be broken.

RIKER: I don't see any material in here that could stop that much current.

DATA: Commander, most of my bodyframe is composed of tripolymers, a non-conductive material.

RIKER: You're suggesting using your own body?

DATA: Yes, sir.

RIKER: Data, there's at least half a million amps flowing through that arc. Can you take that much current?

DATA: The power surge would cause a system failure in most of my internal processors and melt my primary power couplings. However, there is a chance that the damage would not be irreparable.

(they try it and Data is hit by the arc, which makes a small black mark on his shirt and knocks him down)

  1. Data says his body is non-conductive, so it should stop the arc. But air is also non-conductive, and that isn't stopping the arc, is it? Even total vacuum won't stop an arc if the voltage potential is high enough. Data should have said that his body has higher electrical resistance than air (although this seems rather far-fetched to me, especially since we know that his body contains some metallic elements).
  2. If Data's body really is a better insulator than air and he blocks the arc, then the arc should resume as soon as he falls down. The voltage potential was sufficient to create the arc and keep it going in the first place, so why wouldn't it be sufficient to start it up again? I suppose one might argue that the voltage had dropped since the arc started up, so that it was no longer sufficient to initiate an arc but it was still sufficient to maintain one (since the arc ionizes air in its path, thus reducing its electrical resistance).
  3. Riker quantifies the electrical current without bothering to take a measurement. Since it's obviously a malfunction, how can he possibly know off-hand how much current is flowing through the hallway?
  4. Riker describes electrical current of 500,000 amps, but it merely singes a small circle on Data's cloth uniform. It seems likely that some circuit in that area of the ship normally carries 500,000 amps, and he moronically assumed that the same amount of current would flow through an arc in open air, despite the vast increase in electrical resistance.
  5. The arc jumps across a wide gap of air, rather than taking the path of least resistance through the metallic sides of the crawlway. That's not the way electricity works; it always takes the path of least resistance. That's why automotive spark plugs are shaped the way they are; the electricity must travel a relatively long distance to go through the solid insulators around the electrodes, so it's easier to simply jump the gap.
Thanks to "Tony and Kim" for reminding me about air ionization in electrical arcs.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 109: "A Matter of Time"

PICARD: We've located three underground pockets of carbon dioxide ... here, here and here. Our drilling phasers can release enough of the gas to form an envelope which would temporarily hold in the heat from the sun.


GEORDI: The Enterprise will monitor the CO2 concentrations at six different altitudes. If all goes well, it won't take more than twenty bore sites.


RIKER: Fire.

DATA: Target one is emitting two thousand cubic meters per second. Target two, one thousand six hundred.

Realism: they intend to drill 20 holes, each of which will emit perhaps 2000 m³/s of CO2? Heh heh ... that would add up to less than 3½ km³ per day. Even if we assume that Geordi is talking about the volume of gas before it reaches atmospheric pressure, that would only be a thousandfold increase in volume, for a total of less than 3500 km³ per day.

To put that in perspective, an Earth-like planet's atmosphere has a volume in excess of 5 billion km³ even if we stop measuring it at 10 km altitude. At 3500 km³ per day, a constant CO2 release would only increase atmospheric CO2 concentrations by 2.6% after one hundred years (and that's assuming the pocket continues to vent at constant pressure for that long). By way of comparison, the EPA estimates that human activities have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by 30% since the dawn of the industrial age.

I fail to see how these miniscule 2000 m³/s CO2 leaks could possibly ameliorate the global catastrophe that would be caused by a major asteroid impact.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 109: "A Matter of Time"

GEORDI: Have you rerun the phase reversal figures, Data?

DATA: There were no errors, Geordi. The variance must be no more than point zero six terawatts.


DATA: The motion of the dust has created a great deal of electrostatic energy in the upper atmosphere. With a modified phaser blast, we could create a shock front that would encircle the planet and ionize the particles.

PICARD: That would be like striking a spark in a room filled with gas.

DATA: With one exception, sir. The particles would be converted into a high energy plasma which our shields could absorb and redirect harmlessly into space.

PICARD: Turn the Enterprise into a lightning rod.

DATA: Precisely, sir.

PICARD: And what about the bad news, Data?

DATA: If our phaser discharge is off by as little as point-zero-six terawatts, it would cause a cascading exothermal inversion.

PICARD: Meaning?

DATA: We would completely burn off the planet's atmosphere.

(when they actually try it, they light up the atmosphere and a blue stream of matter shoots up toward the ship, which eventually redirects it out into space).

Realism: this entire scheme stinks to high heaven, for a lot of reasons:

  1. The writers think you can start a chain reaction in anything, hence this silly idea about creating a "shock front" that shoots through widely dispersed dust particles in the atmosphere. Dust does tend to be pyrophoric (hence Picard's analogy about striking a spark in a gas-filled room), but not when it's widely dispersed.
  2. Why would the shock wave move all the way around the entire planet, always staying in the upper atmosphere, without affecting anyone on the surface? A "shock front" in the upper atmosphere has to travel tens of thousands of kilometres to reach the opposite side of the planet, but only 100 km to reach the surface.
  3. Why would plasma head straight for the Enterprise? Data said the principle was "precisely" analogous to a lightning rod, but a lightning rod is a conductor which provides a predictable path of least resistance for an arc over a large voltage potential. That has nothing whatsoever to do with this situation. Even if the Enterprise can somehow create a monstrous static charge on its deflector dish, plasma consists of positively and negatively charged matter. The dish would attract one or the other, but not both.
  4. When they executed the plan, the quantity of mass extracted was nowhere near enough to account for a planetary nuclear winter scenario. Are we seriously supposed to believe that a planet-wide nuclear winter would have resulted from a thin stream of matter which lasted for only a few seconds?
  5. For the crowning glory, they finish by stating that if they're off by 60 GW, they'll "burn off the planet's atmosphere", in what is presumably the mother of all chain reactions. I would love to hear Data explain how and why the atmosphere would spontaneously "burn off".

TNG Season 5, Ep# 110: "New Ground"

DATA: Sir, the the wave's energy level has increased by a factor of twelve. At this rate, it will have increased by a factor of two hundred by the time it reaches Lemma Two.

RIKER: Will they still be able to dissipate the wave?

JA'DAR: Commander, at that energy level, the wave will not only destroy the colony... it'll take most of the planet with it.


GEORDI: The soliton wave has continued to increase in power. Its energy level has risen by a factor of ninety-six. At its present rate of acceleration, the wave will hit the planet in about two hours.

Realism: I take it the writers have some sort of vendetta against the First Law of Thermodynamics, since they thumb their nose at it whenever they get a chance. How can the wave be increasing in strength with no source of energy?

The soliton wave is a real scientific concept, but the writers merely used it as a piece of meaningless jargon, with no regard whatsoever for the original principle (it's their modus operandi). In 1834, John Scott Russell observed that when a rapidly moving boat was suddenly stopped in an adueduct, its bow wave continued onward, with no discernible loss of strength or shape (the shape of the adueduct kept it from rapidly dissipating like a normal wave in open water). Modern-day fibre-optic technology is based on the same principle: that a travelling wave will suffer almost near-zero losses under the right boundary conditions (ie- in a waveguide).

So much for the science history lesson. In Star Trek, a soliton wave doesn't just hold its original strength and shape (despite a lack of boundary conditions), but it actually gains strength from an unknown source! The only way to rationalize this mess (for the purposes of suspending disbelief) is to conclude that their measurements must have been in error.

Of course, rabid Trekkies will probably just fall back on their catch-all "subspace excuse", which is just another way of saying "we don't need no conservation of energy". Did you know that Star Trek is a "hard science fiction" show?

TNG Season 5, Ep# 110: "New Ground"

PICARD: How do we stop it?

GEORDI: There are two possibilities: we could try to use our warp engines to generate an inverse resonance wave. If we match the exact frequency and amplitude of the soliton, we'd be able to neutralize it.

RIKER: You don't sound very confident.

DATA: Because the soliton is constantly changing in both frequency and amplitude, it will be extremely difficult to achieve a precise match.

Realism: this is just plain stupid (not to mention an incorrect use of the word "resonance"). If the wave is so powerful, then why would the Enterprise be able to generate an inverse wave of equal amplitude? And why don't the writers realize that a wave cannot be permanently neutralized by destructive interference with another wave? A wave will only be neutralized in the region where the two waves intersect. This is elementary wave theory, which has been confirmed with light interference experiments.

If a cancellation wave is launched at the soliton wave from in front, then it will cancel the soliton wave ... temporarily. Once the two waves pass each other, both waves will return to full strength and you would have two waves instead of one. If a cancellation wave is launched at the soliton wave from behind, it will never catch up to the soliton wave unless its propagation speed is higher. If its propagation speed is higher, then it will catch up to it ... temporarily. Then it will continue to race ahead, thus leaving us again with two full-strength waves instead of one.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 110: "New Ground"

PICARD: Let's hear the second option.

GEORDI: It's a little more dangerous, but I think there's a better chance for success. We could create a... backfire -- an explosive force set off just in front of the soliton wave. A large enough explosion... say five photon torpedoes... should disrupt the wave and allow it to dissipate.

Realism: the wave is supposedly powerful enough to wreck a planet, but it will be destroyed by five torpedoes (the same kinds of weapons that didn't even scratch the asteroids around the Promellian derelict in "Booby Trap").

TNG Season 5, Ep# 111: "Hero Worship"

GEORDI: Just make sure the tolerance doesn't slip more than point three one in either direction.

Realism: yet another terminology mistake. A measurable value may slip in one direction or another, but a tolerance does not "slip". The tolerance is a target which is specified by the engineer, and is not subject to alteration by process variability.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 113: "The Masterpiece Society"

GEORDI: In order to move the core fragment to a safe trajectory, we needed our tractor beam to be able to handle high power pulses...

HANNAH: And, we needed a much more efficient emitter to do that.


PICARD: What is the increase in efficiency?

GEORDI: Up to almost three hundred percent...

Realism: 300% efficiency is a meaningless concept. Efficiency cannot exceed 100% by definition. This is particularly irksome since you don't need to be a scientist or an engineer to see it; anyone with a dictionary can spot this one.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 114: "Conundrum"

RIKER: With all the power that MacDuff had... to alter our brain chemistry, and manipulate the computers... it's hard to believe he needed the Enterprise.

PICARD: Satarran weapons technology is no more advanced than the Lysians'. One photon torpedo would have ended their war.

Realism: there are limits to how far one branch of science and technology will advance in relation to the others. The numerous disciplines of science and technolog are hopelessly intertwined, in that advancements in one field often require prerequisite advancements in another, while begetting yet more future advancements.

The idea of a Macduff's people having intimate knowledge of human brain chemistry, Data's positronic brain, Federation computer technology, and Federation shields (all of which they had to alter or circumvent in order to pull off this operation) without having any intelligence data on their weapons technology is absolutely ludicrous.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 118: "Cause and Effect"

DATA: The vessel is on a collision course. Impact in thirty-six seconds...


RIKER: Decompress the main shuttlebay -- the explosive reaction might kick us out of the way.

Realism: atmospheric pressure is roughly 100 kPa. Let's suppose the main shuttlebay opening is 5 m tall and 20 m wide; this would give the door opening an area of 100 m². 100 kPa pressure over 100 m² works out to a total force of roughly 10 MN.

That's hardly enough to push around a starship which supposedly masses millions of tons. If the ship's mass is 4.5 million tons (a common non-canon figure from the TM), then 10 MN would accelerate it at the stupendous rate of 0.002 m/s². At that rate, it would take 5-10 minutes to accelerate the ship to human walking speed.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 119: "The First Duty"

DATA: We did find that Wesley had opened his coolant interlock just before beginning the maneuver around Titan.


DATA: That procedure would be extremely hazardous while the ship was in flight.

GEORDI: Yeah, the engine would probably ignite the plasma.

Realism: "ignite" the plasma? Let's get a few things straight: "ignition" requires an exothermic chain reaction. There are only two exothermic reactions that can occur in plasma: nuclear fusion and combustion. Both can only occur under very specialized conditions:

  1. Nuclear fusion can only occur when the plasma is confined and subjected to extreme temperature and pressure. It can't possibly occur when the plasma is vented out into space, under near-zero pressure conditions.
  2. Combustion can only occur in low-temperature plasmas such as those found in the Sun's photosphere (which, contrary to expectation, are mostly composed of hydrogen gas rather than fully ionized particles). But it also requires two more ingredients: oxygen and pressure. Not as much pressure as nuclear fusion demands, but some pressure nonetheless, or the atoms will be far too widely dispersed for the chain reaction to occur. In short, with no oxygen and no pressure, combustion just ain't gonna happen.
The plasma burned brightly, yet it failed to satisfy the conditions for nuclear fusion or combustion. A truly horrendous realism problem.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 120: "Cost of Living"

GEORDI: It looks like the only alloy common to the stabilizer and the replicator is nitrium. Computer, analyze the nitrium content of the affected stabilizer and replicator.

Realism: they refer to something called "nitrium" as an "alloy", even though a name like "nitrium" is formatted like an element name rather than an alloy name. Names of real alloys are catalogued designations like "T6061", "P-20", "D-2", and "AISI 4340", or trade names like "MoldMax" and "Royalloy".

The latter seem unlikely though, since Ted Collins notes that in a communist society such as the Federation, trade names wouldn't be too common. The closest they might come is a government bureau name, similar to the Soviet aviation bureaus. He also notes that nitrium is a naturally occurring substance and was scanned in the asteroid earlier in this episode, which creates yet another realism problem. Alloys do not occur naturally. They are identified by very specific mixtures of particular elements, and the probability of such mixtures occurring naturally in pieces which are chemically and microstructurally uniform through macroscopically large pieces is infinitesimal and can essentially be ignored.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 120: "Cost of Living"

GEORDI: According to the mass spectrometer, the elements in the residue have been broken down into simpler molecular structures...

DATA: That would suggest the nitrium has been organically metabolized.

Realism: again, they demonstrate horrendous ignorance of basic materials science terminology. An element cannot be "broken down into simpler molecular structures", because elements are the building blocks of molecules. That's like saying your shock absorbers were taken apart and turned into simpler cars.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 124: "The Next Phase"

BEVERLY: Did Ensign Ro have any family?

RO: Captain, I'm right here.

PICARD: None that I know of, but I'll check with the Bajoran Liaison Office.

RO (yelling): I'm not dead!

BEVERLY: I'll have the official reports ready within the hour.

RO: Captain, I don't know what's going on --

(Picard walks right through her, as if she's a ghost)

Realism: this scene (and the entire episode, for that matter) suffers from massive realism problems, which all stem from the fact that Geordi Laforge and Ro Laren can both see, hear, breathe, and walk around while in their "phased" states. Most observers have noted some realism problems with this episode, but they have traditionally restricted their criticisms to the fact that they successfully moved from deck to deck via the turbolift. Perhaps that's because they can simply use artificial gravity to explain that problem away, but I intend to show that the turbolift problem is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg:

  1. They are invisible but they can still see. That is a serious contradiction (one which is common to most cloaking devices and all "invisible man" sci-fi stories). The human eye works by absorbing incident visible-spectrum light, so it is impossible for them to see anything unless their eyes are opaque. In other words, even if the rest of their bodies are invisible, their eyeballs must be visible or they won't be able to see anything.
  2. They are inaudible but they can still hear, and that is also a serious contradiction. The acts of speaking and hearing both involve physical interaction with air molecules; the only difference is one of direction. When you speak, your vocal chords vibrate and transmit this vibration to the air. When you hear a sound, the air vibrates and transmits this vibration to your eardrums. If Geordi Laforge and Ro Laren can't be heard by the crew, then they should be effectively deaf as well.
  3. They can breathe, despite their supposedly non-interactive state. Not only does the act of breathing require macroscopic physical interactivity with air, but it also requires chemical reactivity. It's not enough to simply pull air into your lungs or push it out; the oxygen must react with other chemicals in your body to fuel your metabolism, or you will die.
  4. They can walk, despite their supposedly non-interactive state. Have you ever considered what physical interactions are required for the act of walking? When you lift a foot, you are slightly altering your centre of mass, and without physical interactivity, this means that one foot will rise while the other foot sinks ... right into the floor. How about forward movement? When you attempt to move forward, you use friction between your feet and the floor to push the floor in one direction, so that the reaction force will push you in the other direction. But how will you apply that force unless your foot is physically interactive with the floor? For that matter, how will any friction exist at all?
In terms of realism, this episode is a sick joke. I can conclusively demonstrate from their observed abilities (seeing, hearing, walking) that they are both physically and chemically interactive with normal light and matter, on both microscopic and macroscopic scales. In other words, they're just like you and me, but with technobabble. Mass hypnosis almost seems to be a better explanation for their apparent invisibility than "phasing".

As the episode wears on, it appears that they can barely feel normal matter, and that ability increases over time so an intrepid Trekkie might try to rationalize this mess by saying that their weak interactivity alowed them to see, hear, walk, and breathe. However, that's an unworkable excuse. Right from the start, they can see, hear, breathe and walk quite easily, whereas anything less than full interactivity would lead to severe difficulties seeing, hearing and breathing, not to mention an inability to walk normally (think of those cartoons where people's legs move ridiculously fast without achieving any appreciable forward movement).

In many ways, this episode would be easier to explain if they actually were ghosts.

TNG Season 5, Ep# 124: "The Next Phase"

GEORDI: I've never seen anything like this. There's something in there that looks like a molecular phase inverter...

RO: What's that?

GEORDI: It's supposed to change the structure of matter so it can pass through "normal" matter and energy ... hey, wait a minute ... a few years back, we got intelligence reports that the Klingons were working on combining a phase inverter and a cloaking device. In theory, they believed that a phased ship could hide anywhere ... even inside a planet. And conventional weapons would be useless against it.

RO: How far did they get in their research?

GEORDI: It never got out of the preliminary stages... there were several&nbsp; accidents. The Romulans might be pursuing the same technology -- trying to combine an inverter and a cloaking device.

Realism: you can't phase out of space-time by changing your phase angle, because this interpretation suggests that everything in the universe is vibrating at the same frequency, with phase coherence; an utterly ridiculous idea.

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