Science is usually pretty amazing, but take a turn around the wrong corner and you might end up in the bad neighborhood, where the terrifying scientific theories like to hang. Like all science, they can teach you all sorts of stuff, but unfortunately the things they will make you learn are nothing less than the stuff of nightmares.
We’ve already told you about some of the most horrifying scientific theories and hypotheses out there, but guess what? We were just getting started …
8. A gamma ray burst or a supernova could trigger a huge mass extinction
A gamma ray burst is basically the biggest gun the Universe has to offer: An ultra-powerful electromagnetic blast caused by a collision between two neutron stars or the collapse of a single one. Neutron stars are the most massive ones in existence, so the blast is quite destructive … to the point that if one hit planet Earth, it could easily “eviscerate” our ozone layer. This, of course, would be A Bad Thing and could potentially trigger a mass extinction, which is quite concerning especially as some scientists think the same effect could also be achieved by a more mundane supernova.
Oh, and if you think that a galactic neutron star cannon shooting Earth in the face sounds somewhat far-fetched, there’s a chance it has actually already happened at least once. Some researchers think that a gamma ray burst from somewhere inside the Milky Way hit the planet during the 8th century, peppering Earth with radiation from somewhere between 3,000 and 12,000 light years away. Today, such an impact could have “devastating effects” for life on earth, and it would also destroy our satellites to be extra mean. What’s more, the scientists who believe in this theory think the 8th century blast was only a short gamma ray burst. There’s no telling what a longer, stronger one — or one that came from a closer range — could do.
7. The universe we experience might be embedded inside a much cooler one
Every once in a while, you might bump into an idea that there are way more dimensions than we are aware of, or can even experience. The ones we currently know about are the three spatial dimensions (length, height and depth), along with a fourth one, which scientists are fairly sure is time. However, some theories posit that there could be up to ten dimensions, which would all open up the universe in different ways, from observing infinite alternate worlds and universes to freely travelling in time. Mastering all ten dimensions would lead to a godlike state where “everything possible and imaginable is covered.” Pretty cool, right?
The thing is, why can’t we experience or even observe any of those higher, really neat dimensions? Well, buckle up for the bad news: According to the embedded universe theory, the reason we’re unable to do this is that our particular universe genuinely has only three spatial dimensions (along with time as the fourth one) because it’s “embedded” within the truly neat, multi-dimensioned parts of the space-time as a separate “brane,” and since we live there we’re unable to experience the higher dimensions. Basically, our universe is a piece of paper, and we’re ants that can only move on said piece of paper, without really experiencing the larger world outside its confines.
If this theory turns out to be correct, the only way we’re able to sneak a peek at the glorious properties of the dimensions beyond our reach would be through gravitational interaction particles known as gravitons. The embedded universe theory posits that gravitons can’t be confined within our universe’s “brane,” and therefore could move in all spatial dimensions even when hanging out in our boring three-dimensional corner of existence.
6. The Dark Forest Theory is a terrifying explanation to the existence of extraterrestrial life
The Dark Forest Theory was originally posited by a science fiction writer named Liu Cixin in his book The Dark Forest, but actual scientists like David Brin have also embraced it as a possible solution to the reason we can’t seem to find any radio evidence of alien life. According to this theory, the universe is the equivalent of a dark forest, and every lifeform is a hunter creeping inside it, armed and afraid, and whenever they see something there’s only one thing they can do: Fire.
Here’s how it works: We know that all life “desires to stay alive.” We also know that there are no guarantees whether other lifeforms could (or, for that matter, would) annihilate us should they get a chance. Therefore, the logical choice for a species would be to kill other life forms before they get a chance to do it.
In practice, this means that risk-averse alien life forms prefer to live “in the dark,” maintaining radio silence and hoping that no neighbors from other planets notice them. This means that the universe could be brimming with alien life, but they’re way too wary of us and each other to make their presence known. And if one of them eventually does come to visit us after spotting the radio waves we have been transmitting in space … well, they might very well be that metaphorical hunter in the dark forest.
5. Every single thing you do might be influenced by sheer terror
Terror Management Theory posits that basically every single thing any human being ever does is fueled by sheer, primal fear. Fortunately, this is all largely unconscious, so we’re not just screaming “Aaaaargh!” 24/7 while we take out the garbage and run our errands.
The idea behind this goes as follows: Humans are self-aware, which means we’re alive and realize it. As an unfortunate side effect to this, we’re also extremely aware of the inevitability of death, which could potentially overwhelm us with terror, and also gives us a slow-burning, non-stop existential crisis because despite our advanced nature, we’re still no less mortal than, say, a vulture or a guinea pig.
According to Terror Management Theory, the way humanity deals with this is culture. Groups of people have subconsciously managed their sheer existential horror by creating works of art and science, trying to earn lots of money, building huge monuments and forming complex beliefs about the nature of reality. This would mean that essentially everything we do, up to and including the way we vote, is just a desperate attempt to distract us from the fact that death is coming for us all. Ouch.
4. Super-microbes may eventually evolve to render antibiotics useless
For years, medical professionals have warned the world about antibiotics … or rather, the worrying trend of prescribing too much of them, both to people and to the animals we eat. The constant “misuse and overuse” of antibiotics has allowed certain bacteria to develop resistance to them, which is a bad thing, seeing as a huge chunk of modern medicine from chemotherapy to caesarean sections and various surgeries relies heavily on antibiotics.
This has caused many experts to raise the possibility that humanity may be heading toward an “antimicrobial resistance apocalypse,” where antibiotics don’t work and superbugs (and, for that matter, many simple ailments that used to be easily treatable) can run rampant through humanity, killing people left and right. This, of course, is a problem. If we can’t use antibiotics or if they become ineffective, modern medicine is essentially thrown back to the dark days before penicillin was discovered in 1928.
Of course, this is just a theoretical worst case scenario that can still be avoided if we put our antibiotics use in check. Then again, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are very much already around, and one particular bacteria has already developed resistance to the “last resort” super-antibiotic colistin, so…
3. Ghosts are even more terrifying than you think
Scientists can be quite wary of paranormal concepts such as ghosts, so as you might assume, they’re not exactly admitting that ghostly spirits do exist. Unfortunately, the potential explanations they’ve offered for sensations of supernatural presence are often even more terrifying.
The human body and psyche can potentially be affected by any number of things in a way that can make us literally see ghosts — or at least feel the terrifying dread that is often associated with haunted places. Frequencies below 20 hertz can’t be heard by human beings, but they may very well affect us with irrational feelings of terror, distress and anxiety. This “fear frequency” may even vibrate our eyeballs to induce ghostly hallucinations — and because we can’t hear it, there’s no way to know we’re being subjected to the noise. Certain electromagnetic fields can also create similar sensations, as can the simple power of psychological suggestion. If you’re clearly seeing or hearing things, or even being grabbed or held by ghostly creatures, it might be carbon monoxide poisoning. If it’s all happening in your bedroom, it might be a condition called sleep paralysis: Your brain’s and the naturally paralyzed state of REM sleep temporarily carries over to an awake state, and if the wires get sufficiently crossed, there may be a short period of terrifying hallucinations.
So, don’t worry. The next time you see a ghost, you’re not seeing proof of an afterlife, or a restless spirit trying to deliver you a message, Sixth Sense -style. If you ask science, you’re probably just … uh, poisoned, suffering from a terrifying sleep condition, subjected to electromagnetic and aural sensations you can do nothing about, and/or someone’s toying with your mind. Wait, that’s actually worse.
2. Man-made black holes
Ah, black holes! They’re scary and unfathomable enough where they are, which is far away from us in space, but can you imagine if one turned up near Earth — or, worse, on Earth?
Turns out, scientists totally can do that! We’ve known for at least a decade that man-made versions of the all-consuming terrifying space things are possible, though they’d most likely be rather small “micro” black holes. In fact, scientists actually created one in 2016 in laboratory conditions in order to look into “Hawking radiation,” a quantum particle radiation that blinks in and out of existence, as proposed by famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. CERN’s esteemed Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator has been suspected of potentially creating a world-destroying black hole since its inception, though it completely failed to destroy the world then and continues to not kill our planet with Earth-swallowing black holes on a daily basis. Besides, even if the LHC did create black holes (which it absolutely can do, for the record), they would be microscopic and soon evaporate thanks to the aforementioned Hawking radiation.
However, some experts, such as astrophysics doctor Hossam Aly, have posited a theory that even a teeny, tiny black hole could tear the Earth apart with ease. Fortunately, it would have to be bigger than the microscopic ones we’re currently creating, but still uncomfortably close, seeing as scientists are already dabbling with artificial black holes. According to Dr. Aly, a black hole that would be just one millimeter (0.04 inches) in diameter could have a tenth of the entire Earth’s mass, and its “gravitational pull would cover a third of the planet.” This means that even such a small black hole would tear up a giant chunk of planet Earth at an estimated speed of … 7.46 miles per second. Talk about an Earth-shattering discovery!
1. We might be living inside a black hole
Somehow, man-made black holes ripping the Earth apart is only the second most terrifying black hole -related theory out there. According to certain theoretical physicists (including Stephen Hawking himself), there’s a chance that we’re already inside a black hole. This theory aims to answer some of the biggest cosmological questions, such as the nature of dark energy, the exact reason for the Big Bang, and the truth behind why time flows like it does. Unfortunately, all of the answers for this particular question it gives are: A black hole sucked us all up ages ago and made it all happen.
Here’s how the theory works, according to theoretical physicist Lee Smolin: “A star that collapses into a black hole very quickly squeezes down to infinite density and time stops…and rather than collapsing to infinite density, the star collapses to a certain extreme density, and then bounces back and begins to expand again.” Thus, the Big Bang of a new universe that builds itself from a matter of a different universe and is located inside a black hole in that universe. The idea of not just our galaxy, but everything we see being merely the guts of a black hole from another place is creepy enough on its own, but it also means that every black hole can potentially do that, creating a “foam of interconnected pocket universes,” where the new universes inherit their laws of physics from the “parent” universe, along with things like the direction where time flows. Yes, according to this theory, there are lineages of universes where time passes backwards. Theoretical physics can be strange that way.