This weekend, I happened to catch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on television. I probably saw this movie dozens of times when I was a kid, but this was the first time as an adult. It’s a fun, lighthearted romp of a Disney movie, great for kids, and so on and so forth. However, I started thinking about Dr. Szalinski’s little invention in realistic terms, and I must say I was quickly horrified at the implications. Horrified, I tell you.
It is a Death Ray
Essentially, Szalinski’s ‘shrink ray’ collapses the empty space in atoms, meaning they will take up less space. Okay, fine – assuming you can do this, that seems to have some uses. Let us not pretend, however, that any living thing undergoing this process would live through it. Just because you remove the space doesn’t mean you remove the mass – the kids would have the exact same number of particles and, therefore, act upon and be acted upon gravitationally the exact same way. The difference, however, is that they would lose surface area and volume. Do you know how many different things in your body rely upon surface area and volume to function? Your lungs and circulatory system, even assuming they could still function, would not have sufficient area to perform respiration effectively – your body would still have every bit as many cells to feed with oxygen, but lungs so small and arteries so tiny that it would be impossible to feed it all. The kids would have suffocated, too heavy to move (your muscles couldn’t function, either), as impossibly dense specks on the attic floor. Szalinsky probably would have broken his dustpan on their tiny corpses.
What About Non-Living Matter?
Okay, so what if we just don’t shoot people with the thing. Szalinski points out that he intends it to be used to save room in space vehicles, make denser fuels that burn longer, and so on. Seems like a good idea, right? WRONG.
I’m not a physicist, right, but I do know a couple things. I know, for instance, that the reason atoms are mostly ’empty space’ (though that term is a bit misleading) is because atoms have massive amounts of electrical energy filling them – wave/particles called electrons, zooming around, causing massive amounts of charge. Now, we all know what happens if you split the nucleus of an atom – huge amounts of energy is released in the form of an atomic reaction. Now, what makes us think that if you collapse the energy of the electrons in upon itself, there won’t also be a massive burst of energy released? Granted, the nucleus contains its energy in a much smaller space, but basic physics and chemistry insists that electrons have the exact same amount of energy contained in their orbitals, it’s just more spread out. So, if you eliminate or somehow collapse that energy, where does it all go? In a giant goddamned explosion, that’s where. An explosion that would destroy the object you’re shrinking and probably all other objects for miles. BOOOM.
What Happens When the Military Gets its Mitts on This?
Fine, let’s assume that Szalinski manages to invent his machine without killing his family or blowing up his town. Do we want to live in a world where shrink rays are mounted on tanks or airplanes? Have you thought about how destructive that could be? A plane (or satellite!) could shrink a bridge, a damn, a nuclear power plant and cause untold mayhem and destruction with no possible means of defense. Commandos could arrive in secure locations via mail and expand into a killing team within defensive perimeters. Bombs would be every bit as effective miniaturized (probably – I think the same masses of chemicals reacting with each other would retain the same properties, regardless of their change in density. I easily could be wrong about that, though. Thoughts, chemists?), but they would be almost impossible to detect. Bodies could be hidden with little chance of them ever being found. The idea of ‘disappearing somebody’ would be disturbingly real. We could find ourselves entering a nightmarish future where nobody is safe at any time and there is nothing – nothing – anyone could do about it.
All because of some schmuck with an attic full of electronics and too much free time. Thanks, Wayne Szalinski. Thanks a lot.