The Physics of Stopping Everything

Say, for the sake of argument, that you’re the best magician in the entire Universe.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But Ariana, I thought this was a physics essay?”

I can assure, with a high degree of certainty, that it indeed is a physics essay. However, you’ll soon see why it is crucial for you to be a magician under the following scenario. So just trust me on this one, okay?

So, recapping, you’re the best magician in the Universe. In fact, your magical abilities are so spectacularly supreme that they allow you to do the impossible: mess up with the known laws of nature. How or why you got these powers is unbeknownst to us and, truth be told, that is quite inconsequential. What matters, for the time being, is that you’re planning something HUGE for your next trick. So huge, in fact, that I am sure that, if it were truly possible, you’d be put into some sort of quantum jail.

So what’s your ploy all about?

Well, you, my dear reader, are planning on stopping the Universe.

Photograph of a galactic cluster.

Yep, you read it right. You’re a human being capable of altering every single particle of matter, anti-matter and dark matter, as well as fooling around with dark energy and all other fundamental forces that compose our known universe.

The reason for it? Once again, quite inconsequential, but you can be sure that you’re definitely moving forward with this gnarly plan of yours.

Yet, you’re unable to foresee the future (you’re a magician, not a fortune-teller, dear), so one important question arises out of all of this:

What the hell is going to happen?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room:

Under our current laws of physics, this scenario, by all means, is never going to happen. Regardless of the technology you have, the hypothesis you concoct or the theories you bring up, stopping everything is a physical impossibility.

Upset? You can blame the pesky, boring laws of our Universe for that.

Nevertheless, since you’re a magician (someone, presumably, above all universal legalities), such laws definitely don’t prevent you from going through with your hypothetical scheme. So let’s assume that you have achieved the impossible and immobilised everything. What now?

Since technically you are matter, you kind of not only stopped the Universe, but also yourself.

All the cells, microbes, and atoms in your body will suddenly come to a halt. Your brain would be pretty much “dead” since you’ve stopped all synaptic connections and forced yourself into a weird unconscious state. Plus, you’ll lack any sensory stimuli and responses, thus making you unable to perceive and make yourself perceived by others.

Image of a statue evoking a feeling of disappointment.


You really didn’t think this through, did you?

But then again, you’re a freaking magician, so let’s figure out how to sort this dilemma with your ungodly magical prowess.

Then, let’s assume that, somehow, certain laws of nature are still in effect. This is a slight contradiction, because we kind of need a couple of the laws we’re breaking in order for this to be true, but who cares about those annoying laws of physics? Am I right?

So you’re able to move (and, hopefully, think) again. Yay! You can now go about freely in a seemingly frozen Universe! But, wait a second… It seems that, as you began to take your first steps, you realised that you are stuck in place. Oh, oh…

Given that the atmosphere all around you is matter, you’re unable to manoeuvre the molecules in the air; an act that forces you to remain frozen in place. Sadly, this also means that you’d be unable to breath, as there is no way to intake motionless air into your lungs. I guess you could try calling out for help, but sound waves cannot be propagated due to the lack of air and people around you are pretty much “brain dead” anyways.

Ugh… At least you have the comfort of remaining warm thanks to light bouncing off all around. Oh, wait… Light is made of matter, so you kind of stopped it as well. Oops. Well, I guess that all that’s left for you is freezing to death.

Image of a person frozen in ice.


You really didn’t think this through, did you?

Anyhow, I guess we could still try to keep this scenario going. Perhaps you and the atmosphere and an infinite source of light are still going about. You can now push the atmosphere out of the way, as you normally would whenever you’re inhaling precious oxygen. Thus, you’d be able to breathe and propagate sound waves as you go. You’ve also got heat, so you might be able to survive for a while.

Come to think of it, though, you’ll need the entire electromagnetic spectrum to be back in motion. After all, heat radiation is part of the electromagnetic spectrum (the place were visible light lies), so if you value seeing things, this should definitely be added. Doing otherwise means photons won’t move into your eyes and you’ll remain blind until god knows when.

Now, with your renewed motion abilities, you could potentially capture many photons of light as you move along. Yet, given that light is constantly bouncing off many directions and that all other places (besides wherever you’re standing) are frozen, it is unlikely your brain will be able to process and accurately decipher any information it receives. But this is better than nothing I guess.  

So you’ve got heat, light, sound, breath, and the convenience of moving.  There is still one obstacle to deal with though: gravity.

A few seconds in, you’ll start to realise that gravity no longer affects you. According to Newton’s first descriptions, gravity moves instantaneously across space, having no speed limit. If this were to be true, then you would probably be able to have gravity in this world.  However, since Newton, the notion of infinitely fast gravity has been debunked.  It has to follow the universal speed limit (light speed) like everything else. Consequently, lacking gravity, you’ll pretty much end up floating into outer space and dying there due to lack of oxygen.

Artist’s impression of a skeleton floating in space.


You really didn’t think this through, did you?

Anyhow, let’s give this insane scenario one last chance.

So, somehow gravity is still in the works. This means you should pretty much be able to wander about the Earth without much discomfort. However, since gravity (under Einstein’s theory of relativity) is a force that is directly tied to the fabric of space-time, is there even a notion of you moving through space and, therefore, undergoing changes through time?

Regardless of gravity, space will always exist. It was there before the Big Bang and it shall remain even after humans go extinct. Time, on the other hand, is a different story. Considering time before the Big Bang seems a bit absurd, since this is a definition that we made up to explain the changes that matter undergoes. Thus, if you were to be the only “matter” going about, the fabric of space-time would probably be confined to some sort of “odd vacuum” that solely involves you and the laws of nature that can only affect you.

Quite the bizarre scenario, if we are to be honest. And, given that you’re a magician, aren’t you looking for the awe your trick will provoke in others? Going through this hassle, therefore, seems a little stupid.  

So why don’t you, instead, leave the laws of physics alone for a little while?

Sounds reasonable, right?

Nevertheless, if you still desire to commit to your initial scheme, there is a way for you to stop everything within our Universe without using any magic (and thus avoiding any collateral damages to our known laws of physics):

Just take a picture.

Which, at least to me, offers a better way to capture and behold, even just for a short period of time, the great beauty that our magnificent, expanding Universe has got to offer.  

Photograph of the Milky Way seen from Earth.

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