The Science of ‘The Golden Compass’

The Science of ‘The Golden Compass’ December 6, 2007

This Christmas season’s blockbuster – The Golden Compass – is released to cinemas worldwide tomorrow. And, to celebrate Volume 1 of Pullman’s trilogy finally making onto the screen, what better than a post on the science lurking within the story! Fantasy adventures aren’t usually the best place to look for science – and to be honest there isn’t much in Golden Compass. But that doesn’t stop people trying…

The books heavily feature allusions to dark matter, and also to the idea of ‘parallel universes’ – there’s even a direct reference in Book 2 (The Subtle Knife) to Everett’s ‘Many Worlds’ interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Everett’s classic 1957 paper is quoted by a catholic nun turned particle physicist, of all things. Fan website His Dark Materials takes a look at both (sidestepping the obvious problem that moving from one ‘world’ to another is fundamentally impossible in Everett’s theory…), as well as some other phenomena such as quantum entanglement, string theory, and the aurora.

If that leaves you hungry for more, the excellent science writing duo John and Mary Gribbin have written a book that should satisfy even the geekiest of fans!

Now here’s a question: the books rely on Cartesian dualism – souls are not only separate from the physical body, but (in one of the parallel worlds at least) they they have their own embodiment. Not only that, but consciousness is not an emergent property of matter, as those dull naturalists whould have us believe, but is due to the presence of magical ‘god particles’. Does this make the books anti-atheist? Perhaps humanists everywhere should be urging a boycott of the films, for peddling such supernaturalist nonsense!

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