Cognitive Dissonance In Space

Over the past few months I’ve talked about cognitive dissonance in esoteric ways, sometimes involving esoteric words like “esoteric.” There’s been cognitive dissonance and critical thinking, cognitive dissonance and internal struggles, and of course cognitive dissonance in modern politics. Even if you’re not much of a philosopher, though, let me shine the CogDis spotlight on something you (and I) can identify with: The Death Star.

And no, I’m not just talking about the fact that you wouldn’t hear it explode in space. You’re already aware of that bit of CogDis, right? Right?

Instruments of Destruction

It’s the age-old trope of the most powerful weapon in the galaxy: The Planet-Killer. The giant weapon that’s no small moon. Project Genesis. Unicron. Even that trilithium torpedo from Star Trek VII works as a star-killer. Like global thermonuclear war in debate classes, the Planet-Killer is the universal boogeyman that sci-fi writers trot out as their ultimate threat. Difficult to engineer, expensive, and worth starting an interstellar war to obtain.

Except, in all of these sci-fi worlds, planet killers are everywhere. There’s one in literally every episode of every series of the Star Trek franchise. Han Solo owned one. Serenity had far more destructive power than River Tam at its disposal.

Think about it: If you could accelerate any object at or even near the speed of light, you could tear any Earth-like planet in half. Call Neil DeGrasse Tyson to back me up on this, but the physics should be obvious if you think about it. The amount of kinetic energy stored in something as small as a bowling ball traveling at C is likely enough to tear our sun in half, let alone our little blue marble.

Set the cruise control for warp 9 and point the Enterprise at Florida. Tell me the impact wouldn’t annihilate all life on Earth.

Willing Suspension

I’m sorry if I’ve now ruined half the great sci-fi movie plots. If it makes you feel any better, those stories are usually about the madmen seeking the ultimate weapon than the nature of the weapon itself. And seeking an ultimate weapon that’s literally less powerful than the engine of the ship they’re using to find it should prove just how mad that villain really is.

But, back to philosophy, this is why we willingly suspend our disbelief when we watch movies. This is why we live with cognitive dissonance every day. Without that intentional separation of beliefs and facts, some parts of life would truly suck. Explosions in space would make no noise.

I, for one, would rather hear a satisfying boom.