6 Mindblowing Experiments Science Can't Explain

Hey science. Hey. You're awesome.

Without you, we wouldn't have modern medicine, the moon landing, or badasses like Heisenberg (either one). You might not have been our best subject in school, but you were the only class that let us cut up a dead frog. Sorry, English, but dissecting a sonnet isn't nearly as fun.

Sometimes, though, instead of giving us knowledge, you just leave us with more questions. The kind of questions that we usually expect aloof stoners to ask, like "What does space sound like?" or "Is time, like, even real, man?" Your job is to make sense of the world. These experiments just prove that the world makes no sense.

1. The placebo effect actually creates changes in the brain

By now, most of us are familiar with the placebo effect. You know how it goes—you tell your doctor you're sick, your doctor gives you medicine (but doesn't tell you it's just a sugar pill), you take the medicine, you feel better. Why is your doctor giving you fake medicine? We don't know. Dude's just a jerk.

So what exactly is going on here? It's more than just your imagination.

While conducting brain surgery on Parkinson's patients, researchers administered doses of apomorphine. By measuring the brain activity of the patients, the doctors were able to see how they responded to the drug. However, later in the surgery, when they substituted a placebo, the brain itself responded as if it were real. The fact that patients believed they were getting actual medicine tricked their own bodies. It's kind of like when a freshman gets "drunk" on non-alcoholic beer, except significantly less embarrassing.

2. Space is making sounds we can't explain

In 2009, NASA scientists sent the Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics, and Diffuse Emission (ARCADE) into space. Its equipment allowed it to detect radio waves, like the type emitted from early stars. The "noise" the device picked up was expected to be faint. Instead, ARCADE captured signals much louder than anything the scientists expected. They thought they were getting Cat Stevens, they ended up with Manowar.

Scientists named the recording the "space roar," because the real experiment was to see whether they could make all of us collectively shit ourselves at the same time. Theories about its origin abound, but there's no concrete evidence to support any of them. All we know is there is a massive radio signal out there that no one expected to come across.

Our money is on intergalactic nuclear war. NASA will neither confirm nor deny.

3. The Mpemba Effect defies common sense

Sometimes (like every episode of House) science discovers things by accident. Sometimes, those things are batshit insane, just like the last few seasons of House.

Take the Mpemba Effect. Named after a Tanzanian student who observed the effect and brought it to the attention of physicist Dr. Denis G. Osborne, it occurs when warm or heated water ends up freezing more quickly than cooler water. Osborne decided to test this idea, placing containers of water heated to various different temperatures in a freezer. Strangely, the coldest water took longer to start freezing than the warmest water. 

This makes about as much sense as Clint Eastwood talking to a chair. The water that's closer to the temperature needed for freezing should get there first, right? Turns out, no one really knows. As always, there are theories, but none of them have been proven to explain why this happens...paging Doctor House.

4. This crazy thing called "quantum entanglement" travels faster than light

Star Trek was wild, but it wasn't realistic. Case in point: most of us agree that faster-than-light travel can't happen...except it already has (at least on a very small scale). Quantum entanglement occurs when two particles remain completely connected, no matter how far apart they are. Think of it like every bad love song you've ever heard, but much cooler.

Here's how it works: a single particle is split into two. These particles are now "entangled," which means that no matter how far away they are, if something happens to one, the other reacts in kind, immediately. Scientists studying this look at qualities like "spin," the particle's orientation to measure entanglement. Change the spin of one particle, and its entangled partner also changes, regardless of the distance between them. And this seems to happen in an instant. It is, in essence, a type of faster-than-light travel.

We have no clue how this science will be applied in the future. We just hope it doesn't go all Interstellar by helping Matthew McConaughey tell his daughter he loves her by knocking some books off a dusty ass shelf.

5. Time is probably an illusion

Speaking of Interstellar, remember how people on our planet aged more quickly than the astronauts out there in space? That's what happens according to Einstein, who said that time isn't a constant, but something relative. However, according to the quantum model of the universe, time doesn't exist at all. It's something that we create for ourselves by measuring it.

But we have to call bullshit on that one. Anyone who ever sat through the Lord of the Rings trilogy knows that time is clearly a thing. 

Some researchers say this theory can be explained by entanglement. Within a universe, time seems to exist, but an observer sitting outside of that universe would see that nothing actually changes. This was shown to be frighteningly plausible by a recent experiment, in which two entangled photons were sent through a plate which, as they traveled through it, changed their polarizations. By measuring the polarization of one, an observer becomes entangled with it—measuring the polarization of the other entangled particle allows for a measurement of time and change.

However, when the researchers measured the global properties of both particles, no change occurred. By "standing outside of the universe" instead of becoming entangled with it, they saw that time did not exist within it. Mind = blown.

Although that's tough for a layperson to understand (in other words, we still barely get it), the researchers assure us it means time might not exist. And the fact that we don't totally get it won't stop us from using it as an excuse whenever we're late for work.

6. We might be able to actually change the past

According to quantum physics, very small things, like atoms, can exist as either waves or particles, but only take on the wave or particle properties when we observe them. Before they're measured, they're basically both wave and particle at the same time. It's the idea behind Schrodinger's Cat, probably the most famous thought experiment involving dead felines.

Several experiments have shown that this is a real thing, but one in particular is especially mind-shattering. Researchers isolated a single helium atom and sent it along a path through a set of lasers that would show whether or not it behaved as a particle or a wave. Think of it like shining a flashlight through a grating—the light scatters. That's how a wave acts. A particle would travel through only one arm of the laser, as both can't be possible. Once the atom hits the laser grating, it has "decided" to become a particle or wave.

However, during the experiment, a random-number generator decided whether or not a second set of lasers would be put in the atom's place. This happened after it became a particle or wave. Whenever this second set of lasers showed up, there would be the interference that shows the atom had acted like a wave. When the second lasers were not generated, there was no interference, showing that the atom traveled along only one path, like a particle.

In other words, this means that by introducing the second laser's crossroads after the atom traveled through the first, the researchers essentially changed an event that occurred in the past. The atom that had already behaved as a particle instead behaved as a wave.

Try to not think too hard about what this means. You already have enough on your plate with the whole time may not even exist thing. Damn you stoners, damn you!

Joe Oliveto is a staff writer for Supercompressor. His head hurts now. Follow him on Twitter.

Want more of the Culture you actually care about delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for our daily email.