On the animated show “Rick and Morty,” a mad scientist named Rick drags his awkward, anxious 14-year-old grandson Morty into adventures that often include space travel, battles with aliens, cloning, and portal guns that open up wormholes to other dimensions. Rick even turned himself into a pickle to avoid going to family therapy. Season five of the Adult Swim favorite just kicked off.
“Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland and their writers’ room … they know what's at the … bleeding edge of science and just some interesting ideas to go with,” says Matt Brady, high school science teacher and author of “The Science of Rick and Morty: The Unofficial Guide to Earth’s Stupidest Show.”
He says the episode “Pickle Rick” is based on real science, and Rick is able to control the cockroach by stimulating the critter’s brain with its tongue.
“When he's a pickle, he cracks off the top of the cockroach’s exoskeleton … and is able to stimulate what passes for a brain in a cockroach and make it move the way he needs it to,” he says. “You can make a cockroach do things by stimulating the nerves like the clump of nerves that pass for a brain in a cockroach.”
In the episode “Marty’s Mind Blowers,” Rick removes all his bad memories and puts them into one room. Although that isn’t possible, Brady points out that memory can be manipulated. He says that while the brain is remembering something, it is possible to insert something new. He references a study where people were reminded of a big fight where police were called.
“It never happened. But they were reminded about it and were asked about it. Their parents even kind of got into it. … After not too long at all, the people started ‘remembering this thing that didn't happen,’ which is kind of frightening. A couple of those studies where they do look at that, they ended early because it worked too well.”
The show revolves around the idea that the established universe is not the only one that exists. Brady is hopeful that within the next 30 years, as cosmology develops, maybe more evidence will come out that supports a multiverse.
“There's the many worlds hypothesis. That's one of the more popular ones in pop culture where instead of turning left, you turned right. And there's that whole other universe where you turn to the left, that all these other different things happen to you,” he says. “For every decision that you made, the other decision was made, and that split off into a multiple universe or a copy of the universe, and it's an infinite number of universes.”
Brady says alien life is a mainstay throughout a lot of pop culture, including “Rick and Morty,” and he’s hopeful that it does exist.
“When you break it down to the physics and the energy and the chemistry, life is almost inevitable. It's going to happen given enough time and the right ingredients and the right amount of energy. Now whether that life evolves up to something that walks on two legs or six, and drives a spaceship to go visit its neighbors, that's a whole other question. But I'd like to think within my lifetime, or maybe within my students’ lifetime, we'll get some kind of positive result from somewhere in our solar system.”