There has been a spate of books published recently examining the scientific underpinnings of various works of science-fiction, such as Lois Gresh and Robert Weinberg’s The Science of Superheroes, a fad inspired by the 1996 book The Physics of Star Trek by Case Western Reserve University physics professor Lawrence M. Krauss. I’m sorry to say I have not read any of these books, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about such matters. I have of late been especially interested in the nature of the elusive Pym particle, which is commonly used in the Marvel Universe to cause people or objects to shrink or grow. However, in whatever form these Pym particles are administered, be it in a fluid or as a gas, they have a very specific set of effects on the object as it changes size. By examining these effects, I devised a startling new theory on the workings of Henry Pym’s greatest discovery.
I started with some basic premises, derived empirically:
First, when Ant-Man shrinks to the size of an ant, he still retains his “full-size” strength, meaning he can jump on a guy and knock him down. This was amply demonstrated in various issues of Tales to Astonish, recently reprinted in Essential Ant-Man. By the same token, he can also lift a pencil, even though it looks like a telephone pole compared to his tiny stature. On the other hand, he could ride upon a flying ant, which was obviously able to bear his weight.
Second, neither his teammates in the Avengers nor the villains they fought ever made fun of Ant-Man for having a squeaky little voice. They did occasionally have trouble hearing him, though, without electronic amplification. Pym’s partner the Wasp suffered from this problem as well, usually when she needed to warn someone of imminent danger. Similarly, no one ever commented on Giant-Man or Goliath having a super-deep voice, either.
Third, when, as Giant-Man, Pym would grow to a height of fifty feet (a feat later duplicated by Clint Barton), he was still able to stand up without shattering his leg bones and inflate his lungs to breathe. Similarly, he could walk around on rooftops and climb the exterior of buildings without causing expensive property damage. He was, however, apparently able to lift heavy objects such as an automobile.
This leads me to believe that the person who is exposed to Pym particles does not actually shrink or grow at all, in the sense that his or her body gains or loses mass. Instead, the Pym particles create a sort of space-warp that changes the body’s relationship to the surrounding world. Simply put, it’s less a matter of Ant-Man’s body being compressed, and more a matter of it suddenly being further away.
Imagine you and I are standing at opposite ends of a football field. From your perspective, I would appear to be very small. But of course, I would still have my normal strength and gravity would affect me the same as it does if I were standing right next to you. If I spoke to you, my voice would be harder to hear, but its pitch would be no different. Now, suppose I could essentially be over there and next to you at the same time. I would appear to have shrunk to a very small size, but actually I’d be the same size I always am. If I then jumped on your foot, you would feel my full 210 lbs. coming down on you in a very concentrated area. This is because my body is inside the space-warp and your foot is outside of it.
Now, let’s say I sit upon a flying ant, which doesn’t try to kill me because of my handy cybernetic helmet. Instead of crushing the ant, I draw it into the space-warp with me. Now the ant is essentially “giant-size” and able to bear my weight as though I were 6 feet tall and it was 12 feet long. However, the ant appears to be its normal size relative to the world around it.
On the other side of the coin, if I use the Pym particles to appear to grow to a height of 10, 25, or 50 feet, it is the reverse of the previous process. It’s more as though I were closer to you, rather than becoming more massive. My voice would not seem deeper, just louder. And if I walked across a pedestrian footbridge, it wouldn’t collapse any more than it would if I were normal-size, because I still weigh 210 lbs. Therefore, no matter how big I seem to get, I can always support the weight of my own body normally.
Lifting an automobile is analogous to flying on the ant. As I grasp the car, I draw it into the space-warp with me, and it then seems to me to have been miniaturized, even though it remains the same size relative to the rest of the world. The point is, I haven’t really “grown;” a more appropriate term might be “magnified.” Maybe it would be clearer to say that the space-warp has made the rest of the world farther away, from my perspective. Follow: We’re back on either side of the football field, except now we’re on opposite sides of the 50-yard line instead of being in the end zones. From your perspective, everything on my side of the field seems much smaller – me, the benches, the cooler of Gatorade. So, if you could be on your side and on my side at the same time, you would seem gigantic, relatively speaking. It’s an extension of the celebrated “I’m Crushing Your Head!” phenomenon.
Thus, the “shrinking” and “growing” is really just a sort of optical illusion. The space-warp has merely altered the relative distance between the objects within it and those without. That would satisfy the three premises listed above.
This theory is inspired by the concept of “transdimensional engineering” which allowed the TARDIS on Doctor Who to be larger on the inside than it is on the outside. As the Doctor once explained, the only way to put a large box inside a small box is to have the large box be further away so that it looks smaller, at which point it would seem to easily fit inside the small box, with room to spare. The trick is to have the large box be “over there” and “here” at the same time. That’s the essence of transdimensional engineering.
For the rather half-assed explanation of the workings of Pym Particles originally devised for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, consult the online Marvel Directory.