In a 1998 episode of “The Simpsons” called “The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace,” Homer Simpson appears to be writing some mathematical Gibberish on the Chalkboard.
But, it turns out, it was more than just gibberish. It was a mathematical equation proving the existence of the Higgs Boson particle.
Yes. You read it right! Now, before running away and screaming 'THIS IS BULLSHIT! AND THIS CAN NEVER HAPPEN!', just hear me out, OK?
Now, we all know that 'The Simpsons' has been known for predicting several 'future events' like the Syrian War, the Ebola outbreak, the Siegfried & Roy tiger attack, smartwatches and malfunctioning voting booths. But, predicting a particle which took scientists decades to discover in a TV show? That's just too freaking crazy to think of!
Ok, so, a bit of background on the Higgs Boson Particle. Peter Higgs, a well known scientist, theorized about the Higgs Boson particle in the 60s, and until 2012, it was just a theory. A team of Scientists discovered the Higgs Boson particle (a.k.a the God particle) in the year 2012.
So, Homer discovered the particle (at least mathematically) in the year 1998. That's 14 years before the world!
Simon Singh, author of the book 'The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets' (the book off of which this article is based) , said, "That equation predicts the mass of the Higgs boson. If you work it out, you get the mass of a Higgs boson that’s only a bit larger than the nano-mass of a Higgs boson actually is. It’s kind of amazing as Homer makes this prediction 14 years before it was discovered."
Since the writers of the show are all Mathematical geeks, this is highly plausible. Plus the show is known for easter eggs.
Now, a little back story on the episode. The title itself is a play on the Wizard of Menlo Park, the nickname given to Thomas Edison by a newspaper reporter after he established his main laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. By the time he died in 1931, Edison had 1,093 U.S. patents in his name and had become an inventing legend.
The episode focuses on Homer’s determination to follow in Edison’s footsteps. He constructs various gadgets, ranging from an alarm that beeps every three seconds just to let you know that everything is alright to a shotgun that applies makeup by shooting it directly onto the face. It is during this intense research and development phase that we glimpse Homer standing at a blackboard and scribbling down several mathematical equations. This should not be a surprise, because many amateur inventors have been keen mathematicians, and vice versa.
The first equation on the board is largely Schiminovich’s work, and it predicts the mass of the Higgs boson, M(H0), an elementary particle that that was first proposed in 1964. The equation is a playful combination of various fundamental parameters, namely the Planck constant, the gravitational constant, and the speed of light. If you look up these numbers and plug them into the equation,1 it predicts a mass of 775 giga-electron-volts (GeV), which is substantially higher than the 125 GeV estimate that emerged when the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012. Nevertheless, 775 GeV was not a bad guess, particularly bearing in mind that Homer is an amateur inventor and he performed this calculation fourteen years before the physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, tracked down the elusive particle.
The second equation is . . . going to be set aside for a moment. It is the most mathematically intriguing line on the board and worth the wait.
The third equation concerns the density of the universe, which has implications for the fate of the universe. If Ω(t0) is bigger than 1, as initially written by Homer, then this implies that the universe will eventually implode under its own weight. In an effort to reflect this cosmic consequence at a local level, there appears to be a minor implosion in Homer’s basement soon after viewers see this equation.
Homer then alters the inequality sign, so the equation changes from Ω(t0) > 1 to Ω(t0) < 1. Cosmologically, the new equation suggests a universe that expands forever, resulting in something akin to an eternal cosmic explosion. The storyline mirrors this new equation, because there is a major explosion in the basement as soon as Homer reverses the inequality sign.
The fourth line on the blackboard is a series of four mathematical diagrams that show a doughnut transforming into a sphere. This line relates to an area of mathematics called topology. In order to understand these diagrams, it is necessary to know that a square and a circle are identical to each other according to the rules of topology. They are considered to be homeomorphic, or topological twins, because a square drawn on a rubber sheet can be transformed into a circle by careful stretching. Indeed, topology is sometimes referred to as “rubber sheet geometry.”
The principles of rubber sheet geometry can be extended into three dimensions, which explains the quip that a topologist is someone who cannot tell the difference between a doughnut and a coffee cup. In other words, a coffee cup has just one hole, created by the handle, and a doughnut has just one hole, in its middle. Hence, a coffee cup made of a rubbery clay could be stretched and twisted into the shape of a doughnut. This makes them homeomorphic.
By contrast, a doughnut cannot be transformed into a sphere, because a sphere lacks any holes, and no amount of stretching, squeezing, and twisting can remove the hole that is integral to a doughnut. Indeed, it is a proven mathematical theorem that a doughnut is topologically distinct from a sphere. Nevertheless, Homer’s blackboard scribbling seems to achieve the impossible, because the diagrams show the successful transformation of a doughnut into a sphere.
Although cutting is forbidden in topology, Homer has decided that nibbling and biting are acceptable. After all, the initial object is a doughnut, so who could resist nibbling? Taking enough nibbles out of the doughnut turns it into a banana shape, which can then be reshaped into a sphere by standard stretching, squeezing, and twisting. Mainstream topologists might not be thrilled to see one of their cherished theorems going up in smoke, but a doughnut and a sphere are identical according to Homer’s personal rules of topology. Perhaps the correct term is not homeomorphic, but rather Homermorphic.
The second line on Homer’s blackboard is perhaps the most interesting, as it contains the following equation:
3,987^12 + 4,365^12 =
The equation appears to be innocuous at first sight, unless you know something about the history of mathematics, in which case you are about to smash up your slide rule in disgust. For Homer seems to have achieved the impossible and found a solution to the notorious mystery of Fermat’s last theorem!
(Google it if you don't know what that is)
You can check it yourself with a calculator. Raise 3,987 to the twelfth power. Add it to 4,365 to the twelfth power. Take the twelfth root of the result and you get 4,472.
Or at least that is what you get on any calculator that can squeeze only ten digits onto its display. However, if you have a more accurate calculator, something capable of displaying a dozen or more digits, then you will find a different answer. The actual value for the third term in the equation is closer to
3,987^12 + 4,365^12 =
This proves why the fans of Simpsons just keep on loving this show more and more.
P.S. Pro of being a Nerd, the next time your favorite show discovers a particle or almost solves an unsolved equation or something like that, you will know about it.