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A character folds a piece of paper in half to explain the concept of wormholes.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
curtinparloe on Sep 7th 2015 at 1:18:33 PM
Last Edited By:
Morgenthaler on Sep 20th 2018 at 6:00:36 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Up for Grabs

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/event_horizon15.jpg
Einstein-Rosen Bridges made easy

"Look," said Ford, "I'll show you." He grabbed a napkin off the table and fumbled with it. "Look," he said again, "imagine this napkin, right, as the temporal Universe, right? And this spoon as a transactional mode in the matter curve." It took him a while to say this last part, and Arthur hated to interrupt him. "That's the spoon I was eating with," he said.

A Sub-Trope of Layman's Terms and Phlebotinum Analogy in which a character explains Time Travel, Faster-Than-Light Travel, Teleportation, or wormholes by folding a sheet of paper (or something similar) in half to illustrate the theory of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Usually they indicate two points at opposite ends of the sheet, then fold the sheet so that the points touch. If they really want to get their audience's attention, they might create their metaphorical wormhole by stabbing a pen through the two points.

Truth in Television: the piece of paper explanation has become so ubiquitous that it turns up in many real-world scientific explanations of wormholes and space/time.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films 
  • Happens in Déjà Vu when Doug demands a Layman's Terms explanation for how the scientists established a live feed connection to a timeline four days in the past. Denny holds up a blank sheet of paper and then folds it to explain how they folded space and time to create a wormhole into the past.
  • In Event Horizon, the ship's designer William Weir (Sam Neill), demonstrates the concept with the centerfold page from a magazine.
  • On the way to the wormhole in Interstellar, Romilly does some exposition talk to explain the wormhole idea to Cooper. Interestingly, the movie refers to the hole as a sphere rather than a tunnel, which seems scientifically correct.
    Romilly: So they say you want to go from here, to there (holds up a blank sheet). But this is too far. So a wormhole bends space like this so you can take a shortcut through a higher dimension (folds paper and pierces it with a pen). Okay so, to show that they've turned 3-dimensional space into 2 dimensions, which turns a wormhole in 2 dimensions? ... A circle. What's a circle in 3 dimensions?
    Cooper: A sphere.
    Romilly: Exactly. A spherical hole.

    Literature 
  • Alluded to in Dune by referring to interstellar travel as "folding space". - Square Peg, Round Trope
  • In the My Teacher Is an Alien series, a random alien explains the ship's movement using a noodle-like alien food. The book also makes a point that said alien knows the general theory but can't explain the mechanics of how it works, because he's not actually an engineer, much as how most people have only a vague idea of how an internal combustion engine works.
  • Subverted in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, in which Ford Prefect starts with a napkin, and subsequently completely fails to explain to Arthur Dent why Milliways is protected from the destruction of the Universe.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Rand uses this with a cloth to explain his method of Thinking Up Portals to a female channeler. Since the Mars-and-Venus Gender Contrast is hard-coded into the magic system, she's quite disturbed by the notion of distorting and puncturing the fabric of reality, while he's equally confused by her own method of somehow turning the destination and origin points into the same location.
  • In A Wrinkle in Time, the protagonists are shown an ant walking across a cloth, how it has to travel such a far distance to get from one side to the other. But, by folding the cloth so that the two ends are right beside each other, the ant can travel the whole distance by only going a few steps.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Quantum Leap Sam uses the term "string theory" to explain his leaping. Imagine your life as a piece of string, with one end (birth) and the other end (death). If you ball the string up, every day of your life touches every other day out of order, so you can jump from one to another, therefore time travelling within your own lifetime.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 episode "Enigma", Omoc (Tobin Bell) explains their concept of interstellar travel to Daniel (Michael Shanks) with a stick, which he subsequently gets the wrong end of (apparently they don't fold space).
  • In Episode 5 of Stranger Things, the science teacher uses this method to explain to our kid heroes how they could create a doorway to the "Upside Down" dimension. He takes a paper plate, folds it and pierces it with a pen.

Feedback: 24 replies

Sep 7th 2015 at 1:37:14 PM

This is commonplace in educational series to this day, probably starting with Cosmos, which used pie crust as a medium. It also famously used a motorbike to demonstrate the effects of light-speed. Present shows will use everyday materials like balloons, pizzas, paint, and cups of coffee to explain abstract physics principles, sometimes flying to exotic locations to do so.

  • A straight example occurs in the My Teacher Is An Alien series, where a random alien explains the ship's movement using a noodle (or noodle-like alien food). The book also makes a point that said alien knows the general theory but can't explain the mechanics of how it works, because he's not actually an engineer, much as how most people have only a vague idea of how an internal combustion engine works.

Sep 7th 2015 at 1:41:55 PM

Do they try to do this in the first Thor or not? I can't remember

Sep 7th 2015 at 4:19:51 PM

In Quantum Leap Sam uses the term "string theory" to explain his leaping. Imagine your life as a piece of string, with one end (birth) and the other end (death). If you ball the string up every day of your life touches every other day out of order, so you can jump from one to another, therefore time travelling within your own lifetime.

Sep 7th 2015 at 4:43:59 PM

^ Since that described a technology that doesn't really exist, it's probably more of a Phlebotinum Analogy, which would be related.

Actually, now that I think about it, this might be covered (or at least partly overlap with) by Lies To Children.

Feb 16th 2017 at 3:55:59 PM

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/event_horizon15.jpg
Image suggestion

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Sep 8th 2015 at 9:57:15 AM

^^Uh, how is Sam describing technology any different than say Omoc describing technology in Stargate SG-1?

Sep 8th 2015 at 10:15:16 AM

Maybe a screenshot from this video - he gets the paper out around 3:30.

Feb 16th 2017 at 4:03:29 PM

Live-Action TV

  • In Episode 5 of Stranger Things, the science teacher uses this method to explain to our kid heroes how they could create a doorway to the "Upside Down" dimension. He takes a paper plate, folds it and pierces it with a pen.

Feb 16th 2017 at 4:25:02 PM

  • In The Wheel Of Time, Rand uses this with a cloth to explain his method of Thinking Up Portals to a female channeler. Since the Mars And Venus Gender Contrast is hard-coded into the magic system, she's quite disturbed by the notion of distorting and puncturing the fabric of reality, while he's equally confused by her own method.

Feb 18th 2017 at 12:54:27 AM

  • Changed quotes and apostrophes to standard characters in the page quote so they won't mutate.
  • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.
  • Blue Linked (subtrope).
  • Examples section
    • Alphabetized media sections.

Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Oct 20th 2017 at 3:20:45 PM

Bump.

Sometimes if you really want to get your audience's attention, you create your metaphorical wormhole by stabbing the pen through the paper.

Oct 20th 2017 at 3:27:33 PM

This happens quite a few times in The Flash 2014, I'll just need to look up what the specific episodes were.

Oct 20th 2017 at 4:17:27 PM

Marked the draft as Up For Grabs, updated the examples list, and added the image suggestion. Also added references to Teleportation and wormholes in the description and listed Lies To Children as a supertrope.

Oct 21st 2017 at 6:28:11 AM

I'll adopt this one, if you haven't.

Nov 9th 2017 at 12:15:58 PM

I just came across Phlebotinum Analogy which seems to be a supertrope to this. It mentions some of the paper folding examples.

Sep 18th 2018 at 6:36:46 PM

Looks like the question is whether to keep this as a Sub Trope of Phlebotinum Analogy or just move the examples into there.

Sep 19th 2018 at 11:59:51 AM

It's a little awkward how the page-folding examples for all media are crammed in under Film on Phlebotinum Analogy.

Sep 19th 2018 at 8:45:39 AM

I agree with the two above posters.

Sep 19th 2018 at 11:42:04 AM

Fair. In that case, it looks more or less ready for launch — anyone want to pick it up?

Sep 19th 2018 at 3:11:08 PM

Not me, I'm already juggling too many drafts.

Sep 19th 2018 at 5:24:26 PM

Eh, I'll do it then. Will launch this probably tomorrow.

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