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Break the Scientist

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One engineer begins to laugh, seemingly unable to stop. Another weeps. The tears scorch his face like kettle-water. A third frantically tries to write down what you said, but gives up when her third pen combusts in lavender flame. "This changes everything," a grease-stained engineer whispers. Later, his colleagues catch him out back, burning his collected volumes of the Transactions of the South Wales Institute of Engineers.

So, we all know that every time you show dinosaurs and cave-people together in the same era a palaeontologist cries. Probably not literally, of course. You'd have to be fairly unstable to be brought to tears just because some TV show took some artistic liberties. After all, it's just a show...

However, if a scientist or other expert saw this kind of defiance of the laws of the universe taking place right in front of them, it's likely that they would be a bit shaken up.

All those years of careful study and research suddenly proven wrong... NOOOOOOOOOO!

This trope occurs when the expert in question is a character in the work who becomes upset that their reality is blatantly defying the laws of nature, physics, etc. This may manifest as actual crying, Unstoppable Rage, or even a nervous breakdown.

Often Played for Laughs as a form of Lampshade Hanging- the author is demonstrating that, yes, they know perfectly well that it doesn't make sense, and are giving the viewer a gentle reminder not to take it too seriously.

If the professor is already aware of the existence of other magic, aliens, etc, then his disbelief is Flat Earth Atheism or Arbitrary Skepticism if he'll believe in some paranormal/supernatural stuff, though not others. Often happens to the Agent Scully.

Compare This Cannot Be!, another trope about characters being confounded after seeing something that proves them wrong. Contrast Admiring the Abomination, when the Professor is pleased rather than alarmed at a sudden scary turn of events because it's proved him right.


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    Comic Books 

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Challenge of the Super Friends: The End, Lex Luthor repeatedly underestimates the Benefactor's claims of ruling an entire universe, reasoning that the distances would be just too great. Apparently, such claims are true.
  • In Dawn Comes on the Sunset Sea, CAN researchers are not coping well with Westerosi society evoluting in a quasi-identical way to Earth. One is outright drinking onscreen while several others suffer nervous breakdowns.
  • In Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Harry takes the revelation of the existence of magic in stride, because once he realises that magic follows certain rules, he realises that he can apply the scientific method to reconcile it with the known laws of physics. Nevertheless, he has a mild freak-out when contemplating the Shapeshifter Baggage of Professor McGonagall turning into a cat.
    "You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That's not just an arbitrary rule, it's implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! Rejecting it destroys unitarity and then you get FTL signaling!"
  • In Shinji and Warhammer40k, Ritsuko suffers a serious blow to her sanity after repeatedly witnessing Shinji playing Reality Warper with his AT-field wizardry and psyker abilities without finding ANY scientific explanation for it. She learned to cope via ranting and publishing scientific papers on the latest proof-by-Evangelion that physics don't work; the hate-mail keeps her going.
  • In the Anime/Addventure thread "Switching Places/Eva", Ritsuko has this reaction to Ranma and his habit (which most of the rest of the cast has picked up) of calling the Angels "kaiju".
  • In The Weaver Option, Dragon occasionally longs for a nice corner in which she would sob over sanity's demise. It mainly happens right after she witnesses various sorcerous phaenomena or the Orks' utterly absurd constructs.
  • In the final chapter of Yabba Dabba Joes, a paleontologist working on Sue the T-Rex's skull before she goes on display goes into a temporary brain shutdown when he pulls a nine-millimeter bullet out of a pockmark on Sue's jaw.

    Film — Animation 
  • "Rocket-bye Baby" has a professor giving a lecture in which he refutes the existence of UFOs and Little Green Men. Just as he's laughing at the very idea, a Flying Saucer with a baby green Martian flies in and hovers before his face for a few moments, causing the laughter to turn into tears.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A benign version would be Ellie and Alan's miniature freakout the first time they see a dinosaur in Jurassic Park (1993). They're more broken by the sense of awe than anything else, and a few minutes later Alan is observing the movement patterns to confirm one of his theories.
    "They do move in herds."

  • In Ted Chiang's story Division by Zero, a mathematician tries to commit suicide after she proves that arithmetic is inconsistent and that through formal mathematics, one can make any two numbers equal each other.
  • The short story "Flashes" by Robert J. Sawyer is about most of the scientific community of Earth being broken en masse by a broadcast of the Encyclopedia Galactica that claims that aliens have disproved many of Earth's established scientific theories. Why the scientists are not trying to repeat the aliens' experiments is not discussed in the story.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth pits geologist Otto Lidenbrock (who clings to a Hollow Earth theory) against our narrator, Otto's nephew Axel (who knows that Science Has Marched On and that the Earth is heated from the inside, and thus that the journey makes absolutely no sense and will inevitably end in heat suffocation), who is forced to change his mind.
  • In The Last Continent, Ponder Stibbons has some difficulty adjusting to the idea that the deserted island he and the rest of Unseen University's senior faculty are trapped on is actively supplying them with the means to live. Further, he's pretty disillusioned to learn that evolution isn't a wonderfully elegant self-driving force, but is driven by an inept god like everything else on the Disc. However, what really pushes him beyond the breaking point is learning that said god doesn't regard humans as the pinnacle of evolution for their sapience, but instead assigns that role to cockroaches for their durability.
  • In The Three-Body Problem, several scientists commit suicide when the data collected by particle accelerators appear to be completely inconsistent, due to Trisolaris' sophons.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: In "The Husbands of River Song", the Doctor pretends to be utterly shattered by how (his own) TARDIS's Bigger on the Inside nature defies all laws of physics. Mentioned here for how much he hams it up.
  • This is actually a plot point quite often in Fringe. In a season 3 episode, Walter is confused and upset when the densest element (Osmium) is used by another scientist (who stumbled upon it and has no idea why it's doing this either) to make people float in the sky. Yes, it makes no sense. As it turns out, this lapse in the laws of physics is a sign that our universe is about to collide with another one and destroy them both.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • One of the planet travel guides in Tyrian reads "Many a scientist comes here after retirement to watch all their fundamental mathematical theorems fall apart as they watch the landmasses floating in apparent defiance to their life's work."

  • El Goonish Shive:
    • A professor who starts crying whenever the laws of physics are violated hard enough. Whether he's actually present or not!
    • There's also a high school physics teacher named "Mr. Bleuel" who gets rather peeved when he spots one of his students floating down the hallway out of habit.
  • Referenced by Vaarsuvius in this The Order of the Stick comic after watching a morbidly obese dragon manage to fly.
    Vaarsuvius: I should avoid casting any spells tonight, if only to give the laws of physics time to cry alone in the corner.
  • The Infinite Summation Honeybee Professor in Problem Sleuth gets upset whenever the characters abuse the properties of windows in order to generate matter or discharge energy — although that's partly because if it's done badly, it results in infinitely massive or infinitely dense objects and nasty things happen.
  • Deliberately invoked in this Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic, in which the volume of tears cried by a scientist is used by writers to gauge how inaccurate they are.
  • Luckily for Dr. Lee in Skin Horse, the ancient, mystic order of notaries has a special couch just for scientists.
  • In one Something of that Ilk comic, one man's refusal to believe in physics, and subsequent flying off, leaves the physics professor utterly speechless.
  • xkcd #298 shows a scientist understandably shocked when Black Hat shoots lightning from his hands and hovers in the air, all while explaining that science doesn't actually work.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • This actually has happened to a lesser extent with rival theories. One notable example was Fred Hoyle whose steady state theory was discredited once sufficient evidence was more accurately explained by the Big Bang theory. After it was proven, Fred Hoyle still wasn't in favor of it because he saw a universe with a finite beginning as bad due to the fact that it meant that the universe would also have a finite ending. (Admittedly, cosmologists have come to something resembling Hoyle's Steady State for other reasons.)
  • Ancient Greek philosopher/mathematician Pythagoras was allegedly so disturbed by the concept of irrational numbers (numbers which cannot be expressed as a fraction), that he ordered his students not to divulge their existence under threat of death. The discoverer of irrational numbers, possibly Hippasus, is said (possibly apocryphally) to have been sentenced to death by drowning.

Alternative Title(s): The Professor Is Crying Again