Thanks to some sly mathematical in-joking, The Simpsons nearly predicted a major scientific breakthrough
image via (cc) flickr user erica_anderson
That, at its height, The Simpsons was one the funniest, smartest, most influential shows in the history of television, is a fairly uncontroversial assessment at this point. Even after its pivot away from focusing on Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie’s family dynamic, and toward increasingly unrealistic plot lines (sometime after around season 8 or 9) The Simpsons was–and continues to be–a reliable source of laughs. But while the show’s primary function has always been to entertain, that doesn’t mean its writers weren’t slipping in some serious business while we weren’t looking.
Years before scientists at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider proved the existence of the (until then-theoretical) Higgs boson in 2013, it was none other than Homer Simpson who came astonishingly close to predicting the mass of the so-called “god particle” back in 1998. That year, in the second episode of the show’s tenth season, Homer becomes an inventor after becoming inspired by Thomas Edison’s life story. At one point in the episode, the Simpson’s patriarch can be seen at a chalkboard, working on what at first glance appears to be some sort of donut-based equation.
image via The Simpsons, S10E2 "The Wizard Of Evergreen Terrace"
“...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."
But how did such a complex, at the time unproven theoretical physics equation make it into a network animated comedy? According to Dr. Singh, many of The Simpsons’ writers are, in fact, mathematicians. Dr. Singh is likely thinking, in part, of writer Ken Keeler, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University. Dr. Keeler, in fact, is the man responsible for creating the “Futurama theorum”: A mathematical proof written specifically for an episode of The Simpsons’ sister-show, Futurama (if you’re curious, it concerns the number of people it takes to ensure those whose brains have been swapped are able to return to their original bodies).
Perhaps then it’s time to stop thinking The Simpsons as simply a fun primetime sitcom, and start thinking of it as important educational TV. That, at least, is going to be my excuse from here on out.