Science in Tenet
Have you ever been confused by the recent shift in scientific concepts within films? For example, the movie Tenet has advanced scientific concepts that cannot be familiar to most people; also, Barbara, a female scientist, even remarks “Don't try to understand it, Feel it.” Although the Tenet doesn’t directly address the literal, academic or true side of science, the concept of time explored is fascinating. This article will describe two key scientific concepts of the Tenet and its applications in our real life.
In the fictional world of the Tenet, one of the settings it contains is the revolving door that deals with the ‘inversion’ which empire articles explain as “a process whereby an object (or person) has its entropy reversed, essentially flipping its chronology so that from that point on it travels backwards in time instead of forwards.” However, is this concept really possible? To fully investigate, the investigation of the law of thermodynamics is essential.
The law of thermodynamics studies work and heat energy in the world and the concept of entropy is described in the second law of thermodynamics. Put simply, the zeroth law of thermodynamics lets people know the existence of the ‘temperature’,
and the first law of thermodynamics describes an isolated system and the law of conservation of energy. (fig2) Most importantly, the second law of thermodynamics states that there is a direction in the flow of energy. In depth, energy
always moves from high temperature to low but not the other way round.. (fig3) However, the second law of thermodynamics also informs that in isolated systems, the value of entropy is always consistent. Now, what is entropy? In simple terms, entropy is the quantity that acts as an account of disorder in systems. For instance, the amount of entropy increases when different types of rocks are thrown all over the surface without any rules or order. Thus, following the second rule of thermodynamics, the world changes continuously in the way that entropy increases. Reversely, It can be explained that the world never changes in the way that entropy decreases. Therefore, this can be described as the concept of ‘inversion’ since entropy increases as time flows: inverse increase of entropy can reverse the time. In Tenet, Barbara explains this further: “It’s inverted - its entropy runs backwards. So, to our eyes, its movement is reversed. We think it’s a type of inverse radiation, triggered by nuclear fission.” However, in terms of the application of technology, there is no way to discover how the door actually works (even though - theoretically - reverse of time is possible).. Hence, this can be considered as a fictional error that came out from imagination.
During the conversation between Neil and protagonist, Christopher Nolan describes the time travelling with the quote, “You mean the reverse chronology. Like Feynman and Wheeler’s notion that a positron is an electron moving backwards in time (Paul Dirac).” To understand positron, Feynman's diagram cannot be ignored. Feynman’s diagram suggests the movement of 2 negatively charged electrons moving closer together as time passes. Instead, when they meet, they repel each other due to virtual photons conciliating electromagnetic force between two electrons. However, since Feynman’s diagram can be rotated in any degrees without any errors, the diagram can be rotated 90 degrees clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Positrons can be described as reversed movement of electrons with different quantum properties. Therefore, antimatter describes the normal matter moving against the time.
From the diagram fig 5, we know that electrons do not repel each other with coulomb repulsion. Rather, they attract each other at impact point. This phenomenon is known as matter-antimatter annihilation. Because their inner quantum (lepton) number becomes 0 (+. -), electron and proton mass turns into energy and releases 2 gamma rays with 180 degrees different direction. Therefore, in the movie Tenet, the protagonist (antimatter) tries to avoid direct face-to-face encounters with the past protagonist (matter). Consequently, the annihilation will happen turning both into many gamma rays. Nevertheless, in reality, despite the mask and the suit that prevents the encounter, the past human will always annihilate with the future human since annihilation can happen right after the link up.
In conclusion, despite all those complex and advanced scientific concepts including all those theories only existing theoretically, Tenet actually contains many errors that can be considered as settings for a more engaging plot. Still, Tenetis considered as one of the most scientific movies that explores the idea of time and its inverse.
Jontology (2015, July 25). Antimatter Physics and Time-Travelling Particles. [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rst9EcF9ryk
Hindustan Times (December 2020), Tenet explained: Discussing inverted entropy, temporal pincers and more mind-bending Christopher Nolan concepts. [online] Available at:
리뷰엉이: Owl’s Review. (2020, December 23). ㅌ..ㅔ…ㄴ…ㅔ..ㅌ…… [Video]. Youtube.