The Big Bang Theory premiered 15 years ago. We celebrate the fabulously nerdy opening theme by chatting with singer songwriter Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies. He wrote the song, appropriately titled “The History of Everything.” If you’ve only heard it at the beginning of the show, you might not know that there are more lyrics. It takes more than one verse to cover the history of the universe after all! But in science, prevailing theories often change. Which he sometimes pauses to point out while singing the song.
Nerdist connected with Robertson about the importance of getting science right, even when it’s a moving target. And asked about his favorite line. “‘Australopithecus would really have been sick of us!'” he says. “Now that’s a name drop!”
Robertson’s lyrics include a theory about how the universe will end that most scientists have since rejected. But, as he says in the video above, “When I wrote the song that was the best information I had at the time. Like a good student of science I am revising my previous theory based on new information.”
Here’s the lyrics in question, from the song’s bridge:
It’s expanding ever outward but one day
It will pause and start to go the other way
Collapsing ever inward, we won’t be here, it won’t be heard
Our best and brightest figure that it’ll make an even bigger bang
Which, to Robertson’s credit, is a great explanation of the Big Crunch theory. More recently, research into the cosmic microwave background shows that gravity isn’t slowing down the expansion of the universe. In fact, it’s accelerating. The prevailing theory now is one called the Big Freeze, confusingly also known as the heat death of the universe.
“I do a lot of layman science reading,” says Robertson. “Simon Singh, Carl Sagan, etc. I try to keep on top of things. I recall having a discussion with a fan in the UK about the general dismissal of Big Crunch Theory, and thinking about maybe rewriting the lyrics to the bridge.”
While it’s not like the universe collapsing in on itself was ever a cheerful subject, it instead running out of energy, growing listless, and just freezing to death somehow seems worse. We’re sure Robertson can charm his way through some new lyrics though, if he decides to rewrite the bridge. Lots of science words rhyme with freeze. Like degrees, disease, expertiseand analyses. And cheesebut that’s probably not helpful.
“The only change I’ve made is I’ve been singing, ‘Our best and brightest figured that it’d make an even bigger bang,'” says Robertson. “That makes it pretty accurate still. Sort of saying, ‘This was a viable theory!’”
Making the line past tense instead of rewriting the lyrics is probably the right call. Big Freeze is still just a theory and we certainly won’t be around in billions of years to actually check how the end of the universe goes down. And Robertson pointing out that there’s updated information is great science communication. “That’s the most important aspect of science,” he says. “New data leads to new observations which leads to new theories and new thinking. Always changing. Always growing. Forever improving.”
That this information comes from a rock star singing the theme song to one of the most popular shows ever makes it that much more impactful. It’s also a good reminder that we’re all—musicians and scientists alike—still just trying to figure things out.
The song will live on in reruns forever of course, but the lyrics in question aren’t part of the opening credits. Although there is one other scientific inaccuracy. Apparently autotrophs don’t drool since they have no mouths or saliva. So maybe “the autotrophs began their rule” instead? Or we could just enjoy the song and continue to share these fun facts whenever we hear it.
Featured Image: Barenaked Ladies
Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. Barenaked Ladies is her favorite band and has been since high school. Melissa moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth.