Tuesday, May 25, 2004

A Vase is Like Flowing Water

Trying to introduce children to physics, you can get some pretty odd questions. Some insightful, others..less so. But all of them are fun, and help you think on your toes.

For my favorite demo, Newton's first law, I often will tell them that the vase, just sitting there, _wants_ to keep on just sitting there. And had used pretty much the same line for a couple of years before one kid finally asks me, "How can the vase want to just sit there? It can't think, can it?"

Pause. Think.

Err, well, no, it doesn't think. But still, that's what the vase is going to do is just sit there. It has the possibility of randomly moving, similar to how things have the possibility of spontaneous combustion. Or bananas being able to quantum tunnel. But it's so unlikely, it's simply not going to happen. But how do you explain all of this to a six-year old kid? Probabilities and fun math and all sorts of stuff, when I'm not exactly sure of a really good answer, or even "why" myself. I just know, well, that's what it wants to do, don't ask me what it means for a vase to want something!

"Well, it wants to just sit there, like how water wants to flow downhill."

"Oh, okay."

Content, and apparently confident that he now understood the secrets of the universe, he took his father by the hand and moved on to watch someone else shatter a racquet ball.

And I was content that my view of the universe is capable of satisfying the curiosity of a six-year-old.

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