Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Into Space with Red - part II.

This is the second in a series of blogs chronicling an expedition into 'space' with Jack Pynesapp and his granddaughter Red. You may want to read these in the proper order by skipping to episode 1: [ click here ]

 Red comes back for more.

"Hi Grandpa"; Red sang as she plopped down next to me on the back porch swing. "What-cha doin'?"

"Hi yourself!" I laughed; "Just sitting - and watching the birds - and thinking about things."

"Sounds like fun."; she said skeptically.  "So what-cha thinkin' about?"

"Oh, you know, the usual things - time, space, the meaning of life. Nothing special."

"Hey, you know, me too."; she said seriously.

I was suddenly intrigued. "Oh really?" I asked; "I'm glad to hear that. So what've you come up with?"

" I was thinking about what we were talking about last time, you know, our little experiment with the shed."

"I remember."; I said. But then I admitted; "You know I was just messing with you about that, don't you?"

"Well, duh!"; she laughed.  "Ya think?"

We both laughed but then she got a serious look and she added; "But - what if it's true? What if that's the way things really work?"

I stopped laughing. "What?"

"Well, you know, what if things really do get smaller when they are farther away?"

"Red, I said I was just pulling your leg about that."

"I know that, Grandpa."; Red insisted; "But what if it's really true?"

"Okay."; I said slowly.  Really I had been hoping she would think about this some more. Even if I was pulling her leg, I was only half serious in doing so. I have been thinking about this too; not because we - either Red or me - will come up with any revolutionary new ideas, but because it gives me a great opportunity to think outside the box a little bit. I've always found it fun to do this and I am thrilled to hear that my grand-daughter finds it fun as well. And it gives us something in common to talk about; which is difficult sometimes with a teenager.

I wanted to hear more. "What are you thinking?"

"Well?" she continued cautiously; "See, it's like this: We know that things look smaller when they are farther away from us. Right?"


"We also know that they appear to be normal size when we are next to them. Right?"


"And, your little experiment the other day didn't really prove any different because when I stayed by the shed and you walked away, you told me that I looked smaller - along with the shed. And I knew that I hadn't changed size and that the shed hadn't changed size either."

"Right, again."

"And when I looked at you, you looked smaller to me too. But you said that you hadn't changed size either." She continued; "And, therefore, since you and I are both like objects existing in the same universe we can both trust that we share the same reality and in this reality neither of us - nor the shed - can change size. Right?"

"Okay. So?"

"So, both you and I say that the other looks smaller as we separate but both of us know that we really stay the same size."

"That's true." I agreed.

"So, this is a paradox that can only be rationalized by calling it an optical illusion."

She's a pretty smart kid. And she's obviously been giving this a lot of thought. So I pressed on; "But didn't you just say that things really do get smaller. But, I thought my little experiment proved otherwise."

"I said that your experiment didn't prove anything because it really didn't test the hypothesis."

Where did she get this vocabulary? I'm becoming more and more impressed with our school system if they've already been talking about this in Jr. High.

She continued; "Remember when you said that everybody used to think the earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe?"

"I remember."

"Well, when they had that belief they also must have based all their other beliefs on that basic truth, don't you think?  And, I would imagine that if people wondered about some phenomenon and if they thought about experiments to test something about this phenomenon, they would base their tests on what they already believed to be reality."

"Yes, I can imagine they did. How else can you do it? "

"Right." She agreed; "That's the only way that makes sense. But once it was proven that the earth was not, in fact, flat and that it was also not the center of the universe, all those other phenomenon that had been tested against the old truths had to be re-evaluated."

 "Wow, you really have been thinking about this."; I marveled. "But, how does that effect my little experiment?"

"I said that your experiment failed because we believe that we are like objects in the same universe and therefore cannot really change size. But what if we don't share exactly the same universe? Why couldn't there be differences between your universe and mine?"

"What do you mean. Of course we share the same universe. Just look around. Everything you see I see. Everything you feel, I feel. It's all in the same place. It all behaves the same way for you as it does for me. Everything looks exactly the same to you as it does to me!"

"Ah hah!"; She interrupted. "But it doesn't look exactly the same. We just proved that, remember!"

"Hmmm, you're right - I guess - if you put it that way."

"I do put it that way"; She insisted. "When you are standing over there and I'm standing over here, the shed looks different to you than it does to me.  I even look different to you than I do to me. And everything around me looks just a little bit different to me than it does to you."  "Maybe we need to trust our own eyes a little bit more than we do - than we have been trained to do."

"Well, yes - I guess that makes sense. But didn't Einstein deal with this in his theory of relativity? Didn't he say that the universe looks different depending on your frame of reference. He came up with the elevator example."

"The elevator?"

"Yeah, it's like when you're inside an closed elevator car your perception of motion, gravity,  and many other things changes. He said that the universe is the same to all of us but it just seems to be different based on our speed we are traveling compared to other things and also based on our mass and energy."

"But did he think about why that shed looks smaller?"

"I really don't know." I admitted. "I think his point was that the same basic physical laws apply to all of us but the variables change (except for the speed of light). So I guess he maybe didn't talk about the shed looking smaller."

"Well let's just say - for the sake of argument - that he didn't." She persisted. "Let's just imagine that we all exist in our own copy of the universe. Maybe 99.9 percent of all of these universes is the same, but there is just that little bit that is different and makes each one unique.

"But," I protested; "a universe is a pretty big thing. If everything has its' own copy, how would everything fit?"

"Fit what? Fit where?"; She asked, slyly.

"Hey wait"; I laughed; "Now who's messing with whom?"

"You're right, Grandpa. You see, two can play at this game so don't start something you can't finish."

"Touche'" I said; "And don't think I'm giving up or quitting the game. But I need a little time-out to catch up."

"I don't know how any of this would work." She admitted. "Or how any of it would be possible, but it's fun to think about. And hey; you're the one with all the experiments. Why don't you come up with an experiment to solve this problem? Huh?"

"Well I just might do that. But before you do an experiment, you need a hypothesis. Experiments TEST hypotheses. You just can't do an experiment for the sake of doing an experiment. Like, should we drop an apple and a feather from the same height and call it an experiment to test your duplicate universe idea?"

"Maybe." She said coyly. "But, you're right, I can't imagine how that would help us with this."

"No," I said, "I don't have any hypothesis right now so let's think about this and maybe we can come up with some ideas." 

"How about a quick game of chess?"; I offered.

"Hah! Grandpa, you never play a quick game of chess. You take forever to move."

I thought about this for a minute. And then I thought about it for another minute.

Finally she said "Grandpa, are you alright?"

"Oh, ah yes. I was just thinking about chess."

"See!" she said triumphantly. "You're even slow when you think about playing chess."

"Hey, be nice." I protested. "But you're probably right - now that I think about it."

"Now that you think about it? But that's the whole problem. "

"Yes, I realize that. But it's not a bad thing to take your time and think things through."

"Well, it's boring and I really gotta go. You keep thinking things through - get back to watching the birds."

"Hmmm." I said as she ran down the steps and around the side of the house and was gone.

I did have a lot to think about.

[ Continue to Part III ]

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