Sunday, October 21, 2012

He Blinded Me With Science!




Like  a mini Lucretius, without the madness.



Last Friday I spent a wonderful afternoon down by the river bar with a few friends, one of whom was gracious enough to bring Eli along.


Eli, for those of you who don’t know, is the child of one of the teaching couples here at TASOK (read about his prior adventures here!).  They have done a bang up job with him, as my exploitative stories have shown.  He is known to dozens of people all over the world (because of my privacy invading blog, hee hee) for three primary character traits:  his love of Smurfs, his unbelievable ability to turn down sweets (a skill I still haven’t learned) and his propensity to start every question with “Hey!”. 


Well, I can add another facet to this bag of mixed metaphors after sitting with him on the river’s edge for a while:  he loves science.  He is at that delightful age where, although he doesn't know much about science exactly, he takes the bits he does know and fuses them together to make a picture of the world for himself that makes sense, and then (here is the key bit that none of our politicians seem to have grasped this campaign cycle) he asked questions, tests his ideas against new evidence, discards what doesn't work, and moves forward from there.  


It’s the perfect example of a scientific mind in action. Since I haven’t ever taught a science class and it has been years since I have been able to talk philosophy with students (teaching 6th grade math precludes those types of tangents usually, haha), I realized how much I missed those kinds of conversations.  Quick self confession/obnoxious interruption- I am a huge science geek.  I love talking about M Theory, Black Holes, Space/Time Curvature, Biology (especially Marine Biology- man, I love going to aquariums), etc.  But it has been a long while since I've had people in my life who share those interests.  The last time I talked about relativity was with my 9th grade Literature class in Taiwan, and that was 3 years ago.  So, needless to say, I approached this conversation with mounting delight once I realized that science would be involved, after a fashion.


Here is a transcription of our riverside dialogue.  In the interest of full disclosure, I had pounded two beers at this point in the day, but I think Eli was used to that by now.  And he had Fanta, so we were even.


"Matt, you want to come sit by the river with me?  We can watch the water go by."


"Okay, Eli, sounds good."


"Here, you sit on this rock.  See, it's warm.  I'll sit on this one.  Mine's warmer though."


We sat in silence for a few moments, watching branches float by.


 Birds circled languidly overhead while the quarry across the river made dull pounding sounds.



Socrates, with far, far less Eros.



“Hey!”


“What’s up, Eli?”


“Why is the water in this river not salty, and oceans are salty?”


So I went through a quick talk about evaporation, underwater vents and volcanoes, water picking up salt from rocks and all that fun stuff.  Once I mentioned the part about change happening over millions of years, he looked up at me.


“Hey!”


"Hey what?"


“Do you remember like, a million years ago?”


I nodded sagely and wished I had a longer beard.


“Sometimes.”


Eli confronts the bittersweet  constancy of transience.




“Do you remember, millions and millions of years ago, when there was no . . . no life, and no water, and everything was just rocks and stuff?”


“Yeah, I kind of remember that.  I should have written it down."


“So, hey!”


“Yeah?”


“So where . . .”  Here he looked out at the river in full ponder mode. "Where . . . how did, did life start?”


“Well, there’s a few different ideas about that, see-”


“- You know, Matt, I heard that it was a meteor, and the meteor landed on this green slime, and that's where life came from.  Do you remember that?”


“Remember the meteor landing?”


“Yeah.”


“I kind of remember that.  That was a weird day.”


He looked up at me with that earnest expression that only five-year-olds can muster.


“Hey!”


“Yeah buddy?”


“I’m gonna find that meteor one day.”


Before I could answer we were summoned.  It was time to leave.  As he was gathering up his belongings (the essential water bottle, dinosaur book, and pencils/paper) he grabbed my wrist and pulled me towards the car.


“Do you think the meteor is at TASOK?  Let’s look there first.”

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