Answering Silly Questions

One thing I’ve always liked about science is that it allows you to answer a lot of silly questions, as well as lofty ones.

I don’t remember where, but I recently ran across the question of what would happen if you put a kitten in the Large Hadron Collider and accelerated it to some fraction of the speed of light. While that’s a very silly question, it’s easily answerable: the LHC uses magnets to accelerate charged particles; but since you can’t ionize a kitten, there’s no way to accelerate it using magnets. (Also, I haven’t checked, but I think the inner ring where the particles actually spin and do their thing is too small for a kitten to fit.) If you came up with some other way of accelerating a kitten to .5c, you could also pick up any textbook on relativity to find out how it would be flattened, how time would slow down for it, and all that other fun stuff.

(For other answerable questions, see this list of Questions you hope students don’t ask. In fact, I remember asking my High School chemistry teacher how they get teflon to stick to the pan in the first place. It led to an interesting discussion.)

(Update, Jan. 25: For a perfect example of what I’m talking about, see this video of the Mythbusters exploring whether it’s true that you can’t polish a turd. I’m guessing that the measuring device seen at the end is used to tell shit from Shinola.)

Compare that to how religion deals with similar questions. Everyone’s heard stories of the “troublemakers” who ask questions in Sunday school, like “If I get eaten by a cannibal who then converts to Christianity, and the second coming comes and the dead get their bodies back, will the various atoms become part of my body, or the cannibal’s?” Or “Assuming everyone in my family goes to heaven, which is perfect, will my grandmother be the baby girl that her parents first loved, the young woman who my grandfather fell in love with, the middle-aged mother that my father remembers, or the old woman whom I loved?”

Too often, kids are told not to ask such questions, or are given entirely unsatisfactory answers (“It just is, okay?”). But if a belief is so weak that it can’t withstand honest questioning by children, is it worth holding on to?

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12 Responses to Answering Silly Questions

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Epsilon Clue » Blog Archive » Answering Silly Questions -- Topsy.com

  2. dan says:

    What a trick, huh?

    How did the universe start? The god created it.
    Where did the god come from? It always existed.

    A pretty tidy solution. But if that answer is OK for the god, why not just start with “The universe always existed”?

    The silly questions are the most relevant.

    Like

  3. Fez says:

    One thing I’ve always liked about science is that it allows you to answer a lot of silly questions,
    I’ve never lost a pair of socks in the laundry, only singles. Why is that?

    Like

  4. arensb says:

    Fez:
    Selective memory. If you lose one sock, it’s easy to tell because when you sort them, you’re left with an unmatched stray. But if you lose a pair, there’s no similar obvious sign.

    Either that, or the sock-eater likes to sample a little of everything.

    Glingle glingle glingle

    Like

  5. Fez says:

    arensb Says:

    Selective memory. If you lose one sock, it’s easy to tell because when you sort them, you’re left with an unmatched stray. But if you lose a pair, there’s no similar obvious sign.

    But I’m anal-retentive (is that supposed to have a hyphen?) and wear the same number of socks the overwhelming majority of the time between laundry days. At some point in time, considering the vast number of single socks I’ve had go walkabout one would think it unreasonable not to have encountered at least one situation where a pair disappeared.

    Either that, or the sock-eater likes to sample a little of everything.

    Funny you mention that – I’m currently watching part 2 of “Hogfather”.

    Like

  6. arensb says:

    But I’m anal-retentive (is that supposed to have a hyphen?)

    I looked it up once. It doesn’t.

    Like

  7. Troublesome Frog says:

    You’re both wrong on the sock issue. If it was really a matter of sock disappearance, you’d have to buy socks a lot more often than you do. The reality is that socks breed in warm, dry environments like clothes dryers at the end of the drying cycle. This, combined with occasional sock death, leads to a relatively stable population of socks whose numbers are sometimes odd and sometimes even. It also explains why you often see socks that appear to be hybrids that don’t match anything you remember owning.

    Don’t fret. It’s the natural order of things.

    Like

  8. Fez says:

    Troublesome Frog Says:

    The reality is that socks breed in warm, dry environments like clothes dryers at the end of the drying cycle.

    I thought that moaning noise near the end of the cycle was a motor bearing going bad or something. That’s..that’s downright unhygienic is what that is.

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  9. arensb says:

    No, a failing motor bearing sounds like a whine interrupted by coughing fits. Socks breeding sounds more like chicka-chicka-WOW-wow, transposed up two octaves.

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  10. menes777 says:

    I think that this is evidence for a sock god, that takes the socks home when it’s their time.

    Like

  11. Fez says:

    /me then needs to find an expert of the sock-god faith and have them explain to me the conundrum expressed in the darning of the Holy sock.

    Like

  12. Troublesome Frog says:

    I think that this is evidence for a sock god, that takes the socks home when it’s their time.

    It’s not just evidence for some vague sock god. If any of the theological debates I’ve seen are any indication, it’s evidence for an entire, detailed sock theology. In fact, this religion should be accepted in its entirety as inerrant. We’ve disproved the theory that socks are delivered in pewter boxes by gnomes every Wednesday, which is the only other possibility. By simple process of elimination, my sock religion is the only logical conclusion.

    You’re welcome.

    Like

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