Saturday, February 05, 2011

Novel Excerpt

I couldn't think of anything to say today.  I decided I needed to take some time off.  But I did write a couple pages on one of some 25+ novels I've started.  I'm actually 30 pages in, which puts this one in the top five already in terms of holding my interest ;-)
“Do we need to turn our backpacks on?” I asked. “And will we survive a fall from such a great height?”

“My dear, what great height? You are smaller than the proton we were on, which itself is only something like one, ten trillionth of a centimeter.”

I could tell that was rather small, but I was too embarrassed to ask exactly how small that was. But I could not seem to stop myself. “And what is that in scientific frustration?”

“In scientific notation, the nucleus of an atom—itself usually made up of many protons and neutrons—is about 1 x 10-14 meters. If you took a meter and divided it into ten parts, then divided one of those parts into ten parts, and continued to divide one of the ten parts fourteen times, then you would have something about the size of the average nucleus of an atom.”

“That’s rather small,” I said.

"We may fall for hours and yet will never come close to the smallest fraction of a millimeter, hardly a big enough fall to get even a bruise”

Again, I knew that was rather small, but I was much more comfortable talking in inches and feet than in meters, centimeters, and millimeters. But I still could not stop myself. “And exactly what is a millimeter?”

“Oh dear,” Feynman said as we continued to fall. “I had hoped by this time that America would do a better job of moving its people into the scientific age. We tried, you know, to get kilometers on highway signs in the 1970s, like the rest of the world, but people just don’t like to learn new things. I can only imagine that by now that there are other countries about to surpass America scientifically.

“In any case, an inch is about 2.54 centimeters, and a millimeter is one tenth of a centimeter.”


Edward Pothier said...

“In any case, an inch is about 2.54 centimeters, and a millimeter is one tenth of a centimeter.”

There is no "about" in the relationship of inch to centimeter! It is DEFINED to be 2.54 centimeters=1 inch (since 1959?).

And you probably would be scientifically baffled by what a "meter" is. The length unit "meter" is not fundamental. The official standard measurement units are of time (second) and of the speed of light in vacuum. The length unit (meter) is derived from the "second" and the "speed of light".

1 second = 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom

Speed of light in vacuum = 299,792,458 meters/sec (DEFINITION as of 1983)

So the derived meter = Distance traversed in vacuum by light in 1/299792458 of a second

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for the precision. I've read all these things. But I'm not aiming at precision. I'm aiming to get people interested in science and help those who are tone deaf to the normal approach (=most people). The great thing about a novel is that you don't have to be precise. In fact you can even be flat out wrong on some things in the service of others.

"It is easier to learn things a little wrong and then correct it later, than to teach it precisely right the first time. The first path teaches many. The second path teaches few"
Ken Schenck ;-)

Edward Pothier said...

Just so there is no misunderstanding: I appreciate very much your efforts at science education. My comments were just a little attempt at humor. {I, of course, knew the 2.54 centimeter/inch number but the second and speed of light numbers I had to look up. I am not that much of a nerd.}

Keep up the good work on your blog (and not just with respect to science).

Ken Schenck said...

Sorry if I was defensive... insecurity ;-) I had forgotten that 2.54 centimeters had become the exact definition of an inch.


::athada:: said...

"Schenck's axiom" seems about the only real way to learn science. In class after in class in undergrad, chapters were opened with "You have been told... but I say to you...". Basically we were lied to in order for our feeble brains to comprehend the basics. Only then could our brain be stretched further.

Maybe we could approach theologically education in the same way? I'm thinking of the amount of theological training I've been so blessed to have vs. an uneducated Pentecostal Bolivian recently emigrated from the countryside. Brian McLaren plays with this idea in A New Kind of Christianity, about different "levels" of spiritual growth/understanding, without diminishing or downplaying those on the "first" rung.

Anyway, I try to take the sensitive-yet-still-prodding approach when dealing with some of these issues, like ecumenism in a land where you are either Catholic or "Christian".