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Art of Physics Appreciation

After almost a year of being buried in a pile of detritus a gem surfaced recently: an essay by Dwight E Neuenschwander in the Fall 2007 issue of Radiations, a physics society newsletter. Neuenschwander's article is called "Motorcycle Maintenance and the Art of Physics Appreciation". It springboards off the 1974 Robert Pirsig novel Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and talks about how invisible modern science has become:

How many people driving a car every day carry in their minds a mental image of the mechanics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism that make their machine possible? Our society is saturated with technological applications of science. Yet most people you encounter in the laser-equipped grocery store checkout line, waiting in the clinic for their MRI, or sitting next to you on the airplane,
seem amazingly uncurious about how any of this stuff works. How quickly the marvelous becomes commonplace and taken for granted!

Some perceptible progress has been made towards science being claimed as the intellectual heritage of everyone. Practically everybody has some mental picture of the Earth as a planet orbiting a star, agrees that human genetics gets encoded in helical molecules, and assumes that floods and earthquakes have geophysical causes. But although science has revealed a breathtaking vision of the universe and our place in it, here again the typical citizen, by and large, seems unreflective about it all. How quickly the astonishing becomes mundane! ...

Neuenschwander and colleagues do physics workshops with little children, and the questions that some of the kids ask are extraordinary. In particular, from "Chris" (note that "acrus" = "occurs"):

I want to know if space ever ends, how magnets work, how lightning acrus, how electricity works, how sound works, if numbers ever end, how clowds acru.

Wonderful questions!

(cf. MotorcycleMaintenance (2003-06-06), ...) - ^z - 2008-09-12

(correlates: MotorcycleMaintenance, EmersonOnLibraries, WeltschmertzRx, ...)