Monday, October 12, 2015

Newton, Watt, and Lamaitre meet a fly in a bar . . .

One of the fun (but time-spendy) activities I participate in, as academic director of a small international department in China, is to write stories for my students, using vocabulary from articles or books they are reading.  That's the origin of this little story (thus some of the particular vocabulary it uses), but I think you might find it amusing.  It also has something to say about hubris, reminding me of Pascal's words on the greatness and fragility of man. 

"Several great scientists and inventors were sitting by a fireside in a bar, drinking from a kettle of tea, and quarreling over whose discoveries were the greatest.

"'I discovered gravity,' said Isaac Newton.  'Everything on Earth and in Heaven depends on gravity.  Gravity keeps planets circling the sun.  Gravity makes clocks and other pendulums move.  When you lay the foundations of a cathedral, you have to think of me, or it will all fall over."

"James Watt replied, 'Not bad!  But I discovered a power that can overcome gravity!  Locomotives run on the power of steam that is created when you boil water.  Steam thus allows engines to take people across deserts and continents, and up mountains against the pull of gravity.'

"'And where did the materials for steam engines, along with cathedrals, come from?'  Asked Father George Lamaitre.  'Chandeliers, the lid of this tea kettle, the bones of whales, the bark of trees, the iron and nickel at the core of the Earth - all of it came from the Big Bang, which I discovered.  And probably gravity, too, and the hydrogen that turned into water and makes steam.'

"Just then a fly landed on James Watt's tea cup.  He swatted the fly, spilling tea on Newton.  Newton stood up and showed Watt.  The table fell over with a crash.

"'And what about me?' Asked the fly.  'While these mighty men lecture on physics and argue who has the most influence, who thinks of us insects?  We start wars with a buzz.  We kill millions by spreading disease, keeping humans out of whole areas of the Earth.  After all, we are the mightest of them all.'" 

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