Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Zoe vs. the Laws of Physics

I don't remember much Physics from high school. The one word that echoes discordantly in that particular, mostly empty, chamber of my memory is "torque." And all I remember about it is that I never understood what it was. 
Clearly some research was in order.
A quick review of Newtonian Physics: Newton (apple-falling-on-head Newton, not fig-cookie Newton) basically said: Things have mass (size, weight), and they move, and sometimes accelerate, or sometimes don't (inertia). But, also, things like pushing and pulling.
And don't forget what happens when we drop something.
It falls.
As Marshall Mathers told us, "Snap back to reality. Oh, there goes gravity." But really you don't need a degree in science to know his song "Lose Yourself" is about the dangers of personal and professional inertia. See, Eminem gets it.

What up, G?
(where G = the gravitational constant)

Zoe does not. In her three years of robust exploration of the planet Zoe's had her share of run-ins with Newtonian physics, and judging by the bruises on her arms and legs, with doors and walls as well as the ground. I get the feeling it's not just that she doesn't understand how physical laws work, I think she objects to them. Strongly and with extreme prejudice. If she wants to ride on the top of our exercise ball without it torquing (just go with it) out from under her, she should be able to. But she can't, and she falls and then she cries and as soon as she's done crying, it's right back to climbing up on that ball. Or on the coffee table, or up the stairs of each house on our route home. Zoe always has the same look on her face right before she falls: fierce determination. She will find a way to defeat gravity.
Second only to gravity, the law she grapples with most is the Pauli Exclusion Principle. This principle states that no two electrons may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously. See Fig 1.

Fig. 1. See?!

Basically the problem is that if you stuff the inside of the Eeyore Pull Along Shape Sorter with a whole bunch of stuff until you can't fit any other stuff inside the toy, then you really can't fit any other stuff inside it no matter how much you try to force that stuff, even if you follow it up with crying and screaming.
The Eeyore Pull Along Shape Sorter has corresponding entry points for different shapes with different colors so that Zoe can learn about different shapes and different colors, but Zoe prefers to shove inside this toy everything from Little People to matchbox cars to crayons to rocks to fake food, anything but the shapes that actually go with the toy, until nothing else can possibly fit at which point she screams, "Go in!" and then when it doesn't she throws the toy down, throws herself down (this is of her own accord and has nothing to do with gravity, let it be known), and has a good tantrum over the whole thing.
I usually allow this to go on for a while, because you're supposed to let them "deal with their feelings," then maybe I'll say something like, "Hey, Z, are you frustrated?" This is called "naming the emotion" which is apparently validating and educational. Helping her to develop emotionally. I am a good parent.
Though I have to admit that before she was verbal and she got frustrated and cried, to let off my own emotional steam I'd sometimes make fun of her tears. Like: Mmm, your tears are so tasty, give me some more. And singing a song I made up which sounded soothing except the name of the song was "I Don't Care That You're Crying (Because I Love You)," which is the natural heir to the previous generation's "If You Don't Stop Crying, I'll Give You Something to Cry About." Because you have to let the little ones learn. And how can they learn that gravity hurts if you're always catching them, or about the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which I didn't learn about till today, if you're always rearranging the toys inside other toys for them so that they can fit the maximum number of toys without violating the Principle. They need to learn about these things.
And if sometimes you have to ignore their tears or make fun of them to their faces, it's for the greater good. I believe it was Aristotle who said, "Mockery is the highest form of love." I may be paraphrasing. I may be making that up. Still, my general point rings true, which is that torque (T) = r x F where r is the vector. So ends this week's lesson. As an esteemed man of science once said, "Peace out."
Zoe: 8; Universe: 0


  1. Sometimes when my kids are upset I do the same thing...make up silly songs to try to snap them out of the moment! :)-Ashley

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