Archive for ‘science’

October 24, 2010

Classical Mechanics

An object at rest tends to stay at rest, until acted upon by an outside force.

Fifteen minutes late, still no sign of lights on the tracks. William wipes his runny nose, rubs his hands together to keep the blood flowing. He would put his gloves on, but then he could not annotate the stack of midterms on his lap. Undergraduate Physics, marked in red where the freshmen have forgotten their formulas. Some say red is too harsh a color for grading, but for William no other color will do.

He hates the cold. Cold is a lack of energy, and he prefers energy to surround the moment.

For a man like William, what discipline but Physics could satisfy? Every motion in the world perfectly described, every vector calculated. Nothing without purpose, everything with a specific consequence. To understand Physics is to understand absolute justice.

She never understood that kind of precision, nor his obsession with it. Presumably, that is why she left him for Allen.

A body subjected to force accelerates directly proportionally to the force.

The morning class is almost fully marked when the train comes around the bend. The tracks hum with transmitted vibrations. William carefully slides the papers into his backpack. He stands and slings his pack over both his shoulders. He will need full mobility. His legs are somewhat stiff. He bounces up and down to warm them.

The train screeches to the stop, releasing brake pressure with a piercing hiss. First the conductors debark, then the bundled, still-warm passengers. They descend the stairs from the platform. William keeps his head down in shadow, careful that no light from the orange sodium vapor lamps can reach beneath his cap’s brim. He knows the optics angles precisely; his face is unrecognizable when Allen passes him heading for the stairs.

Calmly, William follows behind Allen. He puts his gloves on before reaching the bottom of the steps.

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

They are alone in the tunnel underneath the platform when William comes up behind Allen. William has measured each of their velocities precisely so they are in the midpoint of the tunnel—the farthest possible point from escape. One hand goes around Allen’s mouth, while the other drives a blade deep into his back. Allen’s eyes widen, but he cannot struggle. His spinal cord has been severed by the wound. He can only collapse to the ground, gurgling against William’s glove.

William feels the heat of Allen’s blood flow over his gloves. Diffusion dictates that warmer air would slow the dissipation of energy from Allen’s blood into the atmosphere. William had hoped the temperature would be higher to lengthen the moment, but it just wasn’t in the numbers. One does not argue with a universe of order and justice.

The knife pulls away from Allen’s limp body as quickly as it entered. William takes a plastic bag from his pocket, and places the knife, one glove, then the other inside. He seals the bag, then swings his backpack off one shoulder to deposit the package in the large zippered compartment. A single drop of blood trickles onto the freshman papers.

But that is alright. William grades in red.

August 13, 2010

The Case for Humanities: Pt. 2

Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, regards the imbalance of our society as a favoring of one brain hemisphere over another. The left, concerned with sequential reasoning, logical processing, and language syntax, has been the seat of economic prosperity for much of the last century. But in the new era, which Pink calls the Conceptual Age, technology and economics will largely render those abilities immaterial to personal success. If a computer can do your job more cheaply, or if your skills can be outsourced in any way, Pink argues that your left-brainedness could use an infusion of right-brain approaches. The right hemisphere concerns simultaneous, contextual, abstract mental processes. Humor, language interpretation, creativity—all these reside in the brain’s right hemisphere. Historically, creativity has not been valued monetarily—especially in American society. However, in the Conceptual Age, Pink believes jobs like designer, artist, teacher, and storyteller will be the ones concerned mothers subtly push their children toward. The great human skills of the next age include narrative, humor, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to find meaning. If this is so, then the humanities have as much value as the sciences in the coming era. Beyond the philosophical values, an education including the humanities will reap eminently measurable economic rewards. This is the future we face.

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July 10, 2010

The Case for Humanities: Pt. 1

This is a little different—nonfiction! A long-form essay concerning my day job as an English Teacher.


When asked by a parent or a friend what it is we do, we English teachers are hard-pressed to provide a concise response. Consequently, people tend to view our subject as airy, or superfluous. I so often hear how nice it is that I get to teach an “easy” subject, or that I can cover whatever I want in my class. The Math and the Science teachers, by contrast, have the truly noble mission in education: it is theirs to prepare the children for the realities of the world, while I drone on about poetry. History teachers suffer similar fates in the eyes of friends and parents, although the study of our past has more immediate relevance than, say, the motives of Iago in Othello. Shakespeare is fiction, after all; what real purpose could it serve?

Here and now, I throw down the gauntlet. My job has value, as do the other professions concerning the humanities. How they matter is harder to explain, and impossible to quantify, so most do not attempt to estimate the humanities’ value. This creates an air of condescension among engineers and business people toward those of us with “liberal arts” degrees. Our studies are not real work, it would seem.

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