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Day 64: Science, Math and Philosophy: Why Oh Why?!

Day 64:  Science, Math and Philosophy:  Why Oh Why?!

TODAY’S STATS

# of pages written: 9 on my novel and I worked on my short story

# of days left to write 1st draft: 100 

Yesterday Nikki and I listened to the Radiolab on “falling.” It was great, and I highly recommend it. In one part of the podcast they talked about gravity. Newton, they said, came up with the laws of gravity. Using these laws, he could predict what would happen to objects, but he never knew WHY gravity existed or what it was exactly. Einstein came along and tried to explain what gravity was and why it existed with some crazy mumbo-jumbo about space-time being curved and that curve being gravity. OK, Einstein. But why? Why is space-time curved? Why is the curve gravity?

I read somewhere that when kids are in that annoying why-stage, they don’t really want to know why. They’ve just learned that “why” is a word they can say to make an adult keep talking. It’s a fun button for them to push. Because no matter what explanation you give, someone can always ask why, and there’s always more to try and explain.

*   *  *

At dinner last night, I was talking about how apparently it’s not just the people at the gym who say, “you’re all set.” The people at the liquor store and the grocery store and the library say it, too.

“Is it a Cape Cod thing or a Massachusetts thing or a New England thing?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Nate said. “But I always here people around here say ‘it is what it is.’”

“Yeah.” Nikki nodded. “They do say that a lot.”

I shook my head. “That’s just because you’re around old people all day. That’s what old people say.”

Today I applied for a job to write math curriculum content for middle and high school. I had to send one of my favorite lesson plans, so I sent a Trigonometry lesson I am particularly proud of called “What is a Radian?” This is a lesson I wrote that makes high school students use pipe cleaners, scissors, and tape to demonstrate that there are 2 pi radians in a circle.

Don’t let their eye-rolling fool you: high schoolers love pipe cleaners. Break those babies out in your Trig class and the girls will start making pipe cleaner bracelets and the boys will start making pipe cleaner penises. There will be some flirtatious smacking at each other with pipe cleaners, and possibly a fight will break out over the “best” colors of pipe cleaner, which, in my experience, is usually green.

So I sent off the “What is a Radian” lesson and rode my bike to the library, gloating to myself along the way about how great I am at writing lesson plans. And then, suddenly, a thought stopped me cold: why are there 2 pi radians in a circle? I mean, I know that there are, and I know how to demonstrate that there are. But WHY?

Thankfully, the answer came a moment later. A radian is an angle in a circle that cuts off an arc the length of the radius. Pi, of course, is equal to the Circumference divided by the diameter. Since the diameter is twice the radius, if we divide the Circumference of a circle by the radius, we get 2 pi, which is why a circle has 2 pi radians. Whew. Problem solved.

But wait.

Why is pi equal to the Circumference divided by the diameter?

Oh dear.  That I can’t answer. It’s simply one of those mysterious truths of math. It is what it is.

This seems to be the eventual conclusion when you do the two-year-old why-why-why thing with any question. For example:
I should wake up earlier.
Why?
So I have more time to write.
Why?
So I can finish this first draft of my novel sooner.
Why?
So I can work on revising it and start querying agents.
Why?
So I can try to get it published.
Why?
So that I can become a published writer and hopefully be able to either make my living writing or at least get a job teaching creative writing at a small liberal arts college.
Why?
Because that’s what I’ve decided is important to me and will help me feel a sense of accomplishment in my life.
Why?
Because. Because that’s just what I’ve decided.

It is what it is.

*   *   *

Asking why is very important. It’s given philosophers something to argue over and people something to freak out about for generations. But there’s no end to it. For every level deeper you go in an explanation, there’s always another layer. Can you ever truly get to the center of any question – to the place where all is understood and you can finally stop asking why?

Maybe there is no center. Maybe we just keep falling into the abyss, like getting sucked into a black hole.

Yesterday I was talking to my friend, Chris, on the phone about my novel. I was explaining all of the villan’s motives. “And he does this because…” “And why he does that is…”

“Don’t give away too much of his motivations,” Chris said. “Let some of it stay a mystery. More interesting that way.”

It’s true. We never know the whole explanation of anything. If we did, we wouldn’t be able to ask why, and what’s the fun in that?

A picture of Baker’s Pond in the morning. Why? For no reason.

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About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

3 responses »

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    Reply
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