Three by Fives

Contrary to what you may have been taught in elementary school, some so-called “laws” of science are more rule-like than they are law-like.

A rule is “here and now” whereas a “law” is an abstraction that persists throughout time and space: true in the past, true in the present, and true in the future. And, of course, unless you’re a fortune-teller, only the first two can be empirically known. And, if you are a fortune-teller, why haven’t you won the lottery?

For instance, the temperature at which water boils is law-like. There’s none of this “it depends” or “it’s situational” business smarty-pants liberal arts college students try to trot out. 212-degrees F or 100C. Period.

Or, maybe a more common but less scientific example: The highway’s speed limit is a law, 65 mph on the NY Thruway. Drive 66 mph and here’s your speeding ticket. The sign says “sixty-five” and not “sixty-five or a little bit more.”

Elementary school teachers imparted the scientific law that matter cannot be neither created nor destroyed.

Plainly, this is false. And, luckily, the evidence is equally and convincingly plain.

Where, for instance, have phone books gone? Disappeared. They simply no longer exist. Want someone’s phone number? Try looking it up on the world-wide-whatdoyacallit.

Once upon a time, accomplishing this task was easy. Get the giant paperbound book filled with the very thin, lightweight paper, understand the alphabet, get the person’s number. And, often, their address and zip code, too.

Today, one must pay for the same information. Although, as a bonus, one also gets the individual’s felony convictions, misdemeanor infractions, how nice they’ve been to their pets, and the number of affairs they’ve had.

Another example, this one confirming once and for all that matter can in fact be destroyed.

The thing every English teacher told you to write down your report’s references on: 3 x 5-inch file cards.

Knowing what a (physical) “file” is helps, but is not necessary for a full understanding.

Along with phone books, 3 x 5-inch file cards have also disappeared. Gone. Not a trace of evidence remaining. Anywhere. In fact, the places that once stocked them (and in a variety of sizes, colors, and with or without lines) have also disappeared: stationary stores. Today, apparently, we confuse stationary stores with elliptical devices found in gyms.

While in the process of organizing a conference, I wanted to use 3 x 5s as a way to visualize and arrange the program. Put this speaker here and that panel there, then shift ‘em around to make the program more coherent or easy for conferees to select from.

An exhaustive search reveals the devices no longer can be found. OK, a bit of an exaggeration. But not much.

To quote from Ghostbusters, “Back off, man, I’m a scientist!”

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