Great video. For no particular reason, this video made me think of my daughter and the questions she asks.
My 5 year old asks questions constantly. Some astute. Some mundane. And I try to understand what she really wants to know when she asks the questions. Often, they come out of nowhere, and my unrehearsed answers are as unsatisfying because the question that I think she is asking is not really what she wants the answer to. Or maybe it is just because I fail to direct her to the right set of questions.
A few weeks ago, we had the following conversation.
Mommy, what is planet earth made of?
Well honey, (deep breath) planet earth is made of matter, that has been moving away from the center of the universe since the big bang. You know about the big bang, right? At first earth was a big fiery ball made of stuff like lava, and then it cooled down and became like a big rock on the outside with the lava on the inside. And you know that it is orbiting the sun, like the other planets in the solar system. And when the earth cooled down, water formed, and in the water single celled life forms…
Mommy? What is “matter?”
Umm.. matter is the stuff that everything is made out of. (She frowns at this unsatisfying answer. Then she shifts gears.)
Mommy? What is the sun made out of?
Well, ummm, the sun is made of the matter from the beginning of the universe too. And it is hot and burning all the time and it is sort of like lava, and there is plasma…
What is plasma?
Ummm. Plasma is sort of like lava and…
Mommy, what are lamps made out of?
Lamp? Honey, lamps are made by people. Usually in factories. The earth and the sun are part of nature.
I KNOW about factories and nature. So what are lamps made of?
Well, lamps give off light, like the sun gives off light, but the light from lamps comes from the little filament inside of the light bulbs and when you turn on the electricity…
I KNOW all about light bulbs. I want to know about the lamp. This part of the lamp (she taps on the lampshade).
Honey, that is a lamp shade. The light comes from the light bulb and makes the lamp shade look bright. But the lamp shade is made of, umm, fabric and ah, plastic, and look, there is a little metal up here. But the light bulb…
Mommy? Can I have an ice cream after dinner?
And can I play on your computer now?
Oh. (Feeling both relief and disappointment that this particular conversation had come to an end.) Ok.
And as I set her up to go to pbskids.org , I felt like that should have been a better conversation. Was the whole conversation a mommy-fail? I knew that my answers were leading her to ask the wrong questions.
How often do scientists’ observations lead them to ask the wrong next question? We trust our scientists to ask the right questions. But how often do they get distracted by some minutia contained within their own observations, and become obsessed with the components that make up a lamp shade, rather than the nature of light, and the possibility that the inflationary nature of the universe may eventually cause our neighboring galaxies to move so far away from us at such a fast speed, that they will be impossible to observe by astronomers in the far far far future? And how often are we trapped outside of the window of potential observation, which might allow us to see the other galaxies or the other multiverses?