Nautilus

Why We Love to Anthropomorphize Physics

Family Physics” may be the best episode of Public Radio’s long running show, This American Life. Its premise was simple. Import key concepts from the realms of quantum mechanics and cosmology and use them to illuminate the everyday world of parents, kids, and their interactions. Introducing the show, however, host Ira Glass was quick to point out how much physicists detest this kind of enterprise. “They hate it when non-scientists … apply principles from physics to their petty little lives and petty little relationships.” Glass was equally quick to point out that he and his colleagues at the show just did not care. As he put it, “Once physicists name something the ‘mediocrity principle’ or the ‘uncertainty principle’ or the ‘grandfather paradox,’ well … they’re just asking for it.”

Glass had a point.

The names we physicists bequeath our cosmic laws sometimes resonate with the more mundane, everyday struggles everyone has making sense of everyday life. There is a deep well of humor to be tapped in using “cosmic mediocrity” to sum up a bad day.  

But in some

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Nautilus

Nautilus13 min read
Why We Keep Playing the Lottery: Blind to the mathematical odds, we fall to the marketing gods.
To grasp how unlikely it was for Gloria C. MacKenzie, an 84-year-old Florida widow, to have won the $590 million Powerball lottery in 2013, Robert Williams, a professor of health sciences at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, offers this scenar
Nautilus3 min read
Presenting the Scrabble Luck Calculator: Are you as good at Scrabble as you think?
Scrabble is a volatile game. It’s not uncommon for underdogs to make tournament upsets. Why? Luck. It plays a large role in Scrabble, and efforts to remove it, by changing tile values, for instance, have mostly been in vain. Still, Scrabble skills ma
Nautilus14 min read
WeChat Is Watching: Living in China with the app that knows everything about me.
It’s 9 a.m. on a typical morning in Chengdu and I’m awakened by the sound of my phone alarm. The phone is in my study, connected to my bedroom by sliding doors. I turn off the alarm, pick up my phone, and, like millions of people in China, the first