Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Short Discourse on the Trajectory of a Chalk Projectile (Or how I lost a battle and how I wished it would have turned out)

During my college years as a physics undergraduate, I attended a chemistry class wherein the professor takes pride in putting her field of study in the pedestal. She is one of those professors who will fight to death to defend that her chosen field- in her case, chemistry- is the most important field of knowledge.

In one of our introductory classes, we were discussing chemistry in general as the central science. She discussed how all the other fields simply support the claims of chemistry.

So she was going over her class list and asking every student to debunk the notion that chemistry is the central most important science. But when the student answers, she would simply create another argument to prove that chemistry is indeed the central science.

So she started asking everyone until she arrived at me. She called my name, 'Mister --,. I raised my hand and stood up. 'You're a physics student. So how can you prove that physics and not chemistry is the most important field of science?'

I was sure that she would just negate everything i would say so i did not even think of a very elaborate argument. I simply said in a very non-convincing tone, 'In Physics, we study how the world works.'
She paused for a while and looked around the class and grinned. I was simply waiting for the ultimatum. Then she spoke, 'So, how does the world work?'

I knew that was coming all along. But i'm not in any position to argue with her so i simply answered, 'We're still studying it'. And that's it--the class eroded with laughter and she just smirked as if saying 'I rest my case'.
Some years after that fateful day, i look back and realize how a loser I was, not being able to fight for what i believe. One time i wondered what would become of me had i fought back. In fact i made a scenario of what I wish happened then.
She was looking at her class list when she calls my name. 'Mister --,. I raised my hand and stood up. 

'You're a physics student. So how can you prove that physics and not chemistry is not the most important field of science?'

'In Physics, we study how the world works.'

'So, how does the world work?'

And then I would say, 'According to rules.' She would just look at me and say 'Go on'.

'Everything in our physical world works according to rules devised by nature. How the earth revolves around the sun is governed by the Laws of Planetary motion. How some chemicals react with each other is governed the law of thermodynamics. When a ball is thrown, it follows a trajectory governed by the law of motion and gravitation. We study those things in physics. So, everything can be explained by physics from a planet revolving to a ball thrown.'

She was simply staring at me thinking of a very good rebound, for everyone from the class knew that she was on a very low position right now. And then she got up.

She asked in a very attacking tone, 'Ok so how would you solve this problem, if I throw this chalk to your face, will it hit you or not?' At that point her ears are becoming red with rage and defeat.

So I answered her matter-of-factly, 'There are two scenarios to that problem,' I said, 'One, if you are very much annoyed by the fact that you have been defeated; that chemistry is actually not the most important science, then you will throw the chalk and try to hit my face. However, two, if you are reasonable enough to accept those facts, then you will put that chalk back to the table and debate with the class in a very civilized manner or you could throw it somewhere else. Either way, I will not get hit by that chalk because you will not be able to put into consideration the following factors; First, air resistance provided by the huge ceiling fan above me. Second, the mass of that chalk which is definitely very small since it has low density. Third, the low initial velocity provided by your weak arms. And fourth, my speed of evasion. Did that answer your question?'
Yeah, I know it’s kind of made up and very improbable but one can dream, right?

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