January 28, 2005

Big Brother

My oldest brother graduated from high school before I started kindergarden. I looked up to him. I remember some of our discussions from when I was just a sprout, some examples:

Big Brother: Everything you see is made out of atoms.
me, age 6: What's an atom?
BB: An atom is made of electrons orbiting around a nucleus, like the earth orbits around the sun.
6: What's an electron?
BB: Its an elementary charged particle. The problem is that moving charges give off energy as light, and all the electrons should lose energy and crash into the nuclei.

I went around the house for about half a day thinking, Dear Lord help us the universe is going to collapse. I know now of course that the reason atoms don't collapse is that Bohr's model of the atom was naive, and that electrons behave like waves not particles at this level.

BB: How does a rocket engine work?
6: Gas goes shooting out and pushes against the earth and the rocket blasts into space.
BB: No, Newton's Law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
6: The engine ignites, and then zoom!
BB: But a rocket works even in space, when there is no earth to push against. Momentum is conserved, and the rocket goes forward because the gas is shot out of the engine really really fast.
That one shut me up for a few years.

Our biggest argument was about whether the numbers 1 and 0.9999999... were the same or not. He said they were, I was hard to convince. He cooked up one argument, if 1/3 is 0.3333... and 2/3 is 0.66666... and 1/3 + 2/3 =1, then 0.999... must be equal to 1. He had to tell me what a fraction was and how to add them, and that 3/3 =1. But even so, I wasn't going to let him get away with it. I could see that he hadn't really proved anything, he had just pushed the tricky bits back a little further into that little word 'if'. Finally he came up with the idea that if two numbers were different, then it must be possible to put a new number in between them, and that no numbers existed between 1 and 0.99999.....well I thought, why didn't you just say that from the beginning?


At January 28, 2005 4:46 PM , Blogger Tim said...

You are lucky to have had such a flaming geek for an older brother. Seriously, he expanded your young mind tremendously.


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