Sunday, February 24, 2008

How do you shake a hole?

When radio was first invented, radio hams noticed that the laws of physics describing how radio works appear to be mathematically similar to the laws of physics describing many other topics in physics. Several years later a Nobel Prize winning physics professor named Richard Feynman wrote a set of physics lectures based on the mathematical analogies among all the laws of physics.
Here’s just one example of how the laws of physics appear to be mathematically analogous across many topics in physics.
Several years ago a tornado ripped through my back yard and took out one of my 90-foot-tall spruce trees. By some astonishing miracle, the house, garage, and both cars parked outside, were untouched. The fence on the far side of the property had one 8-foot section smashed out by the tree falling on it, and that was easily repaired.
Getting rid of the tree was easy. I simply spread the word round and about the community that there was a vast quantity of firewood available to anyone who could cut it up and haul it away. A few days later, a caravan of pickup trucks and chain saws rolled up the driveway and into the back yard and within a few hours the tree was gone.
But how do you get rid of a stump? Well, I suppose you dig. So I dug, thus giving me a five-foot-deep ten-foot-diameter hole with a 1000 or 1500 pound stump sitting at the bottom of it. But now, how do you get a stump out of a hole?
When you shake a can full of rocks, marbles, wood chips, and other random objects, the lowest-density things rise to the top, and, within a density range, the largest things rise to the top. I had all the dirt that was dug out of the hole, and I had a large quantity of chips of old concrete and fragments of old bricks that I’d just love to get rid of. There was certainly plenty of stuff to fill the hole if I could just pour it all in and just shake the hole somehow.
So I began putting just a few concrete and brick fragments and shovelfuls of dirt at a time into the hole, and using my digging bar as a pry-bar to rock the stump back and forth. With each rocking action, the stump was lifted a bit higher, just a fraction of an inch at a time. In about two hours, the stump was sitting on top of level ground, ready to be rolled over to wherever I wanted it.
Now I realize this example doesn’t prove much, but I was led to the method by the realization that there are many similarities between seemingly different things. Any conjecture I might make about metaphysics or theology needs to take into account the observation that the universe appears to have some sort of dimensional unity and is unlikely to be the result of some sort of God making separate decisions about how to design the different parts of the universe.