Tuesday, October 21, 2008

But Did He Jump, Or Was He Pushed?

I was amused to see this snippet of dialogue over at Spynotes yesterday:

AJ: [To his mom, Harriet: read about] Schrödinger’s Cat.
Harriet: Oh yes. [reads the section in question to AJ]. So do you understand what that’s about?
AJ: It’s not a real cat.
Harriet: That’s right.
AJ: And they won’t know if she’s alive or dead until they open the box.
Harriet: Sort of. But what Schrodinger’s saying is that it’s not that we don’t know until we open the box, but that the cat is neither dead nor alive until we open the box. It’s not just about what we don’t know. It’s the fact that we don’t know it changes what the cat is.
AJ: Oh! Like Coyote and Road Runner!
Harriet: [looking puzzled] What do you mean?
AJ: It’s like how Coyote doesn’t fall until he looks down. There’s no gravity until he notices there’s no gravity.
Harriet: I never thought of that, but that’s exactly how it is.

My amusement stems from the fact that I recently came across Nick Flynn's poem "Cartoon Physics, Part 1":

Children under, say, ten, shouldn't know
that the universe is ever-expanding,
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies

swallowed by galaxies, whole

solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence. At ten we are still learning

the rules of cartoon animation,

that if a man draws a door on a rock
only he can pass through it.
Anyone else who tries

will crash into the rock. Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,
ships going down--earthbound, tangible

disasters, arenas

where they can be heroes. You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships
have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump

you will be saved. A child

places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus,
& drives across a city of sand. She knows

the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks. She will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

My amusement also stems from the fact that I know A.J. is only in the second grade (and so younger than ten), but from reading about him for a while, I can tell that he's one of those kids who is ready to plunge into things more advanced than the rest of his age group is ready for.

I have one just like that at home. People like the speaker of this poem will say "oh, you're pushing him into things he's not ready for." I say that the only way I could keep him from jumping in is to hold him back.


Harriet said...

Terrific. Is there a part 2? Kids are much better equipped to deal with the things that seem disastrous to adults. We are more invested in the outcome somehow, whereas they are caught up in amazement with the process. I agree completely about holding them back being the only way.

Jeanne said...

I think the "part 1" bit is just rhetorical flourish. I searched Nick's poems to make sure, though.