I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

This absolutely fascinating book examines the most bizarre questions that people can come up with and actually answers them.  Included are questions about what would happen if you could throw a baseball at the speed of light to a hitter, what would happen; what if everyone actually had a random soul mate in the world; what if everyone disappeared from the earth, how long before the last artificial source of light would go out; is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns; from what height would you need to drop a steak for it to be cooked when it hit the ground; if someone's DNA suddenly disappeared, how long would that person last; how much force power can Yoda output; if a woman were to have sperm cells made from her own stem cells and impregnate herself, what would happen; how many unique tweets are possible and how long would it take for the world to read them all; when will Facebook contain more profiles of dead people than of living people; and what if everyone who took the SAT guessed on every multiple choice question, how many perfect scores would there be.

If you did have a single soul mate in the world, the question would be would you ever meet.  What if you also took out the part that they may have already lived and died out of the equation, as well as huge age differences, cultural and language differences.  "The odds of running into your soul mate would be incredibly small."  Basing finding a soul mate on making eye contact and "knowing", suppose you see a few dozen strangers a day, "if 10 percent of them are close to your age, that would be around 50,000 people in a lifetime.  Given that you have 500,000,000 potential soul mates, it means you would find true love only in one lifetime out of 10,000."  Even if you put a Soul Mate Roulette website and watched it twelve hours a day, everyday, there would still only be a small amount of people who would ever find true love.

 Believe it or not the Russians have actually tried to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns.  The idea is simple.  When you fire a gun, the recoil will send you backward.  The thing you would have to look into would be the thrust-to-weight ratio, or how much less the object has to weigh before being able thrust backward the farthest.  The AK-47 has one of a 2 and could "rise into the air while firing."  But not all machine guns can do this.  You also have to take into account the weight of shell casings and ammo.  "If each gun [AK-47] can lift 5 pounds more than its own weight, two can lift 10."   The other problem is ammo.  You would need enough ammo to lift yourself off the ground high enough and that adds weight, which means adding more machine guns.  "Each bullet weighs 8 grams, and the cartridge (the "whole bullet") weighs over 16 grams.  If we added more than about 250 rounds, the AK-47 would be to heavy to take off."  You would need an optimal amount of 300 guns with 250 rounds of ammo each to reach a half a kilometer in the air. 

A human contains two sets of DNA, one from the mother and one from the father.  If a woman could take one of her stem cells and turn it into a sperm cell (they are close to doing this in the lab) she could impregnate herself with her own eggs and have a daughter.  The only problem with this is the inbreeding.  The child would be born with so many abnormalities, it might not survive for very long, if at all.  The inbreeding would be like a brother and sister from four generations producing offspring.

He also includes some dumb questions that he usually doesn't give an answer to, such as: would dumping anti-matter into the Chernobyl reactor when it was melting down stop the meltdown; is it possible to cry so much you dehydrate yourself ("Karl, is everything ok?"); if people had wheels and could fly, how would we differentiate them from airplanes; would it be possible to stop a volcanic eruption by placing a bomb (thermobaric or nuclear) underneath the surface; how fast would a human have to run in order to be cut in half at the bellybutton by a cheese-cutting wire; In Thor the main character is at one point spinning his hammer so fast that he creates a strong tornado, would this be possible in real life; could you survive a tidal wave by submerging yourself in an in-ground pool; what is the possibility that if I am stabbed by a knife in my torso that it won't hit anything vital and I'll live; what if everyone in Great Britain went to one of the coasts and started paddling, could they move the island at all ("NO"); and what if I swallow a tick that has Lyme disease, will my stomach acid kill the tick and the borreliosis or would I get Lyme disease from the inside out ("Just to be safe, you should swallow something to kill the tick, like ...a tropical fire ant.  Then swallow a...fly to kill the ant.  Next, find a spider...").

This is a great and fun read.  I am a kind of science idiot when it comes to physics and chemistry, but he made it so easy to understand and he includes stick-figure drawings to illustrate his point.  As a matter of fact, he left his job with NASA to draw a stick-figure comic on-line and answer bizarre questions, like the ones seen here in this book.  I found this book to be a smart and educational book (but in a good way) that answers questions I didn't even know I had.

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/What-If-Scientific-Hypothetical-Questions/dp/0544272994?ie=UTF8&keywords=what%20if%20serious%20scientific%20answers%20to%20absurd%20hypothetical%20questions&qid=1464708883&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

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