About 6-7 years ago, I was in a philosophy class at the University of
Wisconsin, Madison (good science/engineering school) and the teaching
assistant was explaining Descartes. He was trying to show how things don't
always happen the way we think they will and explained that, while a pen
always falls when you drop it on Earth, it would just float away if you let go
of it on the Moon.
My jaw dropped a little. I blurted "What?!" Looking around the room, I saw
that only my friend Mark and one other student looked confused by the TA's
statement. The other 17 people just looked at me like "What's your
"But a pen would fall if you dropped it on the Moon, just more slowly." I
"No it wouldn't." the TA explained calmly, "because you're too far away
from the Earth's gravity."
Think. Think. Aha! "You saw the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the
Moon, didn't you?" I countered, "why didn't they float away?"
"Because they were wearing heavy boots." he responded, as if this made
perfect sense (remember, this is a Philosophy TA who's had plenty of logic
By then I realized that we were each living in totally different worlds,
and did not speak each others language, so I gave up. As we left the room, my
friend Mark was raging. "My God! How can all those people be so stupid?"
I tried to be understanding. "Mark, they knew this stuff at one time, but
it's not part of their basic view of the world, so they've forgotten it. Most
people could probably make the same mistake."
To prove my point, we went back to our dorm room and began randomly
selecting names from the campus phone book. We called about 30 people and
asked each this question:
1. If you're standing on the Moon holding a pen, and you let go, will it
About 47 percent got this question correct. Of the ones who got it wrong,
we asked the obvious follow-up question:
- a) float away
- b) float where it is
- c) fall to the ground?
2. You've seen films of the APOLLO astronauts walking around on the Moon;
why didn't they fall off?
About 20 percent of the people changed their answer to the first question
when they heard this one! But the most amazing part was that about half of
them confidently answered, "Because they were wearing heavy boots."
I say, science education must be at an all time peak !!!
Selected by Brad Templeton. firstname.lastname@example.org.