The Thanksgiving holiday we celebrate here in the USA has some unfortunate overtones regarding its colonial origin. Still, the idea of a festival of thanks is an ancient one — thanks for a good harvest or a good hunt. Or, in our case, thanks for helping us not die last winter.
As with Christmas or the Copenhagen interpretation, we tend to take a “shut up and calculate!” approach to the holidays. “Shut up and shop!” in the case of the Winter Solstice, and “Shut up and give thanks!” today.
One thing we can be very thankful about is patterns…
I have always liked those comparisons that try to illustrate the very tiny by resizing it to more imaginable objects. For instance, one says: if an orange were as big as the Earth, then the atoms of that orange would be a big as grapes. Another says: if an atom were as big as the galaxy, then the Planck Length would be the size of a tree.
The question I have with these is: How accurate are these comparisons? Can I trust them to provide any real sense of the scale involved? If I imagine an Earth made of grapes am I also imagining a orange and its atoms?
So I did a little math.
Credit where credit is due, both the major ideas in this post come from Fareed Zakaria on his CNN Sunday program, GPS. If you follow TV news at all, you know Sunday mornings have such long-running standards as Meet the Press (on NBC since 1947!) and Face the Nation (on CBS since 1954). (Or was it Meet the Nation and Face the Press?)
Zakaria is one of the good ones: very intelligent, highly educated, calm and measured. He’s well worth listening to. (I’ve realized one attraction to TV news is the chance to — at least sometimes — hear educated, intelligent talk. It’s a nice respite from most TV entertainment.)
Two things on Zakaria’s last episode really rang a bell with me.