Fun_People Archive
10 Feb
Another Reassuring Survey (from 4/91)

Date: Fri, 10 Feb 95 00:48:39 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: Another Reassuring Survey (from 4/91)

[As if most general elections weren't enough proof already...  -psl]

Forwarded-by: bostic@CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Ian Smith <> 
Forwarded-by: Keith Edwards <>.
From: "S. Ansell" <>

Hi, My name is Seth, I'm a  grad  student  in  color  science  at RIT  in
Rochester  N.Y.,  an  area in which the national weather bureau states
that we receive an average of 62 sunny days per year.  One of the many
advantages of this, is that, unlike people who live in California, *we
don't have to worry about getting skin cancer.* Anyhow, I was cleaning
out my mail files and found this...  I thought someone out there might
appreciate it.

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 problem?"

"But a pen would fall if  you  dropped  it  on  the  Moon,  just  more
slowly." I protested.

"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 classes).

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 a) float away, b) float where it is, or c) fall to the

   About 47 percent got this question correct.  Of the ones who got
   it wrong, we asked the obvious follow-up question:

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."

[=] © 1995 Peter Langston []