Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Physics Labor Of Helping People Move -

All right, I’ll admit it: I don’t really understand any of the things I put into that sub-headline, and I’m not sure those terms really go together properly in the world of physics. But I’m still going to run this theory by Neil deGrasse Tyson; we’re buds on Facebook, after all.

When it comes to science fiction, so many technologies have to do with moving from one place to another. Achieving teleportation, time travel, and interstellar flight would go a long way toward turning sci-fi tales into reality, yet they all present immense challenges.

But recently I believe I may have discovered that the key to unlocking all of these mysteries is right there in the intent: moving. Specifically, packing up belongings from one residence and taking them elsewhere. It’s all about bodies in motion, after all, even if all of the bodies are hauling boxes, armchairs, and end tables.

The laws of physics simply don’t apply when you’re helping someone move. Some pieces of furniture shouldn’t be able to snake their way through a residence’s narrow, labyrinthine hallways. And yet they do.

I first noticed this phenomenon when I helped my parents move to a new home in Vermont. My father had grown attached to an enormous wooden filing cabinet at his workplace. Not just your everyday piece of office equipment, it measured four drawers by three. My father also tells me that it’s about four feet wide, two and a half feet deep, and four and a half feet high.

I’m sure it was no trouble getting this oaken behemoth out of the office building, equipped as it was with freight elevators and sliding doors. Getting it into the residence was another task entirely. The new house was a little smaller than the old one, with plenty of tight corners.

I can’t even remember how we managed to park it in the new office. It involved a hand truck and a swarm of helpers trying to find the most viable route or, alternatively, making sure the cabinet didn’t topple over or tear chunks out of the walls.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that the pesky rule about how no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time stepped aside for a little while. We probably just didn’t notice the points along the way where there was a molecular breakdown in both the cabinet and walls, allowing the one to pass through the other with minimal resistance.

I can’t say this is what happened when I helped a friend move from the Crocker House to a new residence in Norwich recently. The troublesome bit of furniture in this case was a long antique sofa, which we had to drop off at a relative’s bungalow-style rental property. The task another friend and I had to accomplish here involved maneuvering the couch through a small door, hoisting it over a kitchen island, and turning it 180 degrees to swing it into the living room.

No such molecular breakdowns in this case, as I was carrying the end of the couch and saw the legs smash futilely into the doorjamb several times. But once again, it somehow managed to fit in. Even if we had to barrel roll it over the island and bring it in for a rough landing, we got the sofa into its new home safe and sound.

This could only have been accomplished by the use of wormholes. For a little while, a person in an alternate universe must have watched in amazement as the end of a sofa materialized in his kitchen. He or she would have had time to register the grunts and curses of my friend and I grappling with the burden from the other side of the space-time barrier before the furniture vanished, leaving nothing but a few continuity ripples.

Of course, in each case these quirks in the laws of nature can only be utilized once. As soon as the cabinet was in place in my parents’ home, my father declared, “Whoever buys this house next is getting this, too.” I made a similar proclamation as soon as we unloaded the sofa.

But don’t you think a few permanent pieces of furniture is an affordable price to pay if it leads to the next great breakthrough in physics?

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