Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Laws of Physics: Part Four

I'm going to finish up talking about the Laws of Physics in this post.

I truly believe that those who drag out the "laws of physics" in regards to fat acceptance probably could not actually tell me what those laws ARE. They probably also do not realize that, while the basic "laws" are regarded as fundamental, they mostly refer to idealized, closed systems. The real world is a lot stickier and messier than the simplified mathematical world of scientific theory. As an example, you may be able to learn frog dissection from a computer model, or from looking at diagrams in books. However, when you have a real frog, a real scalpel, you often find that what's inside the real frog differs from the ideal frog of the diagrams, just as people's anatomy differs from the ideal models and diagrams. You might get a frog that is full of eggs, or missing a kidney, or had a nasty parasite. That doesn't mean that the diagrams are erroneous, it just means that reality can be variable.

To summarize the basic laws of physics, they are:

Newton's Three Laws of Motion, which include the "Law" of Gravity, Conservation of Mass-Energy, and Conservation of Momentum.

The Laws of Thermodynamics, which expand upon the second Law of Motion and include:
* The zeroeth law of thermodynamics makes the notion of temperature possible.
* The first law of thermodynamics demonstrates the relationship between internal energy, added heat, and work within a system.
* The second law of thermodynamics relates to the natural flow of heat within a closed system.
* The third law of thermodynamics states that it is impossible to create a thermodynamic process which is perfectly efficient.

Electrostatic Laws, which deal with charged particles, electrostatic forces, and electrostatic fields.

Invariance of the Speed of Light, which says that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant

Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which has been the subject of a great deal of debate recently, and modifies Newton's laws.

Quantum Mechanics, which deals with how matter and energy behave at the atomic and subatomic levels.

Have you got all that, now? Okay, good.

Now, I don't really see anything about fat people in the laws. What I do see, whenever the laws of physics are discussed in reality (instead of invoked as an accusation), is a caution that they are best applied to simple, closed systems. They are best understood on paper. Applying them to messy real life situations, even when you're involving inanimate objects, is a complicated, difficult thing that we like to call engineering. Having more than enough engineers in my life, I am familiar with the idea that even people who are educated and experienced in the real-life application of physics can have big things go wrong when one minor detail was not accounted for. New discoveries are made all the time as a result of mishaps and catastrophes. Each material has its own properties, and if we completely understood ALL of the inanimate matter in the world, corporations like 3M, Dow Chemical, and DuPont (to name just a tiny fraction) would have no reason for existing. Factor in the infinitely more variable and complicated nature of living matter, and you will begin to get an idea of how little the human species really knows about the world around us.

Sure, we've revealed a great deal about the macrofauna of our planet, and every day we are unlocking more and more information about biochemistry, viruses, and genetics, but the first thing a biology student learns when they get to their first day of college biology is that we actually don't know a whole lot, and much of what they learned in high school has already become obsolete, or wasn't even accurate in the first place. One of the hardest things about teaching is helping students to un-learn inaccurate stuff, overturning sacred cows of misinformation, and opening eyes to the reality that the world is a heck of a lot bigger and more complex than they ever knew. This is the fight that Size Positive and HAES proponents have with the collective psyche around us, that has been fed a steady diet of oversimplified pseudo-science presented as absolute fact. Getting people to realize that calorie intake and energy expenditure is not a simple equation is especially hard, because people really and truly want to believe that it's that easy.

The question in my mind is, how do we frame the more accurate picture so that it is easy to understand, but not limiting? I think that there have been a number of great articles out there that help with this, but I want to see more, and I want to see them everywhere.

This concludes the "Laws of Physics" series.

1 comment:

Val said...

Great series of posts re: physics**!
I will be back for more...
**I would love to print them out for my ex-husband, but I ain't reopening that can o' worms!