Another Reassuring Survey (from 4/91)
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 95 00:48:39 PST
From: Peter Langston <psl>
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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Keith Edwards <email@example.com>.
From: "S. Ansell" <SMA0194@ritvax.isc.rit.edu>
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
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
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