Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Unweaving the Rainbow

The title of the post comes from a book by Richard Dawkins, which in turn comes from a joke by John Keats where he accused Newton of destroying the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colors. Dawkins said that for him, the beauty of the natural world is only enhanced when one can understand the underlying forces than give rise to it.

My philosophy is similar. It was never enough to say, "Hey that's neat!", I wanted to know why things were as they were.

Unsurprsingly, I loved science shows as a kid. My favorites were 3-2-1-Contact, which had the best theme song ever,

 and Mr. Wizard's World. I don't think I've ever seen Bill Nye and (apparently he's not the same guy as Bill Nighy),

See they both wear bow ties! Anyone could make that mistake!

but his show filled the same role in the 90s. I just didn't watch a lot of TV in the 90s, and somehow Bill Nye sailed entirely beneath my radar.

Lily's attitude is similar to mine. See that rainbow at the top? She drew that as part of a fundraiser. Kids could draw a picture and the school would put it on a bunch of stuff that you could buy. Whenever she draws a rainbow, she wants to get it right. I discussed her perfectionism in an earlier post, and I think this is a manifestation of it. She knows that the patterns in rainbows in reality follow a specific pattern and she wants to make sure her drawings follow this pattern. So it's ROY G. BIV all the way for her, accept no substitutes.

In a comment to an earlier piece, cfc asked if I could be influencing her perfectionism. I don't think I am, directly, at least. I think it's just a part of her makeup. I was raised very differently than she was and we wound up with very similar attitudes, so I think this is a largely a question of nature over nurture.  That said, she loves me very much, and she sees my attitudes, and seeks to emulate them as kids of that age do. So while I never went full Harry Chapin and told her that "flowers are red", I very well may have complimented her pictures that more closely resemble the objects they represent and thereby reinforced her attitude.

I'm naturally curious and so is Jen, and we both have a decent general education and we're each adept in our own way about explaining concepts to an audience hitherto unfamiliar with them. I'm happy that she wants to understand the world, and I'm happy that we can help her do it.

She watched an episode of Mythbusters on Netflix and fell in love with it. And Mythbusters is in fact pretty awesome. The thing I like most about them is that they're willing to revisit and revise earlier experiments in accordance with feedback. They don't have lab coats, but they are great scientists.

(Though their gun safety is dreadful. We were watching an episode where they try to determine if it's possible to do the Wild West trick and shoot and gun out of an opponent's hand and they're gesturing all over the place with them and pointing the handguns at each other's faces. I expected a repeat of that scene from Pulp Fiction. Have we learned nothing from Jeff Cooper, people?)

Also, something I learned from the Wikipedia page is that they repeat the experiment more times than they show in an episode, so they're drawing their conclusions from a much larger sample size that it would appear. That actually addressed my number one concern with the series.

I asked Lily why she likes the show, and she said, "Because they test things by blowing them up," and I don't think I could have said it better.


  1. Gotta love Harry Chapin. I was having a conversation with my wife the other day about why I never pursued writing further, and referenced Mr. Tanner. It was awesome being able to get that concept across without having to explain it. I can't think of any other musician who provides so many linguistic touchstones. (Probably just because they haven't been referenced twice this week, but still.)

    1. I didn't know you were a fan of Harry Chapin! My wife's family was really into him and she's the one who introduced me to his works.