07 November 2009

The Big Slip

A friend sent me this entertaining video clip last week, and I watched it with Trinhity tonight. Instantly after watching it she said, "No way! That didn't really happen....Daddy, is that real?"

I really don't know. If it's real, it's a killer stunt. If it's a fake, bravo. That isn't what got me thinking, though. What got me pondering was her spontaneous reaction to watching it.

She's four. At first I was pleased to apparently be rearing another skeptic instead of an easily-duped simpleton, but then I got to wondering how she'd arrived at the question. Despite my disreputable relationship with mathematics, my first reaction was to wonder if it would even be possible to calculate the physics accurately enough given the unavoidably variable conditions.

Trinhity only learned to count in the last two years. She can do it in three languages, but her addition falls apart much past 2+2. Sometimes she forgets the number 8. She grasps the concept of subtraction mostly because her little brother regularly steals her stuff.

She wasn't focused on the calculations; she must have found something unreasonable about the execution. Surely her basis must be observation of her own physical environment: people simply don't slide down hills then fly great distances through the air and splashdown in wading pools.

She's logical, but she isn't yet consciously analytical. We watched YouTube videos of gymnasts doing spectacularly aerobatic floor routines the other night; she never questioned whether those were real. She can't be working this out in any systematic way. So how does she know?

It's got me pondering anew the process by which we humans acquire our innate understanding of the physical world, including gravity. That we can discern the natural from the impressive or fantastic but also doubt our eyes leads me to believe that such 'calculations' must be far faster, operate more deeply in our primal subconscious, and produce far more accurate results than I'd previously considered.

The objectives of our physical sensitivies and mathematical models are clearly different: survival vs. pin-point accuracy, respectively. But it's still tempting to wonder which is more correct.

Since the math really isn't an option either for me or Trinhity at her present age, I'm going with evolution. Any takers?