I THINK ABOUT STUFF LIKE THIS

truly lost in the cosmos seismic forces copy 2See those rocks in the picture above? The round ones sitting there stuffed sideways into the hillside above Ventura, California. Up there all by themselves?

I noticed them. I then wondered how did they get there hundreds of feet above the ocean, half a mile inland?

Uplifted, no doubt since the area is in a seismic zone. But how did they get to be so round when all the other rocks in nearby cliffs were not? They must have once been sitting on an ancient shoreline or, they were in a riverbed that once drained the mountains to the north.

The average person wouldn’t have even noticed these rocks. Or cared, even if they had.

This article is dedicated to those people who are not average. The ones who see the world in a completely different way from the rest of humanity.

People like my favorite sci-fi author, Douglas Adams. To his daughter, a light switch was just something she flicked on to produce light. To him, it was much more. He marveled that the switch was connected to two wires. One was short, going from the switch to the light. But the other wire effectively ran back through miles of copper all the way to the power station. He marveled at the idea, appreciating its complexity and its strangeness.

Richard Feynman was another fascinating person who saw the amazing masquerading in the commonplace. One of the greatest physicists of the 20th century, he could look at a simple tree and see much more than some roots, a trunk, branches and leaves. He understood and marveled at where they came from. The answer isn’t what you think.

Feynman said that trees come mostly out of the air.

Before you sputter in laughter and ridicule, you need to know that he’s correct. Ninety-five percent of a tree comes from atoms in the air.

Most of the matter that makes up a tree is made of carbon. The tree gets that material from the carbon dioxide in the air. With a little help from the sun, it splits the CO2 in photosynthesis, exhaling oxygen as a waste product. It gets some water and minerals from the soil, but it’s a tiny amount by comparison. That’s why there isn’t a huge hole in the ground around a tree trunk, the soil exhausted from being sucked up by the roots. Here’s proof: click here to see the video. Feynman wouldn’t stop there. He would also see that the wood in the tree is extremely flammable.

So why doesn’t it just burst into flames?

After all, the oxygen atoms in the air like to snap together with the carbon atoms in the tree. There is one caveat: as long as conditions are right. Normally, neither the carbon atoms in the tree nor the oxygen atoms in the air are moving fast enough to stick to each other—they mostly repel. But add a flame from a match and the atoms begin moving so fast, they can collide and stick with each other. And those atoms jostle neighboring atoms that snap together with other oxygen atoms and before you know it, you have a runaway reaction.

It’s called fire.

Don’t get me started about Einstein because I’ll go on and on for pages.

So am I advocating that only geeks can appreciate the world around them?

No.

But I’m grateful that they’re around to give us such blazing, startling insights. If it weren’t for them, the next time I looked at a tree, I’d miss so much if I thought it just came out of the ground.

 

(I find Richard Feynman so fascinating, here’s a link to a video where he discusses everything from, yes, where trees comes from, to how rubber bands work: click here.)

 

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