! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Our battle, or story if you wish, begins with a man hanging from an electrical wire somewhere in the middle of the United States. South Dakota or Kansas or somewhere like that. He has a strong grip and hasn't been hanging there for very long so he isn't too concerned with falling due to fatigue. Not just yet, at least. He wears on his body a pair of normal blue jeans with normal flip-flop sandals and a normal white t-shirt. He has normal length hair of a normal brown color. On his face he wears an expression not of fear but of a normal curiosity as he cases his surroundings.
It's a fairly far distance to the ditch on the side of the two-lane road below, just far enough that the man is pretty certain he would break at least a leg or ankle in the fall. He looks to his right, and sees nothing but a long, disappearing power line moving parallel to the light gray road, split down the middle with its dashed yellow line. On either side of the road is green field being blown about in waves by the wind, which, under different circumstances, might induce a calming feeling to the man hanging several yards above the hard ground, but he is quite calm already. He is a problem solver. He has been in tough situations before, albeit never such a situation as this.
As a physicist you are constantly presented with problems to which there may or may not be a solution, and nearly twenty years of experience as a physicist have taught our main character to never judge a problem by its level of peculiarity, or to assume too quickly that there is no solution. How he got into his current situation is not his concern. As we join him in this strange little scene, he is picking apart the parts of the problem and setting them up on a spreadsheet in his mind so as to organize a solution as quickly as possible, before his grip gives out and the most unpleasing solution, accelerating at 9.8 meters-per-second-squared towards the ground, is chosen for him. Why he has to solve this problem is a mystery, but a secondary mystery.
Our man is in his current situation for a reason known to many, in fact most of American society (not to mention parts of Western Europe and one family in Helsinki) have been following this man's story for sometime. Sadly, our physicist has been unaware all the while, which is a shame compounded by the fact that it really is such a great story, a real David v. Goliath, or, in this case, a real Physicist v. Gravity. But as for the present situation, in trying to remain unbiased observers and to keep as close a relationship to our protagonist as possible, we will not be privy to the information being tossed back and forth in both heated debates and casual discussions on network news television shows and in elementary school teachers' lounges.
So back to our physicist; he has looked to his right and found no solution. He looks to his left, and sees only the mirror image of what he saw to his right — more wire, more sine and cosine waves in an endless green field, more endless blue sky. Symmetry, he thinks, is a beautiful thing. He looks forward, and then down. The ground is still there, about twenty feet or a little more than six meters below. Our physicist sighs, and becomes restless. This will be a challenging problem, more challenging than some of the proofs he has been working on with some of his colleagues recently. He thinks again about gradually making his way along the electrical wire to one of the wooden poles and then simply climbing down from there…SILLY!! How very silly! Of course that would be the least intelligent thing to do! As soon as he touched the pole and the wire at the same time, that would of course complete the electric circuit and electrocute him with what is surely quite a high voltage, for despite being on wooden poles, this is most definitely line which carries current a very long distance, and the electric company would surely have this line running at a very high voltage so as to minimize power lost to friction over the journey. How very silly indeed! Our physicist shakes his head at his own naïveté and clears his throat so as to talk the problem out orally, a method he borrowed from his mentor when he first began his post-doctoral work in the study of Gravity. "By contemplating a problem out loud," his mentor had told him, "one can hear him or herself thinking, and thus has the ability to refute his or her own self and therefore come to a solid and scientific consensus of a conclusion." Our physicist's mentor had been a very wise man, although he was thought rather eccentric by the students who were not as eccentric as he was. Luckily for our particular physicist, hanging from an electrical wire in the middle of nowhere on a never-ending road, eccentricity has never been a problem.
"The problem, as I see it," our physicist begins, "is that I am suspended by a high voltage electrical wire, several meters above the ground. I have little if any hope or help arriving, for at this elevation, I can see for many miles, and as at present I can see no vehicles coming this way, I can assume that my grip will weaken before any help arrives." Here our physicist bites his lower lip, another habit picked up from his mentor, in a mixture of deep contemplation and frustration.
"I cannot make my way to either telephone pole, as being equidistant from either that to my right or left, the journey in itself would more than likely weaken my grip to the point where I would fall, and should I even make it to a point near enough to the wooden pole that I might jump, the chances of my being able to transfer myself from wire to pole without being at some point in contact with both is very slim. I have little choice but to leave my fate up to Gravity, in the hopes that my injuries are not too bad as to keep me from ascertaining a way of getting back to my office in order to make notes of this situation and to hopefully form a hypothesis as to how this came to be."
It is at this point that our physicist bites his lip once again, trying to think of any way to refute the logic with which he has spoken out loud regarding his current problem. He nods to himself and affirms his solution as being the best one possible, and let's go of the wire.
Our physicist does not move.
He is suspended in mid-air, and now wears an expression on his face of utter and complete confusion. He reaches for the wire above his head, but its natural elasticity has taken effect, and without the weight of our physicist to pull it downward, it is now out of reach.
"THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!!!!" screams our physicist. "GRAVITY IS A CONSTANT! 9.8 METERS PER SECOND SQUARED!! I SHOULD BE ON THE GROUND!…"
Our physicist's world is indeed in complete and utter ruin, and he continues to scream about the proven constancy of Gravity he has seen in all his research and in the research of the so many brilliant men who have come before him. He cannot make sense of the new problem at all. It is during his third or fourth reference to either Kepler or Newton's work that Gravity, tired of our physicist constantly referring to her as nothing but a force of nature, a "sure thing", speaks to him, so as to hopefully clear up a little bit of this now very strange situation.
"Sir, if I may have a word?"
Our physicist is silenced in surprise. His face quickly turns a very abnormal shade of pale. He is obviously frightened. Tears would fall from his eyes, but just as the physicist cannot fall to the ground, his tears cannot fall to his abnormally white cheeks. He waits in silence, frightened for the first time of the laws of physics to which he has devoted his life.
But Gravity has a change of heart when she sees how distressed our physicist is at an unseen force's conversing with him, and decides it is not worth the trouble of further distressing someone who has taken more notice of her than anyone else in a long time, no matter how lonely she is for someone who understands her completely. Just as with Isaac Newton, her former lover, who would give her apples as gifts and to whom she showed so many of her deepest secrets, Gravity cannot bring herself to see her lover confounded.
She loves them for their understanding of her, and they only take the time to learn anything about her if she remains silent. With Newton she had to reveal her true self to him slowly, so as not to overwhelm him. This new physicist has fought her long enough, trying to find a way around her constancy, both in his profession and now, in an effort not to fall. But like Newton, he has not been able to admit the fact that he cannot control her, he has not gotten to know the real Gravity. Gravity is her own force, and no man, no matter how attractively intelligent, will control her. If it weren't for his apparent fear of intimacy, she would be able to tell him all this, and maybe someday, all her secrets, once she can trust him enough not to take advantage of her. Therefore, hoping that he will notice her independence, she breaks her self-imposed rule of never pulling harder than 9.8 m/s/s and pulls almost twice as hard. Our physicist falls quickly to Kansas or South Dakota, breaking his left leg and his right ankle.
~ ~ ~
Several hours later, a state trooper on its way to _________ passes and finds a man on the side of the road hobbling about, muttering to himself about gravity and its constancy and how he can't sit down, he can't give in to the evil laws anymore. The trooper, not wanting to be killed by a crazy person, drives on, sirens ablaze.
~ ~ ~
Several more hours later, our physicist yells, "I GIVE UP!!! YOU WIN!!! I'LL NEVER UNDERSTAND YOU!!!" and collapses to the ground in a heap. Gravity smiles to herself, and turns her attention to an eager five-year-old boy climbing a tree in a Cleveland suburb.