Saturday, December 1, 2012

He Blinded Me with Science

The first time we watched Big Bang Theory, we laughed at the nerds and their awkward social skills. Finally, some TV characters we could relate to! Sure, they’re supposed to be geniuses, but we like the same shows, play the same games, and laugh at the same jokes!

But then, during one episode, Matt, breathless with laughter, gasped out, “The equation! The math on the board behind them! It actually goes with what they’re talking about!”

“Really?” I said. “That’s cute.”

“This show is hilarious,” he said.

“You know, babe,” I said. “I don’t think other people are laughing at the same thing you’re laughing at.”

Equations aren’t the least bit funny. I used to proofread his science papers in college, skipping the mathematical bits. “Is this really what you mean here?” I asked once.

“Yeah, because look at these variables,” he replied, pointing to an equation where N equaled a squiggle unless X was blue.

I stared. “It’s like a horrid massacre of numbers and letters!”

“Mostly letters,” he said. “Few numbers were inconvenienced in its making.” He spent the next several minutes explaining it to me.

I shook my head, sadly. “The guts of language!” I said. “Strewn across the page as a sacrifice to some dead Greek mathematician! Strewn! Like chicken entrails!”

He really wants me to understand, which would be cute if it wasn’t so much like homework. Because I love my scientist, I smile and listen, asking clarifying questions when he pauses for breath or dramatic effect.

“So you’re saying the particles can move through walls?” I asked in our dark bedroom one cold December night, snuggled under a mound of rumpled blankets.

“They call it quantum tunneling,” he said.

I couldn’t read his expression in the dark. “You’re just making that up, right?” I said.

“No, it’s a real thing!”

I socked him with a pillow. “You just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of something and you expect me to fall for it?”

“I’m serious!” he said, socking me back. “They move through walls!”

In case you’re wondering, it is a real thing, and he’ll never let me live that down.

“I don’t even hear it anymore,” said Sandy, whose husband is also a scientist.

“Did we tell you about the elevator music theory?” asked Sarah.

“No,” I said. “What’s that?”

“When you put them in a room together and they start talking, eventually everything they say transforms into elevator music in the background.”

I looked across the room where our husbands were deep in a discussion about the feasibility of the siege weapons at the Battle of Pelennor Fields in Return of the King. The melodic cadence of their voices was only occasionally marred by words like “stone”, “momentum”, and “trebuchet”.

“You’re right,” I said. “I don’t hear it anymore either.”

He must have known I wasn’t hearing his lecture on the state of the national debt because he stopped to ask, “Don’t these numbers fascinate you?”

“No,” I said. “To be honest, they confuse and terrify me.”

“An octillion would be bigger than Avogadro’s number.”

I vaguely remembered that from high school chemistry. “I knew what that was once,” I said.

“Six point oh-two times ten to the twenty-third,” he supplied helpfully.

“Yup, that’s the one,” I said.

He shook his head at me. “How does your brain not work that way?”

“You’ve got the numbers, I’ve got the…” I trailed off. What did I have? Oh, yes. I pointed at the notebook in my lap where I was journaling. “Words and things.”

He raised an eyebrow at me. “Word things?”

“Yes, you’ve got the numbers. I’ve got the word things.”

Sometimes, it’s like we’re speaking different languages. Even when we’re watching a movie together, we’re not watching the same movie.

“That bridge is structurally unsound,” he said during Van Helsing. “Especially with that chunk missing out of the middle like that. Those supports on the end wouldn’t be enough. The whole thing should have buckled by now.”

“The movie is about vampires and werewolves and you’re complaining about that?”

“It bugs me!” he said, defensively.

“It’s a fantasy movie!” I said. “Suspend disbelief!”

I still can’t get him to suspend disbelief. “I’ve done the math,” he said during Avengers. “The most successful heli-vehicles weigh no more than 6 tons. The smallest aircraft carriers weigh 12 tons. The heli-carrier would need at least 600 of those rotar-blades. It’s just not possible.”

I rolled my eyes at him, “Asgard isn’t real either. Just saying.”

Sometimes he really wants these things to be real. I once thought he would sink into a depression over what he thought was an error in the new Star Trek movie. "I noticed that they have transporter pads on the shuttles, so why didn't they just transport Kirk Sr. off the bridge at the last second?"

"Because then there wouldn’t be a movie," I said, like someone trained in literary theory. "How did you notice there were transporter bays in the shuttles?"

"In that scene on the ice planet where Spock beams Scotty and Kirk onto the Enterprise, he was using a transporter inside a shuttle."

"Well, that scene is supposed to be 25 years later, right? Maybe the older models didn't have transporters?"

"No," he said. "I went back and watched both scenes several times. Not only can you see the handrails for the transporter bay in the first scene, you can also tell that the shuttles in the two scenes are the same model."
"That's very thorough of you," I said.

After an hour and a lengthy discussion, we came up with an agreeable explanation: They couldn't beam Kirk Sr. off the bridge because the ship and the shuttles were both moving. They mention the difficulty of transporting moving targets at least three other times in the film, showing that it’s a dangerous procedure and takes great skill.

His face beamed. You would have thought we had cracked the Da Vinci Code there in our living room.

Unsolvable puzzles turn up in our living room all the time. 

“I bought this mirror,” I said, pointing to the giant frame he couldn’t possibly have missed.

“How the heck did you get that thing home?” he asked.

“Grandma helped.”

“Oh, good grief,” he said.

“I need to hang it above the couch,” I said, pointing, “right there.”

He knelt beside the mirror, testing its weight. I could almost hear gears turning. “We might have to rig up a pulley system. If I start with a board, and attach hooks here and here-”

“Don’t tell me about it,” I said. “Just tell me what to do.”

“Let’s go to the hardware store.”

Just Yesterday
We wouldn’t be going anywhere all weekend, not with his sprained ankle. “I’m sorry I ruined your plans!” he said as we crawled into bed.

“It’s okay,” I lied. “They weren’t elaborate plans.”

“We could go anyway?” he said, but in a way that implied he hoped I’d say no.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Maybe we’ll order a pizza, watch some Big Bang Theory. We can still have fun.”

“Okay,” he said.

Then after several minutes of quiet in the dark, he said, “Will you sing ‘Soft Kitty’ to me?”

I laughed, but remembered the appropriate response. “You’re not sick. You’re injured.”

Right on cue, he said, “Injured is a kind of sick.”

So I sang “Soft Kitty” to my ailing scientist and kissed him goodnight.

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