Monday, April 11, 2005

Bad Physics

Terry Teachout quotes Saul Bellow:
“Why does it happen so quickly? You throw a stone into the air and it has to overcome gravity, so its rise is slow, and that is why the days of childhood are so long and leisurely. But as the stone falls, it goes faster and faster, with a velocity of thirty-two feet per second, so that your sense of time finally is that of a rush into death. As the Book of Job puts it, ‘My days fly faster than the weaver’s shuttle.’ Towards the end you rush towards the earth, towards death. What does this acceleration signify?”

Clearly Saul Bellow’s Nobel Prize was not in physics. In fact, he seems not to have been paying very close attention in his high school physics class. The highlighted portion of the quote should have been “acceleration of thirty-two feet per second squared”. Acceleration is defined as the rate at which velocity changes. He contradicts his entire point by implying that the stone has a constant velocity of thirty-two feet per second. Then in the last sentence quoted here, he uses the term “acceleration” properly. Does he or does he not know the difference between acceleration and velocity? I don’t care how impressive your writing credentials are, if you’re going to use basic physics as a metaphor, at least get the physics right.


Blogger Craig Westover said...

Just wanted to let you know that when I saw that quote his error struck me with a force equal to the mass of the error times the speed at which I recognized it.

12:22 AM  

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