Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Survivor, physics, rainbows and miracles.

So on last week's episode of Survivor one of the players revealed a touching heartwarming story about how he knew it was all okay after his father died. He was driving and looked in his rear view mirror and the back of his truck was filled with a rainbow, and he turned around and didn't see anything.

"Right there was when I knew that my dad was good."

Now, let's apply what we know from physics to unweave this story. Why would you be able to see a rainbow in your rear view mirror but not looking directly at the bed of your truck?

Well, because rainbows consist of numerous refraction and reflections of the sun among many various drops of water, within the drop themselves. And there's a bow that appears at your feet when you look down (usually with a hose you can see them down there) but they only occur when you look down at a specific angle (42°). And this is what changes dramatically between looking behind you and looking in the rear view mirror, the angle at which the light is is being reflected from the sun. Shift to less steep angle and the rainbow might not be there (and the angle seems spot on considering the angle from the truck bed to rear view mirror).. Because rainbows live in light, not in space. This is no stranger than you being able to see the sun by looking behind you but not seeing it in your rear view mirror.

Just as you can see what looks like like a wet road on a hot day quickly drying, some hundred feet ahead of you, while you're driving. But if you look straight down, you'll never see it look remotely shiny (the heat causes the light to refract and if it goes through enough atmosphere you'll see the sky where the road should be).

See, his father is just actually dead, and a rainbow doesn't change that. While the story isn't the sort of cheer you up magic one would claim, the rainbow is just as pretty as it ever was.. Science isn't cold. Rainbows are pretty and dead people are really dead. Science is about reality.


Theunis said...

In the eyes of the beholder it was magic and it did give him peace.

Tatarize said...

But in reality it was just a change in angle. And comforting falsehoods are still falsehoods.

Theunis said...

Yet the rainbow remains a reality and is not a falsehood.
The peace it gave him is also a reality.
Only the incorrect perception of a reality may be regarded as a falsehood. But the result of the perception is to that person a reality. Many have lived or died because of what they perceive something to be, be their perception be true or false.

Tatarize said...

The falsehood is behind the comfort. Lies can be comforting and that comfort can be real. But it doesn't therefore follow that the lies are truth.