Nautilus

Why We Love to Anthropomorphize Physics

Family Physics” may be the best episode of Public Radio’s long running show, This American Life. Its premise was simple. Import key concepts from the realms of quantum mechanics and cosmology and use them to illuminate the everyday world of parents, kids, and their interactions. Introducing the show, however, host Ira Glass was quick to point out how much physicists detest this kind of enterprise. “They hate it when non-scientists … apply principles from physics to their petty little lives and petty little relationships.” Glass was equally quick to point out that he and his colleagues at the show just did not care. As he put it, “Once physicists name something the ‘mediocrity principle’ or the ‘uncertainty principle’ or the ‘grandfather paradox,’ well … they’re just asking for it.”

Glass had a point.

The names we physicists bequeath our cosmic laws sometimes resonate with the more mundane, everyday struggles everyone has making sense of everyday life. There is a deep well of humor to be tapped in using “cosmic mediocrity” to sum up a bad day.  

But in some

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