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The science of everyday life

by Jay Ingram

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The science of everyday life    (2011-03-10)


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by wppalmer

The science of everyday life (1994) by Jay Ingram. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Books.

Reviewer: W. P. Palmer

I liked this little book. Admittedly the book was originally published in 1989. This is a comparatively new paperback edition of the original, but I don't think that its contents have dated to any major extent. The book is made up of 25 sections totaling 209 pages. Thus each section is a little less than ten pages in quite large print, so it is very easy to read. The style is conversational: in general, the science being discussed is everyday science and the explanations of this everyday science where they are known are given clearly and well. I will cover some of the examples that Ingram mentions, but many of the pieces are about matters that there are not clear unambiguous and uncontroversial explanations. That adds to their interest

The first piece is about the phenomenon of tongue-showing when people concentrate. Ingram also points out that research shows that when people exhibit tongue-showing either consciously or unconsciously, then people avoid disturbing them. I had never noticed this before, but I now keep my eyes peeled to observe the phenomenon.

The second piece is about Roadrunner and Wile E Coyote (the cartoon characters) and the impossibility in terms of Newtonian physics of some of the actions they perform. I have never given students an assignment on this, but I have often felt it would be a good idea to ask students to see a one minute cartoon segment and to answer in writing all the actions that the cartoon characters took that contravene the laws of physics. In general this piece looks at only one of Newton's laws of motion (the first), such as the cartoon view that Coyote where he runs off a cliff and only starts to fall when he looks down and then falls vertically downwards as opposed to the arc his body would follow in a real situation. Here Ingram is entertaining, but not original.

We have all observed that when the full moon is low in the sky (close to the horizon) that it appears to be much larger than when it is high in the sky. I must admit that I thought there was a physical explanation for this, but evidently I am quite wrong, it is an optical illusion and the disc of the moon is the same size, wherever it is in the sky. This can be verified by holding an aspirin at arm's length between the eye and the moon. It covers the disc of the moon equally however high in the sky the moon is, showing that the apparently enlarged moon near the horizon is a psychological not a physical phenomenon.

I was reading the book on a plane journey and came across the piece called "Sex and the single armrest" just after arrival. The observation concerns the occasions when a male passenger occupies a seat adjacent to a female passenger. It is then observed that male passengers control the armrest of the seat more frequently than the female passengers.

Observations continue about a whole variety of events including why mosquitoes swarm, the evolution of the faces of Teddy bears and the effect of asparagus on the smell of the gourmet's urine due to the production of a chemical called 3-methyl-thio-proprionate.

There's a surprise in almost every story and a wide enough variety of stories to suit every taste.

The science of everyday life (1994) by Jay Ingram originally reviewed for Journal of the Science Teacher Association of the Northern Territory (1997), Volume 16, pp.158-159

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