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"My body has learned that it can fly."
June 22, 2001 3:34 PM   Subscribe

"My body has learned that it can fly." Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame) describes his experience in zero G, riding the "vomit comet" - a bare-bones 747 that goes up really fast and then comes down really fast, leaving you weightless for about 30 seconds. His letter is at time hilarious, at times pretty gross (they don't call it the vomit comet for nothing), but most of all, I found it kind of... well, inspiring. Now, more than ever, I want to go into space and experience zero G. (via memepool)
posted by RylandDotNet (17 comments total)

Better than that, you can see ZZ Top afloat!

The beard fleas must be very confused.
posted by dong_resin at 3:39 PM on June 22, 2001

No one knows what gravity is. I mean we just don't know. There is no good theory. A good theory in science is one that we're damn sure is true: The Earth goes around the Sun. Evolution is how we got here. No one seriously doubts those. But, gravity, well, we just don't know

I thought it was pretty well accepted that gravity happened because mass warps space/time. At least it's more accepted than evolution which, while true, has its share of doubters.
posted by willnot at 5:10 PM on June 22, 2001

For you civilians who want to experience zero-g, try Superman: The Escape @ Magic Mountain in California. About 6.5 seconds of weightlessness - awesome.
posted by owillis at 5:13 PM on June 22, 2001

I thought it was pretty well accepted that gravity happened because mass warps space/time.

Well, it may just be my ignorance talking, but this explanation doesn't explain anything. How do we get from abstract ("mass warps space/time") to tangible ("when I jump, I come back down again")?
posted by RylandDotNet at 5:20 PM on June 22, 2001

Objects acting under the influence of gravity travel in straight lines in space-time, but matter bends space-time so objects appear to fall towards other matter.
posted by willnot at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2001

" objects appear to fall towards other matter."

Yeah, it appears that way, but we still don't really know why. Matter bending space-time is a theory. So far it's the best theory we've got cuz when lumped with the observation data and some unanswered questions of the universe it seems to make the most sense. HOWEVER, it's not as easy to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. Newtonian physics was questioned in his time, but it's pretty straightforward now. It might be the one thing that both aetheists and fundamentalists agree on: apples fall from trees. Penn Jillette is right when he says, "gravity, well, we just don't know." This has got to be the best copy I've ever read from Jillette's hand. Great piece. Thanks for the link, Ryland. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 7:01 PM on June 22, 2001

For whatever it's worth, it isn't a 747. It happens to be a KC-135, which is ordinarily used as a tanker for mid-air refueling.

As an interesting note, substantial parts of the movie "Apollo 13" were filmed in that same plane. The "free fall" scenes in that film were not done with people hanging from cables; they really were in free fall.

General Relativity (our current theory of gravity) has stood the test of time and has made stunning predictions which turned out to be true. This is a characteristic highly thought of in a theory. There may be refinements in the theory in future, but any completely revolutionary change is going to have a lot of explaining to do. (And Zach, apparently you don't know that Newtonian Physics turned out to not be quite correct; it had to be revised by the Special Theory of Relativity to get the correct answers. The Special Theory amounts to a rework from ground up of Newton's mechanics.)

Ryland, General Relativity really does explain those things -- it's just that it does so in such a fashion that you have to have a Ph.D in Physics to really understand the explanation. But the explanation really is there -- or as much explanation as ever exists in Physics; it's just about as much explained as Quantum Mechanics is explained. There's no "why" but there's plenty of "what".
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:32 PM on June 22, 2001

"Matter bending space-time is a theory/"

Theory is the end of the scientific method, if you think it doesn't fit the facts (observations) properly thats fine but 'its just a theory' doesn't mean much other than saying 'its not gospel.'

Evolution as currently understood has a lot more holes than gravity. I think Penn is looking for gravity waves or something to that effect. Some people find the natural world hard to grasp unless there some push/pull relationship going on be it cause and effect, electromagnetism, etc. At least on the a 19th century "common sense" macro level.

Relativity has been around since the beginning of the last century yet "smart" people like Penn are still stuck in this absolute rest/absolute time mentality. Then again Einstein did his damnedest to discredit quantum physics for more than a few years. Viva confusion.
posted by skallas at 8:33 PM on June 22, 2001

Steven Den Beste said: "(And Zach, apparently you don't know that Newtonian Physics turned out to not be quite correct; it had to be revised by the Special Theory of Relativity to get the correct answers. The Special Theory amounts to a rework from ground up of Newton's mechanics.)"



You're complaining cuz I was using fractions and you wanted decimal points to the tenth digit? Sorry I wasn't being anal enough for you.

You wanna get ugly? I'll get ugly.

Newton is correct in respect to where he was. That's what relativity means. Issac wasn't trying to explain why water drains one way north of the equator and the other way south of the equator. He wasn't trying to explain how we can't simultaneously know the speed and location of a subatomic particle without adversely affecting it. He was explaining why apples fall from trees. Why you have to push something to get it to move. Stuff like that. Later on Einstein revisited Newton's theories, in much the same way scientists check one another's work over and over throughout history.

We used to think the world was flat. Then we thought it was round. Last I heard, scientists believe the Earth is actually sorta shaped like a mutant egg. It's kinda oblongishsortabutnotreally. Does it matter? Do you want the exact diameter and circumference? How about the temperature at the Earth's core, in relation to the heat index of Goldsboro, North Carolina?

So far as Issac was concerned he was right, and inside Albert's explanation, Issac was roughly right. He just didn't know what Albert did. In fact Issac didn't care. That's why Albert called it the theory of RELATIVITY. The laws of the universe are relative to where you are within it.

While Issac's little apple is falling from the tree to the Earth, it's on a gigantic rock spinning in space but that rock is dwarfed by the humungous sphere of hydrogen-based flame that the spinning rock is revolving around, which in turn is spinning around the center of the galaxy at incredibly dizzying speeds while the entire universe as a whole is expanding. And every movement affects every other movement to greater or lesser degrees, in relation to one another.

Despite all this, the little worm inside the apple isn't gonna notice a difference. To him he'll still feel weightless until the apple hits the ground bouncing. At which point the worm will suddenly go from 0.00 to 1.8 in a millisecond and will vomit all over the apple. As far as the worm and the apple are concerned, Issac was right.

Steven, I know the diff between Relativity and Newtonian Physics. I was trying to keep things simple, and my comments brief. I didn't feel like typing a seventy-two page treatment (predominantly cuz I didn't think anyone would wanna read it) on what Issac, Albert and Stephen would say to one another while playing a poker game. Just because I don't divulge my entire fount of knowledge upon these blue pages, please do not make the terrible mistake of assuming my silence is anything less than golden.

Besides, Newtonian physics is all that's required from Penn's perspective. He's trying to be poetic, and emotionally expressive, not anal retentive or scientifically accurate. The guy was going on about how his body had learned what it was like to fly, when realistically his body merely experienced how to commit suicide without dying. It's not free-flying. It's freefalling. Penn's saying how wonderful it is to plummet to Earth in a plane for thirty seconds at a time. Were we to dissect this literally from Einsteinian physics or quantum mechanics, we'd miss out on the thrill he received. We lose site of the point he's trying to make.

So quit splitting hairs.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:27 PM on June 22, 2001

Oh, and about theory not being gospel? Science is religion. Theory is gospel, for those who worship test tubes and beakers. Then there's those of us who worship TechoBabble:

"I said to George; 'You can type this shit, but you can't say it.' and it's still true." - Harrison Ford.
posted by ZachsMind at 10:32 PM on June 22, 2001

That's kinda the point I was making when I posted the link, not whether it's a 747 or a KC-135, or whether or not mass warps space-time, but that it's really fucking cool being in zero G, even for only 30 seconds. I'm looking forward to the time when a ticket to space comes down from $20M to a couple thousand or so, assuming it ever does. OK, maybe I'm a big tourist, but I want to go into space, I want to walk on the Moon.
posted by RylandDotNet at 10:40 PM on June 22, 2001

For the record, a KC-135 is the military version of a 707. Many of them were delivered before 1960.
posted by dhartung at 11:16 PM on June 22, 2001

At which point the worm will suddenly go from 0.00 to 1.8 in a millisecond and will vomit all over the apple

man, you really don't want me to eat apples anymore, do you?
posted by sugarfish at 11:45 PM on June 22, 2001

Hey, SugarFish. It's protein. =) We're all God's creatures. Seen FearFactor recently? They make people eat worms on that show for $50K. ...I'd do it. I'd eat five worms for $50K. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 11:50 PM on June 22, 2001

I didn't feel like typing a seventy-two page treatment (predominantly cuz I didn't think anyone would wanna read it)

You're right. This rant was MUCH more interesting than tha would have been! Robot vs Robot!!! :-)
posted by fooljay at 12:43 AM on June 23, 2001

Not that any of you would care, but my husband was a research subject for NASA, and he got to ride on the Vomit Comet.....this was back in the early 80's......if you ever do get a chance to try it yourself, DO NOT drink a Pepsi first. Trust me.
posted by bunnyfire at 5:54 PM on June 23, 2001

I'd imagine it tastes the same in either direction.
posted by dong_resin at 6:15 PM on June 23, 2001

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