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Elevators, Einstein, & Etiquette

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Elevators, Einstein, & Etiquette

OK, now here's the game rules:

(1.) everyone should be evenly distributed in the elevator (no clumping!)

(2.) everyone should face the doors (NEVER face the back of the elevator)

(3.) minimal talking (jabberers are collectively frowned at -- albeit usually indirectly)

Now just where do these game rules come from? Who made them up? No one ever writes them down, but we all know and (usually) obey them. But why CAN'T all of us stand on one side of a large elevator and why do we always have to "face front"?

The talking thing makes some sense, but the first two are completely arbitrary. Try walking into an elevator and face one of the side walls (much less the back wall) and see what happens. Rapid body shifting will take place, that's what will happen, and people we regard you as a worrisome nut case.

Another annoying thing about elevators are those jerks who try to get on before anyone else gets off. You know what I'm talking about. Sometimes they come in such a herd that you don't get to get off at all. That makes your day, doesn't it?

Now here's something that will make my gender mad at me, but haven't you noticed that's it's nearly always a man who controls the elevator buttons? It's kind of like the person who typically possesses the TV monitor -- which apparently is "man thing".

The coolest thing about elevators is when you're in one in a very tall building which is shooting up to the 40th floor like a bullet, because then you get to "feel" the equivalence Einstein saw between gravity and acceleration. If you absolutely couldn't get outside the elevator to see what was happening, you wouldn't know if that "pull down" was coming from acceleration or gravity, ergo equivalence.

Of course something similar happens in, say, a train which is not accelerating, decelerating, or turning, i.e., an inertial system which meets those conditions. The problem how can you tell if such a system is moving or not?

Let's say in this idealized world, all such systems are inertial systems (i.e., not speeding up, slowing down, or turning).

OK, now here's the catch. If you're in system A, are you moving or not? Well in this inertial reality, all you can do is look out the window and compare yourself to system B (which is exactly what they are doing to you!). So who's moving and who's stationary? Here again, Einstein's plot thickens with his intuition that "it's all relative". IF the distance is changing between system A and B, then each can say the other system is stationary, but they are moving (or visa versa).

For awhile hold outs to this problem were the heliocentric sun, the geocentric earth, and the "fixed stars", but none of those illusions worked. The last hold out was the luminiferous ether which was supposed to be the stuff that vibrated in light waves. In short, something like air to sound waves.

But, alas, no ether was found, so all inertial motion turned out to be relative.

This fact has further consequences, but Lord knows I've regressed enough from elevators, so thanks for listening (but I should warn you that if you try to push your way into an elevator that I'm trying to get out of, I intend to be the irresistible force which moves your (allegedly) immovable object.

W. Christopher Epler


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A liberal American, PhD mathematician, bipedal Earthling.

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