Friday, July 06, 2012

Enlightenment Comes from Surprising Places

The purpose of this blog is to provide something creative for dinner table conversation. Please print and share.

In the past seven days, there have been two leaps in our appreciation of nature.

One I think I understand well enough to explain to my kids.

The other, well.....

Each one has a story and perhaps a spiritual angle that you can share at your dinner table. (I'll try to keep this short and sweet.)

The First Story:

If you live anywhere outside of the red zone, then you may have heard about a storm we had last Friday night.

What most people don't know - including the five million who lost power - is how bizarre and rare this storm was.

We're used to storms. We check the weather forecast. Although the weatherman is often wrong, he usually gets the major storms right.

Especially Atlantic storms and hurricanes, which give us days of warning.

So how could it be that at 7 pm last Friday, the forecast didn't even mention thunderstorms, and yet at 11 pm we were hit with a Category 1 Hurricane?

This freak storm, called a derecho, went something like this:

Between Indiana and Baltimore, there was a 600-mile air mass that was just the right temperature, just the right density and just the right size, so that when a butterfly flapped its wings at just the right altitude in Iowa, this caused a chain reaction that drew on this massive potential energy and expanded and expanded until we were hit with a broad destructive storm that had all the force of a Category 1 hurricane.

Unlike an ordinary hurricane, where the winds are more horizontal, the derecho winds had a lot of vertical vectors.

And unlike a regular "severe" thunderstorm that has an energy rating of 2,500 Joules/kg, this one was feeding off of >5,000 J/kg.

Wow or Whoa?

What we witnessed Friday night was an awesome surprise barrage of air, water and electricity.

When morning came, there was hardly a street that didn't have a downed tree and major fallen branches. They call this kind of freak storm a derecho because it moves in a straight line, fast and furious.

It's only a coincidence, of course, but "derecho" resembles the Hebrew word "derech" which means "path".

Jewishly-speaking, someone who is on a path of spiritual growth is sometimes called "on the derech" and someone who decides to ditch their Judaism can be called "off the derech".

Question for your table - Can you come up with a creative interpretation of what it means to be on or off the "derech-O"?

The Second Story

When we went to school, we learned about the four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetic, strong-nuclear and weak-nuclear.


It was always confusing what these forces had to do with each other.

Know why it was confusing? Because the physicists themselves didn't quite get it.

Now they get it - finally!

They do, don't they?

(Hmm...If you spent $9 billion on a research project, wouldn't you make sure to make it sound like you got it?)

Bottom-line: how will this Higgs boson stuff impact high school textbooks?

As far as I can tell, we're not quite there. While Higgs-Boson does help solidify the Standard Model that explains some of these forces, we still apprarently don't fully get gravity, nor this newly discovered "dark energy" (not to be confused with dark matter).

So for all the non-physicists at the table: How do you feel about the confirmed sighting of the Higgs boson? (Since you helped pay for it, you certainly have a right to an opinion!)

(FYI and FYJP, eleven Israeli scientists played key roles in this discovery.)

In my humble opinion, the Higgs boson pales in interest to the mystery of dark energy.

The Higgs has been conceptually understood since the 1960s - just never proven.

Dark energy, in contrast, remains one ginormous mystery: an unknown invisible force is causing our universe to expand at a faster speed every single day.

We know that this is happening, but we evidently have no idea why.

Any new theories out there? Old theories?

Bonus question for your table: What do the derecho, Higgs and dark energy have in common?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - click here for some Higgs boson humor

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Bar and Bat Mitzvah gift suggestions at (a service of JSL).

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