Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Index of Refraction

“The index of refraction is equal to the reciprocal angle,” he said. It was high school physics class and it just came out of his mouth, like it was English, like we were supposed to understand it. I paid attention, but I had not a clue what he was talking about.

That was how this class was turning out for me. This was week three and I wasn’t liking it, No, not liking it one bit. I wasn’t used to understanding something. I had no experince of this feeling and I didn’t know what to do with it. I went home to my mother.

“I hate this class. I want to drop it.”

“You will not. I didn’t raise a quitter.”

“But I’m failing it. I know it.”

My mother called him. He betrayed me. He told her I had a top grade going. End of story. I was staying in the class. No more discussion.

I listened harder. I found out that the refraction had to do with light through the water. It had to do with how straws in water looked like they bent when they didn’t. The bend was the index of refraction of the light. I’m not sure I remember where the reciprocal angle comes in. I was more fascinated by the little bubbles that formed along the straw that seemed to climb it. They offer so much more for the imagination. When might they move and where could they be going? Could they be their own small universes? If I were inside one could I see out?

To this day, though, I remember that sentence, and sometimes when I want to sound really erudite I say it. “The index of refraction is equal to the reciprocal of the critical angle . . . and then I add, “but only when the light’s turned on, and anyway I like the bubbles better.”

Ironically when I got to college, I really excelled in physics. I aced all five tests with the highest grade. It was much easier than high school.

Never once did the index of refraction sentence come up. Darn. I was ready for it.
—me strauss Letting me be


Anonymous said...

Response to your tagline, not the post, but it relates to optics.

Without colour - wouldn't everything be black? I thought white was the aggregate of all colours.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

If you're speaking of the tag line down the sidebar, it says without color everything would be black and white.


Anonymous said...

So when we stick the straw in water, it appears to bend, creating a V, and the reciprocal angle is an inverted V, creating an X

Of which only one fourth we can experience as a solid object, and one half that we can see.

So VX represents the universe, the parallell universe, and the recroprocal of both, of which we know not.

Ahhh, Liz, your beautiful ideas bubble in my brain like the tickle of champange.

I wish more people thought about these things. People tend to see the world as a plain solid straw, and then make laws and moral judgments accordingly, without ever seeing the refractive side, or the recriprocal.

Anonymous said...

O.K. You and Jay have just got to meet each other.

Liz, may I formally introduce you to my blogger friend Bird on the Moon

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Thank you for seeing the recriprocal and not all of the late-night spelling errors (which I just fixed). Your ideas bubble up in such interesting ways.

So much we see and so much we know not--it is a statement of life for sure.

"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Hi Kelley,
I took a look. Please tell Jay to expect me. I have an article to finish, then I'll be there to do a proper reading.

Any friend you think I should meet sounds deliciously intriguing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised you aced physics. That's why you're such a good Zen traveller.

I would have been more interested in the bubbles as well.


"ME" Liz Strauss said...

Yeah, the bubbles are the interesting part. They have much more imagination than the straws.

I'm still thinking about the orchestra. That is so very cool.