Gheorghe Curelet-Balan Blog

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The courage of Why.

Why woodpeckers don't get headackes?
Why high pitched noise is audible only by teenagers?
Why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on the blackboard?
Why when you bend dry spaghetti it often breaks into more than two pieces?

Yesterday I learned that big ideas are born sometimes when people are wondering about common life situations that the rest of us were afraid to ask or didn't dare to approach them.

The message that I took home from Marc Abrahams' PI lecture is that a candidate for a big idea is one that makes you first laugh and then makes you think (this is actually the mantra of the Annals of Improbable Research journal whose editor he is).

I'll go further and extend the meaning of "think" to non discrimination of ideas. Any idea doesn't matter how unusual, crazy or out-of-the-box is should be given the chance of thinking after the laughter. And my thought goes to Einstein's theories that one century ago would have been candidates for improbable research.

It was lots of laughing yesterday at Waterloo Collegiate Institute when Marc gave few juicy examples of big ideas that won Ig Nobel Prizes last year.

Here there are few of them:

Ornithology Prize for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don't get headackes,

Peace Price for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant that is producing high pitched noise audible only by teenagers,

Acoustics Prize for experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on the blackboard,

Mathematics Prize for the estimating the number of photographs you must take to ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed,

Literature Prize for an report on Problems in using Long Words Needlessly (it is funny that the title of the report starts with "Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity"),

Physics Prize for insights into why when you bend dry spaghetti it often breaks into more than two pieces,

Chemistry Prize for Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature.

Who says the researching and science cannot be fun.

In the second part of the lecture during the The Great Inertia Debates I learned how the virtuosity of NO won over SLOW in a double debate contest between YES and NO and between FAST and SLOW. I leave you the pleasure to enjoy it when the lecture will be available online or broadcasted on local Rogers Television TV channel or TV Ontario.

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