Duck Soup: Thanksgiving, Mashed Potatoes and Gravity

When you double click on your gratitude file this Thursday, consider the following:Divine providence and your hard work may have put that delicious meal on your plate, but it's gravity that keeps it there. While you offer thanks for health, friendship, wealth and a dry roof if you enjoy such blessings, don't forget a murmur of appreciation for that which brings us all together. We should each be deeply grateful for gravity. Gravy and mashed potatoes would be non-intersecting concepts, and a real mess to boot, if not for the subtle process described by Isaac Newton in his inverse square law. We can thank our lucky stars, planets, mu-mesons, quarks, superstrings and plasma that gravity stumbled onto the scene back when everything was emerging from nothing. Face it. Absent that cosmic suction, not only would you have no delicious Thanksgiving dinner to sit down to, you wouldn't even be able to sit down.Maybe the most satisfying feature of gravity is that we still don't have any idea what it is. We can describe the relationship between attracted objects, and make useful generalizations, but it remains completely mysterious. That which goes up must usually come down. Falling things accelerate. Lead sinks. Hot air rises. But all of the scientific brains in history and now all of the supercomputers in the world can't explain exactly why stuff captivates other stuff. Compounding the conundrum is the one known exception to this universal law. For some reason pairs of socks in washing machines mysteriously repel each other and wind up in parallel universes during the spin cycle. Gravity is a group hug that never ever lets go, a gripping experience you just can't shake, and the source of your most down to earth feelings.In a lot of ways, gravity is like love and descriptions or explanations of each seem to overlap. She is the apple of his eye for exactly the same reason that apples dive to earth . People in love gravitate and stick together. We fall hard, moon over each other, and swing from dizzy heights to utterly dismal depths when that special someone doesn't drop in. Occasionally one lover explodes with anger and goes into orbit, meaning that the explosion created motion at right angles to the other body. But it wouldn't be an orbit if the angry partner reached escape velocity since orbit implies ongoing mutual attraction. Lover's lanes are places where strongly concatenate bodies explore similar trajectories, and lover's leaps offer the heartsick a chance to dabble with terminal velocity under conditions of negligible friction.The other great Thanksgiving tradition which makes so many of us glad to have a day off is football. If keeping your gravy and mashed potatoes organized doesn't humble you, just imagine the opening kick-off in zero Gs. Actually, there would have only been one opening kick-off, ever, and the original football would never have been seen again. It wouldn't even come back around like Haley's comet or instant replays. Speaking of instant replays, without gravity there wouldn't be any downs, so there wouldn't be any station breaks and consequently no chance to get up to get a beer. As for the other profound necessity answered by station breaks, I would leave it to Astronaut Shannon Lucid to explain the ramifications of a gravity-free flush. I assume she doesn't need any reminder of what a great debt we owe the subatomic tie that binds, though she has been quoted to the effect that gravity brings her down.Of course it does. That's my point. Without it Astronaut Lucid could have spent the rest of her life eating instant mashed potatoes out of a squeeze tube in a musty Russian house trailer headed for Proxima Centuri.So whether you collocate with your family and friends to celebrate our national day of thanks, or spend it alone and conjoin with loved ones only in your thoughts, offer a few whispers of gratitude for gravity. It may not always attract a lot of attention, but it sure as heck attracts everything else.

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