It's such a tantalizing question: What if an irresistible object crashes into an immovable object, what happens? Would the unmovable move? Would the irresistible be resisted? Which one would prevail? Somebody must have thought about this, must have an answer.
Well, someone has. It's Henry Reich, who's been writing/narrating/drawing Minute Physics videos at the Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, and attracting enormous crowds because his short animated explanations really do explain. In this one, Henry introduces us, with a few careful amendments, to something that Won't Be Moved, then to Something That Won't Stop Moving. They are set on collision course and we get to watch, step by step, what happens. You'll want to stay to the finish, because the end is like nothing I'd imagined.
There may be a few equations that fly over your head, but the drawings are so intuitive, so quietly compelling, I was able to follow the action all the way through.
Stop. Don't read this until you've watched the video...
About the last bit? Frankly, once we kicked gravity out of our equations, and got those two infinitely massive unacceleratable gift boxes heading for each other, I was expecting a crash — a big, universe-ripping crash. But when Henry pulls out a dictionary and reveals a law of nature I'd never heard of — all of a sudden those "infinitely massive" gift boxes become a pair of friendly ghosts, of the Casper variety, that can't be bumped into. I was, I confess, a little disappointed. It's like going to see two heavyweights of the Ali or Frazier class, and finding them weirdly transformed into lightweights — too light to land or take a punch. I'm not sure how to react. Should I ask for my money back, or should I think the universe is just wonderfully weird?
Robert Krulwich is co-host of Radiolab, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning program that examines big questions in science, philosophy and the human experience through compelling storytelling. Today, Radiolab is one of public radio's most popular shows. Its podcasts are downloaded over 4 million times each month and the program is carried on 437 stations across the nation. In addition to Radiolab, Krulwich reports for National Public Radio. “Krulwich Wonders” is his NPR blog featuring drawings, cartoons and videos that illustrate hard-to-see concepts in science.