Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Tuesday Talk: Unbelievable

Hannah and I had lunch at Los Bagels in Old Town this weekend. It was a busy weekend for the area, what with the Jazz Festival and all, and there were more tourists around that usual. There are these huge portraits hanging on one wall: Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, Frida Kahlo (One of these things is not like the others...).
Woman (clearly an out-of-towner, not that that explains anything): Who is that woman in that picture?
Bagel-ista: That's Frida Kahlo. She was an artist. She was married to Diego Rivera.
Woman: And her eyebrows really looked like that?
Bagel-ista (looks up at painting and shrugs): Uh, yeah, I think so.
Woman: She wasn't? From this country?
Bagel-ista: No, she lived in Mexico.
Woman: And she really just had one eyebrow like that? Her eyebrows really looked like that?
Bagel-ista (thinks to self): I need to find a new job where I never, ever have to talk to people.

I recently participated in a fun (for me, and others too, I hope) event designed to encourage girls to take more math and science classes and consider careers in science-related fields. I was part of the Science Mall portion of the event where tables are set up with all kinds of activities and the young women can mill about, touch stuff, play around with science gadgets and do-dads, ask questions and so on. My little table was about sound waves. I had some tuning forks and resonator tubes and some other stuff, but the big draw was an oscilloscope with a couple of microphones that the girls could talk into and "see" their own voices. There were some adults there as well, for the most part mothers of participants.
Mother: So, what does this do?
Me: Well basically, the microphone turns the sound into an electrical signal and we can see what that signal looks like on the screen of the oscilloscope.
Mother: Really? Are you sure?
Me: Uh... Yes. The microphone captures the sound of my voice, or of your voice, or of the tuning fork and turns it into electricity--it's still the same information, though--and the oscilloscope shows us what that information looks like.
Mother (tracing the microphone cord to where it plugs into the oscilloscope): So...the electricity goes through here and then we can see it on the screen. Are you sure?
Me: Yes I am. It's pretty cool, isn't it?
Mother: It's amazing!

Both of these mde me wonder where these kinds of reactions come from--what explains them? I don't think it's just lack of education or lack of cultural literacy; it's something closer to a dogmatic essentialism: Sound could never be electricity! No one would let a unibrow grow like that and not take care of it! Call me an intellectual snob, but I find both of these reactions very, very bizarre.

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