Ask a Theoretical Physicist

Dear Theoretical Physicist:

I’ve been dating this guy for a few months, and he always shows up 15 or 20 minutes late for our dates. Is this some kind of power play? I don’t like to be kept waiting.

—Veronica M., Nolita

Dear Veronica:

I would surmise that your boyfriend is probably traveling to meet you at a speed approaching the speed of light. If so, then his tardiness can be explained by the principle of general relativity. Assume for the sake of argument that you will be meeting your boyfriend at a location four miles from his home. At near light speed, he would have to budget approximately one ten-thousandth of a second travel time (one forty-five-thousandth of a second to get there, plus some time for parking). When he arrived, he would be on time according to his watch, but you would have been cooling your heels for a while due to your differing frames of reference. I would suggest determining the mass and velocity of your boyfriend prior to the date, then calculating the distance he will be traveling, and using that information to compute his probable arrival time.

—TP

 

Dear Theoretical Physicist:

My friend made me some cookies when I was sick, and they were so good that I wanted to make them for myself, but she refuses to give me the recipe!!! How can I find out what’s in those cookies?

—Annette R., Cobble Hill

Dear Annette:

I would recommend taking one of your friend’s cookies and accelerating it to very close to the speed of light, and then smashing it against another cookie traveling at the same speed in the opposite direction. The resulting collision should cause the cookies to explode in a shower of original ingredients. Be careful to accurately measure the mass and velocity of these ingredients as they fly away from the collision site. Using the conservation laws, you should then be able to compute the proportions of each ingredient and the proper baking time and temperature. Good luck!

—TP

 

Dear Theoretical Physicist:

My aunt has one of those little dogs that’s totally hyperactive. She’s in Fort Lauderdale visiting relatives, and I’m supposed to give the little menace a pill every day while she’s gone, but I can’t get my hands on him. Any advice?

—Kevin K., midtown

Dear Kevin:

You don’t say in your letter how small your dog is, but I’m guessing from the details you provide that he is approximately the size of an electron—small enough that Planck’s Constant would become meaningful. What this means, in practical terms, is that according to the uncertainty principle, it will be impossible for you to determine precisely both the position and velocity of your dog, rendering him maddeningly difficult to catch. If your aunt had several hundred billion dogs, you might create a wave function that would identify the location in her apartment most likely to contain a dog at any given time. Alas, with just the one pooch, you’re out of luck.

—TP

P.S.: Try wrapping the pill in some hamburger.

Ask a Theoretical Physicist