Pressure getting to you? Science says move faster

Daniel Bernoulli once said “½pu2+P = constant”. This was back in the 1700s, and they talked funny in those days. Today they just call the equation Bernoulli’s Principle. I’d tell you what all the little letters and stuff mean except that he was Swiss and I don’t know their language. However, I have been assured that he, indeed, did say it and that it is highly significant. 

There are really only a handful of ways of determining what one is to believe in this world. One of the most common methods is simply believing what we’ve been told by someone in authority whom we trust. That is why I think the Earth revolves around the sun. (I could repeat the calculations and experiments of others. But I am told it is tedious, time consuming and would interfere with playing the guitar.)

This is one of the reasons why college degrees and other acronyms are so popular to put behind people’s names. It makes them look like they actually know something, and you should trust them. However, when one’s own sister tells a younger brother that the sky is red, before he has established mastery of his colors, it becomes hard for him to ever really trust again. 

Anyway, I believe Africa is there because everyone seems to think it is. I’ve never seen it. I also believe there are such things as atoms because I have been told that they exist. Accepting the existence of atoms allows us to tell interesting stories about how the world works. Of course, stories are not really proof of anything. Believing in atoms does save me a lot of time to play the guitar though. 

Science and math have many uses. One of the main uses of mathematics is to cover up human mistakes. The other is to confuse people. This is exactly what Bernoulli did. Prior to the 1700s people thought the faster and harder something moved, especially liquids, the more pressure it exerted. (This was a huge mistake, as demonstrated today by the numerous blowhards in public office.) 

It is easy to understand how simple people from earlier generations, who were so ignorant compared to us modern folks, might get confused. I mean, if you’ve ever tried to wade a creek at high water like they did in the olden days, you’d think the water was pushing on you pretty hard.  So it took some mathematics to cover up that mistake. 

Bernoulli discovered that the faster a fluid or gas travels across a surface, the less pressure they exert on the surface. See? Doesn’t that equation at the beginning make perfect sense now? Yeah, I know. Me neither. 

Anyway, I’m sure Bernoulli is an expert in spite of the fact that he didn’t have a Ph.D. after his name. However, just in case you’d like to verify that the creek is sucking your legs out from under you, instead of pushing you over, try this little experiment. 

Fold a sheet of paper in half like a little tent. Make sure it isn’t your wife’s special scrapbook paper. Set the tent on a table while you gently hold the sides of the tent to keep it from blowing away. Inhale and blow gently through the tent. Observe the sides of the tent as you blow.

When you blew through the tent, you were creating an area of fast-moving air. According to Bernoulli, the faster air travels across a surface, the less pressure it puts on that surface. By blowing, you lowered the air pressure inside the tent. The air pressure outside the tent is greater than the pressure inside, so it causes the sides to collapse. 

In conclusion, just let me say p + q = po. The other stuff you can just ignore. You know it’s true because Bernoulli said so.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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