Tuesday, June 16, 2009


My mother has been sending us those classic books for kids for a couple of years now. They've already zipped through Call of the Wild (twice), 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, Hans Brinker and The Silver Skates, Heidi, The Swiss Family Robinson, and on Sunday we just finished Arabian Nights.

So, last night we started H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

And it didn't even occur to me how difficult time travel would be to explain to the kids.

Not so much because they don't get the going back to the time of dinosaurs or forward into tomorrow -- because the Magic Tree House series and Harry Potter have already lain that groundwork for me.

But the first page, the opening paragraph, was 3 scientists and 2 academicians sitting around the dinner table discussing the intricate complexities of two-dimensional objects versus three-dimensional objects, and why the existence of a fourth dimension (time) is just an unfathomable layer to comprehend, let alone experience first hand.

And when we got to the bottom of that first page I looked at Saia and then over at Chago, and I said, "Ok? All clear?"

Blank stares.

So I take out a sheet of paper and draw a line. Then draw three other lines to show them a square. Pick up the paper and turn it around. Let them hold it. And explain to them that the square has length and width, but no depth. It's two dimensional.

Then we get a box, cut and paste the square onto the top of it. Now the square has length and width and depth. Now it's a cube. Now it's three dimensional.

And now we tack on the simultaneous existence of this cube a minute ago, its existence right now, and its existence a minute from now to get to the fourth dimension. [And yes, I realize this is a very simplified version of the temporal theory of the 4th dimension as opposed to the spatial theory, but as the former is applicable to the story we're currently reading, it's probably best to keep the two entirely distinct from this point forward before my head just up and explodes in a totally 3-dimensional way all over your face.]

And then I saw their eyes twinkle...for just a minute. And then they lost it. And it was just out of reach. Like the first time I read A Wrinkle in Time. Like reading Contact for the third time and still not completely grasping it. Like watching Quantum Leap and trying to figure out what minor thing he may have done that irreparably changed history, and, consequently, the future (man, I miss that show!).

And, no, they don't get it entirely, of course, but they do get that it's HUGE. And they get on some level that although the spacetime continuum is intangible, it is at the same time all around us in every moment. That they are tiny, miniscule, but still relevant organisms. That the universe is limitless, seamless, and flawless. That life is infinite. That opportunities are boundless. That the power lies in the trying. That nothing is an impossibility. And that all progress is borne of the words "why?" and "what if?"

Okay, maybe they didn't get all that in one sitting. But they will. You just wait and see.


growingupartists said...

That was awesome!!!

Anonymous said...

Jo Anna I love you. :)

p.s. Do not be alarmed, not that way.