How Do You Know 2/3/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

On the road today, twice a car that I was driving behind turned right.  Both of them had a burned-out taillight.  Personally, I find it irritating when people do not use their turn signal, but when they brake and it turns out that the tail light is burned out, you cannot tell if they tried to use their turn signal.  As I watched them nearly turn to a complete stop to turn, I knew that inside the vehicle, if they were using their turn signal, the sound of the signal was faster than normal. 

Of course I know this because for decades, automobile manufacturers used the fast blink sound as an indicator of a tail light burnout.  They should know this as common knowledge.  In fact, everybody should know this as a safety concern.  If you are not aware of this feature, don’t feel bad.  Although it should be common knowledge, it really isn’t.  But this brought about a thought to me. 

How is it that I learned this?  I’m glad I do, but I honestly don’t remember anybody telling me.  So how did I learn it? 

It made me wonder just how many things that I know without realizing how I know it.  Or, how many things I think that I know that are not actually correct.  Some things make sense.  I don’t remember being taught how to walk or talk because, of course, I was a toddler when this happened, but even then, I at least know how I learned it.  Babies and toddlers learn thing by observation.  We mimic speech patterns without really knowing what they mean, which is why, in fact, so many grammatically incorrect features of speech are passed along.  Of course, this is all fine-tuned in English class in school, but the roots of language are learned through mimicking.

I remember my mother teaching me how to cross the street at the light.  When I was young, we walked a lot, in part because mom just like walking, but also because we only had one car as many families did back then.  And one television, believe it or not.  She taught me to cross when the light turned green, safe in the knowledge that pedestrians always have the right of way. 

I also know that this never felt safe to me.  Drivers often don’t pay attention, or don’t care, and far too frequently a car would screech to a halt inches from hitting me as I crossed as I was supposed to, with the driver leaning on the horn and cussing me out for doing what I was supposed to do.  Eventually, I decided it was just felt safer (do NOT take this as advice) to cross in the middle.  That way, I only had to worry about vehicles coming from two directions, rather than four, and while I was crossing illegally there was just less to worry about.  Walking home from work one day in high school where I was a dishwasher, dad was sitting in a parking lot watching me.  He was very angry at me for crossing in the middle of the road, and made it a point to scold me because, as I waited for my opportunity, the light went through four cycles.  He pointed out how I could have crossed so much faster at the light, never mind feeling less safe doing so. 

I decided to become a chemist early on in my life.  I remember reading about science in the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Young People’s Science Encyclopedia, which I read cover to cover.  Through this, I learned certain things about chemistry.  I decided, in my ignorance, that everything that I learn in chemistry I would write down on an index card.  The very first “fact” I wrote was that when you react an acid with a base, you get a salt and water.  Well, it’s mostly correct, unless you have a Lewis base in which case you still get a salt, but not necessarily water.  The second science fact is that two peanuts are walking down the street, one is a salted. 

Okay, that last “fact” was a joke.

My favorite way to learn something is by figuring it out through the scientific method.  There’s something about making a discovery and being the only person in history, and in the world, to know it.  Currently I’m continuing my research into the hydrogen bond, and I made a startling discovery.  The excitement is indescribable, and the follow-up research to further solidify the hypothesis may be faster than I anticipated since my new computer just completed a calculation that was still running before it failed for five weeks in my other computer just finished in about four days.  This blazing fast monster of a system means that I’ll be able to run continuing calculations to support my hypothesis (or prove it wrong) much faster than before. 


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