January 12, 2008

What books are for

Conversation with my youngest son on the way to his piano lesson.

With-a-Why: Hey, do you know the Pythagorean theorem?
Me: Yeah, of course. A squared plus B squared equals C squared.
With-a-Why: But do you know what that means?
Me: If you take the hypotenuse of a right triangle and square that number, then that should equal the sum of the squares of the two smaller sides.
With-a-Why: My math teacher said that it's the one math formula our parents would remember.
Me: (laughing) So he was right.
With-a-Why: Yeah.
Me: Well, I remember other math formulas too, but I like math, and a lot of people don't.
With-a-Why: He said everyone remembers the Pythagorean theorem.
Me: I think it's because of the Wizard of Oz.
With-a-Why: The Wizard of Oz?
Me: In the Wizard of Oz, when the Scarecrow gets the diploma, he says the Pythagorean theorem, except with an isosceles triangle instead of a right triangle. Isosceles is a cool word, so it sounds intelligent, but it makes the formula wrong. But that's why people my age know the Pythagorean theorem.
With-a-Why: Because of the Wizard of Oz?
Me: Yeah. You know the scene I'm talking about, right?
With-a-Why: Yeah. But that's not why people remember it.
Me: Sure it is.
With-a-Why: The Pythagorean theorem is awesome. That's why people remember it.
Me: Well, it is cool. If I close my eyes, I can picture all these triangles, lined up each with a right angle, and I sort of picture the sides of the triangle as a rope, so that you can move the rope and shift the sides of each triangle, and I can imagine that there would be a pattern to the way the shorter sides of the triangle relate to the longest side.
With-a-Why: It's cool how it works out. Every. time.
Me: Well, that's the reassuring thing about math formulas. It's nice that they stay the same.
With-a-Why: I like math because it makes sense.
Me: Yeah. Well, I like that too. There is so much in the world that doesn't make sense.
With-a-Why: Yeah. Like people hitting each other with little black pebbles at high speed.
Me: Little black pebbles? Who does that?
With-a-Why: (Looking at me sideways.) It happens all the time.
Me: Oh, you mean bullets.
With-a-Why: Yeah.
Me: Who calls them little black pebbles?
With-a-Why: The rabbits. In Watership Down.
Me: Oh, right. Well, I guess that's what books are for. For things that don't make so much sense.
With-a-Why: Yeah.


Anonymous said...

I have my degree in math. I am not brilliant, by any stretch of the imagination. But I think like your son in some ways.

My favorite proof is for the theorem: there are an infinite number of prime numbers. It's simple, elegant, easy to remember and just plain cool!

Teri said...

little black pebbles. Nice.
I just heard, for the first time, what is probably a very common phrase for the same thing: "high impact lead poisoning."

I think NPR is also for things that don't make sense....

Sue said...

I wish I had grown up in a house like yours. I wouldn't have had to wait until I was in my 30s to learn how to think critically.

I think With-a-Why is awesome.

S. said...

Laughing about the Wizard of Oz. Because since Z. acquired her own copy of the DVD at Christmas, of course I've had occasion to re-memorize every. single. line.

susan said...

That is one cool conversation, although I have to say that I do remember the Pythagorean theorum because it is cool, and I had totally, completely, utterly forgotten it was in the Wizard of Oz.

concretegodmother said...

I think your cool kids reflect their cool mom.

Speaking of Wizard of Oz, I heard a simulcast of a Bobby McFerrin concert today in which he performed a ten-minute-long improv of the entire Wizard of Oz film through music and voices, ending with the witch-melting scene, at which time he dumped his bottle of water over his head. It was inspired! And hilarious! Just thought I'd share.

Anonymous said...

LOL! I remember it, too, but not because of the Wizard of Oz. It's because of the "Squaw of the Hippopotamus"...go here: http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=733591

todd said...

I smiled at this, for so many reasons. Thanks for sharing this story!

Good job remembering the Pythagorean Theorem, by the way. I tried, as I read this, but I couldn't quite dredge it up. Maybe that's because I started playing guitar at the same time. . .? :)

Cloudscome said...

What would we do without the books to explain what doesn't make sense. Great text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world connections here!

Lilian said...

WONDERFUL conversation!!! I like those words to describe bullets... maybe should check that book out. :)

hmmm, interesting word verification:
zsapovo (povo is people in Portuguese, what sould the zsa be? oh, and "sapo" is frog too :)