Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Story of Newtonmas

As you are probably aware, Sir Isaac Newton's birthday, December 25, is celebrated each year the world over.  We sing songs about Santa's gravity-defying reindeer, eat heroic quantities of the finest foods available, and decorate our houses, our trees, and increasingly, ourselves with highly technologically advanced paraphernalia, all in celebration of our civilization's utterly miraculous scientific and economic accomplishments.

QUIZ:  Which of these men was actually born on December 25th:
Sir Isaac of Lincolnshire, or Iosua of Galilee?
This is the True (but slightly anachronistic) Story of Newtonmas - the most Scientifically and Economically Wonderful Time of the Year.  And by "true," I of course mean "completely made up."

Once upon a time in the long-forgotten past, about eleven years ago, Nikolaos of Myra (who is known in the Blogosphere by his username Santa Claus) was meeting with his Chief Scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, to discuss his plans for a brand-new global holiday.

Santa:  "... and then I'll drop down the chimney and leave the presents under an indoor tree or shrub (haven't made a final decision on that yet).  What do you think?  I reckon this will be the best holiday of the year!"

Isaac:  "Well, Nick, I can't really comment on your marketing projections, but there might be a few technical issues with the plan.  Assuming we can provide the reindeer with sufficient thrust, there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to fly just fine.  It's the landings that have me a bit concerned."

Santa:  "We can work out those details later.  My number one concern (besides keeping bloody PETA off my back) is the timing.  I'm really hoping 24 hours is going to be enough.  I'll start in Australia, since they've got the earliest time zones..."

Isaac:  "Ah, yes.  I've done a few calculations, and there might be an issue or two.  To meet your timeframe, Santa, you'll have to average about 650 miles per second while making about 800 stops per second.  Assuming you can even react that fast without getting the presents mixed up, the g-forces would turn your flesh into jelly.  A big, bowl full of jelly, to be precise."

Santa:  "Even with my special red carbon fiber suit?"

Isaac:  "Especially with the suit.  The air resistance will not just melt your sleigh, but vaporize the remains as well."

Santa:  "Bugger.  Well, what do you suggest we do, smart guy?

Isaac:  "Um, there's something I've been working on for a while, and this might be the perfect opportunity to roll it out. I've succeeded in developing a consistent theory of Physics, which incorporates all known phenomena such as motion, forces, acceleration, light, mass, and energy.  The relationships between these things are nicely described by a method of computation I've developed ... which that scoundrel Leibniz keeps trying to take credit for.  Make sure you put him on your Naughty list, Nick."

Santa:  "(Sigh!) Physics and Calculus is all really interesting, I'm sure, but how is it going to help me?"

Isaac:  "Keep your beard on, grandpa, I'm getting to that.  When people can work out accurate predictions of how inventions are going to function, then developing technology is going to be a lot cheaper and faster to do.  And with a correct understanding of natural principles, it will be a lot less risky, since unfeasible inventions will be easy to spot, and more likely candidates easier to design.  The effect of all this will be an explosion of technology giving Humanity incredible levels of wealth, power, freedom and comfort that the world has never before seen or even imagined.  What I suggest we do, Santa, is publish my Physics and wait for it to get a foothold.  When it does, people will have all they need and more."

Santa:  "Wait ... but won't that mean they no longer need me to bring presents to the children?  They'll already have all they require."

Isaac:  "No, that's the beauty of it.  See, parents can then afford to go out and purchase the presents in a thriving, vibrant economy, wrap them up and leave them under the Santa Bush themselves.  The kids won't know the difference - they'll think you paid them a personalized visit, leaving you free to focus on the special needs cases."

Santa:  "Holy Commercialization . . . Isaac, you're a genius!  That is the best idea I've ever heard.  Sheer brilliance.  You know, I was going to hold this holiday on my birthday - December 7th - (a bit of personal vanity, I suppose), but because you saved Santa-mas, we're going to hold it on your birthday instead!  When is that, anyway?"

Isaac:  "December 25th."

Santa:  "No good.  It's too close to the pagan Solstice celebrations."

Isaac:  "Not necessarily.  If you were to merge the two, you'll get much greater market penetration.  Plus, I know this Jewish guy who's a genius at Public Relations.  I've become a huge fan of his work myself - he's already got about a bazillion likes on Facebook.  If you get him to handle the publicity, this holiday will go viral in no time at all."

Santa:  "Good thinking.  I'll give him a jingle.  Get it?  Jingle?  Ho ho ho.  What's his name?"

Isaac:  "Joshua of Galilee, but his friends just call him Jesus."

Santa:  "When's his birthday?"

Isaac:  "The 30th of Nissin.  Why?"

Santa:  "Never mind.  That's, like, March or April isn't it?  It doesn't matter I suppose.  Yes, with your help, Isaac, and Joshua's marketing skills, this holiday is going to be an absolute smash!  A real corker."

... And that's the story (more or less) of how we came to live in a wonderful world of untold wealth, possibility, freedom, abundance, long life and joy.  Of course not everyone shares in this Utopian dream.  There are people today still living in darkness, in lack, in despair and in shackles both real and imagined.  But as more and more people embrace the spirit of Newtonmas, the can-do belief that our intellect, hard work, rationality and best intentions can make life better for everyone,  the blessings of human progress will gradually but inexorably become universal.  Each December 25 will find the world a better place than the previous one did.

Merry Newtonmas, Everyone!

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