Watch Richard Feynman Explain Fire

United States Army // Public Domain
United States Army // Public Domain

Physicist Richard Feynman was a master explainer. His physics lectures are a model of clarity. His specialty is explaining one concept in the context of another concept the listener already understands.

In the video below, Feynman tackles the seemingly simple question: What is fire? This is a hard question for many of us to answer without referencing fire itself. Fire is burning. Fire is what happens when you light a match. Fire is a reaction. But aside from our existing knowledge of its effects (like flame), what is it and how does it happen? What else is fire like that we understand already?

In 1983, Feynman answered this question (among others) for the BBC on its Fun to Imagine series. He starts like so:

The atoms like each other to different degrees. Oxygen, for instance in the air, would like to be next to carbon, and if they're getting near each other, they snap together. If they're not too close though, they repel and they go apart, so they don't know that they could snap together.

It's just as if you have a ball that was [rolling and] trying to climb a hill and there was a hole it could go into. Like a volcano hole, a deep one. It's rolling along, and it doesn't go down in the deep [volcano] hole, because it starts to climb the hill and it rolls away again. But if you make it go fast enough, it'll fall into the hole.

So if you set something like wood in oxygen...there's carbon in the wood from a tree. And the oxygen comes and hits the carbon, but not hard enough. It just goes away again. The air is always [moving but] nothing's happening. If you can get it fast enough, by heating it up somehow...a few of [the atoms] come past, a few of them go over the top, so to speak.

So there you have it. If you understand what a volcano looks like and how a ball rolls under normal earth gravity, you have the start of this mental image for how fire works. Feynman's explanation manages to convey chemical behaviors in terms humans intuitively understand—the way a ball rolls—because that's the world we live in. Watch this for a delightful explanation:

The BBC has more clips (in better quality) at this slightly vintage website. You can also download the entire hour-long lecture from the Internet Archive.

[h/t: Kottke.org.]

Learn Travel Blogging, Novel Writing, Editing, and More With This $30 Creative Writing Course Bundle

Centre of Excellence
Centre of Excellence

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Take your time perfecting your craft with lifetime access to the 10 courses included in The Ultimate Creative Writing Course Bundle. At the discounted price of $29.99, you’ll have spent more money on the coffee you’re sipping while you write your next novel than the courses themselves.

 

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See What a Trailer for The Empire Strikes Back Might Look Like in 2020

Do or do not watch this trailer. There is no 'try.'
Do or do not watch this trailer. There is no 'try.'
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Special effects, cinematography trends, and acting styles may have changed over the last 40 years, but Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) remains one of the most beloved film sequels—even among younger generations of Star Wars fans—to this day.

The trailer, on the other hand, seems pretty outdated, mainly due to the voiceover narration that expels lofty phrases like “an epic of romance, of heroes and villains,” and “a galactic odyssey against oppression.” To see what The Empire Strikes Back would look like with today’s trailer standards, YouTube user AD_edits created a new one, which relies on dialogue from the film itself to set the stage for the galactic odyssey against oppression.

As Nerdist points out, AD_edits’s trailer also manages to hint at important plot points without giving too much away, like mentioning that Luke must find a great Jedi master without revealing Yoda’s identity. The original, meanwhile, contains a couple outright spoilers—it shows, for example, Darth Vader sitting at the head of the table in Cloud City, waiting to ambush Han Solo and Princess Leia. Viewers might not have realized the significance when they saw the split-second clip in the trailer, but it would probably ruin the surprise when they watched the actual film.

Of course, there was always the possibility certain parts of the trailer could’ve ended up on the cutting room floor before the movie hit theaters, which has definitely happened before. The Cloud City scene made the final cut, but some storylines from earlier in the filmmaking process weren’t so lucky—in fact, most of the first draft for The Empire Strikes Back was completely scrapped. Find out about Darth Vader’s gargoyle-filled castle, Han Solo’s stepfather, and other axed ideas here.

[h/t Nerdist]