Things I have learned from Big Bang Theory

5 11 2011

Big Bang Theory is a huge hit in our house. It is such a new idea, so different from other programs and involves intelligent people getting on with their lives, not people being stupid for the sake of it (which seems to be a recurring theme in so many sitcoms). They value higher education (great for my children to see) and the university setting actually includes some reference to work, research and learning, not just a place to pick up. Not everyone looks like a teenage anorexic Barbie or Ken doll. And maybe, just maybe, I am learning something. Admittedly, not life-changing lessons for life, but interesting things none-the-less.

I should add a disclaimer here. I am not a scientist and this is not a science blog. There are plenty of science blogs out there that are blogging on Big Bang Theory, so if you are looking for one of those, please glance over my posting and then move on!

So here goes:

1. String theory. Now I am going to start by making excuses: I finished both high-school and university before the mid-90s when this theory was first developed. So this was certainly not part of high-school physics classes. And since then my field has been mostly biological science – as Sheldon would have it, applied science, not pure theoretical science. So when I first heard of string theory on Big Bang, a small part of me thought maybe it was something the program writers had made up, Just briefly. There – a true confession. Turns out it is real.

2. The Theremin. This is the instrument that Sheldon practices in order to distract the others from developing an app that will recognise equations. While the sound is vaguely familiar from various sci-fi movie theme music, I have to confess it sounded a lot like someone playing the Saw.

3. The Square-cube law. This states “When an object undergoes a proportional increase in size, its new volume is proportional to the cube of the multiplier and its new surface area is proportional to the square of the multiplier.” (Source – Wikipedia). In practical application, Sheldon uses this to explain to Raj and Howard why giant ants could not exist – as they became larger their increase in volume would render their physical structure unviable. Quite why Howard, an engineer, would require Sheldon to explain this to him is unclear.

4. Toast. Apparently the term “toast” referring to the clinking of glasses together and usually a few words such as “cheers” or “chin-chin” came from the Ancient Romans who used to dip toast into their spiced wine.

5. The importance of a decent business model. When Penny decides to make her fortune making Penny Blossoms and selling them online, she bases her pricing on having made one. When Howard makes her a fabulous website that also offers a rush-order option for ordering 1000 Penny Blossoms, they work night and day to get them ready and then work out that the profit margin is miniscule.

6. The spherical cow joke. The spherical cow joke is this: Milk production at a dairy farm was low, so the farmer wrote to the local university, asking for help from academia. A multidisciplinary team of professors was assembled, headed by a theoretical physicist, and two weeks of intensive on-site investigation took place. The scholars then returned to the university, notebooks crammed with data, where the task of writing the report was left to the team leader. Shortly thereafter the physicist returned to the farm, saying to the farmer “I have the solution, but it only works in the case of spherical cows in a vacuum.” (again, thanks to Wikipedia). The importance of the spherical cow joke is its commentary on the application of idealised scientific principles to real life.

7. Some excellent use of Progam Logic methodology. OK, not a learning, but I love the way they use program logic to map out relationships – particularly Sheldon’s attempt to map a friendship in order to get access to lab resources in “The Friendship Algorithm”. The logic loop and Sheldon’s strict adherence to it is particularly amusing.

8. Skinner’s principles of positive reinforcement can be employed in real life. Yes, yes, we all know that positive reinforcement can work – that’s why we tell the dog he is a “good boy” for coming when he is called. But Sheldon’s use of chocolates as reinforcement to get Penny to adhere to his rules was marvellous and devious at the same time and was a fabulous example of the principle.

9. Bose-Einstein condensate. Refers to the slowing of atoms in a dilute gas by the use of cooling apparatus to cool it to near absolute zero. This produces a a singular quantum state which is the Bose-Einstein condensate. I am sure I will use this knowledge eventually in my life.

10. Schrodinger’s Cat can be used to postulate the outcome of a date. I already knew about Schrodinger’s Cat, but have to admit this novel application had not occurred to me.

This is just a few things I can think of from recent episodes – no doubt there are more I have missed or haven’t yet seen. What else have you learned from Big Bang Theory?








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