October 12, 2001
Our lives, in retrospect, can be seen as a series of stories. With that in mind, I often think that certain events, or stories, from our lives seem more like the products of certain writerly imaginations than others. For instance, because I grew up watching reruns of "The Twilight Zone" I would sometimes, in the middle of something, think, "Wow, this is kind of like a Rod Serling story." Then the inevitable climax would come, and afterward it would seem more like James Thurber or Erma Bombeck.
A good example would be a Boy Scout camping trip I went on when I was fifteen. I was old enough to know better, but one of my fellow Scouts, Alvin, managed to reduce not only me but every member of the troop under the age of sixteen to quivering, mindless panic. Most of us were in Boy Scouts because it was fun and we liked camping. Alvin was in Boy Scouts because his grandfather was a Scoutmaster and so he could study the effects of fire on small animals.
It was late, we’d eaten our beef stew and apple cobbler, and spent three hours running through the woods hitting each other with sticks to get the sugar out of our systems. Of course we had to have at least an hour of lying in our sleeping bags laughing about nothing, but during a lull Alvin sat up in the middle of the tent and said, "Did you hear that?" We hadn’t heard anything. Then we listened. It was a slow, rumbling sound, a sound from the depths of Hell…or from a really bad case of indigestion. "Oh man," said Alvin. "It’s a bear!"
Now, we were in an area where the chances of encountering a bear were slightly less than the chances of pulling a living trilobite out of the lake, but Alvin’s rapid repetition of, "Oh man oh man oh man" had a strange, hypnotic effect on us. The sound, which I can only describe as a deep, eerie growl which rose in pitch and volume, sank away, then returned every thirty-seconds didn’t help. An earlier campfire story about a mysterious "Pig Man" rumored to roam the woods, and who Alvin’s brother helpfully suggested was more likely the source of the noise than a bear, just made things that much worse. We were lucky that none of the younger Scouts wet themselves. We were also faced with a choice: wake up the Scoutmasters, whose anger at being dragged from the back seats of the cars might make us wish we’d faced the bear, or simply face the bear. We decided to put it to a vote.
Next week: The "unbearable" Scoutmaster, the benefits of sleeping alone, and how to build a pine-needle jacuzzi.
Enjoy this week’s offerings.
The following is an actual question given on a University of Washington chemistry midterm. The answer was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues, which is why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.
Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?
Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law, (gas cools off when it expands and heats up when it is compressed) or some variant.
One student, however, wrote the following:
"First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing with time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving.
I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today. Some of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there are more than one of these religions, and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.
With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially.
Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell. Because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand as souls are added.
This gives two possibilities:
1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.
2. Of course, if Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.
So which is it?
If we accept the postulate given to me by Ms. Teresa Banyan during my Freshman year– "…that it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you."– and take into account the fact that I still have not succeeded in having sexual relations with her, then #2 cannot be true; and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and will not freeze."
THIS STUDENT RECEIVED THE ONLY "A" GIVEN