Helium Balloon in a Car

By Anupum Pant


Whenever I choose to write about Helium, there’s something I almost never forget to mention – Helium is precious (Click to know why). So, if you’ve read that, you’ll know that you shouldn’t use it in party balloons, nor should you use it to make your voice sound funny. These are the most silliest things you could do with a borderline non-renewable resource. However, if someone uses it in party balloons to make science look cool to 5-year-old, it’s beautiful.

The Experiment

Destin, a super-cool dad, from the YouTube channel Smarter every day, did exactly that. This is what he did:

Pendulum in a car: First, he tied a pendulum to the roof of his car. Then he accelerated the car. As everyone must have guessed, the pendulum moved back as the car accelerated. It’s natural for our brains to assume that everything would move back in an accelerating vehicle.

Helium Balloon in a car: Next, he tied a balloon filled with Helium to the base of the car. Then, right when he was about to accelerate his car, he asked his 5 year olds sitting in the back seat – “Where do you think the balloon would go if I accelerate?”

Answer the question before proceeding, and reason it if you can. (Even if you don’t know it, it’s easier to guess it right now because of the build up I gave in the previous paragraphs)

The Answer

Unless you already have dealt with this “anomaly”, it’s pretty tough to guess that the balloon would actually move forward as the car accelerates. Yes, it moves forward! Something moving forward in an accelerating car sounds counter intuitive. I knew it because someone had asked me it in a physics puzzle sometime back. Just for the record, I had answered it wrong then. There’s no way I could have guessed, or reasoned it accurately the first time. Did you?

The balloon seems to be defying the laws of physics. But a helium balloon moving forward as the car accelerates can be completely explained by physics. It’s just our brain fooling us again.

Simple Analogy

Here’s how Destin explains it with a simple analogy – using a glass jar filled incompletely with water (so there’s an air bubble inside). Assume that the glass jar is like the car. The water in it, is like the air in the car. And the Helium balloon is like the air bubble in the jar – Since an air bubble is lighter than water, it is safe to assume that because even Helium is lighter than the air.

Now when the jar accelerates forward, the water in the jar moves back – so does the air in the car. As a result, the air in the jar moves forward – just like the Helium balloon does.

Here, watch the video if that sounds too confusing…

Most of you probably know this. But I’m sure that many don’t. Moreover I found the video really cute – A super cool dad explaining science to his little kids in a car. Plus they ask you to go to their audible link that would get you a free audio book. At the same time, it would help a cool dad fund his children’s education. My heart melted. If nothing, the video will at least make you smile.

Flynn Effect – IQ Test Scores say We Are Getting Smarter Every Year

By Anupum Pant

My Opinion of the IQ tests

I don’t like IQ tests (WAIS, WISC, etc). Why?

Well, IQ tests are designed with an assumed definition of the word “intelligence”. They assume that “intelligence” can be estimated by measuring how closely a person thinks like the other “intelligent” people (probably the ones who design the test). IQ tests measure general Intelligence, not “intelligence”. However, today general intelligence and intelligence are used interchangeably by most of us.

IQ tests are standardised tests that give you standardized test scores which merely indicate how well you would perform at other standardized tests (academic performance). Also, these tests are not an indicator of how well a person would do in his/her life.

IQ tests assume that General intelligence and Intelligence are the same things, or this is what the society has come to believe. To them, the other sub-intelligence types like interpersonal intelligence, intra-personal intelligence, musical intelligence, creativity, memory etc. mean nothing.

I think, intelligence is a much more complex quality than what IQ tests assume it to be. Quantifying intelligence is hard and presently no test does it properly; probably no test ever will…

For instance, the Megasavant, Kim Peek (Rainman) scored a below average (87 points) on general IQ tests. Agreed, he couldn’t button up his shirt, but he could speed read a book in about an hour and remember almost everything he had read. Besides, he could accurately recall the contents of at least 12,000 books which he had read in his life. And yet, this incredible ability meant nothing to the IQ tests. IQ tests looked at him as a guy with just a below-average IQ.

However, I’m not here to debate on IQ tests today. Let’s take it to the comments section. Tell me what do you think about these tests.

I like it or not, I can’t deny the fact that it is a world standard. And there is definitely a solid reason for that. So let’s just learn something about these tests…

The Flynn effect

Did you know, the IQ test scores are not absolute. The score you get is adjusted in a way that keeps the average IQ at 100 and also ensures that 2/3 people lie in an IQ band of 85-115 points.

But that is what IQ tests and scores are based on, so many people probably know that. There is one other thing you almost certainly did not know…

The WISC test: One of the widely used IQ test is called WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children). It started in the year 1947, and to ensure that the average IQ remains 100, it has been recalibrated 3 times in the 70s, 80s and the 2000s decade. Today WISC IV is used.

Had our grandparents taken the present WISC IV test about a century back, they would have probably scored 70 points on an average. That would have classified them as mentally retarded! Clearly, we have become smarter. Or what?

Yes, in fact the constant increase in this average IQ test scores has been observed for a long time by scientists. They have measured a gradual rise of 3 points every decade and this effect is called Flynn effect. And that is the reason the test has to be recalibrated regularly – to keep the average at 100 points. Is this evolution doing its work?

Why does it happen

Frankly, no one knows for sure. Like the theories that offer explanation on what sleep exactly does to our brains, even Flynn effect has a couple of possible explanations. Three of the most plausible ones are these:

  1. “Better” schooling or in other words better training  at schools which makes students get familiar with the IQ test pattern, is one explanation. Our schools have evolved to impart education in a form that helps a kid do better at IQ tests. This is pretty clear from the way our present education system doesn’t give much importance to creativity, just like IQ tests don’t…although it beats me, why memory is given a substantial weight-age at schools.
  2. Improved nutrition is another explanation. Most certainly, excluding fast foods and other such foods, we eat better things than what our grand-parents used to. The inclusion of iodine in common salt is one such example. Also, parents these days ensure that the children in their formative years get the best nutrition – exactly at the time when the brain forms most connections. That could have clearly helped us get smarter.
  3. Some researchers have a different take on how better education and nutrition has helped us get smarter. They suggest that the better lifestyle, education and nutrition has had an effect on our IQs by reducing the intensity of infectious diseases.

What do you think? Do you agree with the IQ test system. Do you think it isn’t just a social phenomena? What else could be the reason that we are getting smarter? Tell me in the comments.

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Problem with Facebook – On Facebook Everybody Loses

By Anupum Pant

I had to say this a couple of weeks back. But, now I think, I’ve gravely been irritated by Facebook to let it out. So here goes a post on how Facebook is repeatedly trying to make you confirm your own  pre-conceived notions and is basically making you an ignorant person everyday, is hurting page owners, and they are doing all of this to make short-term money for themselves. It is evil. That, is the problem with Facebook.

Almost every good thing you want to see is hidden from you on Facebook

Okay, let us start with my Facebook page. I know it is a small one, with just 446 likes (as of today). That said, I can tell you one thing for sure, I never forced any one of these people to like my page, nor have I ever advertised my page on Facebook to amass likes. All, or may be most of the people who like my page wished to clearly subscribe to my content and my views. Clearly, they wanted to be updated on the things I was posting. But Facebook tells me, that isn’t happening, unless I pay them the money.

Now take a minute to look at the screenshot below:

Facebook page insights
Look at the total reach.

See the first post in that list. Of all the 446 people who’ve subscribed to the page, this appeared on only 15 news feeds. Moreover, the chances are high that all of these 15 people must have not even scrolled down to see the loaded post. So, probably 10 of the 15 loads were just useless loads. 5 of them who actually saw the post, decided (probably subconsciously) to not engage – that is understandable. Even if all the 15 people did see this post, how is that fair? Continue reading Problem with Facebook – On Facebook Everybody Loses