The Gravity of Cartoon Physics; or, Schrödinger’s Coyote
Keywords:science fiction, cartoons, physics, Roadrunner, Coyote, metaphor
When Wile E. coyote goes off a cliff, instead of falling in a parabolic arc, he comes to a halt in mid-air, hangs there until he realizes that he is no longer on solid ground, then falls. Many critics and, indeed, the creators of the cartoons themselves, describe this as “cartoon physics,” which breaks the rules that appear to govern the real world, but several principles of modern physics are in fact depicted here. He is both falling and not falling; when he is able to observe his situation, the laws of quantum physics catch up with him. This, and the principle of relativity, govern the apparent paradoxes of the cartoon world. Although the coyote was, according to his creators, conceived as a parody of a modern scientist and played for laughs, he illustrates several paradoxes of modern science and the unease with which these are widely viewed. These cartoon physics have become a meme that has developed in later animated cartoons and live-action science fiction films, and is now even a part of modern-day science textbooks.
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Copyright (c) 2018 Victor Kennedy
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