Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Emperor's New Fabric of Space and Time, and Other Pet Peeves

For a writer, I have a really adversarial relationship with metaphors. Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

Case #1: When, in 2007 and 2008, our country's financial system suffered a sudden seizure, and everyone's house was abruptly and magically worth much less than it was before, I became very annoyed by the conversation about bubbles. I am the mother of three boys, all of whom were at one time toddlers and, as a result, I am very, very familiar with bubbles. Here is what I know:

  1. The nature of bubbles is that they are a spherical body of gas contained in a liquid. 
  2. Bubbles are always circular, no matter the shape of the wand. 
  3. The blowing of bubbles bring countless hours of joy to toddlers. 
  4. When spilled, bubble soap will leave a dark gray stain on your carpet.
I also know this: There was definitely not a bubble that caused my house to be worth $50,000 less than it was six months prior. If that were the case, there would be tell-tale soap stains all over the United States. So, I kept saying, will somebody please tell me what actually happened here?

Photo by Justin D. Miller

Case#2: The fabric of space and time annoys me. My husband and I still argue about this. Admission: He got an A in college physics and I dropped remedial algebra four times and took only Bio. I still think I'm right. Every time I am watching some science show that is explaining the Universe to me, I find myself sitting in the living room with my family, while everyone quietly nods in understanding as some physicist explains with delight that our current understanding of reality all rests on the factual finding that space and time are knit together into a fabric. This, apparently, is the keys to the kingdom. 

Except, hello, no fabric! Why does everyone just accept this? How does this make any more sense than the explanation that the Universe behaves as it does because of the activities of tiny goblins? One could say that there is overwhelming evidence that microscopic, invisible goblins have been controlling all natural phenomenon. The fact that you see no goblins is immaterial as long as the logic of the goblin theory holds true. (All of my well-educated, scientifically minded readers now hate me. I'm sorry. I still don't buy your fabric of space and time. I think that shit is the same stuff the Emperor was wearing in the old fable.)

by Scott Robinson

What drives me crazy is not that people use metaphors to explain the truth. I use them all the time. (For example, when I tell you I am ready to kill my children, I very much hope you will not phone the police.) What irritates me is that people don't seem to know they aren't real. My husband keeps telling me there is in fact a fabric of space and time, but what the Hell does he know about fabric anyway? I have to keep watch on him to make sure he doesn't shrink my sweaters. That's how much he knows about fabric.

I just want to someone to explain how these things actually work, in the sort of foolproof, replicable way that one writes a recipe, or an elementary school science fair procedure, without a bunch of enormous bubbles or imaginary swaths of textile inserting themselves into the conversation. If people are unemployed and homes and retirement savings are lost without recourse, we should not get distracted with the behavior of theoretical effervescent spheres. 

And I'll believe in your fabric of space and time when you goddamn well make me a dress out of it.


  1. Magic and elves, Tara. It's all magic and elves.

  2. And goblins! I think science would have been a lot more interesting to me if people had used goblins as a metaphor instead. I agree with you. I don't like when the metaphor *becomes* the truth and people repeat it having no earthly idea what it means. Bubbles. I think that one did leave gray stains all over the country, though. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

  3. Hmmm...very good point about the grey stains...

    Kelly, I have always tended to believe in the magic and elves theory of life. Clearly, they operate my computer, for instance. My husband claims that there is some inherent logic to the operation of my PC, but all he ever does to it is restart it repeatedly and rebuild my system, so I ask you, how is this solution inconsistent with proof of the activities of capricious faerie sprites?

  4. Ummm...the universe was created by a flying spaghetti monster!

    However, your point inspired me to find the definition of fabric:

    Definitions number three and four are pertinent here, being a structure or framework OR a style or method of construction.

    The structure or method of of construction for our existence is composed of the synthesis between space and time, which when warped by a large mass cause other objects to be pulled towards the large mass (gravity). There! If you prefer, you could call it the space/time bubble, however the physicists wouldn't know what you are talking about. xoxo

  5. I think there is supposed to be a rule that a blogger's husband NOT comment on her blog. Husbands are supposed to be straight men–foils at it were–for humor writing. They are NOT supposed to provide scientific background in the comments section. I will be contacting a lawyer.


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Faith in Ambiguity by Tara Adams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License