Science is unintuitive

July 2009 (index)

A few years back one of my friends at work had bought a pumpkin at lunchtime and had it with him in the office during the afternoon. It became a topic of conversation and we soon speculated on whether it would float in water or not. After some to-and-fro between gut reactions "but it's so heavy" and some more reasoned argument "vegetables are mostly water so it might float" we decided to resolve the question with an experiment.

The pumpkin was duly placed in a sink of water and happily floated just below the surface of the water. Meanwhile a gallon or more of displaced fluid was overflowing and sloshing about on the floor.

All the people there were well-educated with a good scientific background. I suspect that any of us could, if asked, have defined and explained Archimedes' principle. But we still ended up with wet feet.

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