Physics and the size of creatures

2009-02-12

in Geek stuff, Science

A book I am reading made reference to an interesting essay from 1928 that I thought I would share. It is about the basic physics of plant and animal pyshiology, as it relates to the size of creatures. It was written by J. B. S. Haldane and is entitled: “On Being the Right Size.” Along with discussing matters like bone strength, gravity, surface tension, and breathing, it features some unusually clear and poignant imagery:

You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.

In short, it is an interesting thing to read and contains many facts and observations that are useful to know.

Many of the issues raised in this essay re-appear in Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics explanation of scaling problems in films.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

oleh February 13, 2009 at 1:19 am

Perhaps an illustration of survival of the fittest – quite appropriate on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birthday.

Anon February 15, 2009 at 7:53 pm

This essay gets quite political at the end:

“To the biologist the problem of socialism appears largely as a problem of size. The extreme socialists desire to run every nation as a single business concern. I do not suppose that Henry Ford would find much difficulty in running Andorra or Luxembourg on a socialistic basis. He has already more men on his pay-roll than their population. It is conceivable that a syndicate of Fords, if we could find them, would make Belgium Ltd or Denmark Inc. pay their way. But while nationalization of certain industries is an obvious possibility in the largest of states, I find it no easier to picture a completely socialized British Empire or United States than an elephant turning somersaults or a hippopotamus jumping a hedge.”

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