I have to admit, I’m a Mythbusters geek. I absolutely adore the show. But I adore busting myths myself. Myths are the result of sloppy thinking, something akin to superstitions, and I can’t abide it. Oh, I’m guilty of it, but it makes me angry when I do.
I could give you a list of my favorite myths that have been busted on the show, but it really doesn’t matter. It isn’t particular myths that attract me to the show, although anything that ends in an explosion is nice. It’s the process.
I particularly like it when the hosts, be it Jamie and Adam or the mythterns, are just plain wrong. Where they get caught up in the myth and make predictions that are just silly.
One myth that particularly messed with everyone’s head was the airplane on a conveyor belt. The myth is an airplane attempting to take off on a treadmill like conveyor belt will never take off. At first blush, if you don’t think about it and rely on your own experiences, you might believe the myth. After all, you could put a car on a treadmill and it won’t move forward. And if a car won’t move forward, a plane won’t either. And if a plane doesn’t move forward, it can’t take off.
Only a plane isn’t a car. It’s the leap from car to plane that the thinking gets sloppy. As humans, we tend to do that leap regularly. We use this tendency in communication regularly. We call it metaphor. The thing we forget is that metaphors are only looking at the surface. Just because prior to take off an airplane is like a car, doesn’t mean it is a car. A completely different set of physics apply.
But when I’m honest, I leap to the same erroneous conclusions too. I assume because a is like b, then b must always be like a. And it simply isn’t the case. In fact, it often isn’t the case.
For those of you wondering, a car uses friction between its tires and the ground to move forward. So if you move the ground backward at the same speed, the car stays still. A plane uses its engines to push or pull through the air. The plane doesn’t care how fast the ground underneath it is moving at all. The wheels have nothing to do with its forward propulsion. So move the ground backwards at the same speed as the plane moves forward and nothing happens. The plane moves forward and take off in the same distance as if the ground wasn’t moving. The only difference is, the wheels are rotating twice as fast.