Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The intersection of science and motherhood

Upon learning that we were approaching our first anniversary at Mothers in Medicine, I sat down to reflect upon what I have learned. I am, relatively speaking, a newbie to blogging and to this site in particular. I think I have only posted 7 or 8 things. Most of the other bloggers have a lot more to show for themselves, and Fizzy blows me out of the water. Anyway, what I discovered is that the parallels between motherhood and doctoring are many. It has been fun to notice them, share them, and ruminate on them. But what about the parallels between motherhood and science? Are there any? To quote a one-time VP candidate, YOU BETCHA. Here are just a few of my favorites.

The following scientific definitions come with a nod to Wikipedia.

Heisenberg uncertainty principle, as originally proposed:
"In quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that certain pairs of physical properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. That is, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely the other can be known. This is not a statement about the limitations of a researcher's ability to measure particular quantities of a system, but rather about the nature of the system itself."

Heisenberg uncertainty principle, with children:
In parenting, the Heisenberg uncertainty principles states that pairs of siblings, like "Munch" and "Iggy", cannot both be known to arbitary precision. That is, if I can actually see my 3 year old daughter and reassure myself that she is not coloring on (as in directly on) our kitchen table, I cannot also be simultaneously upstairs to observe my 5 year old son using my two mostly full leftover tubes of Lansinoh to glue ALL of his Lincoln Logs to his closet door (true story). This is not a statement about my limitations as a mother, but rather about the nature of parenting itself. Well, that's reassuring. I love physics.

The Law of Conservation of Energy, as originally proposed:
"The law of conservation of energy states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant. A consequence of this law is that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Another consequence of this law is that perpetual motion machines can only work perpetually if they deliver no energy to their surroundings. If such machines produce more energy than is put into them, they must lose mass and thus eventually disappear over perpetual time, and are therefore impossible."

The Law of Conservation of Energy, with children:
With children, the law of conservation of energy states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system, such as when we do not have grandparents visiting for a long weekend, remains constant. A consequence of this law is that my husband allowing me to sleep in on Saturday morning leaves him doubly trashed and incapable of functioning for the remainder of the day, even though I am peppy and grateful and ready to have a big family day. Another consequence of this law is that perpetual motion machines (aka mothers) can only work perpetually if they deliver no energy to their surroundings, which means that I basically have to quit going to work, going to the gym, going anywhere at all actually, in order to keep my head above water with these kids. Apparently, they haven't gotten to this part in preschool science yet. If mothers produce more energy than is put into them, they will cease to exist. Take heed, children and husbands...and note that Mothers' Day is just around the corner, and they don't call it the "Rejuvenating Spa Day" for nothing. It could save a life.

Second Law of Thermodynamics, as originally proposed:
"The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of any system cannot decrease except insofar as it flows outward across the boundary of the system. By implication, the entropy of the whole universe, assumed to be an isolated system, cannot decrease. In fact the entropy of the universe is always increasing. We know this because we can identify processes that produce entropy from scratch, and the second law tells us that these increases cannot be undone elsewhere."

Second Law of Thermodynamics, with children:
With children, the second law of thermodynamics states that the extreme disorder and chaos of your minivan (substitute favorite location: kids' bedroom, playroom, etc) cannot decrease except insofar as you have a successful yard sale, consignment store transaction, or Salvation Army pickup. Note that if you move the clutter from the playroom to the attic or unfinished room in your basement, the entropy of your system remains constant. By implication, the clutter associated with childrearing in the whole universe cannot decrease and indeed is always increasing. We know this because we can identify processes that produce entropy from scratch (baby showers with swings, jumperoos, infant carseats and bases, activity gyms, pack n plays, and diaper pails before you even have anyone to use them). And the second law tells us that once you have this stuff, you will end up holding on to it for an inordinate number of years even once you are absolutely, positively, (almost) definitely done having kids. And when you do get rid of it once and for all--usually because your childless younger sibling, to whom you have ranted that you are "so done" having kids after a particularly frustrating day, tells you she is pregnant and wants your stuff--the empty space vacated in your home and cars will be promptly filled with Matchbox cars, Polly pockets limbs, Legos, and jigsaw puzzle pieces.

And finally, I was a literature major in college, so I am not aware of the corresponding law in physics for this one, but I know it must be there somewhere (science majors, speak up): Children expand to occupy the number of adults present. This refers to the phenomenon that I am currently living as a temporarily single parent while my husband is deployed for 5 months. It takes me half the day to get a shower on the weekend when I am here alone with them. When the grandparents or aunts and uncles come to visit, it takes all of us half the day to get a shower. Even if there are 4 adults present, everyone is occupied. Someone is changing a diaper. Someone is helping to build a pizza shooting robot out of Legos. Someone is cleaning up the food thrown all over the kitchen floor by the 16 month old during lunch. Someone is attempting to catch the muddy child and wrestle her into the tub before she leaps onto the yellow sofa. If this has never been reported as a phenomenon before and you take a notion to scoop me by submitting it to Popular Science, please consider naming it Tempeh's Law.

So, just in case you have decided against becoming a radiation oncologist and now wonder why physics was required for med school, it was because those med school admission committees knew it was only a matter of time before you would want to pass on your genes. And when you did, with Physics 101 under your belt, you'd be ready. Or at least you couldn't say you hadn't been warned...I mean, consented.

7 comments:

  1. totally, utterly, incredibly awesome post.

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  2. Wow, this is genius. I'm seriously considering printing this out and framing it. WELL SAID.

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  3. Ha, nice. We should all make posts about how our specific fields relate to motherhood :)

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  4. Well a law that could describe the last situation might be the ideal gas law (PV=nRT).

    As the volume of the container increases (more people for the kids) the gas will expand to fill that container. But your kids may defy this law in that the pressure should decrease relative to each person, while your kids seem to keep the pressure constant! But that could be accomplished by turning up the temperature (T) =].

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  5. Great!!

    We use the concept of entropy all the time in our house. All the chaos in our house is proof that the entropy of the universe really is increasing. Why fight it?

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  6. Let's not go to the intersection of motherhood and psychiatry...

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