Frame of Reference

September 26, 2019   

Many a time, I’ve wondered if physics is just a branch of science explaining matter, energy and the interaction between them or that it also explains the way of life in and as subtexts..?

Every morning, before going to work, I’m used to stop at a coffeeshop near my place for a hot cup of filter coffee and today was no different, but this time, some malai came with the milk, which I actually hate but preferred to let him know about it only if he repeats not filtering the milk. So, for now to be able to enjoy my coffee as usual, I managed to get that malai stuck to one side of the cup for being able to have a malai free coffee from the other side.

After having a couple of sips of a drink from one side of the vessel and changing the side for the next sip feels quiet wierd(at least for me). But after a couple of sips from that new side, it again feels just the same but that’s not the case with the very first sip. As usual, I wondered why?

(I sometimes also wonder that why do I wonder so much?)

I then realised that it doesn’t feel so for the first sip because, then, both the cup’s edges and my lips would be dry but after a sip only the other side of the cup will be left dry, having difference in the state of being.

The dry side of the cup offers some (unexpected) friction on our lips that wasn’t being offered as much in the first sip itself, let alone of the fact that after one sip both the cup’s edge and our lips are getting lubricated, reducing the friction further.

This thought has started flashing a couple of images in front of my eyes like, a person walking on the road loses control all of a sudden and skids, a person skiing in the snow mountains suddenly making the direction of his ski board exactly perpendicular to the direction of his skiing to come to attain the state of rest, an ice skater doing quiet similar thing in a skating rink just to change his direction of travel, a person flying down to land with a parachute and a recent discussion that I had with a friend about polarities of thoughts.

All these images and bits of videos flashed in for just a couple of moments, paving way to this couple of minutes to read article.

People are able to not just walk but perform a lot of physical activties day-in and day-out due to the existence of these opposing forces called friction. Just imagine, had there been no friction, nothing would have been as simple as it is now. We would’ve been drifting even while asleep, let alone us trying to move. The vision of a person walking, losing control for a brief period of time happened as the ground he’s walking on was wet and his shoe sole also wore off thereby reducing friction enough just to lose control, skid and fall. Some might argue that we would have adapted ourselves to living in such situations itself had there been no choice and here comes the skiers and ice-skaters. Those activities are even possible because of reduced friction. Skiers have to rapidly change the direction of the ski boards (I’m not exactly sure of what they are called) to about 90 degrees away from the direction of their motion to come to rest and this is because the frictional force is directly proportional to the surface area it is acting upon and in the direction opposite to that of the direction of the force acting on it. I then wondered can this concept of physics be applied to understand why acts like waking up early or preferring fit to fat offers more friction but helps in having control on oneself but the acts like, eating junk food and sleeping late offers less friction and support losing control more.

Now this above extended application of one concept triggered another one, Sir Issac Newton’s first law of motion, “A body continues to be in the state of rest or uniform motion along a line unless and until it is compelled by an external force”. I wonder if this could explain why, one requires a lot of external force for doing / preventing from doing certain things regularly like, a person procrastinating continually requires a compelling external force of a submission or an examination date to actually work on it.

Also, there is a principle that we’ve learnt of, during our schooling, that “If a process of transformation from A to B takes more effort then the process of transformation from B to A takes very less effort” and this made me wonder if this is the reason why, it is comparatively easier to do drugs than to quitting it and so to get fat than to stay fit? but it doesn’t end here.

The other day, one of my friends asked me if I was wondering why is he being so pessimistic? I replied as follows, “One of my childhood friends1 once said that ‘Had we not been optimistic about flying, Aeroplanes wouldn’t have been invented and had we not been pessimistic about it crashing, Parachutes wouldn’t have been invented, So, I think both are just different schools of thought and are required but just in the right quantities”. I started pondering upon it, wondering what does it mean by ‘right quantities’?

In sanskrit, there’s a saying that goes like “Ati sarvatra varjayeth!”, meaning, excess of anything should be avoided or in other words even an excess of good also is bad. How is that so? Read about Pampered Child Syndrome for just one example of its effect, it clears highlights the term “excessive”.

(Now, this made me wonder about…)

Have you ever wondered what proverbs are? or How or where did they come from?

Well, I did and realised that proverbs mostly are the experiences of individuals that were quoted in the simplest / shortest way possible, mostly by using analogies or metaphors and are called as Idioms as well for their grammatical structure.

While trying to pursue the meaning of ‘right quantities’, I stumbled upon a very common term called ‘Balance’ and felt fascinated about it after learning more about it.

(Bewildered? Worry not…)

One day another friend2 of mine asked me to define time. I tried to start answering and realised not a word I had. I took time to think about it, how ironical?. I took two days and I realised and accepted that I was 18 (then) and do not even understand what time is? I met my friend and confessed. He explained it in just 5 words “Measure of Interval between Events”. I started pondering upon his explanation and then is when I understood the concept of frame of reference and that, the Time that we’re measuring globally is just one such reference, else how come Australia, Japan and USA are so close to each other by geographical distances and yet about a day apart by time. Almost all fundamental concepts are the resultants of such frames of reference. The directions that we have, starting with East, it is defined as the direction in which the Sun Rises and not the other way around, the direction opposite to that of the East is named as ‘West’, the direction to the left of East is termed as North and the remaining is South. But, how to determine the exact ‘left’ of East or about anything?

I wonder, when, the people (who defined these conventions) were defining them, if something like the following has happened,

People defining conventions: "Which side of the body you all most use?"

Mob: Lifted their most used side's convenient part of the body, the hand.

People defining conventions: "Right!" (That just meant assertion, until then though...)

Mob: Shouting with happiness "Right, Right, Right!!!"

People defining conventions: "And now, what is left ?" (They must have actually meant, what was remaining... (pun intended))

Mob: Shouting with overjoy "Left, Left, Left!!!", lifting the other one of the two hands

People defining conventions: "What the fff...Frame of Reference!!!"

and then we have our “Right and Left” sides with more than one meaning attached to each which can be deciphered according to the context they are used in, which again is just another frame of reference. This concept of “frame of reference” came into the picture while figuring out the concept of “Right Quantities”, which means to find the quantities with reference to the situation / requirement. Just like, the right quantity of voltage for your appliances at home is 220 / 110 volts but the right quantity that should be produced at the power stations is about some hundreds of thousands of volts.

This paved way for realising another idea like large and small are terms understood only with reference to something and do not carry a definition of their own. So does other similar ideas like positive & negative, right & wrong, good & bad / evil. I then learnt that they are just the results of some frames of reference and that the quantities that help maintain this balance are called as right quantities.

This concept of ‘Balance’ is existing everywhere aroundfor tranferring charge and within us. For example, We all studied that the atmosphere around is exerting pressure on us continuously but the atmosphere within is also exerting the same on our body making the net force on us to be zero. The existence of RBCs and WBCs in our blood and so on. Almost everything that we’ve known of until now exhibits some sort of balance.

But, how does negativity in the thought helps us humans?

My uncle3 once said (couple of months prior to learning the definition of time), “It’s definitely good to have fear for exams but only as much that it makes to attempt it carefully, not more not less”. Long after that, considering fear as a negative emotion, I felt that one also should be harsh / bad to oneself just as much required to push ones boundaries by the day and criticise oneself just to improve up on but not a meaningless abasing / abusing of oneself.

After all, had there been no friction being offered by copper wire, would the same element that is used to transmit the potentially hazardous electricity be used for building a safety device (a Fuse). Here the resistence being offered by the copper wire is balancing for the conductance of electricity just at the right quantities.

Summing up, just like, going to the gym or waking up early every in the morning offers decent friction but when overcomed makes us have more control over our own lives and the other side of the activites like doing drugs offer pretty less friction, making you drift faster away, losing control. Knowingly or unknowingly we’ve all been overcoming friction day-to-day in our lives, at least in our physical activities if not at anything else and just like we buy our footwear, looking the ones with more grip, we have to find activities to gets us more grip over our own lives.

As once my uncle4 said during the holidays after my 10th grade,

Do what ever you want in life but be responsible for all your deeds!

Every morning, after having a hot cup of coffee, I head to work directly but today is a different day. Today, I head back to my place where I live, to write an article for my blog and leaving for work now.


1 Karthikeya GVSS

2 Bharat Krishna Teja

3 Srinivas Adiraju

4 Narayan P.V



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