A Straight Line: Simply Nonexistent
By Sahil Prasad, grade 7, Maryland.
We cannot argue with reality. We cannot argue with science. Therefore, we simply cannot argue with the fact that there are no straight lines in the universe.
Let’s start with science. The science of a straight line falls under the subject of physics. It might seem like a complicated topic, but the theory behind it is pretty simple. Let’s say you are driving a car on a “straight road.” Your first thought is that you are moving in a straight line. But, in reality, the vehicle is traveling on a slight curve. Why? The Earth is a gigantic sphere, so whenever you think you are driving straight, you are actually driving along the slightest of curves as there are no straight lineson the circumference of a circle. If you start rowing in a boat from one place and keep sailing, the concept of the curved Earth will take you in a circle and you will end up where you started. The brain formulates the concept of a straight line to simplify what you see in nature. Consider it a tool for the mind to decipher reality.
Even light, an entity so fast that we might think it travels in a straight line, truly does not follow a straightforward path (See figure below). The concept of gravitational lensing can prove this fact. When you look at an astronomical object through a telescope, it might seem like you are looking at the object right in front of you. However, in reality it is likely to be in a different location entirely. Perhaps even billions of miles apart from your “straight” view. The gravitational influence of the bodies scattered across the universe can bend light rays so much that you will see a completely different object than the one in front of you. The gravity of massive objects can bend light to the point that it will curve backward into itself. This is a characteristic of a black hole! The universe is curved and continuously expanding. Thus, if a light ray were to travel in a “straight” pathway, it will ultimately return to the same place where it began its journey, similar to the rowing the boat example mentioned above.
Figure 1: The effect of gravitational lensing on the path of light. The orange lines show how light bends from the object to the earth.
Another field that is preoccupied with lines is architecture. The famous architect Antoni Gaudi pointed out that straight lines don’t exist. He said, “There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature. Therefore, buildings must have no straight lines or sharp corners.” Gaudi states that buildings with “straight walls” are human interpretationsof nature. Gaudi’s buildings follow nature’s rules, as shown by the elegant curves of the Casa Batllo in Spain, his home country. The fact that Antoni Gaudi lived 100 years ago and that his buildings continue to inspire many across the world shows that something that abides by nature’s laws—with no straight lines—is likely to be an inspiration for years to come. As Ian Malcolm, the mathematician in the movie Jurassic Park put it “Nature always finds a way” (emphasis on nature, not humanity).
The concept of straight lines was controversial and heavily influenced the politics and society of Europe from the 15th to the 17th century. Hellenistic thinkers and scholars like Aristotle in the 5th century already proved that the Earth was spherical, but many Europeans did not believe in this idea! However, some Europeans during the Age of Exploration refuted this belief. Just as the famous Italian scientist Galileo Galilei was persecuted for advocating a heliocentric model of the solar system, many thinkers like Giordano Bruno were shamed for believing that the Earth was round. Many of these rebellious thinkers were executed and burned at the stake. Not even the rich and powerful European kingdoms could agree with reality.
Well, my friends, let’s move on to life. The concept of nothing going in a straight line can be associated with life as much as it relates to science and architecture. Whenever you do something, it never turns out to play out exactly as planned. I especially know that as a thirteen-year-old! Life is a bumpy road–every time you go forward, it is followed by two steps back or to the side. Just like how science explains it, life is a curvy path full of unexpected twists, turns, and adventures that nobody can ever predict. The fact that life isn’t a straight line is reflected even in the history of the Bible. The Bible was first preserved in the First Temple of Jerusalem, which was destroyed, and then the scattered remains were placed in the Second Temple—also destroyed by invaders. We can learn that even religion doesn’t proceed in a straightforward path—let alone human beings like us.
Who are we to argue with reality?
By Sahil Prasad, Grade 7, Maryland.