Monday, January 30, 2012


I just learned why helium makes us sound like chipmunks.  If you don't already know the answer, try to think about it for at least a few moments before I tell you...

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The answer is that helium is less dense than air, and sound travels through it about twice as fast!  In retrospect this is not terribly surprising, nor too difficult to figure out once the question is posed.  The real question is how I (and perhaps you) could possibly get this far in life without knowing why.

The paradoxical answer is that I know less about helium because it is too common.  I knew from a young age that helium made people sound like chipmunks, and apparently I was happy to accept it as a basic property of the universe that didn't itself need explanation.  Fair enough, I suppose...back then there was all sorts of crazy universe magic competing for my limited attention.  For all I know, helium voices weren't even that crazy or interesting (to me) compared to the other stuff.

On the other hand, if helium balloons weren't so ubiquitous, I'd have been totally ignorant of the phenomenon.  Until I saw a crazy video on Youtube at age 18.  And then I would have a WTF!!! moment and immediately hunt for an explanation.

What's the craziest stuff everyone just accepts because they're used to it?

1 comment:

  1. Hmm. It's tempting to say something like "gravity" but I don't think that's a good answer because there's no particular reason for gravity not to exist.

    We do take it for granted without understanding it, though.