Everyone Loves a Slinky

I love to listen to podcasts. I don’t have as much time as I used to to read, so I listen instead. One of my favorites is an NPR program called RadioLab. On a recent show, they taught me something remarkable… about Slinkies. Like, the children’s toy.

Stay with me on this.

They talked about how, if you hold a Slinky by one end and let it stretch out vertically to its full length and then release it, the bottom will momentarily hover in midair. Yes, you read that right, for a split second, the bottom of the Slinky will not move. Maybe it doesn’t sound that impressive to you. Watch this video and you will definitely change your mind:

One of the reasons it does this has to do with information transfer. Basically, the bottom of the Slinky only knows what the little bit of metal right above it knows, which is: nothing’s changed. So until the coils from the top collapse allllllll the way down to the bottom of the Slinky, the Slinky is going to stay there, floating in midair.

It’s astonishing.

And apparently it’s true about all kinds of things. If you were to take a pen and drop it, it would do the same thing. It’s just that the time that the bottom of the pen hovers before knowing that the top of the pen is falling is so infinitesimally small that we don’t notice it. Or consider a bow and arrow. If you shoot an arrow into a target, one of the reasons it can go in so deep is that the part of the arrow behind the front doesn’t know that the tip has stopped, so it keeps charging into the target at full speed. One piece after the other, not knowing that the bit in front of it has stopped. This phenomenon is everywhere.

I noticed this Slinky miracle last night at my Bible study, too. Two Chinese students who aren’t Christians came for the first time, and they were incredibly excited to learn about Jesus. We talked about Jesus’ temptation in the desert in Matthew 4, and they were eating up the discussion about compromising our values versus looking to God and the Bible to help us do the right thing. One even shared a story about how, as a nursing student in China, she was asked by her supervisor to administer drugs that weren’t necessary because a drug company was offering them a lot of cash to test them. These students were quickly and easily finding real world relevance to these 2,000-year-old stories. The thing is, while they might not be followers of Jesus, they don’t know that the top of the Slinky’s already been let go. The coils are slowly collapsing, one on the other, until, finally, sometime later this year…



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