This week's LabZone activity
April 13, 2005
A smaller object feels heavier than a larger one when they are both the same weight.
How to Fool Yourself
Which weighs morea pound of feathers or a pound of gold? Many people are fooled by this riddle and answer "a pound of gold" because gold seems "heavier" (it's actually denser) than feathers.
You don't need gold and feathers to check this out for yourself. I picked out two items from the pantrya small metal container of ground ginger and a box of instant onion soup. They weighed exactly the same on my postal scale. Any two items of significantly different sizes that weigh the same will do. I gave both items to friends and family and asked which was heavier. Everyone lifted both and, without exception, said that the metal box was heavier.
Why You're Fooled
Experience teaches us that, in general, smaller objects weigh less than larger ones. We expect the small object to be lighter than the larger one. When we lift both, our expectations are not met, and the result is that the smaller object feels heavier. This explanation, however, has its problems. The illusion persists even when we know that they are the same weight and when we lift both with our eyes closed.
Obviously, the explanation of this illusion is worthy of deep and weighty consideration.
Reprinted with permission from How to Really Fool Yourself: Illusions for All Your Senses by Vicki Cobb ( www.vickicobb.com ). Text copyright © 1981, 1999 by Vicki Cobb. Illustrated by Jessica Wolk-Stanley. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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