How to tell if santa is real

As I was driving today the radio host I was listening to was talking about the results of a mall-santa survey that included questions like “how many of you have been peed on by a child?” (unfortunately that won’t be the subject of this post), “how many of the children say they’ve been good?” etc. The question that caught my attention was this:

Q: How many of you have your beard pulled on at least once a day?
A: 90%

Why do I find this interesting? The radio hosts were talking about how kids pull santa’s beard to see if their santa – in the middle of nowhere Illinois or in downtown New York City – is real.

It got me thinking about how people test whether something is real, which we have to do all the time in physics and in life. The tools we use to make these judgments develop and change over a person’s life, at least they have over mine, but it’s interesting to take a moment and think about what your tools are and where they’ve come from.

In my (personal and teaching) experience intro physics students start out kinda like babies in that they often believe things because of the “NASA effect.” In other words, “I know the moon is bigger than the earth because NASA says so” or more commonly “…because the book says so.” Just as many of us believed in santa because our parents told us he was real.

As I got older I started testing things myself (how hot the stove was, what happened if I didn’t clean my room, what I really thought about religion, etc.), but even the methods I use to test things has changed…when I was 5 yrs old I decided whether santa was real by pulling on his beard. If I had to decide now I’d probably carry out some additional tests…check his drivers license, ask to meet his wife, give him a punch in the stomach (not to be mean, to check for a pillow), dna tests, etc. Of course I don’t have to decide now; I make that decision a long time ago when I pulled on santa’s beard.

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