Are There Correct Answers to These Questions?

We were having a video chat with our oldest son today, and he mentioned that he had just downloaded the book Hawaii by James Michener to his Kindle. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s a 937-page book based on exhaustive research and told in Michener’s immersive prose. Hawaii is the story of disparate peoples struggling to keep their identity, live in harmony, and, ultimately, join together.

So I asked him if his Kindle felt any heavier after he downloaded the book. He responded by asking me if my iPhone gets heavier after I take a picture.

I said I have no idea, but for some reason it seemed logical to think that a Kindle, a smartphone, or a hard drive that is completely full would weigh more than one that is completely empty.

I tried to look on the Internet, and I came across a web site called Physics Forum where someone had asked this question. As if the name of the web site isn’t intimidating enough, try reading some of the answers.

There’s mention of electrons, entropy (both thermodynamic and information!), and lossless compression, among other words I had no idea what they meant. My general sense though, given the fact that there were four pages of answers to the question, is that there did not seem to be a clear answer.

Can’t somebody just get a really sensitive scale and measure an empty hard drive, then load it with data, then weigh it again?

Anyway, the discussion got me thinking about other questions where I am not sure what the correct answer is, or even if one exists.

Here’s one that has bothered me since I was about 10 (I was addicted to brain teasers when I was a kid):

Would a plane that’s sitting on the runway with 200 birds just sitting on the seats weigh the same as a plane sitting on the runway that has 200 birds flying around inside the airplane?


And then there’s a couple of questions that are more personal, and I’m just not sure what the correct way to respond to these questions would be.

For instance, “Are you as dumb as you look?”

I can’t imagine wanting to say yes, and somehow admitting that you are dumb. But if you answer no, aren’t you implying that you look dumb?

And here’s one more, “Did you lose a ton of weight?”

While such a question may be meant as a compliment, it could have a more evil, subtle undertone.

So how do you answer such a question. If you say yes, you are admitting that you had a ton of weight to lose. If you say no, the implication seems to be that you need to lose a ton of weight.

In general, I avoid answering such questions, and try to change the conversation to something less ambiguous, like “Should gun ownership be made illegal?” (yes) or “Should smoking be banned in all public places?” (yes)

If only all questions in life were so straightforward…

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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