why elasticity is more than you think




Suppose there were a man who was perfectly elastic, and who made everything he touched perfectly elastic.
Fortunately there is no such person, but suppose an elastic man did exist:
He walks with a spring and a bound; his feet bounce up like rubber balls each time they strike the earth; his
legs snap back into place after each step as if pulled by a spring. If he stumbles and falls to the ground, he
bounces back up into the air without a scar. (You see, his skin springs back into shape even if it is scratched,
so that a scratch instantly heals.) And he bounces on and on forever without stopping.
Suppose you, seeing his plight, try to stop him. Since we are pretending that he makes everything he touches
elastic, the instant you touch him you bounce helplessly away in the opposite direction.
You may think your clothes will be wrinkled by all this bouncing about, but since we are imagining that you
have caught the elastic touch from the elastic man, your clothes which touch you likewise become perfectly

So no matter how mussed they get, they promptly straighten out again to the condition they were in
when you touched the elastic man.
If you notice that your shoe lace was untied just before you became elastic, and you now try to tie it and tuck
it in, you find it most unmanageable. It insists upon flying out of your shoe and springing untied again.
Perhaps your hair was mussed before you became elastic. Now it is impossible to comb it straight; each hair
springs back like a fine steel wire.
If you take a handkerchief from your pocket to wipe your perspiring brow, you find that it does not stay
unfolded. As soon as it is spread out on your hand, it snaps back to the shape and the folds it had while in your
Suppose you bounce up into an automobile for a ride. The automobile, now being made elastic by your magic
touch, bounds up into the air at the first bump it strikes, and thereafter it goes hopping down the street in a
most distressing manner, bouncing off the ground like a rubber ball each time it comes down. And each time
it bumps you are thrown off the seat into the air.
You find it hard to stay in any new position. Your body always tends to snap back to the position you were in
when you first became elastic. If you touch a trotting horse and it becomes elastic, the poor animal finds that
his legs always straighten out to their trotting position, whether he wants to walk or stand still or lie down.

Back to these positions.


Whenever the clown wants to rest, he has to get in the somersault position. The boy
pitcher sleeps in the position of “winding up” to throw the ball. The one who was yawning and stretching has
to be always on the alert, because the instant he stops holding himself in some other position, his mouth flies
open, his arms fly out, and every one thinks he is bored to death.
You might touch the clay that a sculptor is molding and make it elastic. The sculptor can mold all he pleases,
but the clay is like rubber and always returns at once to its original shape.
If you make a tree elastic when a man is chopping it down, his ax bounces back from the tree with such force
as nearly to knock him over, and no amount of chopping makes so much as a lasting dent in the tree.
Suppose you step in some mud. The mud does not stick to your shoes. It bends down under your weight, but
springs back to form again as soon as your weight is removed.
And if you try to spread some elastic butter on bread, nothing will make the butter stay spread. The instant
you remove your knife, the butter rolls up again into the same kind of lump it was in before.
As for chewing your bread, you might as well try to chew a rubber band. You force your jaws open, and they
snap back on the bread all right; then they spring open again, and snap back and keep this up automatically
until you make them stop. But for all this vigorous chewing your bread looks as if it had never been touched
by a tooth.
Sewing is about as difficult. The thread springs into a coil in the shape of the spool. No hem stays turned; the
cloth you try to sew springs into its original folds in a most exasperating manner.
On the whole, a perfectly elastic world would be a hopeless one to live in.
Elasticity is the tendency of a thing to go back to its original shape or size whenever it is forced into a
different shape or size.
A thing does not have to be soft to be elastic. Steel is very elastic; that is why good springs are almost always
made of steel. Glass is elastic; you know how you can bounce a glass marble. Rubber is elastic, too. Air is
elastic in a different way; it does not go back to its original shape, since it has no shape, but if it has been
compressed and the pressure is removed it immediately expands again; so a football or any such thing filled
with air is decidedly elastic. That is why automobile and bicycle tires are filled with air; it makes the best
possible “springs.”
Balls bounce because they are elastic. When a ball strikes the ground, it is pushed out of shape. Since it is
elastic it tries immediately to come back to its former shape, and so pushes out against the ground. This gives
it such a push upward that it flies back to your hand.
Sometimes people confuse elasticity with action and reaction. But the differences between them are very
clear. Action and reaction happen at the same time; your body goes up at the same time that you pull down on
a bar to chin yourself; while in elasticity a thing moves first one way, then the other; you throw a ball down,
then it comes back up to you. Another difference is that in action and reaction one thing moves one way and
another thing is pushed the other way; while in elasticity the same thing moves first one way, then the other. If
you press down on a spring scale with your hand, you are lifting up your body a little to do it; that is action
and reaction. But after you take your hand off the scale the pan springs back up: first it was pushed down, then
it springs back to its original position; it does this because of the elasticity of its spring.

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