Acing the Physics Final, but …


What is it with dogs and physics?

Many dogs, including Cali, can calculate the exact place to jump into a river to intersect the tennis ball or stick that is floating along with the current. They do this while racing at top speed along the riverbank. Those same dogs can perform gorgeous acrobatics as they run and leap high into the air to catch a flying Frisbee. Cali executes stunning leaps over hills and turns gracefully in the air to catch her beloved tennis ball. Most dogs can catch a tiny piece of popcorn as it sails through the air, artfully dodging the other dog or dogs angling to snatch the same treat.

These calculations require a complex combination of skills that I, personally, have never mastered. They need to understand geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and, yes, physics. They can perform these feats while running at top speed and rarely, if ever, crashing into anything. Miraculous. They are better multitaskers than any human. These dogs could easily ace a college physics final exam.

Why, then, is gravity so hard for those same dogs to comprehend?

I play ball with Cali on the grass outside our apartment. There’s a fairly steep hill, and I often throw the ball up the hill. Cali races after it, catches it or picks it up, and sometimes, brings it back to me.

This is where we run into the gravity problem. She often drops the ball next to me, on the hill. The ball rolls down the hill. Cali gives it a perplexed look … and sits there, waiting for me to throw the ball again.

But I don’t have the ball. It’s several feet away, at the foot of the hill.

No matter how often this happens, Cali just doesn’t seem to understand.

I ask her to put the ball in my hand. She drops it. It rolls. I ask her to get it again. She looks at me as if I am crazy. I get the ball and throw it.

We repeat this cycle several times a day.

How is it that she understands calculus and trajectories but not gravity? Did she skip the first weeks of class, snooze through the midterm — and only show up for the more advanced stuff?

There is, of course, another possible explanation.

It could be that Cali finds it more entertaining to watch me fetch the ball than to get it herself. Nah, that couldn’t be it …