What Do Bob Dylan and Lava Have In Common?

Molly with NASA controls
“Yes, Molly, that is a real spaceship control panel.”

Molly is at that age now where she is trying to figure out what in the world is real and what is made up.  Tonight she asked if lava is real.  Why yes.  Yes, it is.  Reflecting on this fact some more, it seemed strange that lava is real.  I mean really… super hot molten rock that oozes out of mountains and cannot be stopped by anything?  If you fall into it, you die?  That is a ridiculous comic book idea, right?  That can’t be real.

On the drive home from school, Molly asked if Bob Dylan was real.  Molly is not typically a music fan, unless it’s from Frozen or another Disney movie, but she asked to hear “that Mr. Tambourine Man thing”.  She asked who was singing it, and I said Bob Dylan.  “Is Bob Dylan real?”  Yes, of course he’s real.  Jeez, he’s Bob Dylan!  But then again, he is singing a song just like Elsa from Frozen, and Elsa is not real.  “Is Mr. Tambourine Man real?”  No, Mr. Tambourine is not real.  He’s just sort of a character, or an idea, or something.  Jeez.

And consider Elsa from Frozen.  Of course she’s not real, she from a movie, silly!  What about Winter the dolphin from the movie A Dolphin Tale?  Oh yeah, she’s real.  We saw her in person.  Whaaaaa?

This must be terribly confusing for a kid.  It seems so arbitrary.  Dinosaurs are real, or at least they were real, but now they’re gone.  So you’ll never actually see one.  Oh yeah, and nobody even knew they existed until 150 years ago.  This is pretty clear, right?

Claire had some questions about dinosaurs back around this age too.  Nowadays, Claire and I are talking a lot about other mysterious real things, especially atoms and molecules.  The big question is “How many atoms are in a ___?”, where the blank might be a muffin, a speck of cinnamon on the muffin, a dog, or the world.  The answer is always the same: “Too many to count.”  At her request, I looked up how many atoms are in the world.  The answer was roughly 133,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.  Claire was not impressed.  That did not look like such a big number after all.  I tried to explain to her why that was a bigger number than you could possibly ever wrap your head around.  Her eyes glazed over.  Then it was back to discussing My Little Pony.

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