This is one of my favourite videos, it’s a real interview of an astronaut as soon as he got back to Earth. He hasn’t adjusted to the shift in gravity and he simply leaves the mug in the air, expecting it to float.
I read somewhere that our minds continuously run a physics simulation, just like a videogame. We learn the rules of physics while growing up and then our brains run simulations and we predict what the real world will do in the next couple of seconds.
Think about ping pong. The ball travels so fast, it’s basically impossible to see. The athlete doesn’t follow the ball’s trajectory, his brain has predicted where it will go from his experience while playing the game and he moves to intercept it before it even leaves the opponent’s paddle.
We see that in the second part of the astronaut interview. He pushes the pen upwards, and fully expects it to continue floating upwards. When it’s gone, not where his muddled physics prediction engine expected it to be, he looks up, not down. He pushed the pen up, so it must have been somewhere on the ceiling.
He’s genuinely confused and frustrated.
Thankfully, his brain will adjust to Earth gravity very soon and he’ll be able to catch his mug without breaking it.
It’s simple, but it’s so fascinating how things work in our mind. We take the physics engine for granted, and yet, if we hadn’t evolved that we’d be extinct by now. The physics engine allows you avoid injury, run at speed, throw a spear at an animal with precision. And it’s adaptable. There are many problems with long-term stay in space, but this shows that our brains can adapt to varying gravities, different day/night schedules and even microgravitic environments like working around asteroids.