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The Inside Of A Ping Pong Ball

Updated on October 2, 2009

Well, I was browsing the questions section when I spied this question about whether someone could write a hub specifically on the inside of a ping pong ball - so I decided that, having a little too much time on my hands, I may as well give it a try! Now, we've probably all heard of this title being given as something to do in detention at school; so much so that it's almost a cliché. Sadly, I was never actually given such an opportunity, instead I was forced to write about various pieces of art or music and how they've influenced my life (not very fun when you're 14) or reports on particularly dull political events; and so it is here and now that I shall vent all that I know about ping pong balls and their innards.

The Inside Of A Ping Pong Ball

White and full of air. (Assuming it's a white ping pong ball in the first place!)

Or, at least, that's what springs to mind when most of us picture the inside of these curious spherical creatures. However, how can we be truly sure? Who's to say that the insides are not black? Sure, you could cut up a ping pong ball and take a look inside, but that would only be empirical evidence and not a general fact that applies to all ping pong balls. I could very easily cut a PPB (ping pong ball: I feel it sounds far more important if I call it a PPB - also, it's a lot less effort than typing it all out; unfortunately, in typing this explanation of what exactly PPB stands for, I've nullified any reduction to the length of the article such an abbreviation might have had). Regrettably that bracket went on a little too long so I'm actually going to retype the beginning of the sentence to save you the effort of having to go back and look for it: I could very easily cut a PPB open, paint the inside fluorescent pink with some rather fetching yellow polka dots and then put it back together; instantaneously disproving every person on the planet that ever claimed the inside of a PPB was anything else.

Another approach to such a question could take a leaf out of quantum mechanics and the theory of wave function collapse... yes, this does, in a very long-winded and disjointed way, relate to the inside of a ping pong ball.... Anyway, the thought experiment linked to the theory is that of Schrödinger's Cat:

Schrödinger's Cat

Erwin Schrödinger was an Austrian physicist who came up with the following thought experiment which pertained to various aspects of quantum mechanics that are simply irrelevant to ping pong balls. The idea was this (in his own words):

A cat is penned up in a steel chamber, along with the following diabolical device (which must be secured against direct interference by the cat): in a Geiger counter there is a tiny bit of radioactive substance, so small that perhaps in the course of one hour one of the atoms decays, but also, with equal probability, perhaps none; if it happens, the counter tube discharges and through a relay releases a hammer which shatters a small flask of hydrocyanic acid. If one has left this entire system to itself for an hour, one would say that the cat still lives if meanwhile no atom has decayed. The psi-function of the entire system would express this by having in it the living and dead cat.

So essentially, you put a cat in a box you can't see into and set it up so that over the course of an hour it has a 50:50 chance of being alive or dead. After the hour you open the box to reveal the results. During the hour, the cat exists in both a living and a dead state; it is only when the box is opened that one of these states becomes a reality. It's basically a case of "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?": you can make an assumption as to whether it does or doesn't, but, without observing it, you can't tell.

As Einstein put it, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." and so common sense and logic based on experience are thrown out the window and replaced by the fact that whether the cat is alive or dead, it makes absolutely no difference until the box is opened and is hence said to be both.

Now, how does this bear any relevance to a PPB? Well, you could claim that until you actually make your incision into the PPB to reveal the mythical world, every single possible state that the inside could be in exists: a fly may have been trapped in it during the manufacture, or maybe a drop of water, a pile of filings, some organic matter that's caused the inside to fill with mould. Hence, when produced with an untouched PPB, you could claim that the inside cannot be defined as being anything in particular - but instead a whole multitude of things.

The Many-Worlds Interpretation

We have the American physicist Hugh Everett to thank for this little gem of a theory:

Every time anything in the world reaches a point where one of any number of outcomes occurs, they all occur, but... wait for it... they all occur individually in parallel universes. So if you were to toss a coin, in this universe you got a heads, in a parallel universe that, up to this point, has been identical in every way to this one, you get a tails. There are hence a near-infinite number of universes, and, unfortunately, in many, your computer just overheated and blew up, rendering you rather dead.

You could, therefore, claim that the inside of a particular ping pong ball can take thousands of different forms as they all exist inside the same ping pong ball which in turn exists in thousands of parallel universes.

What Exactly Is "Inside"?

"But that's the entire point" I hear you cry! Well, yes and no: yes, this whole article is about what's inside a ping pong ball, but no, that's not what I mean. What I mean is how do we actually define inside? Could it be that what we perceive as inside is actually the outside and, in fact, it is us that are inside the ping pong ball. Picture, for instance, a giant sphere with at hole running straight through the middle, now, all the space contained within the hole is 'outside' whereas all the space between the walls of the sphere and the hole are 'inside' the object. If we were to close off the sides of the hole and fill them in to the extent that all that's left of the hole is a smaller sphere within our larger sphere, could you still define the contents of that small sphere as being 'outside'? Alternatively you could think of a tank of water with a bubble inside it; does the air in the bubble count as being 'outside' and the water 'inside'? The bubble itself never actually disappears - it's just a pocket of air that will eventually read the surface and mix in with the rest. Let our atmosphere be the outer sphere and a ping pong ball be the inner sphere, if we call what's inside the PPB 'outside', then, surely, relative to the ping pong ball, we are inside.

And that is going to be my answer: If you would like to know what's inside a ping pong ball, look around you - you're in one.

Don't worry, I don't really believe all that!
Don't worry, I don't really believe all that!


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    • warren4321 profile image


      5 years ago from California

      I love to play ping pong during my free time as well. Love the article.

    • Vinodkpillai profile image


      10 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Love this hub. thanks Sasha

    • cally2 profile image

      Paul Callaghan 

      11 years ago from Paraparaumu, New Zealand

      Phew! That's great Sasha. Quantum physics and philosophy and PPBs. But I think you are right. You do have too much time. The art and music essay would have suited me better as 14 year old. I can just see the crusty old English teacher's face when I handed an essay on the importance of the poet Joe Strummer.


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