How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 880

How can people lay on a bed of nails and still survive? — LW, Marion, OH
If you push gently on the tip of one nail, it won't pierce your finger. When you push on the nail, it pushes back on you, but the force pushing the nail against your finger isn't strong enough to break your skin. If you push twice as hard on two nails at once, using two different fingers, then the force you exert on each nail will be the same as before and each nail will push back against one of your fingers with the same force as before. Once again, the nails won't break your skin. If you now push 100 times as hard against 100 nails, each nail won't push hard enough against you to break your skin. In fact, a few hundred nails will be able to push on you with an overall force equal to your weight without piercing you. That's the idea behind a bed of nails—by lying on many nails at once, you allow so many nails to push upward on you that, while the overall force they exert on you is enough to balance your weight, the force exerted by each individual nail isn't enough to draw blood. These nails have to be spread out around your body so that no individual nails bear more than their fair share of your weight. If one of the nails took too much of your weight, you'd be hurt by it.

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