Physics of spinning tops
For Plato and Cusa the spinning top was not merely a toy. Its motion reflects, in microcosm,
the movement of the physical universe, such as the motion of the heavenly bodies, and the characteristics
of the metaphysical principles governing that motion. Our notions of time and space are not absolute.
They are inseparable from this physical motion.
All known flindamental particles in the universe act as if they were tiny spinning tops.
Tops do resemble the harmony of the universe. Gravity, force and friction! Their mechanics,
their shape and form determine their final motion. Nothing is random in a spinning top,
as nothing is random in a ballerina’s pirouette on her pointe shoes.
If a hard-boiled egg is spun fast enough it will rise up and spin on one end.
The basic physics behind the effect of a spinning of top is that a torque is required to rotate
an object. The effect governing the spinning top is called the gyroscopic effect. The torque is equal
to the rate of change of angular momentum (i.e a measure of the amount of rotation an object
has, taking into account its mass, shape and speed). There is nothing magic about that. It is the
rotational equivalent of what happens when an object accelerates along a straight line.
The motion of which causes it to remain precisely balanced on its tip is because of inertia.
For the top, gravity acts down through its centre and an equal force acts up where the
tip sits. When we get the top going normally (spinning about a vertical axis) we can tell that
we are giving the top much more "spin" about the vertical axis than gravity managed to achieve
about a horizontal axis when the top fell over. The "spin" (or angular momentum) required
about the horizontal axis as observed when the top falls over. If the top is spinning very fast
then it is ultra stable because the effect that gravity can produce is way too small.
Energy conservation guarantees that if there's no friction, the top will never fall!