lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The butter -side- down rule

A toast always lands the butter side down.

Scientifically inclined people have a different name for the butter-side- down rule. They call it Murphy's law. I am not going to go into the history of it, but it's been around long before Murphy articulated it. Sod's Law, it was called.

If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. That is Murphy's Law. (Oh. Wow, have they got something right at last.)

There are corollaries, which all make perfect sense:

Whatever can't go wrong will go wrong.
Trying to make things better only makes things worse.
Any attempt to do nothing, so nothing can go wrong, will go wrong.

I have found my own corollaries to the Law:

If you bunked classes to spend quality time with your boyfriend, your mom's best friend is sure to spot you.

The queue you join always moves the slowest.

When you need them, objects become invisible.

The day after you dispose the old newspapers you will need to find an article in last Sunday's supplement.

The telephone always rings when you are in the shower.

When you think it can't get any worse, it does.

Facts of life. :D

The world is basically a jigsaw puzzle that we solve unconsciously, all the time. That is how we deal with all the information that pours in all the time, updating our mental pictures several times a second.

A jigsaw and the brain gets millions of updates, too many times a second. So how does it cope? By being sensible, and using a version of 'my recent documents' type of retrieving the most relevant information. Correlating, offering the best matches for any given stimulus and what sets it off. Experience and expectation play a large part in interpreting the world.

But if you expect something because your experience predicts it, you are in for a surprise. Sometimes. I hear a crash in the next room and I know that my son has dropped the remote, again. But sometimes I find that no, it is my husband who did. :D

Talking of my son, he probably has a Murphy's Law corollary about mothers: Anything you do can be criticised by your mother, even doing nothing. (To which I might add: Never criticise your mother's cooking if you expect to get any more of it.)

My son and I once did a probability test, tossing a coin a hundred times and recording the results. (It came down heads up 54 times, by the way.)

But when BBC did a testing of the buttered toast myth, it found that the toast obeyed the laws of probability more than Murphy's Law. There is a reason and an explanation for it, of course.

If you fling a piece of toast about, it will do exactly what a coin will do when you toss it. Land one way or the other. Actually, when a toast takes leave of the plate and kisses the floor, it is not following Murphy's Law, but Newton's.

So a falling piece of toast does what Newton's first Law states. A body in motion will stay that way until something stops it moving. The floor does that very well. But the distance from a table or a carried plate of toast is not as high as when you have people standing up and chucking toast all over the place. It starts travelling down dictated by gravity and it starts its revolution, but alas, the floor comes too soon, at about half a revolution.

That is why toast always lands butter side down! Perhaps we should eat our breakfast on stilts, to give it a chance to land the other way. :D

If you have your personal corollaries of Murphy's Law, let me know. We can pool them.



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