Monday, September 20, 2010

The Physics of Inconvenience

I'm not a scientist but I read a lot of science. I know that there are classical physics, which govern the mechanics of most of reality. There are quantum physics, which are quite different and govern sub-atomic particles. On the quantum level, objects can move from point a to point c without passing through the intervening space, or be in 2 places at once, or changing the direction of the spin of one electron can  change the direction of another electron that is not touching it nor even near it. Very weird.

I heard of some physicists who worked out that there is a scientific reason that Christmas lights are always in a knot. Apparently, there is a law or principle that causes strings and cords to get tangled up in themselves. And that news got me thinking: what other laws are there that govern common objects, things neither as big as planets or rocks but not as small as mesons? My son say we should name this branch of science the physics of inconvenience and I have a few laws to propose.

1) Small objects, when accidentally dropped, will not land directly below the point from which they started but will move horizontally along the floor at least twice the distance they were dropped. (That is, if dropped from a height of 4 feet, an eyeglass screw will travel 8 feet along the floor.)

2) Small dropped objects are attracted to dark places under furniture or appliances. (Scientists have discovered that the universe is mostly dark matter but can't find all of it. I think it is under our sofas and refrigerators...tiny black holes sucking small dropped objects into parallel universes.)

3) If the part is not dropped over the floor, but over a piece of furniture or a car engine or inside a car, it will fall into the narrowest space imaginable, usually one in which it can be seen but not reached.

4) The part's inaccessibility is directly related to its importance and the difficulty of obtaining a replacement.

5) When trying to remove or disassemble something, all but one of the fasteners (ie, lug nut, bolt, screw) will be relatively easy to remove. The remaining fastener will not budge, despite Herculean efforts to loosen it.

While we're at it, a whole branch of this field should be devoted to probability theory and motor repair.

6) The likelihood of a vehicle or major appliance breaking down is inversely proportional to the availability of a repairman. (Thus your car is much more likely to break down while between small rural towns in Montana than in the city of Chicago and the odds that your fridge will go on the fritz go up sharply after hours weekdays and exponentially on weekends and holidays.)

7) The likelihood of a vehicle or major appliance breaking down is inversely proportional to the amount of your bank balance. (The lower your balance, the higher the probability that something expensive will break.)

8) The exception to the above rule occurs when your bank balance is temporarily increased by a windfall, such as an IRS refund or bonus. The cost of repairs will approximate the windfall.

9) The lower the cost of a car part, the greater the portion of the engine that must be removed to get at it and replace it. (Eg, a $1.00 part will require the removal of the entire engine block.)

And here are a few laws that apply to medicine.

10) The more costly a medical test is, the more likely it is to reveal nothing of interest.

11) The more inconclusive tests you undergo, the more likely you are to recover without actual treatment.

If you have formulated laws of a similar nature, please share them in the comments section below.

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