Issue 7 - February 2001
When toast tumbles off a plate and lands butter-side down, it's doing more than just annoying us. It's actually showing that Murphy's Law is built into the design of the universe !
According to Murphy's Law, "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong". And it's a law that can be seen in action every morning in countless homes, when slices of toast slide off the table or plate and land on the floor - butter side down.
Yet according to Robert Matthews, who devised The Sum's experiments into Murphy's Law, toast tumbling onto the floor is a bit like the apple that fell in Isaac Newton's garden: it's revealing some cosmic facts about our universe.
Robert explained this astonishing "cosmic connection" to The Sum: "When toast slides off the edge of a plate, it's tipped over the edge by the force of gravity, and starts to spin. You can work out what that spin-rate is, and it's slow - so slow, in fact, that the toast often cannot bring its buttered side uppermost again by the time it hits the floor.
"Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if humans were taller, because we'd hold our plates further from the ground", says Robert. "Then if toast slid off the plate, it would take longer to hit the ground, and there'd be more time to land butter-side up".
So why are we humans the size they are ? As Robert points out, if we were extremely tall, we'd be at great risk of lethal head injury every time we fell over. "That's because falling from a great height allows gravity to accelerates our skulls to such a high speed that the chemical bonds in the skull would be broken on impact". Ouch !
So, says Robert, there are two factors that dictate the maximum height of humans: the strength of gravity, and the strength of the chemical bonds making up our bones. "And this is where the cosmic connection with Murphy's Law comes in", says Robert. "Physicists know that the relative strengths of gravity and chemical bonds were set in the very first moments of the Big Bang.
"In other words, the reason we are the height we are - and thus the reason we hold our plates at the height we do, and toast sliding off them lands butter-side down - is ultimately because the universe was made that way !"
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