Many great mysteries in the world continue to capture the attention of scientists, philosophers, and other learned people. For example, technicians at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland, are upgrading the Large Hadron Collider to produce even greater sub-atomic particle collisions. Not content with the mere discovery of the Higgs boson, nuclear physicists now hope to explain it. Likewise, cosmologists continue to look for clues that will unravel the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. Philosophers of mind and neuroscientists are still trying to understand the mystery we call “consciousness.” And, meta-physicians are still wondering why there is something rather than nothing.
Meanwhile, here in Janesville, Wisconsin I have discovered a set of mysteries a bit more mundane (maybe prosaic) than those mentioned above. They are of no particular importance to anyone, and no one appears to be investigating them. Yet, they still puzzle me. With only mild attention to order, here are ten of them.
If computers have so much capacity to do so many tasks more quickly and efficiently than before, why is it that so far, we still have as much work to do as ever?
Students of bureaucratic theory know that “work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.” But with the advent of computers, it seems that work expands beyond our ability to complete it. What is worse is that just at the time we have the most work to do and when we are under the most pressure to complete it, computers often break down. We either lose all our work, the hard disk crashes, or both.
Why is there always more traffic when you are in a hurry?
I always try to leave early for appointments so that I will arrive relaxed. Yet, there are times when I leave later than I would like. These are the times when traffic appears from everywhere, not to mention road construction delays and street closures. Of course, all this might be only my perception, but I don’t think so.
Where do fruit flies come from?
I recall in high school biology class a discussion of the theory of spontaneous generation of organisms. The refutation of the theory was successfully made by Francesco Redi in the 17th century when he placed meat in sealed jars and open jars. Maggots formed in the open jar, but not in the sealed jars, thus showing that flies, not meat, were the source of maggots. As clever as this experiment was, I remain unconvinced. First of all, I’m concerned about fruit flies, not maggots. They appear from nowhere if I leave a piece of fruit on the kitchen counter. Even in the middle of winter they show up. Now that it is summer, they will pounce on anything edible. (Other bloggers have taken on the mystery of fruit flies. See for example theorakvitka.com.)
Why is it that when a road construction project is finished a fellow with a jack-hammer will start tearing up that new road in less than a week?
Do construction crews inadvertently leave stuff under the cement like surgeons who sometimes leave scalpels inside a patient? Is this practice part of an unknown plan to keep guys with jack-hammers employed? What is going on here?
Why do cats prefer to play with the box a toy comes in rather than with the toy itself?
Cat owners are well aware of this feline trait. Cats routinely ignore the toys we buy for them, preferring instead to play with the box or wrappings. What is worse, cat owners continue to buy toys for our pets when we should be buying just the box and wrappings.
If we are so concerned about the destruction of the natural environment due to massive energy consumption, why don’t we take simple conservation measures such as hanging our clothes outdoors to dry when the weather is warm instead of running clothes dryers all day long?
This simple measure would provide enormous energy savings, but I detect social pressure in my neighborhood against doing this. Hanging clothes out to dry would destroy the golf course appearance of the back yards in my neighborhood. Perhaps the Obamas should start hanging their clothes out to dry. If they did, it might become a fashionable practice.
Why is it that 74 degrees Fahrenheit feels hot in the winter, but cool in the summer?
In the winter 74 degrees feels too hot to me, but in summer it is just about right. I certainly don’t like it any cooler.
In the winter why do I have so many box elder bugs in my house?
I really don’t know where these little bugs come from. They don’t seem to harm anything. But they just hang on through the coldest months, basking in the warmth of a lamp or the sun as it streams through a window. I don’t have any box elder trees and my neighbors don’t have any either. It may be that box elder bugs are similar to fruit flies. Their presence simply cannot be explained.
Why do products I like always disappear from the shelves?
This happens frequently with me. If I find a deodorant, a toothpaste, a cereal, a coffee, or any small consumer item that I like, that is a guarantee the product’s commercial life is limited. If I like it, it will disappear from the supermarket shelf in pretty short order. I can’t figure out why this happens. It may be that the National Security Agency is following my shopping habits, but I doubt it.
And of course, the greatest mystery of all — Where do socks go?
There is no need to elaborate on this mystery as it ranks with other great questions such as, “What is the source of gravity?” or “What is the nature of light?” Indeed, we probably know more about those questions than we do about the disappearance of socks. It may be that certain socks convert to dark matter at some point in their sock life, or perhaps they slip through worm-holes into a parallel universe. Who knows?