Sunday, August 28, 2016

Just (can't be) Right

There are some things we've been told enough times that we just accept them as truth. But some of them clearly don't add up, and now that I'm noticing the discrepancies, it is hard to know which parts of our received wisdom can really be trusted. I'm talking, of course, about the story of Goldilocks and the three bears.

The glaring problem is the porridge temperature. You know the story: the Bear family serves porridge into bowls and goes for a walk while waiting for it to cool. Goldilocks arrives on the scene, sees the three bowls set out on the table,  and promptly samples each one. Big bowl: too hot. Medium bowl: too cold. Small bowl: just right. 
Wait, WHAT!? 
It is the same porridge, in the same room, on the same table. How did Mama Bear's porridge cool off more than Baby Bear's? All three servings started at the same temperature, and judging both by experience and by the laws of thermodynamics the smaller portion should cool off faster than the larger one. Unless Mama Bear keeps her cast iron bowl in the ice box between meals, we've been lied to. It was Mama Bear's porridge that should have been just right!

No doubt you are now imagining some (unlikely and unsatisfying) explanations that could potentially account for the reported temperatures. But before we get sidetracked into a discussion of bowl shape or fireplace proximity, let's consider the other suspect elements in the story. The Bears return home, discover the eaten porridge, and proceed to the sitting room where Papa Bear and Mama Bear both comment on the mussed cushions or other small indications that someone has been sitting, however briefly, in these well-used chairs. Can't you hear Baby Bear's incredulity when he ventures to mention that someone has broken his chair to pieces, right there on the floor! How did Mama and Papa not notice that first?

The same scene basically repeats itself upstairs. Despite the fact that it should be clear to both of the adults that they are dealing with some form of home invasion, they studiously avoid noticing the actual person sleeping in their child's bed, instead drawing attention to how their own blankets have been disturbed. How wrong is that?!

I'm sure that you can see the conclusion we must draw. Either these parents are self-centered to the point of total neglect for their child's safety and well-being, or the whole situation was purposefully staged. Recall that neither parent moves to question Goldilocks or stop her from departing. 

What kind of parents would pull a stunt like that? Apparently they hired Goldilocks to teach Baby Bear some sort of life lesson. Fear of strangers? Importance of locking doors and protecting personal property? Don't go on walks? I don't know what they told Baby Bear afterward, but I am disinclined to trust any moral derived from such a manipulative experience. 

Papa Bear's story is too contrived. Mama Bear's story is too worrying. Baby Bear's story is just not right.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


The experience of getting a song stuck in your head is somehow universal. A casual association reminds you of the beat or the melody or the lyrics and before you can say "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" the song had taken up residence and you will be living with it for the next two or three eternities. The squatter in your brain can range from benign to maddening. Occasionally they will leave on their own, but usually they have to be forcibly evicted by (per the usual method) trying to invite a more tenacious guest to supplant them. The most disconcerting for me is when someone around me starts singing along, in sync with the song my head. Then I know that the invading troops have suborned my vocal cords and are launching a sotto vocce invasion of the world around me.

But the point is that songs aren't the only things that get stuck on mental flypaper. While earworms are the most common, I've discovered that many people experience the equivalent with their own unique mental constructs. For one of my sisters, it is typing sequences on a keyboard. One of my friends has numbers follow him around. In my case it is words.

Words that get stuck and repeat themselves in my mind for hours or days at a time are necessarily interesting. (Or at least, I only ever notice one that is uncommon.) The ones that stay the longest are those whose meaning or usage have somehow escaped me. The less I know about the word, the more insistently it presents itself, as though it is confident that this time, there must surely be a way to apply it to the situation. In these cases looking up the definition is often enough to start the eviction process.

Anyway, here are some examples of my recent thought-guests. I will post more as they come up, with far less of an introduction.
  • Hirsute
  • Inveigle
  • Anodyne
  • Philately
EDIT: It looks like I've mentioned this in passing before.