Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings


Posted by Sen on March 3, 2009

mathom1 [a 2009 posting, temporarily revived for Hilary Chapman]

It’s my birthday, and I was looking in the mathom room for something given to me, that I could give to you, and thinking about what Baha’u’llah says, that copper can turn to gold if left in its mine for seventy years, and how that doesn’t seem to be working for me

(in fact, things are going quite the other way), and that got me to thinking of other transformations, which serendipitously led me to a nice piece of borrowed treasure which, as mathoms do, may have been around a time or two, but can still serve a turn.

Everyone knows that if you are going out to do a long string of things and you put your keys down to get an extra shopping bag out of the cupboard, the keys disappear. And if you reach for the stapler to attach the receipt to the bill, not only have the staples in the stapler been used up – which is explicable – but those in the drawer have disappeared. Barry Crump once said that the Martians were taking them to make a pattern, and they didn’t like to be noticed, so if you just look the other way and get on with something else, they will put them back exactly where you left them, soon enough. I don’t buy it: it would work if the Mona Lisa suddenly disappeared from its place, or the Eiffel tower, or other unique things, but they are always just where you expect them to be. A staple is a staple is a staple, and how many patterns do the martians need? So no, it’s not to make a pattern. To annoy the hell out of earthlings perhaps. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

You will also have noticed that some things don’t disappear, they spontaneously generate. Take dust lumps for instance. If there’s a law that says that common everyday objects you are about to need spontaneously disappear, why don’t they disappear? Is there a counter-law that says that things you will never need, spontaneously generate? That would explain why the garage is always full. But that wasn’t the mathom I found either, everyone knows about that.

What I found, thinking of transformation and metamorphoses as I was, was an explanation of why the dust clumps under the furniture get bigger, up to a certain size, but you never see one a foot across, or weighing two kilos. The dust may come from curtains and skin flakes, or from spontaneous generation (in my experience, the harder you clean, the more it generates: maybe existing matter is used first, and then spontaneous generation kicks in). What’s interesting is not where it comes from, but the way it spontaneously organises itself into clumps, but only up to a certain size. If this was gravity at work, you’d think the biggest lump would suck all the little lumps into it. So, does a big clump just stop growing? That would be like a law of nature that switches off: I don’t buy it. If there’s an implicit order in things that requires dust to spontaneously organise, then it will keep organising until something else intervenes.

oddsocksNo, what happens is, the little dust bunny grows to maturity, and then it pupates, it transforms, each dust bunny into its own unique, wonderful sock, no two having the same pattern, size and colour. And because an odd sock is an object you’ll never have any use for, it never disappears. ‘Odd sock’ is what we call in physics an ‘end state.’

One Response to “Metamorphoses”

  1. Maury Miloff said

    Happy birthday Sen and may the copper turn to gold, the garage spontaneously declutter, dust bunnies
    become objet d’art, keys gravitate to pockets and the Martian probe discover the most beautiful patterns. All that — plus our hearts become happily attuned at all times to soul stirring mysteries. Please keep up the good work in the coming year.

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