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scientific research about why a toast always lands on the buttered face when it falls from the table
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20 / M / Eng Land
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Posted 9/9/13
It happens because life.
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F / In my Wonderland....
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Posted 9/9/13
We cats are too smart to fall for that trick.
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22 / M / San Antonio, TX,...
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Posted 9/9/13
Well, I think that it's good because you know there is always that one abnormal person who doesn't understand anything....
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Posted 9/9/13

theYchromosome wrote:

Also, maybe a bit of a spoiler if you all wanted to read the actual paper, but the butter has almost no effect on trajectory. The reason it lands butter side down is an almost exclusive result of the height we place our tables and the torque that rotates the bread. Put the table higher and the probability is about 50/50, or spin the bread really fast and the probability is about 50/50. Drop the bread straight down, and it'll probably land butter up. The butter itself is basically irrelevant. Don't put any butter, and it'll still probably land on the "butter" side (or rather where the butter side would have been).


Thank you for sharing that since it is important information, especially since a number of people posted their own theories as to why it happens. This, after all, one of the reasons to do research: to understand the world around us. After all, common sense fails miserably when it comes to science.

Research may be at its most useful when it is developing new lines of thought, however, you only get to that point by working on fundamentals. Mathematics is often criticized for this--and yes, you can do research in math--since many times the "products" have no real world application. But it often happens that years later, Physics finds a use for these mathematical constructs.

Take coffee ring research. Useless right? Maybe not so much. Coffee when it dries behaves differently from other liquids. You can look at the end of this article to see some potential applications: http://mrsec.uchicago.edu/research/highlights/coffee-ring-effect .

The point is this: researchers don't always think of how their research will be applied. It's up to others to see if that information may be useful. Can buttered toast research be useful? Probably not, but now we know that it has nothing to do with butter. Could this research be useful. Perhaps it could, at least with industrial machine design. You would not believe how complicated these machines are, and some of the odd beginnings for many of them.
Posted 9/9/13

theYchromosome wrote:

Be careful saying things like "doesn't help anyone in any way." At the very least, it started this thread, gave some people a laugh, and cured someone's boredom (which I claim is actually the point of science, but I'd rather not argue that right now -- maybe it'll be relevant later. We'll see I guess).

But I get what you were saying. So you don't think the experiment has any merit? Fair enough. Since I assume you've actually read the paper, you should know that it was part of the larger project of Robert Matthews's investigation of Murphy's Law (anything that can go wrong will). You can think of the experiment as an investigation into why toast falls buttered side down, but that would be missing Matthews's point. The fact is, a large amount of people hold a strong opinion on Murphy's law, and looking at the validity and reasons for believing this law seems to be as worthy a study (to me) as most psychological and sociological studies. The bulk of the paper talked about the implications of the experiment to Murphy's law -- the primary factor being that the height of the table is absolutely critical to the results. If the table is higher or lower, then the toast falls to one side about 50% of the time, or buttered side up if the table is low enough.

Why is this important? It makes the implication that Murphy's law is not a result of physics (or if you like: God didn't design the world against you). It is a result of Humans designing their world in poor coordination with physics. Humans design their world in a way that makes it more likely that things will go wrong if given the chance. If we just make our tables higher, things will be as likely to go wrong as right. I think this idea has a bit of merit. Whether it was worth the time is up to the people spending it, and whether it was worth the money depends on the how much was spent. At the very least, there is some amount of money I would feel justified in paying to investigate why people think things will go wrong if they can. You can make the claim that the experiment doesn't have any bearing on this issue (in which case you're just claiming he's a shitty scientist), but that is different than saying that the phenomenon in question is worth studying. Regardless of whether or not you take Murphy's law seriously -- a lot of people do. Looking at the validity of a belief that a large group of people hold seems a worthy endeavor to me. How much is it worth though?

The paper didn't seem to disclose the cost of the experiment, but we can guess at it. The data show that 1,000 kids dropped 21,000 slices of bread. Pretty easy -- 21 slices per kid. Since the number seems approximately correct, I'd venture to make the assumption that the actual experiment was for each kid to drop a loaf of buttered bread on the floor. So let me ask this: Would you buy a loaf of bread to understand Murphy's law? Even if I wouldn't, I very frequently "waste" more money than that fooling around with curiosities that are far more banal. But to be clear, do you think that there exist 1,000 people that would each pay a loaf of bread to sate their curiosity? Damn straight. I'm not sure how much the experiment actually cost, but if we're looking at the cost of 1,000 loaves of (probably) the cheapest bread they could find, we're looking at only a few thousand US dollars, which would probably not make any significant sort of difference to the causes you might find significant, although I also understand that any help is good help, but that's a different question.


But then again, this is just one experiment (from almost 10 years ago, but whatever). "OK, so even if this experiment makes (a slight bit of) sense, it's just one experiment. It doesn't change the main point." I could see an argument like this. So, let's look at the main point:

To what extent should we fork over money to figure stuff out? I can explain my reasons in detail if you doubt them, but for now I will take the assumption that the only thing that a scientist truly seeks to fulfill is curiosity. In order to justify it to others, they need to make the case that it's good for others to pay them. This (I would guess) usually means verifying that the study is (in some fashion) good for society. But the real reason that I believe people study things is because they are interested in what they study. They might be interested because it's good for society, or because it will make them reputable, but they nevertheless do it out of some sort of interest. At any rate, my point is that the experiments that are worth putting money into are the ones that are interesting. I may not be interested in the likelihood that my toast will butter my floor, but I am interested in thinking about why things sometimes appear to go wrong whenever they can. Whether or not your taxes, tuition, or whatever are going to good use, then, depends on whether you are a better judge of what's interesting than the people that backed the study. I'm not convinced that's the case (I don't know you or those people very well).



That was a really great read. I think your answers are really convincing! And allowed me to understand more about the science behind the experiment.




theYchromosome wrote:

Also, maybe a bit of a spoiler if you all wanted to read the actual paper, but the butter has almost no effect on trajectory. The reason it lands butter side down is an almost exclusive result of the height we place our tables and the torque that rotates the bread. Put the table higher and the probability is about 50/50, or spin the bread really fast and the probability is about 50/50. Drop the bread straight down, and it'll probably land butter up. The butter itself is basically irrelevant. Don't put any butter, and it'll still probably land on the "butter" side (or rather where the butter side would have been).



This.

I am unsure why some people are trying to answer the question of "why a toast lands on the buttered face", this thread is about what you think about the experiment, lol.
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Posted 9/9/13 , edited 9/10/13

deadpanditto wrote:

Thank you for sharing that since it is important information, especially since a number of people posted their own theories as to why it happens. This, after all, one of the reasons to do research: to understand the world around us. After all, common sense fails miserably when it comes to science.

Research may be at its most useful when it is developing new lines of thought, however, you only get to that point by working on fundamentals. Mathematics is often criticized for this--and yes, you can do research in math--since many times the "products" have no real world application. But it often happens that years later, Physics finds a use for these mathematical constructs.

Take coffee ring research. Useless right? Maybe not so much. Coffee when it dries behaves differently from other liquids. You can look at the end of this article to see some potential applications: http://mrsec.uchicago.edu/research/highlights/coffee-ring-effect .

The point is this: researchers don't always think of how their research will be applied. It's up to others to see if that information may be useful. Can buttered toast research be useful? Probably not, but now we know that it has nothing to do with butter. Could this research be useful. Perhaps it could, at least with industrial machine design. You would not believe how complicated these machines are, and some of the odd beginnings for many of them.


It always bothered me in my college classes when people had the nerve to say something like "when will I ever use this in real life?" as though ideas themselves could cook dinner, wash their car, and make them money. Ideas aren't useful -- at all. Even if you know how to make a sandwich, that knowledge is useless until you make an actual sandwich (or apply sandwich-making technology in some other fashion). The whole idea behind learning, to me, is that nothing you learn is inherently useful -- you need to figure out how it might be useful. You need to make your knowledge useful. I might be a little biased though, since my primary field of study is the almost famously useless mathematics (or maybe it's just that mathematicians like to fancy themselves useless. I'm not sure why) -- but like you said, physicists have been very creative with their applications. Either way, I agree completely. You never truly comprehend how it is the stuff you're studying might be used.
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Posted 9/10/13

mhibicke wrote:


This is pure genius. I want to try it, but am worried about opening a wormhole in my living room.


That really depends on where the wormhole leads. It could lead to your Idea of perfection. Conversely of course it could lead into a supernova. So for the time I'm with you no wormholes in my living room.
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