Indeed it's true, as we have learned via Snopes from Prof. Hutchison's experiments, that a frog, immersed in slowly heated water, will attempt to escape, contrary to the well-known canard. However, the other piece of folk wisdom involving boiling water, "A watched pot never boils", is in fact true, and has been demonstrated experimentally.

Famously, Einstein was never able to accept the implications of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and he repeatedly proposed challenges, "gedanken experiments", which Niels Bohr repeatedly and ably parried.

One such challenge involved our old "watched pot" friend. Einstein deduced that, were the foundations of quantum mechanics correct, then the very act of observing the water as it was heated would "collapse" the wavefunction of the pot (a macroscopic object, true, but, following Bohr's reasoning, still subject Heisenberg's limits) into the observed non-boiling state. (There is in fact a tiny buy non-vanishing probability of a "tunneling" event to the boiling state, but estimates put its likelihood at 1 in 10^7 tries.)

Einstein considered his challenge as a theoretical reductio ad absurdum demonstration of the incompleteness of the foundations of quantum mechanics. As he put it, "Gott spielt Schürstange nicht." Bohr, however, had other ideas, and in the end the pair agreed to meet in a kitchen in Copenhagen in 1927 to test the idea. A pot was set upon the stove in the kitchen of the legendary Godt restaurant, and both the two legendary figures pledged to watch the pot until it boiled, or until each reached his own limits of exhaustion.

As we know, Bohr turned out to be the winner, and Einstein was obliged to pay for dinner of kogt frogten ben.

Thanks to Mr. Leslie, whose comment on the post "Spectacular Leaps" recalled to mind this delightful topic.





Speak your mind

2 Comments so far

  1. Steve Leslie on March 17, 2009 8:47 am

    Perhaps some of the great guitar players will reply maybe Ted Nugent in lieu of their contribution, I will take a stab at this.

    I believe the commentary was tongue in cheek. This illustration is aimed more as discussion of relativity. However, at very high elevations, those experienced by mountain climbers a pot will boil at a lower temperature. thus it will take longer to cook something at higher altitudes. This is due to the lower air pressure. here is a very good explanation of the physics surrounding this.

    Einstein once explained relativity with respect to time this way:

    If you are in the company of a beautiful woman hours seem like moments, however if you are sitting on a hot stove a few moments may seem like hours.

    Here is an interesting article from American Thinker about the slow expansion of debt using the old wives tail about slowly cooking a frog.

    I hope I have given the correct attributions, I have been rereading Kate Turabian lately on properly writing research papers. This of course is tongue-in-cheek.

  2. arjun ghoshdast on July 9, 2010 12:48 am


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