Buttered cat paradox

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A cartoon illustration of the thought experiment

The buttered cat paradox is a common joke based on the tongue-in-cheek combination of two adages:

The paradox arises when one considers what would happen if one attached a piece of buttered toast (butter side up) to the back of a cat, then dropped the cat from a large height. The buttered cat paradox, submitted by artist John Frazee of Kingston, New York, won a 1993 OMNI magazine competition about paradoxes.[1][2] The basic premise, stating the conditions of the cat and bread and posed as a question, was presented in a routine by comic and juggler Michael Davis, appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, July 22, 1988.[3]

Thought experiments[edit]

Some people jokingly maintain that the experiment will produce an anti-gravity effect. They propose that as the cat falls towards the ground, it will slow down and start to rotate, eventually reaching a steady state of hovering a short distance from the ground while rotating at high speed as both the buttered side of the toast and the cat’s feet attempt to land on the ground.[4]Soon the buttered cat will rotate fast enough to create a time paradox and rip the fabric in space and time.

In humor[edit]

The faux paradox has captured the imagination of science-oriented humorists. In May 1992, the Usenet Oracle Digest #441 included a question from a supplicant asking about the paradox.[5] Testing the theory is the main theme in an episode of the comic book strip Jack B. Quick, the title character seeks to test this theory, leading to the cat hovering above the ground, with the cat's wagging tail providing propulsion. The March 31, 2005, strip of the webcomic Bunny also explored the idea in the guise of a plan for a "Perpetual Motion MoggieToast 5k Power Generator", based on Sod's Law.[6] In Science Askew, Donald E. Simanek comments on this phenomenon.[7]

The idea appeared on the British panel game QI, where the idea was discussed. As well as talking about the idea, they also brought up other questions regarding the paradox. These included:

  • "Would it still work if you used margarine?",
  • "Would it still work if you used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter?", and
  • "What if the toast was covered in something that was not butter, but the cat thought it was butter?" (the idea being that it would act like a placebo).[8]

The paradox also appeared in the episode "Gravitational Anarchy" of the scientific podcast RadioLab.[9] Later, a humoristic explainer animation[10] was put together by the animated production company Barq, based on an extracted audio clip from the RadioLab episode.

Brazilian energy drink brand Flying Horse has released an award-winning commercial[11] that simulates the recreation of this phenomenon, which is then used to create perpetual energy.[12][13]

It also appeared in a comics series called Kid Paddle where Kid tells the story to his gullible friend Horace while at the dinner table. The comic is fairly popular in France and Belgium.

In reality[edit]

In reality, cats possess the ability to turn themselves right side up in mid-air if they should fall upside-down, known as the cat righting reflex. This enables them to land on their feet if dropped from sufficient height, about 30 cm (12 in).[14]

Toast, being an inanimate object, lacks both the ability and the desire to right itself. A study at Manchester Metropolitan University involving dropping 100 slices under laboratory conditions established that toast typically lands on the floor butter-side-down as a result of the manner in which it is typically dropped from a table, and the aerodynamic drag caused by the air pockets within the bread. The toast is invariably butter-side-up when dropped. As it falls, it rotates; given the typical speed of rotation and the typical height of a table, a slice of toast that began butter-side-up on the table will land butter-side-down on the floor in 81% of cases.[15]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Morris, Scot (July 1993). "I have a theory.." Omni. 15 (9): 96. 
  2. ^ Verley, Jason C. (November 2001). "Letters: More on Alternate Theories". APS News. American Physical Society. 10 (10). 
  3. ^ The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, July 22, 1988
  4. ^ "UoWaikato newsletter" (PDF). University of Waikato. August 2003. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  5. ^ Usenet Oracle (1992-05-04). Kinzler, Steve, ed. "Usenet Oracularities #441". Usenet Oracle. 
  6. ^ Davies, Huw "Lem" (2005-03-31). "Feline cunning and sods law". Bunny (webcomic). Retrieved 2014-01-15. 
  7. ^ Simanek, Donald E. & Holden, John C. (2002). Science Askew: A Light-hearted Look at the Scientific World. CRC Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-0-7503-0714-7. Retrieved 2010-06-30. 
  8. ^ Toksvig, Sandi; Vegas, Johnny & Lloyd, John (2010-11-05). "Hypothetical". QI. Series H. Episode 8. London. BBC. BBC One. 
  9. ^ Krulwich, Robert; Abumrad, Jad; Quammen, David (guest) & deGrasse Tyson, Neil (guest) (2010-11-29). "Gravitational Anarchy". Radiolab. Event occurs at 20:48. NPR. Retrieved 2015-01-11.  Alternate link via iTunes.
  10. ^ barqvideo (2012-04-25). "The Cat and Jelly Toast Experiment aka the Buttered Cat Paradox explainer". Youtube.com. Retrieved 2012-06-20. 
  11. ^ "2012 Young Director Award CFP-Europe". AdForum. 
  12. ^ vibeFlyingHorse (2012-04-10). "Flying Horse - Gatorrada (Cat-Toast)". YouTube. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  13. ^ Beltrone, Gabriel (2012-05-14). "Energy Drink Makes the Most of the Buttered-Cat Paradox Age-old physics law inspires Ogilvy ad". Adweek. 
  14. ^ Nguyen, Huy D. (1998). "How does a Cat always land on its feet?". Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Medical Engineering. Archived from the original on 2001-04-10. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  15. ^ Slater, Chris (2013-09-05). "(-Rav)/ t = R: Manchester boffins find formula for why toast lands butter side down". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2017-03-06. 

External links[edit]