This story begins with a missing sock. Actually, approximately 40 missing socks, give or take a few, if I estimate the ridiculous amount of un-matchable socks that seem to breed in and overflow out of my laundry basket from one week to the next.
But…..hang on. Before I get any further, perhaps this story doesn’t start with missing socks, perhaps this story starts with a tweet.
Because, of course, the missing socks inevitably became, as all subject matter on earth becomes sooner or later, the subject of a tweet. In reponse to a hashtag #IwillNeverUnderstand, I wrote a silly tweet about the mystery of missing socks.
On a side note, it’s not surprising that #Iwillneverunderstand appealed to me as a hashtag. To muse about the things that one will never understand means a licence to delve into realms that cover everything from the banal-but-frustrating issue of missing socks, to really awe-inspiring mysteries of nature and the universe. I could probably compile an almost infinite list of things I will never understand (including the concept of infinity), and enjoy doing so. I’ve written posts on the same topic before: here’s one of them.
But, back to my tweet. When contemplating a list of things I would never understand, the first thought that popped into my head was naturally, “quantum mechanics”. Having no real idea what the field of quantum mechanics covers, I felt that I should check – just to make sure that I didn’t accidentally understand quantum mechanics without realising it. (I aim for authenticity.)
Being a devotee of stringent academic research methods, journalistic rigour and the checking of primary sources, I immediately Googled the term quantum mechanics, and went straight to Wikipedia, to try and glean a vague idea of what quantum mechanics means.
Well, hold on to your hat, because it’s there, on the Wikipedia entry for quantum mechanics, that I made the first breakthrough in humankind’s centuries-old search for an answer to the unfathomable mystery of Socks That Go Missing In The Laundry! Reading over the entry I discovered that the field of quantum mechanics could be usefully applied to solve the Missing Sock Conundrum.
Consider the following:
On reading the above sentence I had a moment of genius, immediately spotting that minor changes would reveal the direct connection between quantum mechanics and the phenomenon of Disappearing Socks.
Try this yourself. Replace “Particle-like” with “laundry powder particles”, “wave-like” with “erratic”, “energy” with “spin cycle”, and “matter” with “socks”. Combine this with a few miniscule adjustments to grammar, and you have the following summation of quantum mechanics:
Quantum mechanics provides a mathematical description of laundry powder particles, and the erratic behaviour created by the interaction of the spin cycle with socks. (Me)
This is the first promising advance in the investigation into the Phenomenon of the Missing Socks since about the year 1410, when socks were shoes, and washing machines were human beings.
I read further, and discovered that:
Putting two and two together, I was now in a position to create a hypothesis for what happens to our socks when they vanish in the wash cycle.
as we have seen above, quantum mechanics is – in essence – the study of socks and their erratic behaviour in the laundry cycle. Therefore, in advanced situations (ie, in a front loading washing machine), if socks are washed at extreme temperatures, they will shrink to macroscopic proportions and become impossible to see with the naked eye (and even if you have a microscope, you will have a lot of trouble trying to put your feet into them). What’s more, if the temperature in the washing machine reaches a certain point, their interaction with the spin cycle can even cause them to emerge from the washing machine of their own volition, and disappear, never to be seen again.
I realise that this is heady stuff, and may be hard to take in at first. Finally – an answer to the age-old mystery!
If there are any sceptics out there, still unconvinced that quantum mechanics is the answer to where socks go, here is a final piece of proof. Quantum mechanics utilises a formula called the uncertainty principle. Clearly, this formula is custom-made for laundering socks, as you can utilise the principle to work out just how uncertain you should feel about whether you’ll ever see that brand new pair of socks in it’s entirety again. I have illustrated how this works in the diagram below:
There you have it. After about 20 minutes of reading a Wikipedia entry, I had solved the centuries-old mystery of Socks That Go Missing In The Laundry.
Feeling satisfied with my day’s endeavours, I downloaded and filled out an application form for a Nobel Prize and sent it off with a self-addressed envelope for return postage.