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Two Questions about Grabel's Law

Submitted by Ken Watts on Tue, 08/21/2007 - 11:10

Some time ago I posted, as one of the Daily Quotes, Grabel's Law:

Two is not equal to three—even for very large values of two.

I posted it because I found it particularly funny, and then forgot about it. But recently, I've had a run of visitors to the site, all through searches for Grabel's law, and that has raised two questions for me:

  1. Why the sudden interest in Grabel's law?

    If you've come to this post by searching for Grabel's law, leave a comment below.
  2. Who was Grabel?

    If you know, or if you can find out, please tell us all about that, as well.
  3. Why is Grabel's law funny?

    I'm open to other views on this, too, but I actually have a theory of my own.

    I think the humor lies in the combination of two elements. First there's the nonsensical mathematical jargon—treating a number, 2, as though it were a variable, x or y—which is slightly amusing in itself.

    But added to this is a basic trait which we've all seen in our fellow humans—the tendency not to give up in the face of a simple fact. How many times have you heard someone advance a theory in conversation, only to be proved wrong. How often do they immediately give up? How often do they grasp at straws? You know the kind of conversation:

Guy with martini: "Winter is colder because the light from the sun hits the earth at an angle and bounces off."

Science teacher: "Actually, that's only partly right. The light does hit at an angle, but it doesn't 'bounce'. It's just that the angle means the light gets spread over a greater area."

Guy with martini: "Yeah, it gets spread over a greater area, but I think it bounces a little, too."

Science teacher: "Actually, bouncing has nothing to do with it."

Guy with martini: "Well, I think it depends on your point of view..."

I suspect that when we first hear Grabel's Law there's a faint subtext in our brain, a very subtle echo of a conversation that goes something like:

Guy with martini: "Very few people know this, but they've recently proved that two can sometimes equal three."

Math teacher: "Math happens to be my field, and nobody has proved any such thing. Two does not equal three."

Guy with martini: "Well, not ordinarily. But for very large values of two...

(For surprising news
about the real Grabel
see the next post...)