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:
- 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.
- Who was Grabel?
If you know, or if you can find out, please tell us all about that, as well.
- 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...)