Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is the Nifty stuck in the Buttered Cat paradox?

Today’s (Dec 13 ‘11) intraday movements of the Nifty index was a classic example of volatility caused by uncertainty, with alternate bouts of buying and selling making the index gyrate about its previous day’s closing level.

Neither bulls nor bears were able to make up their minds about what to do, after yesterday’s big sell-off following the announcement of the negative IIP numbers for Oct ‘11.  It reminded me of the ‘Buttered Cat paradox’ – which is a thought experiment based on two adages:

  • If you drop a cat from a height, it always falls on its feet
  • If you drop a slice of buttered toast, it always lands with the buttered side down

What will happen if some one straps a piece of buttered toast (with the buttered side on top) on the back of a cat and then drops the cat from a height? The toast will try to make the cat land on its back. But the cat will try to land on its feet. The end result will be a gravity-defying equilibrium where the cat will hover just above the ground level and keep whirling round and round!

Rest assured that I didn’t make this up after imbibing a few too many. It is all over the Internet. I’m even providing the wiki link from which the cartoon below was copied:

Those of you who are enamoured by the unrealised potential of alternative energy stocks like Praj (ethanol) and Suzlon (wind) can imagine the potential of harnessing emission-free green energy from hundreds and thousands of whirling buttered cats.

If you enjoy thought experiments, here is one more. Imagine a fisherman living on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean very near the international date line. Every morning, he sets out on his boat and crosses the international date line (thereby gaining 24 hours). After fishing the whole day, he returns to his island by crossing the international date line once more (this time losing 24 hours). Will he ever get old?


Jasi said...

Well, the ageing of his body has nothing to do with his acrobatics around the date line. He will still get old but he would simply lose track of his exact age :)


Well this is quite a problem for the thinkers. I have heard that chickens are fed and brought up with 6 hours day and 6 hours night duration rather than 24hrs. This seems to make them grow similar to normal breeding but almost twice faster than normal ones. Does it imply, time also plays a role in ones aging process!!!

Titu said...

Hello Sir,

I think whatever hours he will add in his age in morning will get subtracted in evening and net age will be his age relative to island, but if we measure his age relative to other parts of earth then there will be difference but in any condition that will not be more than 24 hours.

I still remember one such tricky question suppose you are traveling in a car with speed of light and you switch on the head light, then where the light from head light will go? Will it remain in head light or travel twice the speed of light?


Subhankar said...

@Jasi: Yes, the guy will get old but the date on his watch will remain stuck!

@Balaji: Animals are easy to fool. Humans less so. But if you managed to travel around at the speed of light - you would never get old!

@Titu: The person will get old with the passage of time, but his watch will be stuck on the same date - provided he is fool enough to adjust for the time change every day!

Nothing travels faster than the speed of light - yet.