Dimness at Noon

Today’s “Dear Abby” contains the following question:

DEAR ABBY: I’m having a dispute with my husband. He thinks that you screw in a lightbulb clockwise. I disagree. I say counter-clockwise. Which of us is correct? – ERIKA IN PELHAM, ALA.

Here’s a more puzzling question: why would someone write to Dear Abby to answer a question that could be answered in a few seconds by performing a not very complicated experiment?

14 Responses to Dimness at Noon

  1. PMP January 22, 2010 at 10:52 am #

    Hopefully, she e-mailed that little question and did not waste a stamp, stationery, and a walk to the mailbox.

    Also, her husband is clearly correct.

  2. Charles H. January 22, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Which way you screw in a lightbulb is a matter of personal preference. The hard part, of course, is getting into the lightbulb.

  3. BMB January 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Ha! The joke’s on her. Advice columnists never follow their own advice, making any answer given false.

    • Roderick January 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

      How does not following their own advice make their answers false?

  4. Anon73 January 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm #

    Maybe the purpose is to engage in dialogue with advice columnists and not to get information?

  5. Kevin Carson January 23, 2010 at 2:27 am #

    How many years were wasted debating natural philosophy based on glosses of Aristotle and Ptolemy before Galileo dropped those weights off a tower? (I’m probably appealing to the equivalent of Newton’s apple or Washington’s cherry tree, but hey.)

    • Roderick January 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm #

      Actually Galileo disproved the idea that heavy objects fall faster than light ones by doing philosophy in his head, not by dropping weights off a tower. (He did roll weights down an inclined plane, which slows their fall and makes it easier to measure, but he never performed the harder-to-measure straight-down drop — at least not that he tells us.)

      Galileo’s reasoning: if weight A weighs more than weight B, then what does the theory predict if we tie them together? On the one hand, it predicts that the heavier weight will drag the lighter one forward while the lighter one drags the heavier one back; so A-tied-to-B will fall more slowly than A alone but faster than B alone. On the other hand, since A-tied-to-B is heavier than either A or B, the theory also predicts that it will fall faster than either A or B alone. Since the theory predicts both that A-tied-to-B will faster than A alone and that it will fall more slowly than A alone, the theory contradicts itself, QED Fail.

      • P.M.Lawrence January 28, 2010 at 5:02 am #

        I remember trying out that line of argument after discovering it for myself as a teenager. I realised that it was incomplete from not defining what constituted “an object”, i.e. what would unite two objects into one, once I realised that you could apply the same argument to objects falling in air and being slowed different amounts by it – it proved too much. Clearly the argument wasn’t specific enough, as it suggested the wrong answer for that situation.

        Here’s something readers might like to try, first as a thought experiment and then for real (outdoors, and well away from anything that might get damaged). Take two balls of very different sizes, stand on a hard, flat surface, hold them together out in front of you with the smaller one on top, and then drop them together. What do you think will happen as they bounce, and why?

  6. Rich Hammer January 23, 2010 at 10:19 am #

    I sometimes ask questions such as this when I’m not clear on the definition of the term. If you are the socket facing a person who wants to screw a bulb into you, and the person asks “Which way?”, from your perspective it is counter-clockwise. Do you empathetically switch your answer? Or do you assume that the person hearing your answer will empathetically switch it?

    • Roderick January 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

      If you are the socket facing a person who wants to screw a bulb into you

      That’s never happened to me.

  7. Black Bloke January 23, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    The answer depends on the perspective. If your above the bulb it’s clock-wise, if the bulb is above you it’s counter-clockwise. Presumably the husband and wife genius duo are referring to the same light(s).

    Dear Abbie has gone down in quality…

    • Roderick January 23, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

      if the bulb is above you it’s counter-clockwise

      That depends on the orientation of the bulb, e.g. if it’s in an upright lamp or a ceiling fixture.

    • Brandon January 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

      Not precisely. It you are facing the bulb, it always goes in clockwise. If you are facing the back side of the socket — as you might be in the case of an adjustable lamp, it is always counter-clockwise.

      • Roderick January 23, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

        Yes, that was my point. Having the bulb above you doesn’t settle whether you’re facing it or not.

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