austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

I see smoke signals coming from them

In this enlightened age --- we turn on lights around 6:20 pm this time of year --- it's easy to forget how recently one could be laughed at for discussing the theory of furniture drift. It was 11:30 this morning. But part of how science works is presenting an idea to be cruelly laughed at, which is why many people have mistakenly thought middle school was part of the scientific method. There were few important theories advanced in middle school, although for some at the correct age range there were some regarding Van Halen which needed ridicule.

Ever since after the discovery of furniture by the Phoenicians, the first to suggest domesticating these things in their houses, people have wondered why the furniture should happen to be where it is. Why wasn't it somewhere else, someplace less prone to attacking toes or shins while one is feeling sleepy and fragile? Perhaps it had been and moved in the relentless hunt for prey, with stubbing and consistent owies being its method of survival.

Aristotle famously declared all the furniture stayed where it was as originally placed by the Prime Decorative Force, and we only thought it moved because the same article could be different pieces in different seasons --- a chair in spring, a bookshelf in summer, a hope chest in autumn, and so. While western science would overcome these ideas after only 1400 years spent sentencing heretics who disagreed to be pressed into the scary drawer in the kitchen filled with all the stuff we don't want to deal with but feel we can't throw out, it should be noted his idea was not as daft as it sounds.

Aristotle came from one of those families that pile stuff on any horizontal surface, until the surface is lost, and eventually throws out the piles, until something completely different is found underneath. To his observations, sofas really were unripened coffee tables and vice-versa. Of course the ancient Greeks (who mostly were not that old) didn't know what to do with a coffee table, since they didn't know what coffee was, as seen by how they tried to prepare it, using melons. It took 350 years before they even tried drinking it, and by then Rome was more interesting and not understanding tea. Both cultures made up for it by mastering the table part of concept.

Wilhelm Leibniz famously suggested the furniture was where it was because it was the best of all possible furniture locations. He was roundly mocked when it was discovered the furniture he was so positive about was actually the futon couch he still slept on despite being out of college for more than five years already. Leibniz protested he was misunderstood and was particularly happy with was the futon fit with his coffee table, providing a nice spot for all his remote controls so they were aimed just at the things they controlled and never needed moving. His critics moved all the controls, forcing him to spend a whole twenty minutes putting them just right again. Still, his critics had to admit, the furniture could have been worse, like if he still had that old mattress from senior year.

The furniture drift idea got going in the 1910s when Alfred Wegener proposed that sofas, chairs, end tables and so on were floating on basalt islands in a sea of basalt molten rocks running into basalt walls, suggesting he maybe had a commercial interest in the powerful basalt industry. He protested he had nothing to do with basalt, and believed it was an obscure variety of banana, but the damage was done.

It would be the 1960s when Harry Hess and a shadowy figure known only as ``R'' would discover not only could furniture move but it often did, with the clinching evidence being these divots where the legs had dug into the carpet. At last we explained why the furniture was where it happened to be: the predation theory was right and it was sneaking up to make us all a little more stubbed. Knowing this should have probably made us feel better than it actually did, so take all complaints up with ``R''.

Trivia: The Staedtler pencil company was founded in 1662 by Friedrich Staedtler. Source: The Pencil: A History Of Design And Circumstance, Henry Petrosi.

Currently Reading: 1968: The Year That Rocked The World, Mark Kurlansky. Ooh. ``1968 was one of those rare times in America when poetry seemed to matter.'' Funny and a bit effortlessly mean.

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