Note: The following essay was originally written for skepchick.com, which was an on-line magazine before it became a large (and fairly groovy) blog. I have written and asked if they mind me posting it here, but have received no response. So, I figured that I wrote the damn thing, and if there's a problem, they can let me know. I gave them notice.
So, please enjoy this essay on cutting-edge science.
I recently spoke with a friend of mine who is studying materials engineering at the local university. As I did not get his permission to use his name in a public forum, I will call him “Slappy.”
Slappy and I began to discuss energy prices, and the possibilities of alternative energy sources. It was during this conversation that he revealed an energy source so simple and yet reliable that it is a wonder that nobody has made use of it.
It is a well known fact that cats always land on their feet, and it is a long-standing principle of energy science that if one were to attach two cats at the back, so that their feet are pointed directly opposite of each other, then they will hover above the ground spinning, for if one cat lands on its feet the other must land on its back, and this can not be. This “hovering cat principle” has caused much amusement in academic circles since its discovery by Thorax Berkenshire, the village idiot of Lancaster who discovered the principle when he attempted to attach two cats to a spit for cooking over an open candle.
As early as the 17th century, enterprising mill owners attempted to utilize the “hovering cat principle” (hereafter referred to as the HCP) to power their mills by inserting a metal rod between the cats, thus causing it to spin as the cats spun. This rod would then be attached to the gears of the mill to provide motor energy without the use of a stream or a pack of under-paid cabana boys. In the early 20th century, Henry Ford built a prototype model T which contained two attached cats in place of the internal combustion engine to power his vehicle.
Of course, cats are expensive, and people tend to be a bit irate over the idea of sacrificing two cats to the name of energy efficiency. Moreover, the cat hairs getting caught in the machinery tended to reduce the use-life of all other parts of the mechanism. In addition, it is difficult to feed a cat that is spinning at high speeds, and so the cats eventually died, and as anyone who has studied Newton’s original texts knows, a dead cat does no necessarily land on its feet, thus causing the mechanism to break down. As a result, the HCP was eventually abandoned as a potential energy source.
Slappy developed a solution. It is unnecessary to use two cats, one need merely choose another, simpler, less expensive item that must also land on one side and not the other. Slappy’s innovation was to replace the second cat with a piece of buttered toast which, as we all know, must land butter-side down.
Now, this innovation settled the matter of losing two cats to the engine, and also reduces the amount of cat dander around to gum up the mechanism, but it did not settle the problem of feeding a spinning cat. So, Slappy set to work on this, and found a solution.
Now, as those of you who are students of science know, Schroedinger argued quite lucidly that if one were to place a cat in a box in which one could not see the state of the cat, and therefore could not be certain of the welfare of the cat, the cat must be both alive and dead for the purposes of all equations generated dealing with the state of the cat. This, too, would apply to the toast, as moldy, stale toast in rancid butter does not necessarily land butter-side down. Just as light is a particle when examined for the properties of a particle and a wave when examined for the properties of a wave, so to the cat must be both alive and dead, and the toast both warm and tasty, and stale and rancid.
So, if one were to staple buttered toast to the back of a cat in such a way that the toast would become detached if the cat were to die, placed a metal rod between them, placed them within a box, and measure for the shift in weight that would come from a falling cat, one would have a device that would turn the rod forever, while also constantly registering the shift in weight of the falling cat that could be harnessed in some other way.
In this way, the HCP can be utilized to solve the current energy crisis while simultaneously only harming a cat in the most abstract and theoretical sense.