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View Full Version : Why do small things "disappear"?



Relative
2012-Mar-14, 12:03 AM
If you ever had the exeperience of losing some small item like a little screw, needle or even a coin: Why so often does it happen, that you won't find it? Even if you "replace" the experiment with a similar coin or whatever item from the same position shortly after the first "accident". The first object always seems to jump into the most unexpected position you can guess: You may find it after years, if at all.. Can anybody agree, and have an explanation for it, besides "Murphy's law"?

caveman1917
2012-Mar-14, 12:37 AM
There might be a memory bias at work. If you drop something visibly in front of you, you just immediately pick it back up in a reflex and don't think about it anymore, and probably won't even remember after a bit. If however you can't seem to find it, you'll start looking everywhere and you're more likely to remember this as it really became a "task" for a while. So in the end your memories of the relative distribution will be heavily skewed.

Though i do like Murphy's law better :)

slang
2012-Mar-14, 12:38 AM
Get married, have kids. Kids have much better eye sight. They'll find that tiny thing for you that, after falling, bounced to left, quite a bit further than you thought it bounced to the right. YMMV. :)

Relative
2012-Mar-14, 12:49 AM
Get married, have kids. Kids have much better eye sight. They'll find that tiny thing for you that, after falling, bounced to left, quite a bit further than you thought it bounced to the right. YMMV. :)
Ves, kids are more "connected" :-)
Anyway, I found some "bounced" stuff at "impossible" locations regarding the "starting" point. "Losing" another item from the same position just (more or less) led to the "expected" result. That was, what I meant. The first little srew seem to "doesn't behave" that way. It is not one in a million, it was the first! All others after it seem to make the expected thing, i.e. let's say in a radius of 2 meters...

Relative
2012-Mar-14, 01:01 AM
There might be a memory bias at work. If you drop something visibly in front of you, you just immediately pick it back up in a reflex and don't think about it anymore, and probably won't even remember after a bit. If however you can't seem to find it, you'll start looking everywhere and you're more likely to remember this as it really became a "task" for a while. So in the end your memories of the relative distribution will be heavily skewed.

Though i do like Murphy's law better :)
Sure, that's why I've mentioned it. Still I wonder why – seamingly against all odds – an item can bounce off so far in its "first attempt" (OK, substract "Murphy" form it: still, it seems to be unlikely, if you try to reproduce the experiment. You might discover that all of your "rememberings" of these situations in your life are not corresponding with the probability of "hiding" the same item twice.

caveman1917
2012-Mar-14, 02:42 AM
Still I wonder why – seamingly against all odds – an item can bounce off so far in its "first attempt"

Do you also drop it a second time if it didn't bounce far the first time? If not you have your answer right there.
If you only repeat the experiment and remember the result when the first try bounced far then naturally you'll have results that show that it bounced far the first time, but not far the second time (the more likely result).

If you really want to check it, just drop it like 50 times or something, that should give you a decent look at the actual distribution.

Nowhere Man
2012-Mar-14, 02:53 AM
Sometimes it goes where you don't expect it. At a recent SF con, a friend dropped some small plastic parts. We searched the floor high and low (if you will) around where she was sitting and couldn't find them. About an hour later, she finally found one of them: It had bounced off her anatomy and into a cubbyhole that was mounted under the table. I later found the other part in the same place.

One of the Murphy laws is, "An object will fall so as to do the most damage." My observation is that, if it's too small to break either itself or your toe on the way down, it will roll into the least accessible part of the floor and hide.

Fred

Relative
2012-Mar-15, 10:43 AM
Sometimes it goes where you don't expect it. At a recent SF con, a friend dropped some small plastic parts. We searched the floor high and low (if you will) around where she was sitting and couldn't find them. About an hour later, she finally found one of them: It had bounced off her anatomy and into a cubbyhole that was mounted under the table. I later found the other part in the same place.

One of the Murphy laws is, "An object will fall so as to do the most damage." My observation is that, if it's too small to break either itself or your toe on the way down, it will roll into the least accessible part of the floor and hide.

Fred
Thanks Nowhere Man,
at least I feel I'm not alone with that observation of dropping small parts

@ caveman:
Well, I just wonder, if there has been maybe already research concerning this. I know for example that one of Murphy's laws ("A slice of toast always drops on the marmelade side") has been checked with slow motion and stuff and there are really some physical reasons (Hight of table and so on) why it does behave like that. So, this "law" seems to be "proven"...

Strange
2012-Mar-15, 11:37 AM
Once when I was doing repairs on equipment (with the customers sitting around) I dropped a small but absolutely essential screw. I searched around the floor (trying not to attract the attention of the increasingly impatient customers). When I couldn't find it, I decide to stand where I was when I dropped it and just think about where it could have gone.

After a few moments of silent thought, I reached down and pulled the screw out of the cuff/turn-up(1) of my trousers!

(1) which probably says something about how many decades ago this was

On he other hand, I was walking in the woods a while ago. Someone had suspended a rope from a tree, with a big piece of wood (2 or 3 feet long) on the end for use as a swing. As I went past, I gave the piece of wood a big shove. It never came back! There was no crash as it hit the ground. It was too big to have gone very far. I searched around and it was nowhere to be seen. Weird.

Tog
2012-Mar-15, 12:51 PM
Get married, have kids. Kids have much better eye sight. They'll find that tiny thing for you that, after falling, bounced to left, quite a bit further than you thought it bounced to the right. YMMV. :)

My dad does a lot of gunsmithing in the basement. My job growing up was to find little things. This was usually in the form of "Hey, come down here a minute. There's a silver screw about 1/16 of a inch long and really thin. I hit my face here, then bounced off of something metal on the desk. We need to find it."

I had a perfect record at that.

One day at the grocery store, I dropped a drivers license and it vanished. I looked for it on a tile floor for nearly five minutes before I found it. It landed against a cable and remained vertical. From the top, I was looking at the narrow edge the same color as the floor.

Relative
2012-Mar-15, 01:03 PM
After a few moments of silent thought, I reached down and pulled the screw out of the cuff/turn-up(1) of my trousers!

(1) which probably says something about how many decades ago this was
Funny. I remember that „fashion“.

Well, when I try to look at this phenomenon by omitting Murphy „as objective as I can“:

How many times do we drop or loose items? Is it realistic to state, this may happen five times a year, so 100 in 20 years, which would give some base for a „little statistics“?

To me it happened at least 8 times during that time (one of which was just a few days ago and reason for this post, by the way), where I never found these items or in the „most unlikely“ places. Sure, this is just a matter of opinion, and the probability of let‘s say a screw to end up in the cuff of a trousers or a driving licence to land and remain vertical (thanks, Tog..) is hard to put in a number 0 < p < 1, so we could do a calculation whether or not there is a significant discrepancy between the probability and the number of times this occurs.

But if I should make a guess how likely those events are, a number smaller than 1:100 seems reasonalbe to me. So, if it happens 8 times out of 100, a possible significance also is not the worst thing to think of.

DoggerDan
2012-Mar-18, 05:04 PM
I'm still looking for the feet to my leather couch! And bolts for my bed frame. And that one spatula I liked better than all the rest. And my cheese slicer. And a screw to one of my chairs. And a...

I blame it on sloppy packers.

swampyankee
2012-Mar-18, 10:39 PM
Quantum uncertainty.

loglo
2012-Mar-21, 03:11 PM
I read somewhere that we hold an image in our minds of what we are looking for and if the dropped object ends up with a markedly different orientation than the image in our mind then it can be almost invisible. The suggestion the authors gave was to try and imagine the object with varying orientations and then search for it.

Relative
2012-Mar-21, 06:47 PM
Thanks loglo,

yes, I can also tell you that I have an eye on this phenomenon since the second or third time it happened to me. Because of knowing about the human liability to memory bias, I do try both when to name a place „unlikely“ (in terms of repeating the result) and to keep those cases in mind as intense too, when I drop things and think to myself: „Well this time it landed in a „likely“ place.“ Unfortunately, I should have made a telly sheet.

publiusr
2012-Mar-24, 06:52 PM
The bare foot always finds the tack...

Inclusa
2012-Mar-26, 04:12 AM
Ok, the question is: When I lose something, why I cannot find it immediately and find it late on?

Tog
2012-Mar-26, 06:10 AM
Ok, the question is: When I lose something, why I cannot find it immediately and find it late on?

Blue Dudes.

Back in the mid-1980's they tried a remake of The Twilight Zone. One of the two episodes I remember featured a couple that woke up to find time had stopped at about 11:30 in the morning. The real time was closer to 7 AM, and they got to witness an army of little blue guys building everything that would exist in that minute in the future.

Right now, there is nothing in the cash drawer under my laptop because no one one will see inside the drawer. When the alert goes out that I will be looking in the drawer, they will print up the money to place in it.

The foreman explained that even the Blue Dude aren't perfect and that they will sometimes forget some small item, like your keys. You know you set them on the kitchen counter last night, but this morning they're gone. You spend about five minutes looking for them, but since you're in the same room, they can't just put them in the next minute. You have to leave the room for one complete minute for the key to be returned.

I'm not advocating a belief in them, but when I lose something like this, I'll sometimes go to a room where I know the item can't be and talk out loud to the Blue Dudes to remind them that I need the item. Then I'll sit there for a few minutes. When I go back out, it's usually either where I thought it should be, or a logical place it could have been jostled. It's well over 50% successful. Even if the effect is just me looking at the area with altered expectations.

Hey, here's that episode on YouTube.
Part 1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4kquTHzXCMo) 10 minutes
Part 2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiXd10OkAlw) 7 Minutes

Ivan Viehoff
2012-Mar-26, 12:34 PM
Get married, have kids. Kids have much better eye sight. They'll find that tiny thing for you that, after falling, bounced to left, quite a bit further than you thought it bounced to the right. YMMV. :)
Whilst I'm sure my 5-yr-old has better eyesight than her parents, she doesn't seem very good at converting the high grade visual data to useful information. Thus I spot interesting things while we are travelling, and I find the things she has lost.

ShinAce
2012-Mar-26, 03:01 PM
I have the opposite problem. I find pieces that aren't necessary for anything. The odd bolt under the table but all of its bolts are in place.

I'll take something apart and end up with spare pieces when it's back together, yet it works perfectly. Maybe you're on the black side of the wormhole and I'm on the white side. Nature is balanced, you know.

publiusr
2012-Mar-31, 07:05 PM
Ok, the question is: When I lose something, why I cannot find it immediately and find it late on?

Because the universe hates us..apparently ;'