Keeping watch

Dexter Milo, who had never before given serious consideration (or even moderate attention) to pots, boiling or not, began to. The report that a watched pot never boils came inadvertently to his observation. Milo, always the iconoclast, immediately joined the Abolish the Lie Club, paid his dues, and began to watch a pot to see if it would boil. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, Milo watched, in vain, because he hadn't turned on the stove. Disappointed but not discouraged, Milo watched Thursday and Friday, making sure the stove was turned on. However, ringing doorbells, jingling telephones, and visitors dropping in dragged Milo grudgingly away from his vigil. Milo returned from each interruption to an already boiling pot, having missed watching the instant of boiling by only milliseconds.

The problem, as Milo's experience graphically points out, is monumental. How do you prove to a skeptical world that watched pots boil, when things keep happening suggesting that they don't? The general public is victimized, I believe, by lack of understanding of three self-evident and irrefutable verities , the grasping of which will terminate the turmoil forever: First, while a watched pot may not boil in an illogical universe, it will in a logical one; second, when heated to the boiling point, water boils, irrespective of who is or is not watching; third, history teems with important personages who almost allude to having witnessed water in a pot come to a boil.

In a logical universe a watched pot boils, just as rain falls and smoke curls upward. By ''logical universe,'' I mean logical universe. Ergo, when Mrs. Bailey tosses a salad, it does not just keep going up. Likewise, when Stu Jackson squirted Moose Haversham with the hose for fun, he knew that sooner or later he would pay for the extravagance. And when Myra Trewhitt cooks broccoli for supper she does not expect adulation. No, a logical universe would not prohibit a pot from boiling just because you or I watched, nor would it allow a pot to boil only in secret.

Water, when heated to the boiling point, boils irrespective of who is or is not watching. By ''boiling point'' I do not mean ''last known address.'' While the boiling point of water varies from pot to pot, water eventually boils when properly heated. And (this is important) the boiling is never affected by who is or is not watching - be it male or female, child or adult, merchant or teacher. A chipmunk or a canary watching or not watching would not make any difference. (Mrs. Anderson's canary watched a pot heating on her stove and seemed astonished at the sight. While I was not able to see both the pot and the canary at the precise instant of boiling - choosing to view the bird's rapture at the wonder - my intuition persuades me that if the bird could communicate the experience to us it would.)

History teems. . . . I choose from the encyclopedia at random: Gentile da Fabriano was finishing up The Adoration of the Magi and boiling water for oatmeal. Fabriano, fascinated by the pot, but having to turn away momentarily to dab some paint, regretted the lapse for a long time. It is rumored around theatrical circles that Oscar Hammerstein had been planning a bright, complicated musical built around the theme of watching pots boil, but simply never got around to it. And Nathan Plotnick, inventor of the weather report, said the inspiration came from watching a pot boil. So the past instructs us.

When my arguments are understood, no other conclusion can be reached: Watched pots not only boil, they thrive. Having proved beyond reasonable shadow of doubt that watched pots boil, I turn my energies in other directions pointed out by the Abolish the Lie Club.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.