It would've stumped Einstein: the missing-pen-by-the-phone theorem

Yeah, yeah, this is the 100th anniversary of Einstein's "Miracle Year" - the year he figured out everything from relativity to atoms to e=mc2. So how come Mr. Genius never bothered to explain the deepest physics mystery of all: Where does the pen by the phone go?

As an absent-minded professor type, Albie could not have been unaware of this problem. If he didn't address it, it must be because he, too, could not figure it out. I mean, you take a message. You hang up the phone. You get a snack, the phone rings, you come back and ... No pen!

Or, sometimes, no paper! Or if there is a pen, now it doesn't write. How can it possibly be the same pen?

In the interest of science - and matrimony, since it is hard to stay happily married when you suspect your spouse of constantly misplacing the pen and, ridiculously, your pen-pilfering klepto-spouse suspects you - I asked a consortium of physicists and one persnickety professional organizer to explain: Why does stuff just disappear? And just as mysteriously: Why does some of the stuff, particularly the toothpaste, suddenly reappear, after you have either forgotten all about it or spent many, many, many hours hunting for it right where it suddenly reappears?

Explain this!

"Einstein proposed that mass distorts space-time the way a bowling ball distorts the surface of a mattress," said Daniel Koon, a professor of physics at St. Lawrence University, thinking he was being helpful. (Think again.)

This bowling ball creates a black hole, "like a newly formed blob in a lava lamp," said Professor Koon. And this blob swallows pens. Or something. On second thought, maybe I shouldn't have started with the physicists.

But anyway, I did, and another one - Lawrence Brehm at the State University of New York at Potsdam - said that, in fact, black holes are not to blame. It's the entropy, stupid.

"There is usually enough random energy around to create disorder" - i.e., entropy. "This random energy can be a breeze or a vibration, but often it takes the form of a child, spouse, or pet."

Aha! So then it is my husband (or child or pet) who is always walking off with the pen, right?

Well, not according to Donald Ware. He happens to be the director of the International UFO Congress but he does hold a graduate degree in physics, and he says that "advanced aliens" hang around, moving objects through "what some call telekinesis." Moreover, they do this to "expand the awareness of the individual involved."

In other words, when I cannot find the pen, it is because aliens have moved it in order to make me more aware of the other inhabitants of the universe - other inhabitants who have picked up all my husband's bad habits.

Lisa Zaslow, the professional organizer, shakes her head. The problem is not space-time or aliens or entropy, she chides, but that we don't pay enough attention to where we put stuff.

Yeah, like that really makes sense. Lisa, I pay constant attention to my stuff and, in fact, have just found my phone pen, so there!

The only remaining physics mystery is this: How'd it get into my underwear drawer?

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at the New York Daily News. ©2005 New York Daily News. Distributed by Creators Syndicate.

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