Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Paper defies gravity, again!

Paper on edgeWhen truly strange things happen twice you begin to wonder! I saw something odd lying beneath a letter box recently. It resembled a dark toothbrush. I did not have my glasses on so it was heavily out of focus which is probably why I thought of a toothbrush. I could not think of any good reason why a toothbrush would be in such a place. Closer inspection revealed something much stranger. It was a piece of A5 paper standing on its edge! It was like the photo (right)* but mostly black, shiny and with printing on it.

The paper had clearly come through the letter box. I was alone in the building and the paper had not been there the last time I looked. It was a commercial flyer. It was entirely unremarkable apart from the fact that it was standing, improbably, on its edge. The letter box was about 1m above the floor and the paper maybe 20cm horizontally away from it. I was able to topple the paper by blowing gently from a distance of over a metre away. So it was clearly very finely balanced.

It have tried to persuade bits of paper to stand on their edge like this but without success so far. I have discovered it is not that unusual for the paper to land on its side. However, momentum from the fall usually then causes it to fall flat. To stay upright on its edge the paper needs to land in such a way that there are no horizontal forces. The chances of this happening by chance are probably hugely against but it happened.

I had a similar incident to this some years ago (see here). In that case a dropped piece of paper stood on its edge for a whole second. In this latest incident the paper remained upright indefinitely, until I blew it. How is that possible? One thing I noted about this latest bit of paper is that it was slightly wrinkled, rather than completely flat. I think these slight wobbles in the edge of the paper were acting as additional points of support. Even so, I tried to do this experimentally and was not able to produce just the right pattern of wrinkles to keep a bit of paper upright indefinitely. I think heavy paper will work better and it would be easier to do with card. The actual paper involved was heavier and stiffer than typical photocopy paper but not by much.

So this paper standing on its edge required both a particular way of landing, to avoid tipping over, and just the right pattern of wrinkles to remain upright. My previous experience showed me that this kind of thing can happen by coincidence even though I have not, so far, been able to reproduce it. The point is that extraordinary things sometimes happen simply by chance, with no need to consider the paranormal. I can see how some people might think it a paranormal event if they witnessed it.

*The photo is merely an illustration. It was digitally manipulated to remove the support used!

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