Friday, June 14, 2019
All by halves
Theoretically speaking, when one places any food on the free food table of the break room at the library I work at, it lasts forever. It doesn't matter how popular it is. It doesn't matter how tasty it is. And it doesn't matter how hungry people are. It is, technically speaking, incapable of ever being finished.
That the food put on the free food table of the library break room is almost never tasty is beside the point. It may or may not be popular, but that's besides the point too. And as far as I can tell everyone around here is in a state of permanent ravenous hunger, but that makes no difference whatsoever in this issue as well.
How can I explain?
Let's say for the sake of argument some generous person brings in a dozen doughnuts from a mildly reputable local bakery. We'll say it's placed on the free food table at 10:00. So we'll start with:
10:00 Generous doughnut donator places an unmarked white box of doughnuts on the free food table while five or six staff members stand around at a discrete distance pretending not to be interested.
10:04 There are now, after a mere four minutes, seven doughnuts left. Your two favorite kinds of doughnuts will definitely be gone at this point. To an outside observer my claim that it is theoretically impossible to finish food on the free food table will look immediately shaky.
11:53 There are still four doughnuts left, one of which actually looks pretty good.
12:39 Much to everyone's surprise there are still two doughnuts and seven sixteenths left. Clearly some wittler has gotten into the free food. They will be working their way through the third to last doughnut for hours.
3:41 Despite the initial flurry from the morning there is still three-fourths of a doughnut left, but it doesn't look too bad. Surely someone will want this nice three-fourths doughnut?
5:11 There is a quarter of a doughnut left. And so here is where we come, unavoidably, to the fundamental truth about the never disappearing free food; no one wants to take the last piece!
5:31 An eighth of a doughnut.
5:52 A sixteenth.
7:14 One thirty-second.
Now, if this were an actual scientific study we would somehow keep going by halves into our tiny infinity. This is why my point about the neverending food was in theory. What happens in reality is some vaguely responsible co-worker pops into the break room and skeptically opens the doughnut box. Self righteously outraged they exclaim to anyone in the vicinity that someone took the last doughnut and outrageously left the empty box. The responsible co-worker then throws away the box in disgust, little realizing there was a perfectly good one sixty-fourth of a doughnut in there. One sixty-fourth of a doughnut that could, piece by piece, have been eaten forever!