Blog 90. How to boil an egg in a microwave

Submerge the egg in a mug of water.  Turn on the microwave for one minute.  Listen for  snap as the eggshell cracks.  That’s ok, the crack relieves pressure.  Reduce power to 40% and run the microwave for another minute.  At 35 seconds you will hear a loud pop.  The entire interior of the microwave—the glass door, the walls, the top, the turntable—will be dripping with millimeter-size chunks of egg and splashes of water.  Remove the cooked half-egg from the puddle that remains in the cup.  The egg will be properly hard-boiled, more exactly described as firm-boiled, as it has been shocked into mush.  Eat and enjoy.

From this event, a critical physicist might deduce that the goopy egg has greater electrical conductivity than the clean water, so the egg absorbs most of the microwave energy. The egg therefore heats the water rather than vice versa.  Next time, the critical investigator will add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the water, thereby increasing its electrical conductivity so it gets hot first.  Every such theory should be subject to a proof test.  Please report your experimental results to the comment link when you reach the end of this blog.

We can do critical evaluation of boiling eggs or of new automobiles or of football teams.  Why can’t we do critical evaluation of how we run our society?  Why are there repeated political explosions over Medicare or social security or climate or the federal budget or oil subsidies?

Well, political discussion and critical thinking do not occur at the same time in the same room.  Sometimes not even in the same country.

What do I mean?  Let’s take a current issue—the so-called “income disparity.”  Fifty years ago President Johnson used the term “war on poverty” for the same thing.  In that “war” we did “urban renewal,” which meant replacing slum housing with nice town houses where the middle class moved in and the displaced original residents moved out to cram into other slum housing.  We built “projects” in the cities, solid apartment houses for the poor, which became decaying slums ruled by gangs.  In Chicago, my neighbor’s hired nanny reported that the city’s generous welfare attracted other African-Americans to move in from southern states.  Welfare can reduce the agony of an individual’s poverty.  It can also encourage the teen daughters of welfare mothers to get pregnant, thereby becoming eligible for their own welfare checks.  Welfare relieved some pain but didn’t cure poverty, and, as a society, we never figured out why.  You can read good analytical books about it, but our leaders rarely read such books.

Our attempts to build America the Beautiful need serious critical evaluation.  However, we respond to leaders who speak words that affirm our prejudices, words that tell us how great are particular people, or how malicious is a part of the economy, or how evil is a particular religion.  That’s being right by making others wrong.  It sells because it’s simple, and in this complex world we crave simplicity.  The absence of critical evaluation serves to initiate riots, to initiate real wars with unreal boundaries and obscure causes, to continue boiling eggs with microwave ovens.

Those who don’t analyze their history are “doomed to repeat it.”*  Until both citizens and politicians use critical analyses, both egg-size and global events will repeat, and we’ll continue attempting to clean up the messes.

Me?  I’m too busy.  I’m still cleaning the microwave.

**George Santayana