Part of our family’s regular nighttime routine is to gather in our daughter’s bedroom and read a couple of stories before putting the kids down for the night. Each kid gets to pick one (hopefully short) book to read, followed by a Bible story. Then, it is off to Sleepy Land, usually with some really schmaltzy kids’ CD serving as a soundtrack. (I tried once to put Grace to bed to the collected works of Charles Mingus, but she woke up the next morning wearing a beret and asking if I had any cigarettes, so I put the kibosh on that.)
One of the books that regularly makes it into the rotation is Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Now, I must admit that there are a number of things about this book that have always bothered me.* First, what the heck is a little girl doing roaming a bear-infested woods by herself? And what’s the deal with her just barging into the bears’ domicile without the appropriate welcome and making herself at home with their furniture and food? Does she have no parents, or just very poor ones? Or is this some kind of socialistic fairy tale where Goldilocks is representative of the proletariat, seeking the redistribution of the Bourgeois Bears’ ill-gotten commodities. (In true Dave Barry fashion, I must point out at this juncture that “Bourgeois Bears” would be a great name for a rock band.)
Yes, all those points are disturbing, but there is something else—something vague and undefined—that always seemed to scrape uncomfortably against my subconscious. Then, as I began reciting the story for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me what it was that was so irritating.
When the bears leave the house that ill-fated morning, they do so after having prepared three bowls of porridge—a large bowl for the similarly-proportioned Papa Bear, a middle-sized bowl for the Mama Bear, and wee little bowl for the offspring of these two. When Goldilocks happens upon the Bears’ cottage, she notes that the large bowl of porridge is “tooooo hot.” She then comments that the middle sized bowl is “tooooo cold.” Finally, she finds Baby Bear’s bowl to be to her liking, and consumes it.
Obviously, this flies in the face of all we know from modern science about temperature transferal. If one assumes that the porridge was served from a common source (and seriously, what Mama Bear would make an entirely separate pot of porridge for each family member?), then we can say that at the time of egress, each bowl of porridge was at roughly the same temperature.
Now, the story’s protagonist arrives. The largest bowl, we are told, remains too hot to eat. Based on this information, one could surmise that the next bowl in descending size would be somewhat cooler than the larger bowl, with the smallest bowl being the coolest of the three. But no. Somehow, the middle bowl is now the coolest of the three, with the smallest one being the optimal, median temperature. This simply cannot be.
Continue reading “Goldilocks and the Laws of Thermodynamics”