copyright (c) 2017 by R. Rodman
When you hung that extension cord on the hook, it was neatly coiled. But whenever you
go to use it, it is a tangled mess. You try to slide that box off the top of the stack,
but it somehow manages to catch on the box beneath and both slide, the bottom one falling
off. You go to pour the cat litter into the bag, but no matter how hard you try, the bag
sides always rumple and the litter spills onto the floor.
It always seems as though things have minds of their own, and none of them are friendly.
Robert Heinlein, in one of his stories, mentioned, in passing, the "innate perversity
of inanimate objects." By this he refers to the tendency of objects to not cooperate with
humans, indeed to misbehave, almost as though they were living things.
I think Heinlein was onto something there. I refer to this as the Heinlein Principle.
Some things are extremely uncooperative, like computers and automobiles, but these are
complex objects, usually reflecting the obnoxity of the human programmers and designers
who designed or built them. We expect complex objects to be uncooperative, unhelpful,
frustrating and irritating, and they almost always are.
But it isn't just the complex objects which misbehave. Even simple objects refuse to do
what we want or expect them to do, often in surprisingly innovative ways.
Objects can be classified into types of objects. For example, carpenters will be quick
to tell anecdotes about pieces of lumber that split just as they were being put in critical
locations. Bakers will speak of cakes that slip or collapse.
There are some types of objects that all of us deal with on a daily basis, and some
types of them are predictably unhelpful.
The most uncooperative, obnoxious, ornery types of objects are:
Why are inanimate objects innately perverse? There are a couple of thoughts.
- wires which never do what you want, and tangle at the first opportunity.
A box of cables, neatly laid within, will be a mass of knots within months, without any
intervention by anyone.
- bags into which it is almost impossible to put things without a struggle
with the sides of the lip.
- cardboard which won't fold the way you want, won't go where you want, and gives
paper cuts at the slightest opportunity.
First, all three of the objects listed above are man-made. It is possible that somehow the
thoughts or intentions of the humans that made them have gotten incorporated into the
Second, the way in which matter arises out of energy is not known. One theory is called
"string theory", that there is an oscillation or some other kind of process taking place
by which energy becomes matter. While this is taking place at a far subatomic level, it
is possible that chance alignments of particles lead to artifacts at the macroscopic
Thoughts? Experiences? Let me hear them. I will add more to this article in the future.
In the meantime, there is a corollary of Heinlein Principle that is a
little more dangerous, of which you should be aware. That is, that things are more likely
to try to hurt you when you are throwing them away. For example, you've moved a metal
desk several times without incident, but the day you take it to the dump, an unseen
sharp, rusty edge gives you a nasty cut.
You already know to be careful of glass items when discarding them.
Be especially wary when discarding items made of wire or cardboard.
The world is not a kind place. It is hostile and dangerous. Be careful.