How Eggs on End Upend Correct Science

12 September 2014

It’s time to stand up an egg, for the sake of upstanding science.

At a party in a loft some years ago, our host announced that “Today is the equinox. We can set eggs up on their ends!” He brought out a few cartons of them, and we all stood some up. (At one point, when I moved, my egg shook but didn’t fall.)

Ever since, twice a year—and more recently three times after someone said it works around the Chinese New Year too—I set eggs up on their ends. (See the video below. By the way, only some eggs work, and on the pointy ends too, plus once up, an egg can stay for months.)

Apparently I am in good company. Or bad. There is an age-old belief about setting eggs up on the equinox, but you won’t catch a lot of proper scientists trying to do it.

I do this to remind whomever I can that this is a fascinating world, well beyond what science has been able to explain. “Why does this happen?” people keep asking me, and I keep replying: “I don’t have a clue.” But that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It happens in the same inexplicable ways that dogs find their way home across great distances, that tiny needles work for some of our ills, and that the signs of the sun and the moon identify a remarkable amount of our behavior. Yet it is not proper to believe such things.

I heard mention on the radio a few days ago of science defined as “formalized curiosity.” That sounds right to me. But maybe not to the guardians of the scientific gates, correct scientists whose curiosity ends where curious ideas begin. Unfortunately, science with restricted curiosity is like love with restricted emotions.

Creative scientists are happy to entertain curiosities (as did Einstein, Freud, and Turing with psychic and related phenomena; Turing, the great mathematician, referred to the statistical evidence for telepathy as “overwhelming”, despite how much “we should like to discredit” that evidence.) The facts are in control; like it or not, the eggs stand on their ends.

A couple of days ago, with this TWOG about to be uplifted to the Internet, I began to worry. What if eggs could be set up on other days? From time to time I had tried to do so, but, assured of my own correctness, I did this casually—was it not obvious how quickly the eggs came off the balance point, compared with how they hovered there on those three days?)

That night I couldn’t sleep. Earlier I had downloaded an article on the web about all this (, gave it a glance, and dismissed it. I knew I was right; why confuse myself with more evidence? Now I decided I had better take a closer look, so at 3 am back to it I went.

The author worked in a university physics department no less, and reported day by day on his experiments over the course of months. Several days before the equinox of 23 September 1998, his initial efforts failed. But as he got closer, and for a few days after the equinox, he succeeded. (One egg stayed up a long time, and, like mine, could be put back up when it was knocked over.) The crunch came where he reported that he had succeeded on a few other days too.

I went straight to the fridge to find an egg that I would be unable to stand up. But there was none, so I went back to sleep. In the morning, yesterday, I went out and bought some eggs. The second one that I tried stayed up. Oh Oh! (I ate that egg, not to destroy the evidence, but because I was hungry.)

So what is left standing after all this? Eggs, for sure. No question: some can be stood on their ends around the two equinoxes as well as the Chinese New Year (not to mention possible other days). Also left standing is curious science, if not correct science.

And so I ask you, on the upcoming equinox (22 September), or sooner if you dare, to take a stand for the cause of curiosity.

Video, courtesy Leslie Breitner

Reference: “Can a Machine Think?” by A.M. Turing, in Computers and Thought, E. A. Feigenbaum and J. Feldman (editors), Computers and Thought, Menlo Park CA: AAAI Press/MIT press, 1995 (reprint of 1963 edition)

© 2014 Henry Mintzberg