The Old Tale of a Boiling Frog

By Anupum Pant


The Frog in a pot is a very popular anecdote and you probably know about it. Still, if you don’t, it is about a frog that rests easy in a pot of water that is warmed slowly. Frogs normally won’t go into boiling water. They’ll jump out and keep themselves away from very hot water. But, if placed in a tub of water at normal temperature that is being heated slowly, according to the anecdote, they don’t react and end up getting cooked in the boiling water.

The story is used as a metaphor to tell a cautionary point about life. The moral of the frog story goes something like this – Letting small and seemingly harmless wrongs slip, could kill (or be bad for you).  It basically tells you to not be complacent about minor changes that usually seem harmless, but add up to something big/bad.

The video proof?

Scientifically, a bizarre video (not for the faint hearted) on Youtube claims to proves the frog tale. The guy in the video initially tries to put a frog in a pot full of boiling water. Of course it resists, and doesn’t go in. Later, when the frog is put into a pot full of water at normal temperature and is warmed gradually, the frog never tries to leave. It gets cooked in the boiling water. Just like the tale suggests.

Everything looks very convincing about the video experiment. Little details like placing the frog on a piece of insulator so that it doesn’t feel direct heat through the metal base, are also taken care of in the video. Also, the narrator sounds so convincing with all the science facts referring to how cold blooded animals react to temperature. They indeed do! I totally fell for it. Watch it below…

The video cuts in between and the water which was put on flame before starts boiling suddenly after the cut. Or brains tend to skip video cuts. In the boiling water is something that looks like a dead/cooked frog. If you watched it till the end, the video shows you that the dead frog wasn’t a real one. No frogs were harmed in the making of the video. Good.

But, that completely nullifies the point this experiment tries to make. A fake rubber frog being cooked in boiling water doesn’t scientifically prove the tale.

The Science

Unlike us, who maintain a constant body temperature, the frog being a cold blooded animal, its body will react to its surrounding temperature and will try to match it. But real scientific experiments have never been able to prove it. According to a very old experiment that was done in the 1800s, where water was heated at 0.002°C per second, the frog was found dead at the end of 2½ hours. Why do you think would the frog sit still for 2½ hours?

Modern scientists reject the old experiment which seems to prove it. You could place your trust in the words of a Harvard professor, Professor Douglas Melton. He says:

If you put a frog in boiling water, it won’t jump out. It will die. If you put it in cold water, it will jump before it gets hot—they don’t sit still for you.

Victor H. Hutchison, Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma also said, “The legend is entirely incorrect!”

Moral: don’t believe everything you see on the internet.

Hit like if you learnt something today.

This Little Math Trick Proves a Profound Point

By Anupum Pant

Someone shows you a random set of numbers, say 2, 4, 8 and says that I have a rule in my mind for selecting these numbers to have them in the series. Your task is to guess the rule. But the only way you are allowed to do that is by stating 3 numbers and confirming if they follow the rule or not (any number of times). The host won’t lie, will just say yes it does, or no it doesn’t. See how fast can you guess the rule that he has in his mind.

Assuming you’ve watched it, it is natural for all of us to confirm the rule that is followed by the series 2, 4, 8 over and over, assuming that it must be, the multiply-by-two rule (your hypothesis). You try to prove your that hypothesis is right, several times. Never once do you try  to disprove your hypothesis (not soon enough at least), which could have straight away given you the answer. Even though the rule is pretty straight forward, you just can’t seem to figure the rule out.

This little math trick or puzzle or exercise conducted by Veritasium (a science video blog) proves a profound point.

In fact, this is a classic exercise used by teachers all over the world with which they are able to prove it to their students – Humans tend to notice or come up with a hypothesis first and then they try to prove it right every time instead of trying to prove it wrong.

This phenomenon where people constantly seek out information to prove their existing opinions and overlook the information that proves it wrong is called Confirmation bias. It affects our decision-making in all aspects of our lives and can cause us to make poor choices.

It happens all the time

You watch a conspiracy theory documentary – say the one that says, moon landing is a hoax. The documentary seeds an idea in your mind by repeatedly confirming an idea – the moon landing was a hoax – through various ‘proofs’. When you finish watching it, you go to Google and seek out information that confirms the theory; you are amazed. And then, you start noticing that some of your friends are making great points that also confirm the conspiracy. The same information coming from different sources seems genuine and now you get convinced that the moon landing was indeed a big conspiracy.

This is how conspiracy theories can make you – a rational human being – believe in something as outrageous as – the moon landing was a hoax or AIDS does not exist and so on…

This is the reason investors believe in company-failing rumors, confirm it by Googling to seek out negative opinions, overlook the positive news and make poor financial decisions in the stock market.

The profound point

As time passes, by never trying to disprove something, you collect subscriptions to blogs, magazines, books, people and television channels that confirm your beliefs. You become so confident in your world-view that people stop trying to dissuade you. At some point, if you are not cautious enough, you would stop questioning your own beliefs. You would eventually end up in a situation where everyone else knows that everything you have ever believed is actually false and you still remain a confident fool.

In science, a belief moves closer to the truth when scientists try to find  evidence to disprove something. You should probably do the same in your life.

Moral: Try to never believe in something you read or hear instantly. Develop your own opinions by also feeding yourself the information that questions your beliefs and then make an informed decision.

Without disregarding it as utter B.S, this is the reason I listened to the three-hour long debate – Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham.

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