Posted in Science & Nature

Buttered Cat Paradox

Cats always fall on their feet. Buttered toast always seems to fall buttered side down. So what would happen if we tied a buttered toast on a cat’s back and then dropped the cat? Would the cat land on its feet or would the toast land on its buttered side?
Or would we achieve perpetual motion and anti-gravity simultaneously as they cancel each other and never touch the ground?

Although the paradox is obviously a humorous thought experiment, there is some truth to the separate adages. 
Cats have a natural righting reflex that allows them to twist their upper body so that they land on their feet. This gracious manoeuvre is developed as a kitten and actually involves quite complex physics where the cat is able to turn around without changing their net angular momentum. Since cats have a small body and very light body weight, their terminal velocity (100km/h compared to a human’s 210km/h) when falling is much less and allows them to absorb the shock easily when landing. Furthermore, when falling cats naturally spread their limbs out to slow their fall as much as possible. All these factors let a cat land safely on its feet even if dropped from a high place. Ironically, the lower they are dropped from, the more likely that the cat would fall on its back.

The other side of the paradox is slightly more complicated. The adage that toast falls buttered side first is actually an example of how if something bad can happen, it will happen. However, physicists have discovered that toast is more likely to fall on its buttered side.
When toast falls off a plate, it is highly likely to tip as it hits the edge. This causes it to rotate as it begins to fall. There are two explanations on why the buttered side is more likely to be facing down. Firstly, butter adds weight to one side and heavier objects fall faster in the face of gravity. Secondly, using experimental data it has been found that toast only rotates about 180 degrees by the time it falls the height of the table or person from where it was dropped from. 

Despite it only being a tongue-in-cheek thought, one can only wonder how many scientists have made some toast, buttered it, tied it to a cat and dropped the cat off a ladder.


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