The Three-Body Problem for Dishes

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In Newtonian mechanics, it’s not too hard to figure out how two celestial bodies (e.g., Earth and Moon) should behave. But three bodies (e.g., Earth, Moon, and Sun)? That’s a computational nightmare.

Anyway, speaking of chaos…

2018.8.20 three-roommate problem.jpg

For my money, this is the most exciting research area in applied mathematics. Not computational biology, not dynamical systems, but Who Does the Dishes.

Just consider the open questions here:

  • How does total dish labor (L) scale with household size (n)?
  • How does household size affect the latency period between dish-dirtying and dish-washing?
  • How does the maximum latency period relate to the average latency period?
  • What is a typical distribution of dish labor between the various household members? Does everyone feel like they’re doing more than their share? Or do the freeloaders recognize themselves as such?

I’m sure that some of these problems will prove computationally intractable. Still – and you heard it here first – I prophesy that the 21st century’s most breathtaking mathematical progress will come in understanding the domestic chaos theory of the shared living space.

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6 thoughts on “The Three-Body Problem for Dishes

  1. ** Everyone loads the dishwasher with appropriate dishes (decided on together)**
    1) One person unloads the dishwasher when it’s dry
    2) One person washes the non-dishwasher items
    3) One person puts the dishes in the drainer away – and may have to use a towel if they don’t do it every day because I add new dishes as they arrive, and if you DON’T put them away daily, then that’s YOUR problem.

    Ahem. Sorry.

    Yes, still a slight problem, but not mine!

    No dishwasher? No idea how to handle that one.

  2. This is so good.
    BTW, I’ve been looking for other ways of contacting you with no success. I’ve been tracking down your cartoon about the concept of certainty from different perspectives. Can you share the link? It’s really good and I’d like to use it when I’m teaching about the nature of science. Thanks!!

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