A new Sock Hypothesis

by Grania

It is a truth universally acknowledged that socks bought in pairs will be reduced to a motley collection of singletons once you introduce them to your home.

A few days ago, Jerry posted one Missing Sock Hypothesis, that of the Eater Of Socks Monster from Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. Now the ever wonderful Matthew Inman from The Oatmeal has a new one. Click through on the picture to see the original.

same_cloth

It’s a great tragedy. Who knew that it was all so heart-rending?

79 Comments

  1. rickflick
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    But is it scientific? Is it testable?

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Or observable or falsifiable.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps you could use a popper to hold each pair together …

        /@

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

          A new pairadigm!

  2. Stephen
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    The “sock hypothesis” is part of a larger phenomenon. I haven’t given it a name yet but my theory is that large collections of any single type of object will cause a rip in the space-time fabric and spontaneously open a gateway to another dimension between which these objects may freely pass.

    And not just socks. On average 35,000 people disappear without a trace in this country every year.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes and it happens with gloves and mittens too. I think your “these objects may freely pass” part has merit because sometimes the partner of the sock/mitt/glove will show up again then disappear and sometimes show up. I think time probably moves differently in the other dimension because the missing partner can be gone for years before returning sometimes or can return instantly in others. Indeed, it could be that all socks/mitts/gloves travel between these dimensions and then return at a point in time before they leave (don’t know what the paradox would cause but I suspect such paradoxes could cause the feelings of déjà vu we occasionally experience).

      • eric
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        Its not disappearance, its metamorphosis. Sock and glove are the childhood stage of the organism. When it’s time, they find a dark place, build a cocoon…and turn into wire hangars.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

          Or maybe wires because I’m pretty sure that wires are alive. As soon as you have more than one, they tangle themselves so maybe socks are the larval stage then they turn into wires which tangle in the act of reproduction.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

      The trans-dimensional orientation of USB ports is also a manifestation of this.

    • Michael
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      Don’t forget to include guitar picks and cigarette lighters. They have a way of disappearing without a trace. Conversely, when you’re in a band or have smoker friends/family, you end up finding mysterious picks and lighters that you never purchased. This is also a global phenomenon. We must get to the bottom of this…

      • Michael
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        I should add that these newcomers turn up in places that they definitely shouldn’t be. Rooms in the house that would make no sense for them to ever be and locations under furniture and inside drawers. It makes no sense.

        I hope your theory includes the re-appearance of stow away items.

  3. jeffery
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Everyone knows that washing machines eat socks; what I wonder about is how a washing machine can turn clothes inside-out but, if you put them IN inside out, they won’t turn them right-side out!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I once caught a sock trying to make a get away in the hose thingy that goes outside.

  4. Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    “Who knew that it was all so heart-rending?”

    I did 🙂

    Very cute. Thanks, Grania.

  5. darrelle
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    My long held hypothesis is that a secretive intelligent (sort of) alien species has a human sock fetish. Or maybe it’s more general, a foot fetish. I see lots of single shoes around too. Hanging from a power line, in a ditch, side of the road, my garage . . .

    • Michael
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

      That’s nothing. There is a town not far from where I reside in NW Indiana that is somewhat famous at least locally for shoes appearing for years on a particular corner in the town of Dyer. It’s been called the “Shoe Mecca”. You’ll be driving by and there is always an abundance of shoes there for years.

      http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2009-08-10/news/0908090193_1_shoes-jimmy-choos-intersection

      • darrelle
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 7:09 am | Permalink

        Definitely Aliens!

        • jeffery
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:41 am | Permalink

          Another thing I’ve wondered about for years is how this phenomenon of pairs of shoes dangling from power wires got started….

          When I was living in Santa Cruz, California (home of UCSC and Cabrillo College-13,000 students in and around town), I could walk around on Sunday mornings downtown and pick up lots of abandoned nice clothing that the drunken college students would “shed” during their Saturday night adventures. Also, if they bought a new pair of shoes, they would usually put their old ones in the box and just leave it on the street. I donated so much clothing to the local homeless shelter that they finally told me to stop, as their “clothes-pantry” was full!

          • Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Hereabouts (Lincoln, UK – not Nebraska), pairs of shoes dangling from streetlamps indicate where the drug dealers hang out … according to a friend of my wife.

            /@

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

              Do you have really stupid cops, then?

  6. Alexander Hellemans
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    When I buy six identical pairs of socks my wife calls me a millipede.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      My shoe collection has only reached “centipede” grade but I too have an uncanny compulsion to buy a lot of socks which I hardly wear because I wear a lot of skirts and therefore also have a large tight collection. I also have a ridiculous amount of gloves & mittens.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

        As a minimalist, I’m particular about every garment in my possession, and every sock’s behavior is noticed. When socks decide to jump ship, it is a cause for air gasping, immediate searching, and sorrow if unfound.

    • Merilee
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      Lol

      • Alexander Hellemans
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

        Diane, I’m not trying to maximize the number of my socks, but to minimize psychological trauma: loosing one sock of a pair means that 50 percent of the world around you goes under, while loosing one sock of twelve means that only about 9 percent of the world around you falls apart. That is why milipedes are such happy living beings.

        • Alexander Hellemans
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, millipedes, not to disturn their bliss.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

          You need to make that explanation into a an inspirational poster.

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      There are four of us here, and we all have similar sized feet. I buy the same socks for everyone. We are millipedes of the highest order.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

      When at best you’re just a hexapede. Good wifey, building her husband up.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

        I thought a Hexapede was a witch that puts curses on your feet or maybe kids.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 23, 2015 at 12:02 am | Permalink

          SMH.

          😀

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 23, 2015 at 8:35 am | Permalink

            I had to look up “SMH”. You’re way more hip than I.

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 24, 2015 at 12:40 am | Permalink

              Oh yeah, right. 🙄

              Funny thing is, for the longest time I thought it meant, “So much here…”

              Which usually works just fine in any context in which you’d be shaking your head. 😀

  7. James Walker
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Is this not where all the unobserved dark matter in the universe comes from?

  8. Merilee
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  9. phoffman56
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Well, there is the old one (a few decades back, at least) that physicists had determined the contents of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way: It consists of 10 to the power ‘gazillion’ of single unmatched socks.

    That was sometimes amplified with a causal hypothesis: This had to do with the tubes leading out of the backsides of clothes dryers—these were somehow attached to certain wormholes in space-time.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    That comic suggests that socks in a pair become “entangled.” So, “spooky action at a distance”? Superluminal communication, here we come.

    Get Sean Carroll on this. Most of our sock-drawer is missing!!1!

  11. chris moffatt
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    My hypothesis is that due to the principle of action at a distance a pair of socks is always somehow joined even if they are at opposite ends of the galaxy or even separated by the whole universe. The heart rending is suffered not by the socks but only by the socks’ “owner” – as if one could “own” socks anymore than cats.

  12. Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m not convinced that there are missing socks at all. I think that new unpaired single socks spontaneously generate in washing machines and clothes dryers, out of coagulated lint. People simply put them in the drawer without realizing what has happened.

    • Merilee
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

      👌

  13. Mark R.
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I declare a national (or global) “Singleton Day” where everyone wears a miss-matched pair of their Singletons! And then at the end of the day, in solidarity, we all through them into the trash, or the rag-bin; socks do make good rags since they are very absorbent. Too bad January 1st is already taken for a holiday. Maybe November 11th…no that’s Veteran’s Day…I give up.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      Every day is Singleton Day for my kids. In fact it is rare to see my youngest with matching socks. When a comment is made, she will reply that actually she has another mismatched pair at home, just like them.

      • Mark R.
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        🙂

  14. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I blame Einstein’s cosmological constant. Same as universes can’t be “just right” but must expand or contract, homes can’t be balanced but has either stuff that multiplies – pets, plants, dirt – or stuff that disappears – socks, good cognacs, the book I was reading.

    • Alexander Hellemans
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      well, cognac evaporates naturally, and as a good citizen you throw the empty bottle in a bottle bank… no trauma here.

  15. Prof.Pedant
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Offtopic:

    For people who enjoy the music of James Brown, I suggest giving “James Brown Ride On” by ‘Orlando Julius & His Afro Sounders’ a listen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8kl3qDJ9y4

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      That’s a boss tune, PP. The godfather of soul doesn’t deserve just song dedications; there ought to be a statute of him in every juke-joint and honky-tonk in the country. (In some other countries, too, probably.)

  16. Scott Draper
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I do not lose socks. That only happens to you common people.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:10 am | Permalink

      So you release them back into the wild on purpose, is that what you are saying?

  17. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    On a perpendicular note, it is at times noticed that I sometimes wear a pair of socks that do not entirely match. This is because I often have to dress in the dark, but anyway when this is pointed out I say ‘Yes. And I have another pair at home just like them!’

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      I have a pair of mismatched sandals, of slightly different design. This probably arose from the New Zealand / Pacific Island habit of taking of your shoes when you enter a house. Somewhere there is a person with a corresponding (but reversed) pair.

      cr

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        Canadians also remove their shoes when entering a house. It’s how Americans suss us out.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          It reduces embarrassment if you leave your unmatched socks pushed into the toes when you take off your shoes at the door. Bare feet usually look well enough matched.

      • Posted December 22, 2015 at 1:18 am | Permalink

        Is it a pair, then, though?

        /@

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:08 am | Permalink

          An excellent philosophical question.

          Is an ordinary pair of shoes truly a pair, since (unlike socks) they are not identical?

          I think my ‘pair’ are functionally a pair, since one fits each foot and I invariably use them contemporaneously. Even though they are slightly less similar than a ‘true’ pair.

          I hope this clarifies it?

          cr

          • Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:33 am | Permalink

            Yes, but the problem could be even deeper than I thought.

            Because, pedantically, a pair is matched left & right, male & female, and so on.

            Two similar things together are a brace.

            So, most socks, undifferentiated left & right, come in braces not pairs. 😧

            /@

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:46 am | Permalink

              Good point. I’m not sure what the implication is for my ‘pair’ of sandals. This calls for more thought (and another beer).

              cr

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

            “Is an ordinary pair of shoes truly a pair…?”

            Shoes are isomeric pairs.

          • Posted December 23, 2015 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

            Russell wrote about this. (I’m only half joking.) The explanation of the axiom of choice in set theory often uses the difference between pairs of socks on the one hand and of shoes on the other.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      The convention to wear matching socks is interesting, as it is a behavior most submit to, though it has no real physical function. Why is it so socially shaming to have mismatched socks?

      I once lived for three years at Green Gulch Farm, part of San Francisco Zen Center. There, sock matching didn’t matter, though there were other clothing norms. We all had to wear subdued colors and loose-fitting garments, but the focus was on function not style. I must say that it was freeing and nice to have been relieved of the pressure to look fashionable. Unmatching socks that are warm and well fit are nice to have! I rarely remember this in my day-to-day life now. But I do keep it simple.

    • phoffman56
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

      “…pair of socks that do not entirely match..”

      But for pairs which, more resoundingly, ‘entirely do not match’ (and I think I remember this correctly from the Oxford math tea room in 1975) the man who early on realized that you do not pick a fight with a black hole was Robin Wilson, who happened to be son of Harold, the erstwhile Prime Minister of GB, and was (is?) himself a mathematician at Open University. He apparently pioneered wearing always pairs which were wildly mismatched.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone noticed a similar (but opposite) phenomenon, that of ballpoint pens to clump together in little groups? Ever noticed how you can *never* find a ballpoint pen handy when you reach for one in the kitchen, because they’ve all migrated into little clusters in the bedroom or the downstairs workroom or some similar preferred lair?

    Even if you start off with a carefully planned distribution of two or three pens in each place you might need one, within a couple of days, or a week at most, they will all have clustered in two or three ‘nests’.

    The same happens with my glasses (of which I have many pairs). All my 1-dioptres (which I use for driving) end up in the bedroom and my 3-dioptres (reading) end up in the car. So when I grab a pair of glasses it’s always the wrong one.

    cr

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

      🙂

      I like your description of ballpoint pen and glasses nests. Very cute.

      I try to train myself to nest my things so that when I think I’ve lost something, I can go to the nest first and see if I’ve dropped it off there unknowingly.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Well, I have often wondered about the transport mechanism employed by the pens/glasses. One theory is that they have access to wormholes in space, other-dimensional pathways. The other is that they are, in fact, manipulating my subconscious and using me as their unwitting courier. This is far more alarming as it suggests that, if enough of them get together, they could take over the world. Do not allow your nests to build up beyond the critical mass. 🙂

        cr

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

          Errm, as sphinxxnz just pointed out, the first theory mimics one propounded by Doug Adams in the Guide. I’ve read it but it was obviously lurking forgotten in my brain somewhere. I wonder what else is in it?

          cr

  19. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of a strange and grimly ending science fiction short story that I read ~ 30 years ago. I think it was called Or All the Seas With Oysters. The title had some obscure meaning, but anyway it was about a man who had been taken in for psychological evaluation. Under interview, he claimed that paperclips, coat hangers, and bicycles were different growth stages of an alien species living secretly among us. The paperclips were the babies, and these are known to appear in large #s only to disappear later. The coat hangers were the next stage, and they too would at times accumulate in a closet (conspiring), and at a later time they too would disperse. Bicycles were the adults, and is it not strange that they come in male and female forms.
    He was so agitated that it was decided that he had to be dragged away to a psychiatric hospital, and as they did so he began screaming that the aliens now knew that he knew. He was found the next day hung in a closet by coat hangers.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

      By Avram Davidson. If you google it, you can find a PDF of Galaxy Magazine that has it in.

      cr

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      Death by bicycle would have been more problematic I suppose. Paper clip would be more apt & children have a creepiness to them sometimes.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:23 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Mark, & cr. All through this thread I’ve been trying to remember that story, which I must have read 40 or 50 years ago.

  20. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    From my cursory vetting of the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics, it appears that our missing socks have been carried off by the wavefunction into something called “Hilbert space.”

    Now, I don’t know who this guy Hilbert is, or how much space he claims, or how any of this works. But I strongly suspect that Hilbert — if, indeed, “Hilbert” is really his name — has dark and nefarious connections to the textile industry, that he’s running a black market in singletons from the back den of a bazaar in some parallel-universe Marrakesh or Bangkok, peddling our socks to creatures who have been equipped by their local variant of evolution with but one foot.

    I’ll report back, when I get confirmation on any of this from my sources.

    • Posted December 22, 2015 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      Does Hilbert have a smarter colleague called Catbert?

      /@

  21. Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Douglas Adams in “The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy” explained all this in relation to biros. Obviously socks share the same abilities.

  22. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:04 am | Permalink

    I think it is the ‘matching’ element of the sock phenotype that causes the problem. When I used to run on a regular basis I had some socks that had been individually knitted for each foot, and carried had a ‘L’ and ‘R’ label. I never lost one, they always huddled together, probably in fear.

  23. TJR
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:01 am | Permalink

    It’s the Blue Dragons.

    (All my socks came in about 5 packs of 7 “pairs”, all from the same shop, and yet every sock is still slightly different to all the others).

  24. Dominic
    Posted December 22, 2015 at 3:51 am | Permalink

    Just wear odd socks! It is wasteful not to use a sock until it dies…

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:17 am | Permalink

      Or gets transported bodily to sock heaven by a white horse washing machine.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        Bahahahahaha!

  25. Posted December 23, 2015 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    Those of you who know my posting topics know that I’m fond of conservation laws. Well, doing laundry with socks in the load makes me doubt them sometimes 😉


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