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Balancing an egg on end

There’s a quaint Chinese legend which says that raw eggs can be stood on end at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes—that is, today. I first came across this in season four of The West Wing, in the appropriately named episode Evidence of Things Not Seen.

Most superstitions try to convince people that the impossible can happen under specific circumstances. What I really like about the egg myth is that the exact opposite is true: it’s perfectly possible to balance an egg on its end on any given day of the year (particularly if the egg is first vigorously shaken). The myth is in the restriction to a specific date, not the action itself.

It’s this aspect of the legend that makes me want to revisit it regularly. In life, I think that myths more frequently work this way round. I find that people far more often build up a sense of challenge and foreboding around straightforward tasks than insist that the impossible can be done if only specific circumstances applied—and certainly, I think it’s human nature to think this way when looking ahead to events in our own lives.

The legend is a good reminder that we shouldn’t get distracted by the social mythology that gets built up around stuff, and we shouldn’t give into our own fears about future events. There are enough barriers and hurdles in the world without imagining ones that don’t really exist.


The photo at the top is my own, originally published on 20 March 2012. In retrospect, I should probably have tidied the kitchen table a bit before taking the photo.

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Vernal equinox

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