Watching the Pot by Tasha Halpert

I have always been exceedingly curious. This is one of my chief characteristics and while it has occasionally gotten me in hot water, most of the time it has only added spice to my life. Why people do things and what makes them tick has from my childhood been a vital interest of mine. I also enjoy observing people as they go about their business, especially in public. When I commuted on the train between my high school in Boston and my home on weekends I used to sketch my fellow passengers.

I was fortunate that my mother encouraged my curiosity. Children’s curiosity is precious and while it can also be annoying, it is important to encourage this trait. My brother did all sorts of experiments that unbeknownst to my parents could have either set the house on fire or blown it sky high. Fortunately, that never did happen. He grew up to be a wonderful scientist and together with his wife has written many helpful books.

Most all of the world’s great discoveries began with someone saying, “What if…” and then following up with an investigation or an experiment. I find it fascinating to read about some of these people, like Edison, for instance, who when something didn’t work, never felt he had failed but only that he had discovered another way not to do something. One person who inspired me was Mr. O’Connor, my 6th grade teacher. “Okie” used to demonstrate scientific principles with wonderful and seemingly magical experiments.

Seaside Perspective   I hope never to lose my desire to investigate. For instance, just for fun the other day I decided to see if a watched pot really would boil. I put some water in a pot, turned on the stove, and then observed the tiny bubbles as they gathered on the bottom. I wondered if they would change into large ones. They didn’t. As I watched and waited, I looked for it to boil, keeping my eyes glued to the water. After a time it actually did, so I proved to myself that the adage truly was inaccurate.

To be sure, most of the time when I put water on to boil I don’t bother to watch it. When I prepare a meal, I do several things at once–chop vegetables, stir up ingredients, and so on. Who has time to watch a pot boil? Still as I told my daughter when she laughed at me, I wanted to do this as a scientific experiment. I was intrigued by the thought of observing the pot to see if it would boil while being watched. Since it did, I also wondered why that saying has persisted.

I had to conclude that perhaps the saying had something to do with the nature of anxiety it represents and the tendency to keep lifting the lid to see whether or not the contents have come to a boil. Since I didn’t have a lid on the pot I was watching, I didn’t interfere with its ability to boil either. Nor was I anxious. I was simply observing. Perhaps that is the secret: to observe without interfering might not hinder the boiling process.