Contest: Explain this magnet!
My parents were given this magnet awhile back by the friendly folks at a pharmacy near my hometown, and I was sufficiently puzzled by it that I stole it off their refrigerator and took it back to Madison with me. (That and if you ever stop by my office, you'll notice that I have a thing about magnets.)
It's plainlysupposed to be a solution to the memory problem that people often having of forgetting whether or not they have taken their medication for that day. But I can't figure out how it is supposed to work. By "supposed to work," I mean I can't figure out how one is supposed to use this magnet as a way of making the mental work ultimately required easier.
Say you start with the "No" side up, and then turn it over to "Yes" after you have taken your medicine. So then five minutes later when you forget whether you've taken your medicine you can look at the magnet and see that in fact you have. But then you wake up the next morning, and the magnet still says "Yes", even though you haven't taken your medicine. You might remember that you haven't really taken your medicine, but you wouldn't actually turn it back to "No" but instead you would just take your medicine and so you should just leave it at "Yes" where five minutes later it would remind you that you have taken your medicine. But this doesn't really seem satisfactory since it only works because when you see the magnet saying "Yes" you remember whether it really means you have taken your medicine or whether you haven't, which is what the magnet is supposed to do for you in the first place. It seems like you are supposed to reset the magnet at some later point in the day so that when you wake up the next morning it says "No." But then that would seem to imply that consistently remembering to turn the magnet over twice each day is cognitively easier than remembering whether or not you have taken your medicine, which on the face of it does not seem like much of a mental labor saving device either.
So, the magnet befuddles me, it defeats me and has kept me awake countless nights thinking about it, it has led to various calls to magnet manufacturers who do not seem nearly as eagerly contemplative about the matter as I am, which is both why I've hung onto it so long and why I now offer up the puzzle as a contest.
The grand prize goes to the first person who can explain to me how one would utilize this magnet as a reminder in a way that would actually make the mental work easier than the mental work implied by not using the magnet at all. The prize will be either (1) an all-expense paid trip to Mars or (2) my gratitude, as determined by the discretion of the judges.
Some esteemed entries
Christy Carson, one of the non-sociologists in my 750
class, was the first to suggest that the magnet could be a useful device if not conceived
of as being intended as a reminder to the medicine-taker at all, but instead as
a device that the medicine-taker uses to signal to others whether or not they
have taken their medicine, if such a signal would be relevant for others
deciding whether they should attempt approaching the medicine-taker or
not. As an analogy, one could imagine a coffee/Diet-Pepsi-Twist addicted professor
having a giant version of this magnet on their door indicating "Yes, I have
had my morning caffeine" or "No, I have not had my morning
caffeine," and this being a useful tool indicating to students whether they
should dare knock on the professor's door. That the medicine-taker would
have to remember to turn the magnet back over before they went to bed is not as
big of an issue since its purpose is no longer as a reminder-device anyway--it
doesn't matter that it adds memory demands since it has no pretense of being a
memory saver. This explanation has the great advantage of offering a
coherent account of how the magnet could be used that does not mire one in a mindtwisting
internal contradiction. The disadvantage, however, that keeps Christy from
automatically being awarded the prize is the seeming implausibility that this is
what the magnet was really designed to do, even while it could be used in this
David Merrill points out that the telephone numbers could be part of the solution. He suggests that the magnet is not intended as a reminder at all, but instead, the psychologically needy can use the phone numbers by the YES part of the magnet to call one of two numbers for specialized reinforcing praise or the phone numbers by the NO part of the magnet for specialized encouragement that will help surmount any mental obstacles to taking their medication. Presumably the heavy use of the service is what requires multiple phone numbers, although one does wonder in that case about the lack of area codes.
(The Amazing) Rob "Babycakes" Clark sent in an
explanation which defies summarization and so must instead be repeated: "the
magnet was designed to be a conversation piece and that it was intended to not
make any sense. of course, i assume you will wish to disregard this hypothesis
immediately for several obvious reasons. first, if my memory serves me correct,
aren't there actual phone numbers of hospitals/medical care facilities printed
on the magnet? if so, it seems hard to believe that decision makers at these
places would be motivated to knowingly sponsor a gag item such as this. second,
if the magnet is really just a gag, then it is way too subtle of a gag and too
many people would not even realize it was a joke.
Insert standard disclaimers here.