I spent 7 years in engineering school, and I am not an engineer. Perhaps you wonder, why?
How does someone even answer that kind of question? Well, people who research that sort of thing have found, when we are asked why we did something, our answer is just some bullshit we made up on the spot but wholeheartedly believe. Keeping that in mind, this is why am not an engineer.
A few unrelated times in school, I was asked the following four questions:
1 – How do you put an elephant in the refrigerator?
Answer – Open fridge, put elephant in fridge, close fridge.
Any other answer is considered wrong. The point of these questions is to illustrate that adults have flaws in the way they think. Children, it turns out, answer these questions correctly more often than adults do. Adults are likely to raise objections, such as that an elephant won’t fit in a fridge.
Which is incorrect, because it unnecessarily complicates the process. At least, that is the argument.
2 – How do you put a giraffe in the refrigerator?
Answer – Open fridge, take elephant out, put giraffe in, close fridge.
If you are already heaving a heavy sigh, yeah. I’m right there with you. Most people skip that second step, and answer based on what we learned* in question 1 – Open fridge, put giraffe in, close fridge. Which is wrong, because of fucking course it is.
What would a person have to believe in order for the correct answer to actually be correct? An elephant will fit in a fridge, a giraffe will fit in a fridge, but an elephant and a giraffe will not both fit in a fridge.
Again, children are more likely to give the ordained answer than adults are, proving once again that children are smarter than adults – and not proving, apparently, that children are less reasonable than adults in a specific, repeatable way.
This question claims to test your understanding the repercussions of your actions. Did you realize that when you put the elephant in the refrigerator that he would still be in there later? That’s a trick question, of course, because we did not put an elephant in a refrigerator. We asked a hypothetical question, the repercussions of which do not include the thing you asked about actually happening.
Children are more likely than adults to make this specific mistake, and in doing so, arrive at the correct answer. So children are smarter than adults, and if you aren’t convinced yet, we still have two more goddamn questions to prove it.
3 – The Lion King is holding a meeting. All the animals attend except one. Who does not attend?
Answer – The giraffe.
The giraffe, as you recall, is in the refrigerator. If you don’t recall it – if you thought that was just a hypothetical question and not a thing that actually happened – that’s just you making excuses to protect your ego because you can’t stand the fact that you are consistently being outsmarted by a child.
This question is to test your memory. What it really tests is if you have an okay memory, but not a great one. If you vaguely remember something about a giraffe, you might say the giraffe is in the fridge and answer correctly. If your memory is a little sharper, you may correctly remember that no giraffe was ever actually placed in a refrigerator.
For that matter, why can’t a giraffe get out of a fridge?
4 – You come to a river where crocodiles live. You want to cross but you have no boat. How do you cross?
Answer – Just swim. The crocodiles are at the Lion King’s meeting.
This question tests whether you quickly learn from your mistakes.
Where to begin?
First, you would have to acknowledge that failing to give any of the correct answers above qualifies as a mistake. Which you probably don’t, because this whole test is pretty obvious bullshit.
The test is easy to remember, to go home and ask your friends, to feel smarter than them as they fail to give the correct answers and you educate them as to the errors of their thinking. Feels kinda good. And, typically, the people you introduce this test to will eventually feel the same, as they take the side of the tester, join the team of correctness, and feel really neat two years later when some different clever teacher tries to pull the same trick on them.
What feels bad is holding on to your rational way of thinking. As you look around the lecture hall at the 200 other people, most of whom are wide-eyed with the cleverness they have just witnessed, you realize most of them have actually been convinced there is something wrong with the way they think.
That feeling is horrible. It may compel you to try to convince people that the correct answers aren’t correct at all, but if you try this you will come up against a wall of consensus and frustration, and you associate that frustration with the thing that seems to have caused it – disagreeing with the majority.
If you play along, you are rewarded. If you don’t, you are punished. What you learn is that it is that it isn’t a lot of fun to disagree with the majority, and generally just not worth it.
What made this test particularly annoying was that it came up, as I said earlier, several times during my time in engineering school. And it’s the type of test engineering students lose their minds over. People would talk about it in the halls, in the dorms. Basically grown people – people who were learning how to make bridges and elevators and chemicals and smart phones – felt smarter than other people because they knew how to put an elephant in a refrigerator.
Something about that mentality may have been why I never really fit in with that kind of people.
Now, to be fair, the people actually out there making your bridges and smart phones – I don’t know much about them. Engineering students do not always become engineering professionals, and I’m sure the people who can’t hack it through a test like this don’t make it long in professional practice. They mostly stick around and become professors or whatever.