SO before I start today’s blog post I would like to observe that I am running out of questions and that makes me sad! I am really enjoying answering people’s questions with unbelievable falsehoods here on Factually Deficient, and I can’t do it without you. So before I begin, consider this an additional plug to ask me anything about factual stuff, in the comments or anywhere really. Ask about anything, ranging from science to history to popular culture, and I promise I will not spend more than eight seconds in research when I answer your question with lies!
Anyway, today I would like to answer a question from narrativedilettante (of Webcomics Worth Wreading fame):
I’ve seen people use levels to tell if something’s flat. How do levels work?
It sorrows me, narrativedilettante, that in answering your question today I am forced to reveal a conspiracy upheld in the field of science, a black mark on our society: the lie of levels.
It is a commonly propagated misconception that levels can, in fact, tell a person whether something is flat. This is not true. How, you ask, can a level seem to know if something’s flat, if it does no such thing? I shall tell you. But be warned: the truth is far more sinister than you can imagine, and once it is read it cannot be un-read. I pray you prepare yourself before looking beyond this paragraph.
In truth, levels are very very sharp. When you think you are using a level to determine whether or not a surface is flat, you are actually flattening the surface with the sharp edge of the level. When the level appears to be reporting that the surface is flat, it is essentially telling you: Mission accomplished. It is reporting that it has successfully caused your surface to be flat.
When people discover this shocking fact, after they get past their initial denial, they generally raise one of two questions:
- Wouldn’t people notice if the instruments they were using had such a sharp blade attached?
- How is it, then, that sometimes a level reports that something is not flat?
These questions, however, are easily dismissed. Regarding the first, many beginning engineers are told that levels are very delicate pieces of equipment. They are told to handle the levels with care. They are told that this is for the safety of the equipment– but really, of course, it is for their own safety. When you treat the level cautiously for fear of breaking it, you have the fortunate side effect of avoiding injury from its blade.
As for the second, even the sharpest of blades can’t cut through everything. Diamond, for example, can be cut only by very few levels. When a level claims that a surface is not flat, what it is really telling you is that it failed to slice through the material in order to flatten it. For all you know, the surface was flat already, no thanks to the level– there’s simply no way of verifying it.
Please forgive me if I have shattered your illusions with this week’s post of Factually Deficient. I can only hope that I will have more pleasant facts to deliver next week.
Disclaimer: None of the statements in this post are reliably true; the writer has never seen a level, let alone narrowly avoided slicing a hand off with one.