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All This Talk

by Harry Lang

“It’s ridiculous,” said the older brother. “You know it is.”

“What makes you so sure?” said the younger.

A small pile of old books lay next to a piece of slate covered with numbers and symbols. “Science. That’s what makes me so sure.”

“You’ve done the science?”

“The major researchers have. They’ve all reached the same conclusion. There’s a consensus.”

“So the earth occupies the center of the universe as long as there’s a consensus?”

“All right, Copernicus! What do your own calculations tell you?”

“Well, I...”

“Look at your equations! Right here, and here and... there! The output is way too low. You can’t get the energy for the necessary work, not even if you insert miracles.”

“You know how hard it is to get reliable data. This model is based on working assumptions, just like the models used by your ‘consensus’. There are gaps; there may even be errors...”

“So you’re counting on mistakes to validate your crackpot idea?”

“I’m counting on experimentation to validate correct hypotheses and weed out erroneous ones.”

“Don’t talk down to me! I was assisting grandfather while you were still learning the periodic table, which took a good long time as I recall.”

“It wasn’t the only reading I was doing.”

“Oh, that’s right. Mother gave you literature to read. While I was doing actual work you were sitting around with poetry and science fiction, fiction being the operative word.”

“Is it my fault you’re conceptually impaired? The idea transcends the equation; that’s what grandfather said.”

“I’m all for transcendent ideas, just not stupid ones. You’re not thinking clearly. You’re seeing the world as you want it to be and massaging data to support your preferred outcome. It’s not simply an engineering problem, you know. It’s prohibited by physics. Lots of people smarter than we have said so and you’ve found nothing to counter them.”

“Maybe not on their terms, but two factors will make a difference. Imagination and necessity.”

“Yeah, well that first one speaks for itself but how is it necessary?”

“Growth is necessary! Do you think we can continue to occupy the current environment? We’ve taken things as far as they can be taken; unless we take the next step we’ll stagnate and regress. This society never stops moving; the only question is do we go forward or backward.”

“So which is it, practical benefit or the betterment of humanity? If you’re after practical benefit then your time could be better spent; even you won’t guarantee success. As for the latter, who gets to define that? Oh, I suppose you’ve grabbed some untethered ideas about striving and destiny and reaching for stars from all that reading but really... Where are you going?”

“I have work to do.”

“Is that what you call it? Well then, here’s the final word. One, you’re a fool. Two, your idea is wishful thinking. Everybody knows it and the physical sciences are arrayed against you. Three, you’re a fool!”

The younger brother tried not to listen as he made his way down the echoing passage, careful not to disturb the broken mirrors carrying the last of the day’s sunlight from outside. If only they had more books!

The autumn landscape was beautiful but the air was already quite chilly as he stepped out of the cave. Distant mounds of vegetation marked the last ruins of disintegrating skyscrapers; he knew the nomenclature but not the reality. Kneeling beside a pile of rocks he pulled out a device which had taken him months to design and construct.

Struggling to put his brother’s comments out of his mind he took a thin cylinder of wood and wound a bowstring around it. He then inserted the cylinder into a notch in a block of wood and moved the bow back and forth, eventually feeling heat radiating through the piece of rock capping the cylinder to hold it in place.

“It’s ridiculous. You know it is.”

Looking up, he saw a couple of the major researchers standing by, shaking their heads.

“Maybe you could crack perpetual motion while you’re at it.”

Before long he was exhausted, exactly as his equations said he would be. Enough was enough. The researchers applauded as he heaved the device over the cliff and into the small stream below.

Still wiping away tears of frustration, he was approached by the head researcher.

“Now that you’ve regained your senses we could use your help. We’re compiling an almanac. We have a large body of astronomical observations but we’re having trouble correlating them with our readings of animal innards...”

Copyright © 2009 by Harry Lang

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