Friday, 21 August 2009

Lewis Carroll (on the likes of Lewontin and Gould)

Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno Concluded

The Professor’s Lecture

“Our Second Experiment”, the Professor announced, as Bruno returned to his place, still thoughtfully rubbing his elbows, “is the production of that seldom-seen-but greatly-to-be-admired phenomenon, Black Light! You have seen White Light, Red Light, Green Light, and so on: but never, till this wonderful day, have any eyes but mine seen Black Light! This box”, carefully lifting it upon the table, and covering it with a heap of blankets, “is quite full of it. The way I made it was this--I took a lighted candle into a dark cupboard and shut the door. Of course the cupboard was then full of Yellow Light. Then I took a bottle of Black ink, and poured it over the candle: and, to my delight, every atom of the Yellow Light turned Black! That was indeed the proudest moment of my life! Then I filled a box with it. And now --would anyone like to get under the blankets and see it?”

Dead silence followed this appeal: but at last Bruno said “I’ll get under, if it won’t jingle my elbows.”

Satisfied on this point, Bruno crawled under the blankets, and, after a minute or two, crawled out again, very hot and dusty, and with his hair in the wildest confusion.

“What did you see in the box?” Sylvie eagerly enquired.

“I saw nuffin!” Bruno sadly replied. “It were too dark!”

He has described the appearance of the thing exactly!” the Professor exclaimed with enthusiasm. “Black Light and Nothing, look so extremely alike, at first sight, that I don t wonder he failed to distinguish them! We will now proceed to the Third Experiment.”

The Professor came down, and led the way to where a post had been driven firmly into the ground. To one side of the post was fastened a chain, with an iron weight hooked on to the end of it, and from the other side projected a piece of whalebone, with a ring at the end of it. This is a most interesting Experiment!” the Professor announced. “It will need time, I’m afraid: but that is a trifling disadvantage. Now observe. If I were to unhook this weight, and let go, it would fall to the ground. You do not deny that?”

Nobody denied it.

“And in the same way, if I were to bend this piece of whalebone round the post--thus--and put the ring over this hook--thus--it stays bent: but, if I unhook it, it straightens itself again. You do not deny that?”

Again, nobody denied it.

“Well, now, suppose we left things just as they are, for a long time. The force of the whalebone would get exhausted, you know, and it would stay bent, even when you unhooked it. Now, why shouldn’t the same thing happen with the weight? The whalebone gets so used to being bent, that it ca’n’t straighten itself any more. Why shouldn’t the weight get so used to being held up, that it ca’n’t fall any more? That’s what I want to know!”

“That’s what we want to know!” echoed the crowd.

“How long must we wait?” grumbled the Emperor.

The Professor looked at his watch. “Well, I think a thousand years will do to begin with,” he said. “Then we will cautiously unhook the weight: and, if it still shows (as perhaps it will) a slight tendency to fall, we will hook it on to the chain again, and leave it for another thousand years.”

Here the Empress experienced one of those flashes of Common Sense which were the surprise of all around her. “Meanwhile there’ll be time for another Experiment,” she said.

“There will indeed!” cried the delighted Professor. “Let us return to the platform, and proceed to the Fourth Experiment!”

“For this concluding Experiment, I will take a certain Alkali, or Acid--I forget which. Now you’ll see what will happen when I mix it with Some--” here he took up a bottle, and looked at it doubtfully, “--when I mix it with--with Something--”

Here the Emperor interrupted. “What’s the name of the stuff?” he asked.

“I don’t remember the name,” said the Professor: “and the label has come off.” He emptied it quickly into the other bottle, and, with a tremendous bang, both bottles flew to pieces, upsetting all the machines, and filling the Pavilion with thick black smoke. I sprang to my feet in terror, and--and found myself standing before my solitary hearth, where the poker, dropping at last from the hand of the sleeper, had knocked over the tongs and the shovel, and had upset the kettle, filling the air with clouds of steam. With a weary sigh, I betook myself to bed.

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