The Method

Dec. 2nd, 2011 12:15 am
[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
Pekki trudged up the path, leading his mule by a rope. The monastery seemed to perch atop the hill and glower down on the surrounding countryside like a squat stone vulture, scarred with age and warped by nuclear fire. Pekki wondered if the Keepers of Lor were watching him using jealously hoarded technology or magic from before the Black Rain. He retained his composure to the best of his ability and arduously climbed to the hilltop and the gates of the fortress.

A severe Keeper and his brutish guards blocked his way. "What do you want?" the Keeper said sharply. "You'll get no food or water here."

"I seek no food or water," Pekki said humbly. "I come only to have you bless my work of science."

The Keeper's demeanor changed, and he smiled, albeit coldly. "Indeed?" he asked, a thin eyebrow arched. "And why should we do that?"

Pekki reached into the mule's bags. The ape-like guards hooted a warning and hoisted their muskets, but relaxed when Pekki came up with a brace of chickens. They were alive, and untouched by the Black Rain too, with no hint of scales around their feet and beaks. The Keeper inspected them and sniffed haughtily. "And this science of yours?" he said, handing the chickens off to a guard.

Pekki drew forth the device he had been working on since the previous summer. "It's an engine," said Pekki. "It runs on steam. See?" He showed how the miniature device, however crude, could burn oil and make a shaft turn.

"Hmmf," said the Keeper. He handed the engine back to Pekki and waved his guards back inside. "It is not science."

Pekki was overwhelmed with disappointment. "But…!" he stammered. The Keeper held up a finger.

"Do not misunderstand me," he said. "I mean, it is not science – yet. No knowledge, no wisdom, may be deemed science until it has been exposed to the scientific method. Only then may it become known to the wise as a matter of scientific interest."

The Keeper entered the gateway and beckoned to Pekki. "Come!" he commanded.

Pekki followed the Keeper into the Fastness of Lor, his eyes wide. If he expected to see wonders of sorcery within the stout stone walls, he was sorely disappointed. The courtyard was a crude, odiferous and largely empty mudpit. The cramped warrens of the inner bailey were no better; no electric arc-lamps lit the way, and no demons bowed and scraped as the Keeper passed. Pekki only found something to be impressed over in the Hall of Lor, where the twelve Keepers lurked behind their long table, overshadowed by the statues of the Greats: Newton, and Aristotle, and others. One, a figure of a stern man with a beard, seemed to point a finger damningly in judgment.

"Which is that one?" whispered Pekki.

"That is Jesus," replied his Keeper guide. "A great scientist from long ago. Specialized in transmutation, and the raising of the dead." Pekki shuddered.

The High Keeper rose. "You claim you have science," she croaked. "We will see it."

Pekki showed them his engine, demonstrating how it worked. He showed how it could reel in a length of twine. The Keepers watched impassively, not ooh-ing and ahh-ing like the simple peasants of the valley. When the demonstration was done, the High Keeper clapped her hands. Young novices filed into the room bearing baskets of straws and pebbles.

"It is not science," the High Keeper observed shrewdly, looking at the engine on the examination table in the center of the hall.

"No," said Pekki. "Not yet."

"Not yet," agreed the leader of the monks. "It is time for the hypothesis!"

"I don't understand," Pekki pleaded to his Keeper-guide. "What does this mean?"

"Before we may expose your would-be science to the scientific method, you must first construct a hypothesis," the Keeper advised him. "It is a necessary first step."

"But I don't understand the word," protested Pekki. "What's a hypothesis?"

"It's a kind of cage," the Keeper explained. He went on to advise Pekki that his hypothesis must be built to protect his work of science, using the straws provided and any other materials at hand in the room. He warned Pekki that the hypothesis must be sturdy indeed, for it would be subjected to many rigorous tests.

Pekki nodded. He picked up a handful of the reeds in the basket. They seemed so flimsy and brittle. Tying them together was not an option; they would simply snap. Pekki glanced around the room and noticed the candleholders spaced along the walls. Gathering up balls of the soft wax, he shuttled back and forth to the table, slowly constructing a dense mesh of reeds joined at interstitial points with candlewax. Each joint was weak, but there were so many of them, with reeds double- and triple-applied, that the whole meshwork seemed very symmetric and in possession of a deceptive tensile strength.

"If your hypothesis is complete," intoned the High Keeper, "then it is time for us to observe it."

The Keepers filed down in rows and walked past the latticework, looking at it carefully from all sides but not touching it. They then circled ritually around the High Keeper. "It appears stout; it seems secure," they moaned. "The hypothesis will not fall under its own weight."

"Then," said the High Keeper, "we must test this hypothesis!" The Keepers all returned to their seats at the table. A cup full of pebbles was deposited in front of each. Each monk took one up eagerly and waited.

"Now," the High Keeper said, "let the testing commence!"

Each Keeper took turns lobbing pebbles at the structure. Many of them missed. Some of them went right through the meshwork, bouncing off the engine and rolling harmlessly to the ground. A few of them hit members of the hypothesis, knocking straws loose, at which all the Keepers would buzz with excitement. More often, however, a pebble that struck the cage would fall away without doing damange, because Pekki had built it well.

"Enough," said the High Keeper, when all the pebbles were exhausted. "Few hypotheses are there that can withstand such a bombardment. We shall inspect the hypothesis."

She peered over the edifice at very close distances. "Your hypothesis is damaged in places," she mused. "Although its fundamental shape remains, it does not still stand in perfect condition."

"Nevertheless, there is precedent, High Keeper," said the monk who had led Pekki in. "We must all admit that very few hypotheses are completely correct the first time."

"This is so," said the High Keeper sagely. "Supplicant, you may repair or reformulate your hypothesis, buttressing it with new structures and salient points if you so choose."

Pekki made repairs to his hypothesis, adding reinforcing and cross-members. New cups of pebbles were doled out to the Keepers. "We must test it again," the High Keeper insisted. "Scientific testing must be robust."

Another barrage of pebbles resulted, but this time the hypothesis survived with no structural damage. Now even the High Keeper seemed impressed, and that gave Pekki courage that soon his engine would be deemed scientific after all.

"One more matter remains," the High Keeper said. "Science must be reproducible."

"Oh, this is," Pekki averred. "I could make these again and again."

"We shall be the judge of that," said the High Keeper tartly.

More novices came, bearing something tall and angular, and shrouded in wool. The High Keeper whipped the cover away. Below it was a tarnished looking glass, scored and rusted in places but otherwise still very reflective and highly polished.

"Hold it next to the hypothesis," the High Keeper commanded. The novices held it at an angle such that the hypothesis, with the engine within it, were reflected in the mirror. All the Keepers moaned.

"Your hypothesis is very symmetric," said the High Keeper approvingly. "I see its near-double in the glass. Clearly this engine is worthy of the scientific label. We must expose it!"

"Expose it?" asked Pekki uneasily.

"To Pure Science," said his Keeper-guide rapturously. "For like shall know like, and all science wishes to gather together in this place."

Two novices wearing thick gloves and robes carried a dull metallic tube into the room. Everybody in the room, including the Keepers, edged towards the outer walls of the hall. Pekki joined them. The young men placed the tube on the table next to Pekki's engine and removed the lead sleeve. Inside was a translucent canister that glowed greenly. It shone a baleful light upon Pekki's steam motor. Soon enough the motor, too, took on a faint glow.

"Science! It is science!" moaned the Keepers ecstatically.

"It is done," said the High Keeper firmly. "Well managed, sir; you have created Science and added to the store of Man's knowledge."

"Oh, fantastic," said Pekki, relieved. "Then I'll just be taking my engine and going."

"You'd best not," said his Keeper. "It's science now. Radioactive. Anybody who handles it now will get sick. I'm afraid it'll have to stay with us, down in our special laboratories in the basement." He slapped Pekki on the back.

"But don't look so glum," he said. "You've created science! Congratulations, you're a scientist. The novices will issue you a white coat on the way out as a symbol of your station. Bravely done. All right, on your way now." The Keepers hustled Pekki out the door of the Monastery of Lor; he managed to reclaim his mule and bags, and he did get his Coat of Science, but the engine he had slaved over for so long remained behind. Despondent, Pekki slowly plodded back down the hill.

The High Keeper watched him go from the ramparts. "Whew," she said. "They're getting better, mechanically, down there in the valley. I had hoped it would be centuries yet before they had a working aeliopyle."

"This is a disaster," said the monk who had greeted Pekki. "It's only a short jump from steam power to nuclear, you know. Our mission to keep Humanity from blowing itself up all over again is surely in jeopardy!"

"Bah," disagreed the High Keeper. "The first time, people went from steam to nuclear power quickly because they were already a scientific culture. But we've kept from them the most powerful weapon of them all."

"Yes, yes," nodded the underKeeper, having heard this lecture many times before. "The Scientific Method was old humanity's greatest discovery, because it accelerated the acquisition of so much more of science."

"They floundered for millennia without it, you know," said the High Keeper. "If we keep that one secret from them, maybe they'll have time to develop socially fast enough to keep up with their development of technology."

"Personally, I've always considered that to be a crackpot theory," said her underling. "Thinking that delaying progress will somehow save people the second time around is, in my opinion, madness."

"Yes," said the High Keeper, smiling, "but there's a method to it." She gestured to her monk. "Shall we take the elevator down?"

"Why not?" he answered.



September 2012

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