Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Perpetual Motion

Among the forces which sweep and play through the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind.  Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason.  On the tiger no responsibility rests.
– Theodore Dreiser   Sister Carrie

Morgana disappeared into the shed and emerged a minute later bearing a large chest.  She handed the chest to Skandar and motioned for him to follow her.  Mystified, Skandar followed Morgana in silence until they reached a rise overlooking the town.  Morgana then unlocked the chest with another key and withdrew its contents.  It was a curiously fashioned object.

“Did you make this?” asked Skandar, touching it reverently.

“No, it was given to me by a traveling merchant on the condition that I must never allow it to be put to use.  It’s a perpetual motion machine. You are the only person I have ever shown it to.”

“Why wouldn’t this merchant want anyone to use it?” asked Skandar.  “Perpetual motion!  Think of the possibilities!”

“That is what I thought at first, too,” said Morgana, “but the inventor–Franz was his name–did not trust the human race with such knowledge.  He had witnessed first hand the terrible result of invention without ethics.

“For a long as he could remember, Franz was always fascinated by the way the world works and as soon as he could, he studied mathematics and engineering.  He came from a family of wealthy landowners so he could indulge in all sorts of experiments and investigations.  As he grew older, Franz grew more and more isolated from his friends; none of his companions were interested in Franz’s ideas or his inventions.

“When Franz was fifteen, a family moved into the community whose eldest son, Michio, was just as interested in mathematics as Franz was.  The two of them immediately became friends and planned great things together.  Bridges, ships, buildings–nothing escaped their interest.  It was Michio who first suggested a perpetual motion machine.  He and Franz spent hours drawing sketches, casting molds, and testing models for their greatest invention.

“But as the perverseness of humanity would have it, one of Michio’s relatives from another city became embroiled in a dispute with a leading member of the local community.  It grew beyond an exchange of insults into a bloody war between the two cities.  Michio and his family were banished from Franz’s city with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.  The city of where Michio and his family had fled was besieged by weapons of war; it was eventually reduced to rubble.

“Franz was devastated.  One of the weapons was a catapult, the invention of Archimedes the mathematician, whom Franz and Michio had admired.  When the war was over, Franz went to the ruined city searching for news of Michio or his family but without success.  When he returned home, he burned all of his drawings, notes, and models, including a miniature catapult that he and Michio had made.  The only thing he kept was the work they had done on their perpetual motion machine.  He finished the machine in honor of his friend and as a reminder of the human condition.  He vowed to never again make anything that could be used for evil.

“So he ended his days traveling the world, making and selling toys for children.  He invented the most amazing things, Skandar–games, puzzles, building blocks–but no more machines.  He was already quite old when I met him.  He told me he was dying and wanted his perpetual motion machine to be safe so he entrusted it to me.  But I also think he gave me his precious invention because I was a girl and no one would listen to me, even if I wanted to use it.”

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