The Unbelievable Machine

Dr. Wendell was a scientist who had a lot of leeway in his work. He could spend as much time as he wanted working on whatever happened to catch his fancy. He had invented all sorts of high-tech machines this way. It was Dr. Wendell who had invented the portable comb organization matrix, the glow-in-the-dark stethoscope mender, and the omni-directional nano-block. With results like that, people were happy to supply Dr. Wendell with grants and time to work.

It was in this way, tinkering with whatever interested him on any given day, that he accidentally invented a machine that made any scientific results relating to the machine itself, entirely unbelievable. He hadn’t been trying to create such a machine, but once he had, he realized that he had stumbled upon something interesting. For weeks he studied the new machine, comparing it to a control machine. In the end, the unbelievable machine remained as unbelievable as could be hoped and the control machine was just a worthless hunk of junk that Dr. Wendell dropped down the garbage chute with a note apologizing to the junkyard keepers for how worthless it was.

So Dr. Wendell wrote up a paper and submitted it to all the most reputable journals. Not one of the journals decided to publish, though. None of them believed the results. “That’s the point!” Dr. Wendell tried to explain in various phone calls and interviews. Eventually he tried to resort to self-publishing, but even then nobody seemed to care.

Ultimately, he realized that his invention, while interesting, was of no use to him. Instead of fighting that, he would do well to move onto other things. He decided to turn off the machine, so it wouldn’t interfere with his other experiments. Flicking the switch, he watched all the lights on the display go black.

But before he had even finished turning around to look at his laboratory, the thought occurred to him that the lights might not be accurate. The machine could still be on. “We can’t have that” he thought. He listened to see if it was making any noises, but didn’t hear anything. “But maybe I just can’t hear them,” he thought. “Better safe than sorry.”

He pulled the cord out of the machine and it still appeared to be off. He looked at the machine. It was dark, silent, and motionless. “Maybe there was some charge left in the battery, though. If I don’t make sure it’s off, it could cause problems later on.”

Soon Dr. Wendell was prying his machine apart, keeping the pieces as far apart as he could manage, smashing some of them underfoot. “But if it was off, I’d be able to accept the evidence that it was off,” he said. “If I have any doubt that it’s off, it must still be working!” But Dr. Wendell was unable to be sure. Even years later, he would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. He was never sure. He could never believe the machine was off.

Patrick D Ryall, the D is for Meatballs

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