Episode Thirty Two – Physics Special
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
― Richard P. Feynman
Beneath the limestone crags of the Jura mountains, four individuals dressed in long white coats lead a cortege. Behind the vanguard, a squad of security guards pulled along a slightly fat and balding individual dressed in blue shirt and beige cargo trousers. The guards were none too gentle with their prisoner.
‘In there.’ One of the men dressed in white pointed.
The group marched into a large chamber. A very large metal and plastic machine with wires coming out at all points dominated the room, leaving hardly enough space for the party to congregate. Some of the group whispered at the sight.
‘Order.’ The leader of the whitecoats bellowed. His words echoed loudly in the chamber.
Another of the men in white stepped forward. ‘We are here to inquire into the heresy by Alessio Schiacciata that Physics was invented and built by men.’ He frowned at Alessio, now brought before the four leaders. ‘How do you plead?’
‘Not guilty of course. I was just try__’
‘Silence! You do not have permission to speak.’
‘How can I defend…’ One of the guards grabbed him and bent his head down.
‘You may only speak if you are given permission to answer questions.’
The third MIW now intervened. He pointed his outstretched finger at Alessio.
‘You, Schiacciata have ventured to meddle in things that you ought not and with the most grave and dangerous subjects that can be stirred up these days. Not only that, you dare speak of things that are held as holy writ.’ His interlocutor nodded at the guard who was restraining him. ‘You may now speak.’
Alessio looked at his accuser. ‘I am a humble man. A man driven by the search for truth. All I tried to do was get to the bottom of the question about gender equality in physics...’ He turned to those around him, ‘...and science more generally.’
‘See!’ The leader roared.
‘Guilty.’ The other three pointed at Alessio. ‘Condemned by his own words.’
Those in the chamber shouted out. ‘He’s gripped by an evil hand.’
The leader raised his hands to demand quiet. ‘Indeed. He must be made to repent.’
Alessio stood tall. ‘I wish to state that all I have done is follow the scientific method…’
‘Be quiet. You stand condemned of the most heinous of heresies. One that is worth,’ he turned to gaze at the huge machine behind him, ‘the severest of sentences...’ He paused to let his words sink in, ‘…banishment from the community of scientists!’
Alessio broke free from the guard. ‘No! I do not deserve that!’
‘Sixteen hundred judges have put their name to the verdict.’ The MIW pulled out a smartphone. ‘We state, in the strongest possible terms, that the humanity of any person, regardless of ascribed identities such as race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, gender presentation, or sexual identity is not up for debate. The thin veneer of scientific rigour with which Schiacciata’s talk was followed by open discrimination and personal attacks, which we condemn unconditionally. We strongly express our view that the science case presented by Schiacciata is fundamentally unsound.’ He turned to Alessio. ‘So it is. You are condemned.’
Alessio raised his hand in fist and shook it. ‘I curse the time devoted to these studies in which I strove and hoped to move away somewhat from the beaten path. I repent having given the world a portion of my thinking; I feel inclined to consign what is left to the flames and thus placate at last the inextinguishable hatred of my enemies.’
‘Are you therefore repenting of your sin?’
‘Henceforth, I will neither hold, defend, nor teach chrysopoeia in any way whatsoever.’
‘I am pleased you recognise your error and have gone too far in your research.’ He clicked his fingers. ‘Now you must sign your confession.’
One of the guards brought forward a large gold bound book and held it up. The MIW opened it and turned the pages. He gestured at Alessio. ‘Come here.’ He pointed at the page. ‘Read and sign.’
The guard turned the book so Alessio could read it.
‘I held, as I still hold, as most true and indisputable, the opinion of Ptolemy, that is to say, the stability of the Earth and the motion of the Sun. I affirm, therefore, on my conscience, that I do not now hold the condemned opinion and have not held it since the decision of authorities...I am here in your hands--do with me what you please.’
‘That is it!’ The leader smirked. ‘Whereas you, Schiacciata, of Pisa, are in the year 2018 denounced to for holding as true the false doctrine and, so that you will be more cautious in future, and an example for others to abstain from delinquencies of this sort, we order that all your writings and comments on be prohibited. We condemn you to formal imprisonment in this holy quantum machine at our pleasure.’
The crowd roared its approval.
‘Take him away.’
‘No, no, no, …I only tried to tell the truth.’
The guards seized Alessio and dragged him towards the huge machine. One of them ran ahead and opened a panel.
Alessio turned his head towards the MIW. ‘You can’t do this to me!’
‘You’re a sad case. Haven’t you heard of postmodernism?’
Alessio screamed as he was stuffed into the machine.
‘Now the following go out to all the world.’
The Most Illustrious Lord Cardinal Millini notified the Reverend Fathers Lord Assessor and Lord Commissary of the Holy Office that, after the reporting of the judgment by the Father Theologians against the propositions of the mathematician Galileo (to the effect that the sun stand still at the centre of the world and the earth moves even with the diurnal motion), His Holiness ordered the most Illustrious Lord Cardinal Bellarmine to call Galileo before himself and warn him to abandon these opinions; and if he should refuse to obey, the Father Commissary, in the presence of a notary and witnesses, is to issue him an injunction to abstain completely from teaching or defending this doctrine and opinion or from discussing it; and further, if he should not acquiesce, he is to be imprisoned.
How little have times changed…