Science in Christian Perspective
The Student Corner
Sir Isaac Goes Courting
Westmont College Santa Barbara, California 93103
From: JASA 26
(September 1974): 125-127.
Once upon a time there was a small, all-male, beerdrinking community. It was the way of life in this community to spend a great majority of one's waking hours at the sole local pub with his fellow townsmen telling of and debating all those things which no one present had ever seen. And when discussions grew wearisome, or definitive conclusions were reached, or when for any other reason one was not occupied, he would proceed to the brewery to assist in maintaining the storehouses or travel to nearby towns to trade the excellent brew for the necessaries demanded for the community's day-to-day existence.
Now it so happened that on one of these excursions through the countryside the vision of one Sir Isaac Goodeyes, so named for his exceptional ability to describe so vividly things he had never seen, alighted upon the graceful form of the most beautiful maiden in all the universe, Physical World by name. Sir Isaac, unable to believe his eyes (having never had to trust them before), immediately decided that she warranted more thorough investigation. Whereupon Goodeyes spent the rest of the day, of which there was precious little left, and much of the night (or morning as the case may be) increasing his physical contact with Physical World under the guise of testing the validity of his initial observation.
Sir Isaac arrived at the town bursting with his story and one day late with the food, which was not missed because of the lively war which had been waged all night over whether or not Goodeyes' delayed return signified that he was dead, or alive, or somewhere in between. Pausing for a moment to regain his composure just outside the tavern, he glided stately through the doors and the stormy debate, which continued to rage full force in spite of his presence, to the center of the floor. There he stood for several minutes-silent, but with a smile of selfsufficient authority firmly fixed on his lips. The suggestion was made that Sir Isaac be consulted in order to resolve the conflict as he had now returned. However, the debate immediately resumed over the question of whether or not Isaac's opinion could be considered authoritative in such a personal matter.
Nevertheless, Sir Isaac apparently had something to say and his self-satisfied look promised an especially juicy controversy. Those who held this expectation were not to be disappointed, for Isaac began to tell of his having seen the most beautiful girl in the world and to recall her appearance with astounding accuracy and detail. All assumed, of course, that Goodeyes was simply living up to his name, and chose to disagree with his description, saying that the most beautiful maiden in the world could simply not be as he conceived her. Each offered his own conception as the true one; those with similar tastes quickly joined into factions; and the controversy was under way. Isaac was not about to be brushed aside so easily, and so, exclaiming in a loud voice that this was not a subject that was open to question but that instead the maiden lived just down the road and anyone who wanted could come and see for himself, he left.
The confrontation ground to a screeching halt. No one in the history of the town had ever hinted that anything could exist that was not open to question. And the very idea that certainty could be achieved using the eye rather than the mind, by inspection rather than debate, was assumed preposterous. So some scoffed, and others suggested that they discuss the problem, but most, being stunned by his rocky logic, followed Sir Isaac Goodeyes down the road in a disoriented daze, apparently to "see for themselves".
Well, upon first hand observation, the agreement was universal that indeed Physical World was the most attractive maiden in the universe and that Sir Isaac's record of her features had been amazingly accurate. All congratulated Sir Isaac on the integrity of his observations and discovery; and for -the first time everyone in the community held the same opinion concerning the same thing.
This utopian scientific peace did not endure forever, however, for disagreements soon arose as to the actual dimensions of her features since each man considered himself to be her perfect suitor, and her to be the perfect size to be his mistress. Then, just as the controversy began to erupt, a serendipitous bolt of memory struck the minds of all involved and they rushed off to Physical World's home armed with measuring tapes and bathroom scales.
It was not long after this, when the entire population of the town had become well versed in and thoroughly convinced of the validity of the Inspectional Method, that another fair maiden by the name of Human Behavior chanced to pass through the field of vision of the now well trained receptors of Sir Isaac Coodeyes. Although he could not put his finger on the reason, Sir Isaac found her exceptionally intriguing. So he whipped out his measuring tape and collapsible bathroom scale, courteously inquired if she would mind participating in a scientific survey, and, having made his initial observations, rushed off with his data to the Pub.
The Pub had since been expanded to an extensive laboratory, and the bar had been replaced by a snack shoppe equipped with frozen wienerschintzel vending machines, microwave ovens, and distilled water OnTap. It was to this environment with its admirable concern for accuracy, efficiency, and purity, that Gnodeyes brought the data collected in his intriguing observation. No one else at the Pub, however, found the data to he very intriguing. In fact, at first perusal they considered it a quite mundane set of results. The statistical analysis found no significant difference between human Behavior and the general population, and Gnndeyes was dismissed as growing somewhat myopic with age.
Apparently Human Behavior was making the rounds that day or there were several women all with the same name in town, because men were coming into the Pub all afternoon with their measurements of a most unusual female. Some exclaimed that her beauty far surpassed that of Physical World while others found her ugliness so repulsive that they could hardly remain with her long enough to make the measurements. The most puzzling thing of all, however, was that what each man said did not always match up with his measurements of her and the data themselves tended to change with the area of the city in which they were obtained.
Now, that was an intriguing problem. So they sent out a group of random samplers to extract Human Behavior from wherever she happened to be and hire her as a research assistant.
Having captured her in body, they proceeded to weigh and measure everything about her of which they could, morally or immorally, get a quantitative description. Much to their dismay, they found that every time they moved from one thing to another, the previous one changed. She was as pliable as water. Every time the situation changed, she varied her appearance. And even when the surroundings remained the same she fluctuated slightly from moment to moment.
Frustrated and hamstrung by their inability to make exact measurements, they discovered that infamous stifler of variance, the average. They went virtually crazy with enthusiasm, cutting her capriciousness to shreds and putting in its vacant position a record of apparent peace and stability.
Their next move was to introduce facsimiles of all kinds of things in the real world to see how much effect the real things had on her. This was all done under the careful control of the laboratory setting, and she encountered each facsimile many different times so that they could get a real Liberty Bell distribution. They proceeded to average her variations, and average the variations of her averages until they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, precisely where she might possibly be.
They now knew the relative importance of everything that could possibly impinge upon her existence. So they calculated how she would change if they took her outside, got their answer, took her outside, and lo and behold she wasn't anything like that. Everything together wasn't at all like everything alone; and the real things weren't anything like the facsimiles.
Well, some said that what they needed was a theory; and others called for more control; still others said they needed a more realistic situation. The solution was not at all clear from their observations. And so, a great debate began, with a fervor the likes of which had not been seen since the pre-Goodeyesian days. All the apparatus in the Pub was removed so all could join, and someone called for beer to drench the shout-parched throats.
Sir Isaac had been observing the course of events from the shadows and making no small use of the power of his good eyes. Seeing that Human Behavior had been forgotten by the crowd in its preoccupation with the controversy, he made his way to her unobserved arid knowing exactly how she would respond, took her hand and led her away.
As they passed through the deserted streets and out across the countryside leaving the town behind, she turned to him and asked, "What were they seeing when they looked at me so closely?"
"That you were alive."