Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

The Acts We Commit In The Interests Of Science

Penned upon the 9th of June, 2011

I recently read with some interest of the longrunning push among the scientific community to achieve the abstraction of the kilogram. The official kilogram Рthe kilogram of record, the kilogram by which other kilograms are weighed and judged Рis the International Prototype, of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, la commune de S̬vres, France. The Prototype, a pellet of platinum alloy, formally serves as an unchanging reference point for future generations, but, being beholden to the same capricious natural phenomena as all matter, it has in fact been subject to regular Рand, sometimes, inexplicable Рfluctuations in mass.

Naturally, this leaves the lesser kilos of the world – sacks of rice, parcels of hashish, fractions of anxious dieters, and so forth – at risk of tiresome and potentially expensive kilogrammatical errors. Thus, the move to redefine the measure by some mathematical constant, rather than by a given physical object. Philosophical questions about the materiality of the mind aside, one can see the appeal of the change. One could verify the correctness of one’s own kilograms without having to send to France for a comparison model. A great reduction could be made in spending on bell jars, prototype polish, weightless air, and the other necessities of a permanent collection.

In fact, so convinced am I of the merits of this scheme that I have recommended like measures to the scientific association of which I am fortunate enough to be a board member, the Society for Farcical Research. This worthy institution, founded with the assistance of certain generous patrons of the arts and sciences and also Pangolins, maintains a modestly ostentatious facility exhibiting artefacts of interest to the serious or otherwise naturalist, empiricist or observer of material phenomena. This collection includes some objects whose role it is to serve as absolutes, and they are a considerable drain on resources; not least Albert, the definitive Cloth-Eared Pillock, who’s seventy if he’s a day and is long overdue an undignified retirement.

But! Like the famous visitor in the wax museum souvenir shop, I’m getting ahead of myself. The Society’s museum, in accordance with contemporary curatorial thought, takes the form of a Labyrinth, with each wing occupying one of the eight concentric rings. These are arranged in order of increasing applicability – pieces of more novelty than relevance are available to the general public in the outermost ring, progressing inward to items of such immense scientific importance that access is restricted to certain specialists, by appointment only. The wings are, in order:

THE SPECIAL: Curiosities, dubious hoaxes, pharoahs’ treasure, stuffed beasts, things larger than they ought to be. The Unique Prototype kept here, accompanied by undidactic panels speculating that it represents a gift by ancient cosmonauts to a Mesoamerican civilisation.

THE GENERAL: Relics of exceptional events, militaria, voluminous numbers, heroic animals, ships’ wheels, unrepresentative examples. The Statistical Spike somewhere in this layer, mounted on sensitive springs, and ready to burst out and impale the unwary patron upon the slightest disturbance.

THE FAMILIAR: Potsherds, tea kettles, carved wooden toy dogs, dead books in living languages, photographs with inadequate labelling, four-poster beds. Genealogy Department located here, preserved in aspic.

THE ORDERLY: Incunabula, antique motor-cars, caricatures presented as portraits, unsuccessful inventions, barbed witticisms cast in silver. Cloth-Eared Pillock on display in this ring, precisely pH balanced to prevent decay, and tied to a peg to prevent wandering.

THE CLASSIC: Society members only beyond this point except by arrangement. Astrolabes, aeolipiles, alchemical diagrams, apocrypha, ammonites, archived axioms. The First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics performed daily in this wing’s concert hall.

THE PHALLIC: Calabashes, demonstrative awls, corsetry in action, eudaimonic scripture, bare inevitabilities, bounty. L’Origine du monde hung here.

THE ROYAL: Jazz standards of decency, states of matter, amphorae of background radiation hermetically sealed with Copticated Ideographs. The Hansard of Natural Law stored in this layer’s library. Meeting rooms of the Unconscious Collective accessed off this layer.

THE DOMINION: The Heart of the Labyrinth. The Golden Ratio, The Golden Mean, and the Golden Ass, suspended in the Aether.


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