#FridayFlash: The Science of Faith

The Science of Faith

by Tony Noland

"Professor Walls, this is the last straw, the very last. Truly, I cannot express to you the depth of my disappointment in your lack of progress. We expected so much more from you, so very much more." Dean Wassermann, who always spoke as though he were auditioning for a play, leaned forward over the lab bench and scowled his famous scowl. When those bushy eyebrows were pushed forward, even tenured professors worried. Wassermann was intelligent and a competent administrator, in a way, but he was a petty, vindictive man. Anyone who embarrassed him was marked for retribution. Anyone who humiliated him was marked for destruction.

"Did you?" Walls seemed, if not uncaring of Dean Wassermann's approbation, far from cowed by it. "I think I've done pretty well with this line of research."

"Pretty well? Pretty well?" Wassermann puffed out his chest and began rocking back and forth, allowing his heels to tap on the floor. As threatening body language went, this was his personal equivalent of drawing a switchblade from his boot and examining the blade. "When I hired you away from MIT, you had the reputation as one of the brightest, most innovative physicists in a generation. But what have you done since coming here? Nothing! Nothing, sir, nothing!"

Walls leaned against the liquid nitrogen tank. "I built this," he said, nodding at the strange apparatus, "so it's hardly fair to say I've done nothing."

"This? This? And what is this, other than a waste of eleven million dollars? Have any papers come out of it? Any patents? Any new grant funds? Any licensing agreements? Any technology transfer at all?" Wassermann waved his hand at the mass of tanks, tubes and electronics. "No one even knows what this is, Professor Walls! No one knows, but I have heard rumors, sir, rumors about it, and I am not happy. No! I am not happy in the least!" He slapped the lab bench dramatically to emphasize his point.

"Please don't do that. The TCA is not as sensitive to shock vibrations as it used to be, but -"

"Professor, for the last time, stop beating around the bush! Will you tell me what this is all about, or shall I take steps?"

For a moment, Walls looked as though he was going to ask for a definition of the term "take steps", but apparently thought better of it.

"I'd be happy to explain it, Dean Wassermann. This research represents a fundamental breakthrough in the understanding of probability waveform collapse. You know about Schrodinger's cat?"

"Yes, yes, of course, the cat's neither dead nor alive until you look at it. This is trivia, Professor. Get on with it."

"It is basic, yes. Every outcome can go one of two ways. We used to think it might go any of several ways, but the universe turns out to consist of binary waveforms. Once probability waveform interacts with the rest of the universe, it settles into one of its potential states. This is the basis of the many-universes hypothesis." Walls hurried on before Wassermann could interrupt again. "What I've done is to find a way to isolate probabilistic waveforms of disparate events and essentially leverage them against each other. Although neither matter nor information can travel faster than the speed of light, it turns out that probabilistic determinations can. Let me show you."

He began turning on switches and adjusting dials as he continued to speak. "The universe doesn't care which outcome happens. However, the observer does. Maybe you want Schrodinger's cat to be alive. How can you achieve that good outcome when the bad outcome is just as likely? What the TCA machine does is to take the bad consequences of waveform collapse potentialities and preemptively hold onto them in an extra-dimensional torsion field. That forces the waveform out in the real world to collapse into the good outcome."

"Don't be absurd. Good, bad... this is nonsense! You're talking about value judgments as though they apply to subatomic particles!"

"True, the intent of the observer has never had an impact on discrete probabilistic phenomena. That is, until I figured out a way to express that intent as a force vector in the waveform refractometer. The TCA uses a very special material to capture it, focus it and use it to leverage the waveform collapse events. Actually, that part turned out to be surprisingly easy, once I realized what that material had to be. The hard part was figuring out a way to hold the undesirable outcomes and put them somewhere so that the desirable outcomes would be the only way the real world could run, but the material gave me important insights into that, too."

"And what is that special material?"

"A small piece of the One True Cross. I got it from the ruins of a Russian Orthodox church just outside of St. Petersburg."

Wassermann's face reddened. His eyebrows protruded so far he seemed to have trouble seeing. He stared at Walls.

Walls said, "It turns out that the key element in making the machine work is faith. Without faith, the observer's intent isn't defined enough for the waveform refractometer to determine which outcome to hold in the TCA and which to allow to take place in the real world."

It took five breaths for the Dean's choking sound to give way to coherent speech. "Are you telling me you spent eleven million dollars... on a religious relic... to invent a good luck machine?"

The professor's face took on a pained expression, but he seemed otherwise calm. "You see, Dean Wassermann, this is why I never explain my work to anyone. You are all so limited in your vision! This is not simply a good luck machine."

"Call it a happy ending machine, then, Professor Walls, call it whatever you like, but you shall call it thus from somewhere else. You are suspended, sir, suspended until I can convene a review board and discharge you! I shall see to it that you repay the university's money, every last cent! You will be ruined, sir! Ruined! This.... fantasy of yours will make us the laughingstock of the country! The world! That, sir, is far, very, very far from a desirable outcome!" Wassermann slapped the top of the TCA and, in a wink of pale bluish light, disappeared.

Professor Walls stood alone in the lab, listening to the wavering hum of the Tragedy Capacitance Array as it balanced out a complex mass of collapsing waveforms.

"I agree, Dean Wassermann. I couldn't agree more."

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. Oh, but this was very good Tony. I loved the bamboozling array of scientific terminology and the mad professor character. AND it has a satisfying ending. LOVED IT.

  2. Great one! I expected Walls would come out on top here, and you delivered.

  3. Yeah, pretty hard to secure funding for that one upfront. I don't think The Big Guy would appreciate bits of the true cross being turned into a Good Luck Machine anyway. We already have horse shoes for that!

  4. Brilliantly geeky, superbly delivered, and satisfyingly concluded. #fridayflash at its best.

  5. mazzz_in_Leeds: Thank you, Maria!

    flyingscribbler: I'm glad you liked it!

    FARfetched: Yep, I'd say the machine worked much as he intended it to. 8-)

    John: Just for you, John - a happy ending machine.

    Chris: I like your comment so much, I'll reproduce it here: Brilliantly geeky, superbly delivered, and satisfyingly concluded. #fridayflash at its best. Aw shucks, just doin' my job... 8-)

  6. "That, sir, is far, very, very far from a desirable outcome!"

    No so - at least from Professor Walls' perspective. The Administrator should have listened. It was the intent of the observer that was of importance. And, it seems, he wasn't the observer.

    Great fun, Tony. And a wonderful excursion into melding geekdom and faith.

  7. Walls showed up, only as a character. LOL The guy should have listened more closely to the explanation!

  8. Love this! Anything that even remotely touches on the multiverse gets a huge thumbs up from me anyway but this is simply splendid.

  9. I am in awe of writers who manage to write the geeky stuff and sound convincing. Loved the idea and the execution was great!

  10. KjM: Oh, absolutely! So much depends on who is doing the deciding about what's a good outcome and what isn't. 8-)

    storytreasury: I'm glad you liked it!

    Icy: The multiverse is one of those things that lends itself to a lot of fiction. Thanks for the great comment!

    foregoreality: Some people are born geeky, others grow up that way. I am about as geeky as they come. Fiercely proud of it, too! Thanks for reading, and I'm glad it all worked for you!

  11. I love this, and I can't help but admire the beauty of this. Though I'm not religious myself, scientists can warp their outcomes based on on what they hope to find, whether consciously or not. Sometimes we turn a blind eye to that we don't wish to see. Nicely done.

  12. Fascinated (and curious) by your use of scientific jargon. I read on, with a slight smile on my face, picturing you sat at your computer writing it like a mad professor.

    I was further intrigued by the philosophical turn it took when the machine turned out to run on faith!

    Made me feel limited in my vision. Raised the bar. Well done.

  13. "Put a little fiction in my science"
    I keep seeing calls for that--your story qualifies.
    Fun read.

  14. Removing the bad and leaving the good. What a great machine! Where can I buy one?

    A great story, Tony.

  15. Great story, held together well, builds up nicely to the ending.

  16. ganymeder: Why, thank you, Catherine! I'm a fairly religious person, and I was intrigued by the thought of building a machine to do what Christ did: take the ills of the world upon itself, and thereby to make the world a more perfect place.

    henriettamaddox: Oh, there's a gigantic mumble-jumble of scientific jargon in there. I'm glad it raised a smile. As far as how it made you feel otherwise... well, if the bar's been raised for you, then it's been raised for me, too, right?

    pegjet: Thanks, Peg!

    Stephen: The machine is relatively easy to build. It's finding a piece of the One True Cross that is tough. 8-)

    Simon: Thanks, Simon - I'm glad you liked it!

  17. Haha good one! and a happy ending for the Professor at least!

    Helen from helen-scribbles

  18. Right up my alley. Great scientific voo-doo and fabu ending. Peace...

  19. Nice! I was wondering where that was going and was definitely not disappointed with the outcome. Sci-fi with a humorous twist is one of my faves.

  20. Wonderfully crafted. Lots of geekiness and a great twist.
    Adam B @revhappiness

  21. Loved the Professor Walls character - had such a good image of him whilst reading the story - nice work

  22. Wow, do you work in academia? That is pretty much what happens to professors (even after tenure) if they haven't written 200 papers or something ridiculous in the last year. Well done, and with the terminology.

    So often I see writers absolutely butcher scientific concepts, but you used them well and put them into a very entertaining story. Well done.

  23. Helen: 8-)

    Linda: It sounds like happy ending machines would go over big in academia.

    Chuck: Mine too!

    afullnessinbrevity: Thanks Adam!

    brainhaze: Walls was never worried. He had complete faith in his machine. (rimshot)

    Michael: No, but I've heard the stories. Glad you liked this!


Thank you for leaving a comment. The staff at Landless will treat it with the same care that we would bestow on a newly hatched chick. By the way, no pressure or anything, but have you ever considered subscribing to Landless via RSS?