JUNE 26, 2010 3:02PM

Why Is There Error?*

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   the

   Problem of

   Understanding

   Non-determinate

   Symbols

 

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   Yes ,I know of Professor Holmes, the inventor. At one time we were quite close. However, I regret to say, I now find his company, at the very best, rather disturbing. I am afraid, sir, that he has given me reason to doubt his control of himself, and in his presence I cannot help but feel some slight fear for my safety.

 

   It happened this way. I had called upon the professor early one May evening and we were in his laboratory, discussing one of his theories over glasses of port. The professor was then in the midst of researching his notion that a man might be reasonably identified by the chemical composition of the vapours emitted from the nether regions of the corpus. He was in a particularly nervous state that evening as I recall, for his only son, Reginald, had disappeared the previous day on the occasion of his twenty-first birthday; and what is more, had apparently taken with him the professor's favourite rabbit, Elizabeth.

 

   The professor had heard nothing from either the boy or the rabbit since, and it was in large part to keep his mind from melancholy speculation that we engaged ourselves in working out gaseous emissions identification charts for myself and for the professor's German butler, Herr Herman Schmidt, who was at the time dusting the laboratory equipment with the professor's hairpiece.

 

 ( As to why the professor did not take the servant to task for this liberty, I cannot truly say - However, I had found it best to not ponder too deeply upon the rather odd circumstances which one is certain to encounter in the professor's domain. To give some notion I might mention that Herr Schmidt customarily dusted the laboratory with a live rabbit, which the professor had presented to the German for his very own, and which in fact, at that moment hung from Herman's belt in one of the rabbit carrying harnesses which the professor had devised for himself, his son and his servant; and which he intended to market to rabbit fanciers everywhere. **  )

 

   In any case, we had completed the charts for myself and the servant and were in the process of comparing them with the charts the professor had previously prepared for himself and his son, when suddenly the air was rent by what must have been one of the truly great wind breakages of this or any other century. A tremendous roar burst upon us with such violence that windows were shattered throughout the mansion.

 

   The professor, however, was equal to the occasion and brought forth gas masks, which he had obtained along with Herman as surplus from the Great War, and, coughing and gagging, we three managed to fit these upon ourselves. Also a miniature gas mask of the professor's device, we fitted to the rabbit which hung limply at Herr Schmidt's belt.

 

   With the danger of asphyxiation thus averted, we engaged

in a lively debate over " Who Cut It? " which soon became quite heated. Finally I pointed out that we had, ready to hand, the perfect method to settle the question scientifically, simply by comparing a sample of the gas which was presently wilting the roses in their bud vases, with the charts for each of us which the professor had prepared in his research.

 

   The professor seemed reluctant to do this, and, since the poor Kraut was cowering in the corner with the professor's toupee clutched over his poor bald little head, and would not second me in insisting, I broke the deadlock of wills by beginning to run the experiment myself.

 

   At this point the professor, in very foul temper, pushed me aside and himself began the analysis, saying that he could ill afford to have his equipment maltreated by the untrained.

 

   The professor turned the valve on an evacuated cylinder which he kept handy for use in his researches and drew a sample of the murky air. This cylinder he then connected to a fitting on his Holmes Model Perfect Gaseous Emissions Analyzer and then proceeded to push buttons and twist knobs, until the machine, banging and clanking as if disgusted with its task, delivered up a spectrograph which we then compared to the charts.

 

   As I had expected, the spectrograph bore a striking resemblance to the professor's own chart; and Herr Schmidt and I began to chuckle and wag our index fingers vigorously in his direction. But the professor, far from accepting this verdict with good grace, turned beet red and hotly demanded that we study the chart of his son; and it is true – there was a distinct resemblance - But that is not really so strange, as the younger Holmes resembled the elder in many ways, even to wearing the same make, color and style of toupee and having much the same preference in rabbits. It was certainly no surprise that their flatulence should be nearly identical also. And since the son was missing and the professor was there at the scene of the discharge, Herman and I began to good - naturedly chide the professor on having been caught in a trap of his own device; and quite frankly, rather admiringly to congratulate him on the magnitude of his prowess ( For in truth, it had been a monumental breaking of wind ).

 

   It was at this time that I first began to doubt the professor's reason, for instead of admitting that it was his own, he maintained his ignorance of the origin of the gas with such vehemence that it dawned on me that he truly believed that he was not the source. In this assertion he grew more and more agitated and wild-eyed until the discussion was broken off by the arrival ( and unfortunate demise ) of a messenger boy. When we had prized the telegram from the poor child's dead hand, we found it to be a message from Holmes, the younger. The gist of this message was that on reaching his majority, he had eloped with his father's rabbit, Elizabeth, whom he had long secretly admired. He doubted that he would ever return and begged his father's forgiveness.

 

   Professor Holmes completely lost control at this and Herr Schmidt and I frankly feared for our lives. In his rage, the professor looked at Herr Schmidt, and the toupee, which the German had used to cover his head against the deadly fumes, and saw the rabbit hanging in its gas mask at Herman's side, and the professor went entirely bonkers.

 

   He raged that he knew that Herr Schmidt was actually his son, Reginald, in disguise and that the toupee ( which was actually the professor's own ) and the rabbit, Elizabeth, ( which actually was Herr Schmidt's Dust Bunny ) as well as the spectrograph of that tremendous fart, proved beyond doubt that Herr Schmidt was actually Reginald disguised and come home to be present and witness the devastating effect of the telegram upon his father.

 

   " But! ", the professor raged, " Your nervous flatulence gave you away! And did you really think that I should not recognize the toupee which I bought for you! And you couldn't resist bringing Elizabeth with you to witness my humiliation, could you? "

 

   With that the professor pounced upon the unfortunate German and endevoured to remove his gas mask - which would surely have proved fatal in the still deadly atmosphere of the laboratory. I in turn caught up he professor's wrist's and with great effort restrained him, all the while telling him how mistaken he was on every count.

 

It was his own toupee, and his servant's rabbit, and his own noxious vapours - but he would not listen.

 

   He insisted that he was not mistaken, he was completely correct, and that in fact this was his rabbit, and his son, wearing the son's toupee, and discharging the son's gases.

 

   At last I had to sedate him by lifting the edge of his gas mask and allowing a whiff of the fumes to stun him. Herr Schmidt and I then carried him up to his bedchamber and securely bound him to his bed with sheets.

 

   Personally, I was greatly provoked by the professor's actions and vowed that I should not ever in future have anything to do with him. For really, we all make mistakes, but it is utterly inconceivable that a gentleman could exhibit such an inexcusable inability to recognize his own........... error/air/heir/hair/hare/herr

 

 

 

 

    

*with apologies to Bill Cosby’s “Why is there Air?” His philosophy major girl-friend would say things like “Why is there Air?” .As any phys-ed major will tell you, God gave us error so we could blow up basketballs ( and boilers)…( and bridges)…( and errorplains) God gave us error so we can blow things up!)

 

** The Dust Bunny

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