Weight of Reason

1 Conversation

Scientist holding mini Santa in a conical flask.

Mr Barrett arrived on Dr Trubshawe's
premises with some foreboding. The fact he was there alone was, in itself,
a sign of the Ministry's lack of confidence in anything the man might
have to offer. Still, Trubshawe had come up with the odd item of interest
on occasion in the past, so one never knew – and didn't hurt to indulge

He had not met Jolyon Trubshawe before,
but on doing so felt that 'frizzy' adequately did the man justice in
virtually every respect. Trubshawe enthusiastically grappled with Mr
Barrett's hand for a while, then led him around the back of his cottage,
straight to the rather dark and ancient structure which was, Trubshawe
informed him, the man's inventorium (whatever that actually was).

Mr Barrett tugged his bowler a little
more securely into place. 'And what exactly is it that you want to show
me today, Mr Trubshawe?'

'The answer to the world's fuel and energy
requirements!' Trubshawe declaimed, fiddling with his keys.

Science A-level was a prerequisite for
service with the Ministry, but even so Mr Barrett had no idea what most
of the alarming-looking apparatus in the inventorium was or did. Some
of it was buzzing and flashing little bulbs, apparently at random. On
one wall was an illuminated world map, which on closer inspection turned
out to be several pages from an atlas taped to a series of lightboxes.

'My magnum opus! Child of my genius!'
said Dr Trubshawe, bouncing up and down on his toes slightly. Mr Barrett
hoped he wasn't just talking about the map. It was a long drive back
to the office.

'Dr Trubshawe –' he began, but the boffin
had grabbed what looked like a brass-plated lollipop and was waving
it at him in a way that a less reserved man might have considered inflammatory.
The scientist's expression looked a little put-out as he finished.

'You don't believe me,' Dr Trubshawe

'I'm sorry...?'

'I'm not detecting anything. Maybe if
I show you the levels of global output...' He turned and started pulling
levers and operating switches on the nearest bank of equipment. A golden
haze appeared across the map, bright in some places, non-existent in

'Hmm. Not quite peak levels, but then
most of middle America's still asleep,' Trubshawe was muttering to himself.
He looked at Mr Barrett and perked up a bit. 'Output should pick up
in a bit.'

'This is measuring something?'

'Oh yes. The greatest resource in the
world, something prized by rulers since the dawn of history itself.'

'...no, sorry,' said Mr Barrett, after
thinking about that for a bit. 'I give up. What are you on about?'

'Faith! Belief. Credulity –'

Fearing there might be a thesaurus in
the vicinity, Mr Barrett nodded quickly to shut him up. 'Your apparatus
measures belief itself? How?'

Trubshawe nodded like the lunatic he
clearly was. 'Well, I started by isolating the fundamental particle
of belief, which I have named the credulon. By carefully measuring myself
before, during, and after strictly regulated periods of self-doubt,
it was fairly simple to do.'

'Aha,' said Mr Barrett, eyeing the distance
to the door, nervously.

'As an unforeseen benefit, I was also
able to isolate the basic particle of doubt, which I have christened
the dubion, which may well turn out to have practical applications of
its own. But I digress. Having thus tamed the credulon, I was able to
construct my global detector array.' He indicated the map.

'This measures levels of...'

'...people believing in things, yes,'
Trubshawe said, nodding manically.

'How,' said Mr Barrett carefully, not
wanting to provoke the man, 'does this undoubtedly amazing achievement
help the world vis-a-vis its fuel and energy requirements?'

'Ah!' said Dr Trubshawe. 'My researches
into the credulon soon led me to a remarkable insight – that the particle
exists in two states. A base state, which is of little interest, and
a charged state.' He picked up the brass lollipop again and pointed
it at Mr Barrett, who flinched. 'Without looking at your watch, please,
what time is it?'

'Just after eleven, I think,' said Mr
Barrett, practically paralysed with terror.

The lollipop made a bingly-bongy noise.
'Base credulon activity only,' Dr Trubshawe said, nodding and smiling
cheerily. 'Justified, rational, everyday belief. Now then...' He surveyed
his visitor thoughtfully. 'Do you agree that the western capitalist
system is the best and indeed only practical way to organise civilised

This was a bit unexpected, but not a
difficult question. 'Er, yes. Yes, I suppose I do.'

The apparatus started boinging dementedly.
Trubshawe did a little delighted dance. 'And the charged version of
the credulon! Pure belief, unscaffolded by evidence or logic!'

'Hang on a tic,' said Mr Barrett, suspecting
he was being insulted, however inadvertantly. 'Are you implying that

'Please, please.' Dr Trubshawe did his
best to look emollient. 'Let's call it... the willing suspension of
disbelief. Good old Coleridge. The act of willingly believing in something
which may not be true.'

'And you can measure that?' He couldn't
help but find the concept curiously fascinating.

'Oh yes. Of course, some things are a
lot less plausible than others, and the act of believing in them generates
much higher levels in that case.'

'Such as?'

'Umm, I've noticed a distinct spike across
the UK whenever EastEnders is on,' Dr Trubshawe said, 'but people
do take their soaps seriously. You should see the American midwest, though!
All those fundamentalist Christians! It makes the oilfields of the middle-east
look like a half-empty coalscuttle in comparison.'

Mr Barrett frowned. 'You mean – you can
use suspended disbelief as a fuel source?'

Dr Trubshawe nodded. 'It's basically
just another form of energy. It takes effort to believe in all those
things, and all that outlay of energy has to go somewhere. Basic thermodynamics.
All I have to do is convert it back into electricity.'

Mr Barrett found himself starting to slide into
this man's horrible, insane world. 'How much electricity?'

'Well... I'm still working out the exact
application of the science, but I believe that viewing one DVD box set
of 24 creates a level of credulon energy sufficient to power
the average house for two days.'

'And you're sure this is just free energy?
It's not actually contributing anything?'

Trubshawe shrugged. 'It's sustaining
the suspension of disbelief, but that's all. Base credulons are useless
for that purpose – you can't stop people believing in things which are
self-evidently right in front of them, everyone would become irrational.
In any case they're so easy to believe in that the energy harvest would
be rather meagre.'

'All right,' Mr Barrett said. He was
90 percent certain that the man was a demented crank, but if, if,
if! He could see the country's fuel problems solved at a stroke, with
credulity-tapping stations in every town, himself a senior bod at the
Ministry. The BBC would probably insist on receiving a chunk of whatever
money this generated... there would have to be a minimum level of implausibility
written into the scripts of every single TV drama, though the broadcasters
were doing a pretty good job along those lines anyway. They would have
to turn all the stations off on Sundays or the Church would complain...

He had got as far as planning dubion-bombing
of selected parts of the Middle East when he became aware of Trubshawe
ahem-ming at him. Mr Barrett snapped back to reality. 'All right, Dr
Trubshawe, I think you may be onto something here. But before I take
it to the Ministry, I need to see a practical demonstration of credulon
energy at work.'

'All right!' Trubshawe scampered into
the bowels of the shed and returned pushing a trolley with an enormous
lightbulb on it. 'Now, as you can see, this bulb is not connected to
the mains, nor are there any batteries amongst the equipment on the

Mr Barrett checked and agreed that this
was the case. This part would work better if Dr Trubshawe had a glamorous
assistant, he thought. 'This equipment converts belief into electricity?'

'Yes,' said Dr Trubshawe. 'Just the ambient
levels of belief around us, in this case, but that should be enough.'
He paused, hands on the controls. 'Ready, Mr Barrett?'

'Ready, Dr Trubshawe.'

The switch was duly thrown. After a moment
the bulb flickered into life, but as it did so Mr Barrett felt the clammy,
crushing weight of logic descend upon his mind. What a mug he was to
have fallen for such nonsense! It was all the most ridiculous claptrap
– how could it possibly work? It was all a trick, there was a hidden
lead or battery somewhere, attached to the bulb. He suppressed a sigh
and looked venomously at the boffin.

Dr Trubshawe switched the machine off.
'Well, Mr Barrett?'

'Er... I don't really know,' said Mr
Barrett, suddenly confused. Trubshawe's ideas were a bit outrageous,
but they seemed logical enough. And the bulb had come on...

'Another demonstration, perhaps?' said
Dr Trubshawe, turning the machine back on.

The ridiculous of the situation instantly
swamped Mr Barrett once more. There was no way the machine could possibly
work! He glowered at the flickering bulb. Trubshawe switched off and
looked hopefully ay him.

Mr Barrett put a hand to his forehead
as optimism bloomed within him once more. 'Dr Trubshawe,' he said, 'I
think there is a fundamental problem with this situation.'

'Oh, come on! One more!' Trubshawe switched
on once again.

The weight of reason hit him again, and
Mr Barrett felt himself almost physically deflate. It showed every sign
of becoming a long and awkward day.

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