Feb 9, 2012

The Fairy Tale of the Sky-blue Planet and the Little Kid That Could Rescue All

Posted by in categories: existential risks, particle physics

Once upon a time there was a cute little planet in the vast recesses of the sky. It was rich in water and mountains and was blessed – with good parents. The kids were allowed to play all day, and their coaches were able to lay the connections into the impending adult life in a way that did not hurt.

So the planet could have gone on forever. But, as in every serious fairy tale, there was a single bad sorcerer who had caused many kids to fall into holes from which they had great difficulty escaping – a sly activity which seemed to amuse him. The doting parents had to learn how to warn their children, and from then on his influence faded.

This fact caused the bad sorcerer to change his evil tactics: by confusing the parents ahead of the kids. This is where our hero – Farwinner – enters the tale. He asked his father: what does the sorcerer’s public slogan “Caution is stupid” mean? The father said it means that cars need no brakes. But this is not true!, Farwinner complained. Not even if it makes the cars very much cheaper?, his father replied. Of course not, said Farwinner: would you drive with us in a car without brakes? His father had to promise him with a slap on the hand to give up on the idea.

The sorcerer learned about this event and got furious: “This little Telemach” (he referred to Farwinner in a foreign language) is becoming a nuisance. I need to immunize everyone else against his influence.

But Farwinner had asked his father a second question: Is it true that your friends, the scientists, are trying to make the tiniest hole ever by using the biggest machine ever, and that the hole will then double in size every Sunday? His father replied he believes it is Mondays, not Sundays. To his amazement, Farwinner began to cry bitterly. His father was unable to understand and therefore could not console his son – until Telemach-Farwinner explained:

If the hole doubles in size every week, and is as small as the tiniest measurable particle (his father knew they are called “quarks” but did not want to interrupt), how long will it take until we are eaten?

His father remembered the story of the famous Persian king who was asked for a very cheap present: one rice grain on the first square of a checkerboard’s 64 fields, two on the next, 4 on the third, and so forth. In the same harmless-looking way, the tiny hole would double every week, remaining very very small for many months in a row. Only to – not very much later – devour the whole beautiful sky-blue little planet. But he did not want to upset young Telemach.

This is almost the end of the fairy tale. How do you think it continues? Did anyone on the little skyblue planet succeed in quelling young Telemach’s tears?

— To the best answer, sent in to this blog on the Internet, Telemach’s father will reply in person. Since he was told the story by an old friend himself, he still wavers a little bit how to answer properly. The youngest reader will no doubt give the most surprising and – therefore – most lifesaving answer.


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  1. Tom Kerwick says:

    In between moments abound with his glee at the creation of such holes, one of the Sorcerer’s pet cats wandered unsupervised across such a hole, and in the horror of entrapment, radiated caterwaul like none before the Sorcerer had heard before. Was the cat alive or dead? “Azrael where are you” the great Sorcerer called out again and again. He searched and serached but could not find his dear Azrael.

    The shrieks and moans were much fainter than the sorcerer would have expected if the cat had inadvertently fallen into one of his holes — had he not trained her the technique of escaping from such holes of trickery? But the signature of the caterwaul faded to a great distance and could not be heard. Where is the cat? Aghast at the prospect of loosing his pet cat, and quite shaken, the Sorcerer stopped making such holes — he did not care for frightening children, but his cats were precious to him. In a moment of enlightment, he now feared that someday he could fall to similar fate if he continued in his ways, so he started different trickeries, to which villagers cautiously rejoyced.

    Farwinner’s father turned to his son and said “You see, if a man of great sorcery wishes to drive without breaks, then only his folly will truly stop him, not others”.

    The young Telemach retired to the library, though keeping private, none could see if he reached for the shelf of wizardry or fable. Perhaps when he re-emerged they would…

  2. Otto E. Rossler says:

    A second response by a friend: