THE date of this story is in the far distant future. Space travel
has been perfected and an adventurous party find themselves
on a planet in some remote part of our galaxy. They land and
explore the country, wondering what they may find there.
They debate whether the planet is inhabited. But where they
are, nothing suggests such a possibility. The prospect is bleak.
They are surrounded by great boulders, jagged rocks and
raging torrents which rush down deep gorges and then spread
over immense wastes of sand and rubble in the lower plains.
Of plants or animals there is not a trace.
Walking among all this desolation the adventurers round the
foot of a hill. Here they suddenly light on something the like
of which they have never seen before. A great structure towers
above them, forming a queerly broken outline against the evening sky. It is made up of struts and rods
supporting a complicated system of levers and pipes and a variety of strange devices
of which the mode of working is not at once apparent. Parts
move rhythmically and with a smooth precision. But, like the instruments of attack used by the Martians in Mr.Wells's romance,
this queer thing contains no wheels. The adventurers decide to
call it The Machine. They crowd round it and climb up it, examining every strange part minutely. Every moment they discover
some new feature of interest. The Machine is found to be vastly
intricate, full of the most elaborate and complicated devices. It
proves an unending source of interest to everyone present.
During the busy examination and discussion of every part
of The Machine there is also much talk concerning the inhabitants of this new planet. The adventurers debate the type
of being which may have fashioned so ingenious a contrivance.
Only one member of the party does not take part in this talk.
He has done a course of a year or so in physics and chemistry
at a good University and is an enthusiast for science. We will
call him the Enthusiast. No other member of the party differs
sufficiently from any common citizen to deserve a distinguishing name.
The Enthusiast becomes exasperated by all this talk about
the inhabitants of the planet. At last he tells the others that
there are no inhabitants. When asked why he thinks that, he
replies that no one has seen any inhabitants, no one knows
anything about them. "It is incompatible with the Principle
of Economy of Hypotheses", he says, "to assume the existence
of inhabitants." Someone says that he, too, had doubted if
there were any inhabitants until he saw the Machine; but that
surely such an elaborate, carefully-made device proves the
planet to be inhabited.
This argument is not allowed by the Enthusiast. He asks
what is known about the inhabitants. He asserts that if one
has never seen them and knows nothing about them, it is pure
mysticism to say that they exist. "Your mythical inhabitants
do not form a suitable subject for scientific study," he tells the
others, "therefore I refuse to beheve in them. The theory that
this planet is inhabited is simply due to the prejudiced fantasy
of those who like to believe such things."
Someone asks mildly: "If inhabitants of this planet did not
make the Machine, who did?"
"Forces of Nature," is the reply. "There are the rocks, and
the torrents, and the wind. There are many sorts of radiation
and there are many other ways in which Matter influences
Matter, as yet imperfectly understood. There are physical and
chemical processes. Forces of Nature alone produce the
smooth precision of the tides and the seasons. These forces
made our own Solar System. Why should they not also have
made the Machine? On this new planet many natural forces
are in operation. They can easily produce a structure like this
Machine. It is quite unnecessary to invoke anything in the
nature of inhabitants."
The others, who have never before been told so much about
science, are impressed, but not wholly convinced. They ask
what proof there is that nothing but the unorganized forces of
the material world have fashioned and assembled all the
intricate parts of the Machine so accurately.
The Enthusiast tells them that he has overwhelming proof.
The mere fact that the thing is a machine ought to be enough
to convince anyone. Asked to explain his meaning, he shows
that the Machine which is baffling them all so much behaves
in many respects like his motor-cycle at home. He proves that
fuel is burnt in the Machine in conformity to the laws of
chemistry, that the working parts obey Newton's Laws of
Motion, that the Principle of Conservation of Energy is
observed, that in no part of its behaviour does it ever fail to
conform to the laws of physics and chemistry. He then explains
the purpose of many of the puzzling devices before them and
shows that such purposes are often analogous to the purposes
met by devices on his motor-cycle. Each time he has mastered
some new piece of intricate mechanism the Enthusiast proclaims the discovery to his companions, sure that this time
evidence of such complete adaptation of structure to function
will convince all present that there are no inhabitants on the
He cannot understand at all why those who first said there
must be inhabitants go on saying it. He imagines it must be
because some parts of the Machine are still left unexplained, so
he tells the party that he will not be too dogmatic about these.
He will admit the possibility that some device not yet completely understood will provide evidence of inhabitants. But
he does not think this likely, as he can provide a more or less
ingenious and plausible theory to show that these, too, work
like his motor-cycle does.
As the rest of the party still fail to be convinced that Matter
alone, uncontrolled and unaided, has produced the thing before
them, the Enthusiast points to various means of controlling it.
He shows that he has mastered a few of these. By turning
handles and depressing levers he can make the Machine go
faster or slower, turn right or left. He calls these performances
its "behaviour". He demonstrates a whole series of ways in
which the Machine responds with a specific behaviour to a
specific manner of control.
He shows how the behaviour is changed by a change of fuel,
or by some slight adjustment to a spring or a screw. Each time
he has made some new permanent adjustment, he says that he
has "conditioned" the Machine to a new mode of behaviour.
He asks whether this does not prove the Machine on the planet
to be much like his motor-cycle.
Someone points out that this resemblance is not under discussion. What they want to know is whether anything which
is so much like a motor-cycle can be built by the random,
uncontrolled forces operating on an uninhabited planet.
"That", says the Enthusiast, "is perfectly possible and easily
explained by Science. Have you ever observed a crystal?"
"Of course you realize that a crystal is formed by the operation of nothing but the uncontrolled Forces of Nature. You
would not insist that this planet is inhabited merely because
you found crystals on it."
This is agreed.
"Then, since the Machine is so much like a crystal, there
is no reason for the fanciful view that the planet is inhabited
because you found a machine on it. Why should the Machine
not have come into existence in precisely the same way as a
A few are silenced by this argument. But someone ventures
to say that he does not see much resemblance between the
Machine and a crystal. He receives a stern look and is told that
he would be able to see the resemblance if he had done a course
of a year or so in physics and chemistry. The Enthusiast
explains that the resemblance between the Machine and
crystals is fundamental while any differences, though they may
be conspicuous, only seem important to untutored minds.
In the face of so much scientific knowledge the various
members of the party hardly like to say anything. There is
silence for a while. Then someone points out that the fuel on
which the Machine works has got into its tank somehow. He
asks how it could have got there unless some inhabitant of the
planet had introduced it.
The Enthusiast explains how the rivers on the planet are fed.
He tells the others of the way the wind passing over the
surface of the oceans gathers up water into clouds and carries
these over the hilltops. He tells them that the mountains are
cooler than the warm air rising from the plains and that consequently the moisture is condensed and falls as rain and mist,
ever renewing the river's supply. The Machine, he tells his
companions, obtains its fuel in a similar manner. "It is a
a property of a magnet", he says, "to attract iron; a property
of a cool mountain to attract water and a property of the
Machine to attract fuel."
It occurs to someone that it is not a property of motor-cycles to attract petrol. But he keeps the thought to himself.
The party remains secretly convinced that the planet is inhabited in spite of the "scientific" evidence against inhabitants,
but they do not feel competent to argue further.
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