Probability and Chaos

Probability and Chaos

'If you jump,' the cop bellowed, fighting to be heard over the buffeting wind, 'you’ll be dead before you hit the ground.'

The jumper, a young man in a white lab coat, glanced over the ledge on which he was standing, taking in the endless tiers of sky-traffic coursing by in every direction below them. The young scientist let out a short, high-pitched laugh. 'You would think so, wouldn’t you?' he shouted to the cop.

'What are you talking about?' said Officer Pullman. 'If you throw yourself into that traffic, the odds of surviving are a million to one!'

The young scientist smiled grimly. 'Actually, the odds are 123,570-to one, to be precise.' He observed the puzzled expression on the officer’s face. 'That’s my field of research - probability and chaos. You’re quite right that the odds against me not being hit by a single vehicle during my descent are considerable. But for the last six months I’ve been working night and day to predict the exact moment and the exact circumstances necessary for me to fall through the sky-traffic and completely avoid being hit.' He glanced at his wristwatch. 'And that moment, according to my calculations, is due in twenty-three seconds time.'

'Are you serious?' asked Pullman.

'Of course! At precisely 11:47 and 23 seconds I will conduct my experiment. I will jump.'

Pullman shook his head in disbelief. 'But … even if you miss being hit by the traffic, you’ll still die. You’ll hit the pavement!'

'That doesn’t matter,' said the scientist. 'If I hit the pavement before I hit anything else, the experiment will have been a complete success!'

'Not if you’re dead!' said Pullman.

'I’m not afraid. I will die safe in the knowledge that I will be famous beyond death. As the first person to truly control his destiny!'

Pullman slumped back against the window-frame in defeat, and then he said the one thing negotiators are taught never to say to a jumper: 'You’re crazy!'

The scientist gave him a wan smile. 'We’ll see, shall we?' He looked once more at his watch. Pullman could see him silently counting down 3 … 2 … 1 …

Then he jumped.

With a mixture of horror and curiosity, Pullman watched the man fall - only he didn’t fall very far. About twenty feet below them, just above the point where the heavy flow of sky-traffic began, a speck of blinding blue light exploded into life. The light expanded rapidly into a large cone-shaped vortex. In its swirling throat Pullman could see a terrible blackness. Something told him that inside that vortex was the end of all things. He watched as the demented young scientist fell straight into that heart of darkness (his final cry of 'What the hell?' echoing in Pullman‘s head for some time afterwards) and disappeared. A second later, the vortex itself winked out of existence.

Officer Pullman looked down into the noisy sky-traffic, scratched his head and said, 'I guess he never predicted that!'


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