Category Archives: Fiction

The Parable of the Anachronistic Alchemist

A prodigy graduate physics student at UC Berkeley in California’s bay area worked secretly to create a time machine. The device was designed to transport up to two people and their clothing, two small cases of gear, and enough fuel for a return journey through time and space. Calculations regarding Earth’s location in space over time were integrated into the operating systems, allowing the driver the ease of entering a date, time, and Earth surface coordinates into the console.

Our student had a fondness for alchemists from history. Their obsession with such goals as turning lead into gold did not blind their judgement when it came to the process of discovery. In fact, these individuals began to carefully record the results of their experiments, and ultimately created the fundamentals of what is known today as the scientific method.

When the time machine was complete, our student dressed in destination-appropriate clothing, bid adieu to the cat in ancient Greek, and arrived moments later outside Alexandria in the middle of a summer night in the year 176. After an incredible adventure that is not relevant to this story, our student returned to the vehicle with a new friend who was an alchemical practitioner, and a deeper understanding of the ancient Greek language.

Our student brought the alchemist to Berkeley’s campus, sneaked him in to the chemistry library, and showed him the wonder of one of her favorite collections of knowledge.

“Nearly two thousand years of exploration and discovery have lead us to this and more,” our student said in ancient Greek.

The alchemist looked around with eyes full of wonder. Book after book the alchemist pointed out, and our student translated the title. Sometimes they read in the books. As time went on, the alchemist grew wary.

“This cannot be,” he said. “Elements that are not alive? Metals as discrete, separate elements that do not mature into precious metals? Everything here is based on these concepts, and these concepts must be false. Therefore, this library is full of nothing but lies.”

Our student was perplexed and tried to discuss the matter further, but the alchemist wished to return home. Our student complied, leaving him back in ancient Alexandria where she had found him. Back at home, our student contemplated the situation. It did not make sense for someone who was dedicated to truth and reason to dismiss something just because it conflicted with previously held beliefs.

Graduation finally came, and our student took the podium. After thinking over time about her encounter with the alchemist, it flavored her speech to her fellow graduating scientists.

“…truly embracing discovery can be difficult because it means letting go of preconceived notions, and preconceived notions are comfortable. They help us understand the world, so losing them is scary. As we go forth into the real world let us remember, in former president Roosevelt’s words, that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Go forth. Let yourself be afraid. Discover truth.”