This I Believe

Evan - Healdsburg, California
Entered on March 18, 2007

Life is an Imperfect Machine

Too much credit is given to philosophers like Socrates and Descartes, men who attempted to understand the world around them through logical analysis and reasoning. While such study is invaluable in grasping the deeper meanings of the world around us, the depth is unnecessary and, in many cases, too clouded and incomprehensible to acknowledge in any practical way. The only true way to understand what it is to live in this human form, this soul-shaped shell we inhabit while stuck in the sliver of light in between two immensities of darkness that we call life, is to build a Rube Goldberg machine.

I was charged with this task a few weeks ago as part of a final project for my physics class which I would then have to submit to the local science fair. I ushered in the news with the expected moans and groans, and when I started work on the machine that in no less than ten steps would juice an orange, I felt a pang of rage slowly boil within me.

The project took four weeks, two four-by-four wood beams, bricks, duct tape (lots of duct tape), some scissors, some sweat, and even a few drops of blood by the end. I put myself into that machine, becoming intimately acquainted with its inner workings, building off its strengths and eliminating its weaknesses, and when the machine was finally complete, it worked. Sometimes.

When the day finally came to present the machines before a panel of judges, I wasn’t sure if my invention would work. I felt my nerves go cold, my guts working themselves into knots. The judges arrived. I ran my machine, and, lo and behold, no orange juice.

A second attempt was granted. I pulled the pin, which released the weight, which sent the steel balls into the cup, which pulled down the tack, which popped the balloon, which sent down the weight that closed the scissors and crushed the orange with the weight of two duct-taped bricks. Some juice slowly dripped from the orange – not much, but enough. I took my machine home with a “participant” ribbon.

I may not have won the blue ribbon that day, but I realized something my angry, disappointed self from four weeks previous would not have anticipated. Rube Goldberg was the only man to have ever understood how to describe life’s intricacies. He saw the sequential nature of our existence and the domino effect which governs its outcome. Unlike most philosophers, he published in simple inventions, folding a napkin or pouring a glass of water in twenty steps. He showed the world simplicity in complexity.

My own invention taught me that like a machine, life doesn’t always go as we plan. Somewhere along the line, a step will fail. Other times, it won’t, and we’ll find ourselves with just what we need. All anyone can do is pull out the pin and hope for the best.