The Taser's Edge


A metaphor for the limitless and wasteful generativity of nature from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, ch. 10, “Fecundity”:

Say you are the manager of the Southern Railroad.  You figure that you need three engines for a stretch of track between Lynchburg and Danville.  It’s a mighty steep grade.  So at fantastic effort and expense you have your shops make nine thousand engines.  Each engine must be fashioned just so, every rivet and bolt secure, every wire twisted and wrapped, every needle on every indicator sensitive and accurate.

You send all nine thousand of them out on the runs.  Although there are engineers at the throttles, no one is manning the switches.  The engines crash, collide, derail, jump, jam, burn….At the end of the massacre you have three engines, which is what the run would support in the first place.  There are few enough of them that they can stay out of each others’ paths.

You go to your board of directors and show them what you’ve done.  And what are they going to say?  You know what they’re going to say: It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.

Is it a better way to run a universe?