Saturday, January 19, 2008

Philip K Dick's "The Indefatigable Frog" (short story, science fiction): Most of the matter is space!

Quote from the science fiction parody The Indefatigable Frog by Philip K DickThis rather funny & entertaining tale actually has a very farcical plot. But beautifully told.

Story summary.

In the background is the ancient "Dichotomy paradox" of Zeno: You want to go from point A to point B. You will first go half way through. Then half of the remaining. You can approach point B, but not reach it!

The variant used here is of a frog's attempt to jump out of a well: "As Zeno showed, the frog will never reach the top of the well. Each jump is half the previous jump; a small but very real margin always remains for him to travel."

Two college professors are having a rather serious fight over this argument: Professor Hardy of Physics says "In this class the frog will never reach the top of the well. I have examined the evidence myself." Professor Grote of Philosophy says the frog will.

They keep fighting at the unlikeliest places - even in front of students. Dean is disgusted: "you two are going to be the first to lower the frog into his well and actually see what happens." They have a fortnight's time to settle the question, & cease their fights.

To settle the question, a very elaborate laboratory set up ("Frog Chamber") is devised!!! A long tube with an entry & an exit. Frog will be left inside one end, & that end will be shut tight. To motivate frog to move towards exit, it will be tortured - by heating the lower side of the tube! To get away from heat, it must move towards the exit. Entrance to the tube is actually very big - big enough to let a man in, even though experiment is meant for frogs - apparently, to aid trouble shooting.

OK - a frog is let in, entry sealed, bottom heated. Frog begins moving forward. Part way through, we discover the cheating - there is a force field inside tube that keeps reducing the frog to half its size periodically! "The frog is made smaller the farther he goes... It's the only way the jumping span of the frog can be reduced. As the frog leaps he diminishes in size, and hence each leap is proportionally reduced. We have arranged it so that the diminution is the same as in Zeno's paradox."

Set up is such that if the frog gets out of tube, it will revert to original size - field works only inside the tube.

Frog keeps reducing in size - ultimately is so small it can no longer be seen from the vantage point of experimenters. Another argument between the antagonists. Hardy says frog is "still hopping, somewhere in a sub-atomic world." Grote says "Some place along that tube the frog met with misfortune." Grote says he will go inside the tube & find out.

Grote enters. Wily Hardy shuts the entry door, & begins heating the floor! Grote is now in place of frog. And keeps getting reduced in size by the field - as he moves. Field is such that only he reduces in size, not his clothes, etc - so soon he will be naked & made to cope with rugged surface of tube at microscopic level. And ultimately he will "became so reduced in size that he passed through the" inter-molecular spaces, & out of tube wall! Back to original size as he gets out of tube, but nude.

The villain professor will have the fun taken away when Grote meets him again. But Hardy gets off the hook easily, because Grote wants better experiment since the matter is not yet settled; "The Chamber's no good"!

See also.

  1. An illustration of this story by Andrew May.
  2. All stories by Philip K Dick.
  3. Isaac Asimov's "Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain": A submarine will be reduced to microscopic size, along with its human occupants, & injected into the bloodstream of a man in coma!

Collected in.

  1. David Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer (Ed)'s "The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF".

Fact sheet.

"The Indefatigable Frog", short story, review
First published: Fantastic Story Magazine, July 1953.
Rating: A