The White Rabbit’s Watch

Alice and the Friendly Minotaur have decided to go on a search for the Architect. Alice wants to ask the Architect – who designed the Minotaur’s labyrinth – whether numbers were used in making the labyrinth’s design. She hopes that the Architect can help her to understand what numbers are.

alice-rabbit

The White Rabbit.

Where should we start looking?’ Alice asked. She had no idea what kind of a person – or creature – this Architect was that the Minotaur talked about, and so she had no idea either where to start looking. The Minotaur thought about this while he rested his chin on one of his hoofs. ‘We need someone who can tell us where the Architect lives.’ He said after a while. ‘We need someone who knows his way around Wonderland.’ He frowned deeply and moved around his eyes as if he tried to look into his own head. And then, suddenly, his eyes brightened and he said with a loud voice ‘we should first go look for the White Rabbit!’ The Minotaur continued in a calmer tone of voice ‘The White rabbit has been a manservant for the Queen for a long time, so he must know many things about Wonderland. Perhaps he can tell us where to find the Architect?’

Alice sighed. ‘But how do we find the White Rabbit?!’ She had the feeling that the Minotaur’s suggestion didn’t help very much, but instead doubled the problem. ‘First we were looking only for the Architect, and now we must find both the Architect and the White Rabbit!’

Everybody in Wonderland knows where to find the White Rabbit,’ the Minotaur mumbled indignantly. ‘As the Queen’s manservant he can always be found at 12 o’clock at the entrance of the Queen’s garden, standing watch and greeting the visitors of the Queen.’

Alice and the Minotaur made their way towards the Queen’s garden. When they were almost at the gate, they ran into the White Rabbit. As the rabbit hurriedly passed them, Alice heard him talking to himself. ‘Oh dear, oh dear, I shall be late!’

Perhaps it is a bit impolite to stop someone who is in a hurry,’ Alice thought, but with the big Friendly Minotaur by her side she was not at all afraid to address the hurrying rabbit. ‘Excuse me, mister Rabbit..?’ The White Rabbit stopped and turned around. It was clear to Alice that he was annoyed. ‘What do you want?’ the Rabbit snapped. The shrill voice of the rabbit didn’t frighten Alice. If anything, it actually made her bolder. Without introducing either herself or the minotaur – without even speaking of the labyrinth – Alice asked ‘can you tell us where the Architect lives?’ The White Rabbit frowned when the little girl addressed him in such a bold manner. But he was too much in a hurry to take offence. He had to be at the entrance of the Queen’s garden at 12 o’clock sharp. The Queen was very intolerant of disobedience.  The rabbit shivered as he thought of what must be the Queen’s favourite command. ‘Off with his head!’

The White Rabbit pointed his walking-cane to the Queen’s garden. ‘the Architect lives several days travelling beyond the garden. When I was as little as you are now, I used to play…’ Then suddenly the rabbit remembered that he was in a hurry. Looking at his pocket-watch he started walking towards the entrance of the Queen’s garden. ‘It is already 12 o’clock. I am late. I must go, or the Queen might be displeased.’

clock-12-00-clipart-etc-sfclyj-clipartAlice saw the White Rabbit’s watch and noticed that the hands of the watch were not moving. ‘But your watch stands still!’ Alice said while she pointed at the rabbit’s clock. ‘It must be broken.’

‘Broken, pff!’ The White Rabbit snorted. ‘This is a real Gettier-watch! My father gave it to me when I first went to school. It cannot break.’ The rabbit spoke about his watch with such firmness that Alice began to doubt what she had seen. ‘But I’m sure I didn’t see the watch’s hands moving, so how can you be sure that it tells you the right time?’ Alice asked uncertainly. ‘Well, you see, the watch always says its 12 o’clock, and whenever I check that – and I check it often (the White Rabbit wasn’t the Queen’s manservant for nothing) – it is indeed 12 o’clock. That’s why I’m certain!’

The White Rabbit’s words left Alice puzzled. ‘I think that the reason that your watch can’t break is that…it isn’t working.’ Alice said, again with an uncertain voice. The White Rabbit clearly didn’t like it that his watch, which he held so dearly, was so lightly accused of being broken. Alice saw that the White Rabbit became very upset, and when she saw that he even started breathing heavily through his nose, she changed the tone of her voice. ‘If the watch tells you all day that it’s 12 o’clock, then it is right twice a day. I guess you could call that ‘working’,’ Alice said while shrugging her shoulders. ‘Precisely!’ The White Rabbit shouted triumphantly. ‘But it’s not working very well then,’ Alice continued with a soft voice. ‘I heard that!’ the Rabbit responded.

Luckily the Rabbit – who had by now become very angry with Alice – was somewhat afraid of the Minotaur, so instead of just walking away, he tried once more to convince Alice that his watch was working properly. ‘Tell me something about which you are absolutely certain.’ The White Rabbit demanded. Alice thought about this for a while, and suddenly remembered something that she had told her sister the day before, when they were going to have some tea. ‘where is that blue teapot?’ she had asked her sister, ‘I’m certain I’ve put it somewhere.’ Alice smiled as she thought of this, and she told the White Rabbit what she had told her sister. ‘I am absolutely certain that I’ve put our blue teapot somewhere yesterday.’ Now it was Alice’s turn to feel triumphant. ‘Well,’ said the White Rabbit, ‘I don’t see why what my watch tells me is any different. You are certain because no matter where you’ve left your teapot, you’ll always have left it somewhere. No matter where you’ve left it, that is always true. Just as what the watch says is always true.’

The White Rabbit’s words made Alice feel very uneasy. It all sounded very likely, but if the White Rabbit’s watch is just as good as any other clock, then how can you tell whether any clock is ever working? ‘Or,’ Alice thought, ‘could it be that time in Wonderland is something that is different from what time is at home?’ When Alice wanted to ask  the White Rabbit whether all watches in Wonderland stand still, she found that he had not waited around, but had continued his way to the Queen’s garden. ‘Well,’ she said while prodding the Minotaur, who had fallen asleep during the discussion between Alice and the White Rabbit, ‘at least now we know where to look for the Architect.’

When Alice had helped the Minotaur rub his eyes (due to their sharp-edged hoofs minotaurs can’t rub their own eyes, which is why minotaurs are very slow at waking up in the morning), she told him of her plan. ‘Now that we know that the Architect lives somewhere on the other side of the Queen’s garden we should just walk to the other side’ The Minotaur answered, still a bit sleepy, ‘the Queen is not fond of strangers in her garden. We’d better visit her first, and ask her permission.’

The little girl agreed. As Alice wondered why everybody was so careful not to offend the Queen, she and the Friendly Minotaur followed the path of the White Rabbit. They entered the Queen’s garden…

***

Previous episodes of ‘Numbers in Wonderland’:

  1. Numbers in Wonderland
  2. Alice and the Friendly Minotaur
  3. Wonderland without Numbers?

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About fbenedictus

Philosopher of physics at Amsterdam University College and Utrecht University, managing editor for Foundations of Physics and international paraclimbing athlete
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2 Responses to The White Rabbit’s Watch

  1. Hoi Fedde,

    Wat leuk om een paar stukjes van je te lezen! Ik kan erg genieten van de Alice verhaaltjes! Het heeft heel erg de “Alice feeling” je hebt duidelijk liefde verhalen en je nieuwe schrijfsels doen die eer aan! Ik vind ook de verwijzingen naar naar filosofische/natuurkundige gedachten erg werken. Je hebt ze mooi subtiel verwerkt. Waar je nog aan zou kunnen werken is het “show, don’t tell principe.” Bijvoorbeeld bij beschrijvende stukjes ‘het konijn had tranen in zijn ogen’ ipv ‘het konijn is verdrietig.’ Een beetje een slecht voorbeeld, maar ik hoop dat je snapt wat ik bedoel. Dan gaan de personages nog mee leven.

    Groetjes en veel succes verder,
    Marit
    (Het Starbucks meisje)

  2. Pingback: Wonderland without Numbers? | The Tricycle Down The Rabbit Hole

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