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The strange joy of useless machines

I read a great theory once, arguing that the universe is elegantly wasteful. Is it even possible to be both wasteful and elegant? Whatever: when the universe wants to do something, according to this theory, it gets the job done, but it gets it done in the way that will use up the most energy. If the universe wants to get over a wall, it doesn’t build a ladder, it builds a jetpack.

And I happen to like jetpacks, so I was pretty much okay with this idea, terrifying as the ramifications are. If you’re an awful wretch it even lets you off the hook a bit. Why try to conserve anything when all the universe wants to do is retreat, to slump, to return to zero?

The article I read that explained this theory had a load of cool examples, none of which I remember quite as well as the main argument they supported. There was something to do with the way cells of bubbles form when water is boiling, and probably something else to do with neutron stars, as they always rear their cosmic heads in this kind of thing. My own favourite personal example, though – and I’m probably bending the theory a little to reach this point – is the ‘useless machine’: a great name for a great invention. A great invention that does absolutely nothing.

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