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Umberto Eco

Foucalt's Pendulum

Only for you, children of doctrine andlearning, have we written this work. Examine this book, ponder themeaning we have dispersed in various places and gathered again;what we have concealed in one place we have disclosed in another,that it may be understood by your wisdom

--Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim,De occulta philosophia, 3, 65

Superstition brings bad luck.

--Raymond Smullyan, 5000 B.C., 1.3.8



That was when I saw the Pendulum.

The sphere, hanging from a long wire set intothe ceiling of the choir, swayed back and forth with isochronalmajesty.

I knew¡Xbut anyone could have sensed it in themagic of that serene breathing¡Xthat the period was governed by thesquare root of the length of the wire and by IT, that number which,however irrational to sublunar minds, through a higher rationalitybinds the circumference and diameter of all possible circles. Thetime it took the sphere to swing from end to end was determined byan arcane conspiracy between the most timeless of measures: thesingularity of the point of suspension, the duality of the plane¡¦sdimensions, the triadic beginning of ir, the secret quadraticnature of the root, and the unnumbered perfection of the circleitself.

I also knew that a magnetic device centered inthe floor beneath issued its command to a cylinder hidden in theheart of the sphere, thus assuring continual motion. This device,far from interfering with the law of the Pendulum, in factpermitted its manifestation, for in a vacuum any object hangingfrom a weightless and unstretchable wire free of air resistance andfriction will oscillate for eternity.

The copper sphere gave off pale, shiftingglints as it was struck by the last rays of the sun that camethrough the great stained-glass windows. Were its tip to graze, asit had in the past, a layer of damp sand spread on the floor of thechoir, each swing would make a light furrow, and the furrows,changing direction imperceptibly, would widen to form a breach, agroove with radial symmetry¡Xlike the outline of a mandala orpentaculum, a star, a mystic rose. No, more a tale recorded on anexpanse of desert, in tracks left by countless caravans of nomads,a story of slow, millennial migrations, like those of the people ofAtlantis when they left the continent of Mu and roamed, stubbornly,compactly, from Tasmania to Greenland, from Capricorn to Cancer,from Prince Edward Island to the Svalbards. The tip retraced,narrated anew in compressed time what they had done between one iceage and another, and perhaps were doing still, those couriers ofdie Masters. Perhaps the tip grazed Agarttha, the center of theworld, as it journeyed from Samoa to Novaya Zemlya. And I sensedthat a single pattern united Avalon, beyond the north wind, to thesouthern desert where lies the enigma of Ayers Rock.

At that moment of four in the afternoon of June23, the Pendulum was slowing at one end of its swing, then fallingback lazily toward the center, regaining speed along the way,slashing confidently through the hidden parallelogram of forcesthat were its destiny.

Had I remained there despite the passage of thehours, to stare at that bird¡¦s head, that spear¡¦s tip, thatobverse helmet, as it traced its diagonals in the void, grazing theopposing points of its astigmatic circumference, I would havefallen victim to an illusion: that the Pendulum¡¦s plane ofoscillation had gone full circle, had returned to its startingpoint in thirty-two hours, describing an ellipse that rotatedaround its center at a speed proportional to the sine of itslatitude. What would its rotation have been had it hung insteadfrom the dome of Solomon¡¦s Temple? Perhaps the Knights had triedit there, too. Perhaps the solution, the final meaning, would havebeen no different. Perhaps the abbey church ofSaint-Martin-des-Champs was the true Temple. In any case, theexperiment would work perfectly only at the Pole, the one placewhere the Pendulum, on the earth¡¦s extended axis, would completeits cycle in twenty-four hours.

But this deviation from the Law, which the Lawtook into account, this violation of the rule¡¦ did not make themarvel any less marvelous. I knew the earth was rotating, and Iwith it, and Saint-Martin-des-Champs and all Paris with me, andthat together we were rotating beneath the Pendulum, whose ownplane never changed direction, because up there, along the infiniteextrapolation of its wire beyond the choir ceiling, up toward themost distant galaxies, lay the Only Fixed Point in the universe,eternally unmoving.

So it was hot so much the earth to which Iaddressed my gaze but the heavens, where the mystery of absoluteimmobility was celebrated. The Pendulum told me that, as everythingmoved¡X earth, solar system, nebulae and black holes, all thechildren of the great cosmic expansion¡Xone single point stoodstill: a pivot, bolt, or hook around which the universe could move.And I was now taking part in that supreme experience. I, too, movedwith the all, but I could see the One, the Rock, the Guarantee, theluminous mist that is not body, that has no shape, weight,quantity, or quality, that does not see or hear, that cannot besensed, that is in no place, in no time, and is not soul,intelligence, imagination, opinion, number, order, or measure.Neither darkness nor light, neither error nor truth.

I was roused by a listless exchange between aboy who wore glasses and a girl who unfortunately did not.

"It's Foucault's Pendulum," he was saying."First tried out in a cellar in 1851, then shown at theObservatoire, and later under the dome of the Pantheon with a wiresixty-seven meters long and a sphere weighing twenty-eight kilos.Since 1855 it's been here, in a smaller version, hanging from thathole in the middle of the rib."

"What does it do? Just hang there?"

"It proves the rotation of the earth. Since thepoint of suspension doesn't move..."

"Why doesn't it move?"

"Well, because a point...the central point, Imean, the one right in the middle of all the points you see...it'sa geometric point; you can't see it because it has no dimension,and if something has no dimension, it can't move, not right orleft, not up or down. So it doesn't rotate with the earth. Youunderstand? It can't even rotate around itself. There is no¡¥itself.' "

"But the earth turns."

"The earth turns, but the point doesn't. That'show it is. Just take my word for it."

"I guess

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