Updated: Aug 30, 2019
The sea is red today. Not actually red, mind, just metaphorically. I wander up and down the sand. The wind howls, stirring life into the dried seaweed littering the beach. I take a seat on a bench which has just appeared. Which is to say, it has probably been there the whole time but my attention has only just landed on it. Although, as I had not noticed it before, I am unable to confirm the hypothesis that it had been there previous to my noticing. I ponder this whilst removing a sandwich from my pocket. The sandwich and indeed the bag that contained it, I can say with all confidence had been in my pocket since I had placed it there that morning. I suppose statistically it was unlikely that the bench had only just appeared. I feel I could make an argument for the bench having been there at least several years, judging by the state of it.
As I begin to eat my sandwich, I wonder how many people have sat on this bench before me. If ten people were to have sat on the bench per week since its installment on the beach, it would easily be in the hundreds. Although ten people a week doesn’t seem to be a fair guess. There are at least twenty people on the beach just as far as I can see. Suppose half of them decided at some point today to sit on the bench, that would be the whole week’s quota in one day, which clearly means my estimate is wrong. I’m sure I could contact some sort of office who would have figures on the annual visitors to the beach. That would be a more reliable source. I would still have to work out the percentage who had sat on the bench.
I could always design an experiment to investigate my theories. I could sit, and count how many people visited the bench in some set amount of time. Although, what length of time would be good enough. A day doesn’t seem to be long enough, it could have been a slow day, or a fast day and I would have no way to know which, if either. A week would be better; but again, it could be a school break and be descended upon in the thousands. A month has the same issue, if I counted in the winter, it could be assumed there were far less visitors than in the summer when everyone were more inclined to venture outside. The safest option would be to maintain a count for a full year, and use that to make a guess for the previous years. But my year could be a particularly unusual one.
I could always put up a sheet. Ask everyone to put a tally when they sat on the bench. But if I used paper, it would get ruined in the rain. I could always laminate the sheet but the rain might wash off the tally marks anyway. I could ask people to use a knife to cut a tally into the bench. That would probably be the best way to make sure no one’s mark was lost. However, one too many tallies could discourage sitters or destroy the bench, and that would cause massive data errors and affect the results far too much. And there would be no way to ensure everyone had left their mark. Older people tended to frown on vandalism and the knife could always go missing and really, that plan was doomed to fail.
I suppose I could always watch forever. Count every single person who ever sat on the bench. Every stressed mother, weary child. Every honeymooning pair, all the old married couples- I could keep track of every single one of them. I would have to work out a way to eat and drink and live forever, but those seem simple things to accomplish when I have the problem of working out exactly how many people had sat on this bench. I am sure the end of the world would also present a slight issue, but I could maintain my vigil for as long as the bench existed. That surely would provide me the best data to create an informed hypothesis on the exact number of people who had sat on the bench.
But even that would only be an educated guess. Even then, all my best guesses, all my time would be pointless. There was no way to know exactly how many people had previously sat on the bench. The only logical way to know would be to invent time-travel, go back to the exact moment in time the bench had first been sat on, and count every single person who had ever sat on the bench. I would know then how many people had sat on the bench by the time I had sat on it.
Although, then I would have to define the parameters of the term ‘sat on the bench.’ I could impose a time limit, perhaps sitting was any buttock to bench time of longer than ten seconds. Although, that seems an arbitrary rule to impose, and I think any registered buttock to bench contact would have to be counted. And I would have to decide whether I was counting the people who had sat on the bench, or the amount of times the bench had been sat on. I am sure at least one person in the history of the bench had sat on it at least twice. I also have to decide whether sitting on someone’s lap on the bench counts as someone sitting on the bench. I would have time to do this whilst building the time machine though. Or I could give myself more time to do it.
And suddenly, my sandwich is finished, the wind is still howling, the sea is still metaphorically red and I still do not know how many people have sat on the bench before me.
Image Credit: Daniel Jensen