Sunday, 21 October 2012

So, that picture you posted earlier



There’s an old story, I’ve no idea how old, and I can’t be bothered to check, but it’s the one where a bunch of blind people encounter an elephant. One of them grasps the trunk, and explains to his or her fellows that the elephant (a creature hitherto unknown) is very like a snake; another encounters the belly, and explains instead that the beast is very like a whale; a third holds a leg, and the elephant is very like a tree.

And so on.

And the gist of the story is to remind us that we may each only grasp a small part of what is going on, so we should be careful about rushing to conclusions.

I found myself wondering: what if, rather than asserting to one’s fellow blindfolk that you are right and they are wrong, you attempted – instead – a little teamwork. Collaboration, after all, has emerged under exactly the same evolutionary conditions as naked self-interest, so there’s no reason, in principle at least, why the various protagonists in the story shouldn’t gather together and conclude that the elephant is, in fact, the sum (perhaps more!) of its parts.

As a result, the blind people in my story assemble the whole from the parts – but still get it wrong, because they put the parts together in the wrong order. Such a beast, so evidently based on ‘E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T’ must therefore be a L-E-A-N P-E-T-H, as you can see in the picture.

I’ve no idea what this means: so I shall wait until, as a story, it is old enough to tell me; or until I am old enough to hear.

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