Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Elephant in the Dark


The parable of the blind men and elephant is a perfect metaphor for the universe and for the physicists who try to grasp its larger shape: each man feels a part of the elephant and tries to visualize its overall essence: "It's a wall"; "It's a rope"; "a tree": they almost come to blows. The universe, even more than the elephant, is too big for any one perspective, and most of us are busy squabbling about some small part.



On the reconciliation of contrarieties

SOME Hindus had brought an elephant for exhibition and placed it in a dark house. Crowds of people were going into that dark place to see the beast. Finding that ocular inspection was impossible, each visitor felt it with his palm in the darkness…

The palm of one fell on the trunk. “This creature is like a water-spout,” he said.

The hand of another lighted on the elephant’s ear. To him the beast was evidently like a fan.

Another rubbed against its leg. “I found the elephant’s shape is like a pillar,” he said.

Another laid his hand on its back. “Certainly this elephant was like a throne,” he said.

The sensual eye is just like the palm of the hand. The palm has not the means of covering the whole of the beast. The eye of the Sea is one thing and the foam another. Let the foam go, and gaze with the eye of the Sea. Day and night foam-flecks are flung from the sea: oh amazing! You behold the foam but not the Sea. We are like boats dashing together; our eyes are darkened, yet we are in clear water.

- Rumi




Five Blind Men and an Elephant

- being by Reverend Loveshade,
(Episkopos of the Discordian Division of the Ek-sen-triks CluborGuild who ripped it off from the Hindus/Jainists)


 

One day five blind men, who knew nothing of elephants, went to examine one to find out what it was. Reaching out randomly each touched it in a different spot. One man touched the side, one an ear, one a leg, one a tusk, and one the trunk. Each satisfied that he now knew the true nature of the beast they all sat down to discuss it.

“We now know that the elephant is like a wall,” said the one who touched the side. “The evidence is conclusive.”

“I believe you are mistaken, sir," said the one who touched an ear. "The elephant is more like a large fan."

“You are both wrong,” said the leg man. “The creature is obviously like a tree.”

“A tree?” questioned the tusk toucher. “How can you mistake a spear for a tree?”

“What?” said the trunk feeler. “A spear is long and round, but anyone knows it doesn’t move. Couldn’t you feel the muscles? It’s definitely a type of snake! A blind man could see that!” said the fifth blind man.

The argument grew more heated, and finally escalated into a battle, for each of the five had followers. This became known as the Battle of the Five Armies (not to be mistaken for the one described by that Tolkien fellow).

However, before they could totally destroy themselves, a blind, self-declared Discordian oracle came along to see what all the fuss was about. While they were beating the crap out of each other, she examined the elephant. But instead of stopping after one feel, Eristotle touched the whole thing, including the tail, which felt like a rope. “It’s just a big animal with big sides, ears, feet, tusk teeth, nose and a skinny tail,” she thought. “What a bunch of fools these guys are.”

Then Eristotle said, “Stop! I have discovered the truth. I know who is right.”

She being an oracle and all, they stopped and listened and said, “tell us!”

“I have examined the elephant with mine own two hands,” she said, “and I find that you are all right.”

“How can this be?” they asked. “Can an elephant be a wall and a fan and a tree and a spear and a snake?” And they were sorely confused.

Eristotle explained “the elephant is a great Tree, and on this tree grow leaves like great Fans to give most wondrous shade and fan the breeze. And the branches of this tree are like Spears to protect it. For this is the Tree of Creation and of Eternal Life, and the Great Serpent hangs still upon it.

“Unfortunately, it is hidden behind a great Wall, which is why it was not discovered until this very day. It cannot be reached by normal means.

“However I, in my wisdom, have discovered a Most Holy Rope, by which the wall may be climbed. And if one touches the tree in the proper manner which I alone know, you will gain Eternal Life.”

They all became highly interested in this, of course.

Eristotle then named an extremely high price for her services (Eternal Life doesn’t come cheap), and made quite a bundle.

Moral: Anyone can lead blind men to an elephant, but a Discordian can charge admission.



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