Human excellence and the trodden path
Human excellence and the trodden path - by P.K.Odendaal - February 2013.
Amended 5 March 2013
One stands amazed at the accomplishments of individuals who have attained feats of excellence never done before, and one thinks that it was built on years of methodical exploration, planning and experimentation. Although these accomplishments go hand in hand with exploration, planning and experimentation, the bigger truth is that it is built on a directionless procession of random events and the variation of circumstances.
The upper layer reveals to us an accomplishment of almost super human effort and insight, but it is built on a thicker layer of bricks or stones of doubt, mindless wanderings, meaningless efforts, botched opportunities, luck, unexpected outcomes and a thing called serendipity.
We are not one spider spinning a neat geometrical web, but thousands of smaller spiders spinning our own random thread in this web of the unknown, sometimes going round and round in circles - or hexagons and octagons if you wish - until one day we see from all the efforts of mankind some pattern arising, and some of us have the opportunity to finish off this wonderful geometrically pleasing web, which can hold theories and hypothesis together.
The example I wish to use is the one previously used by an anonymous person about the layout of our beautiful cities.
When there was still no city, a certain piece of land was open and used for grazing by donkeys. These donkeys wandered over this field, like all donkeys do, in search of better grass or pasture. They would search for it here, look for water there, sleep in yet another place and so they will make tracks in this land - at first only imperceptibly, but later, with more regular use, it will become trodden paths, for anybody else to use. And this is why we have this beautiful saying or metaphor of the 'trodden path' meaning a route many people have walked before us, mostly with success in reaching some achieved or unachieved goal - not that it was a good path or a short-cut or straight section, but mainly because it was trodden.
These donkeys may migrate to other greener pastures and leave this one alone, but their footprint will stay, although it may dim over the years. A new species, not much cleverer than donkeys may happen on this field, and use the still dimly left trodden paths of the donkeys to aid them in their own search for another type of pasture, having another type of diet. And so generations of different animals may use the original aimless and irrational path of these donkeys to start doing rational things like a routine of eating and drinking habits.
Much later humans may happen to start farming here and use these meandering, crooked and bent paths to tend to their cattle or sheep. They may also have horse drawn carts, which may smooth out the most jagged parts of these paths to make them more streamline, but the kinks, roundabouts around difficult terrain and double tracks around muddy patches will remain.
Then one day they may invent motor cars, build a few houses along these tracks or paths and so the first towns will start to appear. Ultimately these towns will grow into cities, and we will find many of these kinks and roundabouts established as highways in our most modern cities - all built on the alignment of the first few stray donkeys.
Of course these highways are excellent and technologically advanced, but if you delve down very deep you will find the buried tracks of those first few donkeys.
And so it is with us.
We do not all of a sudden discover something. It is said that variation on a theme is the crux of creativity and I find the notion to be mostly true. But which variations on which themes were these? Mostly we will find at the base of it a daily digression from the trodden path of these donkeys to new sources of water and pasture - leading in one long procession of evolution to human excellence, discovery and invention. And this is why the Darwinian Delusion of the variation in species seems so acceptably simple at first sight, because it relates on some deeper level the random variation in meaningless paths taken by very dumb actions - like donkeys searching for water and pasture.
This is also how we build our own lives. We start with the trodden path, and most of us never leave it, but some individuals, known as rebels, straighten out these paths and may even make new detours to set a trap for fools, or some suddenly discover the richness of a theory which has been used previously as only a useful signpost along a track for weary and lost travellers.
And so we will understand the theory of entropy in the universe a little bit better. Entropy is the state of chaos in a system, and it is said that chaos in the universe increases because the entropy increases. And everybody wonders why the universe is not going into more chaos, but is in fact developing into a beautiful creation of wonder and beauty, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the increase in entropy leading to more chaos. Apart from anything else, it is based on this simple random variation in meaninglessness and randomness by an Invisible Hand, who at first may look like the tracks of stray donkeys.
And so we will understand particle or nuclear physics better. Every atom is underlain with a few stray particles, but below that, there is nothing - just open pasture. Since the time of Democritus, who posited the atom as the smallest indivisible piece of matter, scientists have systematically discovered smaller and smaller parts. Democritus was the first philosopher who can be termed a scientist, and Plato is said to have disliked him so much that he wished all his books burned.
As our scientists have tried to discover smaller and smaller particles they have come across a strange behaviour of certain particles. Today we know that heavy nuclei emit stray particles and that even light becomes stray beams when passed through a slit - so we are back at the stray donkeys. What we are in effect doing is drilling down into the atom to find smaller and smaller particles, of which the quarks are presently the smallest. We will know when we have reached the smallest article when we find the Nothing Particle, because that is from where God started to form atoms and the universe. Whether we will know when we have found the Nothing Particle I am not sure of, but I do not think we will know, as we have never been able to formulate a hypothesis or theory to tell us when we have found Nothing.
I end with a practical example. On top of Whistler mountain ski area there is a very fine rectangular and linearly constructed building used as a restaurant, and there is no visible clue as to any circular and curved elements in that building. Still it is called the Round House. The reason for that is that there was a round house on this exact location which was demolished when this new building was constructed - and so the new one is still officially known as the Round House despite its non-round form. So the basic element lives on, much like the tracks of our stray donkeys. It will just be too humiliating if we name a highway with the name: Stray Donkey Track #46733! You will, however, still find that the names of many highways are called -Trail in stead of -Street or -Road. Makes you think.
I think the real point I wish to make is that all things were made from nothing, and that their real purpose is not in their form or structure, but in for what they were exactly planned to be part of - their ultimate place, and we never see the ultimate place, because it has not been finished - even we humans are an uncompleted creation. We try and find discrete glimpses in their transformation and development and interpret it quite wrongly. If we go to the end of it, we will find the perfect created item, and if we go to the beginning of it we will find nothing - and what we find in between may seem to be meaningless - only a few stray tracks - and then we doubt the competence or even existence of the Creator.