Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


On Fleas And Piranhas

Soledad, California, USA

December 16, 2009



This essay, On Fleas And Piranhas, is the companion piece to It is also the fourth in the septology Menagerie:

Two pertinent stories are often told about

 1)  fleas jumping in a jar, and
 2)  Piranhas swimming in an aquarium.

Although their pithy wisdom and seminal ideas expressed in this essay aren't mine originally (arguably by now they belong in that public domain known as folk lore), this presentation of them is mine originally.

They're perfect to include in Conversations For Transformation as simple reminders - or better, as mirrors  actually.

They go something like this:



Fleas Jumping In A Jar



Fleas can jump extremely high - several times higher than a jar, in fact.

If you put fleas in an open jar, they're fully capable of jumping right out of the confinement of the jar.

Then if you put a lid on the jar ie if you close the jar, the fleas jump and bump their heads on the lid. Pretty soon the fleas realize they're not only unable to escape the confinement of the jar, but they also realize they'll bump their heads on the lid if they jump as high as they're fully capable of jumping.

So they learn to jump almost  as high as the lid ... but not quite as high. Fleas play it smart. They play it safe. Fleas know their limitations.

They learn to jump only so high. They learn that jumping higher than the closed lid is futile. They learn to jump not as high as they're capable of jumping. They learn to jump only high enough so the don't bump their heads on the lid.

But then if you remove the lid from the jar again ie if you re-open the jar, the fleas still  don't jump higher than the erstwhile limit previously imposed on them by the closed lid - even though the jar is now re-opened, even though they're fully capable of jumping high enough to escape the confinement of the re-opened jar.
Fleas Jumping In A Jar
Glass jar courtesy shopinthekitchem.com
Open Jar
Glass jar and lid courtesy shopinthekitchem.com
Closed Jar
Glass jar courtesy shopinthekitchem.com
Re-Opened Jar


The fleas learned to set limits.



Piranhas Swimming In An Aquarium



Piranhas, those South American fish (also known as Pirañas, and in Venezuela as Caribes)  with razor sharp teeth and a voracious appetite for meat, don't fare much better. A similarly pertinent story is also told about Piranhas swimming in an aquarium. It goes something like this:

It's feeding time. You introduce smaller less fortunate fish into the aquarium. In seconds they're ripped to shreds, bloody targets of a rapid Piranha feeding frenzy.

Then you put a clear glass divider exactly down the middle of the aquarium, separating it into two areas with the Piranhas on one side of the glass divider, and you introduce their lunch, the smaller less fortunate fish, into the aquarium on the other side of the glass divider.

A clear glass divider under water is completely transparent, so much so that the Piranha don't even know it's there. In their frenzied attempts to rip the smaller fish to shreds, they only succeed in bumping their heads against the glass divider.

Pretty soon the Piranhas realize they're not only unable to reach their lunch, but they also realize they'll bump their heads on the glass divider if they swim as powerfully as they're fully capable of swimming.

So they learn to swim only on their side of the aquarium. They learn to swim almost  up to the glass divider ... but not bump into it. Piranhas play it smart. They play it safe. Piranhas know their limitations.

But then if you remove the glass divider from the aquarium, the Piranhas still  stay, hungry, on their side of the aquarium, the side once limited by the glass divider, even though the aquarium is now no longer divided, even though the Piranhas are fully capable of swimming anywhere they want to swim, even though they're fully capable of devouring anything they want to devour.

The Piranhas also learned to set limits.



The Punch Line



Human beings have a lot in common with fleas as well as with Piranhas.



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