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

Sticky Like A Fly Trap

Muir Beach, California, USA

February 4, 2011

This essay, Sticky Like A Fly Trap, is the companion piece to I am indebted to my brother Brandon "Bang" David Platt who inspired this conversation.

It's a matter of folk legend (which means it may be true or not)  that there's an experiment comparing rats' intelligence to humans'. A piece of cheese is put at the end of one of four tunnels of a maze. Rats and humans then navigate the maze to find the cheese. Once the cheese is found, the experimenters move it to the end of another tunnel.

The difference between rats and humans, they discover, is once humans find cheese at the end of a tunnel, they remember that tunnel, and then they go down the same tunnel again forever  looking for the cheese, regardless of whether they ever find cheese there again, or not. A rat, on the other hand, is only interested in cheese. To find cheese, a rat will try any  tunnel. A rat will do whatever it takes  to get the cheese - including giving up that which it already knows.

If you've got children of your own, or if you know people who have children of their own, or if you ever were a child yourself, you know how much mileage, you know how much value, you know how much fun and joy  children get from asking the question "Why?". "Daddy, why  is the sky blue?". So you tell them. You tell them about the sun's light refracting in the Earth's atmosphere. "But Daddy, why  does the Earth have an atmosphere?". So you tell them. You tell them about the protection the atmosphere provides Life on Earth. "But Daddy, why  does Life on Earth need protection?" ... on and on and on, and eventually you realize

 a)  it will  go on and on and on ... forever.

You realize

 b)  the answer to each question is simply the start of the next question.

You realize

 c)  there's no real answer to "Why?" ie it never ends ... ever  - it never ends, that is, except when you arbitrarily choose to stop asking "Why?" ... OR when you arbitrarily select any  answer in the endless chain of "Why?" answers, to be the  answer.

It doesn't matter which  answer in the endless chain of "Why?" answers you arbitrarily select to be the  answer. There's really no causal connection  between "Why?" answers and the events themselves. Any causal connection there may seem to be is merely a superstition. A widely held superstition. A cherished  superstition. But a superstition nonetheless.

"Why?" is sticky - like a fly trap. To a child, asking "Why?" questions is a great game, a game whose cheese  reward may have more to do with being in a close conversation with Daddy than it has to do with discovering causal events. Although adults know better than to attempt to get to fulfillment, satisfaction, wholeness, and completion by asking "Why?" questions, we do it anyway. The cheese has long since been moved to the end of another tunnel. There's no longer any cheese down the "Why?" tunnel. When the child asked "Why?" questions, there was cheese down that tunnel. But no more. And unlike (smarter) rats, adult humans keep going down that tunnel forever.
Werner Erhard says "If you keep switching the cheese (ie before the rat finds it), eventually the rat lays down in front of the tunnels and dies.". Here, the difference between rats and humans is humans die waiting at the entrance to the tunnel which once, long ago in their past, had the cheese, but hasn't had any cheese for years and years since then - they don't look down different tunnels. A rat will look down different tunnels. And even if it doesn't find cheese, a rat will die trying.

"Why?" is sticky - sticky like a fly trap. We're stuck to it - literally. We're addicted  to it. It produces nothing  by way of fulfillment, satisfaction, wholeness, and completion. But we ask "Why?" anyway. Because we once did. But that was way back  when there was cheese down that tunnel. And there's no cheese down that tunnel anymore.

Only a smart rat can coach a human to find where the cheese is now.

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