Do you ever wonder how stuff started? You’ve probably heard that old joke, “Who was the first person to look at a chicken and think, ‘I’m gonna eat the next thing that comes out of that thing’s butt!’?”
I wonder that about a LOT of stuff. Like, all the time.
Some things make a certain kind of sense. Even chicken eggs: you can see how some heretofore uninformed young cave dweller could notice that chickens laid eggs, and that snakes and dogs birds bigger than chickens liked to eat those eggs … and didn’t die. And you can imagine how that forward thinking (and, let’s face it, probably Aspie) young foodie would consider doing the same thing.
But then one has to wonder: at what point did they first think of applying heat? Was it a great big accident, like the hilarious skit in Ringo Starr’s unhit Caveman? Perhaps. Or perhaps a certain kind of brain and inclination conspire together to make obvious what is utterly opaque to the rest of us.
Take music, for instance. I love music. But I’m no musician. Even singing in key is beyond my . I certainly don’t have the kind of mind that could originate great orchestras. At best – with a GREAT amount of practise and effort (on both my own part and that of my instructors) – I might be able to replicate a not-too-painful to listen to facsimile of the original. If the original was Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. On a xylophone.
I’ll never be Mozart. I’ll never even be Macklemore. And let’s be honest – there’s a pretty big gap between those two.
But the thing is: they, and the millions of music makers that have ever lived, have the ability to hear something beautiful or powerful or moving in their heads, and convert it into something audible that we can all hear. And they’re actually instrument agnostic. It’s not as if they sat at a piano for a few hours and recorded whatever came out and hoped for the best. They created it. They originated it.
How? How was that in there?
Even more fascinating to me is the concept of creating a musical instrument in the first place. The users of those instruments are genius, surely. But the dudes who made them? Wow. That’s a kind of lateral twistification I just don’t think my brain could begin to comprehend.
Who first made a brass tube, twisted it, and blew into one end to see what happened? Who tied some strings to bits of ivory and gave them a whack? Or even a tickle, as the saying goes … I mean, how does a piano become an obvious design in someone’s mind?
I was thinking about that today (as you can tell). We were talking about the impact of a bullet on a watermelon. As you do. And I got to thinking: why does the watermelon explode? Why doesn’t the bullet just go neatly through, and lodge itself in the next available surface? (In fact, perhaps it does. But not in the movies. And that’s my frame of reference.)
It occurred to me that the shattering watermelon is the result of the exploding bullet. The watermelon rind is hard enough to cause the bullet’s impact against it to explode the bullet. But unlike, say, human flesh, the flesh of the watermelon yields too little resistance to obstruct a catastrophic explosion. So, instead, the whole thing explodes, pips and all. Mush.
Which made me wonder: who invented bullets? More specifically: how? I can imagine that throwing rocks at people you’re not fond of is a time-honoured tradition and effective in most circumstances. And I can see how the slingshot wouldn’t be too big a leap once we worked out the whole wearing clothes and cutting fabric palaver. Along the way, people realised that the greater the force applied, the more satisfying the result.
All of that makes sense. It’s logic. I can even see how a strip of fabric could develop into a slingshot could develop into a catapult (the same, only bigger) could develop into a canon could develop into a gun. It only takes one freak accident next to a keg of gun powder to see the explosive potential there. (Sorry ;))
But the true feat of engineering genius is the bullet. Everything about it as a marvel. The shape. The materials it’s made of. The tooling. The contents. The way it works. It’s incredible. Who thought it all out … and how did they get there? Stones and things like stones have worked for millennia. Who finally said, “You know, let’s throw something else.”?
And as I thought about it, I realised, the person who created the first exploding bullet was probably not a genius like Mozart. He probably didn’t have a fully formed gorechestra (see what I did there?) in his mind before he started tinkering. He was probably just doing exactly that: tinkering. He may have had some vague idea of where he was headed. But he was probably trying things out to see what would work.
When he started, he didn’t know where he was headed.
He didn’t know.
When a baby takes her first step, she has no idea what she’s doing or why. She doesn’t know what’ll happen. She just does it. She tries different things. She discovers her own potential, and the options made available by this new skill. She learns and grows and improves. And she loves it. Every step is fun. Each improvement is an achievement.
There’s a sense of wonder at her unfolding new knowledge and skill – a joy that drives her to push the boundaries and discover more and more. An excitement that makes us all her greatest cheerleaders.
When do we lose that?
When do we finally decide, “I know enough. I have the knowledge I need to accomplish everything I have ever wanted to do. If I don’t know it now, I never will. And if I don’t do great and amazing and perfect, flawless things from now on, I never will – the only way I can possibly fail is if I am truly an idiot.”?
Maybe it’s when we finish the formal phase of our education – be it school or “higher” education or anything else we sign up and pay for. We think that anyone with a (degree/diploma/matric) should be able to do whatever thing we’ve set out to do.
Based on what? No one ever got the thing right on the first try. (Well, except those Mozart types. Are you one of those? Because if so, this isn’t for you.)
We need to rediscover the joy of not knowing stuff. We need to reignite our courage and wonder and excitement and just try stuff out. We need to explore and investigate and see what works – and bravely admit to what doesn’t.
Most of all, we need to learn and grow and learn and grow some more … and just keep doing that wonderful stuff until we breathe our last.
That way, we can never, ever fail. Our ideas might not always work out the way we hope. But that’s great. That let’s us try new ideas, new perspectives. New projects. New new new. And all the while, we keep learning.
And we never, ever lose our sense of wonder.