The Fable of The Blind Men and the Elephant

With thanks to Inma VP for the inspiration and the image above (Image creator is unknown) …. Please read to end of poem …

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT.
A HINDU FABLE.

A poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1872) illustrates th story, and the issue.

i.

IT was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

ii.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me!—but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

iii.

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried: “Ho!—what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘t is mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

iv.

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

v.

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
” ‘T is clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

vi.

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

vii.

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

viii.

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

Moral

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

But surely the picture of the blind men and the elephant also points to something bigger — The elephant itself?

 

Blind Men and the Elephant – Image Creator is Unknown

Indeed, each of the blind man has a limited perspective on the objective truth, but that doesn’t mean a truth isn’t there, for truth isn’t relative at all – the elephant is there to discover in its totality.

In the areas of the Spiritual or Religious and theology, we have only our personal perspective, in other disciplines we may have hints, even so this doesn’t mean any and all versions of Truth are equally valid. Actually, if we know (or believe) that the Whole Elephant is there, perhaps we should seek every opportunity to experience more of the elephant, a metaphor for example for the Devine?

In mankind’s attempt to understand his environment, we codify what we see in a way which we can understand within the knowledge and perspectives we have available at the time. As we evolve I would suggest that our perspective will …. we may see more of the elephant, perhaps one day we may see all of the elephant.

Here, I would give the floor to a beautiful mind with regard to an aspect of this …

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth” – Marcus Aurelius

Further From Wikipedia …

Modern treatments

The story is seen as a metaphor in many disciplines, being pressed into service as an analogy in fields well beyond the traditional. In physics, it has been seen as an analogy for the wave–particle duality.[19] In biology, the way the blind men hold onto different parts of the elephant has been seen as a good analogy for the Polyclonal B cell response.

“Blind men and elephant”, from Martha Adelaide Holton & Charles Madison Curry, Holton-Curry readers, 1914.

The fable is one of a number of tales that cast light on the response of hearers or readers to the story itself. Idries Shah has commented on this element of self-reference in the many interpretations of the story, and its function as a teaching story:

…people address themselves to this story in one or more interpretations. They then accept or reject them. Now they can feel happy; they have arrived at an opinion about the matter. According to their conditioning they produce the answer. Now look at their answers. Some will say that this is a fascinating and touching allegory of the presence of God. Others will say that it is showing people how stupid mankind can be. Some say it is anti-scholastic. Others that it is just a tale copied by Rumi from Sanai – and so on. Shah adapted the tale in his book The Dermis Probe. This version begins with a conference of scientists, from different fields of expertise, presenting their conflicting conclusions on the material upon which a camera is focused. As the camera slowly zooms out it gradually becomes clear that the material under examination is the hide of an African elephant. The words ‘The Parts Are Greater Than The Whole’ then appear on the screen. This retelling formed the script for a short four-minute film by the animator Richard Williams. The film was chosen as an Outstanding Film of the Year and was exhibited at the London and New York film festivals.

The story enjoys a continuing appeal, as shown by the number of illustrated children’s books of the fable; there is one for instance by Paul Galdone and another, Seven Blind Mice, by Ed Young (1992).

 

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” — Werner Heisenberg

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