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Monday, March 31, 2014

The Box of Knowledge

Many thousands of years ago, when people were much more ignorant than they are today, there lived a boy who wanted to know all there was to learn about everything. After all, his grandfather was a sorcerer who could perform many wonderful miracles and see into the future. His grandfather could make fire and turn water into stone. But this wasn’t enough for Caleb (The boy’s name was Caleb, you may have guessed). He wanted to know EVERYthing.

His father called him foolish, because his goal was far too ambitious. His father told him, “Your grandfather has had many wonderful visions of things I cannot explain. And if I could explain them, you would never be able to understand them. To realize your ambitions, you would have to travel all over the world and learn from the very wisest of men in each country you visit. And even then you would not be able to learn all there is to learn, because even the wisest of men are still learning. Besides, it takes great wealth to travel, and you are penniless. I am too poor to even buy you proper clothes, not to mention furnish
 the means to travel.”

Caleb’s grandfather was Walter the Wizard! Walter had the power to leave his body and travel anywhere he wanted. In his travels, he had accumulated many wonderful gifts from the most wealthy of kings, sultans, potentates, shamans and seers, as well as from prophets. When he heard of Caleb’s ambition, he smiled, for he himself had had such an ambition in his youth. It reminded him of a gift he had received from a powerful Pasha in Persia. It was nothing more than a trinket really, but it might be a useful learning lesson for Caleb. It was a little brass lamp containing some very pungent oil, and according to the Pasha, the fragrance from the burning oil had magical properties. Walter had lit it a few times, but was never able to get it to work, which may have been because he found the odor from the burning oil revolting. Now he had to conjure up a vision of which pile of stuff he had put it in.

Finally, after wracking his brain and performing his ancient incantations, he had the tiny lamp in his hands. It was tarnished and in need of polishing, but he would leave that for Caleb to do. He had some very fine powder that could cause the brass to glimmer like gold along with a bit of lamb’s wool which he would also give to his grandson. Walter sniffed the wick to see if there was still some oil remaining in the lamp, and winced. Clearly, there was.  
Caleb was thrilled to receive this gift from his grandfather, even though it was tiny, and tarnished and dirty. It was the only thing he had ever remembered receiving from anyone. Well, from anyone of importance that is. He had received a bouquet of red and purple flowers, one time, from Hannah, but that was not nearly as important as this lamp from his grandfather. Well sure, his sister, Hannah, was very good looking, in fact she was downright gorgeous, but what good was that if she didn’t have a brain in her head. It seemed like she was always babbling about stuff that didn’t make any sense.

That evening, Caleb took the lamp up to his room in the hayloft along with the powder and lamb’s wool that his grandfather had given him and proceeded to polish the lamp. As he rubbed the lamp the tarnish began to fade and the brass began to gleam like gold. It was hard work, because the little lamp had been left to gather a lot of tarnish for many centuries. Caleb was determined to finish the job before going to bed, so that in the morning he could proudly show it to his grandfather. It was just before midnight, when he finally removed the last bit of tarnish, and his parents were already asleep by then.

As he rubbed the lamp one final time, to his tremendous awe and amazement, a great cloud rose out of the lamp; swirled around the loft and transformed into a mighty genie! Now Caleb had heard about genies before in stories but never did he ever suppose that he would actually see one! This was astonishing!!! The genie spoke to him in a very loud voice, “Master, you have summoned me. What do you wish? You have only one.”

Caleb stammered. He was not prepared for this.

The genie spoke again, “Take your time, Master, to gather your thoughts. Unlike humans, I have great patience.”

After 37 and a half seconds the genie spoke again, “Well! Have you gathered your thoughts? Do you have a request for me? You have only until sunrise, at which time I shall return to the lamp, never to be roused for another thousand years.”

Caleb replied, “Yes, I have just one wish; I want to have access to all of the knowledge and wisdom of the universe.”

Now it was the genie’s turn to be astonished. He didn’t anticipate such a great request from one so young. Instantly, the genie produced a many sided metal box with strange symbols on each side. It was very heavy and had a strange glow. On the top was a slit with a piece of silk ribbon protruding from it. The genie said nothing, but watched with a feint quizzical smile as Caleb examined the box.

Finally Caleb said, “What is this? I asked for access to all of the knowledge and wisdom of the universe, and you give me a useless box of ribbon. 

This, of course was exactly the reaction the genie expected. “Pull on the ribbon, and read what it says”.

“Ok, it says a square has four equal sides, a pentagon has five equal sides, and so what is that all about?” Caleb asked, pulling the ribbon some more. “Hey, this time it says INFINITY means forever, without end, unlimited.”

“Yes.”, said the genie, “Look at the symbols on the sides of the box. The one that looks like an eight on its side is the symbol for infinity. The ribbon you pull out of the box, no matter how much is finite, as it has a measureable length. The ribbon remaining inside the box is infinite…”

“So what does that mean?” asked Caleb.

“You would be wise to ask your sister”, said the genie, “she is older and understands certain things better than you do”. 

“What? Ask my dumb sister, Hannah?” asked Caleb in a high pitched excited voice. 

But at that moment the sun began to rise, and the genie disappeared in a great puff of smoke and returned to the little lamp.

And in the following moment, Hannah poked her head up into the loft to tell Caleb that breakfast was ready. When she saw the box, she was totally engrossed. “Wow, what is that? Caleb, where did you get it? What a beautiful ribbon it is! Is it magical? Does it play music?”

So Caleb told her everything that had happened. “The genie told me that the ribbon is the source of all Knowledge and wisdom, and the more ribbon we pull out the more we learn. He told me that the ribbon outside the box represents all of our knowledge and the ribbon inside the box is infinite”.

“Ah, I see”, said Hannah. “So the ribbon inside the box is our ignorance, and it will always be greater than our knowledge, no matter how much ribbon we pull out, no matter how much we learn”.

“Yeah”, mumbled Caleb, “something like that. Hannah wasn’t as dumb as he thought”,
he thought.

Every day, Caleb pulled out more and more ribbon and as he read what was on the ribbon he learned more and more wonderful things and he also gained much wisdom. As he grew older he passed the box of ribbon on to his sons and daughters and they in turn passed it on to their sons and daughters. Until it seemed like there was miles and miles of ribbon and knowledge and wisdom, until now to this day there is enough ribbon to reach to the moon and back, and yet there remains an endless supply of ribbon inside the box.

©By Harold Gower   December 2009