Thinking About Thinking - 2018


A Doctor a Day Keeps the Apple Away

By Balaji Prasad

“Give thy thoughts no tongue."
~ William Shakespeare

We talk. A lot.

Talking is not very different from thinking. Often, the things we say come from the things we think, and likewise, much of what is in our heads rests atop the things we say. We live in a world of words and things, and it is not always clear when a thing is a thing, and a word is a thing, or a thing is a word. And, as the head meets what is said, the dead can live, and the living can be dead.

Words matter. Because the world scatters, as the mouth chatters.

There used to be just one thing

“Here," says the good doctor. “Take this apple." He hands her what seems to her like a pretty good-looking fruit, as she thinks to herself that she wouldn't mind a bit of it, right now. “It's been a long day at school, and a little snack wouldn't be so bad," she says to herself, as the man hands her a knife, signaling to her to slice the apple in half. She proceeds to cleave the fruit into two pieces of approximately the same size. She eyes the fruit eagerly and rustles restlessly in her chair, but the tone-deaf teacher rambles on, oblivious to her world, “So! there are two pieces, now. Aren't there?" And, with the theatrical air of a magician, accompanied by a gleam in his eye, he holds up his index finger, and proclaims, “But!" He pauses weightily, and looks directly at her, hinting at suspense. “But, there used to be only one!" His eyes still gleaming, he looks indulgently at the girl, to see if she realizes the full import of the deep principle he is sharing with her.

“Yes, I see that," says the puzzled girl, “I know. I cut it into two. You told me to."

“Ah, but that's the point of it all", says the man, “There was one before, and there are two, after. There is a before, and there is an after. And what was before is not what is after." He continues to slice the air with his index finger, almost as if he were slicing the world in half, with her on one side of it, and he on the other, as he emphasizes, “The apple has changed. Completely. Irreversibly. And … And, with it, the world itself has changed. Nothing will ever be the same again!" This definitely has the ring of a finale – the punch line – as the almost beatific look on the old man's face accentuates this sense of finality.

“But, it's just an apple!" the harried student thinks. “What is he talking about!?"

How did one become two?

“As you can see, an apple is not just an apple!" exclaims the philosopher-turned-wizard, as, with a flourish, he reaches out, and sweeps the two pieces of apple from the girl's hand.

“Look at this," he beckons to her, as he holds out the left slice for the girl's inspection. “Do you see the little hole in this slice?" The young lady peers closely, craning her neck to see it from different angles, and acknowledges somewhat hesitantly, “Yes, I see it", not sure where all this is going next. “Do you think it could have been a little insect that made its home here at one time?" he asks, holding it further away from him, almost as if to illustrate that such a thing should be held at a safe distance. “Maybe …" mumbles the girl, feeling her appetite for this left slice of the apple wane a little bit.

“Now, here is the question I have for you," he continues, as the girl tries to bring her mind back to the present, from the grotesque image of a little creepy thing poking its head up and down from the little hole that now seems to have burned an even bigger hole in her brain. “Which half of the apple do you want? And, you know what? I'll take the other slice – the one that you don't want," the man graciously offers. “I'll take the right slice please," says the girl hurriedly, without the slightest hesitation, shuddering slightly at the queasiness from the left slice that still lingers in her mind.

“The nice thing about the apple now is that there is a choice," says the man, in a tone laden with gravity. “And, you just made your choice, out of the two possibilities you saw." The girl nods. She is unable to find much to disagree with what the man is saying.

Two is one too many!

“Now let's check out the other side of midnight," continues the old man, getting a little metaphorical, although it wasn't quite clear to the girl why there was a metaphor at all. The man holds out the right slice of the apple, and points to what appears to be a little discoloration - a blemish - on its surface. “Could this really be what I think it might be?" he asks, quizzically, furrowing his brow with intensity. “Could this be the remnant of a hole that allowed the insect to flee from the apple, before it was plucked off the tree from the orchard?" He holds out the slice, once again, signaling the girl to look closer. “Doesn't it look like what could have been a hole once upon a time, and which closed little by little over time?" he asks. And, to her horror, the possibility he suggests leaps to life in her mind. She sees a hole, even though there really isn't quite what you would call a hole there at this time.

The old man pauses, and smiles indulgently at the now clearly disturbed girl. He puts the two slices of apple down on the table next to him. “Okay, young lady," he says, softening his voice. “Which slice would you prefer now?" The girl eyes the two slices on the table with a mix of wariness, and what can only be described as disgust, and finds herself muttering, “I'm actually not very hungry right now, thank you, but I really wouldn't mind a glass of cold water. I can get it myself, if you tell me where it is."

Can't we just let apples be apples?

Maybe the doctor (not a real doc – he is an academic one) was trying to point the young lady toward something? Maybe it would be good to see things more simply? Maybe an apple would stay an apple, and we would not go hungry, if we don't talk too much, and think too much?

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Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or balaji.prasad@newcranium.com