aquarium logic

we all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

c s lewis

all our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud, you have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.

ralph waldo emerson

the only real progress lies in learning to be wrong all alone.

albert camus

a child and a man stand next to the large glass screen of a viewing aquarium. in the aquarium are hundreds of types of fish, but only one catches the attention of the child.

“look at the shark.” he says. “see how it moves!”

the child is in throes of excitement and places his hands on the glass while his eyes dance in the face of such a spectacle.

the man who stands beside him remains calm. “look at the movement, my child. there is the shark. within the movement, the shark exists.”

“but look at its tail, can you see?” the child enthuses. “it swims, all by itself!”

“indeed it does. it swims for itself.”

“i wonder if i held its tail whether it would float or sink?”

“if you held its tail, then i’m afraid it would die.” says the man with solemn truth.

the child looks at the man. “it would die?”

“yes.” says the man. “most sharks require a swimming motion in order to pass water through their gills. They require movement to live.”

the child thinks about this for a second before becoming enraptured once again by the shark.

“i should like to try and guess where the shark will swim next.” says the child. he thinks for a moment. “over there.” he says, pointing. the shark swims in the opposite direction.

“down there!” says the child, eyes wide with glee. the shark rises to the surface.

“towards that!” the child guesses. the shark swims down again and towards their eager, watching faces.

the child looks dismayed.

“why are you wrong every time, my child?” asks the man. “your method must be flawed. what do you use to predict the sharks direction?”

“i look at his tail.” says the child, “and his movement. i try to guess from the way his body is shaped, the position he holds in the water, the angle of his swimming.”

“there is your problem.” says the man, quietly, to himself, for he does not wish to deter the child.

“the shark is too clever for me.” says the child. “he always knows what i say and swims in the other direction. i shall never be right. ever.”

“there is one way that you may always be right.” says the man. “simply guess that the shark will move somewhere.”

“but i know that the shark will always move somewhere!” protests the child. “that is no fun! a shark must always move! you have said so yourself!”

“indeed i have, and you have recognised this as a fact, and yet you are dismayed when you cannot guess its precise direction. you look at the shark all wrong, my child. it moves not out of preemption or cause, nor through reaction or spite, as you would have me believe. it moves because it must. you are attempting to guess the nature of its movement, through the nature of its movement. you will be going round in circles all day my child, and even the shark does not do that.”

the child looks intently into the depths of the aquarium. “i think we should have a bet.” says the child, engaged.

“certainly.” says the man. “you name the terms.”

“i think it would be easier to guess where the shark will not swim. the possibilities will lie in my favor.”

“they certainly will,” says the man, “but i shall take you up on this bet nonetheless.”

“and i can guess anywhere?”


“good. then i guess that the shark will not swim through that hole.” says the child, pointing towards an arch of rock in the center of the large tank.

the man and the child watch the shark as it glides past their viewing point and swims away to the other side of the tank. they lose sight of it for a moment, but soon enough the shark comes back into view and appears, swimming through the arch of rock.

the child looks to the floor. “i have lost.” he says.

“perhaps not.” says the man. “double or quits. guess again. if you are right then you shall be the winner and you may have a present of your choice.”

“okay.” says the child, reluctantly.

his eyes scan the aquarium and look for places of impassibility, crevices too small to accommodate the shark or gulleys too thin for its passage, but the aquarium is expertly designed and the shark has free reign of his habitat. the child presses his face to the glass and looks hard into the water.

suddenly, an idea strikes him.

“i have it.”

“you do?” says the man, smiling.

“yes. do you still want to continue the bet?”

“of course.”

“you are sure?”

“definitely. name the place where the shark cannot swim and you shall have your present.”

a smile creeps over the child face.

“the one place the shark will not swim,” says the child, his anticipation rising with his voice, “is outside the tank.”

the man looks at the child for a moment, before lifting him off the ground, and looking into his eyes.

“come on.” he says.

“but where are we going?” says the child.

“to buy you a present.”


2 Responses to “aquarium logic”

  1. I did an about turn and started walking
    and then realized I’d made a circle…
    these were great

  2. if all children were as engaging as that child, i’d be a happy woman. but then you wake up to a real world, and carriages turn back to pumpkins.

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