I recently watched an episode of Top Gear, that British motoring show. It was the first time in at least a couple of months that I watched television and it only happened because I was waiting for an appointment. This particular episode centred around the testing of three super cars made by three different manufacturers. The climatic end saw the cars driving over a massive feat of modern-day engineering: a bridge somewhere in France that surpassed all previous records. I don’t remember the details but this bridge is massive, so you get the point. It makes for quite a dramatic climax to see, from a bird’s-eye view, these three super cars drive in formation across this beast of a structure.
The host, Jeremy Clarkson, I think that is his name, ended the show, back in the studio, with these words, and I don’t think I will ever forget them:
“People always say that dolphins are intelligent. Well no, they’re not. They don’t build massive bridges and they don’t build super cars. The people who built this bridge could’ve built a regular bridge, but they chose to build this amazing thing. Super cars are like that bridge. Built by human ingenuity they surpass our expectations and take us further than what we thought was possible.”
Both the bridge and the cars were truly amazing. One could either agree with Clarkson or one could go the opposite direction and say that it is all over the top and completely unnecessary. Furthermore, one could argue, it is a perfect example of human arrogance and the cause of our existential crisis. We are the cause of the greatest problems on the planet and yet we seem unable to solve the very problems that we have caused. Arrogance and Ignorance make for a lethal concoction.
Who knows? I know that it takes considerable skill to build such a bridge and any super car really is quite amazing. I haven’t driven one, but just last night I drove a friend’s Mazda MX5. It does not even come close to comparing to the simplest entry-level super cars on par with what Clarkson was talking about. But it does come closer than my Mercedes Station Wagon. (It really is a wagon) The MX5 comes closer to what Clarkson was talking about than anything else I had ever driven. And that Mazda does snuggle up to the road very nicely at speeds of 190km/h.
Prior to this experience I may have lambasted Clarkson for being arrogant and ignorant. I would have climbed on my moral high horse and I would’ve gone so far as to compare him to an army general talking enthusiastically about the ingenuity of the Earth Quake Bomb. (Yes there exists such a thing, developed by the British Military during World War II. It faded into insignificance though when the atomic bomb was developed soon afterwards.) Clarkson called it intelligence. I would’ve called it intelligence in the service of madness.
And yet and yet. I saw dolphins playing in the surf not so long ago. And now I’m thinking that Clarkson may have insulted the intelligence of dolphins, but could you imagine what dolphins would have to say about our conduct? We build super cars, fancy toys, and yet we are too stupid to figure out solutions to some of the most basic problems that have plagued us for centuries, if not millennia.
I would like to explore a third direction, neither in agreement nor in opposition to Clarkson’s comment. There is something that needs to be said for that very thing that we have in common with dolphins. Yes perhaps we build fancy toys, like super cars, and we also build dangerous toys like bombs. But somebody like Clarkson looks past the destructive part of ingenuity and focusses on the part of us that wants to play. You could call that ignorance, but then again dolphins are probably ignorant of the fact that you can build toys to play with.
Forget about all the bad stuff for just a short while. Soon you would have finished reading this and then you can pick up the newspaper. Which is sure to bring you back down to earth, in all its gory glory.
I saw dolphins playing in the surf. Clarkson shouldn’t have pointed out that we are more intelligent than dolphins, he should have pointed out that like dolphins we like to play. Which is why I went down to the beach to surf with a friend and which is why we build super cars to drive really fast with. We like to play.
Sure, dolphins do not have any toys to play with. (They are limited to body surfing whereas I get to surf on a board) But then again dolphins do not have the added worry of cleaning up after themselves when toys break, as they always do, or when the destructive power of toys are underestimated.
(“Had I known, I would’ve become a watchmaker.” – Albert Einstein, talking about his contribution to the development of the atomic bomb.)
Who is to say whether fancy toys are an added benefit which enhances the experience of life or whether it is a handicap that encourages madness and diminishes the experience of life? Who knows?
What I do know is that we should stop looking for differences between ourselves and animals and start looking for similarities. It is an all too common occurrence for people to talk about what it is that makes us different, and when they do talk about similarities the conversation usually has a very negative twist to it.
“Look at as, all we are good for is sleeping eating and having sex. Just like animals! We are not nearly as incredible or superior as we pretend to be!”
To be called an animal is usually considered an insult. I think it should be taken as a compliment. This is why:
We can be good. There is a positive and optimistic (some may call it childish) aspect to our natures. Everybody has it, but in some it is deeply hidden. Forced underneath the surface by a society that looks to cheat and rob you around every corner. Most adults find alternative ways to keep this childish, optimistic and hopeful part of themselves alive, most of the time by playing with fancy toys.
Animals do not get depressed. They do not worry about being cheated around every corner. They are not paranoid that every other animal may be a terrorist out to destroy their way of life. Animals trust mother nature to provide for today and for tomorrow. Animals do not panic when panicking serves no purpose.
We may have all the experience in the world and we may have years and years of acquired knowledge. But the inner child that urges us to let go and play will never go away. It is part of our natures and we would be fortunate if we could listen to it more often.
When we play we have much in common with animals. In a very positive way. No problem has ever been averted because of worry and stress. Planning does prevent and solve problems, but in our day and age planning very rarely goes without worry and stress. It takes incredible depth of character to plan without getting stressed or worried. Especially under pressure. A carefree mind is free to consider all available options when planning. A stressed and worrisome mind is severely limited in its range of available options.
When we play we are carefree, like animals. When the Schweitzer hits the fan most people fall back into the conditioned reactions of stress, panic and worry. But we would do well to remain, like animals, carefree. Because then we are free to use all our creativity and intelligence to come up with the best possible solutions. And I am willing to bet everything that I have, that under any circumstances, if creativity and intelligence are not stifled by panic, solutions will be vastly superior and will come far quicker than what would otherwise be the case.
As an interesting anecdote to close off this post consider the following observation and consider it carefully.
When the now infamous tsunami hit the pacific islands in 2004 (It may have been 2005, I do not quite remember the exact date, but it was either late 2004 or early 2005) many people were killed. The “wall of water”, as it was described by some survivors, did considerable damage.
However, very few, in fact almost no animals were killed in that disaster. Afterwards many animals were found to have moved up to higher ground just before the tsunami hit. Are we missing something? What did they know that we did not? Or rather, how did they know and we did not?
Anyway. Now you can feast your eyes on some more quality shots of some of the animals that we have found around Unravel Travel Base Camp. Between Mosselbay and Knysna, 400 km from Cape Town on the N2.
Every single one of these photos were taken within a 15 km radius from where we live.
I am surrounded by animals! And that is a good thing! The only aspect of my life that I love more is the talented photographer responsible for these beautiful photos!
To be play is to be carefree. But to be carefree does not imply that you are constantly playing around. Playing brings out our true carefree nature. I am not suggesting that we constantly play. I am suggesting that we learn how to be more carefree. I am not suggesting that we ignore consequences. I am suggesting that we do not let possible consequences ruin potential and possibilities.