Sunday, November 2, 2008

the curious case of the happy hamster rolling his wheel on a moving walkway

Folks, I have great news for you. Forget what astrology told you. You're neither a taurus, a fish, a pig or a snake, you're a happy hamster rolling your wheel on a moving walkway.

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said that "you [could] never step in the same river twice" and so gave a timeless image of the linearity of life: time is always moving like the ever-changing water flowing in the riverbed.
But then rivers flow into the seas, water evaporates and condenses into clouds, the clouds bring back the fugitive under the form of falling rain. And that's the circularity of life.

Stone monks from Tibet ODed one night and woke up the next day with the doctrine of reincarnation. That was the first cool attempt to combine the two perspectives. It was even cool enough to convince some of us sceptical braindead materialists to buy a tibetan dress and avoid walking on ground insects. The ant you nearly crushed could be Yitzhak Rabin's second cousin and you don't want to be called an anti-Semitic bastard, do you?

My metaphor of the hamster rolling his wheel on a moving walkway avoids such mishappenings and it has the advantage of depicting the whole life process. Two perpetual motions coexist without interacting. A first movement you can control (you roll your wheel at your own speed), a second movement you can't control (that's the moving walkway).
Rolling his wheel provides the hamster with an illusion of freedom, while the moving walkway sets the limits of this freedom, and gives to every hamster the same main tempo.

This fair combination of self-determination and bound temporality makes every hamster happy. The element of fun is brought by the race (the fit hamsters can try and overtake the unfit hamsters) and the fact that in the end there won't be a winner or a loser (every hamster will fall and die at the far end of the walkway) ensures a friendly atmosphere.

So every hamster on his starting block: one, two, three, go!

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