Monthly Archives: March 2021

The Ant and the Pencil

Once upon a time there was an odd place called Flatland. It was perfectly flat and stretched infinitely in every direction from any point on its surface. Its sole inhabitants were ants, an infinite number of ants. The ants continually walked about the surface of Flatland. They had unlimited energy and did not need to eat or sleep, but they did have one truly odd ability – or perhaps it was an inability. The ants had eyes that could see perfectly but their heads could only face downward. They were unable to see what was ahead of them, beside or behind. They all stared at the surface of flatland as they crawled across its surface and, of course, the ants could never look at each other and so knew little of each other’s existence.

One day, an unknown power decided to place a pencil on Flatland. The power left the pencil standing upright with the eraser pressing against the flat surface on which the resident ants continuously travelled. After too many days to count had passed, one of the ants finally bumped into the pencil. The ant had no idea what had just happened to it. Since it could not look up to see what was ahead, the ant could not see the pencil. Momentarily stunned, the ant allowed a moment to pass until it had overcome its initial shock and then kept walking. But instead of continuing its journey across Flatland, the ant began walking up the length of the pencil away from the surface of Flatland.

When the ant reached the pointed end of the pencil, it paused for an immeasurable amount of time and stood on the tip looking downward as usual. The ant did not know where to go as there was no flat surface ahead, beside or behind on which to travel. But as it continued looking downward from the tip of the pencil, the ant was able to observe something that perhaps no other ant had ever observed before. The ant could see that there was an infinite number of other ants on the surface of Flatland, something it had neither seen nor known before. It then perceived and understood where all of the ants were and what they were doing – but it did not know why.

After another immeasurable amount of time had passed the ant tried again to travel across Flatland and observe more of its surface from its new point of view. As soon as it began to walk, however, the ant’s motion led it back down the length of the pencil toward the surface of Flatland. This single ant was now different from all the other ants. It was aware of the existence of other ants after having been given a new perceptual point of view during its visit to the tip of the pencil. It had observed their unending, apparently meaningless behaviors. The ant decided to communicate to the other ants precisely what it had discovered while motionless at the tip of the pencil. None of the other ants responded because they could not understand a word of what this one ant was saying. So, the ant continued its travels in the same way it had always done but now this particular ant travelled differently.

The different ant now lives its life in Flatland continually wondering why it travels in such a manner. It never stops talking about what it saw while on top of the pencil or asking other ants if they have experienced any of these observations themselves. And even though the ant has never found the pencil again, that does not seem to matter to it at all. Because after bumping into the pencil and spending an eternity, traveling and searching for answers to its questions, the pencil is now alive and very real within the different ant.