THE SWISS CHEESE
Once a slice of Swiss cheese had a thought. Not that having thoughts was unusual for cheese in general. So common was cheesy thinking, in fact, that it commanded a large part of public discourse in those days. And not simply in the homogenized, processed world of the popular press or the more redolent one of the blogosphere but also the moldy fromage so prized in policy debates, globe-trotting diplomacy, business and governmental ethics, military and security planning, supreme jurisprudence, medical and research integrity, doctrinal disputes, academic jargon, and so forth. The slice of Swiss cheese was hardly an aberration, then, except in one respect. Its thinking had more than the usual number of holes in it. This fact didn’t make coming up with an idea in the first place any more difficult than it was for those dominating the circles already mentioned, but it did complicate efforts to hold onto that idea. In comparison with the myriad little gas bubbles that arose during the usual process by which fresh ideas thickened and turned to curd after a while, the Swiss cheese had to contend with gaps so large an entire train of thought might slip away into one and vanish utterly. At such times, it would have to bridge the resulting gaps in its understanding or memory as best it could, often with mental stretches so great they were in themselves hard to sustain. It might seem to drift off in the middle of important meetings or conversations with an expression somewhere between distraction and impatience, and when it eventually returned to the matter at hand, it might do so with a rush of ideas that struck others as disconcerting at best and incoherent at worst. Where did such ideas come from, they were tempted to ask? Few did, however, as the general desire was to avoid the ticklish situation of appearing to humor what could well be the first signs of mental decline, even madness. Best retain some measure of distance from such characters, most agreed, lest it be assumed one shared their strange new ways of thinking. As for the cheese itself, the more the ideas that had formed the bulk of its intellectual contact with others fell away into these holes, the less inclined it became to attempt spanning the gaps that had so concerned it before. They weren’t absolute voids, it discovered. And the time spent trying to find a way over or around them wasn’t really defined by the success or failure to do so. In fact, the holes couldn’t be defined in those terms whatsoever since they turned out to have no points of contact with anything the cheese had formerly relied upon to make sense of its existence. They might appear empty of meaning, but in their depths, it found, worlds rolled on one another like so many wheels of experience that could not be slowed to the pace of its prior understanding. To fall into one of these holes must be like falling into the death of everything that made you feel comfortable and secure in what you thought you knew. What lay on the other side? Was there another side? Or would you fall forever, away from all that had been certain? And towards what? What new realms, unimagined before, might redefine the limits of thought? Even to guess at what lay in these hollows made the cheese dizzy. But perhaps that was how it should be. For why have holes in your thinking if you were afraid of what you might find there?
Copyright © 2007 by Geoffrey Grosshans